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Archive for the ‘International politics’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

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Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.

The World’s Team

In Futbol, International politics, Landon Donovan, Misc., National Pride, Soccer, Sport, US Soccer, World Cup on June 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Sitting at my desk, listening to an incessant Spanish announcer, I wondered what to do next.  It was around the 40th minute, half time to come soon, plenty to do this fine workday, but I needed to get out so I could scream a bit.  The US Soccer/Futbol team had been knocking on the door of the Algerian goal for the whole half and even had a seemingly legit goal taken away just as in the Slovenia match a few days before.  I was off that game day, thank god, and was able to enjoy a beer at 10am like any other soccer fan in the world.  This time, though, it would be an “early lunch” of coke and water and frustration as I watched my team fight to stay in the World Cup.

As a hyperactive child, I found a great deal of joy and love in the game early on.  Mostly, I ran circles around the field, but the feel of the ball on your feet, the sound it makes when you hit a great strike and the satisfaction of a perfectly-timed slide tackle, those were the things that kept me playing for a good portion of my life.  A life that grew as the game did, facing many of the same hurdles.

I remember in high school, a lot of kids would give me shit for not playing a REAL sport.  Soccer is the largest participation sport in the country, but generally not after kids reach a certain age – “Soccer Moms” – and there was little in the way of professional opportunity at the time even if you managed to be a stellar player in college.  People piss and moan about games, they’re so slow and low scoring.  Yet our national past time, Baseball, takes upwards of 3 hours to finish to a 1-0 score, and with plenty of ass-scratching and spitting taking up airtime.  Somehow, the US got the World Cup in Atlanta in 1998 and it sparked an interest – however small – in forming our own league.  Major League Soccer.

Being from Virginia, it was a real treat to see a local team – DC United – come away with the first two championships, and seeing the teams coach, Bruce Arena, helm the National squad for the world cup in 2002 and 2006.  There was still little interest in the game at that time here, so not many noticed when the team made it into the Quarter finals in ’02 and got knocked out in Group play in ’06.  We were rarely taken seriously on the world stage either, which only compounded the fans’ pain – it made sense that our fellow Americans perpetuated a stigma about our team, but even worse that foreigners who know the game continually deride our players and our league.

The big news came when the formerly great striker/brand, David Bekham, signed a deal with Major League Soccer to play for the LA Galaxy, one of the most highly attended franchises in the league.  Many say he was a has been by that time and that he came here to go Hollywood – both fair points – but he also somewhat legitimized the league.  Yes, he was being paid an exorbitant amount of money, but he was known as one of the greats of the modern game and some of the players felt his efforts genuine as they coalesced as a team.  One that initially believed otherwise, though, was Landon Donovan.

Donovan’s story ran parallel to US Soccer.  He was a naturally gifted youngster scoring 7 goals his in his first game at the age of 6 and went on to become a member of the inaugural class of the US Soccer program.  He was named best player in the FIFA Under 17 Tournament of 1999 and went to Germany to play for Beyer Leverkusen.  After a frustrating year, he came back to play for the San Jose Earthquakes, earning  2 championships and a host of other awards before moving on to the LA Galaxy and being named to the All-Time Best XI in 2005.  He gave up his armband to Bekham, though, and became somewhat critical of his teammate – famously in the pages of Sports Illustrated – but eventually reconciled with the Englisman and won MVP and Goal of the Year for the 2009 season.  We are both 28, both started playing young and both loved the game enough to continue.

And so I found it fitting to be sitting in bar at 11:30 am, jersey in full display, watching Landon streak accross the field in an attempt to keep his team going, to give us all something to watch during the World Cup and most importantly, to make a statement to the world that this team is not going home.  Everyone has probably seen the goal, and it was incredible.  But even more so, the journey it took to get there.

It takes a certain reckless determination to be able to score in the 91st minute of a must-win game, but much more to pursue a hobby, a sport and a career that many in your country find stupid and invaluable.  And yet, Landon not only played, he thrived, and has rightfully earned the status of other great American athletes – Jordan, Jeter, Gretzky, Woods, Elway – as the best in their game.

In his ascension lies ours.  Though I don’t see many other jerseys on game day, I see more than I used to.  Though I’m still reading plenty of Facebook status updates bemoaning this misunderstood sport, I’m also seeing a lot of virtual support and shop talk throughout.  New York is expected to have a following for Soccer, but having seen this video recently, I am heartened to see that finally, after years of feeling otherwise, I am not alone as a true fan of this game and a fan of this team.  Whatever happens in this next game against Ghana is irrelevent compared to the realizations we can come to through a simple game.

