Friday, December 24, 2010

Is The United States the Greatest Country In The World?

I don't think so, but I'm in the minority; 73% of Americans do

So which country is the greatest?  Paraguay of course.  No, but I do imagine that many Americans when asked whether the U.S. is the greatest might ponder, "If not the U.S., then what other country could be the greatest? China? Canada? Russia? Some European country?"  I think it's odd to think of any country as the greatest - at least in a literal sense.  The same way with cities.  I think San Francisco is a far greater city than Houston, but I have close friends who think Houston is the best (possibly because they love sprawl, humidity, and freeways).  So who is right?  Me or those Houston loving weirdos?  In reality, neither of us is right.  There are advantages and disadvantages, pluses and minuses, in both places and we probably measure those things differently based on our own likes and dislikes as well as our values.  I don't see things any differently when talking about nations.

Had I been born and raised in China, I might think it was the greatest country on earth.  Crazy right?  But not all Chinese people are walking around with their shoulders hunched over depressed about their horrible state of affairs.  This isn't to downplay the fact that many people suffer in China, but plenty of people suffer in the U.S. as well.  Over 2 million of us are in prison, and most of the rest of us lack the standard of living that exists in other industrialized countries because of poor health care, declining education budgets, and the like.

Of course I like it here.  The people I care about all live here.  It is a familiar place and a very beautiful place.  I like how uniquely diverse and multicultural we are as well as many of the ideals that exist in our laws and culture.  As much as it can be watered down and sometimes cast aside altogether, we have a Bill of Rights, and it is often meaningful.  We also have a rich history with both good and bad, but lots of inspiring struggles from the very first against a monarchy to labor fights, the civil rights movement, women's rights, gay rights, immigrant rights and other movements for liberation. I'm sure someone from El Salvador could say many things she loved about her country, and I certainly wouldn't cut her off and say, "no way El Salvador is better than the U.S.A.; you're nuts lady!"

In fact the respondents to the poll cited above probably had much more nuanced feelings about their answer to the question than it might initially appear.  The question asked: "Because of the United States' history and its Constitution, do you think the U.S. has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world, or don't you think so?"

First, it's kind of a loaded question.  Like when those canvassers for the ACLU ask me on the street as I'm trying to get to a meeting, "Hey friend, care about free speech?"

"No, fuck you," I say, but I really just don't have time to talk to them.

So when confronted with our history and Constitution I imagine a lot of people would answer "yes" to any question.  "Because of the United States' history and its Constitution, do you think OJ was innocent?"  "Yes!"

Plus, if you say "no" to the question, you may feel like you are also saying "no" to the idea that the "U.S. has a unique character."

The U.S. does have a unique character and I do like certain things about its history and think the Constitution rocks (which is why, by the way, I actually like the ACLU and encourage people to donate).  But I would be with the minority, still a significant enough minority that I don't feel too lonely, and probably larger in San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley than in other parts of the country.  I do not think the U.S. is the greatest country in the world and in fact I think it is one of the most notorious countries in recent decades when it comes to human rights abuses around the globe.  I connect those abuses more with the nation-state (the government) and American corporations, not really with my neighbors, friends and family.  I'm an internationalist who thinks we should be working towards more open borders, because I happen to like freedom of movement and think human rights are universal.

In that sense I do think there is a critical way to measure nation-states - by the way they use their power to maintain and further human rights.  As I said, the U.S. is one of the worst.  There may be places that are worse internally, but few that exert their power externally, the way the U.S. does, to subvert freedoms and liberties around the globe.  Even the simple "right to life," that so many anti-choice zealots claim to believe in, is easily cast aside when some of those same conservatives cheer on foreign wars that kill thousands of innocent civilians, pregnant women and their fetuses included.

Most Americans don't cheer on war, however.  That's why our government has to make up reasons for war, because most of us wouldn't support such terror without a really, really, really, really good reason; and the real reasons are never good enough.  Some people see right through them.  It is those Americans - the ones who burned their draft cards in the 60's and the ones who camped out at George W. Bush's ranch - who make this country truly great.  Not the greatest, but great.  People like them exist all over the world.  I may not speak their language or practice their religion, but I see neither them nor their country as inferior.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Dear Attorney General Eric Holder

I want to "sincerely" thank you.  I understand that you are personally working hard to keep me ignorant about the actions of my government and to treat that website guy like the worst terrorist in the world - maybe not as bad as Osama Bin Laden, but still really bad. 

I know that the people who lied about the reasons for war in Iraq and the people who lie about progress in Afghanistan are lying to me because they know what's best. 

I also understand that the people who broke some stupid law about torture did it because they were trying to keep me safe - and anyway we need to look forward not backward and they tortured innocent people many months ago now, unlike the wikileaks that keeps posting the truth about world affairs every day and promises to keep doing it in the future. 

I also understand that the government needs to monitor my phonecalls and other communications without a valid warrant because they are keeping me safe.  Terrorists want to take away my freedom after all, so I'm really grateful that torture, spying, and infringements on free speech are all being championed by you and your administration to help protect freedom.

Please use more of my tax dollars pursuing this evil, terrorist, truth-teller and in the meantime I'll be sure to not read anything the wikileaks publishes or the new york times for that matter.

C Villarreal

p.s. we need more of this too

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dear US State Department

Regarding your letter to Wikileaks.  You write:
As you know, if any of the materials you intend to publish were provided by any government officials, or any intermediary without proper authorization, they were provided in violation of U.S. law and without regard for the grave consequences of this action. As long as WikiLeaks holds such material, the violation of the law is ongoing.
It is a shame that you would concern your self with the violations of law of someone simply making information public while you brush aside the torturers and war criminals you harbor.
It is our understanding from conversations with representatives from The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, that WikiLeaks also has provided approximately 250,000 documents to each of them for publication, furthering the illegal dissemination of classified documents. Publication of documents of this nature at a minimum would:
* Place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals -- from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security;
Lets hope that the names of anyone at risk are redacted, but I understand it will be challenging because you refuse to help redact those names.  You clearly care more about keeping your secret information secret than actually keeping people safe.  More than likely this is just propaganda - it is all you have to counter the truly life-threatening operations your administration continues to engage in.  How many soldiers have been killed needlessly in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under your administration's watch?  If you truly care about journalists, why does your administration defend the murder of journalists by U.S. forces in Iraq?  Why is the previous administration not held accountable for imprisoning and torturing an innocent journalist in Guantanamo Bay for 6 years of his life?
* Place at risk on-going military operations, including operations to stop terrorists, traffickers in human beings and illicit arms, violent criminal enterprises and other actors that threaten global security; and,
The U.S. military is engaged in reckless, unecessary and deadly military occupations in two countries and engages in other abuses within the borders of other sovereign nations across the globe - killing thousands of innocent people (including many children).   If any of these operations are put at risk, it will be a blessing.
* Place at risk on-going cooperation between countries - partners, allies and common stakeholders -- to confront common challenges from terrorism to pandemic diseases to nuclear proliferation that threaten global stability.
Like our cooperation with (not to mention the billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars going to) countries like Israel and Egypt, who have horrific human rights records and tremendously disrupt the stability of their region?  Pandemic disease?  You mean like all the aid and doctors we send to Haiti?
In your letter, you say you want -- consistent with your goal of "maximum disclosure" -- information regarding individuals who may be "at significant risk of harm" because of your actions.

Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals. You have undermined your stated objective by disseminating this material widely, without redaction, and without regard to the security and sanctity of the lives your actions endanger. We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials. If you are genuinely interested in seeking to stop the damage from your actions, you should: 1) ensure WikiLeaks ceases publishing any and all such materials; 2) ensure WikiLeaks returns any and all classified U.S. Government material in its possession; and 3) remove and destroy all records of this material from WikiLeaks' databases.
Harold Hongju Koh

Mr. Koh, as someone who has vigorously defended the right to kill people in Pakistan and Yemen with aerial drones, you have no standing to lecture an organization that is simply shedding light and bringing the truth out in the open.  For those of us who's careers and ambitions are not tied to empire, Wikileaks is doing a great service.  The concerns you raise are mostly disingenuous and clearly a well-tailored message that seeks to deflect any embarrassment from the release of information you consider classified.  Maybe if you spent as much time and energy trying to improve how the U.S. acts around the globe and support real accountability, transparency and the rule of law, the secrets of the people you work for would not be so embarrassing.

Please stop lying and, if you have a shed of humanity, consider resigning from your position in protest.

Sincerely - C Villarreal

Friday, September 10, 2010

Avoiding A Future Harvest of Hate

Another seemingly reasonable objection to the Park 51 Community Center in Lower Manhattan comes along.  Roger Cohen's Op-Ed comes down to this: the community center is simply not sensible in the face of so much anger.

His caricature of this anger in the U.S. does begin with 9-11, but includes the longer-term context of 9 years of foreign wars and a more recent economic slump.  His psychoanalysis of America takes up most of his piece:

"The Sept. 11 attacks ... shattered America’s self-image."

"Two wars ... deepened the trauma."

Discussing similar anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe he notes: "The self-image of a Christian continent persists, drawing lines between insider and outsider."

But who exactly is Mr. Cohen psychoanalyzing?  Do Jews, Hindus, Muslims and atheists in Europe really cling to an image of Europe as a "Christian continent"?  Did African Americans, Japanese Americans, queer Americans, farmworkers, reproductive health practitioners, and other Americans really hold the belief that the U.S. was a "continent-sized sanctuary, flanked by the shining waters of two oceans" until 9-11?  Pearl Harbor and the Oklahoma City bombing were blips apparently.

It seems he, like a gentle yet firm scout master, is explaining to Muslims that they best not camp here, lest they attract the pack of wolves.  Lay low, maybe even camouflage your faith, until the pack moves on.

Cloaked in compassion, his Op-Ed dissects the opposition, generalizes its sentiment to bitter Americans, and raises the specter of the holocaust: "Less than a decade separated the Nazi book burning of 1933 from the crematoria of the Final Solution."

But Mr. Cohen is presumably not Muslim (not even American despite the certainty he uses to describe the American experience and sentiment since 9-11), yet he has chosen to use his column in one of the most widely-read publications to lecture Muslims and specifically those who want to build a community center in Lower Manhattan.  My question to him is: "Where do you stand?"

Of course he is correct to note how easily such reactionary scapegoating can turn into a widespread movement with deadly consequences, but he is wrong to place the only obligations on the targets of that scapegoating and to counsel that their obligation is to give into the wrong-headed bigotry demanding that they move.

Where does he stand on the the scapegoating itself?  He doesn't say.  It would be a much better use of column inches were he to denounce it.  After all, when Nazis were burning books, the answer was not for Jews to hide and give in, it was for people everywhere, of all faiths and every ethnicity, to stand up to the bigotry before it really gets out of hand.  It is particularly important for people in positions of power, like say anyone who has a national audience in a major newspaper, to speak out.

"Good sense is needed when a harvest of anger is in," he writes.  True enough, but giving in to hate does not make good sense, particularly when what we're seeing is less a harvest, and more an attempt to plant seeds.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Howard Dean's Ignorant Anti-Muslim Community Center Argument Dissected

Howard Dean explains on why he thinks the Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan Should Move. Let's take his thesis apart. His words are in italics.

First of all, I am not going to back off.

That's a shame. You really should be mature enough to admit your mistakes.

The reaction did surprise me because most of the negative reaction had to do with defending the constitutional rights of the builders of the center. Of course I never attacked those rights; I explicitly supported them, as the president also did this week. Nor did I side with the Islamophobic rhetoric of Newt, Palin et al. There are a great many people in this debate talking past each other, as is often the case these days.

OK. They have the right, and we need to have dialogue. What else?

Here is my case. First, no one who understands the American Constitution can reasonably doubt the right of the builders to build. Secondly, the building site is very close to the site of a violent tragedy that seared the soul of every American, including Muslim Americans. Thirdly, the builders of the proposed Islamic Center say they want to help heal the nation and there is a preponderance of evidence that that is true, based not least on the fact that the last administration viewed the leadership of this group as a pro-American bridge to the Muslim world.

It is noble that they want to help heal the nation, but that surely isn't the main reason they want to build a community center in their own community. And how are they supposed to help the community heal from way over there in whatever neighborhood they are supposed to move to?

Fourth, there are many Americans, about 65 or 70 percent, including many family members of the victims, who have very strong emotional resistance to building on this site. Some of them may have other feelings such as hate, fear, etc., but the vast majority of these people are not right-wing hate mongers.

I've seen polls with those numbers but are those feelings really about "very strong emotional resistance"? My guess is a lot of folks polled care far more about other matters - like health care, the state of the economy, etc. So, maybe you're projecting, but you're definitely not helping.

And yes, not all those who oppose the community center are "right-wing hate mongers," that doesn't mean their feelings are valid. Their feelings are largely based on ignorance, as yours appear to be, and many of them would pay little attention to this building were it not for a campaign led by right-wing hate mongers and enablers like yourself.

My argument is simple.

Simplistic perhaps.

This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are "justified" or not.

I disagree that they should have to do this, but the fact is they are doing this. They have started a dialogue, have been meeting with 9-11 families and even opportunistic politicians. Why aren't you lecturing the people who will accept nothing short of the center moving? Aren't they the ones who need to make a real attempt to understand the simple fact that Muslim terrorists have nothing to do with Muslims generally?

No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong.

They do need to be heard respectfully, because so far they have been largely shut out of the discussion. Those voices have just been buried. All we hear from on cable news is Muslims going on and on about their rights. Can we please give a voice to these poor, oppressed Americans who just want the Muslim Center built somewhere else?

This has nothing to do with the right to build, and unlike same-sex marriage or the civil rights movement, it is not about equal protection under the law. The rights of the builders are not in dispute. This is about ending the poisonous atmosphere engendered by fear and hate, and in order to do that there has to be genuine listening, hearing and willingness to compromise on both sides. I personally believe that there are other possible solutions that could result from such a process and that a genuine exploration of those possibilities is something we ought to try.

