Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cesar Chavez march and memorial activities this week

Wednesday, March 31 is the 83rd anniversary of union organizer Cesar Chavez's birthday. Beginning on Friday and continuing through next week, there will be commemorative events in Tucson to honor Chavez's legacy.

The week of celebration began last night with a reception for Dolores Huerta (above) at Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery and Workshop.

In 1962, Huerta and Chavez were co-founders of the National Farm Workers Association. Together, they organized farm workers and fought for better wages and working conditions across California and the southwest.

At 79, Huerta is still a fiery activist. Last night, she encouraged workers, artists, students, activists, and other progressive-thinking individuals to work together for civil rights, social justice, reform, and political power. After her short speech she urged attendees of all ages to get involved in the political process, support progressive candidates, and vote. At Huerta's invitation, Vince Rabago, candidate for Arizona attorney general, and John Bernal, LD27 candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives, joined her on stage for brief campaign speeches.

Today, Huerta will appear at the rally following the 10th Annual Cesar Chavez March, which goes from Pueblo High School to the Rudy Garcia Park on the south side of Tucson. The march, which begins at 9 a.m., goes east on 44th St. and south on 6th Ave. Click here for the parade route and more information about music and festivities at the park.

If you want to learn more about Chavez, Huerta, and the farm workers' movement, tune in to KXCI on March 31. Community radio KXCI 91.3 FM will have Cesar Chavez Day programming from 3 pm - midnight on his birthday.

Huerta's message of solidarity is particularly poignant today when immigration reform has been put on the back burner by some weak-kneed politicians, while other politicians are whipping up hatred for anyone who is different.

Both Chavez and Huerta have established foundations (linked here) to continue their struggle.

This article was originally published in my Progressive Examiner column.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Water Project: celebrate and educate!

Water is as precious as it is scarce in the desert. This weekend Tucsonans will celebrate water, our most valuable natural resource.

The Water Project-- Tucson's inaugural water festival-- will take place citywide March 26-28.

Festivities start Friday, March 26 with a film festival at The Screening Room in downtown Tucson. The evening begins at 6 p.m. with short locally-produced films. The feature film-- Blue Gold: World Water Wars-- begins at 8 p.m.

On Saturday at Himmel Park in midtown Tucson, the Water Project will hold an Enviro-Vendor Fair with art, food, music, and dance from noon - 6 p.m. Solar Rock-- a solar-powered music concert-- will take place simultaneously at Himmel Park.

Sunday's events will begin with a cross-cultural, inter-faith water ritual at Sabio Canyon. Check the Water Project website for meet-up and carpool information. Sunday afternoon, an Enviro-Vendor Fair and educational workshops will take place at Armory Park Center.

The Water Project grew out of a series of community brainstorming meetings. Artists, scientists, politicians, educators, developers, water conservationists, city planners, youth, and other community members who are interested in addressing water issues came together to develop the mult-faceted event.

Tucson’s Water Project was scheduled to coincide with World Water Week. Water workshops and celebrations will be held in other countries and cities-- creating an international observance of World Water Day, an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

For more details and a full schedule of events, check out The Water Project website and the Solar Rock website.

This article originally appeared in my Baby Boomer Examiner column.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Message from AZ Democrats to Washington DC: We'll Chose our Candidate for Senate

I'm hoping the City Council finalizes the budget soon, so Rodney Glassman can stop exploring and start running. He has collected quite a few $20 donations-- including mine.

Who is Nan Stockholm Walden? I've never heard of her. Don't the DC Dems realize that Pima County is Arizona's Democratic powerhouse and that Glassman is the hometown favorite?
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dueling press releases: Congressional Dems defend vote, blast Brewer's cold-hearted budget cuts

Less than 24 hours after the signing of the new federal healthcare reform legislation by President Obama, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued a statement voicing her opposition to the bill and parroting Republican talking points regarding cost.

"It will cost the citizens of the State of Arizona at least $1 billion in 2012 and more than $1 billion in 2013," states Brewer. In addition, she alludes to "the state deficit hole they have created" with healthcare reform. Of course, her statement doesn't mention any of the benefits of the bill for Arizonans-- particularly the hundreds of thousands of residents who were recently knocked off of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

In a show of strength and solidarity, Arizona's for Congressional Democrats--Harry Mitchell, Ed Pastor, Gabrielle Giffords, and Raul Grijalva-- issued a joint statement on Tuesday, March 23 and answered charges made by Brewer and other Republicans.