Most importantly, though, I hope the world recognizes that though we bastardized the name, we can still field an impressive cast, one that belongs on this stage as much as Italy or France – both of whom will be watching the ensuing rounds from their couches.  This country, after all, is home to all countries.  No matter what nation is playing, there is a good chance that they have a community within the United States.  These seemingly disparate pockets of humanity find a context for collaboration and cooperation in this country more so than others.  Everyone can appreciate the injustice dealt to us against Slovenia, and now everyone can share in the sheer perseverance in winning not only the game against Algeria, but also – for the first time since the Great Depression – our Group.  It seems funny, but perhaps – at least when it comes to Futbol – we Americans are at our best when faced with adversity.  For all the qualities exemplified in teams throughout the world, it is this one that is inherently rare and valuable.  This team, The World’s Team, has reaffirmed my faith in The World’s Game.

New Politics

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

People usually can’t tell what I am by looking at me. My skin is white, like my mom’s, but some tints of my dad’s Filipino heritage peek through, making me look equally Cuban, Puerto Rican, Italian, anything but Asian. I’m lucky enough to have never really had any allegiance to a certain race or identified with any specific notions of it. I often joke with my friends about these things, usually bringing up all kinds of offensive, inappropriate comments about certain groups to get a cheap laugh, most probably because it’s more complicated for me to get the same treatment. But being a man without a team – a free-lance race(er), if you will – I have few preconceived notions about them myself, allowing me to find a lot of humor and joy in the differences we have and how they effect our interactions and shape our perceptions. I kid because I love. I love diversity, I love that my children will have roots on 3 different continents and I love this country for giving me, my family and countless others like them a place in the sun. Obama’s speech last Tuesday was given from this perspective, which is probably why it inspired and impressed me more than anything I’ve seen in politics. That something has finally spoken to me in this way has also engendered quite a bit of resentment towards the reaction to it.

He is a politician, one trying to contain a damaging scandal that speaks to the very heart of his campaign, a scandal so grievous that it caused Hillary Clinton to overtake him in national polling for the first time in months. He is a candidate who often gets by on looks and charm, his silver tongue paving the way through a rather charmed candidacy. The allegiance to Wright and Trinity were undeniably instrumental in Obama’s acceptance in the black community of Chicago and subsequently by the national black community – a voting block that has been crucial in many of his primary victories over a white woman. These are all things we knew before he stepped to that podium and it was impossible to forget while listening to his words. Perhaps it is because I support him, because I am a racial mutt same as he, because I have been seduced by that aforementioned silver tongue, but I didn’t care about any of it.

If my Catholic upbringing has taught me anything, it’s that if you look hard enough at anyone, you will see faults, you will see sin – they even make you apologize for it first thing Sunday morning. All any of us can do is mitigate these as best we can through good works and faith in eachother, neither of which come easy or without failure. Barack didn’t hide behind his press secretary or some other surrogate, he didn’t throw out some half-baked sound-byte of appeasement in hopes things would blow over by the next news cycle, he stood there for 30 minutes and talked to us like adults. He told us things we all know, but never hear. He made no accusations, but rather placed responsibility equally among all of us, himself included. He asked us to stop raising our voices and start listening to eachother. If you don’t believe me, watch the speech or read the transcript in its entirety. The motivations behind these words are unimportant to me. Sure, he could’ve been trying to divert our attention to save his own ass, but I don’t care. I don’t care why he said what he said, just that someone finally did so.

A black man running for President put his campaign on the line, stepped up to the plate and spoke about race in a way no other politician has ever done, but you would have never guessed by reading about it. A great deal of reaction and coverage was spent haggling over details. He didn’t go far enough to denounce a man who baptized his children, he didn’t explain how many times he heard these statements or the ways in which he tried to stop a preacher from preaching, he made us feel guilty for slavery and that was mean. It is as if we are at a beautiful restaurant in front of a gourmet meal but no one is eating because they don’t like the fold of the napkins. Obama’s mistake wasn’t that he stood by his preacher, it was that he assumed people would actually pay attention.

