Monday, April 27, 2009

College Republicans hold "Conservative Coming Out" day, compare their "discomfort" to the struggles of LGBTQIA community

Kos recently mocked the GOP for being dependent on unpopular dinosaurs for their party's leadership; people like Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove are still hitting the airwaves to get the Republican message out. But after seeing some of the cynical ideas put forward by conservatives and College Republicans at my university, I'm not so sure that this isn't the best strategy they've got.

I recently wrote about The Conservative Leadership Alliance's invitation of anti-Islam author Robert Spencer to Washington University. At that time, I was critical of Spencer because he claimed that one cannot practice Islam without posing a threat to equality and freedom. However, since then, I learned that he is even more abominable than I imagined. Spencer is so far off the deep end that fellow right-winger Larry Johnson recently criticized him for his affiliations with right-wing hate groups. The tipping-point for Johnson, it seems, is that Spencer joined a facebook group calling for the forced sterilization, expulsion, and euthanasia of the Muslim population of Turkey. Spencer apparently claimed that he accidently joined this group, but he has a lot of sketchy connections that call this claim into question. And this is who the CLA decided to invite to our university to woo new people to their cause. Brilliant.

The most recent stunning display of insensitivity was the College Republican's decision to hold a "Conservative Coming Out Day." The premise of this day, in their words, was the following: "While the intent of this day is not to mock the LGBTQIA movement, we are using similar language because we can empathize with people who may feel uncomfortable with being open about their sexual identity." They go on to suggest that the reason they can empathize is because, "the entire University operates under the assumption that every one of its members shares a liberal value system."

Despite the fact that the College Republicans are smart enough not to say anything that indicates that they are mocking the LGBTQIA community, the co-opting of the term "coming out" for the day is obnoxious for a number of reasons. First, as StudLife columnist Eve Samborn notes, the Republican Party has a history of homophobia that is at odds with the empathy that the Republicans profess. It would be one thing if in writing their column the College Republicans explicitly called for full equality for members of the LGBTQIA community, or condemned homophobic behavior. However, they instead wrote a carefully crafted letter that claimed they "empathized" without actually explicitly condemning homophobia. Of course, if they did explicitly criticize homophobia, they would likely alienate many members of the Republican Party. Nevertheless, this is the type of courage that one would expect from them if they truly "empathized." As Samborn writes:
At best, the chosen event name represents gross negligence. At worst, it misappropriates the term “coming out,” a long-standing rhetorical symbol of gay liberation, to serve a movement that oppresses and marginalizes the LGBTQIA community. This linguistic theft is both offensive and morally wrong.
Second, being "conservative," unlike, say, one's sexual orientation, is a choice. Being a Republican means that you have chosen to identify yourself with the party that gave us eight years of war, torture, and economic collapse. The fact that most college students disagree with Republican ideology does not mean that Republicans are oppressed in any way. It just means that other people have different opinions than they do. Maybe the College Republicans have good reasons for believing what they do, but there certainly are a lot of good reasons that can explain why the majority of the campus disagrees with them, and thinks that their worldview is mistaken.

Finally, and most importantly, is the fact that Republican "discomfort" does not begin to approach the kinds of discrimination that members of the LGBTQIA have had to endure. The claim that, "the entire University operates under the assumption that every one of its members shares a liberal value system" is flat-out wrong. The academic community is a community that values disagreement, and the expression of different opinions. It values it so much, in fact, that it allows clear racists like Robert Spencer to speak on campus, even though most of the campus would find him repulsive. Republican "discomfort" consists primarily in the fact that they don't win many arguments on campus.

Compare this to a group that has actually suffered real discrimination as a result of their sexual orientation. The Op-Ed from the Pride Alliance Executive Board sums it up perfectly:
Queer students at the University feel more than just “uncomfortable” about negotiating the daunting task of coming out to their friends, family, employers, coworkers and teachers. Many feel threatened on a daily basis, and some are altogether unable to live openly.

Last week, for example, an award ceremony was held in Holmes Lounge to honor 1990 alumnus James Holobaugh, an ROTC cadet whose University scholarship was revoked by the U.S. Army after he came out as gay. Holobaugh’s case, though nearly 20 years old, would be treated no differently today. Because of the U.S. military’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” excluding gays and lesbians from serving openly, LGBTQIA students at our University who have come out are currently banned from participating in its ROTC scholarship program. Queer University students who wish to enlist in our country’s armed forces are expressly prohibited from coming out.
Thus we have the modern conservative movement inviting racists to college campuses and shallowly stealing terms from human rights movements in an attempt to get other people to feel sorry for the fact that they hold worldviews at odds with the last eight years of hard data. If I were asked to book a conservative for Meet the Press, I think I might call up Newt Gingrich as well.

St.. Louis Activist Events for April 27 - May 3

This week's events:

Monday, April 27: Friar Louie Vitale will be presenting "A Nonviolent Response to Terrorism" from 7 PM to 9 PM at the Busch Student Center Ballroom 173 at SLU. The event will also feature responses from members of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and the Center for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma. Looks really fascinating. You can RSVP here.

Also Monday, Organizing For America, the permanent grassroots campaign that emerged from the Obama campaign, is having a meeting at the St. Louis Ethical Society as part of its "listening tour." The meeting will be at 7 PM at 9001 Clayton Road, and you can find out more here.

Also Monday, is the last Coop Cafe of the year at the WashU Coop, 6021 Pershing Ave. Tonight's Cafe features guests from Tom's Shoes, which donates shoes to children in developing countries every time someone buys their shoes. The event starts at 8:30: get the details here. Also, the people from Tom's Shoes are going to be in town for a few days, and are interested in meeting with other groups, so if you'd like to set something up contact Justin Cook at 310-721-9812 or .

