Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crossing Over

By Camincha

It came easily to Nina. She was used to people. She remembered her Miraflores home, a continent away --always full of friends-- friends she left when her father decided he wanted her to go to college in the United States.

He chose San Francisco, because his old friends, the Leiva family, had settled there,
Ellos te van a cuidar, is how he explained his choice to Nina. And the Leivas were eager to open their home to her! A gregarious people, they celebrated birthdays and every holiday of the USA, PerĂº and many of their own. As supportive as they were of her scholastic activities, they were delighted when the young Peruvian, Etienne, started coming around.

Tan buenmozo. Tan distinguido, tan...tan...tan!!!!

She married him, he also liked people. They rented in-law apartments in the homes of families as friendly as themselves. They bought their own little house and had children and just as fast a traffic accident took him away.

For Nina, LATELY, the voice in her head had become more persistent, reminding her of when the two-bedroom house was too small. When, Mom, traje una amiga, happened all the time. Remember? ¿Recuerdas? Little women hairdos. And the voice added: Make-up. Heart to heart talks. Their smiles.

The teen-age lingo. The long hair. Remember? ¿Recuerdas? The voice woke her
up nights. Nina would look at the clock, 2:30. Would get up, use the
bathroom, back to bed. Darn, she missed them. Remember? ¿Recuerdas? The
barrettes scattered around the house. Not being able to ever stock up enough
nylons or mascara. Remember? ¿Recuerdas? The girls constant, unending
telephone conversations. Nina heard herself saying, Remember? ¿Recuerdas?>> ahead of the voice.

As the girls grew up all they had to do was bring one friend each and the house was filled to capacity. Nina remembered. It had become an obsession. A phone call would make her cry and laugh. A letter would only deepen the pain.
THAT'S WHY TALKING to Liza was like catching a ray of sunshine in the middle of a blizzard. She had the same faraway dreamy look of her girls when talking about the future, about her husband: Has been in the States only ten years. His parents own the Liquor store at Eureka Square. We also bought a deli, in Pacifica, at the little shopping center on Balbina Street.

Stop by soon. Liza had said it with a warm smile. Nina needed no more. She was quick to accept invitations, to return a smile and had a most sonorous, joyous
laugh. People always said: Listen to you. It must be what keeps you young.
Liza and Nina did alright. Liza was saying: My husband talks about going back. Living in the Middle East, I would go. You know? Her tone accentuated the question mark and the shade of fear at the bottom of her eyes. But their ideas, his ideas, are so different. She paused looking for the right words.

Then continued: Men and women in his country don't really live together, he tells me. Little girls are brought up almost exclusively by women. And older women...older women teach the young ones, and she giggled, the boys.

The tone of her voice made Nina search for the meaning of her words. She looked directly into Liza's eyes and found them embarrassed,unwilling to elaborate. Is she talking about sex? Is it about, sex? She thought, and decided better not to ask.

Then, relaxing, but you know, Nina? and bringing her voice to a whisper, she leaned over, They are very careful who they hire as nannies, or house servants. As she went on, her hip inched towards Nina just a bit and her left shoulder lost its angle and caused her hair to fall over to the side like a curtain, drawing them together.

Another day, as they waved from driveway to driveway Liza yelled: my in-laws are visiting, motioning to the elderly couple whom she was helping into her car. My mother-in-law goes to visit relatives, but my father-in-law spends every day at the store with us. Stop by, soon.

A letter from Mariela had arrived that very morning. Nina thought, I'll share it with Liza. Yes, a friendly warm moment of conversation. Just what I need! The thought brightened her day. Nina could hardly wait.