Politics is a dangerous game, not just for the candidate but for those who support them. We pin our hopes and dreams on certain people every couple of years and when they fall by the wayside, so does our resolve. We allow these candidates to paint themselves as the magic bullet, as the only answer to our problems; and so in their defeat lies ours. The one thing that really made me jump into this campaign was that Obama asked us, the people, to work for what we wanted, to help him reach our goals. Part of this is obviously tactical. You can’t fight the Clintons with the establishment, they are the establishment. The most powerful political machine cannot be undone from within, so he was forced to look elsewhere for his support. His relative inexperience and lack of accomplishments give him less to run on by himself, so he needs more help and faith from the outside. He has no record, so he forgoes specific policy items in favor of meta-themes. It is also, though, an undeniable return to history.

In his incredible book, The Argument, Matt Bai put much of the focus on the Democrat’s search for a post-Clinton identity. But he also provided amazing insight into political movements at large:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

Barack has often been chastised for a lack of clarity, rhetoric instead of results. But perhaps this is because his movement, his base, has not yet codified their beliefs or their goals. Regardless of why, Obama has caused a progressive awakening in a generation that faces monumental challenges, my generation. One who has grown to see the prosperity of the 90’s – our formative years – become destroyed by forces outside our control: fanatical terrorism, global warming, economic instability. Those in power attempting to fix these problems are not the ones who live with the consequences. It is my friends who are getting laid off, who go to the emergency room for physicals, who are sent off to fight in the desert. We are the most diverse, best educated and technologically advanced generation this nation has ever seen and we must begin to take ownership of it. We can’t afford to be distracted by the horse race, but rather be enlightened by the message. Say what you want about Barack, but you cannot deny that his calls for a recognition of shared responsibility speaks to the best in us, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If it takes inflammatory remarks by a preacher for us to take stock of our treatment of one another, so be it. If an opportunistic, ambitious politician can dupe us all into working for eachother instead of against, we are the better for it.

But we cannot expect one man to do it all. Elections are not the realization of change, they are the beginning of it. If he loses the nomination, if he loses the general election, we cannot retreat into the background in defeat. If he becomes our President, it is our responsibility to hold him accountable and help to fulfill the promises of his potential and our own. Obama has outed us. The success of his platform and the goals he has set will only be met through the efforts we make. The themes he has brought to bear since his introduction of Senator Kerry in 2004 cannot be ignored, especially as we descend into an ever bloodier campaign season. Hillary – an impressive public servant in her own right – has undoubtedly inspired many young women to pursue ambitious careers. John McCain has given credence to sacrifice and centrism in a party that has been known for anything but. Obama’s message challenges us to recognize the nobility in our foes, to respect differences and approach challenges with optimistic pragmatism instead of cynical ideology. His candidacy might fade, but these ideas must not.

Many have belittled the thinking man in these times, but the consequences of looking tough and acting stupid are keeping us from what we can become. Harsh crime legislation and unyielding drug policy have stopped neither and added non-violent, first time offenders to the ranks of the incarcerated, now accounting for 1 out of every 100 of our citizens. Elliot Spitzer’s demise at the hands of a call girl might have been cheered by the Wall Street firms he savaged as Attorney General, but considering the greed and deception they perpetuated to bring down our economy – with no jail time in sight – one wonders who really got off and who got screwed. If we could have seen the facts in Iraq for what they were, free from agenda, fear or spin, we would have $1.3 Trillion more in our pockets, we would be without 29,000 wounds and be able to hold over 4,000 of our sons and daughters that have been lost to ignorance. We are waging war against an ideology instead of a nation, so it must be considered that our ideas and culture can and must fight as effectively as our military. If we continue to distill these complex issues down to sound bytes and slogans, deny the due process of debate and discussion and pigeon-hole the myriad points of view into mere black and white we run the risk of turning into the same fanatics that seek to destroy us. If we cannot decide the proper course of action through argument, we must find a way to do so through conversation. Obama or Hillary, Democratic or Republican, we all share the same fate. If there is one thing I hope this Presidential race will teach us, it is that there are more important things than winning elections.

Obama Doubletalk on NAFTA?

In Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, International politics, International Trade, Progressive Politics, US Politics on March 1, 2008 at 1:24 pm

MSNBC News report says that Obama’s campaign called the Canadian ambassador last month to warn that NATFA would “become part of the debate in the democratic primaries, and that Obama would take some heavy swings at the trade deal, but told the ambassador: ‘Don’t worry, its just plain rhetoric. Its not serious.'”

