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Liza Weisberg: HBO Documentary Shows Ted Kennedy’s Controversial Career in Soft Focus

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

While hideous scandals and devastating tragedies have attended the Kennedy’s long and ongoing tenure in Washington, the nation’s respect and admiration for the family has likewise proven unshakable. Just as Americans have shown an abiding willingness to forgive the Kennedy brothers’ most shameful indiscretions, so too does Peter Kunhardt’s film, Teddy: In His Own Words, pardon their public misdeeds. A tender, nostalgic profile of the Camelot clan through the eyes of its youngest member, the documentary plays eerily like a premature eulogy.

With a thick head of hair and a thick Boston accent to match his eight older siblings, Edward Moore Kennedy grew up with an acute awareness of the lofty expectations that would accompany his adulthood. Early in his political career, he came to embody the family’s glamour, iconography and more importantly, commitment to public service.

For over four decades, he has been the most visible and influential leader among liberal democrats. In an electric, pulpit-banging speech at the DNC midterm convention in 1978, Senator Kennedy sounded a spirited call for health reform:

As long as I’m a vote and as long as I have a voice in the U.S. senate, it’s going to be for the democratic platform plan that provides decent quality health care north and south, east and west, for all Americans as a matter of right and not of privilege.

A stalwart crusader for civil rights, higher minimum wage, lower unemployment rates and health care reform, Ted Kennedy’s forty-six year service as nine-time Massachusetts Senator is faithfully chronicled with a privileged library of photographs and painstakingly edited video footage. Kunhardt’s HBO documentary, which premiers Monday, July 13 at 9:00PM, is a stirring visual and emotional experience.

To be sure, the film devotes more camera time to breezy, sun-soaked shots of Ted sailing on the cape than to probing the mysterious Chappaquiddick incident. It is a generous tribute. Just after Ted gave Caroline Kennedy away at her wedding, Jackie Kennedy wrote the following in a letter to her brother-in-law:

On you, the carefree youngest brother, fell a burden a hero would beg to be spared. Everyone is going to make it because you are always there with your love.

One of the most touching moments in the film comes when Senator Kennedy looks toward the camera, glassy-eyed, having just read the letter aloud. Choked-up, he says, “That’s about as nice as you can get.” The film too, in its gentle portrait of the controversial politician, is “about as nice as you can get.”

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Noches De Pasion: Conando Saves Damsel In "Tonight Show" Telenovela (VIDEO)

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

In a stunning display of bravery Conando O’Brien rescued a damsel in distress last night from an
evil man (we know he’s evil cause he’s wearing a black suit) who was trying to force her into marriage. The no-goodnik threatened to kill the young woman’s mother if she did not become his wife, but our hero rushed in to save the day!

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HuffPost Readers Share Their NYC Photos

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

We received even more wonderful pictures after last week’s NYC Slideshow. Check them out, and send your own photos to convernyc@huffingtonpost.com

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Reese Schonfeld: Who Delivers the News?

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

Last week, I wrote about the need for a new breed of MRAPs in Afghanistan. I picked the story up from the InsideDefense website. I failed to report that Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had pointed out that IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) posed “the biggest threat we have in Afghanistan right now…and from an equipment point of view the No. 1 priority is to get the MRAPs there as quickly as we can.”

The reporter, to my knowledge, who first broke the news was Tom Vanden Brook, of USA Today. We were a day later on The Huffington Post. Then, on July 6th, a half-dozen American troops were killed in Afghanistan by IED explosions. Those deaths underline the importance of Vanden Brook’s story, and the need to pay attention to the equipment with which American troops go into battle. So I expected that I would see more reporting on the issue this week. There wasn’t any.

Erica, my able and expert assistant, has just finished checking the websites of AP, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, the BBC, and MSNBC and has found no reference to reference to Adm. Mullen’s statement. Some of the news outlets had reported that on July 1st the DOD had awarded Oshkosh a contract to build a new generation of MRAPs, but none had pointed out the critical need for a new generation of troop carriers. And therein lies a major news story.

The news story should probably go back as the late nineties, when “the Pentagon was warned by its own experts” to “move beyond the Humvee.” The Army responded in 1999 and ordered a new vehicle, the M1117, from Cadillac Gage. The M1117s cost $700,000 each. Humvees cost only $140,000, and in 2002 the Army canceled the program. At that time, according to The New York Times, assistant Army secretary Claude M. Bolten, Jr. sent to Congress a memorandum stating that “‘The decision is based on budget priorities’…Existing vehicles, he added, can be used instead ‘without exposing our soldiers to an unacceptable amount of risk.’”

