Monday, May 31, 2010

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Memorial Day apparently has different meanings for different people. Last week, during a press conference in which President Barack Obama was discussing the BP oil catastrophe, long-time White House correspondent Helen Thomas went off topic and asked “When are we going to stop murdering people in Afghanistan?” And she didn’t want to hear any lying doubletalk, either. What struck most people in the room, presumably, was the insolent tone of both the question and the manner in which it was delivered in. So Thomas thinks soldiers are out there murdering innocent people. I suppose she would question why we are honoring our war dead when they are nothing but a bunch of paid assassins. Obama’s response should have been a reminder why he is president, and not the hot-tempered and ill-mannered John McCain or Hillary Clinton. He kept his cool, and painstakingly laid-out the rationales and intentions of the war. It would have been perfectly understandable if he had simply ignored the question or her, but he showed Thomas more respect than she deserved by responding as he did. Not that any of this is surprising, since Thomas, for some reason, has been taking shots at Obama ever since he was elected; perhaps she--like Harriet Christian of “inadequate black male” infamy—still fumes over Hillary’s loss in the primaries.

On the other hand, somewhat disingenuous is constant stream of praise for the current breed of soldier as being selfless people filling in the void left open by their less patriotic citizens so everyone can live in peace and freedom (particularly when our military actions tend to make the world even more dangerous). There are, of course, some “gung-ho” types who really do like the “thrill” of shooting people, especially if they can do it legally (that’s why “companies” like Blackwater are full of ex-soldiers, who wish to continue to practice their “profession” for fun and profit). However, few volunteer for service because they want to get shot at or shoot someone; only a fanatical idealist is thinking about protecting someone else’s freedom. In combat, most are just thinking about saving their own freedom to live. That they are obliged to do so for often questionable reasons by armchair warriors who view them as numbers on a map to advance their own self-aggrandizement is the perspective from which praise should be granted. What are soldiers today dying for?

The reality is that for the majority who join, the military life is seen as an alternative just because it just seems, for some people, an easier route to earn a trade or a living, or they are gulled by the “glamorous” globe-trotting advertisements (frankly, I liked Germany—when I wasn’t covered in mud or inch-thick dust “globetrotting” in places like Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels). The Army claimed that it exceeded its recruiting goals last year, which some might interpret as an affect of the down economy. But in fact recruiting decreased by 10,000 from the previous two years, because the Army lowered its recruiting goals, apparently because it didn’t want to lower its recruit standards any further. For those who get in, the pay-off for not having the right to quit your job is free room and board if single, and additional funding if supporting a family—plus plenty of spending money, bonuses, education benefits and free medical. Because single soldiers don’t have to concern themselves with keeping a budget to pay for essentials, one suspects that many who enter the military because they haven’t successfully learned to live on their own are not well-prepared for “real life” when they leave.

In any case, Thomas’ inelegant query could have been simplified to ask “Why are we still in Afghanistan?” The war in Afghanistan was bungled from the start; it was never a priority for the Bush/Cheney administration. 9-11 was a godsend for Bush and Cheney, because it offered the perfect cover for what they always intended to do from day one when they took office: invade Iraq and correct the “mistake” of not completing the conquest of Iraq during the first Gulf War. It was a “stain” on the Bush “family honor,” and that needed to be erased from the history books. After a bombing campaign that sent Al-Qaeda scurrying into hiding, but allowing most to escape into Pakistan because of insufficient boots on the ground, Bush/Cheney invented “evidence” to move into Iraq, as they always intended. The Obama administration’s efforts to correct the oversight may well be prove to be ultimately fruitless. This country already had an opportunity to enter the modern world after its defacto independence from Britain in 1919; its king, Amanullah Khan, was (like Turkey’s post-Ottoman ruler Kemal Ataturk) was impressed by western advances and used his initial popularity to attempt to force modernization on the country (to include compulsory public education for girls as well as boys). But his efforts proved to be unpopular, and shortly after the country was devastated by an anti-modernization rebellion, Amanullah was forced to abdicate in 1929. Little has changed since then.

Democratizing Afghanistan is a shibboleth, so what are we doing there? It doesn’t have oil that is easily accessible, or any other resources of significance we want. I heard a right-wing radio talker claim once that we could wipe out the Taliban tomorrow if we wanted to; funny how it isn’t explained how wiping out the Taliban would be done, since Bush and Cheney couldn’t figure it out. Also seldom mentioned is that the Taliban isn’t the only militant Afghan entity we have to fight; even our “friends” amount to little more than deals with the Devil. Given the corruption of the current Kabul “administration,” why doesn’t the U.S. just make a deal with the Taliban: give-up Osama Bin Laden (if he’s still alive), start negotiations that offers to allow them to participate as a sanctioned political party, and then get the hell out. The alternative is to stay in Afghanistan for years more hoping that the ungovernable regions of the country are eventually “cured” of the Taliban (and Al-Qaeda) virus by the “vaccine” of brute force.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Enemy Within

With the 2010 mid-term elections looming, one fact that is hard to escape is the mainstream media’s willingness to follow the lead of the right-wing commentary to question and put in a negative light virtually everything that Obama administration has tried to do. Naturally, the right-wing media (Fox News and talk radio) accuses the rest of being “liberal,” the only logical explanation for this is that it sees anything a few degrees left of far-right as “liberal”—that is to say, anyone not blasting Obama with both barrels must be a “liberal.” The reality is that the mainstream media has treated Obama with far less deference than it did the Bush administration. CNN in particular has given the enemies of the Obama administration far more opportunities to lie and mislead than permitting Obama’s proponents to defend his policies. Not that we should be surprised; CNN, which backed Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries, spent countless hours for two weeks hammering Obama on the Jeremiah Wright issue—while at the same time allowing feminist commentators to complain that the media was “sexist.”

The mainstream media (with the exception, perhaps, of MSNBC) has failed utterly to expose the hypocrisy of the Republicans and their unabashed intention to “break” Obama right from the start. There was never any intention to work with Obama, but to use his race to attempt to portray him either as a “radical” or incompetent. The Democrats, when they were in the minority during the Bush years, never attempted to derail his agenda, even when they had the power to do so. Obama was helped by the southern wing of the Democratic party, either; especially in regard to health care reform, which fought every attempt to promote a public option independent of the insurance companies.

Meanwhile, the so-called Tea Party movement has its first “official” U.S. senate candidate, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, whose first major pronouncement was to chastise the Obama administration for being “too hard” on BP in regard to the current oil spill catastrophe. The Tea Party movement is supposed to be a major danger to the Democrats in the mid-term elections, and for good reason: the mindless mob mentality has a way of spreading, like a disease. Sometimes it has a way of infecting even those who should know better. For example, I happened upon a local “alternative” weekly called the “Weekly Volcano,” which I’d never seen before. Inside was an article on the Olympia Tea Party gang. The author of the article, who claimed to be on the left of the political spectrum (writing for an “alternative” weekly, you see), talked to these people, and came away with this suggestion: “I have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Say again?