Food Shortages, Ethanol and Mike Gravel

In civil, Consumerism, Direct action, Election 2008, Environment, Food Justice, International politics, Misc., Progressive Politics, US Politics on December 19, 2007 at 4:52 pm

A disturbing article in the International Herlad Tribune appeared a couple days ago, and has gotten little, if any traction in the domestic press. According to the UN, on top of everything else going to shit on this planet, our food supplies are running dangerously low.

In an “unforeseen and unprecedented” shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned Monday.

The changes created “a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food,” particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

There – of course – some seriously alarming numbers backing these claims:

The agency’s food price index rose by more than 40 percent this year, compared with 9 percent the year before – a rate that was already unacceptable, he said. New figures show that the total cost of foodstuffs imported by the neediest countries rose 25 percent, to $107 million, in the last year.

At the same time, reserves of cereals are severely depleted, FAO records show. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year, to the lowest level since 1980. That corresponds to 12 weeks of the world’s total consumption – much less than the average of 18 weeks consumption in storage during the period 2000-2005. There are only 8 weeks of corn left, down from 11 weeks in the earlier period.

Prices of wheat and oilseeds are at record highs, Diouf said Monday. Wheat prices have risen by $130 per ton, or 52 percent, since a year ago. U.S. wheat futures broke $10 a bushel for the first time Monday, the agricultural equivalent of $100 a barrel oil

….

high oil prices have doubled shipping costs in the past year, putting enormous stress on poor nations that need to import food as well as the humanitarian agencies that provide it.

There are several reasons for all this:

On the supply side, these include the early effects of global warming, which has decreased crop yields in some crucial places, and a shift away from farming for human consumption toward crops for biofuels and cattle feed. Demand for grain is increasing with the world population, and more is diverted to feed cattle as the population of upwardly mobile meat-eaters grows.

Ironically, our own prosperity is driving our demise. Worse yet, our attempts at combating global warming may be deepening the problem.

In the lead story in last week’s Economist, The End of Cheap Food, the British authority pointed their fingers squarely at America:

But the rise in prices is also the self-inflicted result of America’s reckless ethanol subsidies. This year biofuels will take a third of America’s (record) maize harvest. That affects food markets directly: fill up an SUV‘s fuel tank with ethanol and you have used enough maize to feed a person for a year. And it affects them indirectly, as farmers switch to maize from other crops. The 30m tonnes of extra maize going to ethanol this year amounts to half the fall in the world’s overall grain stocks.

There is no doubt that many of the politicians – and subsequently businesses – pushing for ethanol have overlooked this fact in a nakedly political attempt to curry favor in Iowa while looking serious on climate change and American jobs. Sugar cane-based Ethanol produced in Brazil is cheaper and more efficient than our domestic flavor, especially considering the fact that the amount of energy needed to turn corn into fuel is so high that it offsets any environmental gain; but that won’t win you a caucus in Des Moines. It looks as though these concerns are actually being considered as there is an Energy Bill close to ratification that will expand funding and production quotas for non-corn Ethanol.

All this being said, we are still looking at a fundamental challenge to our way of life, something far more serious than terrorism or Iran getting the bomb. Who cares if we defeat the Jihadists if a loaf of bread ends up costing $500 and you can’t afford to feed your family? Emerging countries have been yearning for the protein-filled, doggy bag taking, dangerously obese lifestyle we’ve pioneered in America; and if the devastating droughts we’ve seen in Australia and our own South-East continue, it’ll be impossible to grow enough for everybody.

There will obviously be plenty of initiatives put forth by Governments, NGO’s, think tanks and the myriad brain trusts we have set up to find answers to problems like this. Nothing will be done, though, unless we as a people can control ourselves. People will always be hungry, but they don’t need to be fat. I’ll start with my own country. It is difficult to consume less in a culture and economy that is solely devoted to that very action, but if this crises deepens (which it likely will) eventually we’ll have to realize that resources are finite and the more we take, the less we leave for the rest of world. Steaks are dope, but not necessary every night of the week and gigantic meals are meant for celebrations, not necessarily lunch.

I’m not advocating a hunger strike or anything, and far be it from me to point fingers, but it seems ridiculous to expect progress without sacrifice. If we are concerned about these problems, we must not only be the first to act, but also be capable of accepting the consequences.  It is well and good to want to feed others, but to be willing to give part of your meal, that’s something else entirely.  The same goes for global warming.  It is fairly easy to rationalize that hybrid SUV, but why not demand better public transit and save $34,000?  Want to get rid of illegal immigration?, then go ahead and work in a strawberry field for $5 and hour and demand higher pay.  Do you support better health-care and education for all?, then pay more taxes.  These are somewhat extreme, but we must realize that we are not powerless to effect change.  The success we seek is only sustainable if we’re all willing to work for it.