The next part of the story might use as its source a December 2008 AP story still available on The Huffington Post, which reports on an inquiry into the Marines failure to meet a February 2005 urgent request for 1,169 MRAPs. The Marine Brigadier General who requested the MRAPs said that “Marines could not continue to take ’serious and grave casualties’ caused by IEDs when a solution was commercially available…”

Nevertheless, although “The Marine Corps and other military branches were aware of the threat of mines and roadside bombs and the commercial availability of MRAPs” “the request was mishandled and eventually lost in bureaucracy.” The Inspector General reported, “nothing was done to acquire the vehicles.” MRAPs finally reached Iraq in 2007, after Robert Gates had been appointed Secretary of Defense.

Now begins part three of the story. The Inspector General’s report on the Marine Corps/DOD MRAP fiasco was released in December, 2008. At about the same time, the Pentagon sent out a RFP for a new generation of MRAPs specially designed to meet conditions in Afghanistan. (Perhaps this was not a coincidence.) Ten days ago, just as 4,000 newly arrived troops went into battle in the Helmand Province, Oshkosh was awarded the MRAP contract. Since then, at least six of those 4,000 have been killed by IEDs. Adm. Mullen says the new MRAPs will begin to be delivered in October of this year, but more men will die in the meantime.

I don’t think we can fault Mullen or Gates, I think the new DOD leaders are doing their best to protect our troops with better equipment. It’s not like the Rumsfeld years when an Assistant Secretary of Defense used cost/risk analysis as the measure for protecting soldiers’ lives. Nevertheless, men are going to die, killed by IEDs, while we wait for the new Oshkosh MRAPs.

It is comforting to know that this Pentagon is willing to pay $1,400,000 per MRAP in contrast to Rumsfeld’s Pentagon willingness to see men die to save money. Clearly, Gates and Mullen are better men than Rumsfeld. That, by the way, is a story.

Having written all this, I realize that I’ve written a story myself. The original purpose of this piece was to encourage major news organizations to pay attention to the war in Afghanistan. The AP, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, BBC, and MSNBC should be the ones working, investigating, following up, to make sure that Oshkosh produces on schedule, and our troops get what they need, MRAPs and everything else.

This is also to commend USA Today and Tom Vanden Brook for delivering the news first.

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Kamala Lopez: Stop Tearing the Heart Out of L.A.

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

I first met Rocio Martinez at a St. Patrick’s Day Party. She sat across from me, an attractive Latina woman with an underlying edge, and after staring past each other uncomfortably for a while we struck up a conversation. My first thought, when she told me that she was a Youth Relations Associate in the Crime Prevention Unit for the LA Unified School District was “kismet!” Here I was, developing a TV series about young Latinas in gangs and the expert had fallen right into my lap. Little did I realize how much more than that our chance meeting would become.

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Rocio is one of a fifteen-person team who responds, along with the LASPD (Los Angeles School Police Department), to the frequent phone calls that come into their office when there is violence, usually gang related, at a school in the LAUSD. She is the one who the kids will speak to, the one that can interpret their communications, someone to whom they are willing to explain their beef – not to the teachers, certainly not to the cops– just to her.

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And why’s that? What is it about Rocio that makes these kids on the edge of the abyss trust her? Well, for one thing, they know that Rosi, as they call her, can relate -she used to be one of them. A girl who grew up in the hood, Rocio has been intimately involved with gangs her whole life. “La Leona” (The Lioness), as she’s known because of her ferocity in protecting her three sons, raised her kids in South Central. Her husband was a member of the Westside Harpys and did time for robbery and gang related crime. Sadly, as is the case with many single moms in these neighborhoods, she couldn’t keep her boys from falling in with the gangs either. Her two eldest sons got involved with the Bloods, the Stone Piru crew, while her youngest son ended up as an “Ese,” a Latino warrior in the Crips Southsider gang – two notorious African American gangs that are mortal enemies with members in the same Latino family – now that’s stressful.

