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Tolls are ridiculous! May 31, 2009

Posted by agstick in Travel.
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First I want to thank Afflatus for adding me to the blog. I hope my posts enrich the already dope material on it. I’m on am iPod right now so I apologize up front for any typos and what not.

Anyway, having just got back from a semester in Madrid two weeks ago I went to visit some of my boys down at school in DC. Ever since I started driving my family has had the EZ-Pass so I haven’t payed much attention to toll prices…until today. While stuck in traffic at the GW bridge (connecting New Jersey and New York City) I decided road signs would be a terrific way to pass the time. One of these forms of reading material informed me that it currently costs $8 to cross the Hudson River. To put that in perspective, a bus ticket from NYC to DC costs $20. For $12 more dollars than the bridge toll one can travel hundreds of miles down the east coast. Though I am not one New Jersey commuters should be livid if they are not already.

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North Korea is the Scariest! May 31, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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The title of the blog post was just changed from “North Korea is Scary” to its current wording. It is both, but my new title is here to stay. To me, North Korea is the biggest and scariest threat to the United States and to humanity on many different levels.

Quick recap: in April they launched a long-range missile over Japan, one of our strongest allies, closest trading partners, and (let’s not forget) the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack. After this attack North Korea expelled UN nuclear weapons inspectors.

Quick recap of this week only: Monday North Korea conducted an underground test of a nuclear device and fired six short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. What’s more their maniacal tyrant, Kim Jong Il announced that the armistice agreement signed to end the Korean War in 1953 was null and void. This would be a nearly-certain cause for war (cassus belli) in many other situations. World War One and the 1967 Six Day War both began over less provocative actions. The magnanimity of this cannot be understated.

Why is North Korea a “threat” to the US national interest?
Protecting our allies is a primary concern. South Korea and Japan are two of our biggest allies; Japan was Secretary Clinton’s first foreign visit, showing the importance of the Japan-US relationship. The Administration is also worried that eventually, in a worst case and far-off scenario, a direct nuclear strike could hit our West coast. For these reasons the State Department must take action. What should we do?

Roosevelt Island May 31, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Events, Explorations.
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Today I went to Roosevelt Island, Theodore not Franklin. The island is the one in the Potomac between the Georgetown waterfront and Roslyn; you can see it from our balcony (if you can call it that). It was a fantastic trip on so many levels. The island has a memorial to Teddy that is really nice. It’s immersion in nature provides for serenity that is unmatched by any other monument or memorial that I have visited. There are paths: big and small, cleared and concealed. We kayaked over there, which some guidebooks say is the easiest way to get there. The only alternative to crossing the water by boat is taking the metro to Roslyn and then walking across a pedestrian bridge (I kayaked both ways so I don’t know anything more than this.)

The Island is pretty big, it took maybe an hour to walk leisurely around the perimeter. The natural environment there was beautiful. Lots of trees, swamps, flowers, shrubbery, and wildlife. Supposedly there are water snakes, beavers, possums, and I forget the rest, but we didn’t see any of these. Today was a beautiful day, so hikers, joggers, picnickers, and visitors were ubiquitous. As a result, the so-called wildlife was nowhere to be seen by my deteriorating vision. Though we did see (and hear) many birds, and butterflies.

It’s fitting that the Teddy Roosevelt memorial would be on a largely undisturbed island as the president was a lifelong nature-lover. Roosevelt pioneered conservancy in this country at the Federal level: he began the National Park Service (among other efforts). Teddy was fascinated by Yellowstone and Yosemite, and he spent much time in Africa on safari-like adventures. Teddy was also a big game hunter and this was usually his activity of choice while in Africa — strange for a conservancy-minded man.

Quotes by Teddy found at memorial (all great, only some worthy of our quote board where some may appear later):

“Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to a successful life. Alike for the nation and the individual, the one indispensable requisite is character.”

“Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars but remember to keep your feet on the ground.”

“There is delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation. increased and not impaired in value.”

“Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”

And some photos:

Teddy was a very interesting man and President. Interesting, for one, because of his combination of machismo and nature-loving, a combination that is sadly considered eccentric in today’s culture. Enough for now, anybody know of a good biography of Roosevelt? Or, anybody want to go back? I’m down. And, PLEASE President Obama, now is the time to pass a comprehensive environmental protection plan. This is the only livable world our (meaning “human’s”) expert astronomers have been able to detect in an unfathomable amount of light years; let’s conserve AND improve the damn thing, as Teddy maybe would say.

Why We Fight May 27, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Events, Explorations.
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Yesterday I went to the National Museum of American History. In general, it was a great museum. I saw cool historical artifacts such as a Woolworth’s counter where sit-in’s had taken place during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. I also saw the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem following the successful defense of Baltimore Harbor in the war of 1812.

The exhibit I spent the most time in was one that covered the wars of the United States. This exhibit was entitled “The Price of Freedom.” I found this title interesting, though not surprising, and I also found it distasteful. Entitling the war exhibit in our nation’s main history museum “The Price of Freedom” implies that the we fought wars in order to defend or maintain our freedom, and this is blatantly untrue. This is hardly the case for any war we’ve fought in, with the possible exception of World War Two.

Granted, the sub-section inside about the war of 1898 (in which the US acquired Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines) was correctly labeled a war of expansion. I was happy to see this concession made by the historians employed by the Federal government to craft the history which the museum would teach.

All in all, the museum was great. It was well designed, with lots of cool interactive features, displays, sounds, and more. It is obviously worth visiting, and I hope to go back and spend more time there. Still, the title “The Price of Freedom” was disconcerting; the museums clear attempt to portray our war efforts by the singular goal of defending freedom irritated me. Am I just being picky, or does this seem wrong to any of you?

Any thoughts on President Obama’s SC Pick? May 26, 2009

Posted by incognito4peace in Just Curious, Politics.
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President Obama today nominated federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Does anyone have any thoughts on the appointment?

John Kerry and Foreign Aid May 25, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Events, History, Politics, World Affairs.
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Last Thursday I attended a very interesting event at the Brookings Institute, a left-leaning think tank. The event was titled “Diplomacy and Development in the 21st Century: A conversation with Senator John Kerry.” Kerry was invited to come speak as chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. He mainly spoke about a desperate need to balance the diplomatic and military aspects of our foreign policy strategy. He wants more funding for the state department, USAID, and other humanitarian efforts that lie within these agencies. He spoke extremely well, and showed he was highly knowledgeable about an huge range of foreign policy issues. My notes from the event follow. They are random, and sometimes unintelligible, but I hope you will gain more insight into what Kerry spoke about. Enjoy

Jason considered coming, but it was too late to RSVP. We wondered whether it would really be packed, “Wouldn’t it be in a large auditorium” I asked. Well, I’m here, and Jason wouldn’t have gotten in. Its packed, not enough seats for all. (I was just interrupted by a battle over a seat 3 seats down.) Jason, I wish you were here with me.

12:37 the doors close, people just outside of the entry squeeze forward, and with that, everyone’s in.

A man enters, stands behind the podium, looks at us, and then turns on the Teleprompters, probably for the next speaker.
• O, how teleprompters have changed politics! Each word is now carefully contemplated and practiced. There is no need for the speaker to remember his speech.
12:43 John Kerry and panel enter.

3 points about Kerry – Kerry’s introduction
• 1. Knows about conflict and war, he is a veteran, if you can avoid it, the gift to humanity of being able to avoid it, is great. John Kerry with a huge nod.
• 2. Helps help treat diseases abroad. Kerry was a leader, he is committed to aid!
• 3. Enviornment issue. Constantly will be an issue from now on. League of Conservation voters considers Kerry really good. He has humanity dear to his heart.

Kerry begins to speak:
• 1 mistake: everyone in elected life needs an introduction

Thoughts are with Strom, who died from Brookings. But reading off Teleprompters, its weird. I am sitting exactly behind the teleprompter so I can see his eyes, it weird.

Begins by hearkening back to the Marshall plan.
65 years ago, George Marshall. Germ lost 90% of RR, 1 in 5 houses in France destroyed. No currencies, no food, totally horrible.