On her way home, Nina made a detour, stopped at the tiny deli on Balbina Street. Got out of her car and...Liza saw her through the store's front window and hastily ran out to meet her. Nina hugged her. Liza, who was facing the store, froze. Nina followed her glance and saw the two men inside the store had positioned themselves near the door. Nina felt awkward; this was so unlike what she had expected. She had imagined being invited in, she had imagined all of them sitting down sharing cool refreshments. Where were these peoples' sense of hospitality?
Liza didn't make any attempt at hospitality. She kept a smile on her lips, as if it were a shield. Nina, puzzled, nervous, disoriented, pulled Mariela's letter out of her pocket. Liza glanced towards the store's glass front out of the corner of her eye, as if she was afraid of those inside, her husband her father-in-law.
Nina lifted her eyes from the letter she was sharing with Liza -- without the joy she had anticipated-- only to find the two men staring at her. She had seen men
standing like that. Once, turning a street corner into an unknown neighborhood before she even knew what was happening, she had seen men looking like that. Standing like that. Standing as if they suspected danger, danger that they might be called to fight off. The men's eyes were full of distrust, a scowl of half
circles around their mouths. Their bodies stiff, firmly planted, legs
solidly spread apart...

Camincha is a pseudonym for a California-based writer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Newspapers are Dying!

By Jon Hemmerdinger

You might think mainstream media outlets would avoid highlighting their own demise. Why call attention to your own dwindling relevance?

But more and more, the media seem to cover the very changes that threaten their lives: the forces of citizen journalism and the decline of city newspapers.

The prevalence of citizen journalism is witnessed every time major news breaks. It happened in the November terrorist attacks in Mumbai, when hostages sent twitter messages of the ordeal.
Twitter users are also said to have broken the story of the US Airways flight that glided into the Hudson River.

"There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy," tweeted one witness from a ferry boat on the scene.

Most recently, citizen journalist Anthony Trigilio posted online video on YouTube of the fire and mayhem following the crash of Continental flight 3407, which plummeted from the skies above Buffalo on Feb. 12.

But as citizen journalism has grown, so too has the mainstream media's coverage of the phenomenon.

The twittering Mumbai news breakers were highlighted in the Dec. 2 Los Angeles Times piece, "Mumbai news fished from Twitter’s rapids," by David Sarno. "Once a way for friends to keep each other updated on daily routines," writes Sarno, "Twitter is now looking more like a legitimate medium for short bits of information."

In a Jan. 16 blog called "Can a Tweet be a Scoop?" The New York Times called attention to the twitter-user who was among the first to make known the U.S. Airways crash.

And shortly after the Buffalo crash, the Buffalo News posted a story on it's website called YouTube and the Crash, in which a Buffalo News reporter interviewed Trigilio about his experience as a citizen journalist.

"Everybody seems to have their own little onsite-reporter-thing going on," Trigilio said.
It seems the mainstream media is covering the very forces that have caused the industry so much heartache in recent years.

There are other examples.

In a Feb. 11 article in The Wall Street Journal titled, "Why You Don't Want to Die on a Sunday in Detroit," Jeffery Zaslow examines how Detroit may be affected when the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News reduce home delivery of the newspaper to three days a week next month.

Here's another similar recent example. On Feb. 5, NPR ran a story called, "Imagining a City Without It's Daily Newspaper," which looks at how a city—Hartford, Conn. and the Hartford Courant are the examples used—would be affected if the city's daily newspaper ceases operations altogether.

And though the NPR story makes a good point of telling why newspapers are important to society, the story doesn't hide from the fact that newspapers are in decline. The first graph reads: "Financial analysts say they expect some big dailies to fold, perhaps as soon as this year."

But though it may seem odd for the media to cover it's own problems, maybe this is a good sign for the industry; perhaps these are examples of the media beginning to accept the changing world of the news. Maybe that's first step to adapting.

Or, maybe it's reverse-psychology: stories about dwindling relevance might actually prove that traditional news companies are more relevant than we think.

Writer Jon Hemmerdinger lives in Washington DC and is a graduate student in journalism at Georgetown University.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A health care riddle, and the solution!

By Richard Kirsch

Here's a riddle. It's a two-parter.

How is it that the United States spends much more on health care than any other country in the world but still leaves 46 million Americans uninsured? And how is it all other developed countries provide health coverage to every citizen and still spend so much less? The answer's in the riddle. Other countries spend less because they provide coverage to everyone.

