Saturday, April 30, 2005

A thanks to the Denver Three

Many different complaints have been bandied about for the three young democrats who were physically removed from the Bush "town hall meeting" on Social Security. Some have called them whiny jerks, others have likened their arguments to caterwauling. I would like to thank them.

It is true that the issues their case present are not going to cure cancer or end the war in Iraq. They are not trying to overthrow an opressive government or put an end to world hunger. However, while the rest of the world is fighting against all these huge and visable issues, Leslie, Karen, and Alex are keeping an eye on something important, but largely ignored. Small restrictions and infringements on one of our most important rights, freedom of speech.

Why do all the big horrors and battles make it okay for the Republican party to violate the rights of those who have opposing viewpoints? Does the fight to allow stem cell research make our right to free exercise of religion less important? Do we agree to discard our right to a fair trial so we can focus on "more important" things such as drilling in Alaska?

The "Denver Three", as they are being called by the media, are drawing attention to small and subversive violations of the rights that allow us to fight these big battles to begin with. They are asking those in charge to remember that this system of government is supposed to allow conflicting viewpoints, whether they be t-shirts that say "no more blood for oil" or a jacket stating "Fuck the Draft" (Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15). If the republican party wants to avoid situations where President Bush may have to answer awkward questions or the television cameras pick up images of constituents who are not happy with his leadership, than they should pay for these photo ops out of their own pockets. As a taxpaying democrat, I don't want my money spent on supposedly "open town hall meetings" only to see those who would voice my concerns forcibly ejected.

Friday, April 29, 2005

An argument on the side of the seals...

Each year the Canadian Government sanctions a commercial seal hunt resulting in the death of approximately 300,000 seals. Many of these animals are less than 2 months old. This year the kill quota is 319,500 seals. The kill quota is set as part of a plan created by the Canadian government to kill 1 million seals in three years. The seals are killed and skinned for their pelts, which are then sold for fur and exotic leather.

This year the hunt began off the Gulf of St. Lawerence and ran from March 29 through April 2, 2005. During these few days over 100,000 seal pups were killed. On April 15th the hunt moved off the coast of Newfoundland and approximately another 150,000 harp seals have already been killed there. The hunt continues.

The Animal Alliance of Canada is leading a boycott of Canadian seafood in an attempt to urge the Canadian Government to end their support of this commercial hunt. The AAC has a list of suggested ways in which people can help, here is a link to the ways individuals can aid the boycott:

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Get an Environmental Justice Assessment for your area!

Are you interested in learning what environmental nasties lie just outside your door? Would you like to learn what your cultural demographics are and compare them to the placement of Locally Undesireable Land Uses (L.U.L.U.'s)? The EPA has provided a very cool tool with which to do exactly that. Pull up your minority demographics, or your superfund sites, and more by zip code, city, state, etc.

For more about "where you live"

Monday, April 25, 2005

It's not just the size of your footprint, it's the damage you cause around it.

Advocating a “find more rather than a use less” approach to oil consumption, President Bush has advocated tapping the oil supply at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Northeast Alaska.

Supporters for the debate argue that the total ecological footprint of the oil drilling operation would be 2000 acres of the 1.5 millions acres that would be opened for development, out of the 19 million acres within ANWR. They argue less than .5% of ANWR would be affected by oil production.

The problem with this argument is that the 2000 acre figure only includes the parts of the project permanently touching the ground in ANWR. Not actually the size of what will change the visual or ecological landscape. For example, an above ground oil pipe rests on support stilts of sorts, and those stilts touch the ground permanently, while above them rests a huge concrete oil pipe snaking through the heretofore pristine wilderness, none of which is computed in the 2000 acre figure.

As for the other aspects of the footprint. Here is some information about the current Alaskan oil drilling operation.

The Prudhoe Bay Alaska oil fields are the largest in North America.
Over 12.8 billion barrels of oil have been pumped since 1977.
Gravel mines have extracted four times more gravel, five times more wells have been drilled and twice the road mileage has been constructed than was predicted in the project's Envrionmental Impact Statement.