Huge praise of Marshall plan! Super successful he says. Marshall understood isolationism was over. Marshall had a vision, offered at a critical moment.

Developmental assistance born out of Marshall Plan
• Investment aid, east Asian economic miracle stemmed by US, helped with quakes and tsunamis,

USAID is a point of pride, and it should be for Americans

His family moved in 1955 to Berlin, Kerry was 12 and aware of reconstruction efforts, plaques saying Marshall Plan, the plaque stood for the US

Not so easy to just replicate it
• His true genius → he saw clearly the challenges at that particular moment, saw the world he wished to create, reached into govt then changed policy and invented institutions.

• Marshall matched his rhetoric absolutely.
• Today there is a gap btw rhetoric and actions on USAID
• We need a strategic vision 4 diplomacy and develop that will meet new challenges
o Ethnic sectarianism
o Religious extremists
o Far more complex than back then, but still urgent and necessary

Challenges are greater than anything we have ever faced” Kerry

Must summon the political will, and reach global effort to do it.
• Low carbon techs for all, the little people
• Fight disease with a multifaceted intl response.
o I helped do this, which Bush translated into PEPFAR?? Wiki
• Must embolster the efforts of aid organizations loosing men in conflict regions
• Ex. I was in ME with King Abdullah of Egypt
• Easy to see gap btw rhetoric in West and PA to actually build a stable PA.
• Globalization involves us more in crises in ME and around the world
o These challenges are growing, not diminishing, studies show this, ppl point this out

• we need a new global order going forward
o Must summon the will
• From leadership, and grassroots
• Summon it to deal with the challenges in this multipolar world
o Global warming is getting worst, coming at us faster.

.35% funds all state dept, all USAID, all humanitarian efforts, an insult to common sense

Last year the army added 7000 soldiers, which is more than the us Foreign Service. We need to increase diplomatic efforts at achieving US strategic interests. Nice call Kerry

Peshawar
• Met ppl on front lines in NW frontier province
o Fighting to win the hearts and minds
o She was definitely contributing to helping, but she could have done so much more.
o Must give foreign service more, NOW. Their potential is going untapped.!! Great point

o As a result, the military takes over, becomes over-deployed. Soldiers, microfinancing, being policemen, judges, cultural anthropology, hearts and minds winners. It’s a remarkable feat that they do accomplish it, but they need civilian helpers.
Bottom line: US could function more efficiently with a more balances carrot and stick.

Long Term
• More resources
Short term
• Diplomatically
o Rebuild in 3
• 1. More resources more personnel
Diplomats falling through the cracks is horrible. Under funding and understaffing. Loosing hundreds of thousands of jobs
Also hindered
• 1,500 new officers over the next 2 years.
• 2. Use embassies to improve our image abroad
• 3. Must give them freedom, unleash these creative ppl. Read Book: 3 cups of tea, youll see.

• He thinks its crazy more Americans don’t know a 2nd language. I need to master Spanish

Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan

USAID
• Must clarify policies and goals
• become more transparent. You cant prioritize everything, they nothing becomes a priority – true.
• Implement reforms to make USAID
• (60% goes to 10 countries for political military counter narcotics and HIVAIDS
The rest goes to way more countries
We need more balance, comprehensive development strategy. )
• 3. Must strengthen human resources. Agriculture experts to spark green revolution in Africa, scientists to deliver to places where they’ve never seen an America, to save climate,
• Must promote a results based culture of accountability and achieving goals.
• USAID should be a place of innovation and accomplishment
• 4. Must streamline outdated laws! Of course
o Last revision was year of his arrival, 1985.
• 5. USAID must screw Washington, needs to globalize USAID workers
o Like cutting off our nose to spite our face
We like how obama understands and is committed.

Announcing foreign affairs authorization act, the foreign aid bill.
Neither will bring comprehensive reform all at once
• He said he wants comp reform, why not draft it dude?
• Has twice seemingly forgot the name of the bill. I decided to ignore it the first time.

