Sunday, January 31, 2010

From The Wall Street Journal

Republican Leaders Forming New Political Group

By Susan Davis

At least half a dozen leaders of the Republican Party have joined forces to create a new political group with the goal of organizing grass-roots support and raising funds ahead of the 2010 midterm elections, according to people familiar with the effort.

The organizational details of the group, expected to be called the American Action Network, are still being worked out, but it is expected to contain both a 501(c)3 and a 501(c)4 component. In simpler terms, a 501(c)3 can advocate on policy matters while a 501(c)4 is an election arm.

Republican leaders expected to be affiliated with the group include former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Bush adviser Karl Rove, Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, and Republican donor Fred Malek.

A House leadership aide told Washington Wire today that Rob Collins, a political operative and senior aide to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, is leaving Capitol Hill to be the executive director of the 501(c)4.

People familiar with the group said the American Action Network sprung in part out of an unsuccessful effort last year by Republicans called the National Council for a New America which was intended to help redefine the tarnished party brand after the 2008 elections.

Party leaders have found renewed buoyancy following a series of recent election victories and as Republicans stand poised to make further gains in the 2010 elections.

However, Republicans have faced difficulties in recent years to create outside groups to compete with Democratic counterparts like MoveOn. A recent example of those unsuccessful efforts was Freedom’s Watch, a group operated by former Bush administration aides, which sought to be a major player in the 2008 campaign cycle but failed to make a significant impact. It also faced financial and organizational difficulties and closed its doors after the 2008 elections. 


My friend, Jack Reeves, sent me the following quotes:

Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism - how passionately I hate them! – Albert Einstein, 1879 - 1955

We are drowning our youngsters in violence, cynicism and sadism piped into the living room and even the nursery. The grandchildren of the kids who used to weep because the Little Match Girl froze to death now feel cheated if she isn't slugged, raped and thrown into a Bessemer converter. – Jenkin Lloyd Jones, 1843 - 1918

Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Any man who has once proclaimed violence as his method is inevitably forced to take the lie as his principle. – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Prize lecture, 1974

A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field, or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it. – Lewis H. Lapham

Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another. – Arthur Conan Doyle, 1859 - 1930

The convoluted wording of legalisms grew up around the necessity to hide from ourselves the violence we intend toward each other. – Frank Herbert, 1920 - 1986

From The New York Times

Published: January 30, 2010

HANDS down, the State of the Union’s big moment was Barack Obama’s direct hit on the delicate sensibilities of the Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The president was right to blast the 5-to-4 decision giving corporate interests an even greater stranglehold over a government they already regard as a partially owned onshore subsidiary. How satisfying it was to watch him provoke Alito into a “You lie!” snit. Here was a fight we could believe in. 

There was more to admire in Obama’s performance as well. He did not retreat into the bite-size initiatives — V-chips, school uniforms — embraced by an emasculated Bill Clinton after his midterm pummeling of 1994. The president’s big original goals — health care, economic recovery, financial reform — remained nominally intact, as did his sense of humor. In a rhetorical touch William Safire would have relished, Obama had the wit to rush the ritualistic “our union is strong” so it would not prompt the usual jingoistic ovation.

Good thing, too, since our union is not strong. It is paralyzed. Many Americans were more eagerly anticipating Steve Jobs’s address in San Francisco on Wednesday morning than the president’s that night because they have far more confidence in Apple than Washington to produce concrete change. One year into Obama’s term we still don’t know whether he has what it takes to get American governance functioning again. But we do know that no speech can do the job. The president must act. Only body blows to the legislative branch can move the country forward.

The historian Alan Brinkley has observed that we will soon enter the fourth decade in which Congress — and therefore government as a whole — has failed to deal with any major national problem, from infrastructure to education. The gridlock isn’t only a function of polarized politics and special interests. There’s also been a gaping leadership deficit.

In Obama’s speech, he kept circling back to a Senate where both parties are dysfunctional. The obstructionist Republicans, he observed, will say no to every single bill “just because they can.” But no less culpable are the Democrats, who maintain “the largest majority in decades” even after losing Teddy Kennedy’s seat — and yet would rather “run for the hills” than accomplish anything.

What does strong Senate leadership look like? That would be L.B.J. in the pre-Kennedy era. Operating with the narrowest of majorities and under an opposition president, he was able to transform a sleepy, seniority-hobbled, regionally polarized debating society into an often-progressive legislative factory. As Robert Caro tells the story in his book “Master of the Senate,” this Senate leader had determination, “a gift for grand strategy,” and a sixth sense for grabbing opportunities for action before they vanished for good. He could recognize “the key that might suddenly unlock votes that had seemed locked forever away” and turn it quickly. The horse trading with recalcitrant senators was often crude and cynical, but the job got done. L.B.J. knew how to reward — and how to punish.

We keep hearing that they just don’t make legislative giants like that anymore. In truth, the long drought has led us to forget what they look like and to define senatorial leadership down. L.B.J.’s current successor, Harry Reid, could be found yawning on camera Wednesday night. He might as well have just taken the whole nap. Here was this leader’s pronouncement last week on the future of the president and his party’s No. 1 priority: “We’re not on health care now. We’ve talked a lot about it in the past.” Yes, a lot of talk — a year’s worth, in fact — with nothing to show for it.

If Reid can serve as the face of Democratic fecklessness in the Senate, then John McCain epitomizes the unpatriotic opposition. On Wednesday night he could be seen sneering when Obama pointed out that most of the debt vilified by Republicans happened on the watch of a Republican president and Congress that never paid for “two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program.” The president’s indictment could have been more lacerating. Crunching Congressional Budget Office numbers, David Leonhardt of The Times calculated that of the projected $2 trillion swing into the red between the Clinton surplus and 2012, some 33 percent could be attributed to Bush legislation and another 20 percent to Bush-initiated spending (Iraq, TARP) continued by Obama. Only 7 percent of the deficit could be credited to the Obama stimulus bill and 3 percent to his other initiatives. (The business cycle accounts for the other 37 percent.)

Perhaps McCain was sneering at Obama because of the Beltway’s newest unquestioned cliché: one year after a new president takes office he is required to stop blaming his predecessor for the calamities left behind. Who dreamed up that canard — Alito? F.D.R. never followed it. In an October 1936 speech, nearly four years after Hoover, Roosevelt was still railing against the “hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing government” he had inherited. He reminded unemployed and destitute radio listeners that there had been “nine crazy years at the ticker” and “nine mad years of mirage” followed by three long years of bread lines and despair. F.D.R. soon won re-election in the greatest landslide the country had seen.