Mike Gravel’s candidacy might not be remembered too far past January 3rd, but he had moment of brilliance during a recent debate on NPR. When asked to describe an issue he does not know the answer to, the former Senator from Alaska responded immediately:

“I wish I knew how to convince the American people that they are the answer to these problems, not the politicians. I wish I knew how to make that argument.”

Amen, sir.

 

 

 

What??!

In Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism on August 21, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Truly incredible, from Harper’s Weekly,

A 1994 interview with Dick Cheney regarding the first Gulf war was released to the web. Asked whether U.S. forces should have invaded Baghdad in an attempt to oust Saddam Hussein, Cheney said, “No . . . we would have been all alone . . . It would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place?” Cheney described Iraq as a “quagmire,” predicting sectarian conflict and the pointless loss of American lives. “How many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, uh, not very many, and I think we got it right.”

“What Happens When Bush Vetoes?”

In Afghanistan, Culture of Corruption, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Policing, Terrorism on April 4, 2007 at 7:34 pm

From an e-mail sent to me by Chris Dodd for President, which, I suppose, is an organization trying to get Dodd elected president.

If President Bush delays funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by vetoing the war supplemental passed last week, how will Democrats react?

One course of action would be to capitulate and immediately write the President another blank check, devoid of benchmarks and accountability.

But that’s not the right choice, nor is it what Democrats were elected to do on November 7, 2006.

Assuming a veto, Senator Russ Feingold and Majority Leader Harry Reid plan to introduce legislation next Tuesday mandating that President Bush begin troop withdrawals one hundred and twenty days after passage.

The bill also serves notice that funding for the war will end by March 31, 2008.

Senator Dodd has signed on as one of the first co-sponsors of the Feingold-Reid bill.

Will you lend your support to this important piece of legislation and ask your personal networks to do the same?

http://chrisdodd.com/stopthewar

It looks like they want us to sign something supporting this legislation, which will only be introduced after Bush has smacked down some other legislation.  Well, ridiculous or not, I suppose I’ll sign it.  Feel free to do the same.

Colombia’s Death Squads and Another Forgotten War

In Culture of Corruption, Global War On Terror, International politics, Terrorism on February 28, 2007 at 3:30 pm

With everything going on in the Middle East, it is easy to get foreign policy blinders and neglect our approach to the rest of the world. Recently, one of George Bush’s most staunch political allies in Latin America, Colombia’s 2nd term President Álvaro Uribe, has come under fire for supposed connections to paramilitary groups and death squads operating throught the country. Considering the $4.7 Billion in aid we’ve given to the country since 2000 – not to mention all of it in the ’80s during the D.A.R.E./War on Drugs Regan years – this has our name all over it at a time when we’ve already got enough policy blunders under our belt. Columbia’s government is obviously in a state of upheaval:

“Eight pro-Uribe congressmen have been arrested for collaborating with paramilitaries, and dozens of national and regional politicians, some of whom have apparently fled the country, are under investigation. Pro-Uribe legislators, as well as the opposition, have called for special elections to “cleanse” Congress and erase suspicions that many may have won because of support from paramilitaries. A decorated colonel has been relieved of his post, and other former military officials are also under investigation.

On Feb. 19, Uribe’s foreign minister,María Consuelo Araújo, resigned after the Supreme Court arrested her brother, an Uribe-allied senator, in connection with the kidnapping of a political rival. Her father, a former governor, another brother and a cousin are also under investigation.

On Feb. 22 came the worst blow. Jorge Noguera, who served as Uribe’s campaign manager and later as head of the secret police, was arrested by the attorney general. Noguera is accused of giving a hit list of trade unionists and activists to paramilitaries, who then killed them.”

This is even more troubling when one looks at his approval ratings (in the mid 60s – 70s) among Colombia’s citizenry, and his decent progress towards peace and stability in the country. Losing a popular incumbent leader to a scandal as pervasive and ugly as this could create a serious backlash in a region already foaming with anti-Americanism, to say nothing of undermining the credibility of the Colombian government as a whole. Execution lists and subsidized murder reek of Pinochet, and though we’re not taught about these moments in our own history, be damn sure they aren’t forgotten:

“Representative William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat active in Latin American affairs, said evidence of the right-of-center government’s links to death squads ‘evokes memories of the 1980s in Central America. I think you’re going to see hearings on these issues.’