• Reforming diplomatic cure, improve embassies esp. environmentally, will help move it forward,

No state dept. authorization bill since 2002. Lets end this, and take responsibility
• Will be crucial to revitalizing development agencies he spoke of earlier
• Must reform – cutting edge programs to end global poverty.
o Hes getting repetitive here.
• Hiring top talent, yup already said that

• JFK – founding of USAID – “we cant escape our moral obligations to be a moral leader, “to fail to meet those obligations now, would be disastrous and in the LR, more expensive. Then he was talking about communism (interesting). “Thus our own security would be endangered,” conflict is bred by our bad FP which lacks diplomatic efforts.

• This quote can easily be applied to USAID reform.
• Cutting poverty and hunger by half by 2015. Speaking of nice, lofty goals. Way to go.
• Universal effort for education. Must eliminate gender disparity.

• Blog about female genital mutilation, moral problem, and problem with mentioning it, taboo.

Q&A
• What are your views on the role of democracy and human rights in USAID? Cites CFAP – excluding democ and human rights from our efforts.
• Kerry’s response:
• Tough and central question: avoided a little. Then goes
o Democ and human rights are in the American DNA. Should not take a backseat “as we engage with countries” always must be part of the discussion. He always raises human rights issue. Ex. Damascus 12.
o I always mention it, but there does have to be a balance. Can’t deal with everything all the time. Must be a balance.
• It would have been better to withhold the elections for longer, but this possibly violates human rights. Bush messed up, but he insisted on human rights. Great example Kerry and he drilled on bush

I thought he just gave a great answer. Must exercise wisdom, judgment, discretion, and judge on a case-by-case basis. Def True.

Afgh- Pak
• Must win the information war.
• Public Diplomacy
o Voice of America – going on about it, used to be a trustworthy news outlet, lost that, became overly politicizes. Now bbc, cnn,
o But in a lot of parts of the world we have no news going to Pakistan.
o In NW frontier region, over 50 FM channels. They rule through instilling fear, announced executions, announce that some1 must change something, or else will be executed tomorrow. Also, Taliban circulate videos of beheadings, you can buy 1 for 1 USD$.
o Interesting

oHow to approach the Muslim World?
• Conference with evangelicals US, clerics mufdis, elahs,
• Kerry addressed the commonality of the Semitic religions “Abrahamic”.
• The Muslim world must reclaim the legitimate religion, not the hijacked one by the extremists.
o The obvious problem is there no 1 universal figure like the Pope.
o Random ppl issuing fatwa’s
• Abdallah in Egypt and Jordanian King are leading an effort to make the moderate reforms.
o Tolerance, pluralism, coexistence,
o Our diplomacy must do this .
o He has heard thousands of times about how their lives were thrown topsy-turvy by US invasion of Iraq.
Resupports Obama
• Points out how the President is especially good with public diplomacy in the ME, and Muslim world.
o His speech in Egypt. Highlights
AID in US Soviet union, former
Get more specific Kerry…
• Institutional changes? Legislation within these institutions?
• All of the above. Pragmatically speaking: we don’t have unlimited resources.
• Not really answering her questions so far.
• We are doing it in numerous, multi-lateral ways, which is contradictory to his earlier “must not prioritize everything”, also still not being specific like she wanted him to be.
• Again, refers to 3 cups of tea book.
We need legislation that toes the line and does not create more beaurocracy in itself. TRUTH
2 part question: development is in LR, how do we reconcile with SR efforts?
• 2nd part; there are risks.
o Compares the field to Washington
• Don’t dictate from here; create incentives, like globalization, and capitalism, free-market incentive. The democracts should speak with words that show their capitalists, not socialists as the Right tries to say.
Empower ppl on the ground.

LR and SR?
• A matter of defining our national security properly.
• In recent administration; national security was erroneously defined too narrowly,
o Gen. MacKrystal has helped improve national security, empowering grassroots, using more diplomacy, Kerry clearly approves of Obamas new appointment. In conjunction with what I was just talking about” he says. Get people to take a stake in their community (he is now teetering on the edge of my capitalist-prose suggestion.) Making that last step in phrasal framing would benefit American politics, helping it slide to the left.

