Monday, October 30, 2006

The Democrats Will ...

End the failed war in Iraq that was a mistake from day one? Not according to the one-time thought-to-be "anti-war" candidate Howard Dean.

Impeach President Bush for his crimes - far worse than the allegations underlying the Clinton impeachment? Not according to San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi.

Not that the Dems would do either of things correctly if they promised to do them. Pulling out of Iraq for most Democratic politicians means redeployment - nothing anti-imperialist about the politics of either major party in Washington. Impeaching Bush would probably just be an exercise and a distraction from their own problematic conduct.

Still, if they win it will be a positive sign that the country isn't buying into the ultra-right or fiscal conservative ideology of the various stripes of Republicans. But a mere positive sign may not yield positive results if we sit back and wait for the Democrats to fix things. It just isn't in their interest and they care far more about winning office than making things better for most Americans.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Suspected "20th Hijacker" Forced to Wear a Bra, Perform Dog Tricks on a Leash by Gitmo Interrogators

From MSNBC: "Mohammed al-Qahtani, detainee No. 063, was forced to wear a bra. He had a thong placed on his head. He was massaged by a female interrogator who straddled him like a lap dancer. He was told that his mother and sisters were whores. He was told that other detainees knew he was gay. He was forced to dance with a male interrogator. He was strip-searched in front of women. He was led on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks. He was doused with water. He was prevented from praying. He was forced to watch as an interrogator squatted over his Koran."

Read more.

Monday, October 23, 2006

PA200010Austin

I was, of course, delighted to discover that this year's National Lawyers Guild convention would be in Austin, Texas. After all, until 2 years ago I had lived here for 11 years. I've been to the last 4 conventions - Minneapolis (top floor indoor pool fun) - Birmingham (birth of The United People of Color Caucus) - Portland (battle over Zionism as racism) - and now Austin.

This year the people of color (POC) continued their campaign within the Guild to turn it into a truly anti-racist organization and make it genuinely relevant to communities of color. The TUPOCC election meeting was packed and more POC moved into leadership positions.

There were not any major arguments during the plenary elections, as with last year's resolution equating Zionism with racism (which won on the convention floor in Portland but failed after the broader membership had a chance to vote).

Lynne Stewart did not attend, but neither was she in prison ... yet. Convention-goers discussed the partial victory that came with her sentencing of 28 months in prison and freedom during her appeal.

While we dreaded the many negative political developments - the growing risk that the U.S. will attack Iran and/or North Korea, the loss of habeas corpus, the legacy of Katrina, the right-of-center immigration debate in Washington, dwindling abortion rights, etc. - there was more of a sense of optimism than in previous conventions. I believe this was because we recognized the growing strength of the NLG and the potential of the reaction to these developments to move the pendulum further to the left - growing unpopularity with U.S. foreign policy and the sense that Iraq (and Afghanistan) will be another injury to American imperialism still bruised from its PA200014defeat in Vietnam, the increase in education about habeas corpus among non-lawyer Americans, the new activist and community groups that are rising from the flood waters of Katrina to challenge the failures of the richest nation in the world, the millions of immigrants and their supporters who have already kept any immigration bill from passing and will hopefully change the course of the debate for decades to come, the possibility that the South Dakota abortion restrictions passed by their legislature could be overturned by the voters there, etc.

We were addressed by Jim Hightower, Deborah Small and New York Transit Worker Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint - the latter gave an incredible speech on Saturday night about, among other things, the need to strike in order to preserve the right to strike. Although there was both a TGI Fridays and a Starbucks in the lobby of the Raddison hotel, most members walked blocks away from the hotel for non-corporate coffee and food - if only our convention was enough to save Las Manitas from the developers.

That is what I noticed most about Austin - the development of entire shopping districts, condos, expensive lofts, office towers and rows of boutiques. And the construction continued on all these fronts - particularly in and around the 2nd Street District (which didn't even exist two years ago) and the South Congress District (often referred to as "SoCo" for ease and possibly to annoy some of my friends).

PA210023I have to confess I did my fair share of consuming (mostly coffee) in both these parts of town, and I must further admit that neither location had many (or any) chain stores - no Urban Outfitters, Gaps or Starbucks. But my greatest fear about Austin is that more of the city will become like these two parts (the University drag having been lost years ago to development and free market forces). As the condos open up and the $150,000 homes become $2 million homes, the middle class and fairly privileged yet bohemian young people move into the working-class neighborhoods of East Austin and change the character there as well. The "Keep Austin Weird" stickers get slapped on the bumpers of Land Rovers that trample everything in their path as the affluent dust of Austin's cowboy yuppies spreads throughout the city, choking working people and people of color, and leaving a homogenized, character-less filth on everything.

