Friday, December 31, 2004
MY HOMETOWN: THE BODY OF CHRIST
Corpus Christi (the body of christ in English) sits on the Gulf Coast roughly halfway between Houston and Brownsville in Texas. When you enter town on Interstate 37, the land is flat and mostly tree-less (cut down for cotton fields and development), and the highway is lined with billboards and refineries. It isn't much of a welcome.
Beyond that, the city is essentially one big suburb. Sure, there is a downtown with more of a night life than when I was growing up here, but it is still mostly deserted after 6 p.m. Most of the city is housing developments, with large grocery stores and big box stores on the development's borders. When you drive into the city on the freeway known as "South Padre Island Drive," it is flanked by large parking lots, hundreds of business signs, a couple of malls, and places like Wal Mart, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks (drive thru), Car Lots, Best Buy, Kohls, Hobby Lobby, Chilis, Tony Romas, Black Eyed Pea, Red Lobster, Old Navy, Barnes & Noble, and on and on. That part of the city, anyway, lacks any character besides that mix of bland and gaudy that marks mini-malls from Jersey City to Anaheim. But it happens to be the most bustling part of town.
The public transportation seems to be better than when I was growing up, but it still is just a handful of buses. Forget about getting places by bike or walking, people would run you off the road. To get anywhere here, you have to drive.
Politically, it can be very conservative, despite the fact the county went for Kerry in the election. The car without a magnetic "God Bless America" or "Support Our Troops" ribbon is the exception here - one of the biggest employers is the Navy after all. There are also a lot of Jesus fish - most of the Latinos in the city are Catholic, and it seems like most of the white folks are Baptist. Sadly, there are almost no unions - besides retail and other service oriented merchants, the other big employer is the petroleum industry.
On the other hand, I did see a young man in a coffee shop reading Nietsche, a car with a window sticker with the image of Che, plenty of kids loitering and riding skateboards, and one pro-union bumper sticker. I think there is incredible potential in Texas to organize the progressive community - there are thousands here, but they have no outlets.
TRAPPED IN PORTLAND: SIX INCHES OF SNOW FALLS ON SOUTH TEXAS
On X-Mas Eve I was at my mother's house in Portland, Texas - just across the harbor bridge from Corpus Christi. It never snowed a day in my life in South Texas, but suddenly it started to snow. I never expected a white X-mas, but we got 6-inches of snow. I wanted to go to the X-mas party at my aunt's house in Corpus Christi, but the bridge was closed and I was trapped. A healthy layer of snow remained on the ground for most of the next day. Most of the major highways, and the bridge didn't open again until 2 pm.
McALLEN: WELCOME WINTER TEXANS. I HOPE YOU LIKE CHAIN RESTAURANTS
McAllen is in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas - one of the poorest, if not the poorest, part of the country. I've visited for years because my Dad's extended family lives there. I went this time to visit my grandmother - I hadn't seen her in about 4 years. It was as it had been. There was a lot of construction, but they seemed to mainly be building chain restaraunts and mini malls on flat lots. One unique thing about the area is the large number of what I'll call "mini-med-malls." These are essentially medical shopping centers. They might have a few doctors offices, maybe a pharmacy, and a handful of other different kinds of clinics. They also have a lot of large buildings with brick fronts attached to metal warehouses - they are usually churches or nightclubs.
AUSTIN: WHERE I LEFT MY HEART
For New Years, I found myself in Austin - the place I had lived for the past 10 years before moving to San Francisco. I know a lot of my friends are glad to have left or are planning on leaving, but I really like the place. People have backyards and front porches there, which I like, but it is more social and communal than the sprawling suburbs of most Texas cities - at least the neighborhoods where I usually hung out.
I also miss a lot of the folks I got to spend time with while down there. I was only there for 2 days, so it was kind of a tease. I think there is a good chance I will move back there sometime in the next 10 years. I wonder if by then, all my friends will be somewhere else.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
I'm writing from Portland, Texas today with just some brief thoughts.
