Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bush's faked anti- terrorism "victories"

Apparently the Fox News wannabes on CNN forgot to mention that the Times Square Bomber pled guilty to all counts against him the other day, and will be serving the rest of his days in jail, while that famous domestic radical insurgent, The Underwear Bomber—who the media portrayed as the next generation of High Tech Terrorism—may soon do the same. No waterboarding or torture necessary. In regard to the latter, he freely talked; the only “torture” involved was answering for his actions to his father, who first reported his suspicions concerning his son’s radicalism to CIA operatives in Nigeria. But since so much of the media prefers to report failure than success, these kind of things tend to get lost in the quest insure that the low-information voter remains dull-witted. It wouldn’t do to overturn the paranoid’s belief that Hussein Obama coddles terrorists, and making the world unsafe for white people.

Now, let’s consider the “triumphs” of the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” 9-11. Now wasn’t that a major victory? Especially when the Bush people had forewarning of the operation, and the FBI received tips from field agents and civilians about the suspicious activities of some of the terrorists, and ignored that information. Well, maybe that wasn’t such a good example.

Let’s see. There was the alleged JFK International jet fuel exploders, who, it turns out, were somewhat unschooled on the nature of chemistry, and their plan, if carried out, would have been foiled by their own stupidity; jet fuel pipelines are oxygen-free, and pipes are required to be buried under at least three feet of solid concrete, making them hard to get at. Then there was the Miami Seven—also known as the Liberty City Seven—who were nothing more than a fanatical group practicing a strange religious brew of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and witchcraft that excited the paranoia of local residents, much like the Move did in Philadelphia. These people generally kept to their own affairs, but the Bush justice department, at the time headed by the clownish sycophant Alberto Gonzales (who owed his career “success” to Bush family charity), decided that it would be fascinating to entrap the African American and Haitian outfit to “prove” that the Bush administration was doing more than spying on political enemies and innocent civilians. The FBI dispatched two Muslim-Americans with criminal records to “infiltrate” the group and plant the idea of blowing-up the Sears Tower in Chicago, and see what happened. The “plot” never went beyond the “gee-whiz” phase, but for a Bush administration that had ramped-up the fear factor to stratospheric levels, this was more than sufficient. Following two mistrials, five of the seven were eventually convicted by a jury that couldn’t tell the difference between a real crime and one fabricated by Bush officials.

But wait—how about the Jose Padilla case? He was (eventually) convicted on four counts of “conspiracy” to help recruit people to fight in hot spots like Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison. The Seattle Times praised the prosecution of the case in an editorial, but others were much less effusive in their praise. London-based journalist Andy Worthington, admittedly not a very objective observer, decried the fact that Padilla had been convicted on what could at best be described as nothing more than an Orwellian “thought crime” without one shred of evidence that he intended on doing anything remotely approaching terrorism; if the government could violate the civil rights of a citizen with such impunity, who was safe?

The Times’ editorial staff was clearly suffering from amnesia. For those who have forgotten, the original justification for the arrest of Padilla in November, 2002 was that he had “information” concerning the 9-11 attacks because of his alleged association with 9-11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Like the rest of the allegations against Padilla, there was no evidence to support this claim, but that was just another detail. Padilla’s principle crime was that he was married to an Egyptian woman, and he had just returned from a trip to several Middle Eastern countries, which combined with his being a former gang member-turned-Muslim made him immediately suspect. Although it soon became apparent that Padilla had no knowledge about 9-11 that anyone could not have gleaned from watching the news, and that the Feds had nothing that would stand-up in a court as evidence worthy of a charge, he continued to be detained. A month into his detention, the Bush administration staved-off a court order to release him by suddenly declaring him an “enemy combatant,” and transferred him to a military facility in South Carolina—still without charge. The administration justified the detention by claiming that Padilla was “closely associated” with Al-Qaeda operatives; that he was engaged in “war-like acts” that “suggested” preparation to commit acts of “international terrorism”; that he had “information,” and that he was still a “threat.”

It may be useful to note at this point that there was no mention of the famous “dirty bomb” plot in the original allegations. The “dirty bomb” theory, in which Padilla was allegedly tasked by Sheikh Mohammed to plant a radioactive device targeting three high-rise buildings, was eventually leaked out by the Bush administration without supporting evidence to the media, and predictably the media ran with it like a crazed bull in a china shop. While in the military brig, Padilla endured what could at best be described as extremely dehumanizing treatment; a legal brief requesting dismissal of his case contained the following revelations:

“In an effort to gain Mr. Padilla’s ‘dependency and trust,’ he was tortured for nearly the entire three years and eight months of his unlawful detention. The torture took myriad forms, each designed to cause pain, anguish, depression and, ultimately, the loss of will to live. The base ingredient in Mr. Padilla’s torture was stark isolation for a substantial portion of his captivity.”

“In addition to his extreme isolation, Mr. Padilla was also viciously deprived of sleep. This sleep deprivation was achieved in a variety of ways. For a substantial period of his captivity, Mr. Padilla’s cell contained only a steel bunk with no mattress. The pain and discomfort of sleeping on a cold, steel bunk made it impossible for him to sleep.”

“Other times, his captors would bang the walls and cell bars creating loud startling noises. These disruptions would occur throughout the night and cease only in the morning, when Mr. Padilla’s interrogations would begin.”

“Mr. Padilla’s dehumanization at the hands of his captors also took more sinister forms. Mr. Padilla was often put in stress positions for hours at a time. He would be shackled and manacled, with a belly chain, for hours in his cell. Noxious fumes would be introduced to his room causing his eyes and nose to run. The temperature of his cell would be manipulated, making his cell extremely cold for long stretches of time. Mr. Padilla was denied even the smallest, and most personal shreds of human dignity by being deprived of showering for weeks at a time, yet having to endure forced grooming at the whim of his captors.”

After years of such abuse, Padilla was reduced to little more than a piece of furniture who viewed his own attorneys as part of the interrogation team. His dehumanization was also evident in the way his case wound its labyrinthine way through the courts. Perhaps if Padilla had been a white man (and not a Latino and a former gang member), the fact that he was held without charge for years, and then with charges backed by made-up “evidence,” the courts might have demanded his immediate release. Instead, the courts either toadily accepted the Bush administration’s ludicrous “enemy combatant” claim, or when a court recognized that multiple Bill of Rights amendments were being wantonly violated, Padilla’s continued detention was allowed to continue. Such was the case when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals determined that it was violation of Padilla’s civil rights to detain him as an “enemy combative” outside a war zone, but refused to release Padilla from custody until the Bush administration appealed the case to the Supreme Court. Perhaps predictably, the Court refused to even hear the case. It was absurdly determined that Padilla’s appeal was “incorrectly” filed in New York instead of South Carolina, and then the Court behaved even more outrageously by claiming that Padilla’s lawyers should have brought their case against the commandant of the military brig, and not Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—ignoring the fact that he was directly responsible not only for actions of the military, but had given the order that Padilla be held in a military brig himself.

To stave off another potential court order ruling that Padilla’s continuing incarceration without charge was illegal, the Bush administration in November 2007 finally filed charges in a civilian court against him—charges that did not mention anything about the famous “dirty bomb” plot, or mention of any plan to stage any attacks inside the country, or mention Al-Qaeda connections; there was simply no proof to substantiate any of these allegations that made so much play in the media. Padilla was convicted on “conspiracy” charges by a clearly compromised jury sold on the Bush administration’s playing on national paranoia. The fact that the principle “evidence” against Padilla was a few phone calls cherry-picked out of thousands that were used to make the highly dubious claim that Padilla actually knew unnamed “terrorists” testifies to the highly dubious nature of the government’s case against Padilla from the very beginning. But it was enough for a jury (at least one member who stated she assumed Padilla was guilty before the trial even started) who saw only a sullen, uncommunicative man and not someone who had just emerged from a torture chamber, courtesy of their unfair and unbalanced government.