Obama should turn up the heat on both the G.O.P’s record of fiscal recklessness and its mad-dog obstructionism. He should stop paying lip service to the fantasy that his Congressional opposition has serious ideas to contribute to the cleanup. Better still, he should publicize exactly what those “ideas” are.

Yes, the Republicans were correct to laugh at one of the president’s own gimmicks on Wednesday night: a symbolic and pointless spending “freeze.” But their own alternatives are downright hilarious. When the G.O.P. House leadership last year announced its plan to cut federal spending by $75 billion annually, it enumerated specific new cuts of only $5 billion per year. A tax-cut-laden “stimulus plan” endorsed by Jim DeMint, the South Carolina senator and Tea Party hero, “would cost more than $3 trillion — more than triple the cost of Obama’s stimulus — over the next decade,” in the estimate of Jonathan Chait of The New Republic.

On State of the Union day, the Republican National Committee gathered at its winter meeting at Waikiki Beach to battle over a measure that would deny campaign funds to candidates who didn’t pass a Tea Party ideological purity test. Back in Washington, other party thinkers trotted out some more brilliant ideas. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman hailed as the Republicans’ new intellectual hope, laid out a lengthy “G.O.P. Road Map for America’s Future” on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page that proposed cutting taxes (disproportionately for the wealthy) and privatizing Medicare and Social Security but devoted no bullet point to creating jobs for Americans in urgent need. On the Hill that morning, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota led House colleagues in signing a “Declaration of Health Care Independence” to complement a bill that would let Americans “purchase insurance with their own tax-free money.” Gee, why did no else think of that ingenious fix for a health care system that leaves 46.3 million uninsured and whose runaway costs are on track to eat up one-fifth of the American economy?

It was a heartening breakthrough when Obama dismissed such idiocies repeatedly in his televised meeting with House Republicans on Friday. He mocked G.O.P. legislative snake oil that promises to lower all medical costs and “won’t cost anybody anything.” He must keep this up — and be equally tough on the slackers in his own party who stall his agenda. And he must be less foggy on the specifics of what that agenda is. Though on Wednesday night he asked Congress to “take another look” at the health care bill, even now it’s unclear what he believes that bill’s bedrock provisions should be. He also said he wouldn’t sign any financial regulatory bill that “does not meet the test of real reform,” yet tentatively praised a House bill compromised by a banking lobby that is in bed with Democrats and Republicans alike. The Senate, of course, has yet to produce any financial reform bill.

Americans like Obama far more than they like any Congressional leader. They might even like more of his policies if he spelled them out. But none of that matters if no Democrat fears him enough to do any of his bidding and no Republican believes there’s any price to be paid for always saying no.

A year in, we have learned that all the conciliatory rhetoric won’t cut it. But a president with a big megaphone and large legislative majorities has more powerful strings to pull, no matter what happened in one special election in Massachusetts. If he can’t get a working government, at least he can shake things up in November.

Just look at how a sharp public slap provoked Justice Alito, threw a spotlight on the court’s dubious jurisprudence and sparked an embarrassing over-the-top hissy fit on the right. A do-nothing Congress, at a time when ever more Americans are losing their jobs and homes, is an even riper target than the Supreme Court — and far more politically vulnerable. Without strong medicine from Obama, we can be certain of the same result: a heedless Congress will keep doing nothing. If he steps it up, there’s at least a shot that his presidency, and maybe even the country, will be pulled back from the brink.

Friday, January 29, 2010

From The White House

Remarks by the President at GOP House Issues Conference

Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, Baltimore, Maryland

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Please, everybody be seated.  Thank you.  Thank you, John, for the gracious introduction.  To Mike and Eric, thank you for hosting me.  Thank you to all of you for receiving me.  It is  wonderful to be here.  I want to also acknowledge Mark Strand, president of the Congressional Institute.  To all the family members who are here and who have to put up with us for an elective office each and every day, thank you, because I know that's tough.  (Applause.)

I very much am appreciative of not only the tone of your introduction, John, but also the invitation that you extended to me.  You know what they say, "Keep your friends close, but visit the Republican Caucus every few months."  (Laughter.)

Part of the reason I accepted your invitation to come here was because I wanted to speak with all of you, and not just to all of you.  So I'm looking forward to taking your questions and having a real conversation in a few moments.  And I hope that the conversation we begin here doesn't end here; that we can continue our dialogue in the days ahead.  It's important to me that we do so.  It's important to you, I think, that we do so.  But most importantly, it's important to the American people that we do so.

I've said this before, but I'm a big believer not just in the value of a loyal opposition, but in its necessity.  Having differences of opinion, having a real debate about matters of domestic policy and national security -- and that's not something that's only good for our country, it's absolutely essential.  It's only through the process of disagreement and debate that bad ideas get tossed out and good ideas get refined and made better.  And that kind of vigorous back and forth -- that imperfect but well-founded process, messy as it often is -- is at the heart of our democracy.  That's what makes us the greatest nation in the world.

From Truthout

Homeless Often Hidden in Tennessee

by: John Mottern, t r u t h o u t | Report
(Photos by John Mottern)

"Tent City" is a place hidden out of sight and historically out of mind. It sprawls over a mud-rutted, brush-tangled acre of landscape nestled under a network of highway bridges along the Cumberland River on the outskirts of downtown Nashville, Tennessee. It is impossible to find unless one is directed or taken there. The camp is surrounded by a variety of chain-link fencing placed in different configurations that appear to have been installed in stages over many years.
This community of homeless men and women, constantly fluctuating in size, has been, to date, largely flying under the city's municipal radar. It appears that the camp has provided an unspoken service for the city as an alternative to municipal shelters, historically catering to a population of homeless, fringe people who might be battling drug and alcohol addiction or suffering from untreated mental illness, or the occasional sex offender avoiding mainstream society.

Recently, there has been a change at Tent City; the population is growing at a staggering rate. One consequence is that more attention is being given to this group of nearly 100 residents and their makeshift dwellings by both the media and advocacy groups.

Wendell Segroves, the unofficial leader of the homeless community Tent City in Nashville, TN, is like a father or chief leading his tribe. Photo: John Mottern
Wendell Segroves, the unofficial leader of the homeless community Tent City in Nashville, Tennessee, is like a father or chief leading his tribe.

