Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Sixers Would Like the NBA to Take Another Look at Devin Harris' Buzzer-Beater

Certainly, we’ve all seen the Devin Harris’ shot from last night. His half-court heave gave the Nets a two-point win over the Sixers in the most dramatic of fashions. Even NBA-haters like me had at pause to appreciate it. It was like a college hoops buzzer-beater, but with a quarter of the importance.
But the Sixers aren’t pleased with the outcome -- specifically Andre Iguodala -- and plan to talk to the league about the final 1.8 seconds:

The Sixers, of course, were furious. Iguodala said he had 3 problems with those 1.8 seconds. First, the clock started late. Second, Harris traveled. Third, he didn't get the shot off in time.
The Sixers plan to speak to the NBA about the final 1.8 seconds in question, and that might lead to an appeal. If it gets to that point, and the Sixers win the appeal, then they'll have a victory. If not, they'll be stuck with their 6th loss of the season in the final few seconds.

Good luck with all that, Philly. As the still frames above attempt to show, the clock started as soon as Harris received the ball, and it was out of his hands by the time the red light came on as. As for the traveling bit, I don’t see it. His first shot attempt was blocked, he lost, then regained, possession and chucked the game-winner.

Judge Mark Ciavarella and Judge Michael Conahan

Suppose you had a 15 year old daughter in a high school. She’s a good kid, a good student with a big heart. She’s not perfect (what kid really is?) - her one flaw is when push comes to shove, she shoves back. When she senses she’s being treated unfairly, or worst yet, her friends are, she feels it’s her duty to strike back, figuratively speaking, and it’s gotten her into trouble with the school once or twice.

This time she decided to do a parody of the school’s vice principle. The school overreacts and she’s arrested, but her lawyer is sure because of her clean police record and high GPA that she”ll get a slap on the wrist. Instead, she comes out of the hearing wearing a pair of handcuffs and a brand spanking new 3 month sentence at a Juvenile Detention Facility.

You are now entering the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania juvenile court system - Welcome to Bizarro World! For years, this is how thing worked in Luzerne County: Kids would appear before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then given outrageous sentences to juvenile prison for dangerous offenses like - Hmm, let me look this up….ah yes, here we go - writing a fake sick note, stealing loose change from cars, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Many were decent kids who had never been in trouble before. CNN had a short list of these master criminals:

15-year-old Hillary Transue was sentenced to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment for mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page.

13-year-old Shane Bly, who was accused of trespassing in a vacant building, was confined to a boot camp for two weekends.

Kurt Kruger, 17, sentenced to detention and five months of boot camp for helping a friend steal DVDs from Wal-Mart.

Obviously, this sort of thing didn’t happen without a few parents complaining. For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Luzerne County sentences were unusually harsh. Nearly a quarter of its juvenile defendants ended up in detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a state rate of 1 in 10.

It became clear almost immediately that the increase in juvenile sentences began after PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC took over the responsibility of juvenile lockups after the Luzerne County facility lockups were shutdown. More about that later.

By following the paper trail, investigators determined that Judge Mark Ciavarella had presided over nearly all of the questionable cases. Not surprisingly, they also found that the judge had taken kickbacks in exchange for guaranteeing the placement of juvenile offenders into facilities operated by PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care LLC.

Oh yes, and the judge who shut down the state juvenile detention center and used money from the Luzerne County budget to fund a multimillion-dollar lease for the private facilities? None other than Judge Michael T. Conahan.

The way things worked, simply put, is this. With Judge Conahan serving as president judge in control of the budget and Judge Ciavarella overseeing the juvenile courts, they set the kickback scheme in motion in December 2002.

They shut down the county-run juvenile detention center, arguing that it was in poor condition and maintained that the county had no choice but to send detained juveniles to the newly built private detention centers.

Prosecutors say the judges tried to conceal the kickbacks as payments to a company they control in Florida. It has yet to emerge who at Western PA Child Care LLC was in charge of the payoffs, although I prefer to look at it the way The JDJournal.com did:

PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care have not been charged with wrongdoing, for some bizarre reason beyond the comprehension of the human intellect.

Ciavarella pleaded guilty earlier this month to federal criminal charges of fraud and other tax charges, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Conahan also pleaded guilty to the same charges. The two secretly received more than $2.6 million, prosecutors said. They have been disbarred and have resigned from their elected positions, agreed to serve 87 months in prison under plea deals.

Ciavarella acknowledged in a letter to county President Judge Chester Muroski that he disgraced his judgeship:

“While much of what has recently been reported in the press about me is inaccurate or untrue, your statement that I have disgraced my judgeship is true,”

The amount of money these two “judges” received was staggering, but it isn’t the money that makes this a hellworthy offense. It’s the lives of the estimated 5,000 juveniles these two greedy sons of bitches destroyed or damaged beyond repair, all for the sake of the almighty dollar, that will have Ciavarella and Conahan roasting their fat asses in the nether regions for eternity. PYSIH is known for being tough when it comes to criminals, and we have no sympathy at all for whining perps who complain that their sentences are unfair. But admin brought this to me, and we were both disgusted with Ciavarella and Conahan.

These two men had a responsibility to these children to do the right thing, to try and teach them some life lessons that would help them grow to be better adults. To be fair, but just. There isn’t a much higher calling than than this. But Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan betrayed these children. They are traitors to the law, to themselves, and to 5000 kids who learned only one thing for sure: Trust no one.