Monday through Wednesday,
a play called "Seven Jewish Children" will be showing at Theatre 134 at the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court (formerly Crestwood Plaza Mall). The play covers the Holocaust and the situation in Gaza while characters, "debate how much children should know and not know." Get more details at this link.

Tuesday, April 28.
Wake up bright and early at 6 AM if you'd like to attend NARAL's Missouri Pro-Choice Lobby Day in Jefferson City. Buses will be traveling from the area; call 314-531-5010 or email if you'd like to get a ride over. You can find facebook pages for the event here and here.

Also Tuesday, unfortunately, housing discrimination is still a really big problem in St. Louis and around the country. Find out more about how community, activist, and neighborhood organizations are working to combat this problem at the 12th Annual Fair Housing/Fair Lending Conference. The event runs from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM at the St. Louis Association of Realtors at 12777 Olive. You can RSVP and find out more at the facebook page.

Also Tuesday,
Bar Italia is hosting a fundraiser that will help provide books for students at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. They're looking for donations of medical textbooks and money (checks preferred). The event goes from 6 to 10 PM and Bar Italia is located at the corner of Maryland and Euclid. The facebook page is here.

Wednesday, April 29,
is Civil Union Lobby Day in Illinois. You can grab a bus with the Sota Gay Straight alliance in Edwardsville at 6:30 AM: find out how here.

Also Wednesday,
Barack Obama is going to be near St. Louis for his 100th day in office. Obama will be holding a town hall meeting at the Fox Senior High School, 751 Jeffco Blvd in Arnold, MO scheduled to start at 10:30 AM (Doors Open at 8). You can request tickets here.

Also Wednesday
, the St. Charles Young Democrats are holding a Buffalo Wild Wings fundraiser at Buffalo Wild Wings , 179-C Mid Rivers Mall Drive from 6 to 8 PM.

Thursday April 30
, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at WashU will be hosting a workshop "Can men be feminists?" from 3:30 to 5 in Goldfarb 246. The event will be a combination of presentation and discussion: find out more at this link.

y is also the day of "Dining Out for Life" a massive fundraiser for the St. Louis Effort for AIDS. A huge number of restaurants donate part of their proceeds to this cause; check out the full list by clicking on participating restaurants at this link. There are also facebook pages for various groups here, here, here, here, and here.

Also Thursday is a special Dining Out for Life edition of Drinking Liberally at the Church Key, 4127 Manchester, from 6 to 11 pm.

is also the day for the St. Charles Community College Young Democrats Economic Forum, which features professors from the Political Science and Economics Depts. The event is from 6 to 8 PM at the SCCC Student Center, Rm 205.

Thursday through Sunday is Mustard Seed Theater's presentation of "The Good Times Are Killing Me", set during 1967 while the civil rights movement was rapidly accelerating. Thursday Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 PM at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre (6800 Wydown Blvd) and the Sunday performance is at 2 PM.

Friday, May 1
, an exciting and historic event is happening! The Show Me Marriage Equality Bus is taking off from St. Louis carrying several lesbian and gay couples to Iowa City to Get Married! They're looking for a crowd of people who can send off the bus at 6 AM and congratulate the newly married couples when they return at 11 PM. Get the full details for this historic event here.

Friday and Saturday, a conference on "American Exceptionalism and Human Rights" at Webster University.  Lots of great speakers, including Dennis Kucinich.  Full schedule and details here.

Friday evening and Saturday Evening
will feature a spring concert with CHARIS, the St. Louis Women's Chorus, from 7:30 PM to 10:00 PM at the Des Lee Auditorium of the Missouri History Museum (5700 Lindell).

Saturday, May 2,
10 AM, join AFSCME Council 31 and the Illinois Federation of Teachers at a regional forum to discuss fair solutions for a fair budget. All area legislators have been invited to the forum. The forum will take place at Gateway Center, One Gateway Drive, Collinsville IL.

Also Saturday, from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM will be "Run for Your Life," a costumed run that benefits the ALS Association of St. Louis. The event starts at Tower Grove Park and you can find out more here.

Also Saturday, at 7 PM will be a meeting of a new group called Metropolitan Area Transit Riders Alliance of ST Louis (M.A.T.R.A.) at Mokabe's on the corner of Arsenal and Grand. Several local elected officials will apparently be in attendance. Check it out here!

Sunday, May 3
, the organizers for World Nake Bike Ride are having a planning meeting at 5 PM at Velocity Cafe. For more information, check out or email

Have a fun and meaningful week,


Thursday, April 23, 2009

CWIP: Ameren Greenwashes Radioactive Waste

Get out your Geiger Counter. There's a lot radioactive waste being spread around. Aim the counter at your TV. The next time Ameren UE's TV ads about CWIP airs, the counter should light up like a carnival. In case you live in a cave, and people do, CWIP stands for Construction Works in Progress. WAY back in the 1970s, Missouri voters banned CWIP. You know those crazy yuppies, hippies, baby boomers, and vets. They didn't like the idea of subsidizing large corporations' risky investments with no promise of return. Thought their money was better spent on stuff like station wagons, leisure suits, and Love Boat cruises. What were they thinking??

Better yet, what is Ameren thinking now? Ameren UE wants us, their customer, to PAY the interest on the loans they get to build a new nuke plant. We pay the interest as long as they are building/the plant isn't online. There is no promise that it will ever go online or produce electricity. Or what the total bill would be. Or that there won't be cost overruns. Plus, we don't even NEED a new nuke plant in the first place.

