Archive for September, 2008

Speaker Pelosi Quotes Of América in Bailout Speech

September 30, 2008

Stocks plummeted on Wall Street after Nancy Pelosi delivered the historic US failed bailout plan.

Another in the growing number of examples proving a simple fact: blogging matters. During her soon-to-be-infamous bailout speech yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deployed this variation on the “Main Street” metaphor to describe the communities being impacted by the economic crisis:

“And we must insulate Main Street from Wall Street. And as Congresswoman Waters said, Martin Luther King Drive, in my district, Martin Luther King Drive and Cesar Chavez Road and all of the manifestations of community and small businesses in our community.”

She attributes these statements to Congresswoman Waters, but seems to forget that this metaphor was used during recent episode of the Brave New Film’s Meet the Bloggers show on which she and yours truly were guests. You can see for your self by watching that episode either in its entirety of by clicking to minute 22 of the 1/2 hour show and then going to the 11:30 point in the Pelosi speech. Seems she and Waters are also playing the game of many a blogger who don’t attribute either.

Besides the dull but perpetual need to massage our Latin male ego, this example points to two, more interesting observations. The first is , as mentioned above, the way it illustrates how the web and the blogosphere, in particular, manage to bypass the traditional and institutional gatekeepers by helping we marginal voices insert our memes and other matters into the political discourse. Secondly and more importantly, I think this example should also serve to remind us how important it is to push on an issue Pelosi, her Democrats and even Barack Obama have studiously avoided (Republican exclusion goes without saying): including those of of us who don’t live on “Main Street” in the world historic discussion of the economic debacle; The “Main Street metaphor leaves out the people who live along “Martin Luther King Drive” and “Cesar Chavez road”: renters, the poor, homeless people and lots of other whites and non-whites.

So, there you have it. Though the writer in me still has some reservations about the literary and journalistic value of blogs and other new media, their utility and effectiveness can hardly be questioned. The secret, it seems, is to mix the power of the medium with the Spirit of the Word.

Economic 9-11: The Shrinking of Political Space

September 26, 2008

(photo by Jamie Denise Lahane)

New America Media, News analysis, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Sep 26, 2008 Share/Save/Bookmarka2a_linkname=document.title;a2a_linkurl=location.href;

Editor’s Note: Behind the economic bailout is a looming specter of government as Big ‘Banker’ Brother, and activists are protesting for fear of further erosion of civil liberties, reports NAM contributor Roberto Lovato.

NEW YORK – Arun Gupta stood between the throngs of tourists and the small army of activists squeezing onto the narrow concrete island occupied largely by the 7,000 pound bronze Wall Street bull and declared, “We’re here to say no to the bailout.”

Gupta is an editor at the New York Indypendent newspaper whose open letter opposing the Bush administration’s $700 billion bailout is largely credited with inspiring the protests on Wall Street in other cities. “But we’re also here because, in times of economic decline like ours, the natural inclination of government is to close down political space,” he noted.

Gupta, along with a host of other observers from across the political spectrum, believes that the debate about the Bush administration’s bailout plan obfuscates another looming threat: how the bailout behind the economic crisis could further erode free speech, the right to protest, the right to privacy – all repressive measures instituted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

At that time, many believed that the Bush administration was using the symbolism of Ground Zero to narrow political space – curtailing civil liberties – in an effort to silence opposition to the Iraq invasion. Today, Gupta and others believe that the government is preparing for another domestic war, a war on the poor and middle class – the sector of the population that is most affected by today’s economic realities – by controlling their economic and political freedom. Gupta fears that the government, as Big ‘Banker’ Brother, could play the dual roles of financier (who may or may not provide loans to its citizens) and cop (who will quell complaints about any rejections).

Even staunch conservatives with deep roots in Wall Street are alarmed at the possible political effects of the current economic policy. Paul Craig Roberts, former Reagan administration assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury, who is also a former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, sounded an economic and political alarm that echoed in the financial canyons around Wall Street when he wrote a column titled “Has Deregulation Sired Fascism?”

“The real issue is whether we, the people, allow powerful interests to use the economic collapse to create an even more unaccountable executive branch,” he said during our interview. “History teaches us that it’s easier for government to give us our money back than it is for them to give us back the freedoms and civil liberties government takes.”

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to share these concerns when she said that the fiscal catastrophe was “a tragedy they [the Bush administration] must have known was coming and were very late in coming to Congress on.” Pelosi also stated that the administration sought “an expansive power for the (Treasury) secretary that was almost laughable.”

The physical, legal and political space had already been shrinking as a result of government actions in the aftermath of 9-11: public streets severely narrowed by the now ubiquitous steel fencing; decorative bulwarks and defensive walls put up by government and private sector interests; “permanent emergency” laws passed by both Democrats and Republicans; laws like the Patriot Act that criminalize forms of protest that were previously legal and which also unleashed powerful data-mining technology and other unprecedented surveillance powers of local, state and federal government; bipartisan legislation that gives the government the power to break into citizens’ homes and conduct secret searches and police raids. Add to this the made-for-TV-ratings arrests carried out against independent journalists like Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman while covering the Republican National Convention.

Gupta and others see the potential for the current economic crisis to facilitate government actions like those denounced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shortly after 9-11, when they released a report that stated, “The nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer is using his bully pulpit to shut down dissent and debate.”

Located next to the Hudson River and a brisk walk from the bronze bull and Ground Zero, is the ACLU headquarters, born from government threats to civil rights in times of economic crisis. After the economic unrest during and after WWI, the liberal Wilson Administration led several initiatives – including the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918 and other laws – to enable the rash of warrantless raids, massive surveillance and widespread criminalization of protest. In response, Roger Nash Baldwin, Jeannette Rankin and other New York activists launched the ACLU in 1920.