Great. So when Prop 8 is overturned, I hope gay couples will start a dialogue with those people who really feel strongly that they should not get married. Gay couples, once they have the right to marry, should really consider some compromise with those people who will go so far as to make a national campaign out of demonizing gay people who dare to do what they have the right to do. Maybe with a little dialogue, we can all agree that domestic partnership is just fine.

That is, of course, the kind of thing that happened during the civil rights movement. Sure at first some people insisted on riding in the front of the bus and sitting in at white-only lunch counters, but eventually African Americans did the right thing and started a dialogue with those reasonable people who supported segregation. They explored possible compromises, like moving the "blacks only" water fountain a little closer to the "whites only" fountain - a little less separate but equal. In the end it all worked out and we remember the politicians who stepped in to save the day and work out these compromises as champions of equality and civil rights.

Mr. Dean: Americans were attacked on 9-11. Americans are Muslim, Christian, atheist, Arab, South Asian, Anglo and ...... To buy into the rhetoric that the Community Center should be moved (or that there should be some other compromise?) is to buy into the notion that Muslims are not as American as everyone else on the list. It is a notion that is not always shouted or filled with hostility, but it is always based on ignorance and fear. You should be rallying Americans to support this Center, not shamefully promoting that same ignorance and dressing it up in the language of "dialogue" and "understanding."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Muslim Center in NYC Can and Should Be Built

The "mainstream" (corporate media, beltway politician) discussion regarding the Muslim community center near the former site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan (a.k.a. the giant mosque at Ground Zero) has been framed as follows: "they have the right to do it, but should they?"  My response: "Why shouldn't they?" and "Now that Gingrich, Palin and the right-wing bigots have made it their idiotic (yet dangerous) cause, it really should be built."

For one thing, it would be a message to the world about our values as Americans. I know some on the right think "they" hate us for our freedoms (perhaps that's why those folks on the right are trying so hard to extinguish those freedoms - to keep them from hating us); but those of us who understand that people the world over are just as logical and moral as Americans, understand that people dislike the U.S. because we bomb them and occupy their countries, not because of our freedom.  As an antidote to our official actions in the Middle East and South Asia, allowing and even celebrating the building of this Islamic Center would be a powerful step in the right direction.

The only arguments against the Muslim Community Center being built are based on bigotry, ignorance and fear, nothing more. Plus, since this became controversial and a few evil weirdos got obsessed with it, it has become ever more important to actually build the thing.  Giving in to the right-wingers now could be disastrous.  It would be a victory for people who would redouble their fear-mongering.  They would be empowered to move on to the next target: it might be another mosque, or it might be a Christian church that marries gay people, or it might be a group that leaves water in the desert of Arizona for people who may be struggling to cross the border, or it could be something that affects you (if none of those other examples resonate with you).

These wingnuts, who build themselves up by tearing others down, are clearly not fans of Democrats, so it is sad that some Dems have refused to defend the project, even sadder that others have followed the lead of the right-wingers and publicly stated that the community center should be built elsewhere. The political opportunists in D.C. have, by and large, treated this issue in the most opportunistic way, but even leftists have made some weak arguments.  In attacking the right-wing "they have the right but should they" rhetoric, some have said that it shouldn't matter whether they should or should not; they have the right and that's the end of the story.  That argument, however, misses the most critical aspects of this campaign of hate - the "hate" part.

The argument throws our Muslim sisters and brother under the bus by embracing this logic: "Sure, some people hate you, but rather than quibble with their ignorance and bigotry, we're just going to argue that it doesn't matter because they have the right and that's all that should matter"?

I actually agree with the underlying logic of "just because someone or some group has the right to do something doesn't mean they should."  For example, I don't think those nuts who show up at funerals of American soldiers with signs that read "God Hates Fags" should do that - even if they have the right to do it.  If those same cult-members wanted to protest in San Francisco, I would recognize that they have the right to, but I would help organize a protest to kick them out of town.

Similarly, I've heard some on the left emphasize that the center is not really a mosque and really not at "Ground Zero."  But if it was an actual mosque, should we not defend it just as much?  And, if they were planning a mosque right at Ground Zero, that might be problematic, but only because, if it is going to be a public monument, it really shouldn't have any places of worship or should somehow be inclusive of all faiths (symbols representing particular individuals who died would make sense and perhaps a place for reflection and/or prayer would be o.k. but not a Christian chapel and not an Islamic mosque).

The community center should be built, because there are no good reasons not to, and because, if it isn't built now, the most wretched characters who thrive on scapegoating, racism and Islamaphobia will be emboldened.

There are instances where actions are legal but offensive.  Even in those cases, there should be a very high bar before ordinary Americans raise any objections (much less politicians or state actors).  The building of a Muslim Center in Lower Manhattan in the midst of a controversy among right-wing, reactionary, ignorant, demagogues, is not only something that can be done, but something that should be done.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Van Jones Gets It Wrong At Netroots Nation

A lot of folks I know respect and even idolize Van Jones.  Following his demonization by right-wing bigots and subsequent forced resignation as Green Jobs Czar in the Obama administration, there was a real need for progressives to call out the red-baiting and racism.  That's understandable.  The man is undoubtedly super smart and has innovative ideas, and that can't be downplayed.  But having seen him speak a few times and read some of his writing, I can't join the chorus of supporters who give him rock star status.  He may have been a radical at one point in his life, but at this point seems more interested in supporting a moderate Obama administration than real change from below.  This came through loud and clear in his latest speech before the 2010 Netroots Nation where he lectured the assembled bloggers about being too hard on the current administration.

The general message seemed to be that we should hold Obama accountable, but we should do it in a nicer way, or else the far right will come to power.  The "or else" part is actually a fairly old game of lesser-evilism and scaring progressives into silence and support for the Democratic Party.  Check out this excerpt:
... the last time we had a Democrat in the White House, Democrats controlling the Senate, Democrats controlling the House, energy prices through the roof, jobs going down was Jimmy Carter. And we had four years of that and 12 years of Reagan-Bush. If we are not careful, if we are not smart, this could be four years as a precursor to the kind of right-wing backlash that will make us miss John McCain. Make us miss George W. Bush. Don't think it's not possible. There are dragons on the Right who in their anti-immigrant hatred, in their war mongering jingleism, in their commitment to drill and burn their way out of our energy crisis will make you miss John McCain.
I would actually compare Obama's presidency to Bill Clinton's not Carter's.  Clinton's triangulation, his calls for smaller government, saber rattling on Iraq, welfare reform, Defense of Marriage Act, and other moderate, even conservative, policies delivered this country to George W. Bush; the critiques from progressives and radicals on the left certainly were not responsible for the Bush "victory."  Of course Bush did not really win that first election, but it was as close as it was in large part because people who cared about all of those liberal/progressive issues, people whose lives were actually effected by those reactionary decisions during the Clinton years were not motivated to vote.  Once Bush was in power, and despite the fact that most Americans did not believe the rhetoric about weapons of mass destruction, it was still easier for Bush to invade Iraq because of Clinton's own support for occasional air attacks, sanctions that resulted in the deaths of a million Iraqis, and the demonization of Iraqi leaders.  It was easier to cut social services to the very poor and taxes on the very rich following Clinton's supporting the very ideas underlying those cuts.

