Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

jueves, agosto 27, 2009

Felicidades, El Rey de la Radio!!!

Fifty years of radio in New York. A remarkable milestone. It's fitting that it should be in the New York Times and The Dream Antilles. Congratulations!

It's remarkable that the music El Rey has been spinning is the soundtrack of Gotham. And it's been that way for five decades. The man has incredible taste and he's built the sound of the City, an incredible achievement. Andando, andando, andando!

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miércoles, agosto 19, 2009

Anniversary of Katrina

State Killing: Scalia Doesn't Care Whether You're Innocent, You Get Executed Anyway

In the middle of Justice Scalia's dissent in Troy Davis's case, a dissent that Clarence Thomas joined in, we have this remarkable, astonishing, shocking sentence:

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

I cannot believe that they wrote this in a Supeme Court opinion. And I'm not alone in thinking I would never, never, never see something like this in a published opinion.

Let's begin with the trial. The State of Georgia tried Troy Davis for murder and it got a conviction. And that conviction was upheld on appeal. In fact, there was nothing the matter with the trial, nothing wrong at all according to the appeals courts except one small thing. The jury convicted an innocent man.

Troy Davis was convicted of the capital murder of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer who as then working as a security guard. You might think that convicting an innocent person was a serious problem with the trial. Unfortunately, Davis's persistent claims that he was innocent of the crime weren't enough to convince anyone. It was only later on, after the trial, after the appeals, that the ugly circumstances in the case emerged.

There were nine witnesses to the crime in which MacPhail was killed. Anthony Davis was apparently in a pool hall with a lot of other people. A man named Sylvester Coles was beating a homeless man outside; people including Davis emerged from the pool hall to see what was happening. MacPhail came to the aid of the person being beaten and was shot and killed. At trial Sylvester Coles was the prosecution's star witness. Seven other people said Anthony Davis committed the crime. The gun was never found. There was no physical evidence of any kind. That was the trial testimony, and it lead to a conviction and the death penalty. And to several affirmances on appeal.

And then, and then, and then, ut oh. Seven of the eight witnesses who claimed under oath and at trial to see Davis shoot MacPhail gave affidavits that their testimony at trial was false and they recanted their testimony. And some said that Coles was the actual killer and not Davis and that police coercion forced them to testify against Troy Davis instead of the real killer.

So Anthony Davis sits on death row. And he's facing execution. And the case goes to the Supreme Court. The majority, thank goodness, sent the case back to federal court for a hearing. Good. But Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented. And it's their dissent that makes me cringe.

Why? Evidently, in Scalia/Thomas World, if the state tries and convicts the wrong man, one who is actually innocent, and there's no Constitutional error committed in the trial according to the state courts, there's no constitutional problem with the state's killing him. Even if he's innocent. In other words, it's 100% legal, 100% ok to kill an innocent person. Law Professor Paul Campos explains:

Scalia takes the position that, from a legal perspective, it no longer makes the slightest difference whether Davis is innocent of the murder he was convicted of committing, and for which, in all likelihood, he will be executed. If a defendant got a fair trial in state court, there’s nothing the federal court can do, Scalia argues, to reverse that verdict—even if new evidence comes to light that convinces the court to a moral certainty that the defendant is innocent.

Scalia represents an extreme example of a certain kind of judge that positively revels in coming to conclusions that are morally revolting but “legally” sound. Judges of this type like these sorts of cases because they demonstrate that law is a supposedly nonpolitical and intellectually rigorous practice, rather than a touchy-feely exercise in doing what strikes the judge as the right thing.

What, after all, could be more nonpolitical and intellectually rigorous than executing an innocent man, simply because “the law” requires that result? In a perverse way, such bloody logic is a kind of advertisement for the supposed objectivity of the legal system, since we can assume that no sane decision maker would reach such a decision voluntarily. (The great legal historian Douglas Hay explained the 18th-century English practice of sometimes acquitting obviously guilty men on absurd procedural technicalities, such as incorrectly calling the defendant a “farmer” instead of a “yeoman,” in similar terms: “When the ruling class acquitted men on such technicalities they helped embody a belief in the disembodied justice of the law in the minds of all who watched. In short the law’s absurd formalism was part of its strength as ideology.”)

For more details on this case, and the recantations, see this.

I have written extensively about the barbarism that lies behind state killing. But I have never before seen anything quite like this statement from Justices Scalia and Thomas. It used to be a fundamental part of the law that it was better to let 99 guilty people go free than to convict 1 innocent person. In fact, the system of criminal justice in this Country was built on this very platform. But now, we have two Supreme Court justices writing that the death penalty can be upheld even when the person executed is innocent, that innocence just doesn't matter. Forget about the fact that if you're killing an innocent person, the person who actually did the crime hasn't been convicted.

That is chilling and simply disgraceful.

And it's another strong reason for ending state killing entirely. The machinery of death is an embarrassment to a civilized nation. Arguments like Scalia's and Thomas's reduce us to barbarians. And we're going to have evil, immoral arguments like these as long as there's a death penalty. That and we're going to continue to make it possible to kill innocent people.

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jueves, agosto 13, 2009

Stop Herta's Deportation

19 year-old Herta Lluso is going to be deported from the US on August 19. Unless, of course, we can get ICE officials to grant her a stay of deportation.

Herta's case is a strong example of just why we need the Dream Act:
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (The "DREAM Act") is a piece of proposed federal legislation that was introduced in the US Senate, and the US House of Representatives on March 26, 2009. This bill would provide certain illegal immigrant students who graduate from US high schools, are of good moral character, arrived in the US as children, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency. The students would obtain temporary residency for a six year period. Within the six year period, a qualified student must have "acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or [have] completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree in the United States," or have "served in the uniformed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge." Any alien whose permanent resident status is terminated [according to the terms of the Act] shall return to the immigration status the alien had immediately prior to receiving conditional permanent resident status under this Act."