A local Republican tea partier told the credulous writer that he was for “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” Sounds like typical Republican speak, and the typical mendacity. In regard to “fiscal responsibility,” where were these people when Reagan and Bush were president, when the biggest deficits in U.S. history were run up? Is it only “OK” when Republicans do it? In regard to “free markets,” isn’t that what many people are saying contributed to jobs going overseas and the high unemployment rate today? As for “limited government,” outside the right (which Tea Partiers belong to), people are hammering the Obama administration for doing too little to ease the country out of its financial and economic doldrums. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. What do people want? Or more likely, do they even know?

The fact is Tea Partiers are a one-note show. They only talk about what they are against. Ask them what they are for, all you get is the simple-minded talking points they heard on Fox News. There was a similar movement called the “American Party” back in the mid-19th century; they were better known as the “Know-Nothing Party.”

The writer of the article also noted that the Tea Partiers have a “legitimate” complaint about the TAARP bill that was passed during the Obama administration. But wait: wasn’t TAARP passed during the summer of 2008, during the Bush administration? In fact, Bush approved a bill that did not contain a provision for oversight, which explains why banks could not explain what they did with the first installment. This is just one example of the fallacies and distortions that the movement is shot-through with, and managing to con gullible left-wingers with.

Tea Partiers, it is said, claim that a 35 percent top tax rate on the rich is unfair. This doesn’t sound like “populist” sentiment to me—more like far-right extremism. They also claim that 47 percent of all Americans (meaning the low-income brackets) don’t pay any taxes at all. This is again right-wing propaganda; just because someone gets a tax refund doesn’t mean they didn’t pay taxes, and some of the richest corporations in this country manage not to pay one dime in taxes. The super-rich, it is said, are “creative” and “useful,” so they deserve to pay themselves 300 times the amount of the lowest paid employee. It’s so “unfair” to the rich.

But again, what is reality to a Tea Partier? Manufacturing jobs remained steady until the Bush administration, during which there was a decline of 3 million manufacturing jobs. This can’t all be blamed on NAFTA, though many people try (ever heard of China, with which we have a 5-1 import-to-export disparity?). Part of the reason is the loss of that “creative” and “useful” spirit. The Bush administration frankly left the door open for financial gambling casinos by completely deregulating the financial sector. The “creative” MBA’s these days are not starting new companies—they are out to make the quick buck as “banksters.” They are even less “useful” than janitors, as we have seen in the financial sector meltdown.

And where are all these great geniuses, anyways? Current technology is based on principles a century old, with only incremental changes. Rocket science has a reached a virtual standstill. Where are these “creative” and “useful” who are going to discover an energy source that will cure the world’s dependence on fossil fuels forever? They certainly can’t be found in university engineering and science departments, where there has been a decrease in the number of students, and the ones who are there spend less time creating than learning how to use expensive calculators.

The “enemy” is not the Obama administration, which has been hampered by the cynical distortions of the right and right-leaning media that refuses to tell the truth. It is indeed “us”—“us” who believe the cynical and deceitful propaganda, and “us” who are gulled by the nonsense because it is sounds “sensible.” The only sensible thing to do is not to be deceived, and vote against Republican pretenders in 2010, because this is the only thing they have played for the past two years. The well-being of the country is the last consideration on their minds.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prejudice is the Reason of Fools IV

A few weeks ago, some Jewish groups expressed outrage when a Los Angeles commentator had the audacity to compare the Arizona immigration law—which allows police to arrest anyone they “suspect” of being an illegal immigrant (that is anyone who appears Latino) if they don’t happen to be carrying their birth certificate with them as evidence that they are “legal”—with Nazism. There was never a “Holocaust” in this country, they say, ignoring the fact that 90 percent of the original Native American population was killed-off by 1900, or that an estimated 2 million mostly U.S. citizens of Mexican extraction were “repatriated” to Mexico during the 1930s for very much the same reasons the 500,000 Jews in Germany were under assault. They choose to ignore the fact that while Nazism and fascism in the U.S. has never taken on the horrific aspect it did in Germany, American Jews are not only being hypocritical but purposefully blind to the fact that racism, nativism and xenophobia fueled by racist propaganda both by politicians and the media that defines the social philosophy of Nazism has existed in this country as long as it has been a country. In Germany, Jews were propagandized as common vermin, stealing jobs from “real” Germans, and draining the country of its wealth. Jews were also accused of destroying the “culture” of the nation. Does any of this sound familiar?

Although they have been discriminated against in the past, Jews have never suffered from racism in this country the way African-Americans did. Today, Latinos are under racist assault from all sides, even from the so-called “progressives.” Latinos are accused of all manner of evil and insidious designs on the American People: “Stealing” jobs, not paying taxes, draining public funds, spreading diseases, engaging in rampant crime—all the while being portrayed by the mainstream media as little more than vermin. The Southern Poverty Law Center devoted a webpage citing legitimate studies that refute all of these myths in regard to Latinos, yet most people still prefer to rely on personal prejudice as their basis of reality. Like the Jews in Germany, once a group is reduced to “subhuman” status, they are mere game to be hunted. Latinos caught in the web of racism may not be sent to gas chambers, but the political and media propaganda that has created a poisonous atmosphere for which racism can exist in is real enough.

An op-ed in the Seattle Times recently commented on the aftermath of a recent ICE raid on a large orchard in the state, which ended in the reduction of most of the labor force. The writer, Danny Westneat, noted that “To replace their depleted Mexican work force, Gebbers Farms posted help-wanted ads for 1,280 jobs picking fruit,” which stated ‘Must be able to lift 60 pounds, climb a ladder while carrying 40 pounds and endure "wet orchards in temperatures from 30 to 100 degrees.’ Laborers were to be paid a minimum of $9.19 an hour, plus bonuses that could double that pay according to how much produce they picked. How many “natives” did this advertisement attract? Apparently, not many, because Gebbers has applied for 1,000 guest workers—from Jamaica. Because so few “natives” were willing to do this work, and because anti-Latino racism is running so high in this country, the federal government is apparently discouraging any hint of “amnesty” or even work visas for Latinos who have already been doing the work for years, the only option for Gebbers is to be forced the expense of flying people from 3,000 miles away. Most of the Mexicans have been doing farm work all their lives, and many of these are people who lost their farms in Mexico due to competition from U.S. produce in Mexico itself—one of the effects of NAFTA that American whiners ignore. But who in the U.S. wants to unduly burdened by such thoughts? Certainly not the hundreds of angry racists who responded by assailed Westneat and his revelations.

The following appeared in the local weekly a few years ago, in regard to the Emerald Downs race track in Auburn, Washington:

“The panic over the Mexican groom shortage ushers to the fore a noisy band of hypocrites within America's capitalist machine: unemployed citizens who decry job shortages yet don't have the temerity to start at ladder's bottom…’There are no white people who want to work, and [the Mexican grooms] love their jobs," said trainer Belvoir, who's Caucasian. "White people don't want to work; they just want to bitch and say there are no jobs.’”

