Monday, December 14, 2009

Ordinary People Making Positive Change Are Always On The Left

Howard Zinn's The People Speak aired last night on the History Channel and it was incredibly moving. I love how it is driving the right-wing crazy, but they can't really dispute the content. The best they can do is call Zinn a Marxist, which he is, and demonize the whole thing as a collaboration between a radical historian and liberal Hollywood types.

They could never compile their own right-wing, ordinary, people speak compilation because there simply aren't people like that on the right. First, they'd have to disavow the right-wingers who almost everyone agrees were on the wrong side of history: the pro-slavery, anti-civil rights, KKK crowd. Then they would be hard pressed to find anti-union voices who weren't bosses, but they could, perhaps, find some pro-war voices here and there.

The biggest problem for them is that all their right-wing counterparts throughout history either speak without passion, or if they have passion it is usually dripping with ignorance and/or contempt for others.

Their production would make for either a dry, sterile production, or a frightening, ominous one. Maybe Fox News would pick it up.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

There is No Such Thing as a Military Victory in Afghanistan

Following up on Obama's speech this evening about escalating the war in Afghanistan, presumably to get us out of it in 2011, I was struck by the vague idea of "victory." Many liberals asked, "what would you do?" to anti-war detractors. "To accomplish what?" I would ask. Even David Sirota, with whom I generally agree, tweeted that "as much as I oppose Afghan escalation and think its doomed, I still HOPE it succeeds. I'm not an 'I hope the president fails' Limbaugh."

That all depends on how you define "success."

There cannot be a military success in Afghanistan. It was a failure the moment our troops and weapons hit the ground and adding more troops just adds to that failure. The only success would be a complete military withdrawal, strong support for real democracy in the region, strong support for human rights in the region, and an increase in humanitarian aid. Success would be taking most of the billions of dollars we are set to spend on this war and put it toward health care, education, and the environment. Success would be troop deaths in Afghanistan in 2010 equal to 0. Success would be civilian deaths in Afghanistan from drone attacks or any American weapons in 2010 equal to 0.

How else can one define success in Afghanistan? Capturing Bin Laden? If thousands or even millions of lives are sacrificed senselessly for the head of one overblown terrorist, would it really be worth it? Would we really be safer or would someone else come along to take his place, thriving on his martyrdom and the chaos in the region?

Perhaps success would mean increased security in the United States, but how do we measure that? Is it clear that adding tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan would make us more safe rather than less safe? What about the millions of people in Central Asia and the Muslim world who will see this as more reason to fight against the West? What about the fact that by spending billions on this escalation we are neglecting threats at home, including threats often treated as having nothing to do with spending on war, such as the tens of thousands of people who die each year because of lack of healthcare?

Perhaps success can be measured by bringing real democracy and human rights to Afghanistan. For politicians supporting this escalation, however, democracy already exists. We were waiting for a credible partner after all and, presumably, now we have one. The voices of women and ordinary people in Afghanistan on this matter are not part of this argument, it seems, with a few exceptions. As Malalai Joya, a former elected official in Afghanistan who is now banned because of her outspoken views, has written, "if we have a little bit of peace we will be better able to fight our own internal enemies – Afghans know what to do with our destiny. We are not a backward people, and we are capable of fighting for democracy, human and women's rights in Afghanistan. In fact the only way these values will be achieved is if we struggle for them and win them ourselves."

I do hope Obama succeeds when he chooses policies I agree with. When I disagree, and particularly when I think the consequences of his choices are both deadly and unnecessary, I lean towards failure.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Teabagger for Halloween

Both sides of my angry, teabagger, 9-12, Glenn Beckista, sign from Halloween night:

For the record, I'm sticking out my stomach.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Grocery List

black licorice
Ludens cough drops
tootsie rolls
candy corn
wax lips
lemon drops
miniature bibles
plain M&M's

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Are the Longhorns One of the Best Teams in the Nation?

Next weekend's game will be the real test. They are number 2 or number 3 depending on the poll, but it is difficult to tell if they are actually that good. They haven't really had an adequate test. Worse, they've looked vulnerable at times they should not have - playing Wyoming and then Colorado. At the end of each game the score looked pretty good for Texas, but Texas fans watching the games probably got a bit nervous. At half time against Wyoming, the score was 13-10 Texas; at half time against Colorado the score was 14-10 Colorado. Those are un-ranked teams; and Colorado was playing in Austin.

