Sunday, January 07, 2007

Thoughts on the Midterms

Written 11/10/06

Leading up to the midterm elections, I must admit I was getting a little nervous that the Democrats would find some way to blow it. I was nearly certain that they would take a majority in the House, but a slim majority and not taking the Senate would have been disappointing.

Watching the early returns only added to my apprehension. Since there are so many House races, I focused my attention on the Senate and perceived those results as potentially predictive of the general trend in the House as well. Bad news…Ford was down almost double digits in Tennessee, Webb was down to Allen in Virginia, McCaskill was down in Missouri and Lieberman had held off the more progressive anti-war democrat Ned Lamont in Connecticut. While I was glad to see Rick Santorum, a cultural reactionary, get the boot, the expected dramatic Democratic wave didn't seem to be building.

In the end, all but Ford among the aforementioned Democrats surged ahead late in the evening and by the next day the Democrats had seized a majority in the Senate in addition to a strong majority in the House. I was happy to see it and, if nothing else, there will be some check on the Executive branch for the next 2 years. I was especially glad that Rove's "metrics" were way off and that the electorate wasn't so easily scared into submission as they had been in 2002 and 2004. It was validating that liberal and moderate voters came out in opposition to the Iraq war and basically forced a change. Rumsfeld's forced resignation after the election is evidence that Bush felt the pressure of the anti-war sentiment.

Of course, the mainstream political coverage was conventionally horse-race oriented and the talking heads played up the election as a "revolution." From where I sit, Bush and his administration still controls the Executive, the Supreme Court still over represents a culturally conservative worldview and the Republicans still have the numbers in the Congress to prevent overriding a presidential veto. Hardly a revolution. Chomsky would argue that this is a prime example of those who hold power restricting and managing political discourse. The general public feels like there has been major change even when little has actually shifted in terms of political power and policy. We have to avoid that trap and push the politicians to actually change policy and set the tone for a progressive president in 2008.

Obama's Time has Come

11/15/06

Barack Obama has opened up to the possibility of a presidential run in 2008. The largest concerns against his running and winning are that he is too inexperienced and that his race may be a divisive issue. I don’t feel that either concern is overly warranted. The general public seems less concerned with experience than character and an ability to convey a message that resonates. What truly prepares one to be president? Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama was a State Senator in Illinois, a professor of Law at the University of Chicago and a prominent civil rights lawyer. He holds a degree in political science from Columbia University and a JD from Harvard. If he can survive the rigors of general election and can convince the general public of the usefulness of this experience to the presidency, he should be fine. Another 10 years in the Senate will only provide his competitors with more votes to mischaracterize and attack him over. Kerry fell victim to this tactic in 2004- being labeled as a flip-flopper based primarily on his votes in the Senate.

The racial issue is definitely an interesting one. On one hand, I doubt that many with racist tendencies will vote for a Democrat anyway- so it may be a non-issue. However, historically the winner of the presidency has to appeal to moderate voters and some may be scared off by Obama’s biracial identity and international heritage. However, I can already see that Obama’s larger message and vision promote his biracialism as an asset rather than a detriment. He has focused on bridging gaps in American culture and strived to deliver a message of pluralism and tolerance. Diversity is a strength of America for Obama and his ethnic background could lend credibility to this message. Concerns over race definitely shouldn’t prevent Obama from at least running. If he believes the time has come for America to embrace his multi-cultural vision than perhaps his time has come as well.

It seems the perfect time to try. Obama, in many ways, is the anti-Bush. Presidential politics are often dialectical, with the electorate voting in reaction to the last regime. Jimmy Carter probably wouldn’t have been elected if it wasn’t for the fact that he stood in such sharp contrast to Nixon’s corruption and Ford’s anti-intellectualism. Obama may get the same bump from his obvious contrasts with Bush. One’s father was president, the other’s was a sheep-herder. One is thoughtful and the other crafts policy based on gut instincts. Obama would certainly offer a contrasting leadership style and vision that could overshadow his race, or even turn it into a positive.

The Non-Option in Iraq

11/27/06

The political players and the media are now isolating 3 overly simplistic strategies for US policy in Iraq. 1) Go Big 2) Go Long 3) Go Home. Catchy, I guess, but these seem to just be a short-cut to thinking. Only “go long,” (continue the current policy) is even possible based on the way these options are framed. “Go big” would require increases in troop levels, but we don’t have the troops to send for this option. Unless there is a draft, or some drastic measure taken to increase troop levels, this option seems unlikely. “Go home” is possible, but even more unlikely and hardly proposed by anyone. Even the most anti-war democrats propose a redeployment of troops and a gradual withdrawal of major combat troops. “Go long” is of course opposed by a vast majority of the public and is also unlikely.