After the work visas of the missing Mexican grooms were mysteriously delayed, there was a three-month “window of opportunity” for the “natives” to respond to advertisements offering work as grooms. Two-count-them-two people made initial inquiries, were not heard from again. The Mexicans “loved their work,” but the natives looked askance when they found out that part of the job required such “blue collar” tasks as shoveling horse leavings. “Americans” just don’t do that kind of work. It’s only fit for “Mexicans”—except that “real” Americans like to complain when they are doing it.

Back in 2006, the ICE raided the Crider poultry plant in Stillmore, Georgia. Hundreds of undocumented workers were arrested. Xenophobes and racists rejoiced, claiming that hundreds of mostly African-Americans were thus able to find work at the plant. You see, you can find a “native” workforce if you offered a dollar-an-hour more. The Wall Street Journal had a less sanguine take on the story:

"In the months since Crider began hiring hundreds of African-Americans, the answer has become more complex. The plant has struggled with high turnover among black workers, lower productivity and pay disputes between new employees and labor contractors. The allure of compliant Latino workers willing to accept grueling conditions despite rock-bottom pay has proved a difficult habit for Crider to shake, particularly because local, native-born workers who replaced them are more likely to complain about working conditions and aggressively assert what they believe to be legal pay and workplace rights."

The story also quoted some long-time workers of accusing new hires as being “indolent,” suggesting that the complaints were less based upon pay or worker rights than on the desire to make excuses after finding the work unattractive. What happened next? Crider began hiring homeless people from a local shelter, and felons on probation from the Macon Diversion Center. Productivity continued to plummet, because of poor attendance and a tendency to quit after a few days. In the end, Crider was forced to “import” Asian immigrants from states as far away as Minnesota.

The bottom line is that U.S. has an immigration problem because the current guest worker program is designed specifically to take into consideration bigotry against Latinos, and keep them out in favor of “favored” foreigners—apparently anyone who isn’t Latino (Asian immigrants are always portrayed in a positive light by a media that never mentions the fact that 13 percent of all illegal immigrants in this country are Asian. Latino immigrants also engage in entrepreneurial enterprises, but the media never shows this). The odius fact is that Americans (that is, those who are not of Latino extraction) save their greatest paranoia and hatred for those who occupy the same hemisphere as they do. You know—Central and South AMERICA. We already have a willing and able workforce that to fill the gap created by “native” American lethargy. But the “natives” just don’t want “them.” In my book, this is American Nazism.

"Doctor Zhivago" a Portrait in Gray

I must confess that I am rather loath to replace my entire DVD collection with Blu-ray, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the improvement in the transfer makes it worth the cost. I figured that David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago” would be one of those titles worth the price of admission, which was indeed the case.

Most people consider this film as a perhaps over-long romantic journey amongst the backdrop of political upheaval, and one can easily forget the point of Boris Pasternak’s source novel, which concerned the “triumph” of the individual, not a concept that the Russians are particularly noted for. If one chooses to examine the film from this perspective, it can be deduced that despite the dangers of nonconformity, all of the main characters in the story do to some extent retain their individuality, including the “ villains.” While Yuri Zhivago never openly questions the New World Order in Russia that has changed his status from upper-class patrician to mere proletariat—at worst, he merely makes sardonic observations concerning party propaganda (“No, it’s not typhus. It’s something else we don’t have in Moscow—starvation”)—he clings to the naïve belief that “feelings, insights and affections” are compatible in a political system that demands unquestioned compliance. It is the recipe for inevitable tragedy.

Perhaps the most over-looked aspect of the story is the fact that the characters in “Doctor Zhivago” have as many vices as virtues, and sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the two. This is made clear by the dynamic between Zhivago and Komarovsky. Although on the surface their personal character seem to be in opposition, neither Zhivago and Komarovsky govern their lives by high-minded principles or a political ideology, but by purely secular humanist considerations. Zhivago is “discrete” with the “villain” Komarovsky because he knows, deep down, that discretion is a not only a “virtue,” but serves as a cover for his own moral laxity; after all, despite having a devoted wife, Zhivago becomes “discretely” involved in an adulterous relationship with Lara Antipova—who is herself engaging in adultery, although for more understandable reasons. She is a tragic figure, which, we may presume, is what draws Zhivago and his poetic art to her.

Zhivago and Lara are clearly guilty of hypocrisy when they have the audacity to pass judgment on Komarovsky, who unlike them has no illusions or romantic notions about the world he lives in. They wish to live in fantasy world untouched by the vicissitudes of life. But Komarovsky won’t be a party to is fantasy; he, more than Zhivago and Lara, knows how to survive and keep his individuality. Despite his moral bankruptcy and cynical opportunism, Komarovsky yet retains enough humanity in himself to overlook the contempt that Zhivago and Lara feel for him to imperil his own position by protecting them when their lives are in imminent peril. Zhivago’s “delicacy” is in the end not “exorbitant” enough to sacrifice the life of Lara and her child, but he himself cannot in the end bring himself to accept the fact that he and Komarovsky have anything in common. This lack of self-examination explains why with a brother who has the power to get him out of the country to be reunited with his wife and children, Zhivago can only think of his continuing what in reality is the greatest stain on his life, for which he not only sacrifices his chance to practice his precious individuality in freedom, but his life as well.

This is just my understanding of the core dilemma of the story. Life is not black and white, but many shades of gray.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Fragility of Life

I cannot exactly say that I am an avid enthusiast of poetry, save perhaps when it is set to music when it doesn’t matter if the words make any sense. There are exceptions of course, such as this passage from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”:

“They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.”

Whitman is, of course, referring to the beasts of the land, sea and air here. When I was young, I found myself much preferring the company of the minions of nature than of people, and to be honest, still do. Life in the wilds holds its wonders close, out of the prying eyes of humans, for good reason. Humans are seldom allowed the privilege of observing life at its most guarded and vulnerable stage—during the reproductive cycle—largely because what humans call “civilized” behavior rarely translates as “civilized” in the wild. I would like to think that my natural affection for non-human life over the human allows for some respect for natural processes that are born of actual instinct, not that which is claimed for political reasons.

And so it happened that two weeks I was waiting at a bus stop in a semi-incorporated part of the so-called city of Kent, WA mostly industrial parks interfering with wetlands. I observed in the distance two Canada Geese, one which seemed to be standing watch while the other was picking through the tall grass. Presently, one flew toward me, over a drainage creek running just over a retaining wall from where I was making my observations. The goose landed somewhere just short of where I stood, and then out of view. I tried in vain to locate it. Where had it disappeared to? I walked over here, and then over there. I still could not determine where it had gone to. I strained one more time peering over the wall; looking directly downward, I found the goose—and a nest with three large eggs, almost directly abutting the wall. I mused how it was so near, yet so far from human traffic. The nest was hidden by tall grass on three sides and a wall on the fourth; you would only know it was there if you thought that straining your neck and back muscles for no reason was something you liked to do. My bus was coming, so I satisfied myself with this fascinating discovery, so close to human civilization.