According to a recent front-page story in La Opinion (the leading southland Hispanic newspaper; May 21st 2009), the gang problem is reaching epidemic proportions. There are almost a million identified gang members in the United States, two hundred and thirty thousand of them operating in the state of California through more than six thousand nine hundred gangs. In some cities in California, up to eighty percent of the crime is gang related. Gang homicides are increasing at a terrifying pace in many cities like San Diego and Salinas, where there has been a 125% increase in killings since 2006.

Daniel McMullen, FBI agent in charge of gangs in L.A., explains that southern California is the epicenter of street gangs and in the city of LA there are nineteen gangs operating that have military training. Coming from South and Central America and Mexico, these militaristic gangs are run like an army, with similar hierarchies, and are blood curdlingly brutal. Some, in fact, were trained by us in the various wars we’ve had a hand in – El Salvador, Nicaragua… The amount of money at stake in controlling the U.S. drug trade is an overwhelmingly powerful lure for these young people who are generally poor, uneducated and whose good job prospects are slim to nil.

Females are the fastest growing new segment of the gang population, and many of them are underage (more than three of every ten new gang members are young women). The FBI reports that the women start out as girlfriends or wives of gang members but, as more of the males are arrested and jailed, the women have started to control the operations.

Gang recruiters are extremely active within the schools, both in public middle and high schools, as well as online. Connie Rice, Director of the Advancement Project, says there are some parts of the city so completely under gang control that she must receive clearance from gang generals before being able to enter their territory to offer aid. She is concerned that treating the gang problem simply as a matter of crime is not working. The problem, she says, is both social and cultural and we need to be looking at creating programs to help prevent kids from joining gangs in the first place.

Rocio Martinez became one of the fifteen youth counselors in the mediation group called “HEART” (Human Efforts Aimed at Relating Together) searching for a way to help her kids and others like them. The objective of the program, which is unique in the LAUSD, is to “encourage young people to assume responsibility and accountability for maintaining a safe school campus.” HEART is there to broker the peace between rival gangs and keep violence from escalating or exploding. If a HEART counselor can keep a kid from being sent to Juvenile Hall, they have done their job. Once a young person falls into the prison system, the deck is stacked against them; and by all accounts Juvenile Hall is worse than jail. Rocio explains that in adult prison the major gangs police themselves, adhering to the strict code of the North/South divisions; there is rarely inter-gang fighting. In Juvenile Hall, however, it’s a free for all, with every gang out for itself.

If a school decides that a kid is trouble or a known gangbanger or gang recruiter, they will be kicked out and passed off to another school until they end up at the end of the road (usually Santee High School in South Central). After that, their only choice is a “continuation school” like the one at Homeboy Industries (the largest gang prevention program in the country run by Father Greg Boyle). Rocio’s three boys ended up there and she credits Homeboy for helping save her kids lives. Homeboy, whose motto is “Nothing stops a bullet like a job” trains ex-gang members, many fresh out of jail, a skill like printing or baking and tries to find them a job in the larger community while also helping these “troubled” kids earn their GEDs. But jobs and funding are increasingly hard to come by and Homeboy is being hit hard by the economic crisis.

Rocio invited me to come speak to the all girl “at risk” groups that she had been assigned by HEART. For these young ladies (all between 11 and 14 years old) this program was their last shot at redeeming themselves before the LAUSD would have to wash their hands of them and deliver them to the authorities. As I walked onto the campuses at Northridge and Carver Middle Schools the first thing that struck me was how young these kids were; I mean, they were definitely children. Yet the signs on the chain link fences that said “NO GUNS ON CAMPUS” clearly indicated an underlying reality that could not be argued.

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These kids are living in a stone cold tough ass world. I looked out at the sea of mostly brown and completely beautiful faces staring back at me as I told them that they could be whoever and whatever they wanted, that they should work hard and pursue their dreams and they would find their way. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking “How can we, as a country say we care about our children when we give them less than nothing?” No art classes. No music. No field trips. No joy. No safety – six kids were shot leaving Carver Middle School and walking a few steps to the bus stop last year. Their teachers are being fired. The classes are being stuffed with more and more kids. They go to school all year, with no summer vacation, just on a rotating wheel of two months on, one month off…

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For many of the young women I spoke to, their families had been in gangs for generations and their neighborhoods were the only place they knew. I was shocked to find out how many of these kids had never been out of East L.A. or South Central – too dangerous, Rosi explained to me, they would have to cross through too many rival gang turfs to make it to the beach or to Griffith Park. One boy, she told me, arrived at school bloodied and bruised every single day – having had to take several buses through enemy territory to get there. But he continued to show up – that’s how much he wanted to be able to go to school.