The problem I see is that Texas doesn't seem to have a top-ranked-team running game. I haven't seen it anyway. Colt McCoy is a talented quarterback, but he needs a Ricky Williams to ensure the kind of team that is worthy of a national championship. Of course, they could still get there, but from what I've seen so far, that is going to take one of two things: Either they are going to have to show some talent they haven't shown yet; or other teams are going to have to falter. Depending so much on a single quarterback is too unpredictable. If Colt has a bad quarter in the wrong game, it could mean the end of the single-digit ranking hopes of the team. If others could pick up the slack, then it wouldn't matter nearly as much.

I'm a Texas fan; but I'm more skeptical this year than previous years. Let's see how they do against Oklahoma.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Preventive Detention: A Way to Win a Game of Chicken?

In today's New York Times, John Farmer Jr. uses the arrest of Najibullah Zazi as a hook to advocate for a preventive detention statute. The story-line he creates is one of law enforcement investigating terrorism and facing what he describes as a dangerous "game of chicken." They know that they are following and listening to terrorists who want to kill thousands of people, but they don't have the evidence normally sufficient to hold them and/or prosecute them. As that evidence develops, they may have a difficult choice to arrest some but not all, leaving those others to go on and actually kill hundreds of people. Maybe with such dire consequences, he argues, we should consider giving law enforcement the power to imprison people without sufficient probable cause.

He uses some compelling examples of people who got away and actually committed acts of terror. Without examining the extent that those examples are true or simply based on the word of law enforcement, who regularly depend on fear to increase their powers and justify their actions, it is important to note that it isn't actually that difficult to arrest and convict people for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts.

Just look at the men accused of plotting to blow up the Sears tower. That case did have to go through 2 mistrials before the government found a jury that would convict 5 of the 7 men, but they still basically got these guys for doing little more than stating their allegiance to Al Qaeda and otherwise not taking any real, tangible steps toward harming anyone.

Then there is the man convicted of providing material aid to a terrorist organization because he allowed a Hezbollah television station to be broadcast on a small satellite service he operated out of New York. Or attorney Lynne Stewart convicted of providing material support to terrorists for passing statements from her client to the media.

If it is already fairly easy to convict people for doing little more than making statements or passing along statements publicly, then what exactly would be sufficient to allow law enforcement to preventively detain someone? They go to the same mosque with someone for whom there is probable cause? They had coffee with that person the day before? Simply knowing that an attorney is willing to represent someone convicted of one of these acts?

Would the risks of giving law enforcement this kind of power seem more dangerous to some if most terrorism suspects were Christian? It does make the risks of giving the state more police power easier to accept when we think of it only affecting other people - especially when those people are foreigners or look different from us or have a different faith.

One of the biggest flaws in Farmer's column is that he never identifies the risks, just that preventive detention is "unpopular;" but it is unpopular for good reason. Law enforcement, the FBI, the Justice Department and similar state entities have a history of using their power for bad ends; whether you consider COINTELPRO or simple (but sometimes deadly) police abuse on city streets. Farmer's formula of easing up on restrictions against the state because of the potential harm that may come from respecting the Bill of Rights and civil liberties is the same formula that led to the forced detention of 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. I believe it is the same formula that allows states to convict innocent people and send them to death row. Better to lock up millions of innocent people than let one guilty person go free; or worse, let one soon to be guilty person commit the crime they probably intend to commit.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Running Folsom

I've written about running in the Mission before. Now that I'm in Bernal Heights, my Mission run is almost always the same - up to 14th Street along Folsom and back (the last leg is up the hill home). It continues to have a lot of the same challenges - dodging cars, people, garbage, encampments, wandering dogs pulling away from their owners and turning their leash into a dangerous trip wire, etc.

The sidewalk is wider than many in the Mission and many in the city for that matter. It is lined with big, old trees on either side, providing shade and a bit of nature. Despite the trees, the sidewalk is kept up relatively well and there aren't a lot of roots buckling the concrete below. While it is mostly residential, there are also places of worship, the original Philz Coffee, schools, parks, a grocery store, a few taquerias, a laundrymat, and a few other commercial buildings.