Wendell Segroves, 52, who is the leader of the encampment, much like a father, says that the numbers are growing with the addition of new people who find themselves with no other place to live due to the harsh economy. Segroves lives in a small wooden dwelling in a back corner of the camp. He has three little, but tough looking, dogs, and has somehow managed both electricity and an Internet connection. He is wired into, and is on top of, the homeless scene both in Nashville and around the country. He contributes to homeless blogs and is working to build a network on the web to enable homeless people to engage and discuss issues.

Nashville Surge
Residents of Nashville's Tent City collect fire wood from a load of scraps from a local construction site, dumped by a friendly driver. Photo: John Mottern
Residents of Nashville's Tent City collect fire wood from a load of scraps from a local construction site, dumped by a friendly driver.
The problem in Nashville now, Segroves said, is that the rapid growth of homelessness and poverty will soon overwhelm the Nashville social services' ability to provide shelter and food. He explained that there are now about 13,000 homeless people in Nashville and 5,000 on the streets.

Segroves works with a feeding program for homeless and impoverished people, and, he said, "every time its new people" adding to the ranks using the program. "I don't see it getting better any time soon," he said.
There are over 30 homeless camps in the Nashville area according to Segroves; each may hold five to 20 people. The city government tries to find these encampments and remove them, he said, so the encampment dwellers keep quiet about where they live. The only reason that his Tent City has escaped city removal, he said, is because of media attention and the public support it has generated.
Cheryl Woodard works on a crossword puzzle. She suffers from seizures and keeps getting thrown out of the shelters because of the affliction. Photo: John Mottern
Cheryl Woodard works on a crossword puzzle. She suffers from seizures and keeps getting thrown out of the shelters because of the affliction.

A large dump truck pulls up to the front gate of the camp as we are talking. It's loaded high with wood scraps from a local construction site. A voice from somewhere unseen and deep within the settlement barks out "All In ... all in." Slowly, bodies emerge from all corners of the camp moving at a pace consistent with the cold air and the heavy downpour of rain. The truck dumps the wood at the gate and slowly, without any discussion, the wood is carted off in different directions by the people of Tent City. Columns of white smoke drift out of many of the tents as people try to stay dry and warm. The donated wood is a benefit of the increased awareness of the camp as public opinion has softened toward the homeless in general.
As the Tent City residents move about the camp, the rain and mud intensify the environmental harshness facing them. Young and old, men and women, sit by their fires trying to stay comfortable.

J.T., left, from Cleveland, OH, tends a fire outside a communal tent in Nashville's Tent City. Tent City currently has about 70 homeless people living in tents and makeshift wooden structures. Photo: John Mottern
J.T. (left) from Cleveland, Ohio, tends a fire outside a communal tent in Nashville's Tent City. Tent City currently has about 70 homeless people living in tents and makeshift wooden structures.
Cheryl Woodard is working on a crossword puzzle and explains to me that she suffers from seizures and keeps getting thrown out of the shelters. She has lived in the camp for a month and a half. "They don't understand me and keep accusing me of doing things like peeing in a bucket. After a seizure I'm really out of it for awhile." Woodard is sitting in front of a huge, black plastic structure, which she says sleeps six people. To her left is a strong looking African-American man in his late thirties. He calls me a racist because I haven't interviewed him yet. I tell him it's the first time I've been called a racist, and he said he was kidding, but now we are talking. J.T. is from Cleveland, Ohio, and he declares loudly, that "there ain't no work." This is his forth time in Nashville as a homeless man.

There is a teenage boy sitting at the fire as well. He doesn't move or say anything, just sits looking depressed and beaten. It's the saddest moment of the day - youth in such despair. My teenagers at home often feel that momentary despair, but it is followed by a fight or an argument known to all parents of teenagers. Yet, our kids somehow find their way safely back to a place of balanced teenage joy. Not true for this young man. He sits and waits for something, anything, that just isn't going to happen, and he knows it.

A teenage boy sits outside a communal structure in Tent City. The numbers of homeless teenagers is growing rapidly in the United States. Photo: John Mottern
A teenage boy sits outside a communal structure in Tent City. The numbers of homeless teenagers is growing rapidly in the United States.
 My next visit is to a tent made from wood and plastic. I look inside and find two men in tattered, filthy clothing. It's like a scene from a movie showing the quintessential hobos of the Depression. They won't talk to me or let me photograph them, so I move on.

There are dogs everywhere, tied to ropes or inside structures. One structure had a "No Trespassing" sign hanging on a chain across the entrance. Another makeshift hut was covered with an old billboard canvas with a huge image of a man smoking a cigar and looking very dapper. This was the icing on the surreal cake of Tent City.
Segroves said, "We just want to be left alone and get the services we need. Some guy was going to bring little huts down for us, but the city stopped it. I was going to make one of them a shower."
There are dogs everywhere tied to ropes or locked inside structures at Tent City. Photo: John Mottern
There are dogs everywhere tied to ropes or locked inside structures at Tent City.

Segroves used to put wood chips on all the paths, but it was clearly a losing battle against the mud. I dropped him off at a local church where he could take a shower. On the way back, he picked up a 12-pack and some tobacco: "My little vice."

My guide to Tent City and to understanding the homeless world of Nashville is Madge Johnson, who greeted me with a huge hug. She is a woman on a mission of compassion, and it's clear that her empathy comes from a place of knowing harsh realities on a personal level. She is the perfect advocate for the homeless in Nashville, having been on the streets for over a decade herself.

"One cold night," she said, "I found myself in a house with some older men." Tears are streaming down her face at this point in the story, and she needs a moment to breath back to her voice. "It wasn't about the sex, you know, tricking, or about the drugs or some beer. They were nice to me, and I had something to eat and I was warm. That's when it hit me, I mean how low I had gone." Hitting bottom, where only the very basics for survival like food and shelter were what mattered, this was the moment that shocked Johnson to her core and started her back in the direction of real recovery.

Madge Johnson, far right, Outreach Navigator for Nashville Homeless Power Project, NHPP. Photo: John Mottern
Madge Johnson (far right), outreach navigator for Nashville Homeless Power Project (NHPP).
Today she is clean and a pivotal staff member at Nashville Homeless Power Project (NHPP). Her co-worker and the executive director of the nonprofit organization, Jay Mazon, said, "There are no mistakes. 
Our experiences shape us to who we are. There is a reason for everything ... this is why Madge is so good at what she does now. People can relate to her in a very real way and why she can ground the staff here"
The NHPP, with a small staff of paid workers and volunteers, is doing grassroots organizing to bring change in the municipal attitude and general public opinion about the issue of homelessness. Giving the homeless a voice and helping them find the services needed to get them back on their feet is the main objective. They have also set up an annual event that honors and remembers the homeless who have perished on the streets over the past year.

