The other big political news today: email fundraising overkill

Today is the end of the first fundraising quarter for candidates for federal office. By April 15th, all candidates for federal office, as well as all federal PACs, have to disclose how much cash they have on hand, how much they raised from January 1st through March 31st, and what expenditures they made.

In an attempt to make themselves appear more viable to party committees, to media outlets, and to other donors, candidates try to rack up as many donations as possible on the last day of the quarter.  With email now such an essential part of campaign fundraising to a huge deluge of political fundraising emails today.  For some perspective, at 1:30 p.m. Today, eastern, Brandon English tweeted that he had already received 53 email fundraising asks today:

Now 53 end-of-quarter emails in my inbox today. Most popular subject lines are “Midnight” and “X hours to go”. Give to your fav Dems today!

Now, Brandon works on new media for the DCCC, so he might be on more of these candidate email lists than anyone in the country.  He also clearly isn’t bothered by the deluge.

However, with literally hundreds of campaigns sending out fundraising emails today, and with many campaigns selling their email lists to other campaigns as a means of paying off campaign debt after elections are over, the signal to noise ratio for online organizers is reaching a disturbing level.  I have donated to about 25 different federal campaigns since 2003,  mostly in small amounts, and as a result I have received dozens of emails over the past week.  Instead of reading them, these days I am pretty much just deleting them all.

While most campaigns will still make far more money over email today than they made any other day this year, the possibility of a long-term, chronic decline seems real.  As more campaigns sell their lists to each other, and as campaign email lists grow larger, the usefulness of email as an activism tool can only decline on an email per email basis.  And then, as individual emails become less valuable, campaign email lists might grow even larger, as they become cheaper to purchase.

Email remains at the center of new media political organizing for now, but days like today are a reminder that won’t be the case forever.  Eventually, social networking will replace email, since social networking groups cannot be sold and since it is much easier for an individual to choose which groups they join.  This probably doesn’t spell danger for large, email-based activism organizations over the next few years, but in a decade, or perhaps a little more, the declining value of email will make the basic structure of online political activism completely different than it is now.

The question of having issue fights for the sake of voter motivation

Via Mark Matson in QH, a theory from David Bernstein on the politics of immigration reform:

Which brings me to my theory. I believe that Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer have been planning to introduce an immigration-reform bill in 2010, not because they think it can be passed — I think Drum is right, it has virtually no chance — but because it will raise the issue back up to the big, national conservative marketplace.

You see, one of the biggest problems facing Democrats this year is that Hispanics don’t vote in mid-term elections. That doesn’t make a huge difference in most swing House districts (in fact, the issue hurts in more districts than it helps) — but it could make a huge difference in quite a few US Senate races (Cal., Fla., Tex., Col., etc.), Governor races (Cal., Fla., Ariz., NM, NY, etc.), and (duh-duh-duuummm…) control over state legislatures heading into redistricting.

How do you get Hispanics to vote? You fill the TV with images of hateful conservatives screaming for mass deportation, that’s how. You think Rahm didn’t notice the effect in 2006?

On the one hand, there may be that benefit, as Mark opines, given the relative motivation on each side, particularly in what is likely to be a Republican year and how the Republican base feels about this issue. In addition, there’s the December 2009 polling demonstrating immigration reform is a motivating factor for Hispanic voters:

A newly released poll of 1,010 Latino voters in twelve key states by Bendixen & Amandi reveals how Latino voters view the two major political parties on the issue, and how this perception impacts their vote.  Among the findings:

   * Immigration is a key issue for the Latino electorate.  While more respondents chose issues such as the economy and health care than immigration as their number one priority, 78% said the immigration issue is important to them and their family, including 51% who called it “very important.”  The issue is particularly salient among the 55% of respondents who were foreign-born; 84% of foreign-born voters called the immigration issue “important,” with 64% labeling it “very important.”

   * The vast majority of Latino voters support comprehensive immigration reform.  By a 77%-11% margin, respondents favored an immigration plan that would legalize undocumented workers over one that would force most of the undocumented population to leave the country.  