So that is my fear, and I hope I'm wrong because I'd like to move back here someday. I got to run around Town Lake and I really need to do that - preferably 3 times a week but for now once a year will have to do. I ate migas twice - including once with vegetarian chorizo. I saw an art car parade and spotted Quentin Tarantino - who I believe was working with Robert Rodriguez on a movie called Grind House. And again there was the cheap beer. Good stuff.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Mexico

Border05I travelled this past weekend to Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico - just across the border from McAllen Texas and the Lower Rio Grande (known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico). I travelled with a group called Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera with the express purpose of visiting workers from the many maquiladores (factories or assembly plants) that have sprung up along the border after the passage of NAFTA. We toured some of the major industrial parks by vehicle (security kept us moving) and met with workers from companies that should be familiar to most Americans. Some of the major companies that I saw in the area were Delphi, Maytag and Nokia - but there must have been hundreds taking advantage of relatively low-wage workers and permissive labor law enforcement - not to mention the tax breaks and lack of environmental protections.

Our tour was arranged by Austin Tan Cerca but really lead by a group that organizes on the Mexican side of the border with Texas called Comité Fronterizo de Obreras. The effects of globalization were made real with a tour of the industrial parts of the city, followed by a tour of a neighborhood where many of the workers lived. The industrial areas were simply huge warehouse-like buildings with manicured lawns all around. The homes were often along dirt roads and made of concrete bricks, without air-conditioning. One neighborhood was still recovering from the damage of several feet of flood waters.

On the border the wages are low but the cost of living is high. We heard of accidents, in one plant where a man's leg was slashed by an old piece of machinery and another man's finger was cut off; Where workers were ordered to wear a specific type of clothing but not given the funds to pay for that clothing - even when it cost more than a week's pay; Where workers were told to go to a specific doctor so companies could avoid reporting accidents. The organizers laid out clearly how a family of four could just barely survive on the wages they made as long as everyone stayed healthy and nothing critical to making food or getting to and from work broke down.

One view is that all this exploitation was so that Americans can get cheaper prices on electronics and appliances. But I think the more constructive view and the one held by the most knowledgeable workers and organizers is that it is all so that a handful of executives and industrialists can get rich.

Corpus Christi 1After returning from Reynosa I spent a couple of days in Corpus Christi with family. There is a new H-E-B Plus there in a mini-mall, chain-restaurant, six-lane-road, rapidly growing part of the city. (H-E-B is the major grocery chain in Texas; the letters stand for the initials of the founder of the company, Henry Edward Butt). I was told it has furniture, a lawn and garden section, a bank, a cafe with comfortable chairs, and there may be some milk and eggs near the back. It has almost everything. (I was disappointed to discover it had no automotive repair center.) Yet, somehow video stores, Supercuts, Montana Mikes and many other park and spend businesses survived all around.

South Texas was excessively humid and rainy, which I enjoyed as a change of pace. The sun came out a bit, illuminating lush vegitation, towering clouds and sworms of butterflies. It was good to be home despite the free market.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Texas

I'm in Texas for a couple of weeks and I'm learning that perhaps I'm a Texan at heart.

I actually like the warm humidity of Austin, perhaps I would hate it if I had to endure it in August and September for weeks at a time but it feels great right now.

It's quiet. Last night all I really heard out my window was some dogs barking and a cat howling - no sirens, no excessively loud motorcycles, and no couples yelling at each other.

The public transport system isn't great, but I haven't seen any standing-room-only buses (common in the Mission at all times of day), and it is only 50 cents for a single ride or $1 for a 24 hour pass.

Plus I had a cold Schlitz and a Lone Star at one of many bars with an outdoor patio and it was perfect in the peaceful, balmy, Central Texas night.

Soon to come: the border; Corpus Christi; NLG Conference.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ruben Navarrette Bashes Activists Almost As Harshly As He Bashes Nazis

Navarrette has a column today up on CNN.com critical of the protesters at Columbia who unfurled a banner on stage while Minuteman bigot Gilchrist was speaking last week. As when he defended the appointment of the defender of torture, Alberto Gonzalez, he does his best to position himself in "the middle" - between human rights activists and some of the most powerful and evil people in the U.S. today. Some middle ground, but let's not forget this is the same Navarrette who once was in a shouting match with Cesar Chavez, and supports vouchers while opposing affirmative action and bilingual education.

