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Who held the first Memorial Day celebration?

This is an interesting read on the origins of Memorial Day…

African Americans have fought and died for America from its earliest days, from frontier skirmishes to the French and Indian Wars to the fall of Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre, immortalized as “the first to die for American freedom”. And though most official histories of Memorial Day credit with its founding a white former Union Army major general, whose 1868 call for a Decoration Day was reputedly inspired by local celebrations begun as early as 1866, the first people who used ritual to honor this country’s war dead were the formerly enslaved black community of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1865 – with a tribute to the fallen dead and to the gift of freedom….

Enjoy the rest here.

Wigilia

One Silent Night

First published Dec. 24, 2007.

Christmas Eve is the most wonderful night of the year to a Polish Catholic and when I walked to the local Polish grocery store yesterday morning, the place was packed with people waiting to pick up meat at the butcher’s counter for their Christmas Eve dinner.

Traditionally, Christmas Eve is a meatless meal, with twelve courses – one for each month of the year. But there was plenty of kielbasa, wrapped up in brown butcher’s paper for the trip home.

“I’m new to the neighborhood. Is there a Midnight Mass anywhere?” I asked the woman standing in line ahead of me. (She looked just like my Aunt Agnes, who was my godmother.)

“I don’t know, I don’t live here,” she said apologetically. “I just come here for the kielbasa.”

Watching those Polish faces in the store brought back memories of Christmas Eves past at my grandmother’s house on Terrace Street. The Polish Christmas Eve is called Wigilia (meaning “the vigil”) and it’s aptly named. I remember being such a hungry little kid and waiting and waiting and waiting, because you can’t eat until the first star (Gwiazdka, in honor of the Star of Bethlehem) comes out.

The smell of herring made me gag; the only fish I could stomach were the Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, and I’d load up the plate with those and my grandmother’s mashed potatoes – they had just the right amount of lumps, beaten with sour cream and ground black pepper. I also liked golumpki, a stuffed cabbage roll. We kids would wash it all down with Javies Cream Soda or Black Cherry Wishniak, while our parents drank beer and whiskey in the kitchen.

Later, after we’d all eaten, my Aunt Connie would pass around pieces of oplatek, or blessed bread – literally, “angel bread.” It’s a thin, starchy sheet like communion wafers, about the size of an index card and embossed with Nativity scenes. The tradition is to offer it to each member of the family and as they break off a piece, you wish them good health and happiness: Na szczescie, na zdrowie z Wigilia! (In Polish, if you knew it. My siblings and I didn’t speak Polish, except for useful phrases like “Do you speak Polish?” “You’re such a pig!” and “What do you think I am, a horse?”)

And the person who accepts the bread wishes you the same. It’s a lovely moment.

Anyway, you all have your own traditions, and I hope they bring you joy. And tonight, as the first star rises in the sky, know that I offer you all a piece of oplatek, wishing you good health and happiness this Christmas Eve, and may a bright star shine over your home.

Niech zawsze nad naszym domem swieci zota gwiazda!

Breaking: Manning Sentenced 35 years…

Huffington Post:

FORT MEADE, Md. — Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday for handing WikiLeaks a massive cache of sensitive government documents detailing the inner workings of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Manning, 25, was not allowed to make a statement when his sentence was handed down by military judge Col. Denise Lind. Guards quickly hustled him out of the courtroom, while at least half a dozen spectators shouted their support.

“We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley,” one exclaimed.

Manning was also dishonorably discharged and demoted to the rank of private. He was ordered to forfeit all pay and benefits.

Manning was convicted on July 30 on 19 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, for his role in the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history. The charges carried a maximum sentence of 90 years, and the prosecution had requested Manning serve 60. His sentencing brings to a close a three-year saga in which he endured nine months in solitary confinement and saw himself transformed into a symbol of one individual’s potential in the internet age to roil the world’s sole superpower.

Finally, a banker who might go to jail

Well! It’s nice to see at least one Wall St. banker face criminal charges! He allegedly decided to stab his cab driver for the sheer audacity of asking for the agreed-upon fare. Geeze, I hope the court doesn’t hold it against the guy. After all, he’s been living in the 1% bubble for a long time, he probably doesn’t know any better. As to the racial slurs? As Mayor Bloomberg keeps reminding residents, New Yorkers should be grateful just to have the bankers spending money in their town. Threats and stab wounds seem a small price to pay for that privilege.

The New York Post, of course, has the details:

A mild-mannered, hardworking New York City cabby lamented to The Post yesterday that he was insulted, demeaned and threatened by a boozy bigwig who refused to pay him, screaming: “Go back to your own country . . . I’m going to kill you.”

Mohamed Ammar said investment banker W. Bryan Jennings — a $2-million-a-year fat cat for Morgan Stanley — went from being a sweet gentleman he picked up in Midtown to a surly, knife-wielding “drunk” who stiffed him on the $204 fare when they got to Jennings’ Darien, Conn., home.