Here are their main points:

- The bill will provide $2.5 billion in new Medicaid funding for Arizona.

- Arizona's Republican Governor and state legislature recently kicked approximately 400,000 Arizonans, including 40,000 children, off their health insurance.

- Slashing Medicaid and KidsCare like this puts Arizona at risk to lose billions in federal matching funds and kill over 42,000 jobs.

- The Governor's claim that the new federal legislation will "cost $1 billion or more to Arizona are hyperbolic and completely unfounded. They are thinly veiled attempts to divert attention from their misplaced priorities and poor judgment that will keep families from receiving the health care."

- The state budget cuts "will dig the state into a deeper budget hole by jeopardizing $7 billion in federal funds. These are funds that were paid by Arizona taxpayers and they should not be forfeited because of the ill conceived decisions made by the legislature and the Governor."

- The suggestion that this new legislation is responsible for Arizona’s budget crisis is "absurd." Arizona's budget crisis predates the health insurance reform bill and will continue for the foreseeable future.

- The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (AKA the Stimulus bill)-- supported by Mitchell, Giffords, Grijalva, and Pastor--has "provided Arizona with $1.2 billion in extra Medicaid funds with another billion on its way."

Who should you believe? Why not read the facts? Check out this official link.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Passage of healthcare reform brings threats and jubiliation

The passage of historic healthcare reform legislation on Sunday by the US House of Representatives brought a flood of threats from Republicans; racial/ethnic slurs and acts of terrorism against Democratic supporters; and shouts of joy from supporters. With passage in the Senate, President Obama was ready with his signing pen.

After a year of wrangling, the debate will likely continue for a while. Some states also want to opt out of the reform, using the states' rights argument. Governor Jan Brewer is among those governors opposing expanded healthcare coverage because she says it will cost too much. Of course, Brewer and her Republican cronies in the Legislature just knocked thousands of adults and children off of the state's healthcare rolls. As a result, the state will lose billions of dollars in matching funds. (Personally, I'm beginning to think they are all bad at math-- besides being uncaring. Why eliminate worthwhile programs that bring in revenue and help thousands of Arizona residents?)

Republicans like Arizona Senator John McCain have publicly vowed to fight against reform and other legislation brought forth by President Obama and the Congressional Democrats. To which most progressives said, "What else is new?"

On yesterday's John C. Scott radio show, McCain spun his tale with only softball questions (more like set-ups) from Scott.

McCain was trying hard to revive his Maverick image and deny the moderate flip-flop image his opponent J.D. Hayworth is spinning about him. McCain said the healthcare legislation was "a sham" and vowed to "fight in the Senate, fight in Tucson, fight in Phoenix, fight in Flagstaff, and fight across Arizona." I think by "fight" he means "campaign". How will his obstructionist stance play out in the fall election? Why would anyone vote for someone who's primary strategy is to say, "no"?

McCain also railed against the use of reconciliation to "ram it through" the Congress. Of course, neglecting the fact that Republicans have used this strategy 17 out of 23 times, since it was created a few decades ago.

So, healthcare politics continues. Although right-wingers will continue to try to stop or reverse reform, progressive will be pushing for more. As Ed Schultz said this morning, we are in the midst of a culture war that goes far beyond this legislation. After verbal and physical attacks against Democrats who supported this legislation, I totally agree with him.

Above, pro-reform protesters outside Senator John McCain's Tucson office.

This article originally appeared as a piece in my Progressive Examiner column.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healthcare reform anyone?

Today is "the day" in a year of landmark votes on healthcare reform. As I write this on Sunday morning, National Public Radio is predicting the vote on reform in the US House of Representatives will come within hours.

This has been a week of arm-twisting, media hype, dueling polls, rallies, e-mail blasts, and facebook posts from both pro- and anti-reform camps. My personal survival strategy was to not watch television and limit my talk radio listening. Ed Schultz spent much of the week pushing for passage of the reform legislation but vowing to fight for more reform until a single payer system is achieved. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now aired several stories throughout the week, including an nterviewed Congressman Dennis Kucinich after he agreed to vote for reform. Kucinich also vowed to keep pushing for a single payer system, saying this bill is just the first step.

I was impressed with President Obama's use of social media to get the pro-reform word out to supporters. Move On and Organizing for America sent thousands of e-mails urging reform advocates to call their representatives and senators and to rally for reform.