The Obama administration is setting up the next right-wing government by sending national guard troops to the border, adopting policies of extrajudicial killings of American citizens overseas, increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, and rejecting a public option in favor of a healthcare bill that may be a bad deal for most people forced to buy bad health insurance.

Of course that same healthcare bill may help some people - particularly those Americans who were denied health coverage - that is yet to be seen. And, there have been some good policy decisions from the Obama administration, not to mention generally better nominees to federal courts (if not nearly as good as they could be).  The danger is that if we follow Van Jones' lead, the Obama presidency may end in 2 years or 6 years and be decidedly more like the Clinton presidency than the Carter presidency - giving a liberal stamp of approval to many of the policies and ideals expressed by Republicans, moving Washington to the right and keeping progressives scared and divided.

I don't want to take away from the great ideas Van Jones has about the environment and the economy.  Much of his speech made some strong points about the need for green jobs, but he also seemed to have a false analysis of where power lies and how best to wield that power.

For example, he said that, "we have to change the terms of debate going through the fall. We have been getting our butts whooped by this drill, drill, drill mantra and it's time for us to seize the terms of debate and show that we have the answers and we have solutions. That is going to be primarily up to you."  Have we really been getting our butts whooped on this issue?  Even while the Gulf of Mexico is filling with oil?  Is it really the job of the "netroots" to change this message?  Not that bloggers and independent journalists shouldn't attack the "drill baby drill" mentality, but it wasn't bloggers that gave a speech from the presidential pulpit calling for more deepwater drilling just days before one of the worst ecological disasters in history.

Yes the "netroots," not to mention the millions of ordinary Americans who don't happen to have a blog, can have an effect on what Washington does and the future of our country and this planet, but you can't blame them (blame us) for the bad policies and decisions of this President, his administration, and the other powerful politicians in D.C.; and you can't argue that there is some smart, strategic way to save the planet and get what we deserve out of this administration but first all us bloggers and lefty activists need to get on the same page and figure it out, and in the meantime stop picking on the President.

The truth is I'm not sure Jones actually wants us to hold this President accountable, maybe because its success has something to do with his own success, or maybe because he knows Obama and genuinely likes him, or maybe for some other reason.  But his speech seemed at time schizophrenic, at once interested in pushing policies this President hasn't championed while simultaneously trying to discourage criticism of this President - we should hold this President accountable, but we should do it in the right way, and I'm not going to explain what that right way is.  It is unsurprising to hear this from an individual who has been both an outsider and an insider at the highest levels at a conference that attempts to position itself on that same fine line.

So here is what Jones says about accountability and our role as citizen activists:
... there's been a lot of talk about your need to hold the new president accountable. I agree with that. Frankly, I think we have been putting too much faith and confidence in our president. Frankly, I never agreed with that. My basic view is we don't need the president to fix everything, we just need the president to stop breaking everything, that would be my first order of business. But the challenge here for you is that you have to figure out a way now as you go from opposition to proposition, from protest to governance, how to hold somebody accountable in a way that doesn't mean beating them accountable, kicking them accountable, spitting on them accountable.
First, shouldn't he be giving this lecture to Rahm Emanuel who called plans by liberal groups to target moderate Democrats on healthcare "fucking retarded," or Democrat Barney Frank who called protests for the Employment Non Discrimination Act “a stupid thing to do” and “immature”?  Is it really progressive critics of the President who need to figure out how to hold this administration and Democratic leaders accountable in a nicer way?  I could write a love letter to Nancy Pelosi, but my guess is she is more interested in currying favor with people who can write checks than with people who can write love letters.  At any rate, the left showed Obama a tremendous amount of support.  Progressives voted for him in droves and told everyone they knew to do the same.  Now, despite our disappointment, we are asked to continue to rally around him?  Should progressives ever expect more from our political leaders than they expect from us?

We do not have to figure out how to govern because we don't govern.  President Obama isn't our peer; he's the leader of the most powerful empire in the history of the world.  I understand he isn't a dictator, but the point is his administration has tremendous power and a mandate.  Many of us may have helped get Obama elected, but that doesn't mean we are now in power.  Majorities can support an end to the war in Afghanistan, a health care public option, genuine Wall Street oversight, but that doesn't translate into legislation or executive orders. The notion that being nicer to politicians would help, ignores what has actually worked historically for ordinary Americans - strikes, protests, demonstrations, and movements that make demands and speak truth to power.

I'm all for moving from opposition to proposition, but it isn't true that progressives are simply about opposition.  A public option is a proposition, investing in solar and wind power is a proposition, supporting gay marriage is a proposition, an amnesty for undocumented immigrants is a proposition.  When political leaders ignore those propositions, or worse oppose those propositions, or worse propose something awful, the only way to hold them accountable is to call them out and, maybe not spit on them, but at least criticize them harshly, if appropriate.

Van Jones would like to see a large scale investment in projects that both create jobs and help the environment.  I agree.  We absolutely need that.  But the last time we had anything close to that kind of public works program, it followed intense labor struggles - there were sit down strikes and entire cities were shut down (or rather run by the working class not the bosses).  Unfortunately, Jones' recipe for similar change relies on being nicer to people in power and hoping that will save the world.  For those of us without access to power and wealth, this is a recipe for failure.  To unleash our power, we must fight for our ideals, independent of political party.

Obama seems like a nice guy and I'm glad he's in the White House if McCain was the alternative, but so far his presidency is a big disappointment and he needs to know I feel that way.  I think he can handle it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mexico 2010

I know this is old hat for some folks who've been to Latin America a million times, but besides border towns, this was a first for me. I was warned by some that Mexico was dangerous. My understanding is that the major violence right now is mostly in the North and particularly along the border with the U.S., such as in Ciudad Juarez. Of course Mexico City is a large city with far more poverty than most American cities, that just makes certain kinds of crime more likely. Hell, if I were living in a Mexico City slum I'd try to rob Americans too (I may be kidding, but at any rate it makes some sense, regardless I would never physically hurt anyone (indeed, I doubt I could physically hurt anyone since I'm an enormous wimp)).


AeroMexico was awful. First, they moved my flight from an early morning flight arriving in the afternoon to an overnight flight arriving early in the morning. I somehow managed to sleep on the way down despite the fact that I was in a row, in front of the emergency exit row, that did now have reclining seats. I slumped over sometime after the awful movie and woke up after 90 minutes or so with a back ache and a crick in my neck. They fed us at 2 AM. Honestly, I'd give up the in-flight meal for a more comfortable flight. Give me a bag of peanuts and a pillow - I'm good to go. Then on the way back, the flight was hot. You know how sometimes the passenger cabin is hot while you're on the ground, but once you take off the air starts flowing and it actually gets cold? Bring on the blankets and all. But, for some reason, it stayed about 85 degrees the whole way home. I mean we were thousands of feet above the surface and it was probably freezing outside, what with hardly any atmosphere and everything. The only way it could have been so hot is if they were blowing in air from the engines or the heater was stuck in the "on" position. The only good thing about AeroMexico? Free booze. After our meal (a ham sandwich by the way), a cart with bottles of whiskey, tequila, rum, wine and I think beer came down the aisle. If you asked, you could get seconds too. Come to think of it, that was probably the only way I managed to sleep on the way out there.

