Blackwater’s “Drunken” Mercenaries Open Fire “Crazily,” But Still Get New $90 Million Pentagon Contract

Blackwater USA, the billion-dollar mercenary corporation operating in Iraq, is finally and belatedly starting to come under the harsh spotlight of accountability. Hopefully, this new spotlight on Blackwater will help Californians stop dreaming and start demanding that Blackwater not build a mammoth new private military base in San Diego County.
A shocking new House Oversight Committee report (PDF) contains terrifying new details on the lethal incompetence of Blackwater’s “employees” (which act as replacements for US soldiers). Among other stunning findings in the new report, Blackwater, the mercenary corporation that wants to open a mammoth new private army base near San Diego, was found to have paid $15,000 to family members of a man in Iraq shot and killed by a “drunken Blackwater contractor.”
Revelations about this despicable hush money, paid to the murdered man’s family in order to keep the incident quiet, comes after yet another damning report (this one prepared by the Iraqi government) showing that Blackwater mercenaries opened fire “crazily and randomly” at innocent civilians in a terrible Baghdad massacre last month.
Read on to learn more about Blackwater’s history — and what you can do to stop Blackwater’s plans to invade California.

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Summer Election Reform Adds Up To This: Get Out The Votes!

From the Courage Campaign
This summer, the only thing hotter than the weather seems to be election reform. Last week, Secretary of State Debra Bowen made significant strides in securing California’s elections from faulty touch-screen voting machines by kicking the machines out of California. Then, perhaps concerned that old GOP stalwart Diebold isn’t helping to count votes anymore, California Republicans have floated another election reform idea: to end the winner-take-all system for distributing California’s 55 Electoral College Votes. Ostensibly, the GOP wants to make the Electoral College more representative. In reality, the Republicans are trying to steal the 2008 Presidential Election. The way to stop them, as always, is to get out the vote.

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America is Crumbling

I remember one of my teachers in high school saying something about how my generation would have to deal with “crumbling infrastructure.” I dismissed him as a rambling old man back then, but only 10 years after he said that, we’re seeing tragedy after tragedy unfold as basic infrastructure fails spectacularly here, in the richest country ever to exist on God’s green earth. A few years ago, we had a blackout stretch from Detroit to New York City. Two years ago, the levees in New Orleans broke. Two weeks ago, a steam pipe burst under a Manhattan street, killing one and injuring hundreds. And today a bridge over the Mississippi river collapsed in Minneapolis. Example after example of tragic failures of the most basic public trust: roads, utilities, and bridges.
Obviously, accidents sometimes happen. But I refuse to believe it’s just coincidental that our public infrastructure is crumbling about 27 years after the rise of a political philosophy (Reaganomics) which actively works to privatize the entire government out to the lowest bidder. Public utilities used to be just that — publicly funded, regulated, and maintained. That system wasn’t perfect, but at least we didn’t have exploding streets and collapsing bridges. Nowadays, we’ve got Enron-esque, private, for-profit corporations running everything from prisons to health care to road maintenance and even the military.
It’s not working.

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GOP Budget for California Found In President Bush’s Colonoscopy

From The Courage Campaign

Over the weekend, California Republican Senators were given some homework – since they couldn’t stop voting “No” on a compromise budget plan approved by Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly, the Senate Republicans had to come up with their own budget plan.  In a lucky coincidence, President Bush had a colonoscopy on Monday, and doctors apparently found the Republican budget plan lodged somewhere in the First Colon.

How else can we explain where this GOP budget came from?  The Republican proposal would leave tens of thousands of poor people to die, would end several environmental protection laws (??), and would close down several University of California institutes.  And that’s just what they made public.  Apparently there’s even more draconian and unnecessary spending cuts they’re holding back for some reason.  Maybe the rest of the spending cuts are still stuck up Bush’s… colon.

OK, all kidding aside — I don’t want to be accused of just slinging mud, so let’s take a closer look at the main parts of the GOP budget proposal.