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One girl told us how she had to get up at two in the morning to do her homework because it was the only time her house was quiet enough for her to concentrate with all the gangs, guns and partying her parents were doing. But she was in school and her homework was done. And I found a similar fire in the bellies of most of these young ladies – they wanted to learn, they wanted to try new things and aspired to greatness, they just had absolutely no tools, no maps and little guidance.

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Recently Rocio found out that the HEART program is being cut in half due to budget cuts. That means that for the entire LAUSD, almost four hundred public middle and high schools, there will be only eight counselors available to deal with the gangs and violence on campus. Now that the HEART program has been cut, who will be left for these young kids to talk to? Who will advocate for them? Give them advice? Who will offer even some modicum of protection?

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So what can we, should we, must we do? First of all, pressure pressure pressure DC to put their money where the rhetoric is – public schools are failing because we are deliberately ruining them with massive cuts of funding and resources, ridiculous constant testing that amounts to minimal actual knowledge, tying our teachers hands behind their backs, letting parents off the hook, and completely ignoring the needs of the kids themselves. Secondly, getting involved – as citizens, as humans, as people whom supposedly care about the future of our communities, our race, and our planet. Volunteer to do something with the kids, or organize an outing or take them on a tour of a small business, or buy the school some books. We need to create and support programs that show these young people there are other possible avenues, environments, and options. And we have to do it now.

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[All Photos by Benjamin Alfaro]

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Yoani Sanchez: State Security Blocks The Gate, I’m No Longer Allowed to Attend Concerts

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

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We were going to spend my husband Reinaldo’s birthday listening to the songs of Pedro Luis Ferrar at a concert titled “Velorio” at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Vedado. But it happened that the culture police didn’t let us enter, using their bodies like a barricade between the door and the seating area. They accused us of wanting to organize a supposed provocation there even though, for us, they and the official television cameras they’d called to film us provoked the major commotion. I believe these anxious boys of State Security are watching a lot of Saturday movies, since our plan was rather familiar–we even took our son–and consisted of listening to the songs of the well-known musician and then dropping in at a friend’s house.

At the Museum entry a real repudiation meeting* was waiting for us, all it lacked to be complete was the eggs and the blows. A man who didn’t identify himself–continuing the style of not showing one’s face–yelled at me that I wanted “to destroy Cuban culture” and that that space was “only for the people.” It seems that what happened at Tania Bruguera’s performance has rubbed the nerves raw among the bureaucrats who saw the spectacle. They fear we’ve returned to seize the microphones, as if it weren’t better to put a loudspeaker on every corner for everyone who wants to say something. I must point out that many of those who witnessed this abuse of institutional power avoided greeting us, in view of the huge operation surrounding the place. Nevertheless others, whose names I withhold to protect them, showed solidarity and weren’t afraid of being seen with us.

We stay outside the railings and in the patio a strange audience full of retirees and men with military haircuts seemed not to know the songs of Pedro Luis to be able to hum along. Some friends, among them Claudia, came to show solidarity with our forced “exile” and we stayed outside until the last chord was played. When all the musical instruments were in their cases and the troubadour came out he was surprised by what had happened and said he would speak to the vice-minister about it. We didn’t want to disabuse him of the idea, but I don’t think this high-ranking official could do anything to prevent the actions of a repressive body which is superior to him and of which he’s perhaps even a part.

Since I know they read my blog–all those who prevented me from going inside the railing seemed to know me–I want to tell them that they are not going to force me to withdraw into my house. I do not think I’ll stop going to concerts, clubs, cultural or humorous events. I’m a cultured person, even though they want to reserve such an appellation for a group of ideologically-screened chosen ones. They will have to stand guard in the doors of every theater, club and music room. I could show up at any of them. Who knows if I might climb to the dais and take the microphone?

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Yoani’s blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.

My husband, Reinaldo Escobar, has also written about these events and I am appending his blog post here.

Brute Force
By Reinaldo Escobar, from his blog, Desde Aqui

If you have already read Yoani’s post it is not necessary to repeat the details of what happened during Pedro Luis Ferrer’s last concert in the patio of the Museum of Decorative Arts. I am just writing these lines to warn those of you who aren’t aware of the intolerance gaining ground every day in the political life of my country.