Afghanistan identity
• Always local
• UK divides Pakistan and afghan arbitrarily. Kerry is explaining the conflict from a historical perspective. Speaking vaguely but truthfully, referencing Pashtun conflict with other ethnicities.
Summary: reconnect to ideas from Marshall plan, let that past inspire us. We rebuilt Japan, now one of our most reliable allies (despite the coercion). We rebuilt Germany, now they are one of the strongest economies in the world! Implies total credit to the Marshall plan.

A Poem I Wrote Today May 21, 2009

Posted by presto21 in Music.
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Fuck That Humble Mumble

It’s non-negotiable that

I can be a little too devotional,

To the cause of my own demise.

Wait.

Hold up.

Does that come as a surprise?

Your hands choking your dreams?

Take a card, wait in line.

You’re never going to get out of your mind.

When the cracker crumbles,

You fumble.

This isn’t the jungle.

And even if it was,

You wouldn’t play that game.

But the clock keeps ticking.

It’s all about you.

And you’re too scared.

You’re too comfortable.

Remember?

Well…

Fuck it,

I’ll do it anyway.

Think I’ll just re-route my dreams.

Thanks OutKast.

Gitmo May 21, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Politics.
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If you go to Huffington Post’s homepage quickly you might be able to catch a glimpse of this [now its actually too late, you’ll have to trust me]: Huge block red letters. Red as anything, red as blood, red as Japan’s rising sun, red as my living room lamp. The letters scream from the gossipnews website, “Obama Sending First Gitmo Detainee To US For Trial.” As evidence of the sites constant shouting and gossiping, I only provide: Should “to” and “for” really be capitalized? The NYT, WSJ, et. al. don’t capitalize these.

Underneath screaming words are three overly-dramatic pictures. From left to right: a picture of two high-security fences, equipped with the works (the fences are presumably at Guantanamo Bay, or Gitmo as some call it despite the lack of an “i” in the name Guantanamo). In the center is an old-looking photo of a youthful dark-skinned man with short curly hair. A youthful man? The face staring, with penetrating dark eyes directly into the camera can be better described as the face of a teenager. On my right is perhaps the strangest of the three photos. The statue of liberty with the empire state building towering in the background; from the angle of the photographer, the world trade center would have played a prominent part in the photo. I reference 911 because I think the editors at Huffington Post intended to reference it as well. Strange. (Likewise, why choose to show the youthful face with penetrating eyes in the enormous title? The detainee’s name is preferable, and it would at least be an attempt to restore dignity to someone in dire need of it).

The gargantuan title…screaming its words continued below the three photos, using no less than 23 words. Obama exclaims in block big-red letters that fears about moving terrorist suspects here are unfounded. They are conjured up by those seeking political advantage, the President said.

I strongly approve of Obama’s decision to move forward with the “Gitmo” problem; doesn’t the word “Gitmo” have a tinge of a slimy and slyish sound to it?; Isn’t it weird and creepy that the word “Gitmo” exists, and is recognizable by many people in the US, or world for that matter?

I approve of Obama’s decision…Obama’s move towards action rather than prolonged inaction is absolutely crucial on the “Gitmo” issue. The issue is overwhelming complex. I think there are about 240 detainees in Guantanamo. Something like 40 are believed to be innocent, including the 17 Chinese Uighur citizens currently being held in Cuba. They were dragged away from their rural families long ago (don’t know when, but does it matter?). The Chinese government will kill them if they go back to China. The 17 Uighur detainees do not want to become citizens of the United States, a foreign country whose government they severely mistrust. Even if these INNOCENT people were brought to the US, the Right would attempt to undermine Obama’s efforts by calling him weak on national security. He would be called “naive,” a word McCain used multiple times on the campaign trail.

An article in the NYT today said Obama’s solution would be a combination of actions including transferring prisoners overseas holding centers (see my earlier blog post on Bagram), transferring them to foreign governments, moving the rest to facilities to the United States to be either held longer, or tried in a military or civilian trials. Congress is obstinately blocking Obama’s plans to close the prison in solidarity (i th, denying money the President requested to help close the prison. Congress did pass legislation calling for a “threat assessment” on each prisoner, which will determine their actual threat to our national security if they were released. This is good. Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis.