In fact, the only really sure thing is that if we subsidize a nuke plant, we won't have any money left to invest in clean energy. However, that didn't stop Ameren from giving the Bill before the Missouri legislature a cool green name: "The Clean and Renewable Energy Act" to give legislators and rate payers the IMPRESSION the bill funds clean energy. And the swanky TV ads mention solar and wind energy, even though not only are wind and solar NOT included in this bill, we don't need CWIP to build wind or solar. The Clean and Renewable Energy Act is radioactive waste greenwashed.

CWIP is the equivalent of uranium lipstick and yellow cake Vaseline for Ameren customers.
Here's why: Imagine your kid gets a "student loan credit card" that only requires that the interest be paid monthly, not the principle. And then imagine that you since you are the parent, you get stuck having to make those interest payments (not the principle, just interest) on WHATEVER debt Junior manages to rack up. Now, you have NO control over the interest rate, which is based on Junior's credit rating, so you could get slammed for say 25, 30, even 35% - or MORE. You also have NO control over the credit limit, so Junior can charge up as much as s/he wants (further destroying his/her credit rating). You also have NO control over how long it takes Junior to graduate or even IF s/he graduates. But as long as s/he is a student (or just doesn't graduate, i.e. drops out), YOU are stuck with payments. Now imagine that Junior DOESN'T need the degree in the first place because s/he's already got one! PLUS, as long as you are saddled with Junior's bill, you have no money to invest in your own life -mini van, velour sweats, Love Boat cruise, anyone?

The nuclear industry would not exist without massive subsidies and the risks being underwritten by the federal government, i.e. US taxpayers. When the investment market and insurance companies will not support an industry, there is a reason. We need to listen to that warning. Call your representation and tell them that the boomers, yuppies, hippies and vets were right. A station wagon has more ROI.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Public Schools and Urban Renewal

I've been a resident of St. Louis for six years. For the past two years, I've lived on Lindell Boulevard, just across the street from SLU's law school, where I am a student. Before that, I was a student at WashU and lived mostly in campus housing. My senior year, I ventured out into the real world and got a place in Clayton about a block from campus. I always thought of myself as a relatively well-informed citizen- I read the student newspaper and the Post-Dispatch, occasionally caught the local evening news. But I realized how sheltered my experience had been when I read this New York Times article.

The article is about a student who attends Beaumont High School, part of- as the article put it- "a city school system in which poverty, politics and mismanagement so closely conspire against the likes of her that the state recently decided to take it over." I knew the public schools in the city had some problems, I even knew that they had lost their accreditation, but I didn't know that Beaumont High School is two miles from my apartment.

Two miles away, and I had never heard of it or the problems its students face. The audio slide show accompanying the article explains that Beaumont administration officials estimate that 1 in 10 students is homeless, 2 in 10 are precariously housed, and 3 in 10 will be homeless at some point in the school year. Eighty percent of the school's students qualify for free or discounted school lunches.

Those statistics make the poverty component pretty clear, but what other problems do the schools face? A 2007 report from the Missouri State Teachers Association explains that there are 14 performance standards that contribute to accreditation. A school must meet nine standards for full accreditation and six for provisional accreditation. St. Louis Public Schools met four, and its accreditation was rescinded.

After losing accreditation, state law dictated that a three-member Special Administrative Board be appointed. The elected members of the former school board brought suit against the state, arguing against the appointed board, but the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the state takeover.

The current 2008-2009 school year has proved a testing ground for the members of the Special Administrative Board, who had to deal with, among other things, a $30 million budget deficit. This Post-Dispatch editorial explains that the Board's first priority is "restoring order, stability, and a business-like approach to the district." The editorial is a little unclear about actual steps being taken at the moment, but does make a vague reference to "long-term structural and governance changes to the system." For now, it seems like the Special Administrative Board is doing its best to keep the district minimally functional.

The problems facing the St. Louis Public Schools are extremely difficult, and there are a lot of opinions with regard to the best way to fix it. One solution that's been in the news lately: charter schools.

Late last month, the Post-Dispatch's education blog reported that the state school board issued approval for two new charter schools to open in the 2009-2010 school year, Grand Community School and KIPP St. Louis. Grand Community will be sponsored by the University of Missouri-St. Louis and KIPP will be sponsored by Washington University. KIPP is part of a national program of charter schools and plans to eventually open five schools in St. Louis.

One major obstacle standing in the way of charter schools, deed restrictions on former public school buildings, was removed just last week. District-wide sale terms were set in 2007, prohibiting the sale of shuttered school buildings to charter schools for 100 years. The Riverfront Times reported on the struggles of one would-be administrator of a proposed charter school, St. Louis Language Immersion Schools. Rhonda Broussard had found an abandoned building perfect for her school, but it was subject to the 100-year deed restriction and thus unavailable for her purposes. On April 17th, the St. Louis Public School Board voted to lift the restrictions.

Charter schools are not a magical fix. This Slate article focuses specifically on KIPP schools, but a lot of its analysis can be applied to charter schools generally: many charter schools succeed by requiring more from their students. A lot more. Long hours, a high degree of parental involvement, rigorous coursework. That makes sense, since a lot of these students begin with significant educational deficits and it takes a lot of hard work to essentially "catch them up." So even with a lottery system in place, this tends to be a self-selecting group. Families unwilling or unable to put in the time and effort will choose not to utilize a charter school.

Personally, I don't think this is an argument against charter schools. I think it's important to recognize that they are not a system-wide solution, but I also think it's important to acknowledge that they can be a solution for some students and their families. At this point, we need all the solutions we can get.