Baldwin, Rankin and their peers were fighting to maintain political space in the industrial age. Now Gupta and his fellow activists see themselves as doing the same in the digital age.

“What we’re witnessing is an interesting dynamic between the analog and digital worlds in terms of how we combine mobilization with technology,” said Gupta. “Email helped spread word of this protest like wildfire. At first I received responses to my open letter from a huge number of activists. But then it kept growing in concentric circles of impact extending to more than 100 cities. That’s a lot of political space that would not have been created otherwise – and we need to keep it up if we’re going to get out of this crisis.”

Meet the Bloggers: Full Episode of Bailout Bashing with Speaker Pelosi

September 26, 2008

Meet the Bloggers

Do check out this recent episode of the Meet the Bloggers Show. Though recorded yesterday, the show raises issues that have not and will not be discussed by the Republicans, Democrats and the MSM. Whether or not you watch, news of WAMU’s failure -the biggest bank failure in U.S.history-should remind us all to be vigilant -and active-around what may portend profound problems for us all.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Meet the Bloggers: Full Episode of Ba…“, posted with vodpod

Malkin Fingers True and Ultimate Foes Behind Our Economic Woes: Mexicans

September 26, 2008

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As right wing columnists like the ever-slimy MIchelle Malkin ooze out even more merde & desperation in their efforts to explain the root our economic crisis, my friends at the Sanctuary (specifically Sylvia at http://problemchylde.wordpress.com/) provide an alternative.

And, if their response doesn;t suffice (or even if it does), do check out this other explanation put together by our friends at the Onion News Network:

Urgent: Join National Day of Protest Against Bush Bailout Today

September 25, 2008

In what many of of us hope will be a historic show of popular force, there will be small and large protests of the Bush Bailout organized throughout the entire country today. You can find or organize your own event by going here. You can also see a partial list here. And, lastly, you can read more about it at Wired magazine. Hope to see you somewhere!

R

Crisis Special: Speaker Pelosi, Yglesias and Lovato Discuss Economic & Political Threat – & How to Deal

September 25, 2008

Meet the Bloggers

Check out this special edition of Meet the Bloggers (MTB), which focused on the politics and economics or, as some of us call it, the “political economy” of the $700 billion dollar bailout and the larger fiscal and economic crisis it portends. Join House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Atlantic Monthly’s Mathew Yglesias and yours truly as we discuss and (indirectly) disagree about what the “problem” really is and how to “fix” it. This clip will give you some sense of the threat and opportunity some of us see in this morass:

I think this was one of our best shows and hope you agree. To see the full show go to the MTB website here.

Passports Denied: Mexican-Americans Can’t Travel

September 23, 2008

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New America Media, News feature, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Sep 22, 2008 Share/Save/Bookmark

Editor’s note: Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people of Mexican descent were subjected to unreasonable and arbitrary demands to prove that they are citizens of the United States before getting a passport. This includes Texas native, David Hernandez, a decorated Army veteran, reports NAM writer Roberto Lovato.

Texas native David Hernandez, a decorated Army veteran who served his country in different parts of the world, can no longer see the world after his country denied him a passport.

Hernandez and other residents living in and around the U.S.-Mexico border are plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit alleging that, in denying them passports, the U.S. State Department is engaging in a new kind of racial discrimination: non-citizen profiling.

“This all started when I sent them (the U.S. State Department) my passport and they sent me a letter saying that it wasn’t sufficient. So, I sent them all kinds of documents -a baptismal certificate, military records, pictures of me in the pre-kindergarten, a copy of my grandmother’s birth certificate that showed that she was an American citizen,” he said, adding, “and that still wasn’t enough. I knew something was wrong when they even started asking me for things like Census documents from the 1930’s that don’t even exist.”

Hernandez and the other plaintiffs say that the U.S. government is denying them passports because they are persons of Mexican and Latino descent whose births were assisted by parteras, or midwives. “The law says that if you’re born in this country, have parents who are or who get naturalized, you are a citizen,” said Hernandez his voice cracking with anger and frustration. “We were all born here. We’re all citizens. The only difference is that we’re Hispanic, we grew up poor and we happened not to be born in a hospital. My mother had to pay a partera $40 instead.”

Lawyers for Hernandez and the other plaintiffs say they have documented a systematic pattern of racial discrimination among hundreds, perhaps thousands of people of Mexican descent who, like him, applied for passports and were subjected to unreasonable and arbitrary demands for an inordinate and often impossible-to-find documents proving they are citizens of the United States.

For Robin Goldfaden, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is co-counsel in the case along with other law firms, the passport suit “shows a spirit of disregard for birthright citizenship and a reckless disregard for the actual citizenship of an entire class of people.”

Goldfaden pointed out that although midwifery is a long-held tradition among whites, blacks and others living in Appalachia, Texas and other parts of the United States where hospital-assisted birth is unaffordable or unavailable, the denial of passports is only taking place among people of Mexican descent living along the southern border.

“Some of the plaintiffs in this case were born in the 1930s and earlier, when, for example, half of all babies in Texas were delivered by midwives,” said Goldfaden, who believes that the case raises concerns beyond those raised by Hernandez and other plaintiffs. “Anytime the government violates due process and the constitutional promise of equal protection as they did in this case, we should all be concerned.”