The next day, I observed one of the geese sitting on the nest. It arched its neck upward and stared at me, but otherwise didn’t make a move or a sound. For the next three days I stopped by for peek just to see if was still there. On the fourth day something seemed different; the head was smaller and the neck shorter. I surmised that the female goose had taken its turn sitting on the nest to allow the male goose to feed. Another week passed with this goose still in position; I had a sandwich I had purchased at a nearby convenience store, and let drop a few bread crumbs, those of which fell within reach were gobbled-up in a flash. Those morsels that were out of reach the goose simply gazed at unhappily, unwilling to leave the nest unprotected. The next day I did the same, trying to improve my aim. On the third day, apparently judging correctly the time, it seemed to be waiting for me. As soon as my head appeared over the wall, it trained its neck upward, its mouth open as if gasping for air. I dropped down some bread crumbs which had the goose’s neck darting here and there. Around then I determined that something was amiss. I’ve seen enough documentaries to know that one penguin parent in the Antarctic would sit on an egg for weeks or more while the other waddled many miles to the sea to feed, and by the time it returned the parent that had stayed would be near starvation. But this couldn’t be the case here.

Something was wrong, but I didn’t discover just how wrong until two days later. For some reason I missed my appointment the next day, but kept it the following day. The goose was gone, leaving those three large eggs uncovered. This observation was repeated the next two days, even though the eggs were being battered by rain and unseasonably cold winds. I could only conclude that since the goose’s partner had not returned, and had gone without food (save for the few scraps I provided it) for ten days, it had simply abandoned the nest in search of provisions. But this could not be the only explanation. Surely the goose could have returned after a few hours of feeding, but did not. Did it simply lose its parenting instinct, perhaps because it was new to the experience? And what had happened to its partner, anyway? What had caused it to abandon its partner? Was it shot? Did eat or drink something poisonous and die? Was it prey of an eagle, or by a fox, coyote or mischievous human that had crept in upon it? Or were they frightened witless by landscapers who apparently spent several hours in the vicinity using heavy and loud equipment to cut the thick brush near the nest?

The morning of the third day I decided to write to the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Department. I found its website, and sent an email stating the following:

“I just want to report that after two weeks, I've noticed over the past three days that a Canada Goose nest appears to have been abandoned with three eggs left uncovered. This nest is located below and abutting a wall near a drainage creek at the following location: S 204th St and 68th Ave. S on the southbound side (I think) about 15 feet south of a Metro Bus stop near the entrance to the Boeing complex.

I observed that the male (I'm assuming because it had a larger head) sat on the nest for several days, and then female goose for at least ten days. Several times I threw some scraps down at the goose that had been sitting on the nest. At first it seemed skittish, but later it was clearly hungry and appeared to almost to be begging for food. And then it disappeared. I don't know if this is concerning, but I did observe that when the scraps were too far too reach, the goose would not leave the nest to get it.”

That was four days ago. I haven’t received a response. The eggs are still exposed to the elements, and because of a lack of natural incubation are likely to be rotting within. Out of sight and out of mind, the fragility of life goes largely unnoticed.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The British are Coming

In regard to the current Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, oil giant British Petroleum—or BP as the British prefer to call it—has plenty of defenders in the UK, such as the right-wing Times of London. Op-ed writers like Martin Waller virtually claim that Barack Obama was “practically” handed the 2008 election by BP employee campaign contributions (or rather through a PAC, as Waller rather disingenuously suggests), and then “almost immediately” relaxed rules on offshore drilling. This is not precisely accurate, given the facts. BP’s “relaxation” went far beyond what U.S. companies have done, and the well in question began construction during the Bush administration. Waller also fails to mention that BP was forced to close 57 wells in Alaska that had been leaking, destroying habitat and contaminating Prudhoe Bay—all years before Obama became president; ditto for the Texas City refinery disaster that killed 15 people. In fact, the major U.S. culprit is Waller's ideological compatriot Dick Cheney, whose still-secret energy “task force” has been accused of advising the abandonment of “needless” safety procedures in off-shore oil drilling. Naturally, mainstream U.S. media like CNN and Fox News have also completely ignored this angle, preferring to lay the blame at Obama’s feet as well.

Waller attempts to whitewash BP’s image by pointing out that company has contributed millions to green energy efforts, but fails to mention that BP’s propaganda campaign to style itself as a “green” company is belied by the fact that it has repeatedly and “voluntarily” ignored environmental safeguards for the sake of profits. There is nothing like a hypocrite, or hypocrisy. No mention of BP’s intentional attempt to cover-up the nature or amount of the leak. Or that BP also has a reputation for harassing and destroying the lives of any employee who points out safety violations. Another Times op-ed writer, Bronwen Maddox, amusingly suggests that if Americans want BP to practice better safety standards, then they should be told (by Obama and Congress) that they should expect higher oil prices.

The question ultimately is whether all this represents a British business culture, a U.S. culture, or a combination of both. One thing for certain is that the British media seems just as eager to lay the blame at the door of the Obama administration as much of the U.S. media and the political right. Why? In the U.S. it is clearly for cynical political reasons, but for the British it appears that it would be “dangerous” to US-UK “relations” to lay any culpability on the British for BP’s indifference to adverse environmental impacts on U.S. territory because of its actions—or lack thereof.

Meanwhile the website of Energy and Capitol advises that despite the temporary beating BP stock has been taking, this sell-off was long overdue anyways, so no real harm done. BP stock will bounce back, so now is the time to “buy.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Prejudice is the Reason of Fools III

Hot on the heels of an immigration law that essentially makes it a crime to be Latino in the state, Arizona Gov. Jan Brenner signed another law which is aimed at preventing Latinos and other minorities from recognizing, discussing and fighting the naked racism that has made Arizona a pariah state—or an ominous harbinger of the future. Under the guise of wild conspiracy theories typical of white supremacists, militias, xenophobes and nativists, the law bans ethnic studies classes in public schools, although it is specifically aimed at the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson—whose destruction has been a pet project of Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne for years. Horne, who is plainly using anti-Latino racism as a tool to aid his quest to be state attorney general as well as advancing his own racist agenda, claims that ethnic studies promotes “ethnic chauvinism,” communism, Marxism, anti-white hatred, separatism—you get the picture. These are the kind of fantasies that worm there way into the white paranoid’s mind, so afraid that the oppressed might rise-up against the oppressor.

Arizona is a state with a long history of anti-Latino discrimination and opposition to civil rights; the territory, like Texas, was settled by white Americans who intended to create a new slave state in order to advance the South’s political struggle with the non-slave North. Although the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which “sold” Mexican territory north of the Rio Grande to the U.S., was supposed to grant Mexican residents U.S. citizenship rights (if they chose to stay) and guarantee their property rights, this was not in fact respected. Arizona was also among the states that forcibly rounded-up and “repatriated” up to 2 million Mexican Americans back to Mexico during the Great Depression, a naked effort to appease conservative voters and Democratic labor union supporters by preventing U.S. citizens who happened to be “Mexican” from taking “real” Americans’ jobs.