   * Immigration reform is a personal issue to Latinos. Sixty-two percent of respondents reported having an undocumented friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker.  For these respondents, immigration reform is not an abstract concept discussed on the nightly news, but a personal matter that requires a fair and humane solution.

[…]

   * Latinos are poised to make a difference in November.  While this survey was conducted a year before the next election, and a lot can change in that time frame, 73% of respondents said they were very likely to vote in November 2010, and 20% said they were somewhat likely.  Fully 65% said they were more likely to support generic Democratic candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, while 20% said they would vote Republican and 15% were undecided.  However, 72% of Latino voters said they would not even consider voting for a candidate whose stance on immigration reform was to try and deport most undocumented immigrants.

Of course, you could say the same thing about many blocs on almost any issue- fill TV screens with Virginia Foxx and John Cornyn screaming about “special rights for homosexuals” and “men in women’s bathrooms” on ENDA to turn out LGBT voters, for example. If this were true, then absent considerations about the legislative calendar and members not wanting to take certain votes, you’d hold votes on lots of things just for the inflammatory effect.

The other thing this whole discussion reminds me of is the discussion around holding a vote in the New York State Senate on marriage equality even if you knew it would fail by a large margin, 24-38. Since many members refused to state a position on the issue, having a vote gave advocates a target list to work with (Fight Back NY is one group that is already on the ground) and, in the aftermath, it certainly emboldened LGBT activists across the state.

Whether or not the same can be applied on immigration reform remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t put it past someone at the White House seeing the politics of it, and it raises questions around the value of having issue fights for the sake of voter motivation, at least in part.

Netanyahu’s world of ‘make-believe’ negotiations

I have been following The Heathlander for some years for his insights and grasp of knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, much of it requiring a vigilance of on-going developments, like the Netanyahu take over of the Israeli government, and just where he, as a right wing Likud prime minister, will take the state of Israel. Of course, that path involves the Palestinians. With Netanyahu’s recent commitment to the two state solution, something Likud is avowedly against, it is to everyone’s interest just how he intends to balance these contradictory goals.

The Heathlander came up with the answer in this piece called Proximity talks, dated 26 March 2010,

Israeli Vice Prime Minister, Minister for Strategic Affairs and close Netanyahu ally Moshe Ya’alon explains that Netanyahu’s attempts to resume “indirect negotiations” with the Palestinian Authority are just a “maneuver” designed to “create the illusion that an agreement can be reached”:

“And I say so out of knowledge,” Ya’alon told Yediot. “Nobody in the forum of seven [senior cabinet ministers] thinks that we can reach an agreement with the Palestinians.” Yediot Ahronot reports (print version, translated from Hebrew):

Q: So why all these games of make-believe negotiations? It’s possible to announce that we will not reach an agreement, and that is all.

YA’ALON: Because in the political establishment there are pressures. Peace Now from within and other elements from without. So you have to maneuver. But what I’m saying now has to be given over to the Americans, and I hope that they will understand.

Some of what we have to do is maneuver with the American administration and the European establishment, which are also nourished by Israeli elements, which create the illusion that an agreement can be reached.

Ya’alon disclosed that Netanyahu has made clear that he intends to increase settlement activity as soon as the freeze expires. “The prime minister reiterates all the time,” Ya’alon said, “and also brought a decision to the security cabinet that says clearly, that immediately after the freeze, we will continue to build in Judea and Samaria as we did before.”

Q: Will we evacuate settlements in the end?

YA’ALON: I do not accept that. What has happened to us in recent years obligates us to stop with everything connected to withdrawal.

Meanwhile the press is wetting itself over Obama’s alleged walk-out of his meeting with Netanyahu. Whether that happened before or after the ‘massive arms deal’, we’re not told.

