Benny's World

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fred Baron Helps His Friends...Quietly

Fred Baron is a successful trial lawyer in Dallas. He has known John Edwards a long time. And Baron is actually more successful than Edwards in terms of finances.

I thank Fred Baron for being generous to lease his plane out to John Edwards at a lower rate. I had the privilege of meeting John Edwards when he stepped out the plane in an event nearby my town, and there was NO Rielle.

I thank Fred Baron for trying to help John and Elizabeth in this recent mess, especially at his own expense and reputation.

While this doesn't appear to be honest or transparent, I appreciate Fred Baron for doing this as a close friend, even he didn't tell them what he did. I happen to know that Fred Baron is a friend through thick and thin. We all need good friends like him.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Fighting Back on Heat Deaths: Farm Workers going to Sacramento

I grow tired of paparazzi, don't you, about John Edwards, Barack Obama, or worse, the Hollywood elite's whereabouts, stories of what? Instead, I'd rather be focusing on the folks who need justice and help. Here's a great post, reproduced by permission by the author, TomP, who is a workers' rights blogger in his spare time. This was posted at the Daily Kos. And this is BW Readers your opportunity to speak up in writing, here, whatever, to serve justice as you see fit. I think the workers need a voice.

Six California farm workers have died since May from what appears to be heat related causes. The latest one was Maria de Jesus Alvarez, 63, mother of nine, who died early this month. The first one to die was 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, who died in May. Marie was about a month pregnant when she died, and likely did not ever know she was pregnant. The state fined the labor contractor $262,700 for failing to follow heat illness prevention regulations at the time Jimenez was stricken, but that won't bring her back. And the deaths have continued at an accelarated pace since then.
You can help to end this tragedy. This Monday, August 18, more than 800 farm workers from throughout California want to go to Sacramento to lobby the Legislature on a key bill that will help them help themeselves. They want the chance to tell the Governor and their elected officials to support AB 2386, "Secret Ballot Elections for Farmworkers," which has moved out of the assembly and which will be voted on that afternoon in the state senate.

How can you help..?

I have been writing for months on the deaths of farm workers in California from the heat. Six farm workers deaths are being or have been investigated because of heat-related causes since May.
This brings to 15 the number of farm workers whose death have been investigated as heat-related since Governor Schwarzenegger took office.
You can learn more details of this continuing tragedy in these diaries:
Sixth Farm Worker Dies from the Heat this Summer in California. A Call for Action.
Another Farm Worker dies. Does anyone give a damn? The Netroots Do.
United Farm Workers Calls for Manslaughter Charges Against Company in Death of 17 Year Old
How many Farmworkers must die before someone cares??
Please Tell Fallen Farm Worker's Family We Care
"How much is the life of a farm worker worth? Is it less than the life of any other human being?"

As UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez said at the funeral of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez:
How much is the life of a farm worker worth? Is it less than the life of any other human being?

The state has fined the labor contractor for whom Maria Isabel worked:
Atwater-based Merced Farm Labor, the contractor investigated in the death of Lodi teen Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez last spring, was fined $262,700 by the state [in July] for failure to follow heat illness prevention regulations at the time Jimenez was stricken.
Jimenez, a 17-year-old pregnant farm laborer, collapsed May 14 in a Farmington vineyard operated by West Coast Grape Farming and died two days later. Her death from heatstroke was ruled an occupational death by the San Joaquin County coroner.

State fines labor firm over death

In honor of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, the march from Lodi, CA to Sacramento State Capitol, June 4, 2008:

Since then, five more farm workers have died from what appears to be heat-related causes.
August 2, 2008: Maria de Jesus Alvarez.
July 31, 2008: Jorge Herrera.
July 9, 2008: Ramiro Carrillo Rodriguez.
July 9, 2008: Abdon Felix Garcia.
June 20, 2008: Jose Macrena Hernandez.

Farm worker dies in Santa Maria, California. Television news report on the death of Jose Macrena Hernandez:

These deaths make it clear the state does not have the capacity to protect farm workers. With all the budget cuts and other issues in California now, the state, even if well intentioned, simply has not been able to protect these workers. So they must protect themselves.
We can make a difference and it will not take much.
The vital legislation that Speaker Emeritus Nunez has introduced--and the workers want to go to Sacramento and lobby for--protects farm workers' right to a secret ballot election and will make it easier for farm workers to organize and enforce the laws that the state cannot enforce.

Please TAKE ACTION TODAY and ask California legislatures to support this vital bill. .
If you can't attend please make a donation to help the United Farm Workers rent 14 buses, additional vans, plus pay for food and other supplies which will cost in excess of $31,770 for the day.
There is nothing more powerful than hearing a farm worker story face-to-face, especially to lawmakers.

Doroteo Jimenez, grape worker and uncle of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez who died in May explains why she must go to Sacremento.
I want to go to Sacramento and speak to the legislators.
My niece Maria Isabel died because growers treat us like tools instead of like people. I spoke up and I was unjustly fired. This needs to change now. I don't want to see other families suffer like our family has. This bill can change farm workers' lives for the better.
Please help us.