Homeless advocate Madge Johnson, left, gets a welcoming hug from a homeless man living in Tent City in Nashville as Wendell Segroves, right, looks on. Photo: John Mottern
Homeless advocate Madge Johnson (left) gets a welcoming hug from a homeless man living in Tent City in Nashville as Wendell Segroves (right) looks on.

The organization is working with the courts and the Nashville Bar Association to help homeless people resolve legal problems instead of overwhelming the jails. Mazon explained, "It a program to help those unable to move forward because of their legal history. Those that are looking to sincerely improve their situation can have their records cleaned allowing them to get back to work and move forward."

"We need money and I mean like yesterday," Mazon said. "I was never homeless but I come from the working poor. I always wanted to give back."

Sweeping Up in Memphis
Just a three-hour drive from Nashville, the cold winter is also impacting the homeless and the political fabric of Memphis.

A homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee slowly and with great care folds plastic sheeting he uses to stay warm. Photo: John Mottern
A homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee, slowly and with great care folds plastic sheeting he uses to stay warm.
Memphis does not have a city-run, free shelter for men, and staying at the Memphis Union Mission shelter costs $6 a night after the first four nights free. There is also a fee for other privately-run shelters, and a picture ID is required. This is in a city where panhandling is a crime.
The Memphis police began enforcing a new policy on December 9, 2009, of rounding up and processing homeless people living on the streets. The plan initially was billed as a crackdown and sweep of the streets, but the police action soon mellowed into a community service action after Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. was hammered by advocates for the homeless. You had nothing to worry about unless you were wanted on outstanding warrants, promised the chastened mayor.

"A Nudge"
It was not surprising, though, that on the first day of the new order, police found very few homeless milling around in their usual hangout locations. "If you stay out here they're gonna take you to jail," said Karl Nolan, who has been homeless in Memphis for the "last four months, this time."

"I'm shining hubcaps trying to get enough money to pay for the shelter for a few nights," said the theatrical Nolan. He relaxed after a few minutes of conversation and spoke of the growing numbers of homeless and how the city just doesn't understand the problems faced by those on the street. I got a big hug as I left, and I gave him $20.
Karl Nolan, a homeless man living in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo: John Mottern
 Karl Nolan, a homeless man living in Memphis, Tennessee.

An official gathering, documented by the press, around one of the few homeless people who had not vacated Memphis city center for a police sweep in December, 2009. Photo: John Mottern
An official gathering, documented by the press, around one of the few homeless people who had not vacated Memphis city center for a police sweep in December 2009.
Later in the morning, I found a gathering of police, media, city sanitation workers and a few homeless men in the city center. All the players clearly know their role in this scene. The police acting with civil restraint as members of the media watch at arms length, as if afraid to get too close. These few cornered homeless men, seen in their uniforms of layered dirty and tattered clothing, seem bewildered and confused at the attention.

Lt. Sandra Marshall of the Memphis Police Department explained that the homeless man who is the center of the group's attention was found sleeping next to a trash can across from the Memphis Courthouse, but is "known" to be in that area most days. She said "he did not fit the criteria" mandated for the new city policy, which I found odd. She followed with, "I don't think people should live like this in unsanitary conditions, and they need a nudge to find services."
A homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee who was moved along by police during a citywide sweep of the city center. The police said he is always there and so he doesn't fit the criteria of the target group for the sweep. Photo: John Mottern
A homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee, who was moved along by police during a citywide sweep of the city center. The police said he is always there and so he "doesn't fit the criteria" of the target group for the sweep.

"I'm tired and ashamed of who I am," said Robert Warren, another street person sitting nearby, who was also caught in the sweep. He reads on from an unseen script, as from a play, about finding Jesus and wanting to finally change. He is surrounded by three, calm police officers, a social worker, a few photographers and one lone reporter.

The police on the scene were nonthreatening and working very hard to appear empathetic in their efforts to assist Warren, who has been homeless for ten years and is battling drug and alcohol addiction. Lt. Felix Calvi of the Memphis police department, who was standing stiffly by Warren, said they were "waiting for the Friendship Church to come and pick him up and take him to a shelter." Warren is the stereotypical homeless person normally overlooked by the average person walking around in the famous Beale Street area.

Lt. Sandra Marshall, center of the Memphis Police Department talks to Robert Warren, seated, a homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee as Lt Felix Calvi looks on during the first day of a citywide sweep of the homeless population in the city in December 2009. Photo: John Mottern
Lt. Sandra Marshall (center) of the Memphis Police Department talks to Robert Warren (seated), a homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee, as Lt. Felix Calvi looks on during the first day of a citywide sweep of the homeless population in the city in December 2009.
Brad Watkins, organizing coordinator for the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, said that city government keeps trying to find ways of pushing homeless people out of Memphis' business district. For example, a proposal now being considered would prevent sales of single cans of beer within the city's Business Improvement District, but Watkins said this will only push people with alcohol addiction into surrounding neighborhoods, increase the sale of cheap liquor instead of beer and benefit chain stores just across the boundary line that is being considered as opposed to the mom and pop stores inside the zone.

He said that the city is taking a few positive steps for the homeless, such as trying to get a more accurate count of homeless people. At the same time, he said, police continue surveillance, using cameras, in front of Manna House, where homeless people can get food.
Lt Felix Calvi of the Memphis Police Department stands next to Robert Warren, a homeless man. They are waiting for a local shelter to come and pick Warren up during the first day of a city-wide sweep of the homeless population ordered by the Mayor's office. Photo: John Mottern
Lt. Felix Calvi of the Memphis Police Department stands next to Robert Warren, a homeless man. They are waiting for a local shelter to come and pick Warren up during the first day of a citywide sweep of the homeless population ordered by the mayor's office.
He said further that many homeless people are not seen camped on the streets because they have taken up occupancy in abandoned homes that abound in the Memphis. A major problem contributing to homelessness, he said, is that, because of inadequate funding, the Federal Section 8 housing subsidy program in Memphis has a four-year long waiting list. "It is very shameful," he said, and "it is a national problem."