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Lightblueline: Sending Out An SOS

From The Courage Campaign
Santa Barbara, the beachside villa I am fortunate enough to call home, has just become one of the first cities to show, definitively, just how real the climate crisis is. The City Council approved a plan to paint a light blue line on the streets. Officially called an “art exhibit,” the line will run through the city, showing where the new shoreline will be if we don’t stop global warming from melting Greenland and the ice caps.
You may have seen how this works in An Inconvenient Truth: as global temperatures rise, more and more of the ice on Greenland, Antarctica, and in the Arctic is melting, meaning that there’s more liquid water in the oceans. This will cause widespread, permanent flooding across the world, including in lovely places like Santa Barbara. Parts of Santa Barbara (and Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and New York…) will be underwater if we don’t work to slow down our carbon emissions – pollution which increases the greenhouse effect and warms the planet.
As much as I’d like to see the beach move even closer to my house, it’s pretty clear that if flooding on the scale predicted by top scientists happens, we’ll have millions and millions of people displaced, and acres of land will be washed away.
So, I’m going to listen to the message sent by Al Gore and his rock star friends. They’ve sent out an SOS, sounding the alarm so that this light blue line in Santa Barbara remains just a work of art and not a prediction.

An Inspired Week For Conservatives

From The Courage Campaign

This was a big week for conservatives.  The immigration bill, while flawed, would have been a step in the right direction for fixing a system that forces more than 12 million people in America to live in the shadows.  Conservatives in the US Senate succeeded in killing that bill, which means that there won't be any meaningful immigration reform until 2009.  Then, the Supreme Court showed its new, solid conservative colors with 3 (three!) blockbuster conservative rulings.  One decision gave corporations all kinds of free speech guarantees in election campaigns.  Another ruling issued the same day limited the free speech rights of student protestors.  And the third 5-4 conservative court decision rolled back the clock on racial equality all the way back to the 1950's.  So, perhaps inspired by the conservative movement's stunning successes in Washington, conservative Republicans in Sacramento dug in their heels and refused to allow a budget to pass the Assembly before start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Democrats in Sacramento had a budget ready to go – one with painful cuts in important services like education.  For example, fees at California universities would see no relief in the Democratic budget, and a planned boost of $400 million for K-12 schools also didn't make the cut.  Traffic a problem in your part of California?  The Democrats trimmed more than half a billion dollars for transit projects in an attempt to keep state spending at reasonable levels.  All this wasn't nearly enough for Assembly Republicans, though – they want even deeper cuts.

I'm left scratching my head.  Aren't we living in one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world?  Why do we need to so deeply cut such essential programs as K-12 education?  There must be some way that California can do better.

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Empowering California’s Youth

From The Courage Campaign

Last week, I met a young woman, a high school student, at a Progressive Democrats of Santa Barbara event about "Empowering California's Youth."  She was there because she'd just gotten a postcard from the army — one that detailed all the benefits of enlisting in the army after graduating from high school.  "Don't they know I'm college bound?!" she said, concerned that the army recruiters were working her high school too hard.  "There's recruiters everywhere at school," she told me.  She was so upset after getting that postcard that she decided to attend the Progressive Democrats event to hear about ways she could fight back against the military's recruitment machine.

She wasn't disappointed.

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Green Blogging

From the Courage Campaign
I thought I was doing a pretty good job of energy conservation.  I always turn off the lights when I leave the room, and I use those compact florescent bulbs to replace the inefficient incandescents when they burn out.  I’ve got a pretty good track record when it comes to turning off the TV.  I rarely get caught accidentally leaving the refrigerator door open.  And I’m very proud to say that my fan even has a thermostat.But this blogging business can really run up the electric bill!  I’ve got a power-intensive workstation.  My computer is nearly always on, because I hate waiting for it to boot up.  Recently, I got a second monitor — trust me, the benefits to having more than one monitor (especially if you’re a writer) are amazing, but I’m sucking down twice as much electricity!  I’ve got a speaker system with a 80 watt subwoofer.  Add a couple of external hard disks… yeah, I’m a bona fide energy hog.

What’s worse is that I’m apparently not alone.  A new study shows that when considering production, use, and disposal, annually computers put as much climate-change-causing CO2 into the atmosphere as airlines.  You read that right — computing worldwide hurts the atmosphere as much as the aviation industry.

Sounds like a huge crisis to me, and we as bloggers (and blog reading computer users) need to be on top of this. 