On Friday, March 19, several of us from the local Drinking Liberally club joined other progressives for a Move On rally in front of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' Tucson office. Approximately 150 reform advocates waved signs, cheered, and chanted. (They were joined by 3 anti-reform protesters.) Earlier in the week the Arizona Daily Star reported that Giffords and Congressman Raul Grijalva would both vote for reform today.

Hundreds of lunch-hour motorists cheered and honked as they passed the marchers. If honks were votes, I'd say that there is strong support for reform in Tucson. What will happen today? Who knows, but since Barack is one of my friends on facebook, I'm sure he'll post the news on his wall.

This article was originally published in my Progressive Examiner column. To see a slide show from the Tucson rally, click on the Examiner link.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Birthing a Big Baby-- the Final Push

Congress has been in labor for more than a year over healthcare reform.

Sweaty, red-faced, exhausted, strong-willed but nervous, the Democratic Mother is pushing hard and looking forward to the birth of her big reform Baby. She can't predict the future of her offspring. Will this reform Baby be the light of their lives, bringing the Parents and millions of Family members health, joy, and happiness, or will the Parents look back in regret for ever conceiving this Baby?

Nervous Nellies in the Delivery Room, Republican relatives predict a dire future if this Baby lives. Abort this Baby, and let's try again, they urge. Convinced the baby will have a 666 on it's forehead, they favor killing it. To most of the Family, it is obvious that these naysayers are more worried about their inheritance and their own future than the future of the Baby and the Family as a whole. They spin lies about the Baby's Father and the reform Baby itself and worry distant relatives.

"No one likes this Baby. It's too big!"

"No one wants this Baby."

"No one likes this Baby's Father."

While the Mother's relatives have different opinions.

"The Father is well-liked and trusted."

"We want that Baby to be born already. This Baby will help the Family."

Only 4% of the Family favors aborting this Baby.

Most of the Family just wants everyone to work together-- as a Family.

In the meantime, while Family members argue and the Mother pushes, the Father is visiting with relatives around the country saying, "Hey, I know this may not be the prettiest, most well-like Baby in the world, but it's time. At home in Washington, we shouldn't be worrying about our survival. We should do what's best for the Family."

The Father knows there are backward wilderness clans in the Family-- like the one in Phoenix-- that would allow Family members to die, rather than pay for their care, so he keeps fighting for the reform Baby.

As the contractions get harder, the Mother is only marginally reassured when the Father whispers, "It will be OK, Honey. No one ever said parenthood would be easy. Think of the good of the Family." Although she's nervous about what motherhood will bring, she realizes she's gone too far to stop now. The Baby's head is in view. The birth is eminent.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Health Care: Final Push For Obama?

I'm ready for healthcare reform. Bring it home, Mr. President!
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Friday, March 5, 2010

Is Arizona the Jamaica of the USA?

Even before the current recession and multi-billion-dollar shortfalls in the Arizona budget, this state's funding for education was at or near the bottom, compared with other states in the US. Comparing 1986-87 fiscal year with 2006-07, Arizona actually spent less per student in 2007 than it did in 1987, when the figures are adjusted for inflation. Nationwide, per student funding went up by 35% during that time frame.

Fast forward to fiscal year 2009-10, and we find Republican Governor Jan Brewer and the Republican-controlled Legislature cutting millions of dollars from K-12 and university education. This resulted in larger classrooms and lower pay for teachers. For 2010-11 fiscal year, they're threatening even more cuts to education. Arizona is already competing for dead last in the state rankings for education. How low can we go?

Today, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story (linked here) comparing schools in Jamaica with those in Barbados. These two countries are similar in location, climate, history, and government structure but very different in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. This is the measure of all goods and services a country produces divided by its population.

Barbados has a much higher GDP than Jamaica. Consequently, Barbados spends considerably more money on its educational system than Jamaica. What is the result of this discrepancy in funding? To answer this question, the NPR reporter interviewed two school principals--one in Jamaica and the other in Barbados.

In Jamaica, the school system is grossly underfunded. Teachers buy their own supplies, and the system doesn't even have enough high schools for all of the students. Students are required to take a high school entrance exam. Those who do well on the exam are admitted to a traditional high school and have the opportunity to progress to a university. Those who do poorly on the exam are shunted to a non-traditional high school which prepares them for low-wage, non-skilled work. Discouraged, Jamaicans who have been assigned to the non-traditional schools often turn to other means of support to increase their income; this includes the drug trade and other illegal activities, according to NPR. The principal said that if she just had one extra teacher per class to work on reading that it could make all the difference in the students' lives, since 25% of Jamaica's sixth graders can't read.