The ethnic studies ban is little to be differentiated from other examples of racial paranoia, such the opposition to the MLK Jr. holiday—a reflection of Arizona’s desire to maintain its “white heritage” at all costs and keep the issues of discrimination obscure by not discussing it or even acknowledging it exists (perhaps one may deduce that the white Arizonan’s paranoia is fueled by the knowledge that they are the Johnny-come-latelies; after all, it was first a Native American and then a Mexican land—and unlike race-conscious Anglos, the Spanish were not particularly adverse to “intermingling” with the natives). Thus for people as despised and socially marginalized as Latinos in Arizona have been, programs like the Mexican American Studies have given students a forum and the means to recognize the issues and problems that they face in society, and forge solutions to move ahead, which is apparently what whites like Horne fear. It is about control, and that includes controlling how Latinos and other minorities “fit-in”—or rather, don’t fit in—the Anglo world. It is also useful to note that in Arizona, as in other states, anti-Latino sentiment is especially driven by people of Italian descent—part of the American trait of one group bullying another to act out their self-esteem issues.

I have not determined if the ethnic studies ban encompasses public universities, but if the “problem” is the creation of a “culture of victimization” and providing an “oppressive” classroom atmosphere for the designated “oppressor” as Horne also claims, then it is interesting that women’s studies programs are not included in the ban—or, for that matter American and European history that whitewashes the crimes of Manifest Destiny, colonialism, slavery and rights that no white person is bound to respect.

In any case, the defenders of white rule often refer to MLK Jr’s “content of character” declaration in defense of their racist attitudes. But what do they really mean by “character?” They don’t mean acting “civilized,” becoming educated and getting ahead. They mean acting like the subservient Uncle Tom, the house darky, the token minority. They mean not making waves, not talking about racism or discrimination in a way that makes whites “uncomfortable.” They mean being satisfied with the crumbs they are thrown. They mean not standing in the way of white “privilege.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Getting it "right" on Earth the only option

Is there extraterrestrial life out there somewhere in the vastness of space? Of course there is. Out there, somewhere, there is some other intelligent life form, that has not the technology to minutely explore its universe beyond its own solar system, saying to itself “Is our planet the only place where life exists?” It may also be sending out “communication signals” that are impossible to decipher or differentiate. But what if, by odd chance, there was “contact?” And what if that contact was not altogether intended to be "friendly," such as that portrayed in the film “Avatar?”

One evening I was exploring the nether land of late night AM radio when I encountered the grave intonations of “Coast-to-Coast” patriarch Art Bell providing an ominous assessment of the future of humankind. Humans would eventually destroy the habitability of the Earth—and perhaps sooner rather than later—so we should be pondering about the feasibility of off-shoring to another world. Of course, the technology required is still in the imaginary phase, but it doesn’t hurt to start imagining seriously. We have already begun “exploratory” contact with potential suitors, but the question is just how much would we have to lie about ourselves? After all, how should an alien intelligence judge us just by viewing our activities here on this planet? War, bigotry, starvation—is this what humans would bring to another world? What would they think of the things we find “entertaining,” like murder, mayhem and an occasional dash of foolishness and idiocy? What about what passes as news? More violence, inter-cut with scenes of environmental destruction, politicians bickering incessantly and (if they happen to be tuning into Fox News) funny farm escapees conversing insanely. Why should the native inhabitants trust us to behave if this is all we have to offer in the advancement of civilization? What rationale would they have for not slaughtering humans on the spot if happened upon their planet?

What moral right do we have to colonize another planet with its own life forms when in the generality humans clearly have little regard about the welfare of their own kind, much less about indigenous life?

Bones of Wrath

I transcribed the following tract many years ago on a Macintosh Classic when I was in college. Since Thom brought-up the subject of Thomas Paine the other day, I decided to dig it up. The Word program it was written on was so old that Word 2007 would not allow it to be opened unless I made some registry modifications. After the Revolution, Paine was regarded by many of his former comrades-in-arms as a pain in the posterior, and wanted little to do with him. His end was ill-fated, but I will let him tell the sad tale:

“I, Thomas Paine, here do solemnly submit to the american People–who owe a great Debt to my person for their very Freedom–a humble request to remember their dear Brother and embark on a Mission to recover his poor Bones and return them to their proper resting Place.

‘Tis’ a sad Tale of public Forgetfulness, whilst the People drool over sporting Heroes and thieving Merchants whilst memories of defenders of Liberty fly from the avaricious Mind.

‘Whilst the perpetrators of Tyranny display their deceased Despots in open Forum for the oppressed masses to cast fearful Glances upon, this poor Foghorn for the public Welfare hast his poor Remains interred in some Moldering Box in an english Attic in a part Unknown.

‘Reviled and scorned I was by the american People when I advanced to carry my Ax and rent a Path through the Jungle of religious Superstition, for declaiming the odious enslavement of the black Race and the plain Murder of the Native Race, damnably Perjured by the beneficiaries of my Labors, abandoned by my Friends, and at last departing from the living Penniless and Forgotten. Refused proper burial in a Cemetery, my unhappy Body was interred on a weed-run Farm–and my gravestone Profaned by the rabble of Liberty.

‘For ten years Common Sense wept bitter Tears until an englishman perceived the errors of the ignorant Thoughts of my countrymen, and endeavored to restore my Repute to good Standing throughout the Known World.

‘Unhappily, William Cobbett, as he was known, animated by a great oversupply of Idolatry, stole away my troubled Bones and sailed forth to england.
‘Greatly distressed by my Removal from my beloved Land of Liberty, further indignities awaited me as my poor Bones were deposited in a wooden Box and ogled upon by the Gross eyes of Freakish nature.

‘Mister Cobbett, who displayed such great Devotion for my life work, soon tired of my Bones. But yet desirous of constructing a Monument in my Honor, he removed locks of Hair from my poor Skull to sell to souvenir Leaches and thus raise funds for this Project. This Enterprise was for naught, however–asking for too low a Price for my Locks.

‘For well nigh sixteen Years my bones languished in London Town, until Mister Cobbett received his just Desserts and expired. His son sought to auction away my Bones, but the auctioneer Refused, since not all englishmen are lacking in Humanity. Consequently my remains were left to idle Forgotten within this attic, its precise location obscured by the passage of the many Years.

‘In light of all of these various and sundry Outrages, I call upon you–the ungrateful Heirs of Liberty–to remove yourselves from your tired Fundaments and refrain from empty Exalting and endeavor to conduct a Search for the Humble T. Paine’s Bones and bring them hither to the land he Created.