Apple Announces Safari 4—The World’s Fastest & Most Innovative Browser

New Nitro Engine Runs JavaScript More Than Four Times Faster

CUPERTINO, California—Apple® today announced the public beta of Safari® 4, the world’s fastest and most innovative web browser for Mac® and Windows PCs. The Nitro engine in Safari 4 runs JavaScript 4.2 times faster than Safari 3.* Innovative new features that make browsing more intuitive and enjoyable include Top Sites, for a stunning visual preview of frequently visited pages; Full History Search, to search through titles, web addresses and the complete text of recently viewed pages; Cover Flow®, to easily flip through web history or bookmarks; and Tabs on Top, to make tabbed browsing easier and more intuitive.

“Apple created Safari to bring innovation, speed and open standards back into web browsers, and today it takes another big step forward,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “Safari 4 is the fastest and most efficient browser for Mac and Windows, with great integration of HTML 5 and CSS 3 web standards that enables the next generation of interactive web applications.”

Safari 4 is built on the world’s most advanced browser technologies including the new Nitro JavaScript engine that executes JavaScript up to 30 times faster than IE 7 and more than three times faster than Firefox 3. Safari quickly loads HTML web pages three times faster than IE 7 and almost three times faster than Firefox 3.*

Apple is leading the industry in defining and implementing innovative web standards such as HTML 5 and CSS 3 for an entirely new class of web applications that feature rich media, graphics and fonts. Safari 4 includes HTML 5 support for offline technologies so web-based applications can store information locally without an Internet connection, and is the first browser to support advanced CSS Effects that enable highly polished web graphics using reflections, gradients and precision masks. Safari 4 is the first browser to pass the Web Standards Project’s Acid3 test, which examines how well a browser adheres to CSS, JavaScript, XML and SVG web standards that are specifically designed for dynamic web applications.

Safari for Mac, Windows, iPhone™ and iPod® touch are all built on Apple’s WebKit, the world’s fastest and most advanced browser engine. Apple developed WebKit as an open source project to create the world’s best browser engine and to advance the adoption of modern web standards. Most recently, WebKit led the introduction of HTML 5 and CSS 3 web standards and is known for its fast, modern code-base. The industry’s newest browsers are based on WebKit including Google Chrome, the Google Android browser, the Nokia Series 60 browser and Palm webOS.

Innovative new features in Safari 4 include:
Top Sites, a display of frequently visited pages in a stunning wall of previews so users can jump to their favorite sites with a single click;
Full History Search, where users search through titles, web addresses and the complete text of recently viewed pages to easily return to sites they’ve seen before;
Cover Flow, to make searching web history or bookmarks as fun and easy as paging through album art in iTunes®;
Tabs on Top, for better tabbed browsing with easy drag-and-drop tab management tools and an intuitive button for opening new ones;
Smart Address Field, that automatically completes web addresses by displaying an easy-to-read list of suggestions from Top Sites, bookmarks and browsing history;
Smart Search Field, where users fine-tune searches with recommendations from Google Suggest or a list of recent searches;
Full Page Zoom, for a closer look at any website without degrading the quality of the site’s layout and text;
built-in web developer tools to debug, tweak and optimize a website for peak performance and compatibility; and
a new Windows-native look in Safari for Windows, that uses standard Windows font rendering and native title bar, borders and toolbars so Safari fits the look and feel of other Windows XP and Windows Vista applications.

Pricing & Availability
Safari 4 is a public beta for both Mac OS® X and Windows and is available immediately as a free download at www.apple.com/safari.

Safari 4 for Mac OS X requires Mac OS X Leopard® version 10.5.6 and Security Update 2009-001 or Mac OS X Tiger® version 10.4.11, a minimum 256MB of memory, and is designed to run on any Intel-based Mac or a Mac with a PowerPC G5, G4 or G3 processor and built-in FireWire®. Safari 4 for Windows requires Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista, a minimum 256MB of memory and a system with at least a 500 MHz Intel Pentium processor. Full system requirements and more information on Safari 4 can be found at www.apple.com/safari.

*Performance will vary based on system configuration, network connection and other factors. All testing conducted on an iMac® 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo system running Windows Vista, with 2GB of RAM. JavaScript benchmark based on the SunSpider JavaScript Performance test. HTML benchmark based on VeriTest’s iBench Version 5.0 using default settings.

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and has entered the mobile phone market with its revolutionary iPhone.

Ben Bernanke's economic half-truths

In his report to Congress, the Fed chair wasn't as decisive as he needed to be about the government's plan to fix the economy

US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's semi-annual report to Congress opened on a down note, with senator Chris Dodd remarking that lenders had just foreclosed on the mortgage of Bernanke's childhood home.

But if Bernanke's testimony, coming hours before President Barack Obama's first joint congressional address, brought a little light – a brighter-than-usual economic forecast – it comes with a side of ambiguity about the key issues of the day. A semi-autonomous federal official appointed by George Bush, Bernanke's testimony was eagerly awaited as debates about nationalisation rage and a new poll reports that Americans, despite their confidence in the new president, are concerned about the efficacy of his response to the economic crisis.

At first glance, Bernanke's prediction for economic recovery in the US sounded good: The recession could end in 2009. But the recession will only end, he underscored, if the president, Congress and the Fed succeed in putting together an effective response to the crisis. More bluntly: If the government fixes the recession, the recession will end.

The end of a formal recession isn't the end of the US's economic troubles. Even with that projection, the Fed is predicting 8% unemployment in 2010, a little more than current levels. Only in 2011 will unemployment begin to drop to today's rates, much less rates of around 5% that characterise periods of economic growth. Even then, the Fed chair cautioned that these forecasts offer "considerable uncertainty".