With so many terrible things to make public, it doesn’t make much sense to use this space to “denounce” the minimal violation we were victims of when they wouldn’t let us enter. We know they want to isolate the Generation Y blogger, with so many Cubans identifying with and supporting her it feels like her radioactivity has reached very high levels. They can’t stand her, it worries them that a discordant voice can be heard and they are willing to use everything at their disposal to destroy her.

What is serious is not what they did but the audacity with which they acted, in the full light of day in front of witnesses. Yet they still don’t have the courage to identify themselves with their real names, even though the whole world knows which institution they answer to. At one point, when I looked into the eyes of the head of the operation, I knew that people like this are capable of anything. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I have the suspicion that these are men who one day could fire on their own people.


*Translator’s note:

Repudiation meetings. Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board describes these activities as follows: Acts of repudiation (actos de repudio) are another form of harassment that dissidents in Cuba may face. Amnesty International describes these as “meetings or demonstrations organized by government officials or mass organizations supporting the government at which the person or persons concerned are subjected to criticism and abuse, sometimes physical, because of their so-called `counter-revolutionary’ views or activities”. The civilian groups that carry out the acts of repudiation are commonly referred to as Rapid Response Brigades and are thought to be initiated by authorities.

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Rainn Wilson To Letterman: You Are My Biological Father (VIDEO)

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

Rainn Wilson was on the “Late Show” last night, talking about how Dave was his metaphorical father, putting him to bed five nights a week. That was sweet (if a little weird) but it got stranger when Wilson suggested that Letterman knocked up his mother at Ballstate University.

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Americans Swap Homes For Hotels As Recession Continues

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

Some Americans are swapping homes for motels as the ranks of the homeless swell during the recession, crowding out shelters and forcing cities and states across the country to find new types of housing.

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Palin Appears On Gun Rights Radio Talk Show, Talks With Ted Nugent

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Gun rights enthusiasts welcomed Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as she made an appearance Friday on a radio talk show, whose callers included rock n’ roller turned avid hunter Ted Nugent.

Palin spoke on the Michael Dukes’ “Firearms Friday” show on KFAR radio in Fairbanks. She was in Alaska’s second largest city to sign a gun rights bill and several resolutions.

Nugent, well-known for the 1970s hit “Cat Scratch Fever,” told Palin from his home in Michigan that he was firing up the grill to cook up some Alaskan black bear backstrap in her honor.

The governor told Nugent that she thought that was “awesome.”

Palin announced last Friday she is resigning, saying it was the best thing for the state and for her family. Her resignation takes effect July 26 when Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell takes over.

Nugent signed off by saying, “Sarah Palin, God bless you and your family.”

Since her announcement, Palin has mostly been traveling around Alaska and visiting towns and signing bills.

After talking with Nugent, Palin took some questions from listeners. Most of them said they supported her decision to resign but were disappointed.

“I chose not to play their game,” Palin explained.

She wanted instead to free herself of the constraints of the governor’s job so that she could again “get out there and fight,” she said.

As governor, she was forced to answer ethics complaints filed by anonymous people, Palin said.

“They do things like that,” Palin said. “I can handle it but not when it cost the state the time and money it has cost.”

The state said this week it has spent $1.9 million on the ethics complaints.

The bill she signed in Fairbanks aimed at helping people with permits to carry concealed weapons to remember to renew their permits. The permits used to have a renewal date based on the day the permit was issued. The law changes the renewal date to the permit holder’s birthday.

In Alaska, residents are allowed to carry weapons either openly or concealed without a permit. However, if they want to carry their guns in other states that have concealed carry laws they may need a permit recognized by that state.

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Summers On Recession: "I Don’t Think The Worst Is Over"

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

For this week’s installment of their “Lunch with the FT” feature the Financial Times sat down with Larry Summers, director of Obama’s National Economic Council, for a wide-ranging talk. When the conversation turned to the current recession in the U.S., Summers did not exude optimism:

Onward, then, to the toughest economic challenge Summers faces today: the recession. Here, Summers turns sombre: “I don’t think the worst is over … It’s very likely that more jobs will be lost. It would not be surprising if GDP has not yet reached its low. What does appear to be true is that the sense of panic in the markets and freefall in the economy has subsided and one does not have the sense of a situation as out of control as a few months ago.”

Read the rest of the interview.

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