‘But in the event that my Bones are now but Dust, let it be remembered that my curse upon the Conscience of Malfeasants will not be so easily cast aside. Let the Woe of my present Disposition, my Friends, serve as a warning to you as to the fate of misemployed Liberty–that it too may crumble beneath the weight of countless lies and misdeeds that pass without heed beneath the fog of Apathy.

‘If this be in truth the ultimate disposition of both my remains and my legacy at the hands of daylight Heroes who twitter upon the sound of ‘worn’ Honor and ‘jaded’ Principles, then indeed these are Times that try a dead man’s Soul.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Story Time

The Seattle city council recently passed an ordinance—subsequently vetoed by the mayor—that was advanced by a council member who is a former police officer. The ordinance would have made it a misdemeanor punishable by a $50 fine or jail if a panhandler said anything that made a passerby uncomfortable (i.e. “guilty”), or seemed overly “aggressive.” The ordinance would have given the police the power to issue tickets even when no one complained. Admittedly, most people find panhandlers annoying on occasion, and some of these indigents are nothing but street hustlers who like living irresponsibly. But some of these people—especially those with clear physical disabilities—are part of the larger problem of homelessness.

The census count is expected to be a challenging endeavor in some anti-government environs, and as for myself, I haven’t even received a census form, and don’t intend to go out of my way to acquire one. But there are also with potentially millions more of the homeless and “in transit” for the field workers to find and count. Prior numbers ranged from less than 250,000 to 3 million, depending upon the level of advocacy. Given what I just disclosed, I know for a fact that “official” counts are inaccurate even without taking into account the problem of counting the homeless. Many of the homeless deliberately seek “shelter” in places where they won’t be found, whether to avoid police harassment, to steer clear of mental or violent hard cases, or they just want privacy. Undocumented workers are also being told by immigrant advocates to shun census takers.

I have some experience with homelessness. As I have grown older, I have become cynical on some subjects and radicalized on others, but there was a time in my younger days when I was absurdly naïve and trusting. One day I fancied that Los Angeles would be a stimulating location for a new start in life (“It Never Rains in Southern California”). I bought a ticket on a Greyhound bus, pocketed my life savings of about a $1,000 and off I was in search of an exciting new career; in what I hadn’t yet thought of, but I knew it would be “exciting” and “fulfilling.” It was a 2,000 mile trip, mostly dull and uncomfortable, except when we stopped in Salt Lake City, where while I was admiring the gardening on the grounds of the Mormon temple compound I was accosted by a female who looked like a magazine cover model, who tried unsuccessfully to convert me to Mormonism. Back on the bus I found myself seated next to a new partner, who told me he was from Los Angeles, and would be glad to help me find a place to stay, and maybe even a job; he was such a fine fellow that I showed him my roll of bills. My new “friend” informed me that he had just evacuated Texas, shortly after he and his brother employed themselves in tidying-up a acquaintance’s house by transferring some of his belongings into the bed of their pick-up truck, while he was gone. That is until the police arrived after a neighbor reported the goings-on, and they were obliged to high-tail it through a few yards and over a few fences, forgetting about their truck.

Now, I’m certain that most people would be wary of “assistance” from a character of this sort, but I didn’t know anyone in L.A., and this guy seemed most willing and surprisingly friendly, given that even my name was a matter of indifference to him. When we arrived in L.A., we took a stroll before finding a front lawn to sit down on, and smoked some pot for lunch. The fact that this was a new experience for me had absolutely nothing to do with making uncomplicated my new friend’s aptitude for stealing things that were not his—like of all my money while I took a nap. When I discovered my deprived situation, it didn’t matter if I was in a haze or a daze; I walked aimlessly for about twelve hours around town trying to concentrate my mind on the most proficient and painless way of killing myself. I finally collapsed in an abandoned school house full of broken glass; I fell into unconsciousness before I could consider their uses.

By the time I awoke at the dewy break of dawn, sunshiny with birds chirping and all that other crap, I had forgotten the previous day’s tribulation and was ready to start afresh. What was that lyric from the song Me and Bobbie McGee? “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” I thought that being a beach bum in Santa Monica would be fun, until some kids started throwing mini firecrackers at me while I trying to sleep on the ledge of a lifeguard shack. Someplace down the beach was an open restroom, where I hid in a stall when company arrived around 2 am. I won’t describe the activity that occurred in the adjoining room with the sink, because this is a PG site; thus ended my career as a beach bum.
A couple days later someone who ascertained my impoverished situation while I was discreetly scanning the garbage cans outside a McDonald’s suggested that he had a place for me to stay for awhile; I found myself in house in North Hollywood run by Christian-types of the fundamentalist variety. I won’t say that it was difficult to abide by their rules, but I sensed right-off that I wasn’t going to “fit-in.” One day we went on a tour of the local churches; by evening I was ready to go home, but the “brothers” were not. The next stop on the itinerary had one of those rituals where you stand, sit and kneel every five minutes; it was fortunate that I was on my knees when sleep overcame me, because everyone around thought this pathetic sinner was deeply in prayer, and ought not be disturbed. The next day it was more of the same. I decided that I couldn’t fake it anymore; while we were waiting outside another church, I decided to take a look around, and kept on going.
I was one of L.A.’s homeless for another five weeks, had enough of that career move, and decided to visit an Army recruiting center in Crenshaw, back in the days when they took everyone.

So I know something about the business of homelessness, but since I still retain most of my faculties, I know how to get back on my feet after suffering life reverses. Although I have rather less sympathy for people who are professional hobos, there are those who are truly in need that sometimes try one’s cynicism. I discovered this a few weeks ago on my arrival to work. My work day starts at 2 AM to make sure I catch a red-eye bus to my job at the airport. After I off-loaded from the bus shortly before 4 AM, I was half-way up a sidewalk that led to the terminal when I noticed a very small, white-haired old woman with a mouthful of missing teeth and a cheap cart loaded with homeless kind of stuff, just standing there looking in a completely lost daze.

I have to confess that I was mightily afraid that she might ask me for “help,” which was exactly what happened. Fortunately there were other people who departed the bus with me, and seeing that I had stopped to “help,” two or three others felt obligated to do the same. But it was hopeless. She wanted to know where to catch a bus; I pointed toward the street and asked where she was going; “Sea-Tac” she said in a pathetic bleat. She was in Sea-Tac, I pointed out. Where in Sea-Tac did she need to go? She didn’t know, or rather, didn’t seem to comprehend the question. I asked her if there was anyone she could call, but her mind seemed to wander and I received no answer. The other people started to drift away; one of them whose English was limited observed that she had “Lots problems.”