Since 1995 Prudhoe Bay has seen an average of 400 spills annually, a total of 1.5 million gallons. Studies show that 28 years after a spill Alaska's soil still contains substantial hydrocarbons and little vegetation has recovered. 56,247 tons of ozone depleting and acid rain causing oxides and nitrogen are emitted annually.

This considerable amount of ecological damage leaves a widespread, long lasting footprint that stretches far beyond the parts of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields that permanently touch the land. It is safe to propose that ANWR would cause similar damage and leave a similarly sized footprint.

In our own Backyard

The following is an article I came across while researching my paper, it is easy to forget that these issues literally neighbor us, and they are not a distant, remote concern. Enjoy.

Environmental Justice: Fighting Environmental Justice

Lorraine Granado walked into the offices of the Cross Community Coalition recently to discuss the environmental hazards surrounding communities in northeast Denver. Suddenly an odor permeated the room.

"What's that?" Granado asked Michael Maes, director of the coalition's youth training program.

A visitor questioned whether the stench might be from the factories and plants surrounding the Globeville, Elyria, Swansea and Curtis Park neighborhoods, or motorists on Interstate 70.

Depending on the wind currents, Granado says, the smell could be from the Ralston Purina Consumer Products factory, a sewage treatment plant, a lamb rendering plant, nearby refineries or all four.

This time the stench wasn't from the industrial sector. Granado concluded it was probably mildew inside the offices.

"I've learned to distinguish, believe me. We're completely surrounded," said Granado, chairwoman of the coalition's Neighbors for a Toxic-Free Community. The coalition's offices are at East 46th Avenue and Josephine Street.

Minority activists say too many companies have set up shop in the communities of color, disregarding the air and ground pollution they cause.

For some time industry and the four northeast Denver neighborhoods have mixed, much to the dismay of the area's 17,000 residents. Local governments and health departments have been slow to put a clamp on the high-polluting corporations, environmental activists.

Neighbors for a Toxic-Free Community started Colorado People's Environmental and Economic Network, a statewide organization that deals with environmental hotspots affecting minority and low-income communities.

Granado, 46, said the group's goal is to support grassroots groups when they feel they're being infringed on by corporations planning to set up dump sites and incinerators near homes.

Patrick D. Bustos, public affairs specialist for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said that in Colorado, the areas most saturated with Superfund cleanups are north and northeast Denver and southern Adams County. Superfund sites are targeted by the EPA for corporations that leave abandoned hazardous waste.

"There are a lot of refineries and warehouses up there," Bustos said. "The area could be designated an environmental injustice zone."

Bustos said questions have been raised about the speed in which local and state health departments and the EPA respond to authorized cleanup sites in and around minority communities.

The charge of environmental racism has been criticized by some who feel that non-minority communities also have pollution and hazardous waste. Bustos said the criticism is unwarranted even if industries were operating before families moved in to work.

"Those are lose-lose arguments," Bustos said. "That doesn't give them the right to do what they historically have done. It doesn't mean you provide less protection for these people. It doesn't mean you're less stringent with penalties or that the cleanup process is slower. Those people are still taxpayers and citizens whose health is at risk."

Activists against environmental injustice point to reports which have documented that industries target minority and low-income neighborhoods to build factories because they are considered less resistant and have less political prowess to challenge wealthy companies.

The National Law Journal released a series in 1992 documenting the racial divisions on how the U.S. government cleans up hazardous wastes and penalizes violators.

"White communities see faster action, better results and stiffer penalties than communities where blacks, Hispanics and other minorities live," The National Law Journal concluded.

Seventy-two percent of the neighborhoods around I-70 and east of I-25 are Latino and 42% are Spanish-speaking. Nineteen percent are white.

In 1991, Neighbors for a Toxic-Free Community blocked a move by Bio-Waste Inc. to place a medical waste incinerator at East 51st Avenue and York Street. It would have been built over a landfill that emits methane, residents charged.