Today the area around 22nd and Folsom was the highlight. On one side of the street as many as 50 young people - all people of color - having a good time and listening to hip hop. On the other, a handful of young white thrift-store grad-school drop outs listening to disco, or possibly French pop, on an old school radio.

It was a sunny, but hazy day, relatively warm in the Mission. Around 17th Street a big guy listening to a walkman (yes I think it was a walkman, maybe a portable CD player, but not an iPod) called me "Frank" or something along those lines while I ran in place waiting for the light to change. A young woman nearby thought he was talking to her and said, "excuse me." He repeated the incorrect male name and added, "don't want him to get heat stroke." I probably looked a bit dehydrated by then.

At 26th Street four teenage boys walked together as one told a story about getting out of some handcuffs and shooting a weapon into the air. The other boys were amused. I didn't get much more context than that. A dad and his son played soccer at the concrete park - or at least dad was trying to get the ball past his son the goalie. A woman and two young girls were sitting on a couch at the laundrymat laughing about something. New Order was blasting around 20th Street while a young woman took pictures of her friend on a motor scooter.

Good exercise.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why the San Francisco Daily is More Conservative than San Francisco

Perhaps because of comments like these most popular comments on a story titled "GOP divided over how tough to be on Sotomayor":

This is the San Francisco Chronicle's new bread and butter. Presumably one of them lives in the Richmond, though it isn't clear that most of the right wing commenters actually live in the city. Even if they do, it is pretty obvious they are not representative of most people in San Francisco - a city where some major elections have come down to a Democrat versus a Green Pary candidate.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cal Supreme Court: Separate But Equal Just Fine

The California Supreme Court declared today that separate but equal is acceptable for gays in California when it comes to marriage - indeed it is now enshrined, oddly enough, as an exception to our Equal Protection clause until voters decide to un-enshrine it through a popular vote. Voting was central to the whole case as the court tackled the question of whether a majority of Californians can amend the state constitution at the ballot box to deprive a suspect class of a fundamental right. The majority decided that 50% plus 1 person voting on election day could indeed take such a right away.

In California the initiative process allows a majority of voters to amend the constitution. Until Proposition 8, however, the people have never voted to take a fundamental right away from a suspect class. But for the U.S. Constitution, allowing such a thing would mean Californians could take fundamental rights away from Catholics, or African Americans, or women, simply through this initiative process and a majority vote. In most cases, the U.S. Constitution could be used to strike down any such act, but not in this case when the vote involves a right protected by the California constitution but not the federal constitution. Such rights, regardless of how fundamental and regardless of suspect classification, can simply be voted away by a majority. One wonders if a majority could even vote away the fundamental nature of certain rights or vote away the suspect class designation of any group, regardless of previous supreme court interpretations.

It looks like anything goes as long as it is not considered a revision to the constitution as opposed to an amendment, in which case more than a mere initiative and majority vote would be necessary. This distinction framed the court's opinion today: Proposition 8 was an amendment not a revision, and thus it is now part of the constitution that the court must interpret and enforce. But the court, giving its majority opinion through Chief Justice Ronald George, cobbles together precedent to define "revision" in a confusing and counter intuitive way.

In a nutshell, the test applied by the majority was that a revision to the constitution (as opposed to an amendment) involved "far reaching changes in the nature of our basic governmental plan." Here it is stated another way: revision is accomplished when an act "necessarily or inevitably will alter the basic governmental framework set forth in our Constitution." One example given by the majority was part of an amendment that was struck down because it included a section that required that the state constitution not provide criminal defendants with greater rights than the federal constitution. The court said this was a revision not an amendment because it vested "all judicial interpretive power, as to fundamental criminal defense rights, in the United States Supreme Court" as opposed to California courts.

I still don't really know what this means, but it may not matter because it isn't clear that precedent really constrains the court to this narrow and bizarre definition. The dissent says the following before going into its own interpretation:
The cases cited by the majority do indeed hold that a change to the Constitution that alters the structure or framework of government is a revision, but these cases do not, as the majority erroneously concludes, also stand for the inverse of this proposition: that a change to the Constitution that does not alter the structure or framework of the Constitution cannot constitute a revision and, thus, necessarily must be an amendment. The reason is simple. None of the cases cited by the majority considered this issue, because it was not raised.
Even the majority seemed to acknowledge that this interpretation of precedent may not be such a bright line, going out of its way to write that gays still have all the underlying rights and privileges of marriage, just not the designation of "marriage" and:
there is no need for us to consider whether a measure that actually deprives a minority group of the entire protection of a fundamental constitutional right or, even more sweepingly, leaves such a group vulnerable to public or private discrimination in all areas without legal recourse ... would constitute a constitutional revision under the provisions of the California Constitution.
Whether or not the court wants to leave such legal writing for future justices with a different more sweeping set of facts, this court actually has made the decision today by clearly limiting its definition of "constitutional revision."