Another couple of notes about the flights to and from Mexico. First, why do neither the Mexican nor the American immigration and customs areas have pens available? Cheap pens or pens connected with chains, like they have at the post office? I did not think to pack a pen on my trip and there were forms we had to fill out. The forms were passed out in the plane and of course the AeroMexico crew didn't have pens either (at least not for passengers; I find it hard to believe there wasn't a pen on the plane). Luckily I was able to convince some fellow immigrants to loan me a writing instrument, or I might have been stuck in the airport forever.

Second, a lot of the people I was traveling with, in fact most of the people who looked like American tourists, were simply going through the Mexico City airport on their way to beach resorts. I can't imagine how tired and frustrated those poor souls were with all the hassle of travel and AeroMexico.

When I arrived in Mexico, I was tired and wasn't interested in attempting to brave the subway during morning rush hour. So I went with an official airport taxi with a fixed rate - I think it was $125 pesos. Cheap by American standards and fairly fast - it helps to have a courageous taxi driver, though the lack of available seat belt in the rear seat was a bit of a concern.

Generally I found taxi drivers were eager to find ways to get extra pesos out of amateur tourists - whether by not using their meter or by using the meter but going in a roundabout way to your destination - this last technique is particularly helpful during off-peak hours. Still, 40 pesos versus 80 pesos versus 100 pesos really comes down to 4 American dollars versus 8 American dollars, versus 10 American dollars for a ride through the city (on one occasion we had 5 people sitting on top of each other on a cab ride) somewhat difficult to complain about for an American who throws down 2 to 4 bucks for coffee and 8 to 12 bucks for lunch in the states.

To avoid the taxi drivers trying to squeeze out an extra 2 dollars from Americans, the subway is a good alternative.  A ride is always a flat rate of 3 pesos (like 30 cents) with unlimited transfers. The trains come every few minutes; I never had to wait longer than 5 minutes. Peak hours, however, are way too crowded and hot for anyone who has the slightest bit of claustrophobia or anxiety. Pick pockets, gropers, and people shoving their way into and out of trains are also problematic at these times. But all other times, if you are heading to one of the many places the metro goes, it is by far the best, cheapest and easiest way to get there; just ignore the people selling pirated software, music and movies.

Hotel Isabel

We stayed at Hotel Isabel the first few nights. I had reservations to stay in the very hotel 3 years prior, but tragic circumstances forced me to cancel my trip. I was excited to make it this time, and the fact that I had just learned that John Ross - the author of El Monstruo - had been living there since the 1985 earthquake made it all the more meaningful. And it was a cool hotel. There was a great bar, a decent restaurant, a nice and comfortable lobby, helpful staff, and nice plants/gardens/courtyard. The main problem was with the actual rooms. I could care less that they were small, that the lighting was crappy and the shower floor was also the bathroom floor. I could forgive the fact that there were mosquitos and it was hot with no airconditioning and the shower was a mere trickle. But I could not live with the uncomfortable mattresses, and worse, the thin, single, pillow on each bed. Perhaps I've grown needy and difficult to please in the years since I slept on the floor of the University of Texas tower during a 48-hour protest, but I need at least a Wal-Mart-grade pillow these days. So after a few days we moved out of the Hotel Isabel and into a new, more comfortable place away from the city center. We still went back to the bar to enjoy karaoke, Cuban rum and the Centro Historico - which I found to be the most interesting part of the city.

The City

The oldest and best part of the city is the Centro Historico - the oldest, central part of the city surrounding the main Zocalo. Rough around the edges, but the most down-to-earth, lively part of the city, full of monuments, history, and cobble-stone streets. It is also the political center of the entire nation. The president's official home is there, though I think he is generally out in the Chupultepec at a place called "Los Pinos;" and the legislative body is there.  The Palacio Nacional is where the law-making happens and we found it to be a really beautiful structure, full of soldiers and, for some reason, tons of kitties.
The Zocalo is also a common place of protest. While I was in town teachers and electrical workers were on strike and camping out in the Zocalo.

A number of streets around the Zocalo are closed off to vehicle traffic, so wandering about on foot is super easy. Though, it isn't clear that jaywalking is a crime in Mexico, whether a particular road is open or closed to vehicle traffic.

The city center also includes a number of old buildings now housing cafes, Sanborn's, and other retail outlets and restaurants.  One of the cool things about a really old city like this is how modern spaces take over fairly ancient edifices.  I didn't go into any of the American chains, but there were plenty around - Burger King and Starbucks to name just two.  To all the moron Americans complaining about immigrants coming to the U.S. to take jobs and resources - you do know that we live in a global economy right?

There are cops everywhere in the city center and beyond. It was actually difficult to tell the difference between cops, soldiers, private security and accordion players. Law enforcement/militaristic uniforms were fairly ubiquitous, whether the individuals wearing them had any authority or not.

There are gay couples in the the city center and beyond. I actually saw more same sex couples holding hands on Mexico City streets than I normally see in San Francisco. The concentration was like the Castro in SF, but the area was much greater.

Food & Drink

I was only slightly weary of eating the food in Mexico. For the most part I didn't think about the common myth that illness is inevitable. In fact I ate plenty of tacos, huaraches, birilla, gorditas and plenty of other meaty, cheesy, fried foods that you can get from street carts and small holes-in-the-wall. I never got sick once and the food was super-good. There was even one stand where the guy had goat heads right out in front that he would bash open to get meat from upon request and toss the brains or whatever on a hot surface for tacos - very fresh I guess, but that was a bit much for me.

One reason for how tasty and non ill-making the food was, as many more seasoned travelers told me, was that Mexico doesn't really have the factory farms that dominate the U.S. food markets. The goats, cows and chickens come from smaller farms where animals roam about, don't get injected full of hormones and antibiotics, and aren't slaughtered in dingy rooms where the entrails of thousands of other animals rot away on the floor. That makes sense. The entrails, by the way, were also in a lot of the tacos in Mexico.

I also got to taste pulque, which my fellow travelers attempted to explain to me tasted like a liquid fart. I actually found it to be far more enjoyable. A little like liquid yogurt, with plenty of flavors, or plain if you like. In case you weren't aware, pulque was the precursor to tequila and does have alcohol, though far less than tequila.

Art, Churches, Museums and Everything Else

I couldn't stop going into churches. The murals and statues and mystery of these enormous Christian temples amazed me. I grew up Catholic, and that is part of my attraction, but I also feel like Catholic churches in Latin America are often some of the most beautiful, elaborate buildings in otherwise poor communities. The fact that in Latin America there is more mythology around various saints and legends is a bonus.