The passport case comes on the heels of intensified efforts to fundamentally alter the definition of who is and isn’t a citizen. For several years, members of Congress and anti-immigrant groups in Texas and several other states have proposed state and federal laws denying birthright citizenship to the U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants. Some Texas residents like Father Mike Seiffert also trace such practices to the long history of denying citizenship to different categories of people in the United States.

“I was born in Alabama” said Seiffert, who is pastor of the San Felipe de Jesus Catholic church in Brownsville, “and I’ve seen this kind of discrimination before; I’ve seen government officials trying to deny rights to people by not recognizing them as citizens, only here in Texas it’s not African Americans, but Latinos.”

Seiffert became aware of the passport denial issue in his church. “After a couple of the members of my congregation came to me concerned and even crying because they were denied passports and would no longer be able to see their families in Mexico, I decided to ask the congregation if there were others facing similar situations,” Seiffert said. “And 60 people came up and said they had the same passport problem.”

He called what happened to members of his congregation affected by the passports situation “disgraceful.” Behind the tears, he said are, “Many members of our congregation (who) won’t be able to do what they’ve done for decades: cross the border to see their families; many won’t be able to sustain themselves by doing business as they’ve always done in Mexico,” he said. “There’s no hospital around here and when you drive many miles to get healthcare, it’s very expensive. So people will also be denied basic healthcare because they will no longer be able to go just across the border to get cheap medicine or see a doctor in Matamorros for $15. This is deeply disturbing and it reminds me of Alabama.”

And like in the deep South, the non-citizen profiling in Texas is also inspiring activism among many. “I grew up studying the history of civil rights, Martin Luther King and how he had to fight his own government,” said Hernandez, ” But I never thought I’d be fighting for my civil rights. Now I understand history in a different way.”

The Coming Crush: Italy Uses Gypsies and Migrants to Legitimate Repression

September 22, 2008

Le Monde diplomatique - English edition

This article from Le Monde Diplomatique provides us a mirror image of the Looking Glass of lies and repression we call “immigration policy” in the Good Ole U.S. of A. Developments in Berlusconi’s Italia seem to prove one of the main theses behind this blog: that immigrants provide the state with the perfect excuse with which to pass authoritarian legislation that impacts the larger, non-immigrant populace. Consider how the Italian state is using the more than 150,000 Roma and Sinti people throughout the former fascista state

“In Rome, police in battle dress have evacuated Gypsy settlements and prevented children from going to school, and the city’s rightwing mayor, Gianni Alemanno, is having fingerprints taken of those who remain. In Milan, Silvio Berlusconi’s government has appointed a “commissioner extraordinary for the Roma emergency” and enforced ID checks for people entering their camps. In Naples, the police charged a settlement with Molotov cocktails, forcing families to flee; the faces of the terrified children were seen on television screens around the country that evening.”

The policies, language and generalized terror inspired by these policies harken back to a previous period, but would not be so foreign to undocumented migrants living in towns like Hazleton, Pennsylvania or Postville, Iowa. In both cases, the high-profile (ie; Italy’s Berlusconi, owner of much of Italy’s media, networks government actions with private sector media spin) actions of government take us beyond the lethargic and long-held explanations of too many well-intentioned, but dangerously naive “immigrant rights activists” in the U.S.: that immigrants are scapegoats; that immigration is a wedge issue that eases up after each election cycle. Such faulty thinking fails to consider the crisis of economic stability and political legitimacy that has, for many years, fundamentally altered the role of most governments and heads of state in this dizzyingly chaotic world system. And, as a result, we here in the U.S. fail to critique what’s happening around immigration with the broader lens used by people like the mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, who said, “If they (the government) continue like that, they’ll be a threat to democracy.”

As the political and economic crisis upon us unfolds into what all economists agree will be a long (2-3 year or much, much more) downturn, we should expect and prepare for the even greater repressive measures unleashed by a political and economic system in severe decline, measures that, on the surface appear to target migrants, but that, in fact, have a much larger populace in the cross hairs of the state. Speaking of gypsies, migrants and other stateless and displaced peoples, philosopher Hannah Arendt, gave us a warning back in 1943 in her short essay, “We Refugees”,

“For him (the refugee) history is no longer a closed book, and politics ceases to be the privilege of the Gentiles. He knows that the banishment of the Jewish people in Europe was followed immediately by that of the majority of the European peoples. Refugees expelled from one country to the next represent the avant-garde of their people.”

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As many of you may know, Arendt went on to pen her most prescient and popular work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, in no small part thanks to her studies of the effects on and actions against some of society’s most vulnerable groups: Jews, migrants and gypsies. In our time of perpetual war, economic devastation and unprecedented problems of political legitimacy, let us take note of what history tells us is the coming crush

And we should also remember what Arendt told us about how totalitarian practices survive the death of more blatantly totalitarian states like those of Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union. More than any time in memory, I think we need to find the language and words appropriate to describe the morphing monster of a system that is ours, which combines human, democratic space with the many-headed hydra of repression we see normalized on our TV sets and browsers with a frequency found in old-school propaganda and in sci-fi flicks. In addition to holding little analytical value, screeching “fascism” won’t do much beyond deadening the mind and closing the heart to political cliches. The monster of our government feeds off of the dead. All the more reason to create the kind of living, critical language that must be part of any antidote to the crisis upon us.

Financial Meltdown Ushers in New Era of Socialism, Top Down Socialism

September 19, 2008

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If you’re not following the economic news closely, you might want to start. That even the MSM is speaking of the crisis upon us as “catastrophic”, “the worst crisis since the Great Depression”, etc should not just give us pause, but should instead lead to careful study and personal and political planning. With more than $900 billion of our tax dollars already spent on bailing out big companies like AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to name but the most recent, we have clearly embarked upon a new era of socialism, top-down socialism in which we are “privatizing profits and socializing the losses”, in the words of NYU economist Nouriel Roubini.