What will solve the over-arching problem? Well, I think the first step is to not be like me- blissfully unaware of the problems facing the community in which you live. A 2006 school board election drew only 12% of eligible voters. Mayor Francis Slay concluded that "there's no constituency for urban public schools." That's shameful, it really is. As residents of St. Louis, we all need to be more invested in our community and aware of its challenges. Not just because it's the right thing to do (although it is...), but because the public schools in St. Louis don't exist in a vacuum. They don't only affect the families whose children attend. There will never be any meaningful "revitalization" of the city if the schools do not improve.

Steve Patterson, who writes the excellent Urban Review STL, wrote in 2006 that the problems that plague St. Louis schools are the problems that plague St. Louis City- "concentrated poverty, lack of nearby jobs and poor housing." I realize that the City is diverse, and this is a gross overgeneralization, but the current population doesn't really provide a sustainable model. It's largely downtown businesses, young (largely single, largely childless) people in rehabs and lofts, and the very poor. That isn't a viable community; the city needs mixed-income neighborhoods with all kinds of families. Those kinds of neighborhoods attract business and investment and jobs, which in turn attract more families. But that will never happen if the schools don't improve. People who have the resources to live elsewhere will not move to the city and send their children to the city schools if they continue to under-perform.

Educational reform is a complicated topic, and there are a lot of people better-qualified to propose solutions. I'm not an educator, I have no experience in school administration. But I do think it's important for people who care about St. Louis to recognize the integral role that schools play in the life of a community. Whenever the topic of urban renewal comes up, there are a lot of ideas tossed around-improved mass transit, historic tax credits, mixed-income housing, etc. Schools need to be a part of the discussion as well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Will Missouri Energy Users Bail Out the French Nuclear Experiment?

AmerenUE is the owner of Callaway 1, a corporation bound by the dictates of the Missouri Public Service Commission. They have partnered with Unistar to build a new plant, Callaway 2. Unistar is a joint venture between Constellation Energy and Electricite de France. Electricite de France (EDF) is 85% owned by the French government. EDF is in charge of energy production for France. France is one of the only countries in the world that gets most of it's electricity from nuclear energy. The nuclear division of Constellation Energy itself used to be mostly owned by Warren Buffett, but EDF bought up 49.9% of its shares in December of 2008. So Unistar (as a partnership of Constellation Energy and EDF) is roughly 70% owned by the French government.

In 1976 Kay Drey and other concerned Missourians led a fight to stop Cost of Work in Progress (CWIP) through a ballot initiative. CWIP allows utilities to raise utility rates in order to help fund the production of large power plants. It actually doesn't completely fund the plant, but it funds it enough so that lenders may be interested in giving credit to the utility, knowing that the ratepayers are obliged to pay back these loans. It takes the substantial risk of the project off the backs of the utility company and the lender, and onto the backs of the ratepayer, which is pretty much all people in the area. If there are cost overruns, the ratepayer pays for it. (The average plant build in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s had cost overruns of three times the original estimate). If the constuction of the nuclear plant is begun but never completed, the ratepayer neither gets a new source of energy nor his or her money back. (Half of the plants approved for construction in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were never built, with $15 billion in lost investment). In other words: the risks are socialized while the profit remains private.

Remember, no nuclear plant has been approved for construction since the 1970s, due to both danger and cost issues.

The 1976 anti-CWIP ballot initiative passed with the support of over 60% of Missouri voters, and that's why only one reactor was built at Callaway, instead of two. Now there is legislation pending in the Missouri Senate and House with the Orwellian name of the "Clean and Renewable Energy Construction Act." This would overturn the 33 year law passed in 1976, as long as the energy produced was "clean". The definition of "clean" in the bill not only includes all nuclear power plants, it also includes coal fire plants, as long as they use "the latest available technology" to reduce pollution.

It is possible that in the contract, AmerenUE has promised to pay Unistar not in cash but in energy. This would give Unistar (otherwise known as the government of France) the excess energy which it would then sell to other states for what Unistar hopes to be a hefty profit. By looking at public information, it seems as if right now AmerenUE is exaggerating future enery use in their service area in order to gain approval for the project by the Missouri Public Service Commission. The PSC is supposed to approve the production of energy to meet, not exceed, the needs of the people of Missouri.

The French nuclear industry is in trouble. The main French nuclear plant construction firm, Areva, is engaged in a nightmarish project in Finland that is years behind schedule and costing several times original estimates. That's why the Areva, the French nuclear firm with close ties to EDF and the French government, is looking to cut its losses by building more plants in America. Meanwhile, opposition to nuclear power is growing in Europe and in France itself. Normandy is becoming increasing irradiated, and the countries that border the North Sea are getting angrier at the French practice of dumping all but the hottest nuclear waste into the English Channel. The French decision to go nuclear never made financial sense, but was done with national security in mind. The French nuclear industry is heavily tied in with the French nuclear weapons program. Also, France wanted to be less dependent on foreign petroleum, and more importantly, less dependent on foreign natural gas. (Putin has much of Europe by the balls because of they need Russian natural gas for their energy needs). France has almost no domestic supplies of uranium, but that's of little concern. France never granted real independence to it's African colonies. Its uranium comes from Chad and Niger. Safety precautions in Niger for miners are nowhere near western standard, and the French government is not particularly concerned about the effect uranium mining has on the Tuareg people who are both miners and live near the mines.

This is a lot of writing but the summary is this: It seems possible that the government of France, in collusion with AmerenUE is attempting to bail out their own nuclear energy industry by extracting wealth from the Missouri ratepayer to built a costly and dangerous new nuclear power plant at Callaway, much of whose energy they know will not be used by Missourians.