As Tony Karon writes,

“Israel’s leaders, and its voters, have amply demonstrated that they will not voluntarily relinquish control of the Palestinian territories as long as there are no real consequences for maintaining the status quo. Sure, you can tell them that the status quo is untenable, but the whole history of Israel from the 1920s onward has been about transforming the impossible into the inevitable by changing the facts on the ground. Building settlements on occupied territory in violation of international law after 1967 seemed untenable at the time; today, the U.S. government says Israel will keep most of those major settlement blocs in any two-state solution. It is precisely in line with this sort of improvisational logic that Sharon calculated he could hold on to the settlements of the West Bank if he gave up the settlements of Gaza; the same logic allows Netanyahu to say the words “two states for two peoples” while always winking at his base that he has no intention of allowing it to happen…

…progress in the Middle East will not come until the U.S. changes Israel’s cost-benefit analysis for maintaining the status quo. The only Israeli leader capable of accepting the parameters of a two-state peace with the Palestinians, which are already widely known, is one who can convincingly demonstrate to his electorate that the alternatives are worse. Right now, without real pressure, without real cost, with nothing but words, there is simply no downside to the status quo for Israel.  Until there is, things are unlikely to change, no matter the peril to U.S. troops throughout the Middle East.”

So what can we make of this acknowledgment by one of Netanyahu’s closest allies, the Vice Prime Minister, and Minister for Strategic Affairs?

This post about the Likud Charter by mainstreet (MyDD) reveals that Likud’s real intentions are “to wipe Palestine off the map” and there is no reason to believe that Netanyahu has changed that goal. It provides the basis for understanding all future negotiations between the Netanyahu Likud government and the Palestinians.

Observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often talk about the Hamas Charter, and the earlier PLO Charter, but no one speaks of the Likud Charter, the Bible of Israel’s Likud party now in power, which intends to wipe Palestine off the map. But that is precisely what has been happening for the past 60 years.

The Likud Charter

PEACE AND SECURITY chapter of the Likud Party Platform

1. Declaration of a Palestinian State: A unilateral Palestinian declaration of the establishment of a Palestinian state will constitute a fundamental and substantive violation of the agreements with the State of Israel and the scuttling of the Oslo and Wye accords. The government will adopt immediate stringent measures in the event of such a declaration.

2. Settlements: The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria [West Bank] and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.

3. The Permanent Status: The overall objectives for the final status with the Palestinians are: to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of a stable, sustainable agreement and replace confrontation with cooperation and good neighborliness, while safeguarding Israel’s vital interests as a secure and prosperous Zionist and Jewish state.

4. Self-Rule: The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel’s existence, security and national needs.

4. Jerusalem: Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem, including the plan to divide the city.

5. The Jordan River as a Permanent Border: The Jordan Valley and the territories that dominate it shall be under Israeli sovereignty. The Jordan River will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel. The Kingdom of Jordan is a desirable partner in the permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians in matters that will be agreed upon.

6. Security Areas: The government succeeded in significantly reducing the extent of territory that the Palestinians expected to receive in the interim arrangement.

The Likud Charter wipes Palestine off the map for good, leaving the Palestinian people in a kind of limbo, which some (like Jimmy Carter) propose is nothing less than an Apartheid existence, a collection of bantustans, within an Israel that extends from the Jordan River to the sea, not unlike what existed for Black South Africans under the Afrikaaner government in the 1980s.

What more is there to say?

Worst reason for keeping filibuster ever

Claire McCaskill supports procedural reform in the Senate, and I thank her for that.  However, she does not appear to support a 51-vote Senate, for a truly ridiculous reason. According to Mcaskill, not allowing the minority to paralyze the Senate would paralyze the Senate:

“We need to be really thoughtful about what we do, and we need to look at whole lot of different issues,” McCaskill said. “We need to figure out ways for the body to work better. I’m not interested in a massive rule change to cram down the minority’s throat. That would really freeze up this place. We’ve come close to that a couple of times, but that would really freeze it up.”

Nooooo! We can’t unfreeze the Senate! Unfreezing the Senate would freeze the Senate!