Bernanke emphasised that fixing the financial system was key to getting the economy moving again. Without a functioning credit market and new investment, growth is impossible. But the administration's response to the financial-aspect of the crisis has been lacking so far, as Treasury secretary Tim Geithner's first plan was criticised for a lack of detail and vision, and recent efforts to extend further funding to the embattled banking giant Citigroup met with questions about transparency and how far the government will go in propping up bad banks. On both the left and, yes, the right, experts wonder whether the government will bite the bullet and put insolvent banks through some kind of temporary nationalisation programme along the lines of Sweden's response to their similar banking crisis.

Bernanke may have given something of an answer, in response to a question about the "stress tests" to determine solvency that are part of Geithner's plan. After determining how much capital would be needed in a worst-case scenario, the government will buy convertible preferred stock. In the event of further insolvency, that stock will be converted to common stock. "Only at that time, going forward, would the ownership implications become relevant," Bernanke said. That's backdoor nationalisation for you. But continued ambiguity from Bernanke and the rest of the administration isn't the financial stabilisation called for in the Fed chair's recipe for recovery.

Bernanke refused to be drawn into partisan remarks by members of either party, with one early exception, when he agreed with senator Jack Reed, a Democrat, that state governors – mostly Republicans – refusing to use funding from economic stimulus legislation would reduce the positive effects of the stimulus. But he declined to agree with Chuck Schumer that regulating hedge funds should be a priority, and he also declined to agree with Dodd that social security privatisation would have been a mistake, though he was forced to recognise that had that money been tied up in the stock market, the effects would have been disastrous. Nor would the Fed chair endorse the stimulus legislation directly, instead referencing his support for "substantial fiscal action" and deferring to Congress' view of the issue.

The take-away from the hearing is that key economic policy players are still leery of further federal intervention in the financial system even as they realise it is becoming increasingly necessary. Notoriously erratic senator Jim Bunning – recently in the news for predicting the death of ill Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – told Bernanke today: "One of the causes of the recession is that the American people do not believe you … are telling the truth."

That statement isn't true at all, of course, resting on par with the GOP's "mental recession" talking point during the 2008 election. But it does get at one of the reasons the recession is continuing: Bernanke and his fellow economic policy hands aren't lying – they're just not telling the whole truth. It's time for a clear, decisive plan to solve the financial crisis, not more "considerable uncertainty".

Hillary Clinton Heading to Israel; U.S. to Give Gaza $900M

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be bringing more than diplomacy when she visits Israel and the West Bank next week.

While the goal of Clinton’s trip is to breathe new life into peacekeeping efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, Reuters reports that Mrs. Clinton will announce a U.S. pledge of more than $900 million to help rebuild Gaza and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, will also stop by the region.

While the U.S. does support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it still considers Hamas a terrorist organization, so the money will reportedly be funneled through nongovernmental organizations. The cash, which is desperately needed to rebuild the region, will help provide homes with electricity and water, after Israel’s latest invasion that left about 1,300 Palestinians dead and 21,000 homes destroyed.

The news is already receiving some criticism, as you can imagine.

"$900 Million From U.S. To Gaza: Is The Administration Nuts?" reads one headline from The New Republic, which writes, "The real issue is: where will the cash go? The administration is assuring us that it will not go to Hamas, as if anyone can assure that materiel and money can be siphoned off just to the desired parties. This, frankly, is a joke … and Mrs. Clinton knows it. So should President Obama."

The U.S. doesn’t exactly have cash to spare right now, so if we’re going to hand over almost $1 billion to the Palestinians, let’s hope we know exactly where it’s going

Hillary Clinton Heading to Israel; U.S. to Give Gaza $900M

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be bringing more than diplomacy when she visits Israel and the West Bank next week.

While the goal of Clinton’s trip is to breathe new life into peacekeeping efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, Reuters reports that Mrs. Clinton will announce a U.S. pledge of more than $900 million to help rebuild Gaza and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, will also stop by the region.

While the U.S. does support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it still considers Hamas a terrorist organization, so the money will reportedly be funneled through nongovernmental organizations. The cash, which is desperately needed to rebuild the region, will help provide homes with electricity and water, after Israel’s latest invasion that left about 1,300 Palestinians dead and 21,000 homes destroyed.

The news is already receiving some criticism, as you can imagine.

"$900 Million From U.S. To Gaza: Is The Administration Nuts?" reads one headline from The New Republic, which writes, "The real issue is: where will the cash go? The administration is assuring us that it will not go to Hamas, as if anyone can assure that materiel and money can be siphoned off just to the desired parties. This, frankly, is a joke … and Mrs. Clinton knows it. So should President Obama."

The U.S. doesn’t exactly have cash to spare right now, so if we’re going to hand over almost $1 billion to the Palestinians, let’s hope we know exactly where it’s going

Hillary Clinton Heading to Israel; U.S. to Give Gaza $900M

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be bringing more than diplomacy when she visits Israel and the West Bank next week.

While the goal of Clinton’s trip is to breathe new life into peacekeeping efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, Reuters reports that Mrs. Clinton will announce a U.S. pledge of more than $900 million to help rebuild Gaza and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, will also stop by the region.

While the U.S. does support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it still considers Hamas a terrorist organization, so the money will reportedly be funneled through nongovernmental organizations. The cash, which is desperately needed to rebuild the region, will help provide homes with electricity and water, after Israel’s latest invasion that left about 1,300 Palestinians dead and 21,000 homes destroyed.