John Smith, president of the Far Northeast Neighbors, Inc., which represents the racially-mixed community of Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, had been working with Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Shell Oil Co. and the EPA to clean up the arsenal.

Smith said communities simply aren't experienced to deal with large businesses.

"What's out there is not good for us health-wise," Smith said. "But in the last three years (businesses) have kept us appraised of what's going on. They have held meetings in our neighborhood. Prior, to that we had been ignored when they were talking to community organizations like those in Commerce City.”

The Superfund sites that straddle north Denver and south Adams County include:

· Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Adams County, cited for discharging pesticides, nerve gas products and other toxins into the ground water and soil at about 100 areas.

· Broderick Wood Products in Adams County, cited for releasing creosote in the soil.

· Woodbury Chemical Co. in Adams County, sited for discharging pesticides and solvents in the soil and drainage ditch.

· Sand Creek Industrial in Adams County, cited for releasing pesticides, solvents and heavy metals in the soils and groundwater.

· ASARCO Inc. in Denver's Globeville community, cited and sued by the state health department and residents. After a long legal battle ASARCO was found guilty of knowingly contaminating surrounding land with cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals.

Neighbors for a Toxic-Free Community rallied Globeville residents to legally fight ASARCO, the metals processing factory. The residents won a $24 million settlement from ASARCO. The company is also spending $38 million to clean up the neighborhood.

Since the settlement ASARCO has cooperated with citizens to inform them of the status of the environmental cleanup.

The company also created the Globeville Information Center for residents. Granado said that before the settlement ASARCO did everything but cooperate.

"ASARCO kicked, screamed and fought all the way," Granado recalled.

In some cases, the blame for noise and air pollution falls on the government. Residents haven't forgotten that the Department of Transportation built I-70 through residential sections of northeast Denver, dividing neighborhoods.

Plans to expand east and westbound I-70 to four lanes are in the works, which would lead to the loss of more houses. The National Western Stock Show also is expanding.

"The majority of the residents who live here work," Granado said. "We're talking about people who work every day. Yet we are the expendable people."

© 1994 Rocky Mountain News

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Borgen Project

Purporting to bring global issues to the masses, The Borgen Project is a highly valuable resource. Especially to those who are interested in changing society's current priorities. Here are some of those priorities now:

Political Priorities by the Dollar
$66 average per citizen expenditures of
industrial nations on international aid.

$33 U.S. per citizen expenditures on
international aid.

$1,400 U.S. per citizen expenditure on the
Military Department.

Let's compare some of the numbers needed to end, or seriously reduce, world poverty, and our military spending:

World Game Institute's Annual estimates.

Eliminate Starvation and Malnutrition ($19 billion)
• Provide Shelter ($21 billion)
• Remove Landmines ($4 billion)
• Eliminate Nuclear Weapons ($7 billion)
• Refugee Relief ($5 billion)
• Eliminate Illiteracy ($5 billion)
• Provide Clean, Safe Water ($10 billion)
• Stabilize Population ($10.5 billion)
• Prevent Soil Erosion ($24 billion)

Food and Agricultural
Organization estimates:
$40-$60 billion a year to cut poverty
in half before 2015.

World Food Summit Figures
Incremental annual public investment needed to meet the World Food Summit
goal of halving world hunger before 2015.
• $5.2 billion: Ensure access to food for the most needy.
• $2.3 billion: Improve agricultural productivity in poor rural communities.
• $7.4 billion: Develop and conserve natural resources.
• $7.8 billion: Expand rural infrastructure and market access.
• $1.1billion: Strengthen capacity for knowledge generation and dissemination.
Total investment costs: $23 billion.
Estimated annual benefits of meeting WFS goal:
$120 billion

And now for the Military Spending ...

The U.S. accounts for more than half of the military spending of the world, the entire world, not just the top 3 nations. The U.S. Military budget is more than 37 times the size of the combined spending of the 7 Rogue states.