Monday, April 20, 2009

St.. Louis Activist Events for April 20 - 26

Someone from Jobs with Justice just let me know of an opportunity that might be of interest to some of you (especially college students).  Marlan Maralit from AFSCME is going to be in St. Louis soon to discuss available opportunities for students who are interested in pursuing organizing careers in social and economic justice.  They are especially looking for sophomores, juniors and seniors in college; please send me a message if you would be interested in participating.

This week's events:

Monday through Friday is Earth Week everywhere, but especially at Lafeyette Senior High School, which seems to be doing a lot of great political organizing lately.  Monday is "Recycle Day."  Check out the themes for the other days and show your support by going to this link.

Monday, April 20. Greater St. Louis NORML is holding a variety show to raise awareness about current prohibition laws.  The show starts, unsurprisingly, at 4:20 and goes until 9 PM, at Fubar (3108 Locust).  Check out the lineup and details here.

Also Monday, CARES Outreach is hosting a fundraiser to help break the cycle of homelessness in the city of St. Louis.  The event will be at the Triumph Grill and Moto Museum at the corner of Olive and Lindell, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM.

Also Monday, the George Warren Brown School of Social work and SAGE Metro St. Louis are hosting a reception honoring Dr. Laurie Young for her work and dedication to LGBT Older adults.  The event will be from 6 to 8 in Brown Hall at the WashU campus, room 132.  RSVP here.

Also Monday, the Peace Economy Project is having a fundraiser at The Wine Press (4436 Olive) called "Wine, Not War."   The event is from 6 to 9 PM and you can find out more at the IOW calendar.

Tuesday, April 21, at 8:30 AM.  Last summer, Sgt. Matthis Chiroux refused activation orders for Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq in protest of what he described as "an illegal and immoral operation."  At 9 AM, there will be a hearing for Matthis at 1 Reserve Way in Overland, MO.  Veterans for Peace will be there starting at 8:30 AM rallying in support of Matthis's conscientious objection.  To find out more about Matthis and details of the event, follow the links at the IOW homepage. 

Also Tuesday, Earth Week at WashU kicks off with a lecture on "Social Movements and the Environment" by Dr. Bret Gustafson in Goldfarb 135 at 12:15 PM.  RSVP here .

Also Tuesday, Veterans for Peace, the Instead of War Coalition, and Iraq Veterans Against the War are joining forces to present video footage of the recent "Winter Soldier" hearings, where soldiers detailed the horrors of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The screening starts at 5:30 at the Friends Meeting House (1001 Park Avenue), and you can find out more at this link.

Also Tuesday, Civitas Associates is hosting an evening with three international journalists called, "Women & Children in Crisis."  The event focuses on abuses seen in Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Iraq.  The event is from 7 to 9 PM at Nerinx Hall High School, and more info is here .


Wednesday, April 22 is the date of the big Earth Day celebration at SLCC's Meramec campus, put on by MOPIRG!  The day has whole host of great events, which you can check out at the facebook page.  It runs from 10 AM to 3 PM, so check it out if you have a chance!

Also Wednesday, the Brown School of Social Work is hosting a discussion of organic vs. non-organic in the Goldfarb Commons. 

Also Wednesday is the monthly meeting for Smoke-Free St. Louis City at the Buder Library, 4401 Hampton Avenue (in the baement meeting room).  The meeting starts at 5:30 PM.

Also Wednesday, Jamil Dakwar, the National ACLU Human Rights Director, is going to be in St. Louis speaking about "Human Rights in the Age of Obama."  The event is from 6:30 to 8 PM at 454 Whittier St. and is free and open to the public.  Check it out by clicking here .

Also Wednesday, NARAL is hosting "How Much Time Should She Do?", a presentation by Kellie Conlin, the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health and former president of NOW-NYC.  The event is from 7 to 8 PM at the First Unitarian Church at 5007 Waterman.  Get more details at this link.

Also Wednesday, Cafe Ventana (3919 West Pine Blvd) is showing a screening of Invisible Children from 8 PM to 9 PM.  More info here.

Thursday, April 23, the Environmental Social Work Initiative at WashU is hosting a panel discussion on "Career Opportunities in Environmental Social Work" in Brown 209.  More info here.

Also Thursday, the Advisory Committee on Sexual Violence Prevention at WashU is holding a "Discussion with the Harvard Women's Center Director" from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at Ursa's Fireside on the South 40.  Find out more here.

Also Thursday, the Diversity Awareness Partnership will be leading a "Forum on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" at the Wachovia Securities Training Center at One Jefferson BLVD.  Light refreshments will be served starting at 5:30 and the forum goes from 6 to 8 PM.  Find out more about the great panel and RSVP on the facebook page.

Also Thursday, the Community Arts and Media Project is screening the Tod Dolondz comedy Fear, Anxiety, and Depression as part of their film series, "Krakpotkin's Kamera."  The movie starts at 7PM and CAMP is locaated at 3022A Cherokee.

Also Thursday, author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen will be speaking at Webster Univerisity from 7:30 to 9:30 PM at the WU Community Music Building on "Civilization and Resistance."  RSVP and get parking directions here.

Also Thursday, the Spectrum Alliance at McKendree University is co-hosting "The Final Drag Show," from 9:30 to 11:30 pm at "The Hett" on the McKendree Campus.  Find out more at the facebook page.

Friday, April 24, WashU's Environmental Social Work Initiative is holding, "Film and Advocacy: International Environmental Health Campaign: Poison Fire Partner: Social Workers Without Borders."  Details are scarce, but the event will be at 6 PM in the Brown Lounge. See this link for more info.

Saturday, April 25, is the 17th Annual Hershel Walker Peace and Justice Awards Breakfast at the Postal Worker's Union Hall at 1717 S. Broadway.  The arse-kicking and name-taking Field Director of Health Care for America Now! (and former arse-kicking and name-taking St. Louis organizer) Margarida Jorge will keynote the event, which goes from 9:30 to 11:30 am.  RSVP here.  