I was pining to see some mummies while down in Mexico also, but went to the museum at San Angel on the one day it was closed. I still got to check out a couple of churches there and also got to see a plaque dedicated to some Irish soldiers who defected to Mexico from the U.S. during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 and were supposedly executed in the village (now part of Mexico City) of San Angel by some filthy American gringos.

El Museo Nacional de AntropologĂ­a is a standard tourist stop, but not at all a tourist trap. It is definitely worth it. The Aztec and Mayan parts of the museum are pretty incredible, in particular the enormous Mayan heads and equally enormous Aztec calendar that may not actually be a calendar are very much worth a visit. Those heads are like the size of 1000 human heads.

Also at Chupultepec Park is Chupultepec Castle. A fairly fancy structure that was once the scene of children jumping to their deaths rather than surrendering to the filthy Americans during the Mexican American war. 

The castle is also the place where Maximilian and his wife lived like European royalty back in the 1860s. The Castle includes a lot of exhibits including a small number of murals - the one with the kids who jumped to their death is pretty incredible.

The pyramids were huge, but in retrospect I think I liked the town nearby and the bus ride to and fro more than the pyramids themselves.   The pyramids were great, don't get me wrong, but they felt a bit touristy, and that watered down their authenticity - at least their feel of authenticity.  The constant sound of jaguars - actually jaguar whistles that dozens of people were trying to sell the tourists - was part of it.

I was also pretty anxious to see some famous murals by Diego Rivera - murals I'd seen in books and online many times before. The huge murals at the Palacio Nacional were pretty incredible, featuring Karl Marx, Frida Kahlo, the Aztecs and a lot of other people. The great thing about murals is that they generally have a lot of people busy doing fairly mundane, yet significant acts. Rather than simply a moment in time, they often represent a great swath of time and even a grand history.

The David Siqueiros murals we saw certainly represented a story of time and history. Siqueiros, who tried to kill Leon Trotsky, has a more demented vision it seemed. We found his murals in a few locations - a random piece guarded by two men near Tlatelolco, a couple more at Chupultepec Castle and a giant, 360 degrees, cavernous project at something called the Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros at the Mexico City World Trade Center. I found his art to be the type you appreciate more the more you stare at it.  I also imagined that he did a lot of drugs.

Speaking of Leon Trotsky, the last tourist thing I did was go to the Trotsky museum - located at the home where he was eventually murdered. I felt oddly calm there, despite the fact that I wasn't sure how I was going to get my stuff and make it to the airport on my own, as my more experienced traveler friend had already left for the military outpost of San Diego.

The Trotsky museum was the sight of a tragedy, but it reminded me of the old friend who suffered his own tragedy and for whom Trotsky was such a role model.

Tragedies - as gut wrenching as they can be - require those who go on in this world to find peace and hope. And Trotsky's museum was both peaceful and hopeful. Peaceful because it was quiet and full of beautiful flora growing about a serene brick and mortar home. Hopeful because it was full of revolutionary history, yet almost everyone I saw there was younger than me and really curious, perhaps wondering what the future of politics, revolution and creativity would bring humanity.

I took a bunch of other pictures while I was in and around Mexico City.  You can find them by clicking here.

I enjoyed spending time with my friend David and meeting his brother, his co-worker and their fellow musicians/family-members.  We got lost once or twice and chased down a party in Coyoacán that seemed to be a near riot of 15-year-old Chilangos by the time we showed up with a bottle of tequila.  So we left, but we still had a good time in the lobby of the Hotel Isabel.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Constitutional or Not, Isn't It Wrong to Force Everyone to Buy Private Insurance?

I understand the Republicans are hypocrites and right-wingers are nuts about this healthcare thing. But I find it troubling that so many liberals are mocking the idea that mandating that every American purchase private health care is unconstitutional. I'll be honest. I haven't taken the time to research the legal issues regarding this. Nonetheless, it just bothers me that everyone has to do this or face a penalty.

We all have to buy auto insurance, but we don't all have to own a car. Right, I know, sometimes people really do have practically no choice but to own a car, but my point is simply that there is something less sinister about forcing people to buy auto insurance if they want to drive. Everyone needs health care. I can't imagine anyone who can live there entire life without needing health care of some sort. And anyway, this law doesn't say, "IF YOU WANT TO ACCESS HEALTH CARE ... YOU MUST ..." It says, everyone, EVERYONE, must buy it from a private company - no public option, sorry. Imagine if your town had no public transportation, but everyone was forced to buy a taxi pass. Imagine if your state had no public schools, but everyone was forced to pay tuition to private schools.

Many people are uninsured and that leads to multiple problems and expenses and increases in the cost of healthcare because, for example, people seek care in emergency rooms and then can't pay their bills, or they don't get the care they need because they can't afford it. In order to alleviate some of these problems or blunt the worst of them, we must all buy Anthem, or Kaiser, or Aetna or Blue Shield or some other policy from a company raking in billions in profits, AND if we don't, we get fined?!? What a crappy mandate! Give your money to these corporations, it may help some people and may lower some healthcare costs, we aren't completely sure, but either way, give your money to them or we'll fine you.

That may or may not be constitutional. That may or may not be reform. That is not progressive, so don't call it that.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Reform: Somewhat Good or Very Bad

Either way, I don't understand why this is seen as a "historic moment" except to those who simply want Democrats and/or our current President to have a victory against Republicans, right-wingers, and/or tea partiers, regardless of substance. Since Democrats tend to be to the left of Republicans (though the whole political spectrum moves rightward without real agitation from below), I suppose a victory over the right-wing is a good thing. What I can't get over is how this so-called victory could have been a far more substantial victory for American's healthcare and how this victory - touted as "historic" and cheered on by so many politically powerful liberal groups - may make real substantive change more difficult.

Health insurance companies will not be allowed to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions or to children, eventually. If someone gets sick or files a claim, insurance companies won't be allowed to drop them. Poor Americans will have help paying for health insurance - which is good since they will be forced to buy it. There will be increased competition, though it isn't clear that competition does anything to bring down costs. Those are all debatably positive, but rather mild reforms, particularly compared with the bad in this bill and with what we could have had.

However, what is to stop health insurance companies from raising premiums by 1000%? Nothing. What is to stop pharmaceutical companies from chargins $500/pill? Nothing.

We could have real healthcare reform; not health insurance reform. There is no reason why President Obama and the Democratic leadership could not have delivered, at least, a public option. It is popular with Americans, and Obama ran his campaign, in part, on support for such an option and was publicly supporting it all along. A supermajority was an obstacle for awhile, but then that smoke screen fell apart. Yet, now we have a bill that will force Americans to buy coverage from private health insurance companies, which continue to rake in billions and raise premiums, and does nothing significant to control costs or CEO bonuses.

Now that we have this enormous piece of legislation with private insurance as central to the whole plan, and a lot of Democratic political capital gone, does a public option or anything better stand a chance? With liberal organizations like MoveOn and liberal politicians like Dennis Kucinich cheering this on or at least dropping all opposition and telling everyone else to fall into line, can we look to our liberal Democratic politicians and those liberal/progressive organizations with a small amount of power in Washington to really fight for improvements to this legislation? This looks bad. We may have given up something great for something maybe ok, and that makes something somewhat good actually very bad.