The court had plenty of leeway to make a different argument. Namely, when the change is to the equal protection clause as it applies to a particular class, even a minor deprivation renders the positive right of equal protection little more than a privilege afforded only to those groups and for those rights a majority of Californians are willing to accept. Thus voting to limit such rights is a revision to the constitution not a mere amendment, and more process is required.

But what about expanding, rather than limiting, equal protection rights through a majority vote? The court addresses this:
... under petitioners’ approach, the people would have the ability — through the initiative process — to extend a constitutional right to a disfavored group that had not previously enjoyed that right, but the people would lack the power to undo or repeal that very same extension of rights through their exercise of the identical initiative process.
Heaven forbid! The court goes on ...
Again, neither the history of the provisions governing the making of changes to the California Constitution, nor the many past cases interpreting and applying those provisions, support petitioners’ assertion that the amendment/revision distinction properly should be understood as establishing such a “one-way street” or as mandating such a seemingly anomalous result.
"One way streets" in the law aren't that unusual - indeed the Chief Justice seemed to be following a "one way street" of legal precedent in the midst of a busy downtown clusterf*** with avenues heading in all directions. Equal protection implies protection, not a lack thereof, and it makes sense that narrowing who it applies to and/or under what circumstances it applies would require more judicial oversight. On the other hand, expanding those rights - giving them to more people or under more circumstances - doesn't raise a lot of cautionary red flags within the doctrine of equal protection and its history of protecting the rights of disfavored minorities.

In many ways, when we have expanded equal protection and provided new rights for people, whether at the federal or state level, we are really just finally acknowledging, as a people or as a state, rights that have existed (or should have existed) all along. We never should have denied the right to vote from black people or women. These are inalienable rights, and it just took some time for our government to formally recognize them. Would anyone argue that blacks have the right to vote now, but they should not have had the right to vote in 1860? Discovering those rights collectively usually is a one way street - once "discovered" only the truly ignorant would argue for going back.

We will move on to the next vote on same sex marriage; and equality for gays will be stronger when supported through the ballot box. Practically, that will make our movement stronger; and I favor a ground up approach to human rights over an elitist approach to human rights any day.

The main problem with the California initiative process isn't the voting, it's the money. People or organizations with lots of money can manipulate the voting process; if anyone denies this ask them why people raise money at all if it doesn't play a role (in my opinion a major role) in these initiative elections. It's also true that pure democracy, even without the influence of wealthy, powerful entities, still may require caution when rights for minorities are the issue; but I firmly believe the threat would be far less without that influence of power and wealth.

Regardless, I feel the democratic (litte "d") forces are moving forward and equality for gays is coming whether the California Supreme Court or the Mormons support it or not. That doesn't mean we should all just sit by and wait for it to happen (the other side will take advantage of such inaction); but we must grasp the momentum and make sure it moves us toward freedom.

Vote. March. Agitate. Tell your friends and family to do the same. The Separate but NOT Equal ruling by the Supreme Court of California was an awful opinion by the court that must be overturned. If the people of California have to do it, let's get to work!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

State Bar Should Discipline Torture Lawyer Haynes

My colleague, Sharon Adams, and I published the piece below in the San Francisco Chronicle today. The original can be found here. There is also a counter piece written by William T. Coleman Jr., an attorney with O'Melveny & Myers who served as the secretary of transportation in Gerald Ford's administration. It can be found here.

State Bar should discipline William J. Haynes

Carlos Villarreal,Sharon Adams

As legal professionals, we are aware of the high standards that all lawyers are expected to meet to remain members of the bar in good standing; and as legal professionals who believe strongly in human rights, we are particularly concerned with the role of the lawyers at the Department of Defense and the Justice Department in shaping and covering for the torture policies of the Bush administration.