The budget hawks in Congress would be wise to remember this riddle when they listen to President Obama give his budget address before a joint session of Congress next week. We expect the President will call for a major investment in health care, including guaranteeing affordable coverage for every American. He is almost certain to repeat, as he has done numerous times before and after the election, that we cannot solve our long-term economic problems unless we fix our health care system too.

President Obama's budget release will be the first formal step in the legislative dance that the President hopes will result in the passage of health care reform - including quality, affordable coverage for all - by the end of 2009. While opponents of reform will use every argument in their arsenal, one of the biggest obstacles will be Congressional reluctance to make any upfront investment that would add to the federal budget deficit in the short term.

However, leading economists and policy experts agree that the only way to bring health care costs under control is to make big, comprehensive changes. We need to shift the focus of our health care system from maximizing revenue for health care providers and insurers to maximizing the health status of Americans.

There are a host of reasons we spend so much more on health care than other developed nations while lagging woefully behind on quality of care. The tens of millions without coverage and the tens of millions with inadequate coverage - including high out-of-pocket costs - don't get preventive care and delay treatment at the first signs of illness. They then end up in the system later when they're much sicker, and treating them is more expensive. Our private health insurers spend huge sums of money trying to avoid covering people who are sick (and costly) and trying to get out of paying claims. This translates into high administrative costs for insurers, doctors, and hospitals while individuals are hounded by bill collectors.

Drug companies and medical-device manufacturers push doctors into prescribing expensive new drugs and using the latest pieces of equipment without any evidence that these new treatments are better or more effective. Doctors have financial incentives to prescribe more care even if it's not necessarily better care. And hospitals are driven to offer more lucrative services than necessary services in any given community.

For each of these cost drivers, there is a major special interest that is making major money off our health care system. You better believe they will do everything in their power to resist change. As President Obama said on the campaign trail, "[W]e are tired of watching as year after year, candidates offer up detailed health care plans with great fanfare and promise, only to see them crushed under the weight of Washington politics and drug and insurance lobbying once the campaign is over."

The fact remains though, as the President said again last week, "[T]here are some people who are making the argument that, well, you can't do anything about health care because the economy comes first. They don't understand that health care is the biggest component of our economy and, when it's broken, that affects everything." Too many of these naysayers are members of Congress who see only short term deficit figures and fail to grasp the unparalleled long-term impact comprehensive health care reform will have on our economy and the federal budget.

The sooner we act the better. As long as health care costs far outstrip inflation and other economic growth, the health care system will eat up a bigger and bigger share of the nation's income, continuing to place huge financial stress on our families, our businesses, and our government.

The President and Congress already took some steps toward controlling costs in the Economic Recovery Act, including investing in electronic medical records and investing in research to find out which treatments work best compared to others.

But there's a whole lot more to be done, and it's not hard to figure out what that is. We need to cover everyone with benefits that meet health care needs from prevention through chronic care. We need to remove financial barriers that stop people from getting care early. And we must provide people the choice of a public health insurance plan as an alternative to private health insurance, especially since there is a large and growing body of evidence demonstrating that public health insurance plans do a much better job of controlling costs than private insurance. Each of these proposals is included in President Obama's health care plan.

The hardest part of health care reform is actually going to be countering the fear-mongering about change. The interests that profit off our current system are already starting to fight. So are frenzied ideologues who think government involvement in health reform is a bad thing. We need to remind them that our government exists to work for the people it represents, and letting private insurers continue to run amok and milk the system without rules or oversight is just plain foolish.

At the end of the day the fact remains that if we are to have a healthy economy, we need to provide good, affordable health care coverage to everyone in a system based on promoting health not maximizing profit. Solving that political riddle in 2009 will be one of President Obama's greatest political challenges and triumphs.

Richard Kirsch is National Campaign Manager for Health Care for America Now, a national coalition of labor, community groups and progressive organizations dedicated to reforming the nation's health care system. This opinion piece appeared originally in The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

President Obama -- take a lesson from Lincoln!