The racial aspect of the case cannot be dismissed out of hand, either. Hundreds if not thousands of white supremacist domestic terrorist "cells" are allowed to exist throughout the country unmolested. Most yearn for the day they can take to the streets, bring down the government, save the white race while slaughtering as many non-whites as they can. Heavily redacted files forced from the FBI via a FOIA request reveal that only days before the OKC bombing Timothy McVeigh sought assistance from a neo-Nazi named Andreas Strassmeir and his cohorts at a white supremacist/paramilitary compound called Elohim City; they had probably already assisted in bank robberies to fund the project, as well as scouting out the Murrah Building. At least one of its members were in Oklahoma City the day of the bombing. Yet, thanks to the Clinton administration, all of this was suppressed; he wanted to keep this in the “lone nut” phase. This isn’t “conspiracy theory” stuff, it is simple fact, revealed after the FBI belatedly released thousands of previously withheld documents on the case. Those who aided McVeigh murder 168 people continue to roam free.

Reality is no conspiracy theory

The other night “Coast to Coast” patriarch Art Bell took a break from conspiracy theories and paranormal analysis and decided to deal in a more naturally-occurring issue. The topic of the evening was what lessons should be derived from the BP oil spill. Bell apparently disturbed a right-wing caller by suggesting that Republicans were the principle obstructionists in the search for solutions to energy and environmental tribulations. The caller insisted on the typical right-wing “business knows best” shibboleth, and suggested a solution mirrored on the Brazil model of hybrid cars using plant-based fuels; the problem with this idea is that not only would it supply a very small amount of our energy needs, but it costs more to produce than what it yields, and bio-fuels are currently responsible for untold millions of acres of rain forest destruction. Bell knew very well that this was a shibboleth, and dismissed the caller’s views as politely as necessary. He proceeded to tell listeners that there are certain issues in which politics are an inevitable part of, and it is the misfortune of common sense and the survival of humanity that energy and the environment that this is the case. But some things needed to be said, even though he knew that half the people (and probably most of his listeners, mainly right-wing paranoids, since the show seems to air on an extreme-right radio stations like Seattle’s KVI), would disagree with him. The BP oil catastrophe highlighted the need to find alternative energy resources, and we needed to talk about concrete solutions now, while there was still time, before it was too late. Bell parried a cheap swipe at Obama by the right-wing caller and stated that in his opinion, the Republicans were the principle impediment to finding long-range solutions to the energy and environmental problems, and criticized Obama for not taking the opportunity afforded by the disaster to go in front of the American people and push for a bold new agenda to solve these problems. He had to tell it like it was; it was utter foolishness to bury one’s head in the sand, as Republicans and the right seemed insistent on doing.

I always took Bell for a conservative, but in his older age he seems to have reach a point where being wise is preferable to being an ideologue. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress continue to be ossified mentally and morally, and for cynically partisan reasons. The latest example is finance reform. The Senate finance bill is little more than a framework to be filled in by regulators, yet even this is too much for obstructionist Republicans to a man and woman. Republicans oppose needed legislation because they can. That’s all. They are like children who if they can’t have the whole pie, they say they don’t want any of it because it is all icky. They seem to oppose any bill that has the “taint” of a Democratic stamp on it, no matter how necessary, because it isn’t their stamp. For Republicans, bi-partisanship is a sign of weakness; the only thing that has meaning for them is naked power. Republicans have shown that they might make a weak play at being a part of the process of reform, but even when their ideas have been incorporated—and much more likely to weaken legislation, like the health care reform bill—they suddenly back-off and deny everything. Hypocrites like already fossilized Sen. Scott Brown first said they would support the finance bill when it seemed certain it would pass, but after Sen. Robert Byrd passed away, the Republicans suddenly saw an “opening” to obstruct; it seems that three Republicans peeling off to vote for the bill would make it seem too “non-partisan”—and that wouldn’t help as a partisan campaign tool. In fact, every major legislative initiative by the Obama administration has been vehemently opposed for just that reason. Is the voting public well enough informed to understand that? Are you kidding? That’s like saying Fox News is “fair and balanced,” or CNN can be “trusted.”

What me worry about you?

I heard some left-wing radio personality telling listeners that Republicans were diverting people’s attention from their failings by engaging in a “war” against gays and women. The problem with this particular theory is that there are an awful lot of (white) women in the Republican Party, and if you believe news media reports, the party is also a haven for non-straight people who pretend to be straight. So people like this left-winger are practicing diversion tactics themselves. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is rightly perceived as the “White People’s Party” by most minorities, with the exception of a few self-obsessives who don’t want to be lumped in with “them.” Lefties who have their own personalized agenda tend to view themselves as “non-racist.” However, the fact that most of them exist in bubble that excludes minorities tends to be an unwelcome intrusion into their worldview, so they deny that racism is a problem at all.

Others are not so sanguine; after all, African American males have the highest unemployment rate (a rate that doesn’t take into account those who are incarcerated, in the “informal” economy, or have simply disappeared), while white women—who it is now boasted represent the largest employed demographic—have the lowest unemployment rate. An editorialist for the Seattle Times, an African American female, responded to an email with an interesting story. She was attending some women-only event when she was asked what, in her opinion, was the greater evil she experienced—sexism or racism. She and the only other African American woman in the room looked at each other and “unanimously” told a shocked and disappointed audience that racism held the number position by a significant margin. Maybe the white women in attendance didn’t consider themselves personally racist, but they were certainly more comfortable in a society which allowed only a token sampling of other colors.

The current hysteria about Latinos should have opened people’s minds about the fact that racism always lurks just beneath the surface. And racism apparently doesn’t exclude women or gays as practitioners: Laine Lawless—a former “high priestess” of some lesbian pagan group called the “Sisterhood of the Moon”—is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a full-time anti-Latino immigrant fanatic, and collaborated with Arizona neo-Nazis, suggesting ways to harass anyone who might be “suspected” of being illegal in the following fashion:

• Steal the money from any illegal walking into a bank or check cashing place.
• Make every illegal alien feel the heat of being a person without status. … I hear the rednecks in the South are beating up illegals as the textile mills have closed. Use your imagination.
• Discourage Spanish-speaking children from going to school. Be creative.
• Create an anonymous propaganda campaign warning that any further illegal immigrants will be shot, maimed or seriously messed-up upon crossing the border. This should be fairly easy to do, considering the hysteria of the Spanish language press, and how they view the Minutemen as racists & vigilantes.

You mean they’re not?

It is a fact of life that people belonging to the “superior race,” yet feel marginalized or under-appreciated, have always taken out their frustrations on minorities. The fact that white women are the largest demographic in employment and in college admissions while minority employment and enrollment remains either flat or decreasing despite increasing as a percentage of the population suggests that someone is making decisions that favor women over minorities per their percentage of the population. Is it women wielding the power in human resource and college admissions offices who are making discriminatory decisions? Perhaps some of these women consider themselves “liberal,” like the above mentioned liberal, except that they are only helping themselves.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mail this congressman home

The Tacoma-News Tribune recently published a story regarding Washington Rep. Dave Reichert’s profligate use of free postage, called “franking” in congressional lingo. Since he was elected on 2004, Reichert the Republican spendthrift has availed himself to a $500,000 worth of postage stamps, more than any of his fellow congressional legislators. Nevertheless, even that amount is understates the case: Democrat colleagues include total cost of mass mailings, Republicans—who wish to maintain the public fantasy that they are “frugal” with taxpayer money—usually only report the postage.

And what is all this postage paying for? To mask the widely-held belief that Reichert is an “empty suit”—that he is actually doing something. The House Legislative Resource Center found that most of Reichert’s mass mailings contained nothing but the typical empty-shelled Republican talking points—the usual scare tactics and simple-minded slogans designed to cause mass paranoia for nakedly partisan purposes. Scaring seniors, frightening families, attacking the stimulus bill, conducting “surveys” with loaded questions like one regarding health care: “Do you like your current coverage and want to keep it?”—implying falsely that Obama and the Democrats have some evil scheme to take it away from whoever is simple-minded enough to not understand this empty-handed gimmick. The more pertinent question is what has Reichert accomplished in six years? He certainly hasn’t shown himself to be capable of independent thought, let alone concrete ideas. He has merely been a tiny screw in the do-nothing Republican monkey wrench.