Margarita Hernandez, grape worker knows that that there must be changes in the workplace:

The reason for me to go to Sacramento is because I want changes in the working conditions at my job and the other companies. In the place where I work, Sun Pacific, we don't have shade and the drinking water is without ice until 9 am—though they know that by that hour it is already hot.
There have been people have felt sick from the heat and the company people always ask if they feel bad because of something they ate...
I feel there is no respect for the farm worker, even though many farm workers have died. The companies don't change their treatment towards the farm workers. That is why I am going to Sacramento. I have the hope that one day, we will be treated better.

Just to rent the buses and vans needed, will cost $26,570 and that does not cover the food and other supplies needed.
The UNF hopes that internet supporters would contribute $5,510 towards this expense. This will cover the transportation costs of 140 workers at $39.36 per worker. Let's show them that Daily Kos can do it and more!
Can you make sure Doroteo, Margarita and others get seats on the bus?

When the union is strong, growers and labor contractors follow the Californai heat regualtions, and lives can be saved. This bill is key to growing the union and, literally, saving lives.
Where farm workers are protected by union contracts, the laws are honored.

And when growers know it is easier for farm workers to organize and bring in the union, employers are much more careful about obeying the law because they don’t want to give the union an advantage.
So the answer, sisters and brothers, is self-help—making it easier for farm workers to organize so the laws on the books are the laws in the fields. Then more important human beings like Maria Isabel won’t have to die.

Remarks by Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers of America, Honoring Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, June 4, 2008
Please help.
Please TAKE ACTION TODAY and ask California legislatures to support this vital bill.
If you can't attend please make a donation to help the United Farm Workers rent 14 buses, additional vans, plus pay for food and other supplies which will cost in excess of $31,770 for the day.
Yesterday we mourned,
Today we act,
Tomorrow we will gain justice.

Si, Se Puede!

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dang, I missed Getting Tix to KD Lang

Already sold out in my town.

Oh well. Here's a great Youtube of her performing "Constant Craving."

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Peepshow: The Oversensationalism of a Non-Issue

EENR bloggers are discussing today whether or not JRE's latest admission to an extramarital affair, as well as John McCain's own admission years ago are issues for voters. The diary post at EENR was posited more like either a Lou Dobbs (CNN) question (as was the diary about Immigration a couple of weeks ago)--or could have played into the pundit football that Shannity and Colmes discussed last night on Fixed Noise Network. Neither diary provided any research from surveys, polls, articles etc, to have neither a decent debate--just as Lou Dobbs nor the Shouting Newsbusters do, but instead rely on conjecture and not inviting political communications scholars to comment on this issue. Instead, the EENR diary is more akin to the traditional media in the sense after the Senate acquitted Bill Clinton in 1999, a Pew Survey revealed that the public believed that "news organizations were driving controversies" rather than reporting the news by covering the personal and ethical behavior of public figures. To me, it is a public airing of Edwards’s bloggers and supporters to talk about how they feel about the travesty rather than discussing a complex issue.

My title is taken a little from a book I just picked up today entitled Peepshow: Media and Politics in an Age of Scandal, written by well known experts in the political communications field. I will be borrowing heavily from that work, articles, and other comments in books.

If I understood the question, which I am rephrasing: is a politician's candidate's extramarital affair an issue in itself to voters, I cannot conclude that it is; the real issue is should the media make it an issue? They do so for various reasons. An issue has too many layers to be boiled down into a simple question.

First, Pew Research on People and the Press did a poll last year about politicians and their indiscretions in February 2007 when they were looking at all of the candidates ab0ut personal character. The majority of those polled, especially those who identify themselves as Democrats, do not think an extramarital affair makes a different in casting their vote for president. This mirrors the survey I mentioned earlier. The media's substance coverage of the 1988-2004 presidential elections has been steadily declining for some of the networks. CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News were the worst, according to Stephen Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter in their book, The Nightly News Nightmare: Television Coverage of the Presidential Elections, 1988-2004, published last year. In that same work, the authors found that the negative tone, especially from Fox News, was around 60%, with the three other networks ranged from 58-49% in 2004.

What does matter though about extra-marital affairs involving politicians, according to the authors of Peepshow, is the context and timing? From the Guardian:

Such circumstances matter, experts say, and not only the politician's voter base but also his or her image and how far away the next election is.

"Much has to do with the politician and how they react to the story," says Kyle Kreider, professor of political science at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "If the politician appears callous or indifferent to the 'sin,' the public usually does not give the politician a pass. However, if the politician [admits] to it and appears remorseful, the public now is quick to forgive."

Source: The Guardian, 2007.

Another layer in the issue mix is if the politician is at celebrity status or very high profile. In the case of John Edwards, who was covered very favorably in 2004, this became the case as he aligned himself with celebrities himself in the last election. Why do politicians do this? Darrell West at Brown University posits this observation:

In this situation, it is difficult for politicians to raise money and build public support. They simply do not have the credibility necessary for political persuasion. It no longer is enough for them to make particular claims. They need to hitch themselves to people who have higher credibility than they themselves do.