By Dan Beauchamp

We have seen enough of President Obama, on the campaign trail and in the early days of his administration, to suspect that he holds two theories of political reform, two theories that unfortunately can be at war.

The first view is that better, more high-minded, bipartisan politics and values produces better, more high-minded, bipartisan policy. A new politics creates new policies.

The second view stands this idea on its head: new policies create a new politics, not just the other way around.

Political change as massive as, say, health care reform requires a new civic institution and policy that gives the citizenry more voice and power in politics. This increase in the public's power and expectations will bring major changes to our politics and to both political parties.

Usually the opening for major institutional innovation occurs when a crisis arises and offers an opportunity: a war, a Great Depression, an assassination of a president coupled with a huge electoral win by his successor, as with LBJ and the Great Society.

Surely President Obama knows that we are in another battle for the body politic and that he needs to seize the opportunities the crisis offers to forge a new body politic and politics.

Certainly the Republicans know this. This is why they stonewall Obama. The Republicans know he will try to use the crisis to take the body politic into new territory, territory that will be hostile to Republican political fundamentalism.

To better emphasize my point let's consider health care reform.

One of the most important and seldom-discussed features of universal health care is that, properly designed and implemented, it will change our politics, big time.

This is because security in health care for all Americans will prove popular with the poor and the middle class together and the result is that the party that achieves reform will be broadly supported at the polls and in power for a generation.

Conservatives deeply fear a scheme of universal health care precisely for this reason: it will reward the Democrats in the short and mid-term and it will warn off the Republican party from attacking the new program, much as they learned again under President Bush the dangers of attacking Social Security.

A well-designed national health care reform plan and set of institutions or one that creates a clear path to that new institution will likely change the Republican party more than any other single thing that Obama does by emphasizing bi-partisanship. Republicans today resist and fear that change.

I think Obama knows this. With many in Congress resistant to the new politics that will come in its wake, he made Tom Daschle his first pick to lead the reform battle that is looming.

But Obama also believes that a better, cleaner, and more ethical politics will also produce better policies; hence his new ethical standards for office-holders and his reluctant willingness to let Daschle go.

I also think we need a more ethical yardstick to measure political appointments.
But Obama needs to decide which of these two theories of political change is the more important, and here is where he has a difficulty.

You see, newspapers love the ethical view of politics to death. They know their readers will too. This is because it is easier to understand. "If I pay my taxes, why shouldn't they?" Or worse, "If he [Timothy Geitner, the new Secretary of the Treasury] can't manage his own finances, how can he manage the nation's finances?"

Daschle and Geitner should have paid their taxes but if they are as good as they are reputed to be, we badly need them in office to produce the new policies that will change our politics, in the long run.

Make no mistake: Obama needs not only national health care reform but a new economic and social policy for America that will set our politics on a new course.
But when Obama let The New York Times run off Tom Daschle with its high-minded editorials Obama may have encouraged the media to focus endlessly on the ethical conduct of those making policy and far, far too little attention on how policy like health care reform works and can change our politics, and who’s tough enough to put those policies in place.

There is a famous story about General Grant and President Lincoln.

Rivals to Grant complained that he was a drunk. But Lincoln is supposed to have said, "If drink causes him to fight, then find out what he drinks and send a case to my other commanders."

Lincoln was my kind of politician. He knew that sometime the important thing was the resulting policy. He needed a tenacious, ruthless general relentlessly pursuing a military policy that took full advantage of the superior industrial power and population of the North.

Lincoln knew that only the military defeat of the South would deal a fatal blow to the "Slave Power" of the South and its hold over American politics, a hold so important that the South seceded and led us into the Civil War.

Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated and Reconstruction was ended before the South's politics was utterly changed by giving African-Americans more equality at the ballot box and help in achieving economic independence.

But the principle that we sometimes need new big policies to bring big changes in our politics, rather than the other way around, still stands today.

President Obama, an ardent admirer of President Lincoln, ought to take a lesson from his hero and find his generals to help him bring his own party together for the chance of a generation.