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The Republican Party Cages African American Voters

From The Courage Campaign

As Karl Rove's former right-hand man abruptly resigns, more details are emerging of yet another sly and illegal "campaign strategy" used by the GOP in the 2004 election. The basic idea behind the Republican strategy is to suppress the voting rights of African Americans. Why? Because African Americans overwhelmingly vote against the Republican Party. Tim Griffin, the Rove adviser who just resigned, is at the center of this brewing scandal. The practice known as "caging" is just the latest dirty trick to be uncovered in a long history of dirty Republican tricks designed to undermine not only the Democratic Party but also small-d democracy in America.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate has an excellent article on how caging works. Basically, what happens is the GOP contacts local city clerks and election commissioners and gives them a list of registered voters that they want "caged." The election officials then mail a letter to the voters' address. The letter requires the voter to send back a reply card within a few weeks in order to confirm that the address is valid. No problem, right? Well, the problem comes in that the list of voters targeted by the GOP is specifically limited to African Americans, and that's a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

The GOP also appears to have especially targeted African American soldiers that are deployed abroad and people who don't have a home. This means that that the voter registrations of untold numbers of Democratic soldiers were canceled because the soldiers weren't at home to send a reply card back to the elections office.

How do we know all this? Well, there's documentary evidence including emails and spreadsheets of names and addresses that clearly show the GOP effort to clear the voter rolls of African Americans in Florida. Former top Justice Department official Monica Goodling was questioned under oath about this last week, and she appeared to admit that "caging" is a strategy employed by Republicans. I guess we shouldn't be surprised at yet another example of institutionalized racism perpetrated by people entrusted to protect voting rights. We shouldn't be surprised, but as Lithwick suggests, we should be "madder than heck."

UCSB Student Detained After Homeland Security Interrogated Her Roommate

From the Courage Campaign
Last Thursday, at about 5:30 in the morning, agents from the Department of Homeland Security visited the apartment of some UCSB students. They interrogated a graduate student — the target of the pre-dawn raid — and compelled her to produce documents proving her legal immigration status. The federal agents also asked if anyone else in the apartment was an immigrant. Presumably frightened at the early morning intrusion and eager to comply with the agents’ requests, the graduate student’s roommate volunteered that she, too, was not born in the United States. Probably confident that she was doing the right thing, the roommate — who is an undergraduate student at UCSB — looked for her documentation but was apparently unable to find enough proof to satisfy the agents. She was arrested on the spot. She’s currently in a detention facility in Ventura.
I have just been informed that the detained woman is a student in the class I am teaching this quarter. I am horrified. This student has visited me in office hours. She’s almost always at lecture, and she has been a frequent contributor to the class discussion. I cannot believe that this is the reason that she’s missed lecture the past few days.
Ironically, this week the class will talk about immigration policy in the United States, but I’ve been notified by the Associate Dean that this student is likely to miss class since she’s in an immigration detention facility. I’m told that university counsel is working with the student’s family and their legal representative and they hope to secure a quick release for the student.
I wonder how often this kind of thing happens. I obviously don’t know all the facts, but from what I do know, the interrogation of these students seems utterly ridiculous. Any questions as to the status of the graduate student targeted for suspicion surely could have been answered in less intrusive ways than an unannounced, pre-dawn interrogation at her apartment. And what made the Department of Homeland Security think that these students, who study sociology and religion, would be some kind of threat deserving of this kind of rough treatment in the first place? Why did they decide that my student, who apparently couldn’t find her documents on the spot in the early morning hours, needed to be arrested right then and there? Why not just come back later to check on her, or require that she report to an immigration office within 48 hours or something like that? The immediate arrest and detention appears to me to be totally unwarranted.
I’ve been an “immigrant” myself when I lived in Japan, and I’m not sure that if agents came storming into my room in the early morning that I’d be able to produce my passport and all my documents fast enough to satisfy them. Thankfully, I was an immigrant in a country that didn’t conduct any raids on me. Unfortunately, these students do live in a country where we raid people’s homes, asking them to prove that they’re legal.
I’m not just horrified by this incident, but I’m also embarrassed. I’m embarrassed as an American that we’ve sunk to this level in our quest for “securing the borders.” How sad.