There is a story out from the Los Angeles Times, and reprinted at Common Dreams, that says that lobbying groups have spent $1.1 billion in 6 months. This is the first time the $1 billion mark has been broken. The top spenders include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Medical Association, General Electric (trying to get those contracts in Iraq, and hey don't we need to start a war in Syria), pharmaceutical companies (let's not belabor this whole safety thing), and other corporations and their representatives. It clearly demonstrates the extent to which we have a government run by corporate interests and a wealthy elite. They are spending millions on lobbyists, not to mention increasing amounts on executives, advertising, and corporate law firms. And they are benefiting from enormous tax breaks and a more subservient (non-union), less costly (no benefits, lower pay) workforce. Yet we are told that the real reason costs are going up is because of frivolous lawsuits and government regulation. We are told that the real reason people are having a hard time making ends meet is because taxes are too high.
I'm reading a book called, Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. The only problem with it is that there are occasional spelling errors; this is also true of the counterpunch website, and I hope they will correct that because I like their analysis and willingness to uncover everyone's dirty secrets. Anyway, it is helping me move beyond my lingering hope that the Democrats could ever do anything to change the undemocratic, ruling class orgy that goes on daily in Washington. In fact I'm beginning to think that those of us with real leftist, progressive principles, need to spend the next few years tearing down the Democrats, not ignoring them, and certainly not encouraging them.
I will write about my experiences in Texas soon. Among other things, I saw 6 inches of snow fall this Christmas in a place I lived for 18 years as a boy, never seeing snow once. Clearly a sign from God.
Friday, December 24, 2004
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
According to reports in the mainstream media, a mortar attack in Mosul killed at least 24 people. The explosion ripped through a mess tent at a military base, and the media, taking the lead from military officials, has said over and over again that American soldiers, American contractors, AND Iraqis were killed. Military spokespeople went out of their way to say Iraqis were killed. But all the media was confirming were 15 American soldiers and 9 U.S. contractors. That makes 24. So who were the Iraqis?
I can't help but think that the U.S. military used this tragedy as an opportunity to push the line that our efforts in Iraq are part of a coalition involving a significant number of Iraqis. I'm sure a few Iraqis are involved, but I also know the military and U.S. government have overstated the amount of support they have from ordinary Iraqis. Most seem to be taking jobs in the Iraqi military and the police because of the money they are offered. But they quickly abandon efforts once those efforts become dangerous. A number of Iraqi police, for example, have abandoned police stations with little if any struggle when "insurgents" moved in. They are not committed to the American mission, because they realize that mission is simply a modern form of colonialism.
The U.S. is increasingly hated in the Arab and Muslim world. No amount of Pentagon propoganda can change that.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Originally uploaded by lito.
Life is too damn short. I'm sorry if you have no choice.
Quent Reese took this photo of me looking out over the peninsula where I now live in San Francisco. He was visiting the weekend before Thanksgiving. I scanned it into my computer, and it was taken by a disposable camera. So I'm sure it could have been a lot better if I had used a better camera.
If you click on it, it should take you to my flickr page, and you can see a couple of other photos we took on that hill.
I still feel like a foreigner here in San Francisco, but I think I could stay here awhile.
Monday, December 13, 2004
Pinochet indicted on human rights charges
Former Chilean leader under house arrest
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Gen. Augusto Pinochet was indicted Monday for the kidnapping of nine dissidents and the killing of one of them during his 1973-90 regime, and the former dictator was placed under house arrest.
Judge Juan Guzman made the announcement nearly three months after questioning the 89-year-old former ruler and having him examined by doctors to determine whether he can stand trial.
Guzman said he made the decision to try Pinochet after carefully reviewing an interview Pinochet gave to a Spanish language television station in Miami.
He said he is convinced Pinochet is healthy enough to stand trial.