Why, exactly, was this “empty suit” elected in the first place?
Oh, I forgot. In November of 2001, police arrested Gary Ridgway, the so-called “Green River Killer,” accused of killing 48 women, mainly prostitutes, drug addicts and others living on the fringes. Ridgway was allowed to plead guilty in 2003 to avoid a date with the chair, apparently because of the circumstantial nature of much of the evidence against him, and because he “promised” to assist police in locating missing bodies (not very helpfully, as it turned out). King County Sheriff Reichert reserved largely undeserved “acclaim” for the apprehension of Ridgway, and in two years he was riding his law and order “credentials” to a seat in Congress as a Republican.

Yet there were things about this case that disturbed me, beyond the fact that Ridgway was never obliged to confront the verdict of a jury. His killing spree began in 1982; in 1983, police had a suspect: Gary Ridgway. In 1984 he was given a polygraph test, and later samples of hair and saliva. Yet police failed to track his movements and chose to follow pointless leads on other “suspects.” Reichert was the chief detective in conducting this investigation. It wasn’t until 2001 that DNA evidence belatedly tied Ridgway to some of the victims. After he was arrested, Ridgway claimed that he continued his killing spree until 1998—15 years after he was first identified as a suspect. It testifies to either incompetence or the failure to take seriously his status as a suspect by the police—and Reichert in particular—that Ridgway felt no pressure to end his killings; perhaps he was too much the average white Joe to the police. At least three dozen more women lost their lives because of this failure.

And voters overlooked this fact when they rewarded Reichert with a House seat, where he has gained “fame” being an empty suit and spending a lot of money on postage stamps.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Marginal People

Mark Twain’s “autobiography” manuscript has been deplored by some as being often incomprehensible by Twain’s habit of talking about anything that happens to pop into his head. Myself, I don’t have a particular issue with it, and in that spirit I want to talk about something I observed a few days ago. I happened to observed an Asian female, probably a “visitor,” board the bus I was riding on. She took a panicky look toward the back and decided to stand right behind the driver. The bus was half empty, but apparently she saw a lot of “scary” people—i.e. people of differing colors. She stood in position for about 45 minutes, even on the highway; every once in awhile she would take an apprehensive look behind her. The driver never told her to find a seat, even when the bus was shaking and rolling. If one chooses to think about such behavior, it would seem rather offensive that someone would regard you in such a dehumanizing light, that they would make such racist judgments on your humanity. Of course, white women (especially those who have a peculiar idea that everyone finds them irresistible), also behave strangely, although not as often or as pointedly.

There is, of course, a “logical” explanation for this Asian woman’s behavior. Countries like Japan are known for their raging homogeneity, and even Koreans, who are “imported” to do menial labor, are considered too racially “impure” to allow to become citizens, and generally “invisible.” When Barack Obama was elected president, many Chinese expressed shock that the U.S. would elect a man of a color that they thought was reserved for janitorial labor. Japanese politicians, whenever the issue of trade imbalances surface, try to shift attention away from their own trade policies and try to shift the blame to blacks and Latinos who have absolutely nothing to do with the original discussion, and try to make their homogeneity an “asset.” It seems never to occurred to them if whites occupy all the technical jobs, then it hardly makes sense to blame blacks and Latinos for white failings. Frankly, I believe a limited worldview is somewhat on the pathetic side, and being “frightened” by people who look different than you is to marginalize yourself within the wider world. You are, after all, nothing more than another ship passing in night, going unnoticed.

Whites were here first aka the discovery of stupidity

Who “discovered” America? The producers of the History Channel, for one, continue to push the theory—or fraud—that anyone except that those people that were “found” here were the actual “discoverers.” The Norse, Welsh, Saxons, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabs, Hebrews, Polynesians—take your pick on who was the first race to be the “true” discoverers of the New World, which wasn’t all that new to the people already here. Did Europeans “colonize” America 20,000 years ago (before Paleo-Indians) but just didn’t feel like staying and decided to go back to wherever they came from. Did a Chinese mariner sail across the Pacific 2,000 years ago and land in Los Angeles? Did some Welshmen sail south and somehow land in Mobile, Alabama 1,500 years ago, marched inland and die, leaving great dirt mausoleums for their dead? Did the Japanese sail to Ecuador 3,000 years ago, for no apparent reason?

Most credible scientists regard the “evidence” supporting most of these contentions as “spurious,” meaning that it can be explained by simple coincidence, by the illogic of those advancing the “evidence,” or by otherwise less sensational theories. It seems that the event that spurred the growth of the “whites were here first” movement was the discovery of the so-called Kennewick Man, widely claimed by some parties to be proof that the white man was here “first.” In fact the “Caucasian” facial reconstruction of the original skull was hardly a “coincidence”; Jim Chatters took along the skull bones and a photo of Patrick Stewart (i.e. Jean-Luc Picard) to a local “artist,” who reconstructed the face to fit Chatters’ “vision.” Facial reconstruction is less science than guess-work, and other reconstructions more closely resemble Native Americans, but what does that matter to the “Whites were here first” crowd? That others have noted that the Chatters’ reconstruction also resembles certain north-eastern Indian tribes, and former NBA star Patrick Ewing, are merely annoying details.

Other “evidence,” such as the “origin” of Clovis points, is also a point of contention. But in any case, the whites were here firsters can’t seem to come-up with a rational explanation that accounts for how an estimated 100 million clearly non-Caucasian peoples came to live in the Americas by the time of its “discovery”—a number roughly equal to the population of Europe at the time. These include the indigenous people of Mexico; while Native Americans are mostly penned-up in reservations and either subsidized by the federal government or run casinos, Mexico’s “Indians” have had to learn other survival techniques with the context of discrimination and racism in both Mexico and the U.S.
Given the specious nature of the “evidence” that white firsters rely on, it should come as no surprise that some whites claim to be “native” through other means. Take for instance the current dispute over “wannabe” Cherokee bands that exist in 29 states; in Arkansas alone, there are ten so-called tribes that legitimate Cherokees regard as fraudulent. In 2008, the Councils of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians held a joint meeting in Oklahoma for the purpose of passing a resolution "Opposing Fabricated Cherokee 'Tribes' and 'Indians’” that state and federal agencies were recognizing without actually vetting their credentials.

The Cherokees are the country’s largest tribe on paper, with about three-quarter of million people self-reporting as “Cherokee.” Some tribal units allow anyone who claims to have Cherokee blood to enter their rolls, without any genealogical proof; many of these people appear to Southern whites speaking Southern accents. That people are clearly Caucasian and declaring themselves “Cherokee” is not precisely a matter of believing they have at least 1/64 Indian blood; they may believe they don’t have any “Indian” blood at all, because of the latest “theory” that Cherokees were actually white, or at least descended from “Hebrew” settlers, according to the History Channel. The Channel also had the temerity to feature a Cherokee “chief” calling himself “Red Hawk,” who also once claimed to be a Hawaiian “prince.” This “Red Hawk” heads a band of obviously Caucasian people, and such frauds have drawn the ire of people who believe they are true Cherokee, and are not, in fact, Caucasian. And never were.

Is this effort to deny the birthright of Native Americans actually an effort to “advance” scientific “truth,” or part of an overall racist agenda to somehow claim that America was always the white man’s country? Is it a way to alleviate any lingering “guilt” in the treatment of Native Americans? Or is simply another way for whites to claim they own everything?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Facts? Who needs that when we have the "news?"

“Offshore oil rigs are out of U.S. government’s reach” states a recent print media headline. In fact President Obama—or any other president— had no authority to tell BP that it had to do anything until the oil actually reached U.S. territorial waters. Broadcast media, such as CNN, said absolutely nothing about this state of affairs, preferring to allow hysterical criticism of Obama to continue unabated. There is no comparison with the Hurricane Katrina episode: the Bush administration knew it was coming, and did nothing useful for days. It was political calculation: disperse the black population of New Orleans to safe Republican havens like Oklahoma and Texas, and leave Louisiana with a depleted Democratic voter base. But because blacks were the principle victims, white America became quickly bored with it, and turned away; “Good riddance to bad rubbish” seemed to be the prevailing, unspoken opinion.