So…the 3 options being outlined in the mainstream media are all unrealistic and unsophisticated options. My fear is that the public will be frightened into a “go big” approach. Fearful of a never-ending quagmire, but equally scared of Iraq becoming a terrorist haven- some may opt for what seems like a faster solution. I also fear a repeat of Nixon strategy of bringing home troops while escalating bombing and major military operations. I could see this new commission coming up with this kind of a strategy. Get US troops out of the way so we can bomb the militias into submission. This would lead to massive collateral damage, as it did in Cambodia.

The reasonable proposals by Democrats of a Middle East conference and a strategic redeployment are unfortunately being overshadowed by these non-options.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The War on Dissent

Section 802 of the USA Patriot Act defines terrorism as acts that “appear to be intended ... to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion,” which is vague enough to include acts of civil disobedience and protest. Administration officials often argue that the definition must remain vague so as to efficiently apprehend terroists and will not be used to intimidate or prosecute dissenters.

However, a simple analysis of who has been investigated by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force tells a different story. The truth is that the FBI has accumulated 1,173 pages of documents on the ACLU and 2,383 pages on Greenpeace- this according to a New York Times report (July 18, 2005). An influential anti-war organization, United for Peace and Justice, has also been under intense FBI surveliance. These are just a few of the high profile critics of the administration being targeted by a sub-agency responsible for investigating terrorist threats.

The Congress perceived the problem and legislated that the President must inform Congress on how the FBI was using the Patriot Act. The President, in signing the renewed Patriot Act, attached a signing statement, essentially proclaiming that he did not feel compelled to comply with the provision.

He wrote: ''The executive branch shall construe the provisions . . . that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch . . . in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information . . . "

In other words, the executive branch has the constitutional authority to ignore the Congress on such matters- according to Bush. This is consistent with the administrations view of an all-powerful unitary executive. This constitutional authority is far from being expressly granted and the interpretation is favored by a smail minority of legal scholars.

Such a powerful executive is viewed by many to be a threat to the seperation of powers and to the rights of American citizens. There is a history of this type of abuse. During the Cold War the NSA, FBI and CIA conducted mass surveillance of civil rights and antiwar organizations. Dr. Martin Luther King was among those tracked and branded as "a subversive" and a "security threat." The information gathered by these agencies was used to intimidate and undermine the work of legitimate political organizations and leaders.

The Senate’s Church Committee hearings of the 1970's revealed these tactics and led to the enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Senator Frank Church warned that the NSA's “capability at any time could be turned around on the American people...and no American would have any privacy left … There would be no place to hide.”

The public must not accept a roll-back in these protections. They arose in response to abuses that occured in a similar time- when security concerns often blinded the public and government actors. The right to protest is essential to democracy, especially during times of war and unrest. To hand absolute power to the executive is a dangerous proposition and could easily produce a situation where the people no longer have any control over the government.

Some will say that if it helps to stop terrorism than its worth sacrificing some rights. I contend that it is never wise to sacrifice fundamental rights- but beyond that- this is not an effective counter-terrorism strategy. The FBI should be focused on serious national security threats, not Greenpeace, the ACLU, PETA or Move On. These organizations may be a threat to the political status quo, but they are not a threat to security. The greatest threat to liberty in America is an unchecked executive branch.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Global Warming/ CO2 Emmissions Worsen Allergies

Allergies seem to worsen every year and many people every year join the millions that suffer from seasonal allergies. Some argue that it is our modern antiseptic lifestyle that accounts for the allergies. The "hygene hypothesis" contends that our immune systems are left with little else to do than attack allergens and that our lack of consistent exposure to allergens worsens the symptoms. This may be a contributing factor, but the solution is not to add diseases to the environment or to increase exposure to allergens.

In fact, the increase in allergens in recent years is documented and allergies have worsened rather than subsided as the hypothesis would lead one to predict. One variable corresponds highly with the increase in allergy sufferers; the increase in CO2 pollution.

Studies have found that not only does pollution in general lessen natural resistance to allergens, but CO2 emmisions specifically lead to higher pollen yields. Record levels of pollen are being observed and they have exponentially increased the percentage of the population impacted by allergies.

According to ABC news;

"this year really is a horrible year for allergies. In fact, this is perhaps the worst allergy season in 40 to 50 years!"


