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In a frank admission a year ago, Senator Dick Durbin put it bluntly:   "Frankly, the banks run this place."

Perhaps they deserve to.  After all, they pay enough for the privilege.  

Last year the finance industry contributed $500 million to political campaigns:  that’s $1.4 million dollars a day to grease the skids of American democracy; nearly $1 million per member of Congress.

For that kind of money, they not only run the place, they own it!  Bought and paid for!

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Early Saturday evening, three friends and I headed out to Chicago for dinner at a favorite restaurant in our old neighborhood (Pilsen).  We were discussing (ironically, as it turns out) the recent passage of harsh immigration laws in Arizona, and the possibility that the new legislation will entrench racial profiling and increase harassment of both documented and undocumented minorities.  For reasons that will become clear, I note that the other three in the car are Caucasian-Americans, and I am a bi-racial Asian-American, born overseas, citizen by birth.

With I290 jammed with traffic due to construction, we turned off to Rt. 38 (Roosevelt Road) and continued towards the city.  What ensued is a timely illustration of why – especially in light of the new Arizona immigration law - we need laws that are more just towards immigrants and minorities and law enforcement officers who are better trained to uphold them.

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I woke up this morning and read with great sadness that rescue workers found the bodies of the last four missing miners at Upper Big Branch mine, crushing hopes that they might still be alive. West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin III, speaking shortly after the discovery, said that "the journey has ended."

If we are to learn the right lesson from this tragedy, however, then while one journey has ended, another – ours – has just begun. It is now our duty to rally around the deceased miners’ loved ones and support their devastated Appalachian communities in the long-term. It is now our task to hold responsible parties accountable and take bold and firm steps to keep such a needless disaster from happening again.

Because this disaster did not have to happen. It was not an "act of God" - as coal executives have in the past referred to accidents as - but a willful "act of man." It was foreshadowed by over 500 citations by safety regulators in 2009 and 53 violations in March of 2010 alone, significant numbers of which were "cardinal sins" in mine safety that had to do with methane detection and ventilation.

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Fri Jan 01, 2010 at 03:16 PM PST

The Failure of the Culture Wars

by Ben Lowe

Engaging the Moderate Majority Means Recovering Common Ground to Pursue Common Sense Solutions.

The post-election maps of 2004 supposedly proved it beyond all doubt:  America is divided into two warring ideological factions, red states and blue states.  Right-wing talk show hosts attack Democratic candidates, and are, in turn, attacked by left-wing bloggers.  The Great Communicator gives way to the Great Divider.  Yet all wars require two combatants, and every punch is answered with a counter-punch.  

A powerful irony underlies this so-called "culture war", and it’s an irony powerful enough to influence who wins the next election.  

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