Granted, the Senate is a “collegial’ body, and so Senator McCaskill, along with many of her colleagues,  might have a different understanding of a paralyzed, frozen Senate than most Americans. While we may understand a frozen legislative body to be one that can’t pass legislation, or which isn’t responsive to popular opinion, Senators like McCaskill might imagine a frozen Senate to mean one where Senators are angry at each other:

Some senators are skeptical lawmakers will be ready to tackle another huge issue after finishing health care. “After you do one really, really big, really, really hard thing that makes everybody mad, I don’t think anybody’s excited about doing another really, really big thing that’s really, really hard that makes everybody mad,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said.

So, perhaps Senator McCaskill meant that maintaining collegiality is a good reason not to move to a 51-vote Senate, which is also a pretty bad rationale.  So, come to think of it, maybe I don’t actually know the worst reason for keeping the filibuster ever–there are so many to choose from.

The politics of Obama’s offshore drilling announcement

Here are the two main political implications of the Obama administration’s announcement that it will expand offshore drilling:

  1. A compromise with Conservadems While Republicans have been particularly loud in their support for vastly expanded offshore drilling, this move is likely designed to win over mainly Democratic votes, not Republicans.  A quick survey of the areas that have been opened to offshore drilling reveals this:


    Toss in Alaska (Begich), which was also partially opened, and you are looking at Louisiana Landrieu, Florida (Bill Nelson), Virginia (Warner and Webb, North Carolina (Hagan) and South Carolina (Graham).  As the links embedded in their names show, they are all proponents of offshore drilling.  The coastal states with Senators opposed to offshore drilling will not receive any new drilling.  Graham is the only Republican.

    This is, effectively, home state pork for Conservadem Senators who are viewed as winnable votes on the energy bill.  Five of the original fifteen Conservadems are listed above (Webb and Graham are not Conservadems).  Of course, since the new offshore drilling policy will operate through the executive branch, there is no guarantee at all that the Obama administration will actually get an energy bill out of this deal.  Nonetheless, and leaving aside the political efficacy of this ploy, it is clearly a political move designed to make a bill more viable.

  2. Hippie-punching  Are green groups going to be unhappy about this? You bet they are, and the Obama administration isn’t missing a chance to play that up.  From Obama’s speech on the new offshore drilling policy today:
    Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates between right and left, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.

    Rather than trying to placate green groups, President Obama is playing up how he is charting a unifying course of moderation in opposition to those groups.  Much like Blanche Lincoln, he protrays himself as an independent, nonpartisan voice standing up to environmental extremists on behalf of his constiuents.

As I wrote quite often during the health care fight, progressive groups can get as mad as they like when the Obama administration abandons them with policy moves like these.  However, since President Obama is more popular among the membership of those groups then even the leaders of those groups,  it is difficult for them to effectively fight back.  Politics is more a popularity contest than it is a battle of ideas or wills, and right now President Obama is easily the most popular person in politics among the Democratic and progressive rank and file.  The members of Congress, who can effectively push back against moves like these are those who are more popular amonng their constituents than President Obama.  The same goes for the green groups: their ideals, and their leaders, need to be more popular among their memberships than President Obama in order to effectively push back.

There are not many organizations like that right now (maybe Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth), and there might not be any progressive members of Congress for who whom that is true.  Until that changes, the Obama administration will continue to be able to make right-wing deals with Conservadems, and then do some hippie punching afterward, indefinitely.

Weekly Pulse: “Racist” Tanning Tax and Other Absurd Objections to Health Care Reform

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

While President Obama signed the final piece of the health care reform bill into law on Tuesday, opponents are not taking the defeat lying down. This week’s prize for the most bizarre objection to health care reform goes to Glenn Beck’s guest host Doc Thompson who alleged that a tax on tanning salons is racist. Andy Kroll of Mother Jones explains:

Filling in for Glenn Beck on his radio show, conservative radio host Doc Thompson recently made the stunningly outrageous claim that a tax on indoor tanning salons, as included in the health care reform bill, is racist. Such a tax, Thompson claimed, discriminates against “all light-skinned Americans” because only white-skinned Americans use tanning salons. Never mind the deadly effect tanning beds and the like have on your skin and health, nor the fact that the tax would generate $2.7 billion over ten years to help pay for health care. No, that couldn’t have anything to do with why the tax was included in the health care bill.