Link


Doctors are reporting significant increases in allergy patients:

"many people who never have had an episode of asthma, even a mild one, are experiencing them this spring."


Link


According to the Boston Globe, there is a link between global warming and the rise in allergies:

"both the increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and rising temperatures associated with global warming may increase the amount of pollen that ragweed and other plants produce."


Link


" As carbon dioxide rises, so does the amount of pollen that ragweed produces. It could double over the next century if carbon dioxide levels increase as predicted."


Link


The New York Times notes that many recent studies have demonstrated the link between CO2 emmisions and pollen production:

"A laboratory study done by USDA in 1998 and 1999 found that ragweed pollen counts went from 5.5 grams per plant at carbon-dioxide levels that existed in 1900 to 10 grams at current levels. At predicted CO2 levels in the year 2100, the pollen count would reach 20 grams per plant."
(Linked in the Title)

The link between CO2 emmisions and allergies is yet another reason to reduce our use of fossil fuels. Not only do allergies decrease the quality of life for millions of Americans, but they also reduce economic productivity. Perhaps there is some common ground to be shared with the business community on this issue. Afterall, they are not immune to allergies either and if the number of allergy sufferers doubles as predicted, it will substantially impact their bottom lines.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Logic of Withdrawal

Howard Zinn’s book "Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal", though it appeared five years before the United States eventually abandoned that war, argued with remarkable foresight that getting out was the only realistic option. Now, nearly forty years later, the United States is once again involved in a seemingly intractable foreign conflict. And, following in the footsteps of Zinn, Anthony Arnove (his co-editor on the widely acclaimed Voices of a People’s History of the United States) has written a book that will likely prove equally prescient.

In "Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal" (Amazon link above), Arnove sets out a compelling case for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Countering widespread arguments made in support of the occupation by conservatives and liberals alike, Arnove insists that the U.S. presence is the major source of instability and suffering for the Iraqi people. He challenges the idea that George W. Bush has ever been interested in bringing democracy to the country and explores the real reasons behind the invasion, which centrally involve control over strategic Middle Eastern energy resources. And he sets out a constructive vision for the antiwar movement, one that involves soldiers, military families, and the many communities affected by the occupation, who together can build a coalition to bring the troops home.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Leave the Spying to US

The Bush administration has drawn the lines more clearly than ever regarding executive authority. If "national security" is involved- its within the authority of the executive branch to do WHATEVER they deem is necessary to preserve security.

In other words, there is a zero-sum relationship between civil liberties and national security- and national security will win every time under this interpretation of executive power.

A Bush administration official wrote, "courts are ill-equipped as an institution to judge harm to national security." (linked above)

Unfortunately, the executive branch is ill-equipped to judge harm to civil liberties. When national security is prized above fundamental rights- dangerous policies come into being. The detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the Illegal surveillance of civil rights organizations and anti-war groups under the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program are but two examples of the extremes the executive will go to under the guise of protecting national security.

The country is divided on the current policy of illegal surveillance. After September 11th, it seems rational to allow the government more latitude in preventing future attacks. Some argue that the government must keep secrets and to even make this program public threatens security. Others view it simply as a price they are willing to pay for what they perceive as better security.

These arguments are flawed on several levels. To prevent terrorism, the answer is not to spy on and terrorize citizens. No one is arguing that spying of any kind should be illegal- just unwarranted surveillance of innocent Americans. Promoting freedom and civil liberties is one of our best weapons in countering fundamentalist ideologies. The argument that exposing "secrets" damages our national security is merely a way to leave executive authority unchecked.

Another Hurricane in New Orleans?

The forecast gives the city a nearly 30 percent chance of being hit by a hurricane and one in 10 chance the storm will be Category 3 or stronger, meaning sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour (178 km per hour), said Chuck Watson of Kinetic Analysis Corp., a Savannah, Georgia, risk assessment firm.

``Given the state of the infrastructure down there and the levees, gosh, that's just not good news. But that's what the climate signals look like,'' Watson said.

Watson, worked in partnership with University of Central Florida statistics professor Mark Johnson. They base their forecast in part on the paths of storms over the past 155 years and expected global climate conditions this year.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Disappeared

The Night and Fog Decree was a set of directives issued by Hitler which authorized the "disappearing" of resisters to the Nazi State. The Nazis justified this tactic by arguing that the power to secretly kill people produced fear among the population and was a powerful means of social control.

The decree stated:

"An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender."