Dan Beauchamp, a health policy expert who now lives in Bisbee, Arizona, worked as a health official in the New York State Department of Health under the Cuomo administration. He led an effort to design a new health care reform proposal that attempted to create a de facto single payer system using clearinghouse technologies for checks much like the Federal Reserve system and using what we today call the Internet.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

"You'll be a man my son!"

By Brian Saltern

One day when I was five years old, Dad and I were in the back yard on Hay Street sprucing up for spring. Suddenly he issued his command: "Brad, go under the house and turn the water off to the hose."

The hard-to-reach spigot lay beneath the back of the house inside a small trap door. Proud of being entrusted with this important chore, I dropped to my knees and crawled through the opening. Immediately the mangy, dirt floor space sprang to life. Daddy long-legs darted for darkness, wasps and hornets buzzed from nests, spiders scurried up webs affixed to crumbling plaster walls, slithering snails slinked away as I struggled to turn the rusted metal faucet.

As the spigot slowly budged, the sound of rushing water grew louder. Confused, I turned in the opposite direction. Again, the garden hose sounded like it was gushing harder. Back the other way.

"What are you doing?" Dad yelled. "What the hell's taking you so long?"

Perspiration stung my eyes making them tear as I tried moving the spigot in the opposite direction. The roar of water sounded like Niagara Falls. Anxious and panicking, I struggled to reverse direction.

Dad had a very short fuse. "TURN THAT DAMN SPIGOT OFF!"

As cobwebs tickled my ears and bees circled menacingly I grew more flustered, more confused. Finally, dad stooped down, pushed me aside and reached through the opening turning the spigot off. He grumbled loudly to himself, "the damn kid can't even turn a spigot off! I cringed in embarrassment.

Dad never let me forget that day. In Little League baseball, whenever I made an error, loud and relentless razzing roared up from his seat in the bleachers.

“Hey major leaguer, you can’t even turn a spigot off.”

It happened so often that LLB officials eventually barred him from attending my games. But during midget football games torrential bursts of his criticism from the sidelines would make me cry in the huddle.

A "B" in math, a glass accidentally breaking, tripping down the stairs, no matter what mistake I made, dad summed my abilities with that same caustic refrain: “He can’t even turn a damn spigot off.”

In high school even though I had become a star, it still continued. In the midst of co-captaining our championship basketball season one day after school, Dad confronted my basketball coach, Dick Eckert, and in a fit of rage demanded he take my uniform away. The coach not only refused but also chastised him for even suggesting it. Still, anytime Dad determined that I'd played poorly, the next day a terse note would appear on the kitchen table: "all privileges revoked... no allowance... no use of the car." A

And all too many mornings, with my bedroom over the kitchen, I’d hear him curse to my mother, "the damn kid can't even turn a spigot off!"


A week before my high school graduation I was rummaging through old term papers when I came across a crumpled, smudged index card. I had written down a list of goals the summer before seventh grade -- a skinny, 80-pound, 12-year-old boy's fondest hopes and dreams for the years ahead.

Amazingly they'd all come true: I was MVP of one of the best football teams in Wilson High School's history, nominated for All State honors. Member of the Honor Society. Popular as part of the school's ruling clique. And since that first day in seventh grade, Suzie Clarke, the cute co-captain of the cheering squad had been my girlfriend.

The next morning, Friday, June 7, 1963, I bounded down the carpeted stairs of our modest half-double home only to find Mom standing at the gas stove, red-eyed and visibly upset. Before I could ask, she angrily blurted out, "Your father hasn't come home!"

I inhaled a large portion of fried eggs and crisp bacon. "What do you mean? Where is he?"

"I have no idea. The bastard went out last night and hasn't returned," she swore through clenched teeth.

I stopped eating. "What? You don't know anything?"

"No, not a damn thing. I hope to hell he stays away for good."

In spite of my protests, my mom sent me off to school and commencement rehearsal. As classmates laughed and traipsed around the school auditorium, I remained in a stupor, stunned and confused. Had Dad finally done it? Just split and fuck the consequences. When rehearsal ended, I hurried home.

As I turned onto Hay Street, Mom drove up in our '57 Chevy and parked in front of our house.