Arresting or moving homeless people to shelters would quickly overwhelm the private nonprofit facilities and the jails. Most homeless people would find themselves back on the streets within a few days. June Averyt with the nonprofit group Door of Hope explained that sweeps won't fix the problem. "Are they supposed to disappear? Fall off the face of the earth? What they need are the services," Averyt said in a recent interview with the local paper.

There appears to be no clear, comprehensive plan in Memphis other than pressuring homeless people to creep deeper into the background of the city's fabric until it's safe to creep back out. The status quo of Memphis' "homeless problem" has been a nuisance issue, but the dark cloud approaching on the horizon, the tsunami of need of the new homeless, is really what Memphis should be reacting too, particularly as the cold of winter settles in.
Politics as usual keeps many of these people in check, often stuck in family shelter situations that are just getting more and more crowded. The mayor's office pushes hard when under pressure from the public or business owners to do something and then retreats when painted as heartless and militant in the media.

The career homeless in cities like Nashville and Memphis are also feeling the growing pressure of more people entering their ranks and vying for services. There are now families, teens and the unemployed, who have run out of options, entering the ranks of no place to call home. Tent cities and alternative communities are seeing incredible growth that also brings in a spotlight that is focusing attention on people that otherwise preferred to survive in the shadows of social blindness and disregard.

(This is part of an ongoing series about the new homeless in America.)

From Frontline

The Cynical Use of the Holocaust

by Dee Newman

Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Efforts to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive are imperative. The Holocaust must never be forgotten!

For Israel to take part in these efforts is, of course, fitting and proper. However, in doing so, the Israeli government must be free of any ulterior motives, designed to use the memory of the Holocaust to obscure and justify the Israeli government’s past and present war crimes and human rights abuses. Regrettably, their words and actions have rightly stirred suspicions that it has and continues to cynically use the memory of the Holocaust to do just that.

How fitting and proper it would have been if on this international day of remembrance Israel had taken the time to look inward and examine itself, its own motives and despicable conduct . . . to have asked why it had found it necessary a year ago to dropped white-phosphorous bombs on the innocent people (men, women, and children) of Gaza.

How appropriate and magnanimous it would have been, if Netanyahu had declared a new policy for integrating refugees into the Israeli culture instead of a strategy to remove them, or had finally lifted the horrific blockade of Gaza, now in its fourth year, forcing 1.5 million people to live in conditions that are unbearable and disgraceful.

As long as Israel continues to descend into a xenophobic state of fear and intolerance, as long as it continues its self-righteous blockade of Gaza, and as long as it continues to violate the basic human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories and uses its own security (and the Holocaust) to try and excuse its criminal and discriminatory actions, Netanyahu’s Holocaust speeches will forever remain specious and ring hollow.

From BBC News

Tony Blair is making his long-awaited appearance before the UK's inquiry into the Iraq war. Here are some of the key questions he is facing. His answers will be added during the course of the evidence session.

"If the people inspired by this religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000 they would have"
Tony Blair told the Iraq inquiry his view of perceived threats from WMD changed after 9/11.
He said he believed terrorists would use chemical and biological weapons because "if those people inspired by this religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000 they would have.
"My view was you could not take risks with this issue at all."

Mr Blair said that "containment" of Saddam Hussein's Iraq through sanctions had been "eroding", prior to the decision to invade the country.
He was explaining to the inquiry the different options available for dealing with Saddam Hussein's regime prior to 2003.

"I couldn't describe the nature of the threat in the same way if I knew then what I know now"
As UK prime minister he said that ridding Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction was the reason for the war.

But in July Mr Blair told Fern Britton that it was right to get rid of Saddam and even if there had not been the WMD issue "you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat".

He told the Chilcot inquiry he "did not use the words regime change in that interview", and said he meant he "couldn't describe the nature of the threat in the same way if you knew then what you know now".

Did Tony Blair tell US President George Bush at their meeting at his Crawford ranch in April 2002 that the UK would join the Americans in a war with Iraq? How firm was that commitment and was it dependent on going through the United Nations?

Mr Blair was asked about the 45 minute claim and what it referred to
The now discredited claim that Saddam Hussein could use chemical weapons within 45 minutes of giving an order was included in the September 2002 dossier.
Mr Blair was asked about the quality of evidence he received in that dossier.
He was specifically questioned about what the 45 minute claim referred to.

In his foreword to that 2002 dossier, Mr Blair said he believed what "the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons". But the inquiry has heard that there were a number of caveats in the intelligence. Why did he feel it was "beyond doubt"?

The question of whether or not the war was legal has been a source of long-running controversy. Tony Blair's Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told the inquiry on Wednesday he had warned the PM that regime change could not justify war. Lord Goldsmith said he changed his mind on whether a second UN resolution was needed for the war to be legal only a few weeks before the invasion. He said he was surprised the cabinet did not discuss the war's legality. He also said Mr Blair had not welcomed his advice in 2002 that an invasion would be illegal. Is this the case and, if so, why?

There have also been questions about why was it decided not to give the UN weapons inspectors more time inside Iraq in March 2003. Linked to this was the decision to pull the plug on attempts to get a second UN resolution authorising military action. Why were these decisions taken?

The inquiry has heard about failures in the planning for post-war Iraq. Confusion as to whether the US had a plan or not has been blamed by some at the inquiry. Mr Blair is also likely to be asked about criticism of him for the lack of priority given to post-war planning from people such as his former International Development Secretary Clare Short.

A number of the seats in the inquiry room have been allocated to the families of members of the British armed forces killed in Iraq. It is likely he will be asked about the numerous reports and claims in recent years about a lack of appropriate equipment for British servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given the loss of life among British servicemen and women, their allies and the loss of life amongst Iraqis since the 2003 invasion, does Tony Blair still believe the war was justified?

From Bill Moyers Journal

December 11, 2009

BILL MOYERS: There's a long tradition in America of people power, and no one has done more to document it than the historian, Howard Zinn. Listen to this paragraph from his most famous book. Quote: "If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizen's movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed." This son of a working class family got a job in the Brooklyn shipyards and then flew as a bombardier during World War II. He went to NYU on the G.I. Bill, taught history at Spellman College in Atlanta, where he was first active in the Civil Rights movement, and then became a professor of political science at Boston University.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Supreme Judical Activism

 by Dee Newman

I apologize to my readers for the anger that inflames my outrage over the recent Supreme Court ruling, reversing a century of law and allowing even foreign corporations to influence and manipulate with unlimited funds our elections, but there are circumstances (decisions and actions) that deserve more than our displeasure and criticism. They demand from us a thunderous outcry that cannot be ignored.