Passage of the Dream Act, however, won't solve Herta Lluso's deportation problem, because she'll be gone, deported to Albania, long before it passes unless we get a stay of her deportation.

I found Herta's story are at
My name is Herta Llusho, I am 19 years old, and I writing this because I am about to be deported. I was born in Albania and was brought to the United States when I was 11 years old. With the help and support of my family, I have struggled through more than seven years of legal proceedings to find a way to stay in this country legally. Despite our best efforts, on August 19, I will be removed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from the only place I know as my home. I will be sent back to a country that has become a foreign place to me. I don’t even speak Albanian well anymore. My only hope of staying here is for as many people as possible to ask DHS to delay my deportation until the DREAM Act is passed.

My parents brought me to the United States because they believed in the promises this country had to offer. To them it was the land of opportunities, values, and ideals. They were faithful believers of the American Dream, meaning that through hard work, education, and good character their children could accomplish anything they wanted. In fact, they believed in it so strongly that they sacrificed their own lives, as well as their relationship to make it happen. My dad stayed in Albania with the hope of relocating to the US, while my mom left everything behind in pursuit of a better life for her children. To this day, even after many years of struggle and sacrifice, they still believe that it is all worth it, and so do I. I have been truly blessed in the many opportunities I have received. The United States has made me the person I am today. I would like nothing more than to contribute to the country that has given me so much.

You can read her entire story at Citizen Orange. And you can listen to her tell it here (audio is not great, so turn it up):

There's not a lot more to say about why Herta should be kept in this Country. It's obvious. She is the kind of person we want in this Country. It is our loss to deport her.

Let's stop this deportation. Suggested action steps are here. Please do what you can.

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Rashied Ali, RIP

The Times reports:

Rashied Ali, whose expressionistic, free-jazz drumming helped define the experimental style of John Coltrane’s final years, died Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 76.

The cause of his death was a heart attack, his wife, Patricia Ali, said.

Mr. Ali, who first encountered Coltrane in their Philadelphia neighborhood in the late 1950s, made the leap from admiration to participation in the mid-1960s, when he joined Elvin Jones as a second drummer with Coltrane’s ensemble at the Village Vanguard in November 1965 He recorded with Coltrane and Jones on the 1965 album “Meditations” and, after replacing Jones as Coltrane’s drummer, on the duet album “Interstellar Space” (1967), one of the purest expressions of the free-jazz movement.

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lunes, agosto 10, 2009

Saving Pachamama: A Beginning

Don Mariano Quispe Flores

Pachamama, mother earth, Santa Madre Tierra, the earth, the planet is obviously in trouble. This should by now be obvious.

The Q'ero of Peru, the descendants of the Incas, live in remote villages that are above 14,000 feet above sea level. They have lived in these areas for hundreds of years. They live above the tree line. They raise llamas, alpacas, vicunas, and other similar animals, and they grow big kernal maiz ("choclo") and hundreds of species of potatoes. And until recently they kept to themselves. They stayed away from the cities. And the Government. And, of course, they kept their understandings of Shamanism and energy medicine to themselves. They certainly didn't tell North Americans about it. But then, relatively recently, they noticed the oddest thing, that the glaciers surrounding them were slowly melting. Slowly becoming smaller. Slowly disappearing. And the spiritual teachers in the lineage decided that Q'ero who were healers, who were powerful Shamans, who knew that it was necessary to heal mother earth and her children, would have to go down the mountain and bring out their teachings and carry them across the world.

I spent this past weekend with Q'ero Shaman Don Mariano Quispe Flores at The Abode in New Lebanon, New York, along with some three dozen other shamans. Don Mariano is 72 years old. He does not know how to write. Or to read. He speaks only Quechua (though he does say a very few words in English and Spanish). His village in Peru is about an 8 hour bus ride and then a 4 hour walk uphill from Cuzco. This trip to the United States (he stopped in California and Washington State and Colorado before journeying to the East) was his first trip to the US, though he has been to Europe. He is a very sweet, gentle, and humble man. And a powerful, traditional healer.

Because Don Mariano speaks Quechua, his translator sometimes translated first into Spanish, and then someone else translated into English. This was an incredible gift: I could hear what Don Mariano was saying three times. No, I didn't understand the first statements in Quechua, but I could feel and hear his tone of voice, and then it was repeated in both Spanish and English, so the content was repeated. I'm not going to try to bring you all of Don Mariano's teachings.

Instead, I bring you this very short essay to tell you something important that you probably already know only too well, just to remind you.

Pachamama, your Mother Earth, Santa Madre Tierra is in trouble and she needs our help and our caring for her. She needs us to honor her. And protect her.

This might involve traditional practices, like making offerings ("despachos") and prayers for the healing of the earth. It also might involve ceremonies, calling in the power of the Twelve Sacred Mountains (the Apus), the six directions, prayers, and healing thoughts. These are all important. But also important, perhaps even more important is our continuing awareness of Pachamama and our actions to take care of her as she takes care of us by feeding us, by giving us water, by providing shelter.

So I have a very simple request. Please pause now, look up from your screen, go outdoors if you can, and see, if you can, the unbelievable, abundant world surrounding use, the world on which we walk. Look at Pachamama. And feel, if you can, in your heart gratitude for all Pachamama provides us. This gratitude is incredibly important. It is the beginning point to help the planet.

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