Sure, as merely a peon in this empire of a "democracy" I may have to cut my losses on this one, but why should I excuse those politicians and organizations who have real power inside the beltway? Maybe there are some positive things in this legislation, that is not clear, but either way, I know we could have and should have had something better. President Obama and Nancy Pelosi could have delivered something far better, and instead they decided to cut deals with big, multi-billion dollar industries, just so they could get their "Mission Accomplished" moment for this president and this political party. Well, I'm not a Democrat. I'm a human being who despises and fears illness and poverty and pain and hates the fact that the richest country in the world still has to settle for wealthy industries buying wealthy politicians while the rest of us cheer on or despise our political theater, but still get sicker.

A lot of people I respect, and even love. like this legislation and are happy that it is going to pass. A lot of people I can't stand hate this bill and think Obama is a socialist Nazi. I personally think they're both wrong, and I hope the former will understand and accept my humble opinion. I myself could be wrong, my friends, and I genuinely respect your opinion. I hope the latter will stop watching Fox News and wake up, or otherwise shut the hell up.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

J Street's Goal: Peace and Security, but Not Justice

J Street, the more moderate pro-Israeli group that serves as a bit of a counterweight to the right-wing AIPAC, is publicly opposing Israel Apartheid Week and connecting it to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement. They argue as follows:
The BDS movement, whose dogmatic, counterproductive approach underlies “Israel Apartheid Week,” aims to delegitimize Israel’s very existence - making no distinction between West Bank settlements and Israel proper, and refusing to support a two-state solution that results in a viable Palestinian state and a secure, democratic Israel that is a homeland for the Jewish people, living side by side in peace and security. The BDS movement’s lack of support for a two-state solution puts it well outside the mainstream of the entire political leadership of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the United States.
This is incredibly revealing. In order to have a "secure, democratic Israel that is a homeland for the Jewish people" Palestinians must be treated as second class citizens. Because underlying the BDS movement is simply the demand for equal treatment and justice for Palestinians. Here are the simple demands made of Israel:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

One state? Two states? More important than those questions is ensuring that all the people in the region have human rights. If Israel surviving in its present state requires denying those rights to Palestinians, then we really should delegitimize the state. If that changes, then defenders of human rights around the world can debate one state versus two states, but until then the injustice exists, and it should be countered.

Furthermore, until Israeli authorities use the same state power they bring down on Palestinians day after day also, or instead, against Jewish settlers taking over West Bank land, the "West Bank settlements and Israel proper" (which seems to grow every few decades) cannot be separated. Some supporters of the State of Israel may talk about living side-by-side with Palestinians in peace, but until the actions of the State of Israel demonstrate that commitment, it is a hollow statement.
We also reject comparisons of Israel to South African apartheid. The analogy clearly implies that Israel is illegitimate, that it deserves a wholesale boycott, and suggests a single state for Israelis and Palestinians would be some sort of solution to the conflict, when in reality, it is a recipe for further violence, strife, and insecurity.
Interesting how a paragraph seeking to distance Israel from South Africa sounds so similar to the kinds of arguments made by white South Africans during apartheid. As Avika Eldar wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
One of the myths among whites in South Africa was that "blacks want to throw us into the sea." Many of apartheid's practices were formally based on security, mostly those involving restrictions on movement. Thus, for example, at a fairly early stage, black citizens needed permits to move around the country. During the final years of apartheid, when the blacks' struggle intensified as did terrorism, its practices became more severe.
Today there is less violence, less strife, and far less insecurity in South Africa. Why couldn't that happen in Israel/Palestine? Are Arabs inherently violent? Are Jews?

The J Street statement continues:
The BDS movement wrongly places the entirety of blame for the conflict on Israel. Responsibility for the conflict does not rest exclusively with either the Israelis or the Palestinians, and moreover, this conflict will never be truly resolved if one side wins only at the other’s loss.
If the Palestinian side has ever won anything, please share. Anyway, the BDS movement is about equality. If that is a victory for any side, it is only the side of justice. Again, the J Street statement reveals more than intended. Supporting Israel as it exists today requires support for grave injustice; countering that means Israel loses.

Of course, Palestinians and their various leadership bodies have made statements and endorsed practices that may be worthy of condemnation, firing rockets into civilian communities and blowing up buses are awful acts; but on the other hand, Palestinians are not occupying Israel; Palestinians are not oppressing Israelis; Palestinians do not receive billions of dollars from the United States; Palestinians do not have nuclear weapons. Making the argument that there are two sides and those of us who care about human rights shouldn't pick one over the other, or should condemn each side equally ignores the reality, asymmetry, and history of the conflict. It is tantamount to arguing that black South Africans were responsible for the conflict there.
The approach of the BDS movement only serves to deepen Israel’s sense of isolation and thus harden Israelis against the compromises necessary to achieve peace, undermining the regular and inspiring cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. This is singularly unhelpful particularly as the United States works to re-launch negotiations and as the window of opportunity for achieving a viable two-state solution grows ever smaller.
Do you want to know what isolation feels like? Try living in the Gaza Strip. Hardened to the compromises? Like slave owners in the American South who eventually fought a war instead of making the "compromises" necessary. Well, I'd say J Street would do more good to speak out against that hardening, and if the U.S. actually works on negotiations with a real chance at justice for Palestinians, I have no doubt the BDS movement will find ways to be more helpful; but as long as the U.S. government continues to send billions to Israel even as its leaders continue to build walls and allow settlements, the BDS movement ought to focus on helping the growing movement among Arabs and Jews to end Israeli apartheid.
Therefore, we strongly oppose Israel Apartheid Week because we believe that it employs inflammatory, inaccurate language, misrepresents the complex truth of the conflict, undercuts debate, alienates significant numbers of students, and advances the agenda of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
J Street ought to identify exactly what it finds "inflammatory" or "inaccurate" so that advocates of Apartheid Week can address these claims. Of course the situation is "complex." Oppression and injustice often involve complex politics, history, and social circumstances; but we're all intelligent enough to recognize when injustice exists.
We’re proud to continue J Street U’s “Invest, Don’t Divest” campaign, which gives pro-peace students a concrete alternative to the BDS movement and an opportunity to invest in their campus debate, in their communities, and in the Israelis and Palestinians who will bring about the positive change needed to finally achieve two states and real peace and security for all.
Still the emphasis is on security and peace, but peace without justice is simply not the goal of the BDS movement or Israeli Apartheid Week. If it is J Street's goal, then they should acknowledge that openly.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Foolish War on Terror and a Student Essay on CNN

CNN has this ridiculous essay up on its site today about our response to terrorism. There is actually little substance to it, and oddly features a big picture of The Who in concert. Why? They sang their song "Won't Get Fooled Again" at a concert to benefit the victims of 9-11 a few weeks after the tragedy occurred. Apparently this was particularly memorable for the author as he witnessed "the crowd, as if one, raised their fists in the air and let out a scream of their own:'WE WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN!!'"