Formerly ridiculed by some in the MSM as “Dr. Doom” for his predictions of a meltdown like the one we’re in, Roubini is now one of the most important voices speaking about the financial meltdown. He earned his place, in no small part, thanks to his courage and intelligence in predicting that a confluence of factors – radical free market ideology, lack of transparency, de-regulation, out and out lying, corruption, and government enabling of its corporate keepers, to name a few,-would lead us into this colossal mess.

I highly reccommend you follow posts on Roubini’s site, which is updated daily and contains lots of important and useful information. Hardly a radical Marxist, he has sounded alarms that are only now being heard. Check out this article he wrote yesterday titled “The transformation of the USA into the USSRA (United Socialist State Republic of America) continues at full speed with the nationalization of AIG.

With the federal government taking an 80% stake in AIG as it becomes big businesses’ lender of last resort, we have essentially started the process of nationalizing the banking system. Problem is the distribution of profits and losses; The rich get the profits while we pay for their mismanagement, lying and corruption with our taxes. Add to the nearly $1 trillion we’ve already spent on bailing out big businesses the $3 trillion the Bush Administration is well on its way to underwriting Halliburton, Blackwater and others with in Iraq and you have a $4 trillion drain on the economic basis of our citizenship. When combined with stolen elections, electoral malfeasance and the domination of our political system by big corporations, this situation renders our citizenship and sovereignty politically and economically worthless.

The big dividend for us, especially the poorer among us, are increasing numbers of cops, national guard, heavily-armed immigration agents and other big gun-toting types whose primary function is serving and protecting-big business. Remember: the CEO’s and their military-industrial partners knew how much funny, fake money was on their balance sheets before we did (and we still don’t know how bad things are!) and surely started laying the policing-military groundwork to “protect” their interests long ago, but did so under cover of “the war on drugs”, “getting tough on immigrants” and “defending the homeland,” to name but a few of the more well-known excuses for militarizing society before the meltdown.

In any case, ou also can get a sense of Roubini’s approach from the MSNBC interview below. Note , for example, the enormous difference between the flubby tone and outlook of the corporate talking heads and Roubini’s diamond-cutter talk as when he predicts that upwards of 700 banks, maybe even including such giants like WAMU, will go belly up before this unprecedented economic threat subsides. Let us hope it subsides soon and brings about a new economic day. Just wanted to signal alert on an economic crisis I think will also be accompanied by even more repression if history holds any lessons. This abject, dangerous failure of and increased state violence prophecied by the Free Market Religion should serve to remind us that it’s High Time to dust off our own sacred books containing the ancient knowledge of self-determination, self-defense and bottom-up socialism. So, pay close attention to this tragic economic development as the seeds of perdition and possiblity are contained therein. Really.

The Choke Hold of Time: Troy Davis Set to be Executed-Take Action!

September 16, 2008

Troy Davis

This very sad news from Georgia: Troy Anthony Davis, the Georgia man whose case has garnered international attention for what many believe is a case of shattered justice, is now set to be executed next week. Davis was sentenced to death for the alleged murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia; a murder he maintains he did not commit. Georgia authorities decided to move forward with Davis’s execution even though there was no physical evidence against him and even though the weapon used in the crime was never found. Unless immediate action is taken, he will be executed by the state based on a case made up entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

Please read the message below from Amnesty International and then read the story about the Davis case written by my friend, Michelle Garcia-and then take action.

R

EXECUTION DATE SET: SEPTEMBER 23 AT 7 p.m.
Update: Clemency Appeal has been DENIED

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for Troy Anthony Davis shortly before 5 p.m. on Friday, September 12. They did so despite overwhelming doubts of Davis’ guilt – and after stating last year that they would “not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.” The Board has the power to step in at any point up until the scheduled execution, so your continued action is needed today!

Justice Matters: Rally to Save Troy Davis
Stay tuned for more information
troy@aiusa.org / 404-876-5661 ext. 13

» TAKE ACTION! Send a letter to the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles

Text “TROY” to 90999 to help spread the word with your cell phone!

———————————————————–

Fall 2008

The Chokehold of Time

By Michelle Garcia

The bitter racial history of Savannah and the vagaries of time have closed in on Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis. Despite two decades of appeals, recanted witness testimony and serious doubts over his guilt, Davis now has just two chances to save his life.

Prison Boulevard begins on a lonely Georgia highway and sweeps across lush grounds and a serene lake populated with ducks. One might expect a sprawling ranch house at the end of this country road in Jackson, but there rises instead the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification prison, a mammoth institution whitewashed to a glare. To reach death row inmates, visitors traverse a series of yellow iron gates opened and shut in a chain reaction until they arrive at a guard holding open a heavy door. Inside the long, narrow cell waits Troy Anthony Davis�a man condemned for the 1989 murder of a Savannah police officer, and an international cause� wearing a prison-issue white and blue uniform, electric blue sneakers and a wide smile.

A smile alarmingly disarming, jarring even, amid the banging echoes from unknown corners. Davis, tall, broad and bald at age 39, settles on a stool and begins to speak with a Georgia drawl and gesticulate, and then he�s drawing maps with his finger in the air and diagramming the August night two decades ago that landed him on death row.

“I have to remmber,” says Davis emphatically. “Every day of my life, I have to remember, to save my behind.”