The envelope please... Our current Military Budget is $419 Billion dollars.

"If the political attention and funding that went into Iraq had gone
toward poverty-reduction;
hunger could have been eliminated
Few fully realize the enormous financial burden of war.
There is nothing financially comparable."

The Borgen Project is an important one, please support it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Criminal justice and the Hip Hop Nation

If I ruled the world, imagine that ...

I'd open every cell in Attica, send "em to Africa... .

If I ruled the world, imagine that

I'd free all my sons, I'd love "em love "em baby

- Nas

During my visit to Yale University I was suprised to be introduced to the Hip Hop nation in a political context. As a member of socitey who enjoys the benefits of my race, otherwise known as White Privelage, I knew the criminal justice system was unfair, but I still believed the unfairness was in the way our society treats African American criminals, rather than the way it treat African Americans period.
Paul Butler of GW Law presented an amazing exploration of not only the disparity between treatment of african americans in the criminal justice system, but their response to it through the study of Hip Hop. Hip Hop, the music I hear blaring from car stereos and assoicate with Bling Bling and low baggy pants, is for the most part, a poetic and poignant expression of one culture's fury and rage at the disparate treatment it has been subjected to.

Below are some excerpts from the article. It was published in the 2004 Stanford Law Rewiew and is entitled: PUNISHMENT AND ITS PURPOSES: SYMPOSIUM ARTICLE: Much Respect: Toward a Hip-Hop Theory of Punishment by Paul Butler. I urge everyone to read it.

Shout to my niggaz that's locked in jail

P.O.W.'s thats still in the war for real ...

But if he's locked in the penitentiary, send him some energy

They all winners to me

- Jay-Z

"Some scholars and activists have suggested that the effect of the cultural depiction of crime is that many Americans have exaggerated concerns about being victimized by black and Latino men. 18 Some lawmakers seem to exploit these concerns for political reasons. 19 One result is that some punishment seems driven by racial stereotypes. 20

The most frequently cited contemporary example is harsher federal penalties for crack cocaine than powder cocaine. 21 Crack cocaine is powder cocaine that is cooked with baking soda until it forms small solid pieces. Crack is smoked rather than inhaled. It is less expensive than powder cocaine and has a briefer intoxicating effect.

A star basketball player, Len Bias, died as a result of a cocaine overdose in 1986. 22 He was presumed to have ingested crack, although there was actually no evidence as to what form of cocaine he had consumed. Bias was African American, and crack cocaine was thought to be the preferred form in the black community. 23 Bias' death focused the media's attention on crack cocaine. Congress responded with one of the most severe punishment schemes for a drug in American history. 24 It instituted a mandatory sentence for possession of crack cocaine, but not powder cocaine. The punishment for sellers was especially harsh. To receive the same sentence as a crack distributor, a powder distributor must possess one hundred times the quantity of cocaine. 25 For example, the distributor of five grams of crack, which is enough for 25 doses and has a street value of approximately $ 500, receives the same sentence as the distributor of 500 grams of powder, which is enough for 3000 doses and is worth $ 40,000.

There is little scientific support for the proposition that crack cocaine [*989] merits more punishment than powder on a harm principle, and virtually no support for the hundred-to-one federal differential. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has proposed that the distinction be reduced. Likewise, President Clinton's drug czar recommended no disparity in punishment 26, and, during the presidential campaign of 2000, George W. Bush also rejected a distinction. 27 Thus far, however, Congress has refused to budge, in part because of the strong cultural bias against crack cocaine. Whether warranted or not, crack has a poorer reputation than powder. Culture, not logic or science, is the best explanation for why and how crack users are punished."