Governors vs. AGs

Christina Bellantoni of TPM Election Central reports that various Republican state attorneys general are clashing with their Democratic governors over plans to challenge health care reform in court. When Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox (R) joined an anti-reform lawsuit, Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) reminded everyone that “no one in the executive branch has authorized [Cox] to take this position.” The lawsuits are a good way to grab media attention, but Cox and his fellow AGs may end up with egg on their faces if these challenges actually go to court.

Reform and the Constitution

Some anti-reform activists allege that health care reform is unconstitutional because the government doesn’t have the right to force people to carry health insurance (aka the “individual mandate”). On, The Breakdown podcast, Chris Hayes of the Nation interviews Gillian Metzger a professor of constitutional law at Columbia who explains why the constitutionality of health care reform is “pretty much a no-brainer.” Another Nation contributor, Aziz Huq, puts it this way: “Among constitutional scholars, the puzzle is not how the federal government can defend the new law, but why anyone thinks a constitutional challenge is even worth making.”

SEIU Sues Dissident Local

Speaking of lawsuits, Carl Finamore of Working In These Times is covering a major court battle in California between two large health care unions. The 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union is suing the former elected officers, staff and organizers of its third-largest national affiliate, United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW). The 26 defendants defected from SEIU to form a new union, National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), which is also being sued. The conflict started a few years ago when national SEIU decided to remove 65,000 health care workers from a UHW local without the local’s consent. Finamore sees this lawsuit as a test of the principle of local self-governance: can SEIU sue a dissident local into submission?

This post features links to the best independent, progressive  reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It  is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for  a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best  progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and  immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch,  and The  Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of  leading independent media outlets.

Banking and Jobs: Inseparable Issues

With the health care fight finally resolved (you notice I didn’t use the word “over”- the passage of this bill is only the first step in a long-term battle for a better health care system in America, so nothing is really over), everyone is turning their attention to the economy. As well they should.

In spite of certain establishment economists and pundits (and unfortunately a few administration officials who are politically tone deaf), saying that the recession is over and everything is back on track economically, the simple fact is that while we are no longer dangling over the precipice of another Great Depression, the economy is still broken in major ways. The official unemployment rate still hovers around 10%, and when you add in those who have given up looking for work, those who are underemployed and marginally employed but want fulltime work, the number of people needing full-time jobs is closer to 20%. Wages are still not going up, as even many of those who have jobs have had to take lower wage jobs to get by. Foreclosures are still happening at dangerously high rates, home values are not coming back anywhere near fast enough (or at all in some neighborhoods), and way too many homeowners are still dangerously close to being underwater. Business and personal bankruptcies are still way too high.

Now I know that the economy is officially “growing” again. The GDP is up, the Dow Jones is up, corporate profits are up. If you are an establishment economist, a trust fund baby, or a Wall Street financier, the economy feels like it’s just humming along. For the vast majority of Americans, the noise they are hearing is less that of a hum and more of a car wreck. That’s why voters react so poorly to Democratic politicians when they say things about how the economy is looking up.

The twin pillars to building a healthy economy are producing good jobs in big numbers, and fixing the badly broken financial system. These are not separate spheres, by the way- the two things are joined at the hip. Washington legislative policy wonks tend to divide everything into different bills they are working on, and DC coalitions follow that approach as well. But if we don’t start creating decent-paying jobs, the foreclosure problems will keep getting bigger and housing prices won’t recover. If we don’t fix the financial sector, an economy where the finance sector is focused on gambling and bubbles rather than in actual investments that will create jobs will continue dragging us down, and endangering us in the future. With so much of America’s wealth concentrated in six mega-banks, and those banks investing in little that’s creating jobs, we are not going to create real private sector job growth.