Dad exited the passenger seat looking drawn, ashen-faced and sheepishly hurried inside padding upstairs to his bedroom. "What happened?"

"The rotten bastard spent the night in jail," Mom replied.

"What? Why?"

"He was arrested last night on a morals charge downtown in the circle. Let the bastard himself tell you what happened." She refused to say anything more.

Hearing about his night in jail, my sister Janie screamed, "What... how could he… oh my god … our lives are ruined … everyone knows us… how can I ever face my friends?"

Mom, cursing under her breath, stormed up to her bedroom (she and dad hadn't shared a bed in years). I plunked down on the front porch and wondered. Was my sister right? Were our lives totally ruined?

All afternoon dad remained secluded in his bedroom. Though desperate to learn what he'd done, I avoided upstairs like the plague. When I was 13, he’d caught me leafing in wide-eyed wonder at pictures of scantily-clad women in one of his "men's" magazines. I was sternly forbidden to do so again. But I had noticed the way my Dad’s eyes would sometimes follow a well-endowed female walking down the street and it embarrassed me to no end.

Later that afternoon the local daily, The Easton Express, landed with a thud on the front porch. I quickly paged through it, hoping there'd be no mention of his arrest. It didn't take long to find the article. My heart sank. On page 8, the bold type announced: "Wilson Man Arrested on Morals Charge" - a headline anyone merely glancing through the paper would jump to read. It didn't mention what he'd done.

That night I had a date for a prom. Lou Ann, a leggy, pretty, blonde cheerleader from Easton High School had asked me and every day since would pick me up after school in her new, baby blue, Triumph convertible and drive me home (Dad stated that he couldn't for the life of him understand what she saw in me).

Because of this scandal, I certainly did not want to go to the prom and told my Mom I was going to cancel my date.

Mom sternly replied, “ I won’t hear of such talk. You are going and we are living our lives as if this never happened."

Yeah right. She wasn't the one who had to face everyone.

I tiptoed to the top of the stairs and turned to enter my room to get dressed when Dad’s faint voice called out, "Brad, come here. I want to talk to you."

"I can't. I have to get ready for the prom."

"Well, get dressed in here."

I reluctantly gathered up my rented tuxedo and entered his room. Dad lay curled up in a fetal position like a helpless child on his bed. He asked me to sit down and grabbed my hand.

"I'm so sorry. You know I'd never willfully do anything to hurt you. You're all I have left. Your mother and sister will never forgive me. I want to explain so you won't be scarred by this for life."

At the mention of being scarred, my body trembled. But when Dad sobbingly told how he'd contemplated suicide all night in the jail cell but couldn't get up the nerve, my eyes misted. He needed to explain, hoping his actions could be forgiven, or at least understood.

As I started to get all dressed up in my tuxedo, Dad began his story…

Well, so, later, I remember picking up my date, handing Lou Ann a wrist corsage of yellow carnations (Mom refused to buy anything more expensive) and heading to the prom. But the rest of the night will forever remain a blank in my mind. I traveled to some far-off place while someone else on autopilot went through the motions.

Coming home later that night I discovered my high school yearbook (the signing party had taken place earlier) that my buddy Tilly had wedged between the front doors to my house. Drained and depressed, I collapsed on the front room sofa.

On the dark blue cover of our yearbook, "Les Memoires," large gold, embossed letters triumphed - "If you can meet with triumph and disaster..."

I opened the first page to the yearbook's theme: "The keys to understanding." Through a cut-out "key" stood the poem,"If," by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too…

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a man my son!

As I slowly read the poem, all the pent-up emotions and hurt came pouring out in waves. I read it over and over, tears streaming down my face. Eventually I cried myself to sleep. Innocence was gone. Becoming a man lay a long ways off.

Writer Brian Saltern is a former All-State Athlete, Haight Asbury Hippie and ‘60s Political Activitst, NYC Nightclub Promoter, Fundraiser, Recovering Addict and Spiritual Seeker. He grew up in Easton, PA, and today splits his time between New York City and Millerton, NY. He recently completed a coming-of-age memoir. This story is an excerpt from his book.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


photo credit: Joe Athialy

By David Seth Michaels

How do you feel about helping to save 49 lives that now hang in the balance?

