Kristina Rizga

Is This Finally the Year of the Youth Vote?

According to preliminary data by CIRCLE, youth turn out increased in most states that participated in the Super Tuesday primaries. In the 13 states that CIRCLE has analyzed, the turn out among 18- to 29-year-olds tripled compared with 2000 in three states -- Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, doubled in Massachusetts, and quadrupled in Tennessee.

Over 2 million 18- to 29-year-olds participated in the Democratic elections compared to roughly 900,000 in the Republican contests. In the Democratic contests, Obama won the largest share of the youth vote in ten Super Tuesday states. Clinton won the youth vote in MA, CA, and AR. In the Republican contests, youth support varied by state. (For more detailed, state-by-state break down of the youth turn out data, visit CIRCLE.)

Our website host had to shut down Wiretap on Super Tuesday, because it allegedly detected a hacker trying to run an attack code and alter the content of our site. Well, hackers, we are flattered that you consider our website a threatening noise machine. And I am sorry to hear that you couldn't outsmart Wiretap's genius web developers.

Shutting down Wiretap though can't cause a major blow to the youth vote or youth activism anymore. In the past five years, the field of youth organizing grew to over 600 youth-driven organizations, which means that information and resources are now de-centralized and distributed more democratically. If one of us is down in 2008, we've got a dozen of allies that can fill in.

In addition to the growing youth activism and record youth voter turn out we saw so far, 2008 will also go down in history as a year in which youth organizers collaborated more than ever. Last week, I talked to more than a dozen youth organizations that are engaged in various coalitions that convene organizers on the phone, in person, through Facebook and group emails to coordinate Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) efforts, share ideas about best practices and practical tools, create "Speaker Bureaus" for the media, and most importantly, build a sense of long-term community that doesn't view young voters as a one night stand.

Celebrating Politics through music

When was the last time you thought of politics as something fun, engaging, and inspiring? Let's face it -- daily headlines about mounting deaths in Iraq, domestic spying, broken health care system and sinking economy are overwhelming and depressing and that's not a good state of mind for fighting long-term battles. Where do we find strength and inspiration in these dark days? Try Music for America.

The San Francisco-based group was started by three pissed off, young guys, who were tired of formulaic and boring ways that dominate political discussions and meet-ups. They wanted to leave more inspired, talk about what can be done, have some fun while at it and see other young faces engaged. So, they started throwing their own kind of meet-ups with a little bit more music, positive messages, and discussions that relate distant D.C. Politics to the lives of students, punks, hipsters, hip-hop, or reggae fans. Online, they now have 60,000 members. Offline, they've paired up with over 200 bands and went on 2000 music concerts across the country to register voters and to talk about things young people can relate to and do to make a difference.

This Thursday, March 9, Music for America will throw their biggest party of the year to celebrate 2006 Icon Award winners, such as the outspoken bands Green Day and Death Cab and Cutie among others. If you live in the Bay Area, check out their After Party. Green Day, Moon Zappa, Nate Query from the Decemberists, Boots Riley from the Coup, MFA staff and hundreds of their members and fans will be there to talk about some positive things in politics and listen to some of the most edgy and inspiring music to recharge our spirits.

If you don't live near San Francisco, you can be there online at from 7-10 p.m. PST, as Bob Bringham blogs live from the event.

Remembering New Orleans

Two days before Hurricane Katrina blew ashore New Orleans on Aug. 29, Ebony Bolding and her mother Henrietta were cooking food all night in preparation for a block party in the Sixth Ward.

They planned to celebrate the release of Ebony's first book, Before and After North Dorgenois. Through interviews, photography and personal reflections, the book documented the good, the bad and everything in between in Ebony's block of this vibrant New Orleans neighborhood. Ebony's book, and four others written by her classmates, were the #2 best sellers (trailing Harry Potter) in New Orleans.