Let me point you to three fascinating things worth reading that have come out over the last few days, because I think they all point to central economic issues as we go forward. The first is an important, news-breaking piece in Politico that Elizabeth Warren came out with yesterday morning. Citing a memo from the American Bankers Association from a 2006 fight against more oversight that makes the exact opposite arguments they are making now, Warren makes the absolutely central point that special interests like the American Bankers Association are hypocrites to the core. The special interests that are making out like bandits at the expense of the rest of us don’t have any consistent philosophy except me first and only, and members of Congress and the administration should thus given their arguments the respect they deserve: which is to say virtually none.

The second is Sen. Ted Kaufman’s brilliant speech on Chris Dodd’s weak and disappointing financial reform bill. Sen. Kaufman’s essential point is that Dodd is just moving the regulatory fixes around rather than doing what really needs to be done: break up the big banks. If these financial behemoths are not cut down in size, and walls are not built between the gambling financiers and the boring old bankers who loan money to invest in small businesses, the financial system will remain in danger and jobs will be far less likely to be created. Kaufman makes the argument that if you don’t make real structural changes in the size, powers, and roles of the mega-banks, that you haven’t changed anything important re how the banking system works. He is 100% on target. If having regulators was all that was needed to clean up the banking system, we never would have landed in the mess we did in the financial collapse. You have to change the power relationships as well- banks need to be smaller, and the trading side of the banking industry should not infect the more traditional loan and investment side of the banking industry.

Finally, I want to point you to a really thoughtful new commentary in Huffington Post by Leo Hindery. His frame on the political dynamic right now is intriguing: that Republicans are in fact the disloyal opposition, so violently opposed to Obama that they have gotten into bed with the fomenters of open and potentially violent revolution; in their place as the loyal opposition are those of us progressive populists who want Obama to take on the banks and far more aggressively create more jobs. Leo’s point is that there is a growing group of people who are loyal to Obama in the sense that we very much want him to succeed, we want to help him, and certainly support him in opposition to a tea party/Glenn Beck-aligned Republican Party; but that we are in a sense in opposition as well, believing we need dramatically more progressive economic policies.

We live in a remarkable moment. We just passed a universal health care bill, something the progressive movement has been fighting for about a century or so. But we are still faced with a broken economy- a badly warped and dangerous financial sector, and a massive lack of good jobs- and we need for bolder thinking that we are getting on how to fix it. Whether or not you call us the loyal opposition, it is time for progressives to demand more- on creating jobs and fixing the banking system- in terms of fixing the economy.

1,000 Words About Mauritius

Crossposted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

Full disclosure: We had never heard of the Republic of Mauritius until the day we bought a ticket to go there.

Our pathetic excuse: Lonely Planet doesn’t list it in their Africa book.

When we arrived people seemed shocked to meet two people from the United States – hotel clerks, cab drivers, and street vendors who’ve worked on the island for years said they never met Americans before.

Yet, this is clearly America’s loss because sitting in the middle of the Indian ocean is one of the most incredible islands we’ve ever visited.

We always try to reduce our carbon footprint by traveling via public buses, but in this case a boat didn’t seem like a good option and flights from Johannesburg were extremely cheap. We resisted the urge to splurge on an all-inclusive beach holiday and opted for the more budget hostel pay-as-you-go experience.We had only four days and wanted to make the most of them and interacting with people seemed more interesting than lounging forever on a beach.

While English is the official language, few people spoke it. Bernie’s upbringing in Montreal came in handy as we interacted with people using French. Our cab driver from the airport to Grand Bay, Shivan, told us how safe the country was and how people co-exist harmoniously, “we are different colors, with different cultures, but we live together peacefully here. People are all the same, and we all treat each other that way.” The more we interacted with locals, the more people echoed the same sentiments. The traditional foods we ate reflected this multi-ethnicity melting pot, blending Indian, Creole, Chinese and European influences.

“It’s not like most places in Africa,” another cab driver told us. “You can walk anywhere at night. You can leave your stuff unattended. We don’t have much crime here, people will help you  – not bother you  – and its very rare that they will steal anything from you.”