This method has since become a trademark of brutal dictatorships. Regimes that seek to control their populations and fear popular resistance often resort to "disappearing" their enemies. In response, the international community has strongly declared this practice to be a gross violation of human rights.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has grown fond of the practice as another weapon in their war on terror. The discovery of secret prisons, or "black sites", has exposed the United States as being at odds with the international consensus against secret detentions.

The public must never stand for secret executions and detentions. We have a sophisticated legal system which, despite its flaws, is capable of administering justice far more fairly than the CIA. Tacit consent of such a policy only serves to legitimate the concentration of authority in the hands of a select few, violating the basic precepts of our founding principles.

Leaving No Soldier Behind: The Militarization of Education

Since the September 11th attacks, the agenda of the Bush administration has become increasingly focused on foreign policy and domestic security, at the expense of pressing domestic issues. While large portions of the federal budget are allocated for funding the war in Iraq and a host of mismanaged homeland security operations, large tax cuts for the wealthy further strip the government's ability to fund domestic programs. President Bush isolated education as his top domestic issue, but has failed to fund his ill conceived No Child Left Behind legislation. In fact, the act is more intricately linked with the larger Bush foreign policy agenda than it may first appear and offers little hope to poor students beyond a chance to serve their country in the perpetual "war on terror."

Hidden within the funding benefits of the No Child Left Behind Act is Section 9528, which allows military recruiters access to directories with students names, telephone numbers and other personal information. Under the act, military recruiters are given the same access to student information as college recruiters, posing a substantial threat to student privacy. One prominent organization notes that, "the Pentagon has created an illegal database of 30 million 16-25 year-olds, including names, addresses, email addresses, cell phone numbers, ethnicities, social security numbers, extracurricular activities, and areas of study." Many parents and students are unaware that that this database exists, but likely wonder why they are receiving so many recruiting calls, letters, and visits.

Evidently, President Bush does not want to leave students behind in bad schools, but would rather they join up for military service. Instead of improving the schools themselves and offering better educational opportunities to the students, under-performing schools are targeted as fertile ground for military recruitment of our most vulnerable children.

Many parents have called for schools to resist releasing personal student information to military recruiters on grounds that it constitutes a violation of privacy, but schools have a strong incentive to provide the information. If a school withholds such information it can risk losing the bulk of its federal assistance. This is money that many schools can ill-afford to sacrifice. While there are ways for parents to opt out of the information sharing process, they are often unknown to parents and students and are under-publicized by schools.

However, the problem is gaining attention and schools are feeling the pressure to increase awareness about the process. Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan stated at a recent Board of Education meeting that, "We need to do a better job of getting the word out ... to help the parents, let them make an informed decision". Statements such as these are a positive sign but much more must be done. If schools, the media, organizations and individuals are able to publicize that parents do have the option to block access to their children's information, the threat to privacy will be greatly minimized.

Fortunately, several groups, including the War Resisters League (warresisters.org) and the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools (militaryfreeschools.org) have made "opt-out" forms available on their web sites, which can be sent to the respective district offices. While it is mandatory for the school district to make parents aware of the "opt out clause" in No Child Left Behind, the standard is arbitrary and it is imperative that agents outside of the school system take action.
There is also hope in Washington, as The Student Privacy and Protection Act of 2005 has been proposed as an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act that, if passed, will give parents the option to opt-in rather than having to opt-out. Advocates of the amendment can express their support through a petition hosted on the web site of the organization Leave My Child Alone (leavemychildalone.org).

The crux of this argument against providing private student information to the military is that it does not further the education of the students and redefines the role of school, from a place of learning to a venue for targeting future soldiers. It is also important to note that the schools receiving the most attention from recruiters are those in inner-city districts, where students have fewer options and are more likely to opt for military service at the expense of furthering their education after high school. While this may make perfect sense from the perspective of those recruiting soldiers for the front-lines in Iraq, it makes little sense for those who strive to create a more equitable education system. Responsible citizens should oppose legislation making it easier to prey on students and families that are in an economically disadvantaged position, and thus most vulnerable.

The fundamental question is whether, as a society, we should tolerate fusing education with militarism in our poorest schools. How can we expect students at these schools to feel that they are respected as learners, critical thinkers and invaluable members of their communities when they are conditioned to be soldiers? How can we expect students to achieve academically when they are sold out by an administration that professes to value them as potential high achieving students, but in practice treats them as potential cannon fodder? President Bush argues that we must change the culture of failure in our under-performing schools, "the soft bigotry of low expectations" as he calls it. These low expectations become increasingly evident when a culture of militarism invades our schools.