Because most people are bored with reading, and prefer their news supplied in bite-sized morsels, they have preferred not to learn that all the major oil companies, it seems, have safely tucked away most of their offshore oil wells outside of U.S. territorial waters, thus outside of U.S. government control or regulation. In order to do this, these companies have chosen to drill in ever deeper and more hazardous waters. And costlier; in order to alleviate the cost of drilling in deeper water, oil companies have taken safety shortcuts. They have been abetted by the lax control of the “nations” in whose waters these wells have been built. In the case of BP’s offshore well operations, the Marshall Islands—a “nation” which consists of mostly a few tiny atolls—was not expected to put much of a barrier to whatever risky business BP thought it could get away with. And get away with it did, since the Marshall Islands “government” allowed private “regulators,” who were in the pocket of the oil giants, to oversee compliance with silly safety rules (or so they have been described). It also seems that all the oil giants had the same “disaster plan” as BP’s, which I’m sure will make people feel secure in the belief that the next time something like the BP spill occurs, we can expect more of the same (except that Obama will show sufficient emotion to satisfy those who like their presidents to be uncool and uncollected). On a more "positive" note, the U.S. Coast Guard, in charge of “defending” protected waters outside the U.S. territorial claims, has allowed foreign-owned companies like BP to take advantage of its own antiquated safety rules. But what does that matter? Haven’t we been told repeatedly by the right-wing and their corporate masters that "the market" knows “best,” that government should “lay-off” business, because government only makes a mess of things? Why is it when government has the least control, people start wailing about where “big government” when we “need” it? Why is it when government has the ability to exercise the most control, people wail about too much government?

The infuriating reality is that the media is driving the “disappointment” with Obama, with its pathetic appeal to the lowest common denominator thinkers for nothing more than ratings (i.e. money). Common sense, objective reporting, intelligent critique, just plain old honesty--that's all been tried before; it doesn't sell. John Cafferty of CNN the other day refer to some study that says that health care premiums will jump 9 percent in 2011, which he maintained in his boring way was an unfortunate bi-product of the Health Care Reform bill. Should the bill be rescinded if the Republicans take control of Congress? Maybe a better question is whether or not this is more idiocy passing for "news.” Health care premiums have been going up every year by double digits for decades and more--that's "news?" If Cafferty is unaware of this, then maybe he should find a new profession, like carnival barker at Tea Party events. Personally, I think a 9 percent increase is a fair swap for keeping insurance companies from denying care, or refusing to take patients with pre-existing conditions. But once more, the media plays with infantile emotions by forgetting about little things, like context or truth.

Americans are dim-witted in public affairs because the media is providing them with dim-witted information, presented by either howling maniacs or self-righteous paladins wallowing in negativity. The broadcast media has decided that “wah-wah” is easier to understand than coherent, rational deliberation. It sells. A rational person might squeeze a paragraph of useful information from a full 24-hour news cycle on CNN (or a coherent sentence from Fox News), but it wouldn't be anything that could not have thought up all by oneself in thirty seconds.

Prejudice is the Reason of Fools VI

The modern day airport is full of amateur sleuths “specializing” in racial profiling, and predictably most are as dumb as rocks. Recently, I was informed that I could no longer board a parked airplane in the morning to check the water gauge to determine if the night shift had done something besides sleeping, watching TV or playing cards all night. I had been doing this for 2-1/2 years, and now, suddenly, someone detected a “security” risk. But then again, it only takes one paranoid bigot to make that determination. I know how these folks “think”: last year, a glorified waitress (i.e. “flight attendant”) asked me if I had the swine flu. I said nothing, but the look I gave her persuaded her to answer own question: “I was just joking,” but not very convincingly. There is a certain employee for United Air Lines who every time he sees me, he imitates a police siren noise; he thinks it is “funny.” But you know what the funny thing is? "No, what's the funny thing?" I don’t think it's a funny thing.

Airline passengers often complain of the minor inconveniences they have to endure. But this would only be an issue of vital concern if it was “targeted” for specific people; even Timothy McVeigh would have passed by those TSA guys a million times and they never would have suspected him of anything even once. But this is but a trifle: it is much worse if you are actually a target because of the prevailing prejudices. Take, for instance, another experience that I have had. Early one morning I took an elevator up to the concourse to avail myself to a cup of coffee; it was raining and cold outside, and so I decided to sit in a waiting area and watch the news on a television monitor. Since it was before 6 AM hardly anyone was up there, accept a few passengers who showed-up early. Two white men were sitting in front of me, engaged in light conversation. Five minutes later, probably summoned by a suspicious and/or bigoted gate attendant, there appeared two white blue-shirted TSA guys and two black port security guys from the elevator, and made straightway to our location. The security guys were instructed to stand on the periphery, apparently to insure that no one got away. The TSA guys approached one the white men, informing him that they were conducting a “random” search of bags. The first passenger “joked” to the second that this was “All your fault,” but was obviously annoyed by the goings on.

While the man’s bag was being searched, I looked at my watch; there was a plane I had to service coming arriving in five minutes, and reluctantly acknowledged that I had to leave then instead of finishing my coffee in warm comfort. I thought nothing of the activities of the TSA people; I was not getting on any plane, and I was an employee who had already been subjected to an FBI screening. I walked past the port security guys, who apparently thought nothing of delaying my departure. Once outside, I retrieved my tug and arrived at the designated gate just as the plane arrived. While I was servicing the plane, a van suddenly shrieked to a stop a few feet from me; inside were the two TSA guys, both glaring at me with look of deep resentment. Uh-Oh—they apparently forgot to tell the security guys that the two white men were not “the target”—that was just for show. I was “the target”—I, because of my “ethnicity” was a potential terrorist threat because I was drinking a cup of coffee in the concourse. Such is the fact of simple minds. Prejudice is always the product of simple, moronic minds.

There are in fact very few “Mexicans” out of the thousands who work at airport; most of them probably work for the vendor I am employed by. It is unknown if this is a conscious political act, in order not to disturb passengers who are influenced by the current wave of xenophobic hysteria; if they were aware that many if not most of the African immigrants employed at the airport are Muslims, they’d probably have a double-fit. But the media has not seen this as fit for propaganda use, since it doesn’t want to be accused of “racism.”

On another occasion, I was standing at the bus stop, waiting for my bus to go home. A Port police officer appeared. He stood about 10 yards away. He smiled at me. I smiled back and looked away. When I turned back, there he was standing right next to me. He asked me if that was my laptop. I said it was. He demanded that I show him where my name was on it. I became very upset, but did as he said. Right in front of a crowd of people he had me sit on the curb, remove my laptop and locate my name on it. What a jerk. I conducted a running commentary concerning police harassment, racial profiling, etc. I had to type in a password; I invited him to type it in. I was obviously embarrassing him. He called in the serial number, which came-up negative as stolen. I repeatedly asked why he singled me out. He became agitated, and wishing to avoid a further scene, finally allowed me to go. I filed a complaint with the port, along with statements from two colleagues. There was an investigation, but naturally it was found “justified.” A month later, the same officer, apparently miffed that he had been investigated, reappeared at the bus stop. I was just standing there with a backpack when I noticed the officer standing not 10 feet away from me, sending sneaky glances at my pack. Nearby was one the colleagues who had sent in a statement; I laughed and pointed at the cop, he’s back. The cop, realizing that he could now be legitimately accused of harassment, said you could be more friendly. Well, I tried that before, hadn't I?

At this juncture, it might be useful point out for the unfamiliar with it the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The Fifth Amendment, meanwhile, contains something about persons shall not “be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”

But some people seem to have no rights that some other people are bound to respect. One of most routinely ignored rights a citizen has from police abuse is not being stopped and/or required to produce your identification for any arbitrary reason, including race or appearance. That is until the Hebiil case in which the fascist five on the Supreme Court once again trampled on a person’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Police are now allowed to stop anyone or demand ID on mere “reasonable suspicion.” What does “reasonable suspicion” mean? I know what “reasonable suspicion” means to xenophobic whites, and by extension their police. Skin color or “ethnicity,” walking alone, speaking a different language, reading a book—these are all sufficient “reasons” for “suspicion.” In Arizona, it could mean merely looking like a “Mexican.” When I was singled out of scores of others waiting at a bus stop, it was clear that there is not a low standard for “reasonable suspicion” or even “probable cause”—there is no standard at all.