We asked another local named Richard why he thought it was so safe and he told me that the government took care of it’s people. “Everyone gets a good pension, no matter how long or where you worked; all people get access to health care and free education; and if you’re too poor to own a house then the government builds one for you with electricity for free (and after paying basic rent for seven years, you own it).”

Another person we asked, named Marie, said that Mauritius lacked the government corruption of most African countries, citing it as the reason people visit there over nearby islands such as Madagascar and Comoros. “We have a real democracy,” she said.

In Mauritius, the government is elected on a five-year basis. The last general elections took place on July 3, 2005 in all the 20 mainland constituencies, as well as the constituency covering the island of Rodrigues.

The British left the country after they attained independence in 1968, and became a republic in 1992. According to the 2009 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which measures governance using a number of different variables, Mauritius’ government earned the highest rank among African nations for “participation and human rights” and “sustainable economic opportunity”, as well as earning the highest score in the index overall. Mauritius came second in “rule of law”, and fourth in terms of “human development” (source: Wikipedia).

Our hostel (Grand Bay Beach Residence), booked via Student Flights (affiliated with Liberty travel in the United States), was terrific value. It is located in short walking distance from the town of Grand Bay and the ocean. The price was around thirty dollars per night, but considering the fact that free 3G WiFi worked on the outdoor deck and taking into account the hours we spent uploading video files and talking on conference calls to the United States on Skype – we got lots of unexpected value.  Things like restaurants and tourist destinations are very expensive on the island, but buying groceries and having drinks in the hotel room before heading out dancing allows budget travelers to enjoy everything without a hefty toll on your wallet. All the beaches everywhere in the country are public for both locals and tourists and that was something we enjoyed taking advantage of.

We drove across the Island learning more about the country’s agriculture, which, next to tourism, is their biggest source of income. Sugar cane is the largest export, and the plots of land growing them stretched for miles. We were told that this crop accounted for a quarter of all exports from the country. We also saw lots of pineapple and coffee being grown.

Yet, an industry that surprised us was the booming hi-tech sector. We certainly didn’t expect coast-to-coast wireless internet (3G) when we arrived (it covers 60 percent of the island and is cheap and widely assessable).  

We also played tourists and visited Triolet Shivala, the biggest Hindu temple of the island. The temple is dedicated to the Gods Shiva, Krishna, Vishna, Muruga, Brahma and Ganesha. This place is also the longest village on the island.

We also saw the “Coloured Earths of Chamarel,” among the oddest sites of the island. There are seven-coloured dunes at Chamarel, the result from the weathering of volcanic rocks. And a short drive away, we relaxed, eating spicy pineapple near the breathtaking Chamarel waterfalls. And we admit, we visited the beaches there as well.

As we boarded the plane, we looked at each other, and said we hoped to visit this magical island again.

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Morning No: Different Priorities

– Obama will open 130 million acres of the US coast to drilling. How’s that hopey changey stuff working out? I don’t know about for me, but I think there are going to be some drill happy Alaskans who feel better about it. (Via Hopeful in NJ in Quick Hits.)

– Obama finally makes some recess appointments. Craig Becker is in, labor should be happy. Dawn Johnsen isn’t, more evidence the president thinks women’s health care is icky. Islam Siddiqui, a notorious pesticide pusher from an industry association that freaked out about the White House organic garden, is in.

– In case you missed it, health insurance reform added back $250 million to abstinence-only education, a program known to have no lasting effect on teen sexual behavior besides to reduce condom and birth control use.

– If you follow environmental issues, you probably know that ExxonMobil has been a huge funder of climate science denial. Though as it turns out, Koch industries is the biggest supporter of climate misinformation, outspending Exxon Mobil by close to 3:1. If you don’t follow environmental politics though, Koch’s funding of Heritage, Cato and the Manhattan Institute probably puts a wrench in your day now and again, anyhow.