The article on the front page today says 1 in 7 of the previously released detainees have reverted to terrorist activities abroad. Although, it leaves the specificities of “terrorist activities” undefined. Contingent on what these released detainees are actually up to, this is a grave mistake. The “Gitmo” issue is so complex because a direct threat to our national interests are at stake.

But the threat to our national security is less than many people attempt to make it out to be. The FBI director said that moving detainees to American prisons would bring risks including “the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States.” Despite that this quote barely manages to fit within the grammar rules of the English language, the truth of this statement is dubious. The fact is, our federal government can lock up, contain, and neutralize the most dangerous men in the world. I trust our federal government to not accidentally let a dangerous terrorist to slip out of its hands, and run free domestically. I seriously doubt this could happen, let alone the terrorist being permitted to “undertake attacks in the US.” Fear-mongering in this instance is incorrect, unacceptable, and hurts all of us in our push to move forward.

My support for Obama’s decision ultimately derives from this: the need to move forward and put the Gitmo issue behind us. Let’s not forget, Bush created this legal quagmire. The rest of us, Obama and US senators included, have the moral responsibility to quickly improve the situation. Difficult decisions will have to be made on an individual basis. I do not support releasing dangerous men in America or anywhere in the world. But many are not dangerous, several more can be tried in a civilian or military court, these actions must be taken. As for the truly dangerous detainees, a first step is to transfer them to high-security prisons with ample food, water, and otherwise humane conditions. (Why do we continue to occupy Cuba? This fact may even be ridiculous of a policy than the Cuban embargo, and it is a blatant violation of Cuba’s sovereignty.) Providing humane conditions is a minimal but necessary action. Each day this continues our reputation abroad is damaged — and that is a certain harm to our national security interests.

P.S. Thanks to Salman Rushdie for his manic, descriptive, and eccentric writing style, which I love, and which I have miserably attempted to imitate. All should immediately buy his indescribably-good book, Midnight’s Children and read it.

Racism in Football May 19, 2009

Posted by masterj27 in Sports and Entertainment.
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Thought I would follow up on the first post I wrote. Here’s an excerpt from a football news blog I read everyday:

Sol Campbell was today once more vindicated in court, after a man and a 14-year-old boy were found guilty in Portsmouth today of shouting “shocking and disgusting” chants at the 34-year-old former England international, when Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Fratton Park last year.

The pair will be sentenced at a later time, after the first ever case of ‘indecent chanting’ brought by the Crown Prosecution Service reached its conclusion. The boy, who was 13 at the time of the offence, and his co-accused Ian Trow, 42, were convicted on the basis of CCTV evidence, though their defence lawyer claimed, according to BBC News, “They passionately and whole-heartedly believed their behaviour and language

didn’t overstep the mark of what is acceptable behaviour and language at a football match.”

The footage showed fans chanting, amongst other things,”Sol, Sol, wherever you may be, Not long now until lunacy, We won’t give a f*** if you are hanging from a tree, You are a Judas c*** with HIV”, “Campbell you are a c***”,  “Sol’s a wanker” and “come on gay boy, that’s my gay boy”.

Campbell himself issued a court statement which read, “I felt absolutely disgusted at this and I didn’t react because of my profile and I feared I might make the situation worse and cause problems.”

There’s not much left, but if you want to read the rest of the article click here.

America’s Future NOW May 18, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Politics.
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Let me begin by pleading for more participation and support on the blog; it’s summertime guys, c’mon!

I’ve registered for an annual conference called Take Back America, and I am inviting anyone who can make it to join. The details follow:

What: The website calls it the largest gathering of progressive activists and leaders from across the country. Many confirmed guests include Naomi Klein, Rep. Barbara Lee, Howard Dean. Invites include President Obama, Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, Al Gore, etc. Most of the invites wont show, but I’m very confident it will be a great conference.
When: June 1-3
Where: Omni Hotel, Washington D.C.
Cost: There is a student package for 95 $. Pretty pricey, I know, but I think its going to a good cause.

Here’s a video about the conference.

And the website is here, where you can register. See you there!