Last year, just 23 hours before Georgia officials would have executed Davis by lethal injection, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a temporary stay of execution amid doubts about Davis� guilt. By then The Savannah Morning News had gone to the presses with reports of Davis� final meal, the standard prison supper. Peach state and U.S. publications in other parts, however, published articles and editorials cautioning that Georgia was preparing to execute a possibly innocent man. The disparity in coverage mirrored the extreme regionalism characteristic of the death penalty debate and exposed growing fault lines between local support and attitudes across the rest of the state and nation.

In Jackson, Davis throws open his arms and invites, “Ask me anything; I have nothing to hide.” He recalls the evening nearly two decades ago that changed his life, during a time when crack cocaine

In 1991 a jury sentenced Davis to death for the August 19, 1989, murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in a Burger King parking lot. Without a weapon or any physical evidence, prosecutors relied largely on eyewitness testimony to persuade a jury that Davis was the killer. In the years since, seven witnesses�including eyewitnesses�have recanted or contradicted their earlier testimony. Some said they fingered Davis as the killer under pressure from police.

Since 2000, however, federal courts have denied his appeals for a new trial, saying they are hamstrung by federal legislation passed after his conviction that limits death row appeals. In March the Georgia Supreme Court rejected his appeal for a new trial. In the 4�3 ruling, the court said, “One who seeks to overturn his conviction for murder many years later bears a heavy burden to bring forward convincing and detailed proof of his innocence.”

Davis’ fate now falls to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which can consider his appeal for clemency and commute his sentence to life without parole once an execution date is set, likely by the end of the year. His attorneys have also filed a habeas corpus petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, but as one of thousands of petitions the Court receives each year, his chance for a reprieve is remote.

Yet the Davis’ case and its trajectory within the court system are drawing intense scrutiny from afar, especially since the publication last year of a 35-page report and a campaign by Amnesty International that propelled Davis from relative obscurity to a cause backed by celebrities, politicians and religious leaders, including the Pope. In July, the European Union Parliament urged the United States to grant Davis a retrial. Proponents of the death penalty, no less, have rallied against his impending execution. William Sessions, former director of the FBI, cautioned that executing Davis without considering his evidence would be “intolerable.” Even former U.S. Representative and current Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr (R-GA) weighed in. “True conservatives, as much as the most bleeding heart liberals, should be unafraid to look carefully at such cases,” wrote Barr in an August 2007 op-ed for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Troy Davis’ life is at stake; but so is the credibility of our criminal justice system.”

But in Savannah itself, a coastal town of 130,000 where segregation persists, public support for Davis has been slow to ignite. Activists point to a local “don’t rock the boat” sensibility rooted in a bitter racial history and deep smalltown ties.

Martina Correira
Troy Davis’ sister, Martina Correira, speaking at AIUSA’s May 17 rally in Atlanta. © AI

After the Board of Pardons and Paroles issued the stay of execution in March, a Savannah Morning News editorial urged the need for “closure.” Dave Gellatly, the white retired police chief and current county commissioner voices a commonly held view when he says, “We waited 18, 19 years. He�s had every right to every kind of appeal. He’s had every chance in the world. The fact of the matter is, it�s gotten a lot of news coverage, and you’ve had international organizations getting involved. It had nothing to do with Savannah.”

Around town, the name Troy Davis triggers a range of responses: the blank stare, the quiet nodding, the “Oh-thatcase.” Young people who were infants when Davis went to prison 17 years ago know the name and the story as part of a generational history passed down from their elders. Brandon, 20, a bellhop at a touristy hotel who heard about the case from his barber and his uncle, says, “They said he didn�t kill no cop.”

To Davis’ family and supporters, local reticence has had significant influence in the case, and that remains so as his execution date approaches once again. Martina Correira, 41, Davis’ sister and AI anti-death penalty ambassador says, “If African American political leaders had stepped up, it would have made a difference. They would have got a lot of black people to listen, and they are voters. White people came out and said what they had to say: ‘Hang’em high and kill him.’ Black people didn’t do anything about it.”

On July 4, the Davis family is gathered for a barbeque at Troy’s boyhood home in Cloverdale, a solidly middleclass neighborhood of African American families. Virginia Davis, Troy’s mother, tends to the low country boil on the stove (Cajun-spiced seafood and sausage), and Lester, his younger brother, is on the grill cooking up ribs. Davis’s absence looms large, especially since rumors have swirled that the district attorney might set an execution date later in the month.

“Sixty seconds,” yells DeJuan Correira, Davis� 14-year-old nephew who shares his uncle�s taste for shiny blue sneakers. Troy Davis is on the telephone, and his 15 minutes are nearly up. Kim, his younger sister, cradles the receiver. “Well don�t hang up until you have to,” she says, and then: “You be sweet.”

Before the AI report, the Free Troy Davis rap songs and the YouTube videos, in the years after Troy’s conviction, there was only whispering. “I held my head up, but my heart was burning down,” said Virginia, 63, looking away. “It was like you were fighting all by yourself, like nobody else cared. But never have we given up.” Support from afar has helped sustain her and the family. “A lot of people all over the world, whom we don�t even know, they get the address and write to Troy. A lot of people just sign the petition.”

State Senator Regina Thomas, however, demurs from signing when she visits the Davis family barbeque during a neighborhood walk to drum up support for her bid�ultimately unsuccessful�for U.S. Congress. She nods sympathetically when Virginia shares the disappointing news about the latest loss in court and says, “It�s very easy to convict a person of color without hard evidence, just like with Troy.” But signing the petition would make her vulnerable to all the other causes out there, she says. “When you start, they want you to sign everything. I can�t make it a habit.” Besides, that’s not her job as legislator, she says. “I do follow up.”