The news is already receiving some criticism, as you can imagine.

"$900 Million From U.S. To Gaza: Is The Administration Nuts?" reads one headline from The New Republic, which writes, "The real issue is: where will the cash go? The administration is assuring us that it will not go to Hamas, as if anyone can assure that materiel and money can be siphoned off just to the desired parties. This, frankly, is a joke … and Mrs. Clinton knows it. So should President Obama."

The U.S. doesn’t exactly have cash to spare right now, so if we’re going to hand over almost $1 billion to the Palestinians, let’s hope we know exactly where it’s going

Pollster: When It Comes to Barack Obama, Many Americans Approve

A New York Times/CBS News poll brings news the nation hasn’t seen in a while: Many Americas support the efforts of their president. Sixty-three percent of those polled say they approve of Barack Obama’s job as president. Moreover, 77 percent are generally optimistic about the next four years; 18 percent are pessimistic, and 5 percent have no opinion.

[Video]Choice of Jindal for GOP response: More image is everything

Am I the only one who is amazed at how, only six months ago, John McCain and Sarah Palin were the image of the Republican Party and wanted to be and were supported by their party to be the image of the White House and now, Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are the image?

Frankly, the choice of Steele as chair and Jindal as the person to deliver the GOP response to President Obama’s speech this evening, could not be more emblematic of just how true it is for the GOP that changing the image has absolutely nothing to do with changing their basic tenets - which is exactly what Steele said would be what he would do when he took the helm.

And damn if he isn’t doing just that. Problem is: How does anyone believe that this is going to be the way back to winning minds and votes? Does Steele really think that his image and Jindal’s image are more persuasive than McCain’s and Palin’s? Is this an admission of how wrong McCain and Palin are as images for the GOP? What on earth does the GOP actually look like?

I know - I’m just a blogging left of center something or other. But I haven’t even gotten to the hip-hop makeover Steele wants to deploy. And I can tell you, based on firsthand experience with my very respected friend jimi izrael, I know what it is to not understand what a hip-hop makeover even means, and I’d put good money down on the fact that a whole lot of people who call themselves members of the Grand Old Party don’t have a clue about what it is either. jimi, you might be able to make some extra money translating, just like I had to ask you to do for me way back when (oh, okay - and still once in a while).

Do people even realize that if the GOP could at least accept that democracy means sometimes you don’t get to control everything, a lot of this stuff wouldn’t even be happening? Re-organizing, getting better, understanding what people want - that’s all well and good. But part of the problem for the GOP also is the fact that it absolutely refuses to accept that Obama is president and that the Democrats are in the majority in the Congress. I mean, they actually literally are in denial about how it happened and that it’s the way it is and they just, don’t, like it.

Well - the Dems didn’t like it for all those years either - but you didn’t see them rejecting everything left and right - they just kept on working.

Anyway, I’m starting to ramble more than usual. If this meaningless messing with image interests you, for more evidence that that’s all the GOP cares about (image), read and/or listen to these two NPR pieces:

A Defining Moment for Jindal-And GOP’s Future?

GOP Looks to Minorities for Leadership (interview with Juan Williams)

The GOPs actions remind me of the video for the song “Cry” where the faces change all the time but the song stays the same:

President Obama meets with GOP governors

GOP governors hear pitch from President Obama

President Obama urged the critics of his stimulus package to consider the big picture.

''I just want us to not lose perspective," he said. "Most of the things that have been the topic of argument over the last several days amount to a fraction of the overall stimulus package.''

Looking at Republicans Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who have vowed not to accept money to extend unemployment benefits because it could increase taxes for employers -- Obama acknowledged they had "very legitimate concerns." But, he said, "what hasn't been noted is that it is $7 billion in a $787 billion program."

Gov. Crist of Florida, a GOP supporter of the plan, said, "the guy's (President Obama) right. . . . We are in an economic crisis. We need to come together as a country and focus on the big picture."

Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Revolution Betrayed

Editor's Note: Daniel Ortega's election as Nicaragua's president two years ago did not mark the triumph of the Sandinista revolution and the democratic principles that propelled it 30 years ago. Instead, his rise has been the tragic tale of betrayal—of the real revolutionary movement, of his Sandinista comrades and of the Nicaraguan people. Roger Burbach is director of the Center for the Study of the Americas in Berkeley, Calif. A more comprehensive version of this article appears in the March-April issue of NACLA's Report on the Americas. See http://nacla.org/naclareport

Upon his inauguration as Nicaraguan president in January 2007, Daniel Ortega asserted that his government would represent "the second stage of the Sandinista Revolution." His election was full of symbolic resonance, coming after 16 years of electoral failures for Ortega and the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), the party he led. But Ortega's road to power has been paved with compromise, retreats and alliances between the FSLN and former opponents on the right. His story is about the tragic betrayal of a movement, the democratic principles that it embodied and many of his former Sandinista comrades-in-arms. Central to the tragedy is Ortega's transformation into a leader under whom repression, power abuse and corruption seem to be spreading.

The FSLN's pact-making began in earnest in 2001, when, in the run-up to that year's presidential election, Ortega forged an alliance with Arnoldo Alemán, an official during the Somoza regime who had been elected president in 1997. But even with Alemán's backing, Ortega was unable to win the presidency. So, before the 2006 election, he publicly reconciled with his old nemesis, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, a potent symbol of the counterrevolutionary movement in the 1980s. Ortega and his longtime companion, Rosario Murillo, announced their conversion to Catholicism and were married by the cardinal. Just before his election Ortega supported a comprehensive ban on abortion, including in cases in which the mother's life is endangered, a measure ratified by the legislature with the crucial votes of Sandinista deputies. To round out his pre-election wheeling and dealing, Ortega selected Jaime Morales, a former Contra leader, as his vice presidential candidate.