The Barbados government has a higher GDP and, therefore, more money to invest in education. As a result, Barbados has a modern, fully-funded school system with modern, well-equipped classrooms and plenty of teachers. Every sixth grader in Barbados can read.

As Arizona's Republican-controlled government prepares to cut millions more from the education budget, we must ask ourselves three questions. Is Arizona the Jamaica of the USA? What will be the long-term impact of these short-sighted policies? Who are you going to vote for in the fall?

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Honk if you can read!

If honks were votes, Arizona would have a strong public education system.

Rush hour motorists honked and cheered for protesters challenging education cuts made by Arizona's Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature.

More than 100 teachers, parents, children and other activists joined in the March 4 Schools on Thursday, March 4 at the corner of Alvernon Way and Broadway Blvd. in Tucson. This was one of three protests sponsored by the Arizona Education Association in Tucson and one of several protests organized statewide.

Judging by the honks, many Tucsonans support public education and disagree with the Legislature's short-sighted, draconian approach to a balanced budget. Pictures speak louder than words, so check out the slide show below to learn more about today's event.

The rallies across Arizona were part of a national day of protests against cuts in public education. Here is a report from Democracy Now on the nationwide efforts.

This article and the accompanying slide show originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column. Click on the link to see more photos from the event.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Nourish your little piece of the desert with rainwater harvesting

Five years ago I bought a 740-square-foot dump in midtown Tucson with a large yard full of goat head burrs and Bermuda Grass. Maybe I was a victim of too many episodes of HGTV design shows, but my plan was to transform this territorial adobe into a cute little home with a yard full of desert-friendly plants, fruit trees, and a vegetable garden-- all irrigated with rain water and grey water.

In 2007, the first phase of my remodel was to add a master bedroom suite, utility room, and covered patio-- increasing the house to a modest 1240 square feet. The second phase-- which began in 2007 and is continuing-- was to capture rain water and transform the wasteland that was my yard into a garden retreat. (The attached slide show details this process in photos.)

Before I started the process, I attended a rainwater harvesting workshop at Stone Curves Co-housing. I spent two weekends digging trenches and installing a cistern with the help of local rainwater harvesting guru Brad Lancaster, landscapers from Technicians for Sustainability, and other volunteers.

Armed with new how-to knowledge, the first step was to design my addition to divert rain water to a future cistern. The entire roof of my home and the addition was sloped toward one scupper on the west side of the house. The patio roof was slanted toward the trees on the east side of the yard.

The second phase was digging-- lots of digging. I dug large tree wells around three major trees, a pomegrante bush, and a desert hackberry in my backyard. I even dug in the rain, which is a curiously refreshing exercise in the summer. It also gives you a very clear idea of where the water is and where it goes once you start digging.

The third phase was to hire a contractor to install gutters, downspouts, and drainage pipe on the patio. Initially, three of the trees were watered with grey water from a washer in a shed in the back, and the other two were watered with runoff from the patio roof.

The fourth phase in January 2010 was to finally install a 900+ gallon cistern, dig a cistern overflow ditch, and add more gutters on my out buildings. With all of the rain that we have this winter, it has been very exciting to watch the cistern fill up repeatedly and overflow into the ditch, carrying the water to other trees. It's also been rewarding to plant bedding flowers and know that I am not wasting city water when I care for them.

The final phase will be to attach the cistern to my existing drip irrigation system and to plant fruit trees this spring and maybe a garden after the summer heat.
Using rainwater and grey water helps our desert environment by allowing you to use less ground water, thus reducing your environmental footprint. If you want to learn more about the process, I highly recommend that you read Lancaster's book, attend a workshop, and buy a good shovel.

This article originally appeared in my Baby Boomer Examiner column. Click this link to view a slide show that illustrates the transformation of my yard from a flooded wasteland to a desert oasis.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Old hippies abound at the Tucson Peace Fair

The 28th Annual Tucson Peace Fair was Saturday, February 27. Despite grey skies, hundreds of Tucsonans turned out for an afternoon of peace, music, social justice, and community.

Dozens of informational booths representing everything from socially responsible investing to the Tucson Astrologers Guild ringed the area around the Reid Park band shell. Pictures tell the story better than words, so check out the slide show linked below.

This article originally appeared in my Baby Boomer Examiner column. Check out this link to view a slide show of the event.