Also Saturday, Missouri Women in Trades (MOWIT) will be selling new, used, and consigned tools to benefit the organization.  The Tool Turnaround will be held at the MOWIT office at 8300 Manchester Rd. in Brentwood from 7 AM to 5 PM.

Also Saturday, Heath Care for America Now will be hosting a town hall discussion with the theme, "Health Care Can't Wait!" starting at 11 AM in the Forest Park Community College Theater.  For more info, contact Jennifer Judd at 248-565-6064 or .

Also Saturday, the Community Arts and Media Project is holding "Community Rehersals" for the Cherokee Street FOOTBEAT, a "joyful noise brigade bringing harmony to life"  from 4 to 6 PM at CAMP (3022A Cherokee).  For more info, contact Lindsey Scott at 217-898-3777.  

Sunday, April 26 is the big, huge, gigantic (hopefully) Earth Day celebration in Forest Park from 11 AM to 6 PM!  Lots of awesome groups are going to be there, so make sure to stop by and check out all the tables. Get the official details here .

Also Sunday is the Faith Aloud Awards at the Orlando Gardens at 8352 Watson Road from 6 to 9 PM.  Get the full details and RSVP here .

Also Sunday, St. Louis University's Black Student Alliance are holding a charity fashion show, with proceeds benefiting St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.  The event is from 7 to 10 PM in the St. Louis Room of the Busch Student Center, and you can RSVP at this link.

Have a fun and meaningful week,


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Blogging from the Obama 100 Day Progress Report

Hi, this is a live blog from the Obama 100 Days Progress Report.  I'll try to update it with the information that comes out of various sessions.

Sylvester Brown speaking: thanks to everyone for their show of support earlier in the week. 'I never expected to have African American President.  Never expected to have such an engaging human being who spoke to millions across the world."

Goals of the event:

  • To hold the Obama administration accountable on critical issues/ campaign promises
  • To engage local groups in advancing their work on the selected issues
  • To actively engage citizens in issues that effect their families and/or their community
  • To aid in the strengthening of a progressive agenda and the overall movement

Education Committee:

Appointed Leaders:
Arne Duncan: Secretary of Education
John Easton, Institute of Education

  • Education Initiative of Obama's admin:
  • Increase spending on charter schools
  • Mayoral control of schools
  • Merit Pay/TAP
  • Alternative certifications, Teach For America
  • "Race to the Top" initiitives
  • Testing and Standardization
  • Anti-vouchers
  • Accountability systems (data tracking)
  • Transition GED students to community colleges and provide specific job training.

Stimulus Monies are being used to implement reforms "backdoor reauthorization of NCLB"
In order for states to get money, they need to buy into accountability structure, which is a framework for merit pay.
Schools can be closed and then reopened as charter schools (without a discussion of what kind of money public schools would need to improve).

Session will focus on frames and themes and analyze them in light of our own experiences.  Create new frames.  Come up with action plan.

Peace Committee:

Michael McPhearson, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace
Andy Heaslet, Peace Economy Project
Lori Reed, American Friends Service Committee

Talking about how militarism drives economic decisions.

Good grades: closing Guantanamo, but concern that Bagram will become a new Guantanamo.
Specific committment on Iraq.  Building infrastructure to address poverty in Afganistan.

Bad Grades: arms trade.  The U.S. is a major exporter of arms.  The position that arms trade stabilizes regions is dead wrong.  19 of recent major conflicts armed through U.S. weapons.  Nearly 700 billion dollars going to the pentagon.  Claim that war spending is good for the economy is mythology.  For every $20 spend on military dollars in Afganistan, only $1 spend on non-military.

Also will discuss new policies on Iraq and Afganistan.

Health Care Committee

10 people will be dead today because they don't have health insurance in Missouri.  Lots of opportunities to get involved in health care reform locally.  Opposition is well-funded, tight, strong, and "on message."  Throw five randomly in a room and they'll all say the same thing.  The Left is not on the same page.

Earlier had a Heath-Care Roundtable at SLU
Huge cuts in Missouri.  At local level in St. Louis, Terry Kennedy presented a report where, in North St. Louis, if you ask people where they get mental health care help, the #1 answer is jail.

Amy Smoucha from jwj and Julie Terbrock from Pro-Vote, Jerry Tucker from local labor groups.

I'm going to the Peace Breakout Session.

Andy, Peace Economy Project

Overall worst sign:

Defense spending still increasing by 21 billion under Obama, but could have been over $50 (Obama said no to many requests).

Obama's new plan alleviates need for Stop Loss, but not perfectly (since we're still committed abroad).

Accelerating orders of F35...buying something before we know how its going to work.  But this gave him an excuse to cancel F22, one of the most wasteful projects ever (built to fight a non-existant enemy).  

Reduction of contractors, cutting to 26% from 35%

Wrapping up production of C17

One of the most positive: radical changes to weapons procurement projects.  70% of such projects are currently over budget.

Mixed bag in general.  Military spending can be streamline (hawks and peaceniks can agree on this).  

400 bases abroad (more than one per country.

Bill Ramsey asks if Gates' cuts are even possible.  If Congress provides the money then Gates might not have any control.  Also, we should look at the role of contractors rather than just raw percentage: food service and custodial can be given to local contractors, but security jobs should not be handled by contractors (like Blackwater).

Michael McPhearson, Veterans for Peace

Both Iraq and Afganistan border Iran

Obama states that the mission has fundamentally changed starting in August 31, 2010.   But there will be combat troops in Iraq to train and to provide security.