Even with these concessions to the right, Ortega won the presidency with just 37.9 percent of the vote. Once in power, he announced a series of policies and programs that seemed to hark back to the Sandinista years. Educational matriculation fees were abolished, an illiteracy program was launched with Cuban assistance, and an innovative Zero Hunger program established, financed from the public budget and Venezuelan aid, that distributed one cow, one pig, 10 hens, and a rooster, along with seeds, to 15,000 families during the first year. Internationally, Nicaragua joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a trade and economic cooperation pact that includes Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela.

But the Ortega government's clientelistic and sectarian nature soon became evident when Ortega, by presidential decree, established Councils of Citizen Power under the control of the Sandinista party to administer and distribute much of the social spending. Even more importantly, under the rubric of ALBA, Ortega signed an accord with Venezuela that provides an estimated $300 million to $500 million in funds personally administered by Ortega with no public accountability. As Mónica Baltodano, the leader of Resacte, a dissident Sandinista organization, argued in a recent article, Ortega's fiscal and economic policies are, in fact, continuous with those of the previous governments, despite his anti-imperialist rhetoric and denunciations of neoliberalism.

Equally troubling, the government and the Sandinista party are harassing and repressing their opponents. During an interview in January, Baltodano told me that opposition demonstrations are put down with goon squads. "Ortega is establishing an authoritarian regime, sectarian, corrupt, and repressive, to maintain his grip on power, betraying the legacy of the Sandinista revolution," she said.

The core of this legacy was the revolution's commitment to popular democracy. Seizing power in 1979 from the dictator Anastasio Somoza, the Sandinista movement comprised Nicaragua's urban masses, peasants, artisans, workers, Christian base communities, intellectuals, and the muchachos—the youth who spearheaded the armed uprisings. The revolution transformed social relations and values, holding up a new vision of society based on social and economic justice that included the poor and dispossessed. The revolution was multiclass, multiethnic, multidoctrinal, and politically pluralistic.

While socialism was part of the public discourse, it was never proclaimed to be an objective of the revolution. It was officially designated "a popular, democratic and anti- imperialist revolution." Radicalized social democrats, priests and political independents as well as Marxists and Marxist-Leninists served as cabinet ministers of the Sandinista government. Images of Sandino, Marx, Christ, Lenin, Bolívar and Carlos Fonseca, the martyred founder of the Sandinista movement, often hung side by side in the cities and towns of Nicaragua.

The adoption of a new constitution in 1986 marked yet another step forward in the democratic process. The constitution, which established separation of powers, directly incorporated human rights declarations and abolished the death penalty, among other measures, was drafted by constituent assembly members elected in 1984 and submitted to the country for discussion. To facilitate these debates, 73 cabildos abiertos, or town meetings, were attended by an estimated 100,000 Nicaraguans around the country. At these meetings, about 2,500 Nicaraguans made suggestions for changes in the constitution.

But this bold Sandinista experiment in revolutionary democracy was not destined to persevere. The tide of history ran against the heroic people of Nicaragua, sapping their will in the late 1980s as the Contra war waged on and the economy unraveled. To end the debilitating war, the Sandinista leaders turned to peace negotiations. Placing their faith in democracy, they signed an accord that called for a ceasefire and elections to be held in February 1990, in which the Contras as well as the internal opposition would be allowed to participate. Once again the popular organizations mobilized for the campaign and virtually all the polls indicated that Ortega would win a second term as president, defeating the Contra-backed candidate, Violeta Chamorro, whose campaign received funding from the United States.

Nicaraguans and much of the world were shocked when Chamorro defeated Ortega with 55 percent of the vote. Even people who were sympathetic to the Sandinistas voted for the opposition because they wanted the war to end, as the threat of more U.S.-backed violence remained looming. The day after the election, a woman vendor passed me by sobbing. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, "Daniel will no longer be my president." After exchanging a few more words, I asked whom she had voted for. "Violeta," she said, "because I want my son in the Sandinista army to come home alive."

During the next 16 years, three Nicaraguan presidents backed by the United States implemented a series of neoliberal policies, gutting the social and economic policies of the Sandinista era and impoverishing the country. Ortega ran in every election, drifting increasingly to the right, while exerting an iron hand to stifle all challengers and dissenters in the Sandinista party. Surprisingly, Orlando Nuñez, with whom I wrote a book on the revolution's democratic thrust, remained loyal to Ortega while most of the middle-level cadre and the National Directorate abandoned the party. Many of these split off to form the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the largest dissident Sandinista party, founded in 1995.

When I asked Nuñez about his stance, he argued that only the Sandinista party has a mass base. "Dissident Sandinistas and their organizations," he said, "cannot recruit the poor, the peasants, the workers, nor mount a significant electoral challenge." Nuñez, who works as an adviser on social affairs to the president's office, went on to argue that Ortega allied with Alemán for the sake of building an anti-oligarchic front. According to this theory, Alemán and the Somozas represented an emergent capitalist class that took on the old oligarchy, which had dominated Nicaraguan politics and the economy since the 19th century. A major thrust of Ortega's rhetoric is bent on attacking the oligarchy, which is clustered in the opposition Conservative Party.