The trial of Pinochet is part of Guzman's investigation of the so-called "Operation Condor," a joint plan by the dictatorships that ruled several South American nations in the 1970s and '80s to suppress dissidence.
"This a historic decision that must be celebrated by all democrats," said Viviana Diaz, member of an organization of dissidents who disappeared under Pinochet. "This is great news for all those Chileans who do not accept impunity in the violations of human rights."
Pinochet's lawyers are expected to appeal Guzman's decision to the Supreme Court.
It's the second time Pinochet faces trial for the abuses during his long reign. In 2001, he was indicted for the killings by the Caravan of Death, a military patrol that toured the country a few weeks after the 1973 coup, leaving 75 political prisoners killed.
Eventually, however, the Supreme Court ruled he was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial -- a condition Pinochet's lawyers argue not only still exists but has worsened.
Pinochet has been diagnosed a mild case of dementia. He also has diabetes and uses a pacemaker.
But Guzman said reports he received from three doctors that examined Pinochet on his orders convinced him that the retired general can stand trial.
Guzman also said Pinochet's answers to a Miami TV interviewer indicated he was mentally alert.
Earlier this month, an appeals court stripped Pinochet of immunity from prosecution for a 1974 car bombing that killed an exiled Chilean general and the man's wife.
The 14-9 decision by justices on Santiago's Court of Appeals opened the possibility Pinochet could stand trial for the bombing that killed former army chief Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife, Sofia Cuthbert, in Buenos Aires.
Prats, a former chief of the Chilean army, had opposed the 1973 coup that put fellow general Pinochet in power, and was among the first of an estimated several thousand people killed during Pinochet's rule.
Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
So, I'm listening to the new Interpol disc - Antics - which I do recommend, although I know a lot of folks can't stand them. I think they have a Joy Division feel that few can reproduce. Anyway, I'm also battling ants at my place - I estimate there are roughly 47 million ants invading my home and I'm finally making a dent in their ranks. There is still some "cleaning up" to do (to use a Pentagon term for destroying human life), but I'm halfway there. Finally I was approved for a forbearance on my student loans today. This means that I still accumulate interest, but I don't have to pay anything for a few months. The realities of taking care of my moving expenses and paying a lot more in rent than I'm used to have finally caught up to me.
One more thing. I just read this piece on Los Alamos and nuclear weapons reasearch that everyone who has anything to do with UT, UC or humanity should read. It's by a couple of guys I know. Nick, in particular, is somewhere between acquaintance and friend.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
If folks are interested, they should check out the comments to my post below: "Right Wing Identity Politics Take Hold." Brent Wilkes of LULAC has responded.
He also sent an email to Michael Avery where he criticized parts of the column I had published last week. Here is the text of that letter:
Thank you for thoughtful response to my email to you. I agree with your conclusions that we should agree to disagree about the Gonzales issue, while at the same time work together on other issues on which we have a community of interests. However, you should know that it was not so much the National Lawyers Guild’s opposition to Gonzales that LULAC objected to as much as the tone of your initial release. You certainly have the right to oppose Gonzales’s nomination based on your analysis of his record as other groups have done. LULAC, on the other hand, has the right to support his nomination based on our analysis.
What I am concerned about is that some elements of the progressive community, of which LULAC is a proud member, appear to be adopting the “ends justify the means” mentality of the far right even when it comes to dealing with minority constituencies.
For instance, a favorite tactic of the far right is to belittle the importance of the opinions of Hispanics and Hispanic organizations. I can’t tell you how often I have heard the phrase that this or that politician was “pandering to the Hispanic community” by supporting a pro-Latino position. In their view, apparently, anytime the opinions of our community are taken into consideration no matter how infrequent, this is pandering, whereas the opinions of business leaders and religious conservatives is perfectly legitimate.