Says their goals are to (1) get rid of al Qeada, (2) prevent Iran from acquiring nukes, (3) create long-lasting peace between Israel and Arab nations

Grades: C   Do believe he intends to leave Iraq, but timetable is way too long (and if certain things happen we won't leave).

Goals are much more attainable than Bush's, but not necessarily attainable.  Focus on al Qaeda with blinders could be a problem, lead to destabilization of Pakistan.

Bush didn't rely at all on non-military power; Obama does.

Continues to rely on drones.  Drones kill a lot of civilians.  Afghanistan asked them to stop.

Check out for more information.

Give People something to do.

Lori Reed, American Friends Service Committee

$171,700,000,000 is the current cost of war in Afganistan.

Could put 388,240 MO kids in Head Start

or provide 47,279 with health care coverage

People are not stupid. They know reasons why U.S. is in Afganistan.

Rand Corporation estimates liklihood of U.S. victory at 7 % .

Life expectancy there is 44 years.

Biggest recipients of U.S Weapons.

  • Pakistan
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Afghanistan 
  • Columbia

Not exactly models of stability.

G20 gives 1 trillion to International Monetary Fund.  Need to get rid of forced privatization, limiting government spending on infrastructure, reducing government work force.

Developing nations must be allowed to use fiscal stimulus, just like rich nations

Assistance to low-income nations should be provided in the form of grants rather than loans.  

"Anti-poor" conditions must be dropped.

What you can do:

  • Join something
  • Write a letter to the editor
  • Sign the countdown petition
  • Lobby

Hedy Epstein says, "those don't work.  Only thing that will work is getting millions of people in the street."

Mike Berger: given that our worst nightmare is al Qeada taking over Pakistan with their nuclear weapons, how can any rational military planner continue to use drone attacks (which are angering the Pakistani population)? 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Going Post Post-Dispatch: The media vacuum in St. Louis

Since news broke of the firing of popular and outspoken columnist Sylvester Brown by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over extremely dubious "ethical charges", I've seen a great many people online write comments along the lines of "this is the final nail in the coffin of a once-great publication." While I can't claim to have any knowledge about Post-Dispatch's prospects for remaining economically viable, I do think this is the symbolic death of the paper in another way: there can no longer be any doubt that the Post-Dispatch under Lee Enterprises is failing to provide the information progressive people need to make informed decisions about the city.

Since the rise of blogosphere, there has been quite a bit of discussion about the vital role the press plays in a well-functioning democracy. It is pretty widely agreed, at least on the left, that the mainstream media massively failed to ask tough questions and to inform Americans as the Bush administration was pushing for immediate war with Iraq. This vacuum, in my opinion, gave rise to a powerful netroots movement full of citizen journalists and citizen commentators that dramatically shifted the political landscape of the country. Not only are there Democrats in power now, but the Democrats in power today are more progressive (if only slightly so) than those of the Clinton era.

I believe the St. Louis media is largely in the same state that the national media was in pre-Iraq. As progressive participants in the democratic process, we have certain values that we want to see realized or at least protected by our local decision-makers. One of those values is the idea that every person be given a roughly equal opportunity to succeed in society and to at least have a shot at realizing her dreams. I believe, and argue below, that the local media fails at providing us with the information needed to make informed decisions based on this value. In particular, I think the Post-Dispatch has failed by for-all-practical-purposes ignoring the lives of a huge percentage of St. Louis residents. The most obvious example of this is the paper's ignoring of people struggling to make ends meet in North St. Louis.

A Little Background

The Post-Dispatch was bought by Lee Enterprises in 2005. The St. Louis Journalism Review wrote a great article in '07 that detailed how Lee brought a small-town approach to a big city newspaper. In particular, Lee brought the idea of a "community advisory board" that would guide the editorial and reporting processes. Says journalism professor Don Corrigan in the article,"It might make sense to have an advisory board at a little paper where the editorial writer is unsure of himself, or knows very little about national issues...But it makes no sense at a metropolitan newspaper like the Post-Dispatch where the editorial writers are presumably literate, well-informed and perceptive journalists." Furthermore, a quick glance at the members of the Review Board chosen for St. Louis show that it is made up in large part of people (like Mayor Slay, his chief of staff Jeff Rainford, former police chief Joseph Mokwa, and millionaire investor Paul McKee) who already call many of the political shots in the city, and already would have no trouble getting the attention of political reporters. Thus, a small town media company from Iowa bought the Post-Dispatch and immediately decided that it needed to do a better job of framing its content around the opinions of the people in power. And all of this took place after the Post was already famous (or infamous) for passing on gossip tidbits from Mayor Slay's public relations guru Richard Callow that pretty clearly served a narrow range of people's political interests.

But is there any evidence that this shift resulted in a lack of information? I can say that as an activist and someone whose participated in events around the city, there has been a huge amount of anger in the black and activist communities about certain city decisions that was pretty much completely ignored by the Post-Dispatch, despite the fact that they were regularly sent press releases. Other than a few brief mentions, the Post-Dispatch largely ignored the complaints of the black community until the dramatic booing at the MLK anniversary event last year, where the discontent was so obvious that they had to cover it to retain any credibility whatsoever.

Thus, I would say that the Post-Dispatch has largely ignored the plight of large parts of the population. Perhaps this is intentional. After all, maybe they identified a target audience and choose to ignore stories that they think are relevant only for people outside that target. It would not surprise me if this made sense as a business model. However, if this is the model, then it is a model that fails to satisfy the needs of progressive people, who as I said above value the idea of giving everyone a fair shake, and thus should care about communities that are struggling to make ends meet. In other words, regardless of whether they have identified a successful business model, the Post-Dispatch (and other media outlets) have created a media vacuum in the St. Louis region.