On the same day, four blocks down the street, Ebony's high school teacher Abram Himelstein -- who had encouraged her to write the book -- was monitoring the approaching hurricane online. Abram and his wife Shana had never left the city for storms before, and they didn't want to cancel this block party. It had taken a lot of courage for Ebony -- a shy teen from a troubled family -- to make her innermost views public. But as the day progressed and the eye of the hurricane moved right over New Orleans, Himelstein and the Boldings canceled the party, packed their cars, and left New Orleans for Houston.

Hours later Ebony's home, filled with freshly cooked food and party drinks, was submerged in water. The cars left behind on the block ended up on neighbors' rooftops. In just a few hours, the daily life that most of us take for granted -- neighbors lounging on porches, children playing in the streets, women calling kids for dinner -- was swept away by wind and water.

But thanks to Ebony and her classmates, some of the most inspiring stories from New Orleans' oldest public housing neighborhoods -- neighborhoods that rarely got attention from the media unless there was a shooting -- continue to live on inside the pages of five books published by The Neighborhood Story Project.

The Neighborhood Story Project was founded in 2004 by Abram Himelstein and Rachel Breunlin, teachers from John McDonough Senior High School in New Orleans. They felt that media representations of their students and their neighborhoods were usually one-sided, focused almost exclusively on the weaknesses of these largely low-income black communities. Himelstein and Breunlin knew their students had the aptitude and skills to write more complete, honest stories -- ones that people in predominantly white, middle-class America would otherwise miss.

Most of the books' original prints didn't survive the hurricane, but fellow teen author Ashley Nelson managed to save a disk containing the files, and the Brooklyn-based publisher Soft Skull Press recently reprinted all five volumes, with all book sale proceeds benefiting the project and its writers.

As the Gulf region recovers from the flood damage and governmental inaction, the stories from the Neighborhood Story Project live on as a testament to the endurance of the people of New Orleans. We kick off this commemorative series by talking with Abram Himelstein, cofounder of the Neighborhood Story Project, who recently returned to New Orleans. Abram spoke to AlterNet from his temporary home in the city's Seventh Ward.

Kristina Rizga: Could you tell me how the Neighborhood Story Project got started? What motivated you to do it?

Abram Himelstein: Rachel and I were teachers at the John McDonough Senior High School [in New Orleans], and we were frustrated with the stories that the media told about our school and our students' lives and our neighborhoods. We knew that there were much richer and more truthful ways of telling the stories. So, we thought of the idea of having our students tell these stories of their neighborhoods, and we thought about what would work and how to motivate them.

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Confessions of a Howard Stern Censor

Did you notice censored words during this year's Rolling Stone's performance for NFL's halftime show? Lyrics that haven't been bleeped out for half a century. Ever wonder who's pushing those buttons? And who makes those decisions?

Dead Air Dave has been hitting the omnipotent button of the dump machine since 2002. He was in charge of removing all those mischievous words from The Howard Stern Show, as dictated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In this recently published, fascinating interview with him on, he talks about the changes in the censorship of commercial radio in the post-Janet era.

The most absurd outcome seems to be the banning of words like 'piss' while racial slurs continue unabated. On the brighter side, Dear Air seems inspired by the rise of Sattelite Radio.

Dead Air Dave also produced a short documentary about his experiences as the supreme bleeper.


Last Day to Save Student Aid

Tomorrow, February 1st, Congress will take a final vote on the Budget Reconciliation Bill. If passed, this bill will cut $12.7 billion dollars from student loan programs. This will be the largest cut to student aid in history. It will add on average of $2,000 to each student's debt each year.

American students already graduate with more debt than students in any other industrialized country. Two-thirds of college students now graduate with loans, and their average college debt is nearly $20,000 -- an increase of more than 50 percent since the early 1990s.

These cuts affect everyone -- dems, republicans, greens, independents -- especially low-income students and anyone who wants to go into lower-paying positions after school, such as teaching, social work, or public sector.

The United States Student Association, the League of Young Voters, Campaign for Our Future and hundreds of other organizations across the country are calling for a National Day of Action today.

For more information on how to stop this bill, please visit or

Here's your chance to show how to filibuster!

Saudis warn Iraq may face civil war

It's not every day that you see a Saudi foreign minister going against the Bush administration's assessment of Iraq.