“I said, ‘You have to pay me. It’s the law,’ ” Ammar recalled at his Queens home yesterday, where he lives with his wife and three children. “He says, ‘What law? You should go back to your own f–king country.’

“I say, ‘This is my f–king country, excuse my language. I’m an American citizen!’ ” said the driver, who is originally from Egypt.

“That’s when he pulled out the penknife . . . He leaned forward and yelled, ‘I’m gonna kill you, motherf–ker!” Ammar said.

“I saw his hand balled up into a fist and I thought he was going to punch me,” the cabby said.

“I put my hand out to protect, and that is when I saw the penknife. He went for my neck first but ended up slashing my hand many times as I was fighting him off . . . My hand was bleeding pretty bad” as Jennings fled on foot, Ammar said.

“He was drunk and out of control, and he could have killed me. That was one of the scariest moments of my life.”
Ammar needed six stitches to close his wounds.

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If you can’t say anything nice

There’s an ongoing argument among bloggers about Andrew Breitbart, and whether we’re “stooping to their level” by saying what we actually think about him. Well, here’s what I think.

Wars split families. Benjamin Franklin refused to let his own son out of prison to see his wife while she was dying. What a terrible, unfeeling man. Or not.

This is also a war – of ideologies, class and culture.

Are those who say mean things terrible people for declining to whitewash Breitbart out of respect for his family? The real question is, why is his family more worthy of concern than the families once helped by ACORN? (Hint: It’s the same reason I joke that Apple-loving progressives would be a lot more concerned about Foxcomm workers if we described them as factory-farmed chickens.)

The very problem with the Village – the moneyed, connected, inbred establishment – is that that they value their personal relationships above all else, and use those personal relationships to justify and excuse all kinds of political and economic horrors visited upon the rest of the world, things that have serious ripple effects.

This is why we ridicule them. Isn’t that the point? Their emotional relationships render them incapable of connecting those dots between what they do and the results out in the real world. They live in the bubble.

For example, the top management at the Times loved Judy Miller and, I’m sure, they would have cried at her death. How many Iraqis are dead because of that relationship? Am I a monster if I don’t especially care, or if, even worse, I snicker? I don’t think so. I just use a much broader, more external measure of her worth.
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The Jeb scenario playing out?

Journalist Russ Baker, publisher of WhoWhatWhy.com and author of “Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years,” (an utterly chilling book, by the way) thinks the Bush clan is working behind the scenes to install Jeb next.

Baker is no whack job, although you’d think so from the reactions to his current topics. He seems to be avoided by the same establishment media types who used to hire him and praise his work, but also has his supporters, including James C. Moore (author of “Bush’s Brain” and Bill Moyers). He’s always worth a listen:

In 1990, when George H.W. was president, Jeb got him to release the convicted terrorist Orlando Bosch, who had participated in more than 30 terrorist acts (among other things, Bosch was implicated in the bombing of a Cubana plane that resulted in the deaths of 73 civilians). In 1998, with heavy help from the Cuban community, Jeb was elected governor, and thus emerged in a prime position to help his elder brother, George W., prevail in the 2000 Florida election fiasco, and thereby become president. As governor, Jeb nominated Raoul Cantero, the grandson of the Cuban dictator Batista, to the Florida supreme court, though he was lacking in experience—Cantero had been the terrorist Bosch’s spokesman and attorney.

In the aftermath of September 11, while the George W. Bush administration was pushing the colored panic light like crazy, and targeting terrorist suspects of all kinds and levels of probable guilt and innocence, it consented to the release of Cuban exiles convicted of terrorist offenses. Jeb advocated for these releases as well.

***

Jeb has been carefully laying a scenario in which he could indeed run — and could be very well received. He’s traveled the country extensively as a kind of elder statesman. And recently he criticized the GOP presidential candidates’ behavior:

“I watch these debates and.. it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective and that’s kind of where we are…I think it changes when we get to the general election. I hope.”
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Gov. Tom Corbett, the invisible man

Marcus Hook was one of the towns I covered as a reporter, and now it’s on the edge of losing the one main industry. The Republican governor is largely indifferent to their plight:

“Marcus Hook is a town teetering on the edge of destruction. Last year, Sunoco Oil announced that it would shut down its refinery in Marcus Hook. This refinery has employed residents for generations; it provides a tax base for the community, and directly funds part of the school district. As horrible as it is, I wish this were an isolated event; but Sunoco is also closing its south Philadelphia refinery, and ConocoPhillips is closing one in nearby Trainer, Pa. In total, 2,500 Pennsylvanians will be laid off, and thousands more will see their livelihoods affected as more residents struggle with unemployment and the tax base disappears.
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Panetta to the rescue

I don’t care if he’s doing it because of bad PR or because he genuinely cares, just as long as it’s done:

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Tuesday announced a new layer in the Army’s investigations into a Madigan Army Medical Center behavioral health program that changed post traumatic stress disorder diagnoses for certain soldiers who were seeking medical retirements at the Army base south of Tacoma.