For these reasons our organization, the Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, filed a complaint with the State Bar of California in March against former Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes. Haynes is now registered-in-house counsel for the Chevron Corp. in San Ramon. Unfortunately, for the time being, the State Bar has declined to take action, preferring to forward our complaint to other bar associations where Haynes is registered. We plan to request an official review.

Haynes, unlike John C. Yoo, Jay Bybee and the other high-level lawyers involved in approving torture, is registered with the California bar. The facts implicating Haynes are damning and irrefutably stated in detail by a Senate Armed Services Committee report released last month.

Haynes' office at the Department of Defense sought out illegal interrogation techniques and resistance strategies in December 2001 from military experts. In October 2002, military personnel at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center requested approval from their chain of command to use techniques already practiced at the prison camp. In response, Haynes authored a cursory memo for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recommending approval of a variety of techniques, including using dogs and forced shaving of detainees.

Haynes never acknowledged that some of those techniques might violate international and domestic law - including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Haynes also failed to mention strong concerns raised by all branches of the military.

During the time the Haynes memo was in effect, Mohamed al Kahtani was tortured, tainting the evidence against him and forcing a dismissal of all charges pending against him. Among other things, al Kahtani was forced to perform dog tricks, forced to urinate on himself, forced to stand naked, and forcibly shaved. In under two months, Rumsfeld rescinded the Haynes memo and convened a working group to analyze the legality of the harsh interrogation techniques.

Haynes directed the working group to consider as "authoritative" a memo from Justice Department lawyer Yoo. As the Senate report concluded: Haynes' action "blocked the Working Group from conducting a fair and complete legal analysis and resulted in a report that ... contained 'profound mistakes in its legal analysis.' "

These facts are in official reports and on the congressional record, so it is disappointing that the State Bar has decided to wait for other agencies and associations to take action first.

It is an important function of the State Bar to ensure that attorneys meet particular standards of education and ethics. Thousands of attorneys across the country face consequences up to disbarment for actions that do not come close to causing the degree of harm caused by Haynes. He and the other torture lawyers wielded great power with little regard for ethical and legal standards. Their actions led directly to the barbarity of torture and have so far helped shield the various actors from facing consequences for their actions.

Haynes now works for a major oil corporation that has benefited from American foreign policy, and has been accused of its own human rights violations around the world. He could easily transition into a future administration in Washington. The fact that his legal work could still do damage is obvious.

Now that the State Bar of California's chief trial counsel has punted the matter, it is up to the Audit and Review Unit to ensure the State Bar fulfills its role to protect the public from lawyers like Haynes. As Californians we must demand that it conduct a proper investigation of our complaint, revoke Haynes' status as registered-in-house-counsel and apply other appropriate discipline.

Carlos Villarreal is the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. Sharon Adams is an attorney in Berkeley and a member of the chapter's executive board.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Pointless Capitalism: The Credit Reporting Industry

Yesterday I spent 20 minutes canceling my triple advantage membership. You can sign up pretty easily online (sometimes without knowing if you don't read the fine print), but to cancel you have to call, wait on hold, respond to various arguments about why you should not cancel, reject a final offer of a 50% discount for one year, and then wait for the cancellation to go through. Plus, be sure to look for the email confirmation.

Just a relatively small example of how much of our resources and human potential we use on matters that are absolutely pointless. Capitalism's superstructure is really a huge waste of time and brainpower, and sometimes creativity (though not necessarily in the realm of the credit monitoring industry).

As consumers in a capitalist world we now have these agencies that assign us credit scores and produce credit reports. That surely takes a certain amount of time and energy on its own. Then we have other businesses that take those reports and send people emails and alerts about them. Those businesses need advertisers - the commercials with the dudes singing about their crappy cars and crappy jobs are pretty ubiquitous. They need insurance and banking, and probably have frequent meetings with representatives from both industries. And of course they need telemarketers to convince people not to cancel, among other things. Meanwhile, I, and millions of others no doubt, waste millions of productive hours (collectively) waiting on the phone just to halt a monthly fee.