Death from a Distance

One of the functions I perform at the airport where I am employed is to run cargo to their respective flights. On occasion the “cargo” is a box labeled “HR,” oblong in shape, and generally six feet in length: “Human Remains.” Such encounters with mortality seldom cause one to consider their own eventual date with that inevitable destiny, hoping that their time is still some considerable distance away. But on three occasions I have encountered such boxes that are less than three feet in length. Boxes of such length can denote only one thing: that the deceased is an infant. A sad thing, very disturbing. I didn’t care to know the names of the adults, but of these souls I did; all three names were Spanish. Their eventual destination was Mexico.

For all the feverish propaganda about how “Mexicans” are disabling the public services sector all by themselves, and that they are here to abuse America’s much-lauded (at least by those who haven’t used it) health care system, the “system” clearly was an abject failure for these most vulnerable citizens; not to mention a testimony to the conditions that they live in. And make no mistake: these infants were doubtless born in this country, making them U.S. citizens. But why would any parent want them permanently entrusted in the “care” of a country of hypocrites and fascists who would say “Those babies shouldn’t have been here if they didn’t want to die."

“Real” Americans seem to have a yen for justifying murder, if the victim is of the currently despised scapegoated group. After the unarmed 14-year-old Mexican was shot to death by border patrol agents while he was standing on the Mexican side, the border patrol PR team hurriedly released a press report “justifying” this killing by listing thirty-odd “incidents” where agents were “injured” by rock-throwing kids. Everyone and his/her brother and sister were perfectly satisfied. In the U.S., the public has become so inured to frequent reports of police killing unarmed civilians, that they assume the victim must have deserved it; it doesn’t do to think too deeply upon the fact that we have an army of people who have a license to kill, as long as they do it “judiciously.” Thus when the completely innocent and unarmed Amadou Diallo was felled by 19 bullets fired from police weaponry in New York City, an all-white jury in Albany saw fit to merely congratulate the killers for their marksmanship (they shouldn’t have, since the police fired 41 bullets at practically point-blank range—a less than 50 percent degree of accuracy). The “natives” don’t seem to understand, however, that foreign countries might take exception to American law enforcement killing their unarmed nationals with the same unaccountable impunity.

Other recent “incidents” have excited commentary that range from indifference to joy, depending upon distance from the scene of the crime, and level of simple human decency, which seems to be in short supply these days. There was no pretense at due process when a Latino man who had lived in this country for 18 years, had a wife and five U.S.-born children was tasered and kicked to death by border patrol agents. He shouldn’t have been here if he didn’t want to die. Before young white thugs were given wrist slaps for murdering Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, PA, the locals reasoned that “If he didn’t want to die, he shouldn’t have been here.” A federal grand jury later found evidence of the involvement of law enforcement officers (including the police chief) in aiding and abetting the killers; I won’t be holding my breath waiting for the denouement of this case.

In Long Island, where a gang of white thugs singled-out a Mexican-looking man, and beat him to death with armaments consisting of a baseball bat, two-by-four, and chains. Fan reaction? “If he didn’t want to be killed, he shouldn’t have been here.” As if it was a “natural,” perfectly reasonable impulse. Can’t these connoisseurs of hate come-up with anything more creative?

White folks become annoyed when you talk about such things. They say things like that never happen, and when they are confronted with the evidence that it does, they say (as an individual) that they are not responsible. But collectively they are very much responsible, because they condoned it, or said nothing to stop it. Back in the “good old days” blacks in the South (and “Mexicans” in the Southwest) were frequently lynched, for the “usual crime” of violating the “sanctity” of white womanhood. In reality, even contemporary investigations would find that lynchings were “justified” in this way in only a minority of cases, but it made good press—as it does today. White women said nothing, because being “victims” made them seem “important.”

Life, meanwhile, goes on. Arizona is now considering a law denying birth certificates to babies born in the state if their parents are determined to be illegal. Perhaps such a law will warm the hearts of those who are indifferent (or feel joy) to the thought of dead Mexican babies. feel Of course the problem with the law is that it is not only unconstitutional, but it is a law that once again puts the onus on the individual, not the state, to prove illegality. And it is, of course, aimed against a specific group—Latinos. One-quarter of all illegal immigrants in this country are Asian, African or European; because the media has not focused on them, they will be ignored in the equation. Latino immigrant rights activist should now demand that these people receive “equal” treatment, or demand to know why they are not. Non-Latino immigrant activists are obviously keeping a low profile in regards to their own illegals, hoping that media and political establishment continues to pretend they don’t exist. Meanwhile, how many “native” Americans actually have their birth certificates, let alone carry them with them everywhere? Again, the anti-Latino discrimination has an aroma that is particularly foul to every sense of common human decency.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Soccer Myopia

Soccer is perhaps the most comprehensible sport to understand, and the most incomprehensible to understand. This incongruity of perception is mainly the predicament that frustrates American observers of the sport. How can a sport so simplistic in its rules and on-field action that a toddler can understand it, and so deficient in strategy, tactics and drama, be a sensible viewing endeavor? How can you understand a “sport” where most of the physical action occurs in the spectator stands? How can you comprehend a sport whereas if it ends in a 0-0 tie, whole nations go wild with pride? When the United States and England ended their match in a 1-1 tie during the World Cup, the foreign sports media tried to convince Americans that this result required them to run riot with joy in the streets; outside a few local soccer fanatics, the more general response was, “Huh?”

The Encyclopedia Britannica article on “international football” gushes about the “beauty” of the sport as if it were as easy on the eyes as a pageant of scantily-clad women, rather than a sleep-inducing agent, and going on to exclaim that “The simplicity of the rules and the fact that it can be played practically everywhere has contributed to (its) popularity.” In America, a fussball table in the corner bar is about how far “everywhere” goes for most people. For some, the only “fascinating” facet of the World Cup is that they’ve learned that the mind-numbing background noise that sounds like a million bees is being produced by a “musical” instrument called a “vuvuzelas.”

I have this theory why Americans are less fanatical about soccer than other nationalities. Americans are individualists, they’re not “team players” by nature. When a kid dreams of being a football, baseball or basketball player, he or she is not dreaming about being a “team player.” They’re dreaming about individual achievements: hitting 50 homeruns, scoring 30 points or running for 2,000 yards. The coach might preach “team,” but the individual is thinking what he or she can do to stand out above the rest. That is why players and fans are so fascinated with the multitude of statistics that defines American sports. Now, in the case of soccer, it is very difficult to quantify what being a “star” is. Hardly any “points” are scored. “Bend it like Beckham?” What the hell does that mean? There can be little else than winning for queen and country (or mayor and city) to motivate a soccer player. Maybe during the World Cup or Olympics Americans might have some sense of national togetherness, but in the professional world, it’s the big individual numbers that earn you the big paycheck. I would also conjecture that this lack of team spirit is pervasive in the real world, perhaps more so on the right than the left.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Different Light

I have to confess that I have a yen for old-school pop music with memorable melodies and a fairly generous on musical production, a fairly common occurrence on the pop charts from the mid-Sixties to the early Nineties. One particularly bombastic example of the merger between the two was the Phil Spector-produced Christmas anthem “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” performed by Darlene Love from the “A Christmas Gift for You” album. David Letterman apparently loves the song, and has had the sixtyish Love perform it live a couple times on his show in the past. I have only heard the song in mono, preferred by Spector for some reason, perhaps because of the limited number of recording tracks available at the time, mono made his “Wall of Sound” production sound more like a “wall.” However, I always yearned to know what “Christmas” sounded like in stereo; and recently I was able to download the stereo version of the “Gift” album, probably transferred to mp3 from an old cassette tape or vinyl record. The stereo version of “Christmas,” without all the instruments and voices trained toward the center that gave the song a “bigger” sound, seemed rather slim with the instrumental separation, or like a "wall" with a few holes in it. The background vocals seemed like they were coming in from the next room, and Love’s “please, please, please” plea at the end seemingly with less urgency. Still a classic production, still the same song, still the same singing and instrumentation—but just not the same feel. It is as if you are seeing something from a different angle, and it’s not what you saw before.