– KBR will finally have to face Jamie Leigh Jones in court after she was raped by several fellow KBR employees, locked in a shipping container and then told by the company that her contract barred her from suing them over it.

– Russia reels from a second set of twin suicide bomb attacks in Dagestan, a North Caucasus republic. A local police official is among the 12 dead.

– The systemic implications of peak oil are all very well and good, but peak copper?

– Pedophiles and their accomplices seem to have no end of enablers. Eeeew.

– The wingnuts, they’re coming for your Social Security. And they might have plenty of friends at the president’s deficit commission. Via Avedon.

– Here’s the lowdown on government housing support programs, along with the bad news that not only might the market not be coming back, it might be headed for another dive.

– A small amount of chocolate every day may be good for your heart. I know what I’m getting at the store today.

Martin Luther King vs. Barack Obama–Watch PBS Wednesday Night To See The Difference

On Sunday, President Obama made a quick, unannounced trip to Afghanistan, just to check in on his own personal war-one that every honest historian in the world knows that America will someday lose, since no empire has ever conquered Afghanistan and held it.  With his own war and his own Nobel Peace Prize, he’s got everything a poltical leader could possibly want. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, PBS airs a Tavis Smiley’s special “MLK: A Call to Conscience”, where we get to see what a real Peace Prize winner-and a real hero-sounds like.  Here’s a brief excerpt, revolving around King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech given April 4, 1967:

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight, because my conscience leaves me no other choice. A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

CLAYBORNE CARSON: Martin Luther King knew, when he gave that speech, that it would set off a firestorm.

SUSANNAH HESCHEL: It’s the speech that challenges us, and in that sense it’s his most important. That we are uncomfortable with that speech tells us something.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Well, such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, that question suggests that they do not know the world in which they live.

VINCENT HARDING: It was precisely one year to the day after this speech that that bullet, which had been chasing him for a long time, finally caught up with him. And I am convinced that that bullet had something to do with that speech.

On Monday, Smiley was on Democracy Now!, where that excerpt was aired.  

The special also includes the following powerful message from Cornel West:

CORNEL WEST: Here he was shouting, a voice, prophetic voice in the wilderness, and he knew the sleepwalking was increasing. What he didn’t know was that the sleepwalking would get thicker and thicker during the age of Reagan. And what he didn’t know, that there was a black man on the way to the White House in 2009, and was hoping that there would be some awakening connected to his legacy of focusing on poor people and working people and jobs and homes and studying war, no more, not because a president would be pacifist, because it upset me when I heard my dear brother Barack Obama criticize Martin on the global stage, saying that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s insights were not useful for a commander-in-chief, because evil exists, as if Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t know about evil.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was fighting terrorism. He was an anti-terrorist who was fighting Jim Crow and James Crow. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew something about evil, more so than many of us, including our beloved president. But he also knew that if you don’t break the cycle of domination and bigotry and hatred and try to exemplify some alternative, then that cycle would be reinforced in such a way that you would be a pro-war president, pro-war citizen, and not giving peace a chance.

In late 2007, I criticized Obama in comparison to King in my diary “Martin Luther King and The Moral Imperative For Polarization”.  I compared Obama’s unwillingness to confront moral evil and accept the need for polarization to the position taken by the White clergymen who wrote condescending to King when he was in Birmingham jail-the clergymen who inspired King to respond in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Here we have the flip side of that contrast:  On the one hand, Obama is horrified at the prospect of a non-violent confrontation with evil here at home, in fundamental opposition to Martin Luther King.  But on the other hand, he is firm in bringing war to the far corners of the globe, raining down death on innocent women and children-also in fundamental opposition to Martin Luther King.

Check your local listings & watch for yourself tonight.  Compare and contrast.  A King, and an imposter.

Here’s a final word from Brother West:

CORNEL WEST: Well, I think that they’re in very different lanes, and they have very different callings. Barack Obama presently is the brilliant, charismatic, smiling, friendly face of the American Empire. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the courageous, sacrificial, smiling, friendly face that was crushed by the American Empire. The latter is a prophet. The former is politician.