Yet the credit monitoring industry doesn't really do anything meaningful. It doesn't produce art or expand our understanding as human beings. It doesn't produce any material goods that directly sustain us or meet our immediate human needs. Why can't we just see our credit reports whenever we want without paying anyone anything? They're obviously just sitting somewhere in cyberspace waiting for us to pay someone to unlock them for our viewing pleasure. We can get a free credit report once a year at apparently, but we can't check on whether it is being updated on a daily basis; and as sad as it is, that can be helpful for navigating the world as it presently stands if we someday hope to retire with a roof over our heads and to live into old age with a minimum of suffering.

The money that comes from our labor is sucked into this industry and shuffled around a bit, making a few people rich and providing a lot of other people with salaries that are no doubt sucked into other pointless industries. The people in this industry could be spending their time feeding the hungry, producing art, cleaning streets, building parks, caring for foster children, or giving me a massage - which I need a lot more than an email telling me that my credit report has changed (only to find out that one of the credit reporting companies finally figured out that my address changed a few months ago - there goes another 10 minutes of my time).

By the way what is your credit score? I mean, tell me about yourself.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Prison Riot or Inmate Resistance?

For the second time in two months there is an uprising at a privately run prison in Pecos, Texas. It is described by the media as a "riot," and it is frustrating to read the various and brief reports on the matter:

The CNN story says, "As many as 2,080 inmates from two of the center's three buildings began fighting in the prison yard about 4:30 p.m. CT, said county Sheriff's Office Dispatcher Anna Granado."

But this story from UPI says that a guard at the prison who described the situation as "out of control" also said that "a medical dispute between inmates and staff may have sparked the riot, the second disturbance at the privately-run prison in two months."

It is not surprising to hear someone from a prison claim that an uprising is actually a fight between inmates even as another official contradicts her statement - prison uprisings are often described as fights, and usually fights between racial groups or various gangs, regardless of the truth. It rarely is described as having anything to do with poor treatment, abuse by guards, or bad management; and of course there is never any commentary about why the U.S. has well over 2 million people locked up in prisons and jails (and many more on probation or parole), whether it is a failing of our other public institutions, or whether we can afford to continue to lock up so many people (in this case it looks like many of these people are in for immigration violations - most likely completely nonviolent offenses - which should also raise questions about the costs of our immigration policies).

Regardless of what guards or officials say, this looks like an uprising of inmates against poor conditions. Even if we doubt the statement from the one guard about a medical dispute, the earlier incident within the two month span is described as follows by the CNN story: "On December 12, inmates took two workers hostage and set fire to the recreation area at the center in Pecos, located about 430 miles west of Dallas. The inmates, who had made several demands, surrendered later that night." Clearly not a fight between inmates but an uprising with demands of prison officials. The latest incident is likely consistent.

If you read this report (pdf) from the GEO Group - the private prison corporation paid by American tax dollars to run this facility - it admits that several incidents have occurred previously at this prison. In 2004 "The entire inmate population (approx. 2100) engaged in a food strike and refused to partake of any meals. The chief complaint of the inmates centered on changes related to food preparation." In 2005, "Approximately 150 inmates in a housing dormitory refused to rack-up due to complaints about a correctional officer." In 2008, "Approximately 14 inmates began flooding the special housing units by using objects to obstruct the drainage in their toilets because they were scheduled to be transferred from the facility."

There are multiple complexes at this prison and these incidents come from the low-custody complexes - the same complexes that appear to be involved in the present uprising; at the minimum/medium complex there are several other incidents of resistance including in 2004 "All Black Inmates housed in C Building (minimum custody) began a work stoppage because a Black Inmate from their housing unit had been placed in detention." And in 2007 "Approximately 340 inmates refused to participate in count. Chemical agents were utilized."

Of course these are the narratives provided by the private prison corporation; there may be other incidents unreported and even these likely leave out critical (embarrassing) details. That is the nature of prisons - it is difficult to actually find out what is going on inside of them; for the media, for attorneys, and for family members. When they are privately run there are more substantial transparency issues, e.g., Freedom of Information Act requests do not necessarily apply. And of course we get contradictory accounts of what is happening inside and reports like this from the AP: "Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said the disturbance at the Reeves County Detention Center was still going on Sunday. But no details were available on the extent of the riot ... Officials at the prison could not be reached for comment. Calls to the GEO Group, which runs the lockup, were not immediately returned."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What If San Francisco Were Gaza?