While the White House continues to offer a generally upbeat assessment of Iraq, The New York Times reported this morning that "Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Thursday that he had been warning the Bush administration in recent days that Iraq was hurtling toward disintegration, a development that he said could drag the region into war."

"Prince Saud's statements, some of the most pessimistic public comments on Iraq by a Middle Eastern leader in recent months, were in stark contrast to the generally upbeat assessments that the White House and the Pentagon have been offering."

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together," he said in a meeting with reporters at the Saudi Embassy here. "All the dynamics are pulling the country apart." He said he was so concerned that he was carrying this message "to everyone who will listen" in the Bush administration."

(Thanks for the lead Gerry.)

Growing health care crisis

My boyfriend and I were visiting my family in Latvia this summer where he got sick right away with a hardy European flu his American immune system couldn't handle. We didn't have health insurance, but as symptoms got worse I dared to call the doctor. To my surprise, the cost of a visit at home was $30. The cost of Lithuanian antibiotics that cured him? $3. Similar antibiotics at Walgreens? $50.

It makes sense then why the average American paid $5,267 on health care in 2002, compared with an average $1,821 in other industrialized nations. And it's not because our medical lawsuits are out of hand, as many Republicans like to argue. As AlterNet reported, recent research shows that health care increases come from high prices not costs. In other words, pharmaceutical companies charge more for the same drugs and health care companies charge more for the same services.

These rising prices contributed to the fact that even more Americans went without health insurance last year. And it means that more folks lack routine preventative care, resulting in expensive hospital visits for more serious problems.

According to a recent data by the Census Bureau released on August 30, there are 800,000 more Americans without health insurance this year than there were in 2003. Lack of insurance was much more common among those with low incomes.  Some 24.3 percent of people with incomes below $25,000 were uninsured, almost triple the rate of 8.4 percent for people with incomes over $75,000. And more depressing findings -- African-Americans (19.7 percent uninsured) and Hispanics (32.7 percent) were much more likely to be uninsured than white, non-Hispanic people (11.3 percent).

Luckily, the number of uninsured children didn't grow. The government health insurance programs such as Medicaid and SCHIP enrolled more children in 2004 and offset the reduction of private insurance plans for children.

There is no simple solution to this problem, but I am planning to channel some of my rage into next congressional elections coming up in November 2006. And I asked my dad to mail me some Lithuanian antibiotics.

If you are in college or are planning to enroll

The Student Aid Action just reminded me that on September 26th, the Congress is considering a proposal to cut federal financial aid programs by nearly $9 billion dollars. If this cut passes, it will be the largest cut to student aid in history, forcing the typical student borrower to pay an additional $5,800 for his or her student loans and further closing the door on affordable college opportunities.

When the U.S. government can spend $1 billion on military operations in Iraq every day, we should be able to find a fraction of it for helping low-income students.

As I've mentioned in previous entries, student debt in the U.S. has risen dramatically in the last decade. Two-thirds of college students now graduate with loans, and their average college debt is nearly $20,000 -- an increase of more than 50 percent since the early 1990s.

American students already graduate with more debt than students in any other industrialized country. Financial Aid cuts affect low-income students and growing debt overall closes opportunities for graduates that want to go into lower paying positions, such as teaching and social work.

Take Action -- make a quick phone call before September 26th and urge your representative to oppose this proposal. Visit Student Aid Action website for instructions.

Ways to Help Children

Among the millions of displaced Katrina survivors, there are now thousands of homeless children with emotional and physical scars that need immediate care and attention.

The total number of displaced kids appears well above 200,000 according to the New York Times estimate from September 7. In addition to basic needs for food and shelter, children need to find new schools where the classroom routine will provide a welcome relief from the chaos and trauma they experienced in the past week. Many schools can also provide much-needed counselors and immunization.

The resettlement of both K-12 and college students began last week and the Department of Education needs your help. Some historians argue that the Department is experiencing its worst crisis since its creation after the Civil War.

Here are a few ways you can support displaced children:

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