For this reason, politicians draw on sources from outside the political realm. They need individuals who are considered more trustworthy and less partisan, and who have high credibility with the general public.

Athletes are one example of high credibility sources that politicians love to draw on as are popular singers, actors, and musicians. Because they come from outside the political world, these celebrities represent a valuable resource for politicians. Their fame attracts press coverage and campaign contributors, and their accomplishments from outside the political world allow politicians to piggyback on their high credibility with voters.

Source: Celebrity Culture in America, downloaded from this site: Inside Politics.

Of course though, Edwards wasn't as favorably covered this time around since he was considered to be "angry" and touting issues no one wanted to hear about, which is the growing disconnect between government and the pocketbooks of the working poor and the sliding middle class.

Since last Friday, Edwards has had more negative publicity than any publicity from the cable networks? Why? Larry Sabato, one of the authors of Peepshow noted in 1991 that competitive pressures have more to do with the media's reporting of salacious stories than predictable:

Scandal and sex do indeed sell well-a great deal better than dispassionate policy issues. Some of "Nightline's" highest ratings were achieved for shows featuring Jim and Tammy Baaker. The same could be said the media's handling of Donna Rice in Gary Hart's travails..."

Sources: I noticed the above quote first in Images, Scandals and Communication Strategies of the Clinton Presidency, 2003, edited by Robert Denton and Rachel Holloway; quote by Sabato is from his 1991 Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics.

Fast forward to the past week: Cable Networks need ratings to boost the potential for ad revenues, which are slow at this time of year when Obama is on vacation and NBC has the lock on viewership for the Olympics. Edwards' extramarital affair has been over sensationalized--both by the Networks, the tabloids, and the bloggers.

As Sabato, Stencil, and Lichter (Sabato and Lichter the more prolific in research) concluded from their Peep Show Chapter on "The Verdict":

The public itself has little time or interest in modern politics. By focusing so much attention on the personal lives of public servants, the press squanders what little chance it has to enage the electorate, to remind voters about the connections between public policy and their own personal lives....If the coverage of personal politics dominates the news, then the public learns less about what matters that our to be foremost in their minds when they vote. The less informed voters are when they woalk into their polling places, the great the chance they will elect people who should not be in public office. The election of a real political cad or soundrel would be the most tragic and ironic consequence of a media process that is intended to protect the public from such a decision.

Peepshow, p98-99.

When I learned the EENR diary was going up, I was very unhappy about it, especially as more allegations were being flung at John and Elizabeth Edwards as it was last night. I respect their privacy and what I think about it privately is something that I'm choosing not to share on this blog at present; it is between me and my friends. If I want to engage in a Lou Dobbs, Dan Abrams, Chris Matthews, or David Gregory panel--in other words--the cable networks who are covering this ad nausea while NBC is enjoying the ratings from the Olympics, and Obama is on vacation--I can watch them beat up John and Elizabeth instead. But I probably won't learn anything more from those shows or from other bloggers' opinions than I would surfing the Net or getting more information from my friends via e-mail.

EENR blog has prided itself in being more about the issues than about personalities.

But not today.

Update: Speaking of oversensationalism, I heard Rush Limbaugh made some nasty, petty comments about Elizabeth Edwards. Keith Olbermann had a word or two to say about that. Thank you, Keith. (h/t Poligirl)

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spiritual Literacy for Politicians

Whenever there are shadows and sometimes rainbows in my life, I turn to a tome which I consider an excellent Reference Book entitled Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life edited by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Both Brussats (if I'm not mistaken) are in the United Church of Christ ministries, have authored several works, and have presented lots of workshops in helping folks like you and me to explore their spiritual and life journeys.

I’m borrowing a passage from a chapter on Service and the section is on helping others heal. It’s by Wayne Muller who wrote Legacy of the Heart. To me, it seems relevant given John Edwards' personal situation at present.

“The practice of loving kindess must find its root deep within us. The story is told that Mohantas Gandhi once settled in a village and at onece began serving the needs of the villagers who lived there. A friend inquired if Gandhi’s objectives in serving the poor were purely humanitarian.

Gandhi replied:

Not at all, I am here to serve no one else by myself, to find my own self-realization through the service of these village folk.

As Gandhi wisely points out, even as we serve others, we are working on ourselves; every act, every word, every gesture of genuine compassion naturally nourishes our own hearts as well. It is not a question of who is healed first. When we attend to ourselves with compassion and mercy, more healing is made available for others. And when we serve others with an open and generous heart, great healing comes to us. “

Spiritual Literacy, pp 336-7.

For John and Elizabeth Edwards, I hope the universe bestows kindness and openness as they experience more shadows. I know that I have greatly benefited from their leadership service; I will continue to be engaged and to use Elizabeth’s words to me on my blog, Benny’s World, to persevere. Their courage and empathy have brought rainbows to many. We shouldn't forget it.

We still need John and Elizabeth on that wall of economic and social justice--universal health care, cutting poverty half in ten (and mentioned in the draft DNC Platform), getting out of the war, and making our planet a safe place to live in.

Let it be...and blessed be to all BW readers.

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