Multi-national corporations need only spend a small fraction of their profits to obscure and overwhelm the voices of individual citizens. Corporations have – for these reasons and others – been barred from spending unlimited funds on political races for as long as I have been alive. They are not people. They do not possess the same ideals and moral imperatives as do individual citizens. Therefore, they do not deserve the same rights.

The conservative and activist wing of the Supreme Court ignored not only well-established law and commonsense precedent, but the wishes of Congress. All five of these conservative Justices as nominees professed their commitment to judicial modesty and restraint. But, once again, they have allowed their ideology to brazenly indulge their political desires and override the rule of law.

If you are as outraged as I am over their blatant judicial activism, I hope you will join me in taking meaningful action to help right this terrible wrong. Please write or call your congressional representative and senators today and encourage them to pass legislation that will reverse this despicable act. Thank you.

From PBS News Hour: Art Beat

J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger, the author of the classic modern novel about teenage rebellion, "The Catcher in the Rye," has died. He was 91 and had lived for decades in isolation in a small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.

In a statement from Salinger's literary agent, the author's son said Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday.

Published in 1951, "The Catcher in the Rye" became one of the most influential American novels of the modern era and perhaps left its biggest mark in high school and freshman college English courses.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in "The Catcher in the Rye," became a symbol for the angry and rebellious modern teenager and of adolescent angst. Sales of the book, according to the Associated Press, have reached more than 60 million copies worldwide.

But almost immediately after it was published, Salinger became disillusioned with the publishing industry and retreated into seclusion. He published only three more books: "Nine Stories," "Franny and Zooey" and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction." His last published work was in 1965 in the New Yorker.

Earlier Thursday, Jim Lehrer talked to the University of Michigan's Nicholas Delbanco and Syracuse University's Robert Thompson about Salinger's life and work:

Appreciations for Salinger, as you can imagine, are coming from everywhere. We'll compile the best here, and please leave your thoughts and comments below.
The New Yorker, where Salinger published many of his stories, is making available all of his stories through its online edition.
Charles McGrath, writing for the New York Times:
"As a young man, Mr. Salinger had a long, melancholy face and deep soulful eyes, but now, in the few photographs that surfaced, he looked gaunt and gray, like someone in an El Greco painting. He spent more time and energy avoiding the world, it was sometimes said, than most people do in embracing it, and his elusiveness only added to the mythology growing up around him. Depending on your point of view, he was either a crackpot or the American Tolstoy, who had turned silence itself into his most eloquent work of art."
The New York Times Learning Network also has a variety of resources on Salinger's work for teachers and students.
GalleyCat is compiling reviews from well-known critics, including Jonathan Yardley and John Updike, who last year also died on Jan. 27.
Julia Keller, writing on the Chicago Tribune's Printers Row:
"To read 'Salinger' and '91' in the same sentence is a shock, an abomination. And yet there it is, the blunt and brutal fact of it, showing up in news reports of the author's death like a rock holding down a butterfly wing: J.D. Salinger, who died earlier today, was 91."
Stephen Metcalf, writing for Slate:
"Like many of my fellow pilgrims, I hit adolescence only to discover my autobiography had already been written; plagiarized, in fact, by a man named J.D. Salinger who, in appropriating to himself my inner mass of pain and confusion, had given me the unlikely name of 'Holden Caulfield.'"

From Truthout

Howard Zinn: A Public Intellectual Who Mattered

by: Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed 

In 1977 I took my first job in higher education at Boston University. One reason I went there was because Howard Zinn was teaching there at the time. As a high school teacher, Howard's book, "Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal," published in 1968, had a profound effect on me. Not only was it infused with a passion and sense of commitment that I admired as a high school teacher and tried to internalize as part of my own pedagogy, but it captured something about the passion, sense of commitment and respect for solidarity that came out of Howard's working-class background. It offered me a language, history and politics that allowed me to engage critically and articulate my opposition to the war that was raging at the time.

I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and rarely met or read any working-class intellectuals. After reading James Baldwin, hearing William Kunstler and Stanley Aronowitz give talks, I caught a glimpse of what it meant to occupy such a fragile, contradictory and often scorned location. But reading Howard gave me the theoretical tools to understand more clearly how the mix of biography, cultural capital and class location could be finely honed into a viable and laudable politics.

Later, as I got to know Howard personally, I was able to fill in the details about his working-class background and his intellectual development. We had grown up in similar neighborhoods, shared a similar cultural capital and we both probably learned more from the streets than we had ever learned in formal schooling. There was something about Howard's fearlessness, his courage, his willingness to risk not just his academic position, but also his life, that marked him as special - untainted by the often corrupting privileges of class entitlement.

Before I arrived in Boston to begin teaching at Boston University, Howard was a mythic figure for me and I was anxious to meet him in real life. How I first encountered him was perfectly suited to the myth. While walking to my first class, as I was nearing the university, filled with the trepidation of teaching a classroom of students, I caught my fist glimpse of Howard. He was standing on a box with a bullhorn in front of the Martin Luther King memorial giving a talk calling for opposition to Silber's attempt to undermine any democratic or progressive function of the university. The image so perfectly matched my own understanding of Howard that I remember thinking to myself, this has to be the perfect introduction to such a heroic figure.

Soon afterwards, I wrote him a note and rather sheepishly asked if we could meet. He got back to me in a day; we went out to lunch soon afterwards, and a friendship developed that lasted over 30 years. While teaching at Boston University, I often accompanied Howard when he went to high schools to talk about his published work or his plays. I sat in on many of his lectures and even taught one of his graduate courses. He loved talking to students and they were equally attracted to him. His pedagogy was dynamic, directive, focused, laced with humor and always open to dialog and interpretation. He was a magnificent teacher, who shredded all notions of the classroom as a place that was as uninteresting as it was often irrelevant to larger social concerns. He urged his students not just to learn from history, but to use it as a resource to sharpen their intellectual prowess and hone their civic responsibilities.

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard's pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

He offered students a range of options. He wasn't interested in molding students in the manner of Pygmalion, but in giving them the widest possible set of choices and knowledge necessary for them to view what they learned as an act of freedom and empowerment. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still. He captured this sentiment well in a comment he made in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train." He wrote:
"From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."
In fact, Howard was under constant attack by John Silber, then president of Boston University, because of his scholarship and teaching. One expression of that attack took the form of freezing Howard's salary for years.