But it is also true that some of the most famous Sandinistas, many of whom are in the dissident camp today—like Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli, Carlos Fernando Chamorro and others—are descendents of oligarchic families. Accordingly, Ortega and Murillo have accused them of being in league with conservatives in an effort to reimpose the old order on Nicaragua. While the dissident Sandinistas have yet to mount a significant electoral challenge, the Ortega administration has nonetheless gone after them with a particular vehemence. Case in point: Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the onetime director of the Sandinista party newspaper, Barricada. In June 2007, Chamorro aired an investigative report on Esta Semana, the popular news show he hosts. According to the report, which included tape-recorded conversations, FSLN functionaries tried to extort $4 million from Armel González, a partner in a tourist development project called Arenas Bay, in exchange for a swift end to the project's legal woes, which included challenges from campesino cooperatives over land disputes.

The government's response to the bad publicity was swift and ruthless. While the district attorney buried the case, González was charged and convicted of slander. National Assembly deputy Alejandro Bolaños, who backed the denunciation, was arbitrarily removed from his legislative seat. And Chamorro was denounced in the Sandinista-controlled media as a "delinquent, a narco-trafficker, and a robber of peasant lands."

The harassment of Chamorro and other government critics continued during the run-up to Nicaragua's November 2008 municipal elections, which were widely viewed as a referendum on the Ortega administration. The Ministry of Government launched a probe into NGOs operating in the country, accusing the Center for Communications Research (Cinco), which is headed by Chamorro, of "diverting and laundering money" through its agreement with the Autonomous Women's Movement (MAM), which opposes the Ortega-endorsed law banning abortion. This agreement, financed by eight European governments and administered by Oxfam, aims to promote "the full citizenship of women." First lady Murillo called it "Satan's fund" and "the money of evil."

Cinco's board of directors were interrogated, and a few days later a prosecutor accompanied by the police came to the Cinco offices with a search warrant. Warned in advance of the visit, some 200 people had gathered in the building in solidarity refusing them entry, saying no charges had been filed to back up the warrant. Then as night fell, the police laid siege to the building establishing a cordon around the building. At 6 a.m., a contingent of 50 police broke down the door and marked out the "crime scene," a 200- meter corridor around the building. The occupation lasted for 15 hours, with supporters and onlookers gathering and shutting down traffic for blocks around. The police rummaged the offices, carting off files and computers. Since then, no formal charges have been filed, but Chamorro remains under official investigation.

Along with MAM, the broader women's movement in Nicaragua, which firmly opposes the Ortega government, was among the first to experience its repressive blows. In 2007, the government opened a case against nine women leaders, accusing them of conspiring "to cover up the crime of rape in the case of a 9-year-old rape victim known as 'Rosita,' who obtained an abortion in Nicaragua in 2003." In August, Ortega was unable to attend the inauguration of Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo because of protests by that country's feminist organizations; from then on, women's mobilizations have occurred in other countries Ortega has visited, including Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Peru.

Charges were levied against other individual former Sandinistas who dared to speak out against the Ortega government, including 84-year-old Catholic priest Ernesto Cardenal, the renowned poet who had served as minister of culture in the revolutionary government. In August, after Cardenal criticized Ortega at Lugo's inauguration, a judge revived an old, previously dismissed case against Cardenal involving a German citizen who sued Cardenal in 2005 for insulting him.

In addition to harassing critics, the Ortega government also displayed its penchant for electoral fraud during the run-up to the November municipal balloting. Protests erupted in June, after the Ortega-stacked Supreme Electoral Council disqualified the MRS and the Conservative Party from participation. Dora Maria Tellez, a leader of the renovation movement, began a public hunger strike that led to daily demonstrations of support, often shutting down traffic in downtown Managua.

Meanwhile, bands of young Sandinista-linked thugs, claiming to be the "owners of the streets," attacked demonstrators while the police stood idly by. Then, to prevent more demonstrations, Ortega supporters set up plantones, permanent occupation posts at the rotundas on the main thoroughfare running through Managua. Those who camped out there were known as rezadores, or people praying to God that Ortega be protected and his opponents punished.

Besides the FSLN, two major political parties remained on the ballot, the Liberal Constitutionalist Party and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance. An independent Nicaraguan group, Ethics and Transparency, organized tens of thousands of observers but was denied accreditation, forcing them to observe the election from outside polling stations. But the group estimates that irregularities took place at a third of the polling places. Their complaints were echoed by Nicaraguan Catholic bishops, including Managua's archbishop, who said, "People feel defrauded." While independent surveys indicated that the opposition candidates would win the majority of the seats, the Supreme Electoral Council, which had prohibited international observers, ruled that the Sandinista candidates won control of 105 municipalities, the Liberal Constitutionalist Party won 37, and the Alliance won the remaining six.

After the election, militant demonstrations erupted in Nicaragua's two largest cities, Managua and León, and were quickly put down with violence. The European Economic Community and the U.S. government suspended funding for Nicaragua over the fraudulent elections.

On Jan. 14, before the election results were officially published by the electoral council, Ortega swore in the new mayors at Managua's Plaza de la Revolución. "This is the time to strengthen our institutions," he declared later adding, "We cannot go back to the road of war, to confrontation, to violence." Along with the regular police, Ortega stood flanked by camisas rosadas, or redshirts, members of his personal security force. A huge banner hung over the plaza depicting Ortega with an up-stretched arm and the slogan, "To Be With the People Is to Be With God."