Savannah is a big small town where families settle and roots grow long. Networks and family ties inevitably cross, which can prevent some from tugging too hard at connections. Two blocks from the Savannah River, a stout steeple rises above the First African Baptist Church, its spare polished brass and hardwood floors built by slaves in 1773. On a summer morning, the Rev. Thurmond Tillman delivers an electrifying sermon to a packed congregation of burly cops, fan-waving women and young men with long braids. After the two-hour service, Tillman slips away from the reception and reveals that he was the one to deliver the news of the shooting to MacPhail’s wife nearly 20 years ago.

Tillman, who also serves as a police chaplain and cuts a long, imposing figure, says his is a proactive church intent on social change. “We teach people not to run, to respect law enforcement, not to be disrespectful. I’m not a proponent that we have a fair system but, it’s a system we have to live with,” he says.

His associate pastor is a police lieutenant, and that proved a difficult situation, he says, when the Davis family asked to hold a rally at the church with civil rights firebrand the Rev. Al Sharpton. Tillman declined so as to avoid asking a police officer to host the event.

“It was not as if I were taking a stance against anything; that’s not what happened,” he says. “I can handle myself.”

Davis and his family are living on the knife edge between past and present. Davis was born in 1968, just four years after the official end of Jim Crow laws that banned African Americans from the charming park squares of twisted oaks cloaked with Spanish moss that are the pride of Savannah. Presbyterian minister Ernest Risley told Time magazine in 1965: “I believe that integration is contrary to God�s will.”

Before integration, Montgomery Street, on the far west side, was a thriving boulevard of black-owned shops, doctors’ offices and one of the largest black-owned banks. It now houses the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum. Heru Iman, a docent at the museum, considers the anemic local support for Davis despite the national spotlight, and lays it out like so: “If you want to know why people have been hesitant to speak out”�he pauses to quote from a tome on local history�”keep in mind that ‘lynchings were once so commonplace they were barely spoken about.'”

A small sign for the Kress department store hangs over a downtown storefront, the site of 1960s lunch-counter sit-ins, in a business district that was subsequently abandoned. One generation later, a downtown revival is in full bloom. Outside a Starbucks, former assistant district attorney Larry Chisholm, who is African American, maps out the local racial schism in public attitudes toward justice.

“The majority of African Americans don�t see police or prosecutors as friends. They aren’t as hawkish. They are more concerned with crime solutions and fairness,” says Chisholm. “In the white community, they are on board with long sentences for serious felonies. They are on board with two strikes you’re out. Their emphasis is not so much on fairness.” To them the system works just fine, he says. “I don�t think that’s changed [since the Davis trial].”

Yet political moods do shift and resettle, creating new opportunities and closing others for Troy Davis and his legal fight to save himself. Time has begun to soften some hard held ideas, and it has freed others from the grip of fear. It took years for Tonya Johnson to step forward, to shake off her fear of reprisal and tell Davis attorneys what she saw on the night of the murder.

Back then, Johnson, just 18, was sitting on the small porch at #1152 Yamacraw, a housing project behind the Charlie Brown pool hall, when she heard shots go off. Johnson, now 38, says, “You breathing in the wrong place,” when asked about the case. She speaks in a hushed voice as she strolls through Yamacraw today, her eyes darting around.

She remembers her neighbor, Sylvester “Red” Coles, one of the two others at the crime scene with Davis, appearing at Yamacraw sweaty and anxious. “You could tell he done something,” says Johnson. He tucked away a couple of guns in the vacant house next door, she says, and later snatched them away.

But she kept quiet. “He put a lot of fear in me,” she says. Coles, who has consistently denied shooting MacPhail, is reportedly living in Savannah. It wasn’t until 1996 that Johnson was able to sign an affidavit stating what she had witnessed.

It took nearly a decade for D.D. Collins, who was also at the scene of the shooting, to recant his eyewitness testimony; he had been just 16 when police took him in for questioning without his parents present. “I was scared as hell,” he said in his 2002 statement. “They told me I would go to jail for a long time and I would be lucky if I got out.”

And it wasn�t until 2000 that Dorothy Ferrell, a convicted shoplifter who attorneys had argued provided compelling testimony against Davis, signed an affidavit recanting. “I had four children. I couldn’t go back to jail,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t have any choice but to get up there and testify.”

But Davis’ lawyers say he is losing a race against time. By the mid-1990s, as Davis’ lawyers prepared for his appeals in federal court, the national political winds had shifted decidedly rightward. Congress voted in 1996 to bring an end to “frivolous” appeals from death row by raising the bar for new trials. They slashed funding for state resource centers representing indigent death row inmates, and the money for investigators to track down witnesses dried up. (Georgia is the only death penalty state that does not provide legal counsel for habeas corpus appeals.)

It was 2000 by the time Davis had assembled the accumulated affidavits of witnesses recanting their testimony and began requesting a new trial from federal courts. Prosecutors have argued he kept the evidence in his “back pocket” until his execution date neared, and that time made people go back on earlier statements because they don�t want to see a man die. The courts have ruled against Davis because they say he took too much time obtaining the testimony� a consequence, in part, of poor legal representation.

When Davis went to trial in 1991, Georgia juries chose the death penalty in one-half of eligible cases, according to a September 2007 investigative series published by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Yet even this state�which has executed 42 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the seventh highest number of executions per state in the nation� has begun to feel the sociopolitical impact of shifting demographics, a change in political mood, even the prospect of a mixed-race president. In 1993, two years after Davis� conviction, lawmakers offered juries the option of life without parole; they have chosen that option over death in two of every three capital cases since 2000, according to the newspaper. DNA evidence has helped to exonerate seven inmates, triggering debate over the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears recently wrote, “I believe . . . it’s time to examine whether Georgia’s current method of enforcing the death penalty and its attending consequences are compatible with the dignity, morality, and decency of society’s enlightened consciousness, and is reflective of a humane system of justice.”