Howard loved watching independent and Hollywood films and he and I and Roz [Howard's wife] saw many films together while I was in Boston. I remember how we quarreled over "Last Tango in Paris." I loved the film, but he disagreed. But Howard disagreed in a way that was persuasive and instructive. He listened, stood his ground, and, if he was wrong, often said something like, "O.K., you got a point," always accompanied by that broad and wonderful smile.

What was so moving and unmistakable about Howard was his humility, his willingness to listen, his refusal of all orthodoxies and his sense of respect for others. I remember once when he was leading a faculty strike at BU in the late 1970s and I mentioned to him that too few people had shown up. He looked at me and made it very clear that what should be acknowledged is that some people did show up and that was a beginning. He rightly put me in my place that day - a lesson I never forgot.

Howard was no soppy optimist, but someone who believed that human beings, in the face of injustice and with the necessary knowledge, were willing to resist, organize and collectively struggle. Howard led the committee organized to fight my firing by Silber. We lost that battle, but Howard was a source of deep comfort and friendship for me during a time when I had given up hope. I later learned that Silber, the notorious right-wing enemy of Howard and anyone else on the left, had included me on a top-ten list of blacklisted academics at BU. 

Hearing that I shared that list with Howard was a proud moment for me. But Howard occupied a special place in Silber's list of enemies, and he once falsely accused Howard of arson, a charge he was later forced to retract once the charge was leaked to the press.
Howard was one of the few intellectuals I have met who took education seriously. He embraced it as both necessary for creating an informed citizenry and because he rightly felt it was crucial to the very nature of politics and human dignity. He was a deeply committed scholar and intellectual for whom the line between politics and life, teaching and civic commitment collapsed into each other.

Howard never allowed himself to be seduced either by threats, the seductions of fame or the need to tone down his position for the standard bearers of the new illiteracy that now populates the mainstream media. As an intellectual for the public, he was a model of dignity, engagement and civic commitment. He believed that addressing human suffering and social issues mattered, and he never flinched from that belief. His commitment to justice and the voices of those expunged from the official narratives of power are evident in such works as his monumental and best-known book, "A People's History of the United States," but it was also evident in many of his other works, talks, interviews and the wide scope of public interventions that marked his long and productive life. Howard provided a model of what it meant to be an engaged scholar, who was deeply committed to sustaining public values and a civic life in ways that linked theory, history and politics to the everyday needs and language that informed everyday life. He never hid behind a firewall of jargon, refused to substitute irony for civic courage and disdained the assumption that working-class and oppressed people were incapable of governing themselves.

Unlike so many public relations intellectuals today, I never heard him interview himself while talking to others. Everything he talked about often pointed to larger social issues, and all the while, he completely rejected any vestige of political and moral purity. His lack of rigidity coupled with his warmness and humor often threw people off, especially those on the left and right who seem to pride themselves on their often zombie-like stoicism. But, then again, Howard was not a child of privilege. He had a working-class sensibility, though hardly romanticized, and sympathy for the less privileged in society along with those whose voices had been kept out of the official narratives as well as a deeply felt commitment to solidarity, justice, dialogue and hope. And it was precisely this great sense of dignity and generosity in his politics and life that often moved people who shared his company privately or publicly. A few days before his death, he sent me an email commenting on something I had written for Truthout about zombie politics. (It astonishes me that this will have been the last correspondence. Even at my age, the encouragement and support of this man, this towering figure in my life, meant such a great deal.) His response captures something so enduring and moving about his spirit. He wrote:
"Henry, we are in a situation where mild rebuke, even critiques we consider 'radical' are not sufficient. (Frederick Douglass' speech on the Fourth of July in 1852, thunderously angry, comes close to what is needed). Raising the temperature of our language, our indignation, is what you are doing and what is needed. I recall that Sartre, close to death, was asked: 'What do you regret?' He answered: 'I wasn't radical enough.'"
I suspect that Howard would have said the same thing about himself. And maybe no one can ever be radical enough, but Howard came close to that ideal in his work, life and politics. Howard's death is especially poignant for me because I think the formative culture that produced intellectuals like him is gone. He leaves an enormous gap in the lives of many thousands of people who knew him and were touched by the reality of the embodied and deeply felt politics he offered to all of us. I will miss him, his emails, his work, his smile and his endearing presence. Of course, he would frown on such a sentiment, and with a smile would more than likely say, "do more than mourn, organize." Of course, he would be right, but maybe we can do both.

Editor's Note: Howard Zinn and Henry A. Giroux not only shared a long personal friendship but also many professional and political connections. Henry A. Giroux recently joined the Truthout Board of Directors. Howard Zinn was a member of Truthout's Board of Advisors and his comments and suggestions about our work will be greatly missed by all of us.

From Michael Moore

"From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try
to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity';
I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but
more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared
to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it.
This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."
– Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn on
'Patriotism & The Fourth of July' | 'War is Not a Solution for Terrorism' | 'Why War Fails' | 'From Empire to Democracy' | 'Obama's Historic Victory'

Check Out Howard Zinn's: 'A People's History of the United States'
"One of the most important books to read in your lifetime."
– Michael Moore

*** ***

Eve of Destruction – Barry McGuire

From Russia Today

CrossTalk on Holocaust: Murder Revenues
Channel Icon

Sixty-five years ago, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops. Peter Lavelle asks his guests what the legacy of the Holocaust is today. Is its memory being abused? Does Israel use Holocaust as a blackmail weapon? Norman Finkelstein and Israel W. Charny discuss the issue in a heated debate.

From Truthout

Jim Hightower | The Supreme Coup

by: Jim Hightower, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Despite 234 years of progress toward the American ideal of equality for all, we still have to battle unfairness.

How happy, then, to learn that a handful of our leaders in Washington took bold and forceful action last week to lift another group of downtrodden Americans from the pits of injustice, helping them gain more political and governmental power. I refer, of course, to corporations.

Say what? Corporations should get more power over our elected officials?

"Free the corporate money," cried the movement's leaders, demanding that America sever the few legal restraints that remain on corporate efforts to buy our elections. "Si, se puede," chanted these assertive champions of corporate supremacy -- "Yes, we can!"

