Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Beatlick Travel: Natchez Trace to Nashville

Date: May 6, 2009 6:31 PM
The Trace

We pulled out of Louisiana so stuffed with crawfish, oysters, beignets, and pralines that I have serious doubt of being able to get into my blue jeans now. We made it to the Natchez Trace Parkway slogging through even more rain. The Trace is over four hundred miles long, a non commercial highway with a 50 mph speed limit and no trucks or billboards.

It began as a buffalo trail, then an Indian trading path, and finally in the 1800s a road for Northerners such as Kaintucks and Tennesseans to return home after poling their crops down the Mississippi on rafts. It stretches from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and its hardwood and bottomland forests were rife with robbers and murderers in the old days.

Even today the dense forest looks intimidating and it isn’t hard to imagine Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, even Hernando de Soto riding their horses up the Trace. It is still a raw land unencumbered with modernity. Before we had hit mile 51 we saw the most incredible sight - an great American bald eagle. I have seen eagles before in Kodiak, Alaska, and out in the southwestern canyon lands, but nothing like this one. It was enormous with a white head and feet, or claws, I guess. He was hunkered over a small carcass and swooped off majestically as we passed by gape-mouthed at the wing span.

Buzzards are prevalent as well as there is no end to the fresh supply of road kill comprised of rabbits and oppossum. Throughout the whole trace we encountered wild turkeys, blue heron, and best of all the red birds. I haven’t seen them in seven years out west. Guess they don’t get that far. My sister and I consider redbirds signs of our mother, who loved them so much. “They don’t mix with the other birds; they keep to themselves,” she always claimed.

So as reluctant as I am to return to Tennessee the little redbirds tell me, “It’s gonna be alright.” The trees, so tall, hard, and erect, remind me of the Church of Christ deacons, looking down on my 15-year-old self, judging me, criticizing. But before long the whole scene turned to a green French voile tapestry. The trees patterned until they became aristocrats with curly wigs piled high on their heads, toes extended, turned just right, pirouetting, bowing.

But I am intimidated a little bit to go home. The south did me no favors. Yes, it made me the woman I am, but I am forged from tears and pain, not joy. Forged from struggle not allowance. I honestly believe there is too much blood in the soil of the south. Too much pain has been gleaned from the backs of slaves, from downtrodden poor. Out west it is so clean, so open, so pure. Just pour your self out in the red sunset. I don’t look forward to this trip, but I will go.

We camped about 100 miles south of Tupelo, Georgia, birthplace of Elvis. The bullfrogs are deafening out in the tupelo, bald-cypress swamp. It rains and rains. We are so pleased that our new van is water tight. We sleep uptop now regardless of the weather.

Next morning we just went for it and plowed on down the highway to Nashville. Last night we slept at Joe’s brother’s home. They haven’t seen each other in seven years.

Happy Trails
Beatlick Pamela



By Jack Random

I’ve got news for the talking heads: Nobody cares about the party identification of Arlen Specter. Nobody cares about the resignation of Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Nobody cares about the revival of civil war in Iraq or the expansion of the Afghan war to Pakistan. Nobody cares about the lost identity of the Republican Party – as if the Democrats have found one.

What do we care about? We are beginning to worry about the Swine Flu (which we blame of course on Mexican immigrants) but we really don’t care much about anything else but our jobs, our homes, our diminishing wages and vanishing benefits. To bend the phrase of political operative James Carville: It’s the stupid economy.

It is as solid a truism as any in politics: We care most about those things that affect us most directly. It is as unfortunate as it is true for those things we do not care about can affect us more profoundly than those we do. Two years ago nobody cared about bankruptcy laws when our brilliant legislators tailored those laws to the interests of banks. Nobody cared about regulating Wall Street until the housing crisis cut our financial legs out from under us. Nobody cared about trade policy when Bill Clinton made it a bipartisan mandate and began in earnest the process of exporting American jobs and deflating American wages.

There are issues that we should care about, issues that do not make headlines or dominate the commentaries of talking heads, and issues that are profoundly important to the future well being of the nation.

In and of itself, the defection of Arlen Specter from the Republican Party is not such an issue. It is about as important as the child rearing habits of Britney Spears or the foibles of a runaway bride. Anyone who believes that the balance of power has shifted because the letter following Senator Specter is a D rather than an R is living in a fantasy world of wishful thinking. Specter’s voting habits will remain the same. He will oppose the Employee Free Choice Act. He will support free trade. He will push for unlimited military spending. He will oppose a progressive, pro-labor nominee to the Supreme Court. In fact, if Specter prevails as a Democrat in Pennsylvania and if he is rewarded for his defection by assuming a chairmanship of the subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education then we may consider this defection a defeat for working people and a net loss for progressives.

In contrast, the resignation of Justice David Souter has profound implications for the future well being of the nation. The appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, despite early hopes for judicial balance, have created the greatest corporate bias in Supreme Court history. From the Lilly Ledbetter decision to the ruling that allowed public interest laws to be used for corporate development, the Roberts court has laid down no precedent stronger than corporate supremacy. If this trend is allowed to continue we will be faced with the greatest obstacle to restoring the rights of labor in modern times.

Of course, David Souter was a friend to the common man. There was no greater disappointment in his career than the infamous and disgraceful decision to short circuit democracy in Bush V. Gore 2000. His replacement will only restore the imbalance that currently exists on a predominantly anti-labor court. One can only hope that Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia, clearly the most radical conservative influence on the court today, at age 73 will retire before the second term of Obama but it appears that next in line are the moderates John Paul Stevens at age 89 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at 76.

It is notable that what passes for moderation on the Supreme Court would easily pass for conservatism in almost any other context. The court like the United States Senate has become a conservative institution because senatorial Democrats only insist on judicial qualifications and temperament while Republicans demand ideological loyalty.