56 Stan. L. Rev. 983, 989

[A] nigga wit' nothin' to lose

One of the few who's been accused and abused

Of the crime of poisonin' young minds

But you don't know shit "til you've been in my shoes

-- NWA

"What happens when many of the leaders of popular culture are arrested and incarcerated? For the hip-hop nation, this is not a theoretical question. Many of its most prominent artists have been involved in the criminal justice system. 78 So many have been arrested that the Village Voice recently questioned whether the New York Police Department has a secret unit dedicated to hip-hop artists. 79 Police in Miami admitted that they secretly watched and kept dossiers on hip-hop stars who visited South Florida. 80

A telling example of the role of punishment in the hip-hop nation can be seen in a recent issue of Source magazine, which bills itself as the "bible" of hip-hop. The March 2004 cover featured the tag-line: "Hip-Hop Behind Bars: Are Rappers the New Target of America's Criminal Justice System?" 81 The magazine's cover featured mug shots of ten hip-hop artists who are incarcerated or awaiting trial. 82

The statistics about rap artists reflect the statistics about young African American and Latino men. In the mid-1990s, one study found that one in three young black men were under criminal justice supervision. 83 An African [*997] American man born in 1991 has a 29% chance of being imprisoned, compared with a 16% chance for a Latino man, and a 4% chance for a white man. 84 There are more young black men in prison than in college. 85

The reaction of artists in the hip-hop community to the mass incarceration of African Americans has been to interrogate the social meaning of punishment. Prison, as depicted in rap music, is a placement center for the undereducated, the unemployed, and, especially, aspiring capitalists who, if not locked up, would successfully challenge white elites. Big L, for example, complains that the police "wanna lock me up even though I'm legit/ they can't stand to see a young brother pockets get thick." 86

Criminologists and legal scholars recently have emphasized the role of social norms in preventing crime. In the strongest form, the idea is that cultural (or subcultural) forces are more important than criminal law in determining conduct. We care more about how people in our communities label us than how the law does. The appropriate role of criminal law, then, is to support social mores that contribute to public safety. Criminal law fails when it subverts those norms. 87 When, for example, incarceration is not sufficiently stigmatized, it loses its value as deterrence.

To say that hip-hop destigmatizes incarceration understates the point: Prison, according to the artists, actually stigmatizes the government. In a culture that celebrates rebelliousness, prison is the place for unruly "niggas" who otherwise would upset the political or economic status quo. In this sense, inmates are heroic figures. 88 In "A Ballad for the Fallen Soldier," Jay-Z sends a "shout out to my niggaz that's locked in jail/ P.O.W.'s that's still in the war for real ... But if he's locked in the penitentiary, send him some energy/ They all winners to me." 89

While glorification of outlaws is certainly not limited to hip-hop, 90 the culture's depiction of the criminal as a socially useful actor is different. Hip- [*998] hop justifies rather than excuses some criminal conduct. Breaking the law is seen as a form of rebelling against the oppressive status quo. Rappers who brag about doing time are like old soldiers who boast of war wounds."

56 Stan. L. Rev. 983, 996

Freedom and power to determine our destiny...

Black juries when our brothers are tried in court

- Paris

"Hip-hop lyrics exhibit a strong conviction that wrongdoers should suffer consequences for their acts. In the words of Jay-Z: "Now if you shoot my dog, I'ma kill yo' cat/ Just the unwritten laws in rap - know dat/ For every action there's a reaction." 106 The culture abounds with narratives about revenge, retaliation, and avenging wrongs. The narrator in Eve's "Love is Blind" kills the man who abuses her close friend. 107 Likewise, Nelly warns "if you take a life, you gon' lose yours too." 108

At the same time, hip-hop culture seems to embrace criminals. In Angie Stone's "Brotha," for example, she sings, "To everyone of y'all behind bars/ You know that Angie loves ya." 109 To an incarcerated person Jay-Z seeks to "send ... some energy" because "if he's locked in the penitentiary ... . They all winners to me." 110 This kind of warm acknowledgement of the incarcerated is commonplace in hip-hop, and virtually unheard of in other popular culture, which largely ignores the two million Americans in prison."

56 Stan. L. Rev. 983, 1002

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