Unfortunately, your statement that "the suggestion that has appeared in the media that Democrats may be afraid to oppose Gonzales because he is a Latino is offensive” sounds eerily similar to this kind of reasoning. Why is it offensive for the views of Latinos to be taken into consideration?
Or consider the following statement made by your Carlos Villarreal, NLG Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area, in the article below:
“But it is troubling that both of these organizations have made access to power so central to their support for Mr. Gonzales, while glossing over his faults in their press statements. Indeed, the statements from both NCLR and LULAC had little to say about Mr. Gonzales' jurisprudence. He may support the Patriot Act, but at least these groups have a seat at the table. He may oppose the most basic of human rights for Mexican Nationals accused of capital crimes, but at least these groups will have access to the White House.”
Heaven forbid that LULAC or NCLR have a seat at the table or have access to the White House (which itself is inaccurate). Never mind that if Alberto Gonzales did not have a relationship with the Latino community and Latino organizations that he would have been lambasted for being elitist and a coconut. Never mind that if LULAC or NCLR had not had a longstanding relationship with Gonzales then we would have been accused of supporting someone we knew little about (in fact this was implied anyway). No, in this case, a positive that Gonzales has had a long and close relationship with Hispanic organizations and has worked directly with the Latino community (he was the Director for Catholic Charities and Big Brothers and Sisters in Houston, Texas) is turned into a negative and LULAC and NCLR are publicly ridiculed for it.
Or perhaps you should consider another statement by Villarreal:
“Mr. Gonzales has done a better job protecting the mostly white, male, wealthy politicians who have rewarded him than defending the rights of those communities of color who have suffered under the Bush regime. This is exactly why conservatives in power today love Mr. Gonzales so much, and why they have embraced this new brand of identity politics. He has protected Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and others in powerful positions. He is far more effective in a post Civil Rights era at promoting right-wing ideals than rich, white men, ever could be.”
Never mind that Gonzales is not loved by the far right who are in fact adamantly opposed to his possible nomination to the Supreme Court because they believe he is too moderate. In the view of the National Lawyers Guild whose own record on Hispanic diversity is questionable, Alberto Gonzales is a Latino Uncle Tom. It all sounds rather hypocritical to me.
I suggest that at the next National Lawyers Guild board meeting that you read through the initial press release that you sent on the Gonzales nomination and the article published by Carlos Villarreal on various progressive web sites and ask yourselves if these items could not have been worded better. Ask yourselves how LULAC and the overwhelming number of Latino organizations that have endorsed Alberto Gonzales would look upon these statements. If NLG is truly serious about moving the progressive agenda forward, it will need to develop a rapport with a broad cross section of the American public, not just the handful of progressive organizations sighted by Villarreal’s article.
Carlos Villarreal does have a point about the Republican agenda, however. After years of being on the defense on racial diversity issues, the Republicans are attempting to turn the tables on the Democrats and point out the inconsistencies in the Democratic record on diversity. The last thing the progressive community should do in response is to lash out in a clumsy manner at every minority candidate appointed by a Republican President. That’s not to say that you should support them or stay neutral either—just be careful that the statements that you make don’t fall into the Republican’s trap.
Brent A Wilkes
National Executive Director
League of United Latin American Citizens
2000 L Street, NW, Suite 610
Washington, DC 20036
FAX (202) 365-0851
P.S. I am curious why NLG has not come out in opposition to Condoleezza Rice’s nomination to be Secretary of State. While Alberto Gonzales’s role in the Bush administration’s pursuit of the war on terror is indirect at best, Rice, as National Security Advisor, was right in the thick of it. She ignored intelligence prior to 9/11 that if acted upon might have prevented the war on terror from even beginning, she helped exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq on many occasions to justify our preemptive attack on that nation which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, and she has no doubt been a central player in developing the strategies to extract information from the “enemy combatants.” Your own web site mentions its opposition to her positions many times, while with Gonzales the only mention of him came in the press release opposing his nomination.