Panetta told a Senate committee that he asked a Defense Department undersecretary to look at whether the military is diagnosing post traumatic stress consistently.

It was not clear Tuesday whether that inquiry overlaps with at least two other ongoing investigations into Madigan’s forensic psychiatry unit. Pentagon and Army Medical Command spokesmen were not able to describe the latest investigation.

Panetta’s remarks came at a defense budget hearing at which Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., pressed him about his knowledge of the forensic psychiatry team at Madigan, on the grounds of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. That unit, created in 2008, reviewed PTSD diagnoses and sometimes adjusted them to other diagnoses.

The decisions were costly to some service members who were no longer entitled to the level of disability benefits the government provides to soldiers who suffer from PTSD. One psychiatrist in the forensic unit this fall encouraged other behavioral health specialists not to be a “rubber stamp,” and said a PTSD diagnosis could cost taxpayers $1.5 million in benefits over the lifetime of a retired soldier.

“I never want to hear anyone in any service say we’re not going to give you a PTSD diagnosis because we have a budget problem,” Murray said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Panetta replied that he was troubled by the Madigan reports and said he asked his undersecretary for personnel, Dr. Jo Anne Rooney, to look into the situation at Madigan.

‘It’s my brother’s turn tonight’

Just heartbreaking….

Last week, while working on a documentary about hunger in Michigan, Russ Russell had an experience that left him speechless.

“I was visiting with this family and one of the little boys said he wasn’t going to eat,” said Russell, development director for Forgotten Harvest, a Detroit-based nonprofit that rescues and redistributes fresh food. “He said, ‘Oh, I’m not eating dinner because it’s my brother’s turn tonight. Tomorrow is my night.’”

On Wednesday, state officials charged with helping to meet the needs of Michigan’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens publicly told a much different story. Maura Corrigan, director of Michigan’s Department of Human Services, assured lawmakers that changes to a core social safety-net program — cash welfare assistance — aren’t producing the kind of wide-scale woe critics predicted.

“There hasn’t been an uptick in the food banks; there hasn’t been an uptick in the homeless shelters,” Corrigan told the state’s House Appropriations subcommittee on human services, the Detroit Free Press reported Thursday. “It’s a dog that didn’t bite, as far as we’re concerned.”

Three months after implementing a plan to push many long-term welfare recipients off the state’s rolls, Michigan is deeply divided about its impact. It’s as if Russell and Corrigan are talking about different states.

[…] “You have to wonder if they are asking the right questions, really looking in the right places or if it’s just too early for the problems to show clearly,” said Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services, about Corrigan’s testimony and the impact of the changes to the welfare rolls. “I’m certainly hearing stories.”

Food banks and other agencies that help the needy are reporting a rise in those seeking help. Some of the more than 200 agencies to which Forgotten Harvest, a nonprofit that distributes fresh food, now have 30- to 45-day wait-lists for access to their food programs, Russell said. Forgotten Harvest provided the food for 12 million meals in 2008; if trends from the first two months of this year continue, the agency expects it will need to provide 36- to 40 million meals.

At the Gleaner’s Community Food Bank in Detroit, the agency distributed 22 percent more food between October and January than it did during the same period one year ago, staff said. But it’s unclear how much of the increase can be attributed to safety net program cuts.

A losing strategy

I don’t think this only applies to environmental groups, but okay, good place to start:

A searing new report says the environmental movement is not winning and lays the blame squarely on the failed policies of environmental funders. The movement hasn’t won any “significant policy changes at the federal level in the United States since the 1980s” because funders have favored top-down elite strategies and have neglected to support a robust grassroots infrastructure. Environmental funders spent a whopping $10 billion between 2000 and 2009 but achieved relatively little because they failed to underwrite grassroots groups that are essential for any large-scale change, the report says. Released in late February by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Cultivating the Grassroots was written by Sarah Hansen, who served as executive director of the Environmental Grantmakers Association from 1998 to 2005.

Environmental funders mainly support large, professionalized environmental organizations instead of the scrappy community-based groups that are most heavily impacted by environmental harms. Organizations with annual budgets greater than $5 million make up only 2 percent of all environmental groups, yet receive more than half of all environmental grants and donations.

The report makes the simple but profound argument that the current environmental funding strategy is not working and that, without targeting philanthropy at communities most impacted by environmental harms, the movement will continue to fail. “Our funding strategy is misaligned with the great perils our planet and environment face,” Hansen writes.

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