I've been proposing a lot of my own analogies on various website comment sections and facebook discussions ever since I heard Israel's defenders say "the U.S. (or Europe) would never tolerate rocket fire," and "what would you do if you lived in Sderot (though not everyone in Sderot supports the IDF slaughter in Gaza).

My analogy was as follows: What if China or Mexico or Japan (pick your nation-state) took over California and brutally forced most people from a particular ethnic group to move out of their homes and into the San Francisco peninsula. The conquering nation then tightly controlled all the resources into San Francisco, any movement in and out, and regularly fired missiles at the most militant parts of the city (probably the Mission District, maybe the Tenderloin), always alleging they were targeting terrorists. What would the people of San Francisco do? What should they do considering the conquering nation becomes the most powerful force in the region with unwavering support from the most powerful force in the world and San Franciscans are impoverished, sick and hungry?

Contrast this with's senior editor Bradley Burston's analogies for the situation on his blog. Let's deconstruct them:


Analogy One: A fanatical religious party wins a string of elections in Mexico's northern states, then stages a civil war to drive out the federal government and take full control.

The party's charter demands the return to Mexico of the occupied territories of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.

Firing homemade rockets and more advanced projectiles smuggled in from Iran and China, the party's gunners can hit a total of one of every seven Americans, or 43,598,000 people, in a broad swath which includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, and Las Vegas.

In all of these areas, pre-schools, grade schools, and universities are all forced to shut down. Families sleep in bomb shelters, and return to them several times a day during air raids. Businesses are shuttered, and the economy shuts down.


The brilliantly evil aspect to this analogy is that it ignores the situation in hypothetical Northern Mexico. As if the U.S. (Israel) were just minding its own business. There are many injustices about how the U.S. and Mexico coexist, but the wars fought over the southwest are nearly 170 years old - the occupation of Palestine began just over 60 years ago and continues to this day. The U.S. does not treat the people of Northern Mexico the way Israel treats the people of Gaza. There are not refugees in Northern Mexico that were forced from their homes in Texas or California just a generation ago. There are controls on the U.S.-Mexico border, but there is also a lot of trade and freedom of movement across that border, and we don't control the miles of coastline or other borders that Mexico has and can use as it pleases. Israel has had vast control over Gaza's borders, airspace, and coastline - and had these powers even before Hamas was elected.

If this was the situation between the U.S. and Northern Mexico, I'd be protesting in
San Francisco just as thousands have protested against the IDF operation in Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere in Israel.


Analogy Two: A man comes into your home. He has a gun he made himself. He points it at your family. He fires, but misses. The gun has little accuracy. He fires repeatedly, missing again and again.

You have a much better gun, made in a real factory. It is in the drawer in the bedroom.

Demonstrators in London and San Francisco - who are distant relatives of the gunman - stage a protest, calling you a murderer and demanding that you keep the well-made gun in the drawer because it would be a disproportionate response.

The man with the homemade gun, it turns out, is a religious fanatic who lives across the street. You were once his landlord. There is much bad blood between you.

He races back across the street. He has a larger weapon that he smuggled in through his basement. He shoots from behind his younger son. He wounds your daughter. You take out a rifle. You aim for him and hit the son, killing the boy.

The demonstrators are now calling you a Nazi and chant "Slaughter the Landlord!"

[In his defense, the neighbor explains that you have kept him and his family locked in the house, and have at times, failed to pay his water, gas and electric bills, causing them to be turned off.

This is some years after the neighbor send out his older son, nicely dressed, to knock on your door. Your older daughter opens the door. He greet her politely, and presses the detonator on a homemade bomb.]


Wow. This one blew me away. Again it is pretty dismissive of the complaints of the Palestinian people. Israel is just trying to live its life and this crazy family keeps trying to kill them.

So, the first major problem here is that it presumes the story starts with a suicide bombing (although that part is at the end). In fact the killing of Palestinians and the injustices they have endured have gone on for decades and continue. Gaza is and has been under a brutal occupation and again, many of the people in Gaza were forced from their homes. A better analogy would be not only that the neighbor and his family have been locked in their home, but that the other home used to be theirs and they were violently forced out, resulting in the death of one of their children. I would add that the neighbor's house is regularly shot at with high powered weapons - at people who are locked inside!