Soon after I discovered this epiphany, I encountered the news story that Helen Thomas, the so-called “dean” of the White House press corps who often conducts herself as if she is an empress pontificating over presidents. Here again was an example of how a different light can be cast when viewed from a different angle. Thomas’ defenders like to point out her “pioneering” role in the struggle for gender equality, although she has benefited from deferential treatment for decades. But after her videotaped anti-Semitic comments—that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Europe where anti-Semitic activity has been on a steady rise—were made public, it is possible, perhaps more so for people who haven’t thought about it much, to alter one’s perception. I suppose that Thomas’ frequently short-tempered, uncouth questions and accusatory rants are in part due to her advanced age, or the belief that vast experience has given her license to dispense often crude, insulting opinions rather than ask actual questions at press conferences, or perhaps an unhappy belief that she isn’t being taken “seriously” anymore. But these are just details; Thomas, a Lebanese-American, has for years belittled or attacked Israel and its “right” to exist, as well as U.S. involvement in the Middle East in general. Not that these are not fair questions to ask, but after so many years of expressing such opinions, it is a wonder that only when her anti-Semitism was most crudely “articulated”—God knows what she is really thinking—that “suddenly” some of her colleagues are wondering if they are seeing the same person they believed they knew. Some, of course have chosen to hear one thing, and interpret it as something else; the Pro-Palestinian Huffington Post even has gone to such absurd lengths as to suggest that it is not Thomas who is anti-Semitic, but those who defend Israel, because being a Jewish state implies that it is a racist state, and not one that exists because Jews almost everywhere have been barely tolerated when not persecuted.

Not surprisingly, President Obama has also been seen in widely—and wildly—varying lights depending upon vantage point. To younger voters, he did seem genuinely “fresh,” and spoke to them in a language they could understand. He spoke of the “future,” a concept that younger voters could identify with. I suppose people did expect “change” to happen when Obama was elected, but there were different definitions of what that could mean. Some thought that “change” simply meant the historic election of a black man. Some thought (like me) that the country couldn’t afford to continue with another Republican in the White House, and that at the very least we needed a change in the environment in which policy was conducted; Obama’s claim to wish to bring people together also resonated with me, given the way the Bush administration allowed an atmosphere of racial paranoia (especially against Latinos) to exist in order to keep people’s minds off the crimes it was committing.

Diehard progressives, meanwhile, have chosen to believe that Obama, because he is black (or half black), would be more amenable to “radical” change; the problem is that Obama seems to be sincere about wanting to seen as please “all” the people, including people who hate him (because he’s black). For those people, Obama’s election itself was too “radical” for them to handle mentally; it meant “change” of much more fearsome nature. Obama the black man is going to take “everything” that belongs to them alone away from them, and give them to those “other” people. Obama is somehow going to turn the country into a Third World backwater, like Zimbabwe. This is the white man’s country, after all. Why Obama has to try to get these people on his side is beyond my comprehension, but it should be clear by now that Obama believes that being a “good” president means having the approval of all people—and in doing so has only alienated many people who hoped for “real” change while gaining none of the support of those who will never like him no matter what he does. There should be nothing “radical” about doing the “right” thing, even if some people choose not to know what is good for them.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Umpires are only "Human"

After the upteenth replay of the blown call by umpire Jim Joyce on what would have been the last out of the game, and cost Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians, a co-worker of Mexican heritage pointed at Joyce on the television and said “racist.” I don’t think Joyce is one of those guys who attends KKK rallies after the game, but there was something quite disturbing about the whole incident that I am apparently one of only a few who chose to notice. When Galaragga gloved the ball and stepped on first base, clearly before the runner touched the bag, he showed a burst of elation at what he had accomplished. But Joyce had not made his call yet; in fact there was a noticeable delay before he called the runner, Jason Donald, “safe,” immediately turning Galarraga’s elation into a look of disbelief.

Joyce claims that he was “convinced” that Donald beat the throw to first that everyone else who was watching saw otherwise. Or did he see what he wanted to see? Was he offended because this Latino guy “jumped the gun?” Did he want to show him who was the “boss?” Was his concern afterward more about worry that the fact that he allowed a momentary lapse of personal prejudice to be revealed? Are we supposed to believe that umpires’ personal prejudices don’t, on occasion, interfere with balls and strikes? Are they not “human,” with human failings? Did not the late owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott, once refer to blacks as “trained monkeys?”

Many so-called “purists” have argued that baseball commissioner Bud Selig did the “right thing” by refusing to over-turn Joyce’s ruling. They claim that it is only “casual fans” who are agitating for a reversal, but it is “purists” who should be disturbed by any taint of prejudice, which, of course, none wished to acknowledge. If Selig truly desires to do the “right thing,” than he should wait until the season is over, after everyone “forgets” what happened, and over-turn the call.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Prejudice is the Reason of Fools V

A recent issue of the Christian Science Monitor supports editorially Arizona’s racial profiling law, and an accompanying article calls Arizona a “maverick sate” that merely “goes its own way.” Correspondent Bill Glauber, not surprisingly, deliberately evades the problem with the law by claiming that police can check for legal status only after a “lawful stop,” when in fact the law allows police to check for status merely if they “suspect” a person is an illegal immigrant, even when otherwise no crime has been committed. If a police officer sees a Latino on the street, and he or she has a hair up their fundament or feels like harassing a “Mexican,” they are free to simply walk up to said person and demand their “papers.” As some incidents have suggested, even a U.S. citizen who doesn’t happen to be carrying their birth certificate with him or her is subject to detention indefinitely until they can “prove” their legality.

Arizona claims it has been “pushed” to engage in such racism and civil rights violations. But one rancher quoted in the article stated that he himself didn’t have an issue with people migrating north to look for work; in fact he sympathized with them. His concern was with drug-trafficking, for which the U.S. as the principle market for illegal drugs is just as responsible for as Mexico (and the countries that supply it). But this is just a detail for the hate-filled fanatics who are really driving the immigration “debate.” The reality is that this state which alone opposed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday for years has a long history of racial bigotry, as is evident in the connections that the immigration law has with hate groups. Take, for example, Russell Pearce, the principle legislative sponsor of the law. The Monitor (and the mainstream media generally) seems completely unaware of his racist connections. Is Pearce really as ignorant as he claims to be of the views of his good friend J.T. Ready? Ready is a member of the neo-Nazi group White Knights of America, which claims to be “a group of proud men and women who are fighting against the anti-Nordic politics, policies and laws which are being forced upon us…to create one Race, class, religion, penal code and school of knowledge under the false guise of equality, prosperity, law, justice and order.” Naturally, they say that it isn’t a “crime” to “love” the “white race”—it’s just a “crime” to intermingle with “impure” races--like "Mexicans," for example.

The Monitor, in keeping with the general tenor of mainstream media coverage, also fails to mention that the group responsible for crafting the law—the Federation for American Immigration Reform—has been identified as a hate organization by Southern Poverty Law Center. And there’s more: FAIR is in part bankrolled by a mysterious group called the Pioneer Fund, which promotes Nazi-style racial purity and eugenics “research.” And the trail of racism doesn’t stop there: the Fund’s largest benefactor is Swiss-born scientist William Kistler, who currently lives in Seattle; Kistler promotes what he calls the “Kistler Prize,” an award which apparently rewards “researchers” who advance the cause of white racism. Why this fascination with race differentiating? Why this insistence on so-called white superiority? This is the very definition of racism.