And then it was just me and this old lady; I suppose that I am the kind of person who can be made to feel extremely mortified when confronted by people whose condition is even worse than my own. But I was going to be late if this kept-up much longer; we recently had to sign a policy statement that informed us that four late clock-ins was punishable by termination. I didn’t have any money to give her, and it probably wouldn’t have helped anyway since I was under the distinct impression that she was suffering from dementia (or she was very good actor, which I doubted) and she wouldn’t have known what to do with it. Having frittered away enough time, I told her that she should wait inside the terminal and maybe the port police would help her, although prior observation informed me that the police are loath to engage in social work (I always snicker when the intercom “reminds” us that the port police are “here to serve you,”—not hurt you), and they had probably already chased her once out of the terminal. As I left her, I wondered, considering her helpless state of her mind, she might have simply been dumped here by some trailer trash relations hoping that someone else would take care of her.

She was gone by the time I returned the same way 12 hours later. I couldn’t help but hope—perhaps for the sake of my own battered cynicism—that somehow found some respite from the condition that defined our meeting.

Prejudice is the Reason of Fools II

A video that surfaced recently in the Seattle media reveals how an innocent person who is dumb enough to declare that he is from Mexico may expect to be treated if he is merely a “suspect.” The video shows him sharing a face-down position on the pavement with a couple of other “suspects” of a robbery (apparently an intoxicated tough-guy extorted $40 dollars from a man leaving a bar while waving a machete—like he was actually going to use it); after making his ill-advised declaration, he received a kick in the face by a male officer, Shandy Cobane, followed shortly afterward by an equally vicious stomp on the man’s back or leg by a female officer who thought she’d get in on the “action.” Moments later—likely after being cleared by the police dispatcher—the man is assisted to his feet by one of the officers and released. One suspects that the officers, who had no idea that some guerilla video artist was taping the scene, were fairly confident that a few kicks or stomps is routine business, and that being a “Mexican” he should feel fortunate that this is all he is was subjected to for not committing a crime. Those who are fans of the Firesign Theatre might recall their skit “Deputy Dan Has No Friends,” in which a coloring book for children is being translated from Spanish to English: “Deputy Dan will knock you down if you’re hit by a car.” That was back in 1970. There is a lot of talk about how laws like the one passed in Arizona will put a crimp into cooperation between law enforcement and the Latino community; the real question is how much worse can it get. Civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the ACLU, want hate crime charges against the male officer, although I find it curious that the female officer is being left out for the same.

(The female officer, identified as Mary Lynn Woollum, was also accused of participating in the near-fatal beating of a homeless man in 2003, when she was a member of the SPD's black-shirted Anti-Crime Team.)

I have lived in Seattle and its environs for near twenty years. Some people are under the illusion that Seattle is a bastion of tolerance. I couldn’t agree less. Besides the “moderate” element that resides in North Seattle, in general what you find is a great deal of narcissism and opposition to institutional authority that might interfere with certain lifestyles. It is also not as integrated socially as some people might believe; Seattle is as segregated by race as any large urban center. Its lack of integration is particularly prevalent in regards to Latinos (although empirical observation suggests that an attractive Latina has certain qualities that make “integration” less problematic). Yes, they exist alright; thousands clogged downtown streets a few years ago during a Cinco de Mayo march, but other than “COPS” type coverage on the news, they are largely invisible in the social fabric. A clue to the deliberateness in the unspoken policy of social and economic exclusion can be deduced from the amusement some people seem to derive when they spy a Latino walking down the sidewalk, and the moment they pass their parked car, they activate the car alarm. Why it is amusing to demean and dehumanize a human being in this childish way says more about the failings of the perpetrator than the object, but it also demonstrates how the current wave of anti-Latino bigotry gains traction when they are viewed as outsiders and receptacles of easy prejudice.

For most of my years in Seattle, I have almost exclusively traveled by mass transit. One thing I have noticed is that I have never seen a Latino bus driver working on a King County Metro bus; judging from the deliberately rude and petty actions of a few bus drivers who put racial politics before customer service, there seems to be a culture of anti-Latino bigotry in Metro. On one occasion, I observed a driver deliberately zoom past me about forty feet before stopping at a crosswalk to let off a passenger; while I raced to catch-up to the bus, the driver slammed the door shut and hit the gas pedal. But he had to stop. Why? Because my arm was caught in the door and he was dragging me. I informed the driver that I was going to file a complaint, and after he thought about this for a moment, he spent the next ten minutes apologizing profusely. I also overheard an African-American bus driver grumble to another that Latinos must think that they are “top dog” now because their numbers surpassed African-Americans as the most numerous “minority.” Top dog of what? The social dung heap? Frankly, I don’t think that most Latinos even care or think about such a pointless “competition,” particularly when the “reward” is fighting over crumbs and being the primary object of scapegoating.

Casting Golf Balls

I read a comment from a self-described Tiger Woods hater somewhere on the Fox Sports website who said he was pleased that the media had “finally” knocked Woods off his “pedestal.” Is this what the assault on Woods was all about? I have to admit that Woods was guilty of a moral crime, but so are many other multi-millionaire celebrities (especially in the film and television world), but for some people Woods’ escapades couldn’t have been more “welcome.” The black man who turned the white world of professional golf upside down and dominated it had to be beaten down and humbled. In a radio interview, Charles Barkley stated that “I told him years ago to quit saying you’re not black because all these people who smile at your face, when you screw up, you’re going to be black.” Barkley noted of Woods that “He’s not the kind of guy who is going to fight back,” a tendency which many in the media mistake for arrogance. The reality is quite different. Fellow golfer Pat Perez said in an interview that the media assault on Woods has forced him to play by media rules that have negated the personality traits that made him the great golfer he is. “He needs to get that prick back in him,” referring to his competitive fire. “But he knows he can’t do that, or he’s just going to get hammered by the media if he does anything.” If the sports media (especially the golf media) thinks a beaten-down Woods is good for the game, then maybe they (and fellow golfers who “benefit” from an absent Woods) should note depreciating TV ratings—and in the long-term, loss of pay-outs.

The constant harping for statements and apologies seem to be over, but not after the media took its pound of flesh out of Woods; he has lost millions in endorsement deals (which the endorsers were probably happy to unload anyways, due to the present economic times). Nevertheless, the question remains: “At what point does the media’s shameless fascination with a target’s travails say more about the media than it does the object of that fascination? In regard to Woods, the aptly-named magazine Vanity Fair has passed that point with its latest “expose.” Yes, Woods should not have agreed to do that initial photo spread, but this was followed in short order by an article that was more suitable for Hustler magazine, followed by a photo spread of various women involved with Woods in scanty attire. The media can claim the Trojan Horse of morality all they want, but inside we know is the wormy guts of titillation for profit.

I also find it fascinating how the white media has a taste for transforming black men into the poster boys for all manner of crimes to wet the appetites of those who view the world in terms of us versus “them”—while giving white celebrities every benefit (it was the NFL commissioner—not the media or the police—that brought Ben Roethlisberger to account). Clarence Thomas—sexual harassment. Mike Tyson—rape. Michael Jackson—pedophilia. O.J. Simpson—homicide. Tiger Woods—adultery. Bill Clinton—oral persuasion. OK, Clinton is white, but Toni Morrison did once call him America’s first “black” president. Back in the day, Muhammad Ali was a far worse traitor than Jane Fonda for most whites—not to mention with more “lip” than they could tolerate; Ali sacrificed far more for his political and religious stance on Vietnam (“No Vietcong ever called me n—r”) than any of those young white protesters during his three-year “exile” from boxing, during what could have been his best years in the ring.