The weapons in the analogy are another problem. An inaccurate gun versus a more accurate gun? It would be more accurate to say an inaccurate bb gun versus automatic weapons and hand grenades. And at the end a suicide bombing - but with so many more Palestinians killed you'd have to change the analogy to say one suicide bombing and a few bb gun shots versus an entire neighborhood of Palestinians wiped out.


Analogy Three: Gaza as the Warsaw Ghetto

Jew-haters the world over adore this one. It solves a number of problems at once:

It denies and diminishes and exploits the Holocaust, does disrespect to Holocaust victims and survivors alike, alleviates European guilt over complicity with the Nazis, alleviates American guilt over inaction in the face of the annihilation machine, misrepresents both the cruel reality of the Gaza Strip and the cruel reality of the ghetto, dismisses the humanity and the vulnerability of the million Israeli Jews and Arabs within rocket range, and ignores completely the role of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, in having sent thousands and thousands and thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel.

As a bonus, pro-Palestinian demonstrators in San Francisco [where else?], referencing the the Warsaw Ghetto analogy, recently beat up a small number of pro-Israel demonstrators, reportedly shouting "Slaughter the Jew" at them in Arabic.

Way to bring peace.


How does this analogy deny the holocaust? In fact it acknowledges the injustices endured by the Jewish people and attempts to assert that we must condemn injustice regardless of who the perpetrator is or who the victim is. The people I know who use this analogy are people who, when thinking historically, condemn American inaction against the Nazis. The comparison to the Warsaw Ghetto is not an attempt to say the situations are exactly the same, it is a way to say in one short message, that we condemn anti-Semitism and bigotry toward Palestinians, and we respect the rights of all people to resist injustice.

Finally, I live in San Francisco and have not heard of anyone being beat up or shouting hateful slogans at the multiple protest that have been happening here against the Gaza slaughter. No arrests, no mention in the local media, nothing. And there are plenty of reporters and cameras at these protests. Perhaps such a serious allegation was mentioned without reference to sources because it was just in a blog on the Haaretz site, but considering the reputation of Haaretz and the way these rumors spread over the internet and influence opinion, this seems pretty irresponsible.

Even if true, however, it in no way justifies anything that Israel is doing in Gaza. Israel continues to kill hundreds of people with multi-million dollar weapons, chemical weapons, shelling schools, mosques and homes.

Way to bring peace.



John Stewart tackled the analogies rather well tonight: "I guess it depends if I forced that guy to live in my hallway, and make him go through checkpoints every time he has to take a sh**t." If impatient, scroll forward to 4:24:

Friday, January 02, 2009

Gaza Action: American Divisions Not Reflected in Washington, Corporate Media

A poll out December 31 showed Americans were about evenly divided over whether or not they supported Israel's military bombardment of the impoverished Gaza strip. The same poll also showed a majority, 55%, of Democrats are against the action. Glenn Greenwald analyzes this issue fairly well, though I think he is too ambiguous and unwilling to condemn the belief, whether held by political leaders or ordinary Americans, that Israel is simply defending itself and has every right to bomb Gaza

Israel does not have the right to bomb Gaza - a land that it occupies and controls, a land full of refugees that it created, and a land that is punished daily in multiple ways by Israel, and was even before the latest escalation. This part of the story is rarely acknowledged by political leaders or the American corporate media, who tend to simply repeat what Israeli officials say or at least treat their words as their starting place and maybe add a bit about the unfortunate suffering of civilians in Gaza.

See Nancy Pelosi's view that "when Israel is attacked, the United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally," this story on the White House spokesperson's statement that Israeli actions were "in response to the mortar and rocket attacks on Israel," and rather than sift through the right wing and reactionary cable news pundits' views on this, try the liberal Rachel Maddow who describes Hamas rocket attacks as "unprovoked" and concedes that Israel was a country "conceived by war," but not because of the war and ethnic cleansing it conducted against the Arab inhabitants of the land it desired (even before declaring independence), but because a day after it declared independence, neighboring countries declared war on it?!

This is why the poll showing Americans are about evenly divided is so remarkable. Despite all of the propaganda from and unity among American politicians, and despite all the misinformation and biased coverage in the American media, ordinary Americans have not entirely bought the lies. As more Americans learn the truth about the situation in Israel/Palestine and that their tax dollars are largely paying for the injustice, I hope American policies toward Israel will finally begin to move in the right direction.