Thus Arizona is not a “test case” in immigration “reform.” It is a test case of whether racism will be openly tolerated in this country. I frankly have long suspected that this country has already traveled well past that point. I was recently followed into a public storage unit by two police officers; they claimed that I aroused their “suspicion” because I walked into the unit instead of driving into it. I knew better, of course: I looked like a “Mexican,” and "Mexicans" are, of course, congenitally criminal. Despite the fact that they had seen me punch in a correct key code to enter the facility, they demanded that I show them written “proof” that I had in fact a unit there. But who keeps such “proof” save at home? I showed the police the key to my unit and offered to take them to its location and open it for them. But they declined to do this, and insisted on detaining me until I showed them “written proof.” It was only when the manager arrived and I waved her over that the matter was “resolved”—if only because I now had a witness to the harassment and the police did not have a sufficient explanation for their behavior-- save for that they wished not to enunciate. On another occasion I was waiting at a bus stop after work when a police officer approached me and demanded that I show him where my name was on a laptop computer that I was carrying; it was only after I managed to make him look like a bigoted fool in front of a crowd of onlookers that the officer saved face by making a perfunctory “inspection” of the laptop and departed.

This is not to say that the U.S. doesn’t have an immigration problem; it is just that is one largely of its own making. The U.S. and Mexico have a long history of migratory labor exchanges, such as the bracero program. However, because the current work visa program with Mexico and Latin America is purposefully discriminatory and prohibitive for businesses to use, it in fact encourages illegal immigration. Even while it is claimed that immigrants are “stealing” jobs from “real” Americans, the U.S. continues to fly in people all over the globe—eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean—to do manual labor, when it has always had a willing and able workforce south of the border to “fill-in” the labor gaps, which allegedly don’t exist.

The question then is what do “real” Americans have against “Mexicans” (regardless of "status" since all Latinos are "suspect") that they don't have against other groups? Is it just the myths that fuel paranoia; people talk about rampant crime (half of all illegal immigrants are in fact incarcerated for immigration violations, not actual crimes), or being a drain on public services (which in most cases is merely convenient scapegoating by lawmakers and city council members who fail to balance their budgets), or they don’t pay taxes, based on nothing more than the belief that they don’t. Is it because they are a resilient people despite all the prejudice and discrimination, and seem less susceptible to control? Or is it just because in the case of indigenous or mixed-race people, they look somehow subhuman or unclean? Or is it because they have been designated by politicians and the media as the “element” that in the words of right-wing bigot Pat Buchanan are “Out to destroy America?”

Back in the 1950s, Zorro and the Cisco Kid were popular television characters, fighting for justice for the weak and powerless. But times have changed. Today, the most common presence of Latinos in the entertainment media are Latinas playing the part of a white man's strumpet. Perhaps racism is alive and well in the country, so much so that it has simply become an indistinguishable part of the landscape, a natural element of the national psyche.

The Marketplace Knows Best--Not

Big Business has repeatedly claimed that there is a “market” solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while it opposes any kind of legislated emission standards. They have been saying this for decades. OK, so show us what you have done. Very little, it seems. It is the usual cycle: Democratic administration proposed new standards, Republicans block them, businesses oppose them. Businesses promise that they will “voluntarily” seek ways to reduce emissions, and get away with weakened regulations. Then years pass and businesses essentially do nothing until the next environmental crisis comes along. Threats of additional regulations, Republican blocking, business opposition and more promises to improve their environmentally-unfriendly record. Off the hook, they do nothing. Over and over again the cycle is repeated.

Perhaps Sen. Lisa Murkowsky of Alaska, pushing an amendment banning the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act, hopes that her state will become some tropical playground if all the glaciers melt away—except that outside a few mountain tops-turned-islands, there won’t be much of Alaska left if that ever happened. Because the purpose of the Clean Air Act is to limit pollutants in the air that effect human health, it is a way to bypass the head-in-the-sand types who deny that global warming is “man-made.” Green house gases like carbon dioxide and methane, as well as carbon monoxide, have potentially harmful effects on humans if present in large quantities, and the EPA is mandated by the Act to regulate those gases. But the Murkowsky amendment would essentially strip away that authority if it was even suspected of being used to combat global warming. The cost of this corporate-sponsored mendacity is not merely human health, but untold billions more in health care costs.

Meanwhile, the current BP oil spill catastrophe had its genesis when Dick Cheney and his still secret energy task force decided that certain safeguards in off-shore drilling were "unnecessary." It is somewhat disingenuous to all of a sudden lay the blame on Obama for this mes when conservatives and their corporate masters repeatedly demand a "hands-off" approach to business activities. "The marketplace knows best," they repeat ad nauseum. No regulation is necessary, the anti-big government advocates say. Well, Obama is taking them at their word. And now we see how “marketplace solutions” work in reality. When big business screws-up, people all of a sudden want “big government” to fix the mess. What shameless hypocrites.

Beck's Racist Rap

What will it take to get Glenn Beck and his psychotic “humor” off the airwaves? Why is it that Fox News refuses to censor him in any way for his despicable antics? And above all, why does the right-wing audience find his disgusting behavior so “funny?” Last week on his radio show, Beck clearly lost himself in his own private Twilight Zone, where he reverted back into childhood, when he was a blustering bully picking on little girls. This time, his target was Malia Obama, the president’s eleven-year-old daughter. “Mimicking” a girl’s voice (actually sounding like an idiotic middle-aged moron after his gonads were removed), Beck repeatedly intoned “Daddy, daddy” asking questions a four-year-old would ask (or what a middle-aged moron without his gonads would ask), “suggesting” that Malia had a low IQ, being black. The fact is, however, that Beck’s behavior has always struck some people as lacking in intelligence, his emotional level somewhere on the lower juvenile range, his common sense non-existent--much like Sarah Palin; too bad that fence she built to keep author Joe McGinniss out-of-sight isn't meant to keep the country out of harm's way by keeping her safely locked-up.

Beck has since “apologized,” although he blamed Barack Obama for “forcing” him to do it because he was using his children as a “shield”—which, frankly, only far-right fanatics perceive. If Obama didn’t have children, they’d probably be saying he his using the dog as a shield. In any case, as someone who has repeatedly accused the president of “racism” for no discernable reason, Beck exhibited unmistakable racism (unremarked upon by the "mainstream" media) in demeaning Malia’s intelligence (as if any eleven-year-old has an advanced degree in off-shore oil drilling technology) cannot be so easily dismissed with a half-assed apology. Like a despicable coward, Beck meant to be purposefully hurtful to someone who had never done him wrong—save for the matter of her race. Never has a president been subjected to such contemptible behavior by an employee of a news network that prides itself in delivering the news with judgment and integrity. Needless-to-say, Fox News has neither quality.

And who does Beck speak for, really? I was walking through a parking lot when I saw a car with a license plate holder that bore the following inscription: “Comrade Obama – The Enemy Within.” It is one thing to criticize a president for policies you disagree with, but it is quite another to make personal attacks that have no basis in fact. Every reasonable person knows that Obama has bent over backwards trying to accommodate the right in crafting policy, to no avail. The right’s attacks on Obama are nothing if not personal and racial; “We will break him” said South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, in the old slave master lingo.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Conservatism and Hollywood

For the second time in a matter of weeks, I perused a film review which noted that there was a right-wing Tea Party angle to the film in question. The first was Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” the other the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced “Prince of Persia.” Both featured prominent characters who decried taxes and “big government” in the right-wing “populist” vein. Both films have rated mostly negative reviews, befitting their leaden acting and politics. Hollywood has often been accused of being “liberal,” but the fact is that outside a few socially-conscientious filmmakers (such as Stanley Kramer, Sidney Lumet and Michael Moore), the vast majority of filmmaking has no ulterior motive other than entertaining a target audiences. While individuals may be considered “liberal,” they don’t necessarily make “liberal” films. But self-proclaimed Republicans like Bruckheimer do tend to make the big-action films heavy on violence, mayhem and death—which tends to be the kind of thing that movie audiences that tend to be on the conservative side tend to enjoy. Other Hollywood Republicans like Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood try to disprove the notion that being conservative necessarily means living in the pre-civil rights era of racial separation. But, frankly, who are they trying to kid?

Hollywood, in fact, has been conservative for most of its existence. In 1915 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that films were a “business,” and not a form of free expression covered by the First Amendment; thus film was deemed subject to “moral” regulation. The Hays Code of 1930, and subsequent revisions to toughen enforcement, pronounced that:

“No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

‘Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

‘Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.”