Some of this change has begun to seep into Savannah, where Larry Chisholm, the former assistant district attorney, muses over his decision to run for D.A.: if he wins, he will be the first African American district attorney in the city’s history. Chisholm surveys the revived downtown through wire-rimmed glasses: The arts school has invigorated the old town with young students, and immigrants are shaking up the old order. He sees a door open, or at least ajar, to new ideas. The current D.A., Spencer Lawton, who has held the seat for nearly three decades, will not seek re-election. “This is a unique opportunity for African Americans to run for office,” says Chisholm, with a nod to the Obama effect.

Chisholm doesn’t oppose the death penalty outright; politicians with such views don’t tend to get far in the South. Even so, Chisholm proposes some interesting strategies, such as the formation of a review committee of local leaders to weigh in before the district attorney seeks a death sentence. In July, Chisholm carried the Democratic primary, just days after the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a stay in Davis’ case until the fall. If Chisholm wins the November contest, he could face Davis at the clemency hearing, where he will exercise his discretion in making an argument on the people�s behalf.

Inside the prison, Davis casts his eyes toward the floor and admits he only knows “bits and pieces” of what has happened over the last 20 years, whatever people share with him. Yet his fate has turned on the sociopolitical ebbs and flows in Savannah and across the nation�distant and remote though they seem to him. He now has just two avenues of survival: the clemency of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles or the unlikely possibility of having his petition accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Either way, his final appeal to spare his life will call upon Savannah�s present to bear witness against its past.

What If…….McCain Wins? GritTV Panel Previews Big Event on Saturday

September 11, 2008

I really enjoyed this discussion between Jeremy Scahill, Arun Gupta and Malia Wazu on Laura Flanders’ GriTV show. Laura skilfully got us to connect and pin the national and geopolitical dots on the donkey and elephant show that is our electoral process. We even got to use oldie-but-goodie words from a previous political era, words like “repression”, “militant,” “consciousness” and even, fasten your seat belts, “imperialism” (thank you Arun). The show woke me up to some things that many of us are feeling with increasing urgency So, please do check out one of Laura’s best segments I’ve seen her orchestrate. Thank you Laura! If you watch the segment (15 minutes at the very beginning), please do let us know what you think. That matters to me a lot. Gracias. R

“The 2008 Election: What’s Really At Stake” 9/13 Event featuring Klein, Scahill, Lovato and Others

September 9, 2008

2008 Election: What’s Really at Stake? A Panel Discussion Sept. 13

We hope you can join us for a unique panel discussion,

“The 2008 Election: What’s Really At Stake,” featuring Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill, Laura Flanders, Roberto Lovato and Malia Lazu.

Saturday, September 13 – 8pm
The Great Hall at The Cooper Union. 7 East 7th Street (at Third Avenue), Manhattan

Tickets on sale now! Sliding Scale $6 to $15. Click here to reserve tickets.

This presidential election comes at a critical time for the United States and the world. We are facing grave problems, including multiple wars abroad, an economy in decline, the rise of a high-tech police state, the looming threat of climate change, an anti-immigrant backlash, a dire energy crisis, and a political system thoroughly corrupted by money. Can either Barack Obama or John McCain offer workable solutions? What is the role of third parties who continue to face hurdles in the presidential electoral process?

To analyze the significance and consequences of the upcoming election, The Indypendent newspaper is hosting a dynamic public discussion, “The 2008 Election: What’s Really at Stake?”

Featuring some of today’s leading journalists, including Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill, Laura Flanders, Roberto Lovato and Malia Lazu, this crucial event will examine the political and economic impact of a McCain or Obama presidency, the role of media in the election and how concerned citizens should relate to the electoral process.

Special Advance Reception — A chance to meet the Authors, hors d’oeuvres and open bar — tickets start at $35.

Naomi Klein is author of the international bestsellers, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and No Logo.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Laura Flanders is host of the daily news/discussion program GRITtv, host of the nationally syndicated weekly radio program RadioNation, and author of numerous books, most recently Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians.

Roberto Lovato is a New York-based writer with New American Media, a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and he blogs at ofamerica.wordpress.com.

Malia Lazu is one of the brightest young minds in progressive politics today and is dedicated to broadening the U.S. electorate. Malia is currently the executive director of Harry Belafonte’s The Gathering, an intergenerational intercultural organization working to reintroduce nonviolence to our communities to stop child incarceration. http://www.gatheringforjustice.ning.com.

All proceeds to benefit The Indypendent.

Tickets now on sale! To reserve tickets, please order online at http://www.indypendent.org or Brown Paper Tickets.

Check out what Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill had to say about The Indypendent earlier this year. See video.

About The Indypendent:
The Indypendent is the leading progressive newspaper in New York City. We provide original in-depth, hard-hitting reporting on local, national and international news and commentary to our print and online readership of about 150,000.

We are a predominantly volunteer-run organization that is funded by individual supporters, ad sales to progressive local businesses and enterprises, benefits, and sales of posters we’ve produced.

We have won dozens of awards from the New York Independent Press Association — and pride ourselves on providing a forum for the hundreds of social justice groups working on the issues that we report on. As the newspaper of the New York Independent Media Center, we are dedicated to empowering people to create a true alternative to corporate press by stepping up to be the media.

Alaska Sounds like Aztlan — Palin Leading the Secessionist Reconquista?