He notes: "It's not tough to win an argument with someone like Gilchrist. You just let him talk, and, before long, he'll say something inaccurate, intolerant, or idiotic." Of course that doesn't stop cable news from giving the man and his allies far more air time than they've ever given to the immigrants his organization terrorizes along the border. And it certainly does little to stop his organization from continuing to recruit and invite the racist anti-immigrant bashers out of the shadows. I guess it's easier to ignore the man when you know you will never have to face any direct consequences from his hate-mongering.

He goes on: "The protesters admit that they planned to take the stage in a peaceful protest. But, they claim, things got out of hand when they were attacked by a pro-Minutemen contingent. That's a lame excuse. What these protesters did was wrong, foolish and self-defeating. They could have helped inform the immigration dialogue on campus, but they chose intimidation over information and resorted to a heckler's veto to shut out speech that they found offensive. They forgot the first rule of free expression: that the answer to offensive speech is more speech, not less."

This single act, however, did far more to inform the campus, it informed the world. So in that sense it was far more effective than the campus dialogue he contemplates. The question about how effective it was in relation to the immigration debate is another story.

My sense so far is that it was very effective, particularly among those people who have the potential to be mobilized. Still, I think it is a valid argument to say the activists may have turned off a lot of would-be supporters - I just think those would-be supporters are weak-kneed moderate conservatives like Navarette who would just push for some horrible bill in Congress that just happens to be slightly better than far more reactionary legislation. So, why worry about minding our manners just to please more folks like him?

Finally he ends his piece with a bad example: "It is the same lesson we all learned in 1977 when a group of Nazis wanted to march in Skokie, Illinois, a mostly Jewish suburb of Chicago. The question of whether they should be allowed to march split the Jewish community, pitting civil libertarians against community activists. The Nazis won the right to march when the courts held they had a First Amendment right to express their views even if their message was vile and deliberately provocative."

So the lesson we learned was that Nazis have the right to march just like anybody else as far as the government is concerned. Great. Thanks for the civics lesson. That says nothing about what activists ought to do in response to bigots who seek to essentially have a parade celebrating hate and anti-semitism. It says nothing about what activists ought to do in response to bigots who seek to terrorize Latino immigrants seeking to be with their families or find employment, and force them to take deadly risks instead. I'm glad Navarrette is intelligent enough to see the connection between the Minutemen and Nazis, but he knows nothing about how to confront these people or the real consequences of simply ignoring this kind of hate and hoping people recognize it as "idiotic."

For the record the Nazis never marched in Skokie, and hopefully they never will.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

No One Is Illegal (Updated)



Awesome protest against Jim Gilchrist and the "Minutemen" yesterday at Columbia University. Some have commented that this protest appears to violate free speech. I would argue that it furthers free speech by giving a voice to all of the immigrants who are suffering because of the hate mongering of the "Minutemen." Notice the right-winger interviewed near the end describes the protesters as "animals." I wonder who exactly he considers "animals." Leftists? Activists? Latinos? People of color?

Congratulations to all the activists who put these bigots in their place!

UPDATE: The activists who took the stage were allegedly violently assaulted and are now being attacked by the administration at Columbia. Please support them by signing their online petition. The students are also soliciting letters of support and solidarity, which can be sent to them at nominutemen@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Why Do They Make Themselves So Vulnerable?

You might think I'm talking about the Amish, who just don't seem to understand that in modern times we all need to have armed guards and tall fences with razor wire around everything, especially if children are involved.

Or perhaps you think I mean Congressional pages. Really, I don't blame the young people being sexually harassed and propositioned by Congressmen, but someone needs to teach our children about how sick and twisted American politicians are. After all they keep taking billions from poor children and giving it to the Pentagon and defense contractors to kill other children (Iraqi children might consider themselves lucky if the worst thing that happens to them is that they receive a flirtatious email from a much older, slimy politician (I originally included the word "married" in this diatribe, but not really being that interested in the Foley affair, I only later learned Foley is not married)).

What I really mean is the Americans who keep voting for and supporting their political representatives - most of whom, from liberal Nancy Pelosi to fascist Rick Santorum, should be locked up until they no longer pose a threat to the rest of us.