Aside from the problems in Colombia, Delahunt said that ‘what we have is a Latin America policy that is an afterthought.’ “

There really isn’t much separating this from Afghanistan, where the Taliban – remember them? – has come back in a big way even before they started takin pot shots at Cheney. I guess starting one war before finishing another has unintended consequences. Despite our financial aid and the strings holding up Mr. Karzai, neither he nor the outnumbered NATO force seem to have the muscle or authority to keep this house in order and yet another terrorist group has reaped the benefits of our folly. In Colombia’s case, it might have started as a domestic conflict between the Government, FARC and ELN, but it’s been perpetuated and escalated with our money and our War on Drugs. Plan Colombia certainly isn’t doing them any favors, and it’s ineffectiveness underscores our troubling history in the region as well as our nasty habit of starting wars but not having the ability to finish them.

Whether funded by Opium or Cocaine, it seems as though warloads and guerrillas can continue to operate well out of our reach as long as we’re tied down – militarily, financially, politically and diplomatically – in Iraq; yet another half-assed war. And just as the Afghanistan has fallen back under the thumb of the Taliban, so too is Iraq slipping more and more into the sphere of influence of Iran. If the Uribe’ administration collapses under the weight of it’s own bloody corruption, a similar power vacuum might open it’s mouth over Colombia, in which case Ahmadinejad’s best friend, the great consolidator Hugo Chavez, will be ready to make room for another country in his grand designs for domination. How many more situations like these are waiting for us? When are we truly going to know the cost of our forgotten wars?

Immigration Detention Centers Privatize Food (PS: Food’s top reason for rioting)

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Food Justice, Global War On Terror, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Race, Terrorism, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 10:26 am

Whew… Could turn into an underreported mess

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau has decided to hire an Alaska Native corporation to take over detention center food service work currently performed by dozens of federal employees.

Fifty-six ICE food service employees at detention centers in Miami; Los Angeles; Los Fresnos and El Paso, Texas; Florence, Ariz.; and El Centro, Calif., will be replaced by ANC workers, according to a notice posted earlier this month on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. The decision was made after the agency conducted a streamlined public-private job competition, in which officials decided after completing market research that it would be best to outsource the work.

Officials then announced in the notice early this month that, rather than soliciting proposals from all interested private sector companies, they would give the work to an Alaska Native firm. These companies are considered disadvantaged and allowed to bypass some of the normal competitive procedures required to win federal contracts.

…”ICE is not required to even show that this type of contractor is cheaper or better than federal employees, so the results of the … competition don’t matter, much less the way it was conducted,” said one person at the Homeland Security Department, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. ICE is part of DHS.

…A separate agency source predicted that officials may have a difficult time making a smooth transition to a contract workforce.

“I foresee disturbances likely to occur after the new contractors take over,” said the source, who also spoke under the condition of anonymity. “One of the primary reasons inmates [and] detainees riot is the quality of the food service. Contract employees will be held to strict time limits, [and] the quality and quantity will surely suffer as a result.”

World Bank, Caribbean Nations to Discuss Natural Disaster Insurance Fund

In Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Hurricane Katrina, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Land rights, US Politics on February 27, 2007 at 4:00 pm

The World Bank and Caribbean nations are exploring the creation of a new fund to insure island nations against hurricanes and other natural disasters. Representatives from 18 Caribbean countries gathered Monday in Washington to discuss the bank’s first program to offer the insurance, which would provide countries with immediate liquidity in the event of a natural disaster. Each participating country will pay $1 million (euro760,000) annually in exchange for up to $30 million (euro22.8 million) in coverage, according to World Bank officials.

The World Bank hopes to collect some $50 million (euro38 million) from donors, including the European Union, France and Canada, which will send representatives to the conference. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz [1] [2] will preside over the talks. The bank aims to make the insurance available for the upcoming hurricane season, which starts in June.

Fed’l Agencies May Have to Report All Data Mining Activities

In Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Technology, Terrorism, US Politics on February 20, 2007 at 10:59 am

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week approved language that would require federal agencies to report to Congress on their use and development of data-mining technologies.