So, they did. "They" being the five doctrinaire corporatists who now form the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. Let's remember their names: Sam Alito, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. These five men, on their own whim, have executed a black-robed coup against the American people's democratic authority.

They took an obscure case involving a minor violation of election funding law and turned it into a constitutional upheaval. Rushing their handpicked case through the system, they issued a 5-4 decision on Jan. 21 that overturns a century of settled American law and more than two centuries of deep agreement in our Land of the Free that the narrow interests of corporations must be subjugated to the public interest.

Indeed, the founders of our Republic saw corporate power as an inherently selfish and perpetual danger to democracy, and most leaders of that day believed that corporate entities should have no role whatsoever in politics. Thomas Jefferson bluntly declared in 1816 that the country must "crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations."

The Alito-Kennedy-Roberts-Scalia-Thomas cabal, however, has unceremoniously dumped the wisdom of the founders, along with volumes of American judicial precedent, to assert that poor little corporations today are victims of political "censorship" by Congress, states and cities that have outlawed the use of corporate funds in elections. Such restrictions, ruled the five usurpers, violate the "free speech rights" of corporations, putting corporate interests at a disadvantage with other political interests.

Disadvantage? This would be hilarious, were it not so dangerous. No other group in American has anywhere near the voice and raw political power that corporations exert every day. Campaign donations from individual corporate executives (and from their PACs, 527s, front groups and other channels) total hundreds of millions of dollars each election year, effectively shouting down the voices of ordinary folks (the Wall Street bailout being but one sterling example).

Yet the Court has just handed these political powerhouses their wildest dream: access to the multi- trillion- dollar ocean of funds held within the corporate entities themselves. Every business empire -- from Wall Street to Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil to the China Overseas Shipping Company (yes, the five wise guys even waved foreign corporations into our political funfest) -- can now open the spigots of their vast corporate treasuries and send a raging torrent of their special interest cash into any and all of our national, state and local elections.

Two legal perversions are at work here. First, the Court has equated the freedom to spend money with the freedom of speech. But if money is speech, those with the most money get the most speech. That's plutocracy, not democracy, and it's totally alien to our Constitution, as well as a gross distortion of the crucial principle of one person-one vote.

Second, a corporation literally cannot speak. It has no lips, tongue, breath or brain. Far from being a "person," a corporation is nothing but a piece of paper -- a legal construct created by the state as a mechanism for its owners to make money.

Actual people in the mechanism (shareholders, executives, workers, retirees, lenders, et al.) can and do speak politically -- in many diverse voices that express very different viewpoints. But the corporate entity, which the court cabal is trying to turn into a Frankenstein monster, is inanimate, incapable of thought, inherently mute and, in itself, no more deserving of human rights than a trash can would be.

From The New York Times

Kids in Crisis (Behind Bars)

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF | New York Times: January 27, 2010

We all have blind spots, and I think one of mine — shared by many other Americans, perhaps including you — has to do with prisons.

Over the years, I’ve written many columns about Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and torture, not to mention the abuses that go on in Chinese and North Korean prisons. But I’ve never written about the horrors that unfold in American prisons — especially juvenile correctional facilities — on a far larger scale than at Guantánamo.

Consider Rodney Hulin Jr., who was a 16-year-old when he was convicted of arson. A first-time offender and a slight figure at 5 feet 2 inches tall and some 125 pounds, he was sent to a men’s prison. There, he was the smallest person around. Within a week, he was raped, according to an account by Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group. The prison doctor ordered an H.I.V. test, since up to one-third of the inmates were H.I.V.-positive.

Rodney asked to be placed in protective custody, but he was denied. His father, Rodney Hulin Sr., picks up the story: “For the next several months, my son was repeatedly beaten by the older inmates, forced to perform oral sex, robbed, and beaten again. ... He could no longer stand to live in continual terror.”

Rodney Jr. hanged himself.

Maybe Rodney would have been safer in a juvenile correctional facility, but then again maybe not. A stunning new Justice Department special report, released just this month, underscores how widespread rape is in youth correctional facilities. It found that almost one youth in eight reported being sexually assaulted while behind bars in the last year.

That means that a child in custody is about twice as likely to be raped as an adult behind bars, based on similar surveys of adult prisoners. As The New York Review of Books wrote on its blog, we face a “crisis of juvenile prison rape.”

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, a blue-ribbon panel that issued its final report last year, described how a 14-year-old boy weighing 98 pounds was assaulted after he was made to share a cell with two older teenagers. Both were 6 feet 2 inches, and one weighed 160 pounds and the other 195 pounds.

Surprisingly, the new survey suggests that the biggest predators are not other inmates but prison staff — and female staff members offend as much as the males do. More than 10 percent of boys in juvenile correctional facilities said that they had had sex with staff, most of whom were women.

Among girls, almost 5 percent said that they had engaged in sexual activity with staff, most of whom were men.

Reggie Walton, a federal judge in the District of Columbia who led the prison rape commission, said that the figures may even be an undercount because of the stigma of rape. “I was shocked at the level of abuse,” he said.

One lesson from the surveys is that we should rethink the way male guards are sometimes assigned to female inmates, and female guards to male inmates, without sufficient respect for inmates’ privacy or dignity. That won’t stop same-sex violence or inmate-on-inmate abuses, but it would address one important component of the abuse problem.

By some accounts, the majority of guards at women’s prisons are now men. Investigators at one juvenile correctional facility found that a male guard watched as girls showered, while a woman watched over boys showering.

Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch, also a member of the prison rape commission, described a Virginia prison where men were stripped naked and asked to spread their buttocks in front of a female officer. When a male inmate asked to be searched in front of a man instead, Ms. Fellner said he was Tasered.

In the last few years, a growing number of states have limited the ability of guards to strip-search members of the opposite sex or watch them showering. And a landmark law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, created Judge Walton’s commission, which has made excellent recommendations to reduce violence and abuse behind bars. The Obama administration should quickly implement those recommendations.

Surveys have found that well-managed prisons and correctional facilities with strong accountability have almost no rape, by guards or inmates. Others have astonishingly high levels. If we want to rehabilitate young offenders and help them get their lives in order, a starting point is to end the criminal abuse of them.

The legacy of Rodney Hulin Jr. should be a concerted drive to end the way inmates are raped with impunity behind bars. The survey results indicating the ubiquity of sexual assault behind bars, often by guards, should be an awakening — and an end to this blind spot that so many of us have shown. We need to be as alert to human rights abuses in our youth correctional facilities as to those at Guantánamo.