Practice What You Preach

What do people who are successful at acquiring considerable quantities of money do when they are suddenly seized with unwelcome pangs of conscience? If they feel the need to impart of portion of their wealth to disadvantaged causes, they become philanthropists; if they want to keep everything for themselves, they become right-wing evangelical Christians—so that they can cast out the devilishly unwelcome pangs of conscience.

Meanwhile a continuously credulous mainstream media (such as CNN) seems unwillingly to challenge the motives of self-proclaimed moral paladins like Franklin Graham, son of “America’s Preacher” Billy Graham. Graham’s recent threats against Barack Obama stem chiefly from his resentment about being excluded by the Pentagon from a military prayer event. Graham failed in his attempt to persuade Obama to rescind the exclusion, perhaps because he insisted on repeating his “Islam is Evil” speech. It seems doubtful that explaining to Graham that it was unpatriotic to continuously make this inflammatory declaration when the military is trying to win the hearts and minds of Muslims in Afghanistan who are not yet our enemies—not to mention win a war—helped his cause. Frankly, if Franklin and his fellow evangelical and fundamentalist Christian followers want to end the “evil” of Islam, then they should stop being hypocrites and all volunteer for duty in Afghanistan, so that they can put both their own beliefs—and lives—to the test.

That they won’t do this is another object lesson in the need for separation of church and state. The state must act on behalf of all people; churches must tend to fulfilling the spiritual needs of their own congregation. I’m not against religion, especially those sects that view Jesus as the model for advancing social justice. Unfortunately, fundamentalists and white evangelicals see themselves as advancing the cause of social order, which usually involves bigotry, intolerance, and a jingoistic nationalism without a sense of social nationalism. While Graham and others on the Christian right threaten to inflame their followers to vote against Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections, it should be noted that most white evangelicals voted against Obama in 2008, and non-white evangelicals probably see such attacks on Obama in a different light.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Prejudice is the Reason of Fools"

I have posted on other people's blogs (most lately on the self-described Number One Progressive Radio Host, although there are several who make that claim), but I have discovered that there is a difference between "liberals" and "progressives"--mainly that when the latter devolves into "populism" they can often behave like regressives. In opening this blog have no idea what I am doing (at the moment), but in time I hope this will all make some sense. One thing I do know is that narrow-minded people can't kick me off my own blog. I won't pretend to know everything, or anything, but I have no fear of making waves in the bathwater, whether you like it, or not.

The title of this post is allegedly a quote from Voltaire. I think it is as good a title as any for a place to talk about prejudice. For the present we might as well discuss the current fixation with immigration, both legal and illegal. What we are experiencing now is nothing new in American history; the country has been under "assault" from foreign "barbarians" since at least the mid 1840s with the founding of the "American Party"--better known as the "Know Nothing Party." But it wasn't until the early 20th Century that laws were passed to establish a quota system regulating the infusion of "undesirables"--like Italians, Slavic and Jews. According to today's immigration laws, everyone who entered the country (with the possible exception of imported Chinese railroad laborers) was technically "illegal."

But for now I won't discuss how it came to be that most place names in California and the Southwest sound suspiciously Spanish. I happen to believe it is fascinating to discuss the recent exposure of the Department of Homeland Security's so-called "Secure Communities" program, a completely unregulated and unaccountable operation run by the ICE in "coordination with state and local law enforcement. This program, which has been running in virtual secrecy since 2008, purports to focus on "identifying and removing dangerous criminal aliens" in what is called "Level 1" crimes, such as murder, rape and kidnapping. What it does in reality is only now coming under scrutiny.

A just released study from the University of North Carolina in conjunction with the local ACLU has found that the ICE and local police do not in fact “prioritize” their activities by “level” of crime, but cast a wide net over almost wholly Latinos, and not over those accused of serious crimes, but those with immigration status or arbitrary or invented traffic violations—suggesting that the “Secure Communities” is just a cover to intimidate and expel the Latino populations in the various intolerant communities that have signed-up on the program (it should be noted that legal as well as illegal immigrants come under the purview of the program, although U.S. citizens are not immune from being “discomfited” by it). Many of those detained have been arrested based on information from notoriously inaccurate databases that have been accused of leading to many false identification matches—much like the Republican-concocted caging lists that prevented many African-Americans from lawfully voting in Florida merely because of similarities in names with convicted felons without determining if the name and person actually matched.

The ICE’s claim that it is merely running an “information” sharing program is belied by accusations by the ACLU that local police in conjunction with ICE officers have set-up driver’s license “checkpoints” outside of Latino community centers and churches, which amounts to deliberate racial profiling. Furthermore, the Secure Communities program is accused of violating the civil rights of the “accused” by limiting their access to attorneys, or to fight criminal charges based on false information. The ICE is also accused, more insidiously, of using the program to expel “derivative” citizens, which one becomes when one of their parents is naturalized, and who may not be aware of their citizenship status when required to show “papers.”

The ICE claims that it has received no complaints about racial profiling to date, but then again, few even knew the program existed until recently, and only now that the ICE has been “outed” is it providing what appears to be the typical law enforcement tactic of posting a “complaint” form--which they will merely ignore, by invariably deciding on their own that such complaints are without “merit.”

The "Secure Communities" program isn't the only federal/state/local cooperative with a questionable civil rights pedigree. A 22-year-old student and anti-war activist at Evergreen College in Washington state, Phillip Chinn, recently received a $169,000 award against the State Patrol and others for engaging in "political spying and harassment." Chinn--who had been under surveillance in the belief that he "might" be involved in "violent" activism--was on his way to an anti-war demonstration in Aberdeen when the call came out that he was on the loose. After being spotted by police, Chinn was pulled over for allegedly driving below the speed limit and "braking erratically." He was subsequently arrested for drunk driving, even though he had clearly not ingested any alcohol and passed a sobriety test; the arresting officer justified himself by claiming that Chinn had "raised taste buds." Although Chinn was further vindicated by a blood test, the local DA refused to drop the charges against him until police tapes exposing the deliberate targeting were discovered. Federal involvement in the case comes from the accusation that a civilian employee working for the military's Force Protection Agency infiltrated the anti-war group and fed information to local law enforcement. The FPA is allegedly an anti-terrorism outfit whose mission is to protect the Pentagon and military posts, and amongst its employees are "non-sworn civilian anti-terrorism physical security personnel." Military spokespersons at McChord AFB and Fort Lewis deny that they were violating the Posse Comitatus law, but nevertheless do admit to working "closely" with local law enforcement. What exactly is the nature of this "cooperation" was not specified, but then again, the concept of civil rights hasn't been treated with much deference of late.