Very good Mr. Zickar! You get a B+ on your essay about "What 9-11 Means To Me."

He continued with this narrative: "At that same moment, one could almost picture President Bush watching from the residence at the White House doing the same thing."

Really? You imagined President Bush watching on his television, raising his fist, and screaming? Bush probably was watching television, but my guess is that Dick Cheney was the person thinking most intently about our response to the September 11 attacks; and the scene was probably far more sinister.

But Zickar believes that "if anyone had reason to vow to never let something like this happen again, it was the one individual who took an oath to keep this nation secure." He may or may not be right about what was going on in Bush's head, but it simply isn't true that the president takes such an oath. Rather, the President takes an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," not to "keep this nation secure."

Apparently for Zickar, The Who song is really the perfect explanation for everything the Bush administration did in their so-called "war on terror." It doesn't really matter whether the decisions they made were horribly wrong; this "Won't Get Fooled Again" idea was driving it and it ought to be driving our decisions today.

Zickar argues: "The decision to invade Iraq is a good example. The wisdom of invading this country is still being debated, but the rationale behind the decision to do so was clear: Saddam Hussein claimed he had weapons of mass destruction, and most of the world's leading intelligence agencies claimed he had them, as well." Well, that's true if you turn the clock back to the 1980's and early 90's, but by 2001-2003 that is just false. Leaving aside the factual dishonesty, however, even shaky information justifying war seems good enough for this author.

Sure, we now know the intelligence community felt like its information was being misused and there was enormous pressure on some to produce a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, but ultimately we did get some information about yellow cake uranium or something, and that ought to be good enough. That's where the "Won't Get Fooled Again" part comes in: "In light of the fact that he had ignored intelligence reports before 9/11, it is understandable that Bush did not want to make the same mistake again."

Well good. Sure thousands of soldiers are dead and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead; and yes, we've spent billions of dollars on that war, but "as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently stated, 'I'd rather, in the interest of protecting people, overreact rather than underreact.'"

Well then, why not presume people guilty until proven innocent? Why not allow police to get a search warrant after they invade peoples' homes? Better to put a thousand innocent people behind bars than let one guilty person go free. Right Dianne? Can you hear me from inside your enormous mansion in Pac Heights? That kind of idea is what our country is built on right?

But wait! I'm talking about crime; This high school essay is about war; And not just any war; The war on terror - a war that is everywhere and has no end in sight.

Zickar writes, "The administration now reports the would-be [underwear] bomber [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] is cooperating and providing useful information. That may be true. But it's also true that we are engaged in a conflict that cannot be litigated. We are fighting a war, not fighting crime."

So even though the war in Iraq was an enormous, tragic mistake, and even though providing Abdulmutallab with his Constitutional protections appears to be providing law enforcement with more reliable information than the sadistic practices at Guantanamo ever did, we are supposed to buy this guy's argument that the Obama administration isn't doing enough and not acting with the "sense of urgency" they ought to be?

That is the point of his term paper: the lessons of 9-11 were that we are fighting a war, terrorists or enemy combatants don't deserve Constitutional protections (which after all are just privileges only lucky people deserve), terrorists or enemy combatants should be tortured and humiliated if the President thinks it's a good idea, and if we can scramble together some information connecting any country to terrorism or a terrorist organization, we ought to seriously consider starting a multi-billion dollar, deadly war with that country, lest we "get fooled again."

You understand? Yes in some ways one could argue that we were fooled into invading Iraq, and we were fooled into believing Guantanamo was full of evil terrorists (many of whom have been released after being held and tortured for years because they weren't guilty of anything - oops), but the real fools are those who would not allow our government to engage in more of this recklessness.

Why? Because "According to Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, an attack could come in the next six months." You should be very afraid! You should be so afraid you would be willing to send your children to die in unnecessary wars and give up your Constitutional rights. Come on. Don't get fooled again.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Can Texas Beat Alabama?

I'm worried. Texas has not had as challenging a schedule as Alabama, and has had some close games against teams they should have easily dominated.

Wyoming was the first team to raise doubts about Texas as a championship team. Texas had a tough time making much happen in the 1st half, scoring only a field goal in the 1st quarter and leaving the field at half time with only a 13-10 lead. Texas dominated the second half, but fans expected a bit more of a consistent domination, particularly against a team like Wyoming - a team that would later lose to Colorado.

Colorado, after all, ended the year 3-9. They shut out Wyoming 24-0, but also provided Texas with its second scare of the season. The Buffaloes were ahead at the half with 14 points to Texas' 10. Each team had 2 turnovers and about the same number of rushing yards - Colorado with 42 and Texas with 46.

The so-called "Red River Showdown Shootout" against Oklahoma ended with a close 16-13 win for Texas. True, it was a rivalry game, which always changes the dynamic. But this was an Oklahoma without Sam Bradford (at least after early in the 1st quarter when he was injured). Yet with their backup quarterback for most of the game, Oklahoma still had 200 more passing yards than Texas.

Texas A&M is the other big rivalry, but Texas A&M just has an awful team (sorry to my family and friends who are alumni and fans); and Texas should get up for this game as much as A&M. Yet at the end, only 10 points separated the two and only 7 points separated them at half time. In other words, the game was always within reach; and it shouldn't have been.

The Big 12 Championship game against Nebraska - another big game for both teams and one that is notorious for underdog wins - was still closer than it should have been. Texas was barely victorious; and some people doubt their fraction of a second field goal victory (13-12 victory). The clock was at 0 with Texas behind; the game was lost it seemed. After reviewing the play, however, a second was added to the clock ... field goal ... victory. I do think there was a second remaining, but should a victory against Nebraska really depend on one disputed second at the end of the game?

Texas also had plenty of easy wins over plenty of not-so-great teams: Baylor, Kansas, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Texas El Paso.

Alabama, on the other hand, beat Virginia Tech and LSU - both top 15 teams, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee - all solid "honorable mention" teams, and of course Florida. Alabama also beat most of those teams (Virginia Tech was close, but that was their first game of the season) quite definitively.

I'm sympathetic to the notion that Alabama v. Florida was the real championship game. Alabama beat Florida 32 to 13, yet Florida dominated Cincinnati in its bowl game (Cincinnati coming to the game with an unbeaten season, though admittedly not the most challenging schedule), with a final score of 51 to 24.

Of course, as a fan, I'm optimistic about a Texas win. As much as I doubt Colt McCoy's skills and consistency, he has an impressive completion record of over 70% this year. Florida's Greg McElroy is a little over 60%, but perhaps a tougher schedule can explain that (he was nearly 67% against Florida).

I think Texas has a chance if Colt is up for it - consistent, solid and with receivers open. That means, among other things, fewer interceptions and sacks. Even if he's "up for it," his receivers will need to be open and the 'Horns will need a stellar running game. Most critical 3 things: interceptions, sacks and rushing yards. Those are the 3 that will carry Alabama to a national championship over Texas.

Finally, I hope Mack Brown will consider a better wardrobe.

What exactly is in your pocket Mack?

I hope you lose, but you are looking sharp Saban.