"This despotic regime is bent on destroying all that is left of the democratic legacy of the Sandinista revolution," Chamorro told me in January. "Standing in the way of a new dictatorship," he said, "are civil society organizations, the independent media, trade unions, opposition political parties, women's organizations, civic leaders and others—many of whom can trace their roots back to the resistance against Somoza."

As the Nobel laureate and novelist José Saramago puts it, "Once more a revolution has been betrayed from within." Nicaragua's revolution has indeed been betrayed, perhaps not as dramatically as Trotsky depicts Stalin's desecration of what was best in the Bolshevik revolution. But Ortega's betrayal is a fundamental political tragedy for everyone around the world who came to believe in a popular, participatory democracy in Nicaragua.

From Behind Bars to a Full-Time Job

At a time when job losses are the norm in Los Angeles, this felon is now holding down a full-time job.

His name is Derrick Brown, and he’s a Caribbean-American youth who is currently working for a private bus company in South Los Angeles. He plans on attending college to take business courses, and has dreams of owning a home some day.

Sounds like a standard story until you consider that Brown is working to overcome his recent incarceration for shooting a young man. He has moved ahead to the sheer joy of watching his children jumping, hollering and laughing at play, as they did on a recent afternoon in a pink-and-blue birthday bounce house.

“Life is wonderful—I am free,” Brown says.

Brown says he’s also back on track with his full-time job, feeling lucky for a second chance that has given him “new lease on life.”

It’s the first time in awhile that the 23-year-old could make those claims. He’s fresh from five months in five months in the Wayside correctional facility on the northern edge of Los Angeles County. That’s where he landed after a trip to the city of Inglewood—south of Los Angeles—ended in a shooting. Brown says went to Inglewood with family members to take care of some personal business. The trouble started when he spotted someone he knew on the street—a young man he’d had run-ins with before.

Brown immediately predicted trouble and tried to head away from the guy. They clashed, though, first in argument that led to harsh words. Brown says he feared for his life and wanted to protect his family, so he drew a gun—a weapon purchased from a licensed dealer—and fired away.

The shooting left his nemesis with bullet wounds in his chest. Neither Brown nor any of is sustained any injuries.

Brown fled the scene and faced arrest several weeks later. The courts apparently gave weight to Brown’s account, and he was released after his relatively short sentence in February 2008.

Brown is now one year into a five-year probation period—so far, so good.
Would he carry a gun again?

“No, my life has changed,” he says. “I was hanging with the wrong set of people, and now I am spending more time with my family and kids.”

The tough economy recently led Brown recently since moved back with his parents. A year since his release from jail, he credits his Belize-born parents for helping him to get through a difficult time in his life. His mom says her son understands that he has to live by the laws of the land. He now has a better understanding of dealing with challenges. She adds that her son isn’t the only troubled youngster to find help at the Browns’ home—the family is known in their community for helping folks in need.

The names in this story have been changed to protect identities.

Obama Should Bring Back the Fairness Doctrine

Nothing sends conservative talk jocks and corporate broadcasters fleeing to the barricades faster than even the slightest hint, rumor and whisper that President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats might push for reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. The jocks rushed to the barricades again when a few Congressional Republicans recently said bringing back the Fairness Doctrine was a good thing. When top White House advisor David Axelrod coyly hinted that new FCC head Julius Genachowski might take a look at the Doctrine that set off even more panic that a return of the Fairness Doctrine was practically a done deal.

That's hardly the case. In June 2008, then Presidential candidate Obama flatly said that he did not support reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters. And other than the stray remark from Axelrod, there's no indication that Obama has changed his mind on the issue. However, he should. The Fairness Doctrine though vague, loose, and virtually unenforced during the decades it was on the books did at least give some public space on the airwaves to an occasional dissenting voice. The thought of that is too much to stomach for the anti- fairness Doctrine fearmongers.

Their stock retort is that the Fairness Doctrine obliterates free speech, will lead to a government takeover of the airwaves, drive corporate broadcasters into the tank, and effectively muzzle conservative views. Conservative talk jocks and the media syndicates used the same arguments to prod Reagan and Congress to dump the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. None of this was true then or true now.

The Fairness Doctrine did not require that broadcasters give equal time to liberal or moderate Democrats to counter the hot air of conservative talk jocks. The Doctrine did not tell broadcasters who should get a talk show, what the hosts could say, or who they had to have on their shows. By the time Congress shelved the Doctrine, the FCC had virtually ceased even enforcing it. The Fairness Doctrine simply served as a broad guide to insure that stations give at least some time to differing points of view; for example, views other than those of conservative white guys, and an occasional token conservative woman or black.

If enough listeners complained that a station was too lopsided in the parade of conservatives it had spouting off on a particular issue, than it had to give "reasonable opportunity" to the other side to give an opposing view. The FCC didn't tell the station how much time to give, who to give the time to, or when to give it.

The tepid requirement that an offending station bring some semblance of balance to a discussion of an issue did not drive a single conservative jock from the studio mics, diminish the power and profit of the syndicates, or chill free speech. It did just the opposite. The number of conservative talk radio hosts grew bigger, their influence greater, and the profits of corporate syndicates soared. In 1999, the five largest companies operated one out of five stations and generated nearly 50 percent of industry revenue. In 2006, they controlled more than one out of three stations and took in more than 60 percent of industry revenue.

The few successful challenges to a station that clogged the air with conservative talk resulted in more not less free speech, since listeners got to hear a few differing views. No more. In the two decades since the burial of the Doctrine, more than a quarter of all broadcast stations don't offer any local news or public affairs programming. An even greater number of stations simply plop in a few minutes of canned news headlines.