September 5, 2008

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New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Sep 04, 2008

NEW YORK — Sarah Palin’s repetition (5 times) of the word “Alaska,” her home state, during her acceptance speech last night may actually have sounded to some Latinos like “Aztlan,” the mythical homeland of the Aztecs. If Lou Dobbs and other political prognosticators are right, Latinos’ interpretation of the Republican vice presidential nominee’s references to her home state were not simply the product of bad English-to-Spanish translation (Spanish language media’s payback for years of garbled, sometimes horrific, Spanish-to-English translations in mainstream media, perhaps?), but something else, something much more nefarious: the mainstreaming of secessionist sentiments.

Palin’s personal connections to the Alaska Independence Party (AIP), which has, since 1978 sought the Last Frontier states’ separation from these United States, have brought state secessionist sentiments onto the national political stage like no candidate since Alexander Stephens and his Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ did in the lead up to the civil war. Palin and her husband, Todd, the “First Dude,” may well have their greatest appeal among Latinos in the south-western United States if we are to believe Lou Dobbs, Michelle Malkin, Pat Buchannan and many other conservative commentators and politicians who rail daily against what they believe is the upcoming conflict sparked by Latinos’ lust to reclaim their former land.

Just a week before Palin’s speech, for example, a videotape was released in which New York Congressional candidate Jack Davis decried how “in the latter part of this century or the next, Mexicans will be a majority in many of the states, and could therefore take control of the state government using the democratic process.” And, he added: “They could then secede from the United States, and then we might have another civil war.”

For almost a decade now, the careful research, in-depth investigations and the almost daily denunciations of the commentators have detailed a Southwestern Latino, especially “illegal” Mexican, plot to secede from the United States in what has become popularly known as the “reconquista,” or reconquest.

According to Malkin, “Aztlan is a long-held notion among Mexico’s intellectual elite and political class, which asserts that the American southwest rightly belongs to Mexico. Advocates believe the reclamation (or reconquista) of Aztlan will occur through sheer demographic force.” Like most of the commentators and pundits, Malkin has the uncanny ability to divine the workings of the Latino immigrant mind, without speaking Spanish. And after years of careful study of the Latino Fifth Column, Malkin and other Latino experts will surely be alarmed by how Palin’s speech shortened the distance from cold Alaska to sunny Aztlan.

Meanwhile, the major and minor Latino organizations and Latino leaders allegedly spearheading this invisible demographic empire, (all of whom are more careful and surreptitious than Palin and the First Dude about any statements or ties to secessionist groups), may be inspired to go public by the Palin’s links (ie; Todd was a card carrying AIP member in 1995 and 2002) to an organization with 13,681 registered members whose political platform calls for securing the “complete repatriation of the public lands, held by the federal government, to the state and people of Alaska.”

Sarah Palin’s mantra-like repetitions of the Aztlan-sounding “Alaska” may finally provide the conservative commentators their most definitive lead in their relentless hunt for the secessionist menace. The big difference is that the more dangerous secessionist movement will not be led by white people belonging openly to an actual political party whose candidates (including a former governor) and initiatives are included on state voting ballots, a secessionist party ignored by the media and lauded loudly by politicians like Palin for their “inspiring convention,” and encouraged by her to “keep up the good work.”

Instead, the imminent and potentially catastrophic urge to unmerge will be realized by poor, brown-skinned secessionistas, especially those “illegal” Latinos that syndicated multimedia stars like Glenn Back regularly tell us are silently, secretly waiting to come out of their closet of illegality by taking back the Southwest. “You’ve got people coming here that have no intention of being Americans. They say, you know, ‘Hey, this is our land. We deserve it back.'”

Though they have spared us the pain of focusing on the lesser, whiter of the secessionist threats, Dobbs, Malkin, Beck and their peers must be credited for their pre-emptive strikes against a threat that has yet to come out of its separatist cave — but which may finally do so in no small part thanks to the secessionist leanings of a candidate who promises to “put America first” when she starts working the White House.

Palin’s rapid and apparently non-vetted rise to political prominence may, however, also reveal contradictions in some of these same pundits who’ve denounced those carrying the “reconquista” gene.

Though he has for many years made regular statements and written many books and articles about how Latinos are bringing about “the complete Balkanization of America,” MSNBC commentator Pat Buchannan himself has ties to the secessionista-friendly GOP vice presidential candidate and her hombre. Just last week Buchanan confessed to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that Palin “was a brigadeer in 1996 as was her husband … They were at a fundraiser for me. She’s a terrific gal, she’s a rebel reformer.”

Unfortunately for Buchannan and his conservative commentator peers, Palin may turn out to be more rebel than reformer as rural and big city Latinos in the Southwest start hearing calls to create the Aztlan Confederacy in her stump speeches about small town Alaska.

Whatever the outcome, we are fortunate to have political observers and politicians that are so committed to the cause of racial and political unity.

Cracking the Covention Codes: GriTV Panelists Break it Down

September 3, 2008

This panel of highly informed people -and yours truly- makes sense of the spectacles in Denver and Minneapolis. Tonight on GRITtv we look back at what the mainstream media missed with Denis Dison, Vice President of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Leadership Institute; Rebecca Traister, staff writer for Salon; Roberto Lovato, contributing editor at New America Media (NAM); and Stanley Aronowitz, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Urban Education at CUNY. We also look at the coverage, or non-coverage, of the protests in Minneapolis-St. Paul and the revelations surrounding John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin.

Host Laura Flanders manages to get us to agree, disagree and argue in the perpetual search for intelligent life in this, our increasingly infantile political process. Good stuff. Really. Check it out.

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