The problem has been getting worse in recent months, culminating in Sylvester Brown's firing yesterday and the subsequent press conference. Brown said during the press conference: "I’m here to tell you that these charges are a gross distortion of the facts, which in my view, have been purposely manipulated to provide cover for far more desperate and nefarious acts within this once proud and honorable institution." I'm not going to go over all the details here, but basically the Post-Dispatch's claims against Brown appear to be extremely flimsy and thoroughly rebutted here and here. And the really disturbing part of the story is the following:

Since I’m convinced such ridiculous logic has little to do with my termination, I’m forced to believe upper management acted on other, far more suspect motivations.

Perhaps it has something to do with the hasty meeting called after certain folks aligned with Mayor Francis Slay, a member of your community advisory board, issued threats to the newspaper after I wrote about his campaign and administration’s thug-like behavior.

Perhaps the real reason you’ve locked me out of the building is to confiscate the e-mails and letters I sent to the executive and managing editor, begging for intervention into what I described as discriminatory, inconsistent and unnecessarily punitive actions based on one editor’s personal, not professional, perceptions.

Maybe this action is a result of the Oct. 2008 letter I sent to management warning that a newsroom, already seriously lacking in diversity at the bottom and top, could ill afford to continuously mute the most visible and consistent black voice in its employ in response to his questioning of rules and policies drafted or enforced specifically for him.

In addition to Brown, other progressive columnists at the Post-Dispatch have recently been let go. Phillip Dine, the Post-Dispatch's much-respected labor reporter and author of the recent book State of the Unions, was laid off earlier in the year. And Eric Mink, a fantastic columnist and overseer of the editorial pages, was terminated on January 9. Interestingly, two months before being fired, Mink wrote a column titled, "St. Louis is not Conservative," where he ironically (for present purposes) wrote,

Here in the editorial/commentary/letters area of the newspaper, our principal mission is to analyze issues and advocate positions that are consistent with the values and principles of the platform articulated by Joseph Pulitzer in 1907. That's a wordy way of saying that the institution of the Post-Dispatch Editorial Board has a long history and unapologetic tradition of actually believing in something.

Am I noticing a pattern here?

Finally, I should mention that blame for this new lack of progressive media is not to be laid only at the feet of Lee Enterprises, though their stinky feet are clearly involved. The Riverfront Times got rid of an editor who was overly critical of the Iraq War and the paper has not been as confrontational since; Lizz Brown, a firebrand WGNU radio host was canned despite being extremely popular; great blogs like PubDef and the Arch City Chronicle have dramatically decreased their content due to occupation with other matters. In other words, a host of companies and events have contributed to the demise of news and opinions that were once crucial for informing progressive people in the St. Louis region.

Can the Post recover? Are there other contenders?

While it is not impossible for the Post-Dispatch to reverse its mistaken ways, the apparent managerial philosophies of Lee Enterprises suggests that this would be a long shot. Most likely, they will try to squeeze any last profit they can find out of the paper, and will not be worried about providing content that fills the crucial role of informing voters (especially "progressive" voters). But are there other options that currently exist that might replace the Post-Dispatch?

The Beacon is a new enterprise that basically functions as a paperless newspaper. They provide solid news and opinion columns. However, I do not detect anything fundamentally different in their reporting philosophy than that of the Post-Dispatch. In fact, the Beacon hired veteran reporter Jo Mannies from the Post-Dispatch, which suggests that they will largely be following the same model of reporting: roughly, passing on press releases and "insider information" from powerful people. In general, these powerful people are the mayor's office when it comes to local politics, and prominent politicians from the Democratic and Republican parties when it comes to state or national politics. In other words, it is merely passing down the messages that powerful people want us to hear. (I should note here that Tony Messenger of the Post-Dispatch does a great job of reporting, especially via Twitter, what goes on in Jefferson City).

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the St. Louis Indy Media Center. This has been trying to recover for a while, but I have seen no real signs of consistent writing coming out on the site nor, perhaps, content that would always be appealing to a broad audience. But still, the IMC has potential and should not be discounted.

However, it's worth pointing out that we now have an amazing group of local progressive journalists who have been laid off in the recent past. I think the best possible model for creating a St. Louis-based progressive media outlet would be the formation of an organization with respected journalists such as Sylvester Brown, Eric Mink, and Lizz Brown providing the central content supported by grassroots citizen journalism and systematic promotion from large-scale progressive organization(s).

Having great journalists like Brown, Mink, & Brown would ensure the top-quality content that people demand. Having citizen journalists and a model where good stories can filter up (similar to blogs) would ensure that stories that matter to people would not be ignored. And the promotion from progressive groups would ensure that this content would be found by the people who desperately need it. I believe this vacuum has created an opportunity, and I hope someone steps up to fill it.

Update: I recieved a note from an RFT employee, who thinks I was too dismissive about their reporting. I'm posting part of the note here since I think it's a fair point:

how about a recent cover story on the founder of La Clinica, and the follow-up blogposts about its closure? (, fyi). how about all of the stories about development on the north side? a story about the catholics doing good works on the north side? sociological/economic analysis on the whys and hows of chop suey in st. louis? our recent two-part cover story on christian ferguson? the stories about the struggles charter schools are having to find buildings in town? the stories about Cherokee Street and its residents? those are just the ones i think of off-hand, but the list goes on. we've done quite a few stories advocating for the communities neglected by the media you mention.
I think I was looking at this from the lens of seeing more aggressive political reporting from the RFT several years ago, but I agree that the above are all important stories. I do applaud the RFT for the work that it does as a weekly (and also note that the St. Louis American does some good reporting, BTW), but I think we as a community still need more.