If the defection of Arlen Specter is to have any positive impact whatsoever it is this: He will refuse to join his former colleagues in blocking a well-qualified Supreme Court nominee on the basis of ideology alone. If Specter and his ilk in the Senate use their standing to push Obama’s nominee to the middle ground, then we have lost a battle that will play out for decades to come. If Specter is to be welcomed into the Democratic fold, this is the price he should pay. If not, the party should support a true pro-labor Pennsylvania progressive in the 2010 election.

Unfortunately, that is not the kind of hardball the Democrats are accustomed to playing. Truth be told, the Democrats (particularly in the Senate) are very comfortable with a corporate bias on the Supreme Court. After all, it is the corporate interest they truly represent. By and large, the millionaire club of that regal body is the corporate interest.

That is the reason we cannot expect too much of our government. Much has been said of the lost identity of the Republican Party but we are about to learn that the Democrats, with dominant control of both houses of Congress and the White House, is equally lost when it comes to philosophical grounding. The Republicans are supposed to be the party of corporate interests. If we are politically aware at all, we expect them to represent the wealthy first. But the Democrats are supposed to be the party of labor, the party of the common people, and the party of social responsibility.

What we are about to witness is a party stymied by its own divisions and a government snarled in toothless compromise. Politicos argue that the Republicans have closed their doors to mainstream Americans and there is much to support that point of view but the Democrats, in opening their doors so wide that the Arlen Specters are welcomed without condition or expectation, have lost touch with their modern roots. They are no longer the party of Franklin Roosevelt. They are the party of the consummate compromiser Bill Clinton.

I expect very little of the new Democratic government. Until now they have had an excuse: the protocol of the Senate, the 60-vote requirement to force cloture. But they have not fought too hard to get Al Franken (the Senator-elect from Minnesota) seated, have they? They have not opposed the procedures that allow forty Senators to obstruct the business of government as distinctly anti-democratic – in fact, many have defended it.

Soon Franken will be seated nevertheless and with Arlen Specter the Democrats will have the prized 60-seat majority in the Senate. If they fail to act, fail to enact comprehensive and universal health care, fail to push through a bold green initiative, fail to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, fail to roll back the Free Trade mandate, fail to resolve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fail to restore our civil liberties, then they will stand exposed as the feckless corporate loyalists they truly are.

To paraphrase comic Lewis Black: The Republicans are the party of bad ideas and the Democrats are the party of no ideas.

The time must and surely will come when independent voters will look to independent candidates for a chance at real change. Until then we will continue to wander in endless circles, playing the blame game and dodging responsibility, while the nation declines and the planet cleanses itself of its human pestilence.



Monday, May 04, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama on Behalf of Leonard Peltier


Dear President Obama,

On behalf of myself, friends, family and literally millions of people all across the United States and the world, I am writing you today concerning an urgent and heartfelt request: to consider the case of Leonard Peltier. For thirty-three years Mr. Peltier has been incarcerated in various American prisons for a crime that there is ample evidence to substantiate he did not commit. For thirty-three years Mr. Peltier, his lawyers and supporters have appealed to the powers that be in Washington to re-open, to re-try the case of the U.S. vs. Leonard Peltier. For thirty-three years these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Now, at age 64, Leonard Peltier is approaching the end of his life and is in poor health, and those of us who are interested in Native American issues of social justice are trying one last time, when hope has returned to the American spirit and we have a president who espouses transparency and equanimity of policy and practice, to appeal to your sense of compassion and justice in a case that for many represents an opportunity to finally bridge the gap of broken treaties and broken trust between the First Nation peoples of this country and their government. We truly hope that with your new administration and its progressively positive attitudes of equal rights for all peoples, races, religions and economic status, that a time of reconciliation has finally arrived and some of the injustices of the past can be put right, with critical bridges crossed and war wounds healed.

Rather than laying out the long history of the case of the U.S. vs. Leonard Peltier, I prefer to point you in the direction of Mr. Peltier’s book My Life Is My Sun Dance, a book he has written that was published in 1999 to universal acclaim and rave reviews (see enclosure), and which I had the great honor to edit. This book contains his full account of the events surrounding his arrest, his trial, his incarceration and the more than twenty-three years that followed. Also, you might want to consult your colleagues Senator Inouye and Gov. Bill Richardson on this case, as they are familiar with it and are supporters of the world-wide movement to reconsider, re-try and release Leonard Peltier from his incarceration as a political prisoner, wrongly convicted.

To this end I would like to ask of you a favor by granting an audience to Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th-Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Pipe of the Great Lakota Nation, and myself, that we may deliver a message to you on behalf of all those concerned people around the world who have worked--by marching in protest, by contacting their representatives in government, by signing petitions, by writing letters, by working for his legal defense--so hard for Mr. Peltier’s freedom. We would be happy to meet with you, Vice President Biden, Sec. Hillary Clinton, Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Inouye, Jodi Archambault Gillette from the Office of Inter-governmental Affairs and anyone else you feel would appropriately need to be involved in such a meeting and any discussions that might occur to shed a brighter light on this matter. Such a meeting, we believe, would not only be a true sign of your willingness to begin a dialogue with Native peoples on issues of overlooked urgency and importance, but would go a long way, in good faith, to showing us that Democracy and Justice still have a meaning in America.

Mr. President, it is with great hope and great expectations that my colleagues and I await your word in response to this letter of inquiry and appeal. Not only does the future of Leonard Peltier depend upon it, but also our hopes for a greater nation where there is truly liberty and justice for all peoples, including First Nation peoples.
Respectfully yours,

Harvey Arden
Washington, DC
with assistance from
Thomas Rain Crow

Please send a copy of this to