The language, approved unanimously, is based on legislation, S. 236, co-authored by Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H. He used the bill language for an amendment to a bill, S. 4, that would implement recommendations of the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“There is a sharp distinction between the federal government looking at digital records of terrorists and other criminals, and those of law-abiding citizens,” Sununu said in a statement. “Congress has a responsibility to ensure that this technology, which can analyze vast quantities of data, does not unintentionally infringe on Americans’ personal privacy.”

Ricky Martin Defends Anti-War Stance

In Civil Liberties, Culture jamming, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Misc., Music, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on February 16, 2007 at 4:56 pm

I know, I know. It’s Ricky Martin. But his is an important audience to reach to continue the swell of anti-war sentiment.

Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, who was a headliner at the 2001 inauguration ball for U.S. President George W. Bush, has a message for the American commander in chief about war.

At a recent concert, Martin stuck up his middle finger when he sang the U.S. president’s name in his song “Asignatura Pendiente,” which includes the words, “a photo with Bush.” The gesture last Friday prompted cheers from thousands of Puerto Rican fans in the San Juan stadium.

On Thursday, the Puerto Rican heartthrob repeated his criticism of the Iraq war and explained his changed position on Bush.

“My convictions of peace and life go beyond any government and political agenda and as long as I have a voice onstage and offstage, I will always condemn war and those who promulgate it,” Martin said about his action in an e-mail statement sent to The Associated Press via a spokesman.

Today’s Cartoon

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Direct action, Economic Justice, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, Immigration, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Policing, political cartoons, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on February 15, 2007 at 10:45 am

Jack Bauer fills post-9/11 torture void, and then some

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 5:30 pm

well put, Political Animal

GOOD GUYS vs. BAD GUYS….Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece about Joel Surnow, the right-wing producer behind 24, has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention. The use of torture on the show has become so routine and so outlandish that even some Army officers are unnerved by the effect it’s having. In a scene she describes, an Army interrogator tells the show’s staff that “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”

But here’s another observation about TV torture. It’s alluded to in passing in Mayer’s article, but an LA Times piece spells it out:

From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture [in prime time television], according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said.

….The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer’s identity was more likely to be an American hero like “24’s” Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days.

Pre-9/11: torture is used by bad guys. That’s one of the ways you know they’re bad guys.

And today? Actually, nothing’s changed. It’s still how you know who the bad guys are. We just seem to have temporarily forgotten that.

“Osama Hearts Obama” -Aussie PM John Howard

In Afghanistan, Civil Liberties, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Misc., Race, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 12:33 pm

“If I was running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats,” Howard said in the interview, a swipe at the Illinois senator for proposing to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq by March of next year…

Rudd said the remarks criticizing the Democrats as the “terrorists’ party of choice” are irresponsible and could hurt Australia’s relationship with the U.S.  But Howard stated it was “absurd” to say he was interfering in domestic U.S. politics and was unapologetic for his remarks. He noted that Australian opposition politicians criticize Bush all the time…

In an unscientific poll, 82 percent of readers of the Sydney Morning Herald said Howard had “put his foot in it” when asked about their reaction to the prime minister’s comments.

FTC Let’s Industry Write The Rules (Sounds Like Bush’s Energy and Banking Regulators)

In Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Food Justice, Freedom of Speech, International politics, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., US Politics on February 12, 2007 at 10:21 am

Subject matter may be a bit odd to some, but it’s just another example of Bush Administration letting industry “self-police.” Banking and energy are two very clear parallels where the Administration has let industry police itself by turnig a collective blind eye to its own misgivings.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has written to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to ban cheese advertising during children’s TV shows… Cheddar cheese gets 73% of its calories from fat, the PCRM claims, and thus is not an acceptable food to be promoted to kids during the obesity epidemic… The PCRM wants the FTC to copy the United Kingdom, which has recently banned cheese and other fatty foods from British kids TV. Kellogg and Kraft in the U.S. in November became part of a coalition of food marketers who pledged to devote 50% of their advertising targeting kids to only healthful products… In a recent interview with Brandweek (Feb. 5), FTC chief Deborah Platt Majoras said she would rather see the industry regulate itself than force the FTC to act.

Domestic Spying: Errors Cloud Data Mining

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Netroots, Technology, Terrorism, US Politics on December 21, 2006 at 10:58 am

Every once in a while the Cato Institute makes an intelligent statement (from Washington Technology):

Data mining’s high error rate makes it wrong for fighting terrorism, according to a new report.