Now that the nation has a new Attorney General --Eric Holder was sworn in yesterday-- it is vitally important that the Department of Justice immediately re-evaluate all of the federal cases in which the death penalty is presently being sought.

And it's important that if these cases do not meet their professed higher standards for imposition of the death penalty (this is an oxymoron, standards that allow state killing cannot be high), authorization to seek the death penalty should now be withdrawn. This may save 49 lives and prevent state killings from being carried out in our names.

Remember John Ashcroft? He who left the AG's office at the end of 2004? He who wanted to "federalize the death penalty?" Ashcroft's plan was that the Attorney General in Washington and not the local United States Attorneys, who would prosecute the crime and were located where the crime was alleged to have been committed, should decide which cases were appropriate for the federal death penalty. It wasn't right, the argument went, that in some places the death penalty was eschewed. So the feds would seek to have it imposed in federal courts in places like Michigan, Vermont, New York, places where the states had no death penalty. Then, the argument went, the death penalty would be more uniform. It wouldn't be an event occurring solely in the Southern Death Belt. That was supposed to be a good idea.

Ashcroft was succeeded by Alberto Gonzalez. He who wrote grotesquely inadequate memos to W about Texas death penalty commutation requests. He of the poor memory. He of the politicization of DoJ. He who explained so very little. Gonzalez, of course, continued to make decisions about the cases in which the feds would pursue the death penalty, and in which they wouldn't. And so did his successor, Michael Mukasey.

In response to questions from Senator Feingold, in June, 2007, DoJ laid out the entire history and all the numbers since 2001 here (pdf). In sum, there's a procedure for deciding what cases are death eligible. The procedure is basically a series of recommendations from lower to higher prosecution officials, but ultimately, the AG decides what should occur. That decision cannot be reviewed. How he makes the decision is never revealed. It's essentially a secret. And the criteria by which this decision is ultimately made have not been explicitly stated. If you're a judge or a defense lawyer or a prosecutor, you can ask that this incredibly important decision be reconsidered. And sometimes it is. But in general, the buck stops with the AG, who then acts like the Sphinx.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are now 51 prisoners on federal death row in Terra Haute, Indiana. According to CapDefNet 23 federal death penalty cases are now on or awaiting trial, 5 are awaiting re-trial or re-sentencing after appeal, and 21 cases are now on appeal or seeking post conviction relief. In other words, 49 people have pending federal death penalty cases in which the Bush DoJ's decision to seek the death penalty, the decision made by Ashcroft, Gonzalez or Mukasey, makes the defendant eligible for execution.

These cases should all be immediately re-evaluated by Eric Holder and the Obama DoJ to determine whether they remain death penalty eligible. 49 lives stand in the balance.

There's no reason to believe that the criteria the DoJ initially applied in deciding to seek the death penalty in these cases, particularly the obviously political one of "federalizing" the death penalty, would meet the criteria Holder and/or Obama might require in these cases.

It is not clear what the present criteria for death eligibility might be or how they would be applied. Holder, for example, has said that he personally opposes the death penalty but has pursued it as a prosecutor and he told Congress it should "feel very assured that ... those statutes that have death penalty provisions will be fully enforced by me." And "Obama wrote in his recent memoir that he thinks the death penalty "does little to deter crime." But he supports capital punishment in cases "so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment." I have no idea how these subjective measures might be calibrated and applied to the pending cases.

I am personally opposed to state killing in all cases. If it were up to me, I would withdraw death penalty eligibility in all of the pending cases, and I would instruct prosecutors never to seek the death penalty. I know the present administration doesn't agree with me about this. Fine. There is nevertheless the possibility of saving 49 lives. This does not mean releasing people who should be imprisoned. It means choosing a penalty, if they are convicted, that includes life without parole but not death.