The “natural” law standard was, of course, a euphemism for banning portrayals of homosexuality or racial “intermixture” and equality. Although there were the occasional suggestive “double-entendres” and other straddling of the lines, filmmakers were generally careful to play by the Code. But conservativism turned to far-right fanaticism as lawmakers in Washington D.C. milked the “Red Menace” scare for all its political worth. Why they did this is hard to fathom, because communist, socialist and anarchist themes were rarely portrayed in film save in negative terms. Yet the paranoia of the times consumed the film industry through the 1950s. While the Hays Code strictures were gradually being skirted in keeping with changes in society, depictions of liberalism that might suggest “social engineering” were still assiduously avoided, although this did not prevent hundreds of actors, writers and directors from being blacklisted for “un-American” activities.

One actor, Lionel Stander (best known for his role in the TV series “Hart to Hart”), was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee after a casual mention by another actor who appeared before the committee; Stander stated in his testimony that he could name who the “un-American” element in the room was:

“I know of a group of fanatics who are desperately trying to undermine the Constitution of the United States by depriving artists and others of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness without due process of law....a group of ex-Fascists and America-Firsters and anti-Semites, people who hate everybody including Negroes, minority groups and most likely themselves.... These people are engaged in a conspiracy outside all the legal processes to undermine the very fundamental American concepts upon which our entire system of democracy exists… I don't know about the overthrow of the government. This committee has been investigating 15 years so far, and hasn't found one act of violence."

In fact, the committee never did uncover a single such act; it was from first-to-last a blatant fit of paranoia and political grandstanding from the right-wing element. Stander, and many others like him, were not on the “official” blacklist, but a shadow organization within the film industry put them on a secret blacklist that prevented them from working in the U.S. It wasn’t until the early Sixties when the secret right-wing blacklisters were threatened by lawsuits making them legally liable for their discriminatory behavior that the scare ended.

Meanwhile, the Hays Code, still in effect, was finally broken by the approval for widespread release Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker” in 1965, which gained Code approval after a long fight despite the fact it portrayed frontal female nudity. Soon afterward, the Hays Code was scrapped altogether in favor of the current rating system. Not that the new rating system is any less susceptible to right-wing mores; “drug references” and “language” are, absurdly, sufficient to give a film an “R” rating.

Although some politically liberal filmmakers and actors make topical films to make a personal statement; but because these films generally do not make a great deal of money because of their limited audience, they are seldom made. The reality is that conservatism—in the form of appealing to the lowest common-denominator in the viewing psyche—continues to predominate in Hollywood.

Giving Peace a Chance Not For Hamas

The world-wide condemnation of Israel following the commando raid on the “Free Gaza” movement ship as usual contains more than a grain of hypocrisy. The flotilla of six vessels was clearly meant to be provocative, as was the fact that the only ship boarded by commandos was the only one that refused to redirect to an Israeli port for inspection, and it was, of course, the only one where violent resistance was encountered upon boarding. With Hamas still occasionally firing rockets into Israel that were likely smuggled in from the sea, and still refusing to renounce its stated reason for being (to destroy Israel), any ship that refuses inspection is obviously suspect. It is clear that it was intended to create a public relations problem for Israel by compel the Israeli commandos to use force by attacking them as they boarded. But such subtleties seem to escape the media and foreign nations trying to drum-up side issues to deflect from domestic problems.

I have to confess that I am much less impressed with the intentions of Hamas than passionate pro-Palestinian advocates seem to have; too bad the Palestinians and their advocates are not as passionate about peace as they with demonizing Israel. “Idealism” and realism are rarely compatible. A dispassionate knowledge of history may seem “pedestrian” to those who prefer to see Israel, a nation historically surrounded by enemies, and attacked by its neighbors on four occasions, as the “oppressor” nation. History tells us that Palestine is a geographical construct, occupied by different peoples at different times through-out most of its history, ruled by one empire or another—with the exception of the periods that the Israelites/Jews maintained an independent state there. The word “Palestinian” simply denotes the Arabs who live there, and who share a common religion (Islam) and language (or at least the “literary” Arabic that is taught in schools) with the rest of the Arab world, with some small differences in regional culture. Thus the “Arab World” is unique in history in that it comprises of many separate “states” across a broad, interlocked geographic area that seem almost interchangeable (Egypt’s Nasser dreamed of becoming the ruler of a secular “Pan-Arab” empire). The modern Arab states (Egypt might be an exception) are for the most part chunks cut-up by the British and French mandates after the break-up of the Ottoman empire.

Following the horrifying reality of the Holocaust—a culmination of centuries of anti-Semitic intolerance that is still strong even today in Europe—Jews in Palestine, having already been promised a state in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, stepped-up their demands for a state, even resorting to terrorism against British authorities who were dragging their feet to appease Muslims. It is interesting to note that the current demands of the pro-Palestinian foreign advocates (demands which are not, it should be noted, precisely shared by their Hamas friends) were already in place by the partition of 1948. The Palestinians had no factual historical claim to their own state, but they refused to co-exist with an “infidel,” Jewish or Christian, even when it meant a state of their own. Although it is true that hard-line Zionists wanted all of Palestine, there wasn’t any way the international community was going to allow that—until the Palestinians essentially gave-away their state by conducting a mass exodus, becoming refugees not by necessity but by abiding by the commands of their decidedly unvisionary leaders.

It is seems a waste of time pointing out to those convinced of Hamas’ “victimization” that even after having been beset by enemies on all sides bent on its destruction, the Israelis were still willing to barter all the land they occupied in the 1967 war for peace, but the Arab world allow that chance to slip away. In the more recent past, the lack of true Palestinian statesmen allowed chances at a legitimate peace slip away; Arafat, who at best was a capricious opportunist, did not deal in a honest way with serious peacemakers like Rabin, and after his assassination, Peres. Hamas suicide attacks in Israel derailed that first real chance for a lasting peace, but the Palestinians were given a second chance with Barak. Barak went against the wishes of even his own party by offering to “share” Jerusalem, but Arafat refused to compromise on this and the issue of the refugees returning to Israel—a right they had vacated 50 years earlier. Arafat’s all or nothing gambit failed. The Israelis tired of his game and voted Barak and the last best peace plan for the Palestinians out. That peace plan was taken off the table for good when the next round of Palestinian uprisings began.

And it is also useless to point out that the Palestinians are still unable to get their act together and speak as one coherent voice in favor of peace with Israel. If impoverished peasants in Mexico decided to lob mortars and missiles into Texas, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the reaction of Americans, regardless of the grievances of Mexican peasants who have been harmed by price restrictions that benefit American farmers under NAFTA. Yet Palestinians in Gaza have chosen as their representative an organization, Hamas, that is bent on the destruction of Israel, and has repeatedly tested the patience and willingness of the Israeli people to deal with the Palestinians, who lobbed for months mortars and missiles into Israel without provocation before the Israeli army retaliated. All Hamas ever needed to do was recognize the right of Israel to exist. They will not do so. The Israelis want peace. The Palestinians, at least in Gaza, have chosen “leaders” who apparently do not; real peace would reduce Hamas--which unlike the IRA has no political wing--to irrelevancy. It needs violence, or the threat of violence, to survive as a viable entity. This is why it needs to maintain Israel as a enemy, and it will continue to gull the world with its victim propaganda. They had their opportunities, but the hand they played was violence and murder, and outside the Muslim world, events like Munich were far from public relations victories for the Palestinians and their cause. Now they must deal with the bad hand they left themselves with.

Israel can be justly criticized for continuing to build settlements on the West Bank, which calls into question their sincerity. But the lack of reciprocity to the concessions the Israelis have made in the past have with some justification produced distrust on the part of the Israelis in the Palestinians commitment to peace, which has always been a questionable commodity. All that Israel has asked for is recognition of its right to exist, but for Iran and the Arab world this has proved too difficult a pill to swallow, particularly since anti-Israel propaganda has proved such a useful tool to focus the population’s attention away from domestic problems.