The report by Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, and Jeff Jonas, chief scientist with IBM Corp.’s Entity Analytic Solutions Group, said that data mining results in false positive rates of more than 90 percent. The error rate cannot be reduced substantially, they said, because the underlying analysis depends on the existence of terrorism patterns. These are nearly impossible to discern, because such a small amount of data is available.

“The statistical likelihood of false positives is so high that predictive data mining will inevitably waste resources and threaten civil liberties,” they wrote.

so, Senator, you WON’T be soft on terrorism?!?

In Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Progressive Politics, religion & politics, Terrorism, US Politics on December 20, 2006 at 10:43 am

You know you’re in rough shape when you slaughter the opposition in a general election and still have to combat framing like this “Key senator says Democrats will not be soft on terrorism.”

Targeted for their Appearance, ‘Wilson Four’ Immigration Case Tossed Out

In Civil Liberties, Economic Justice, Immigration, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Race, US Politics on December 13, 2006 at 4:46 pm

Bout time this crap got thrown out…

It looks like the long court saga against the Wilson Four is over. A federal immigration appeals board on Nov. 29 concluded that the former Wilson Charter High School students in Phoenix had been wrongly targeted by immigration officials at the Canadian border because of their Hispanic appearance.

As a result, a federal immigration judge in July, 2005, was right to throw out the deportation cases against them, the board concluded in a statement rejecting the government’s appeal.

[…]

A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the government hasn’t decided whether to pursue the case further. In June, 2002, the students traveled to upstate New York to participate in a solar-powered boat competition. During a side trip to Niagara Falls, immigration officials at the Canadian border interrogated the students for nine hours, and after determining they were in the country illegally, began deportation proceedings.

I’ll be Home for Christmas, If Only in My Dreams

In Culture jamming, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., Music, US Politics on December 10, 2006 at 3:40 pm

I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me.
So please have snow, and mistletoe, and presents on the tree.
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Back at my parents’ house for the weekend dog-sitting, I ran into a kid I grew up with yesterday. Because of stupid crap that happens between kids in junior high, we hadn’t spoken for more than 12 years. He recently got back from Iraq, and as he was talking about his time in Fallujah as a Marine a passing thought I had a few weeks ago sunk back into my head.

I was being subjected to my father’s annual and earliest-yet addiction to Christmas music when”I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came on. It wasn’t until hearing the slow, methodical, depressing Frank Sinatra version of the song last December that I understood that this song is about a soldier fighting overseas, facing the Axis Powers, yearning to spend time with his family.

This thought in mind, while sharing a beer with my childhood friend yesterday, I came to wonder if an artist as popular as Bing Crosby, who had originally recorded the song, would be able to end a song on such a somber note if the song had been recorded today. Would it be distributed as widely? Would it be bashed on conservative talk radio as anti-American? Would it be said that the morale of the boys fighting for democracy overseas was being damaged by those detractors expressing a soldier’s desire to be, not fighting a war thousands of miles from home, but unwrapping presents with the ones he loves?

At the time, it seems, this was certainly not the case for the Irving Berlin song. The Patriotic Melodies project of the Library of Congress says:

Within about a month of its being copyrighted the song hit the music charts and remained there for eleven weeks, peaking at number three. The following year, the song reached number nineteen on the charts. It touched a tender place in the hearts of Americans, both soldiers and civilians, who were then in the depths of World War II, and it earned Crosby his fifth gold record. ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows in both Europe and the Pacific and Yank, the GI magazine, said Crosby accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era.

In an era where “liberals” are too often accused of being paternalistic in the push for regulation of the markets, I can only imagine the backlash from stores like Wal-Mart, talking heads like Rush Limbaugh, or Judeo-Christo-fascists like Pat Robertson if an artist with Bing Crosby’s status tried to release a song for the troops in Iraq or Afghanistan that is as deeply moving as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” can be.

I have no doubt in my mind that these folks would drop the paternalistic anvil on the CD presses, in order to continue “supporting the troops” and to protect patriotic sentiment as much as possible. Nevermind they claim that it was Muhammed Atta, et al, who had showed disrespect even for their own lives by killing themselves in an attack on the US — if Americans, whether in the armed forces or not, express love of life and fear of death, these Americans would, I believe, be subjected to harsh accusations of being “anti-American” and “anti-troops.”

Discussing soldiers overseas, facing death, is, I suppose, simply too reality based. Are there songs discussing these isses, reaching those heights on the charts that I’ve missed?