This is not a small difference. It's a step toward ending the barbarity of state killing. It's a step toward joining virtually all of the rest of the world by ending state killing. Please join me in urging the administration to review all of the pending death eligibile cases and to withdraw the request for the death penalty in each of them.

There are essentially two, easy, quick ways to tell the administration your views about review of these federal death penalty cases. First, you can send a 500- character email to the White House at">"> For suggested text, go here.

Second, you can sign a petition to AG Holder requesting a review of these cases.

Please join me in requesting that these 49 cases be reviewed and that these lives be spared.

Writer David Seth Michaels is a criminal defense attorney who lives in Columbia County, New York. He has written extensively --and passionately-- in opposition to the death penalty.

Photographer Joe Athialy's work can be seen at

Sunday, February 01, 2009

By Victoria Vickers

The calls were flooding in.

Media outlets all over the world wanted to know why he did it -- I did too. So when Joshua Karp answered the phone 4:05 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, I immediately began firing questions at him. But all he had time to tell me was, "Its been a crazy day today. I'd be happy to answer your questions and talk to you at length tomorrow. I've been handling calls from national press outlets all day," said Karp.

When I called back the next day, at 1 p.m. Chicago time, Karp's phone was still ringing non-stop. Just about every caller wanted to know why, at a time when newspapers are laying off and going under, Karp launched The Printed Blog. Yup, it's exactly how it sounds. Selected blog posts, pooled into an 11x17-inch, full-color, eight-page, print newspaper. The Printed Blog hit the streets in Chicago and San Francisco on Jan. 27.

"I don't believe that newspapers should go out of business, or will go out of business," Karp said. "I believe the model has to change."

The Printed Blog is chock-full of posts and photos extracted from a variety of blogs including the national, political blog Daily Kos, as well as, lesser knowns like Baster Life, which offers dish on steamy topics of the bedroom variety. The paper is distributed twice daily -- in the morning and evening and offers commuters and readers who prefer print an opportunity to read blog-form writing. It's also downloadable in PDF format from the Printed Blog Web site.

What's the journalistic process like? "For the first issue, we laid out the content starting at around 7 p.m. in the evening, sequenced it at 2 a.m. and were proofing at 7 a.m.," Karp explained. "We have a reasonably automated process. It really doesn't take all that much. We are distributing by person right now because it gives us attention. We just need a printer and to flip the switch on our Web site."

How much does it cost? "Right now it's difficult to study the numbers because it's going to work so different in the future," Karp said. "Our prediction is $1,000 per week in each location. Right now it's weekly, but soon it will be daily."

The stories featured in the The Printed Blog are selected based on reader-generated comments and local appeal. There's a little bit of everything, except hard news. It's more of an eclectic collection of musings ranging from thought-provoking to entertaining to, well, provocative. There are also lighter features like the daily play-list of suggested songs to sample. And a profile of "a unique person." The ads and a small social events calendar are also weaved in.

Karp and his staff sought out bloggers for the first edition, but all that changed as soon as the first edition was printed.

"At first we did have to approach bloggers that we liked and then after the New York Times article came out and the first issue came out, bloggers are approaching us. One every few minutes," said Karp. "Even [while we're] on the phone right now, I'm seeing people sending their blogs. I just got one from Mexico. We're getting requests from all over the world, inquiries from all over the planet."

Experience is not a criteria for The Printed Blog bloggers, they need only have a voice that people want to hear. "We have some national bloggers and some people who are writing in their basements. There is no minimum experience," said Karp. "We're less interested in the mainstream bloggers and more interested in the individual."

However, reporters looking for a gig, don't get your hopes up. Bloggers do get a portion of the revenue from ads that run next to their posts, but traditional benefits aren't on the horizon.

"We're going to stay away from offering benefits," said Karp. "We're trying to be a lean organization. We're paying [our bloggers] because they're taking the time to do the writing and we're respecting that effort. Bloggers are writing for a different reason. They're not writing because they want a job, they're writing because they have something to say."

Photos courtesy of the New York Times.

Writer Victoria Vickers is a graduate student in journalism at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.