Conservative talk radio has been a treasure chest of riches for the broadcast syndicates, and their talk jocks weld a power over millions that emperors, kings and dictators would drool over. A near textbook example of that is the ongoing debate over Obama's stimulus plan.

There was some hint in the early days of the congressional debate over the plan that a few House Republicans might be willing to back the plan. The conservative talking heads went to work and quickly changed that. They railed against it as a fatally flawed pork barrel laden, tax and spend, power grab scheme by Obama and the Democrats. This stiffened the spines of the GOP rank-and-file against the plan.

Now that they have flexed their broadcast muscles and whipped the GOP back in line, next up will be to browbeat, cajole, and bully any GOP dissenters on health care, the environment, and any other big ticket issue that conservative talk jocks deem an Obama and Democratic party power grab.

All this, of course, with not a peep of an alternative view to be heard on their talk airwaves. Obama should bring back the Fairness Doctrine and help make sure that lone voice is heard.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Will Corruption Count This Time? By Richard A. Lee

Despite our reputation as a state where political corruption runs rampant, corruption rarely plays a role in the outcome of our elections. With a few notable exceptions, candidates who make a priority of leveling ethical charges against their opponents usually end up on the losing end of our electoral contests.

The tactic did not work for Tom Kean Jr. when he ran against Bob Menendez for U.S. Senate in 2006. Likewise, Doug Forrester’s attempt to paint a picture of Jon Corzine as the creation of party bosses fell flat during the 2005 gubernatorial campaign. And the strategy of tying legislative candidates to a Governor surrounded with ethical questions failed to yield dividends in 2003. Not only did the Democratic Party weather the attacks, it actually picked up seats – a rare occurrence for a party in power in a mid-term election.

There are many theories as to why corruption has not worked well as a campaign issue. For example, there is a fairly widespread -- and false -- perception among the public that all politicians are corrupt, so it does not matter for whom one votes. In addition, for voters, there often are issues that are more important than corruption, such as the economy and pocketbook items that impact their lives directly.

However, in this year’s campaign for Governor, there is a new dynamic. In Chris Christie, there is a candidate who made his name fighting corruption as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. Regardless of how one feels about Christie, the facts are he took on some of the biggest names in New Jersey politics and prosecuted them successfully. Unlike other candidates who promise to clean up government, he can say he has already done so and point to his perfect record of convictions and guilty pleas from more than 130 public officials. All told, it is a message likely to resonate well on the campaign trail should he win the Republican primary and become the GOP candidate in the general election.

On the other hand, there are several factors that suggest corruption may not work for Christie during the campaign:

1. When corruption is successful as a campaign issue, it usually is because the target of the ethical charges is on the ballot and there is some credibility to the allegations. It would be extremely difficult to make such charges stick to Jon Corzine. He was a multi-millionaire before he entered the public sector, so the public would have a hard time buying an argument that he is profiting from government.

2. Even if Christie wants to make corruption an issue, he may not have the opportunity to do so. As the media consultants at a recent the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics conference explained, candidates do not get to decide what issues they are going to talk about. Instead, the public sets the agenda. If the economy continues to be the number one issue for New Jersey citizens, it also will be the focus of the state’s gubernatorial campaign.

3. Despite all of the arrests, convictions and guilty pleas that occurred under Christie’s leadership at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, corruption still is a problem in New Jersey. In fact, New Jerseyans feel the problem has gotten even worse. A 2007 Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll found public perception of corruption in the state had worsened in the past four years.

4. The impact of political corruption has been dulled by a series of scandals, each one more outlandish than the last. With a sitting Governor caught on tape allegedly offering to sell the U.S. Senate seat that once belonged to the President of the United States, it may be hard to get New Jerseyans riled up about corruption in the Garden State.

5. Candidates do not seem to be impacted by corruption charges, as evidenced by recent election results in New Jersey, as well as a 2007 Quinnipiac University Poll. In the poll, New Jerseyans associated corruption more with the Democratic Party than the GOP, but said they were going to vote for Democrats anyway. National surveys show similar results. Seventy-five percent of the members of Congress charged with corruption have won re-election, according to a study published in The Journal of Politics.

So in the end, will corruption be an issue that will make a difference at the polls in November? My guess is no, but Election Day still is more than six months away – and that’s several lifetimes in the world of politics.

# # #

Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies.

Survey Reveals Broad Support for President Obama

According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, President Barack Obama is enjoying remarkably high levels of optimism and confidence among Americans about his leadership. This provides him with substantial political capital as he confronts the nation’s economic carnage and opposition from nearly all Republicans in Congress.

A majority of people surveyed in both political parties said Mr. Obama was striving to work in a bipartisan way, faulting Republicans for their response to the president, saying the GOP objected to the $787 billion economic stimulus plan for political reasons. Most said Mr. Obama should pursue the priorities he campaigned on rather than seek middle ground with Republicans.

Americans are under no illusions that the country’s problems will be resolved quickly, but the poll suggested that they will be patient when it comes to the economy, with most saying it would be years before significant improvement.

A month into Mr. Obama’s term, with his first big accomplishments, setbacks and political battles behind him, more than three-quarters of the people polled said they were optimistic about the next four years with him as president. Similar percentages said that they thought he was bringing real change to the way things were done in Washington and that they had confidence in his ability to make the right decisions about the economy.

The aura of good will surrounding Mr. Obama at this stage of his presidency is similar to the one that benefited Ronald Reagan as he led the nation out of economic gloom.