The culture of failure in our schools can only be challenged when students and parents demand that they receive a quality education and recognize the threat that militarism poses to their futures. It is nothing new for the United States to short change education in favor of defense spending, but providing the military unprecedented access to our children for recruitment has made the nation's priorities all the more clear.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Protecting the Ignorant

I haven't read or seen the "Da Vinci Code" but I feel the need to weigh in on what borders on hysteria. Christian leaders are creating their own counter-Da Vinci Code films and have actively campaigned against the book and the film in the media. They say that people will loose faith or become confused by the story. What they really fear is that the reaction to this story exposes how tenuous most "Christian's" faith really is. It reveals that the vast majority of the American public is far less wedded to dogmatic religious beliefs than many Church spokespeople are.

If certain individuals decide that they no longer wish to practice Christianity because of Dan Brown's novel or Opie's movie- it's a good bet that they weren't devout followers in the first place. If I were a religious Christian I would just assume weed these people out. But for these Christian "leaders" the story is just too confusing and some may mistaken it as fact.

First of all, facts have little role in a theological debate. The historical merits of Dan Brown's claims are not as important as the ideas themselves. What if Jesus was married? This questions "Christ's morality" according to Jerry Falwell. Aren't the evangelicals the ones forcing the "sanctity of marriage" down everyone's throats? They are also upset that the story "questions the divinity of Christ" because it calls into question the exclusion of many early gospels and the purges of alternate Christian sects such as the Gnostics. This is one historical fact that no one can refute. There were alternate views of Christianity that have been suppressed  by the Catholic Church.

What they really fear is that people will question the authority of current Christian leaders. Perhaps some will interpret the Bible in their own way- instead of swallowing the force-fed interpretations of others. God forbid people actually think about their religious beliefs. They are really concerned because the impressionable people that organized religions pray on are now not engaging in critical thinking!

You shall reap what you sow as the Bible says.

Bush demands that immigrants 'have a command of the English language'

...this one is just too easy

Friday, May 19, 2006

Book Review: David Blight/ Race and Reunion

David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War Era in
American Memory

The Civil War has imprinted itself on the collective memory of Americans. Even today, the bloodiest war in the nation's history captures popular imagination and is recalled as a watershed event in the young history of the United States. In Race and Reunion, David Blight seeks to investigate the Civil War in memory and attempts to demythologize the event and reveal the cultural trends that shaped, and continue to shape, its national remembrance. He argues that the reunion between white Northerners and white Southerners after reconstruction was realized at the expense of African-Americans. In essence, the hatchet was figuratively buried in the back of the former black slave, whom, according to Blight, had been at the epicenter of the real conflict.

To this end, Blight probes the first fifty years of Civil war memorabilia, ranging from graveside decorations to popular literature. He identifies three primary "visions of Civil War memory": "reconciliationist", "white supremacist", and "emancipationist". He argues that the original war was largely a clash of two competing paradigms. The Confederate worldview was primarily white supremacist and thus justified enslavement of other racial groups. The Union embraced a competing framework of emancipation and challenged the slavery of blacks. Both of these worldviews persist in Civil War memory, but the focus on emancipation, and specifically slavery as a central impetus for conflict, has greatly diminished since reconstruction.

Blight contends that the "emancipationist" vision was largely erased from popular culture as the price for reconciliation. In this way, his study of Civil War memory is as much a study of what people chose to forget. The "reconciliationist vision" paradoxically sought to compromise between white supremacy and emancipation. Reconciliationists wanted to "turn away from the legacy of slavery, and to suspend the judgment of those who defended it." The commonality that was embraced was that those doing the reconciling were white and the compromise was essentially to forget about slavery and move forward. Emaciptionists, "who remembered the war as the rebirth of the republic in the name of racial equality", were sacrificed.

The consequences of this compromise on the future of African-Americans, still fighting for full legal and political rights, were grave. The importance of the Northern victory on the battlefield was downplayed as Southerners gained victories on social, political and economic fronts. So long as African-Americans were not literally enslaved, under this vision, white supremacy was allowed to flourish. The prominence of the reconciliationist project is evident in the Jim Crow laws, which essentially unraveled emancipationist gains during reconstruction.

Indeed, the ability for the culture to selectively remember, and in turn forget, pervades the source material in this work. For example, by the 1890's, "The stock Confederate Memorial Day speech contained four obligatory tributes: to soldiers' valor, women's bravery, slave fidelity, and Southern innocence regarding slavery." According to this vision, all white soldiers of the Civil War were valiant, and the causes, especially on the Union side, were largely forgotten. Not only was the cause of African-American freedom forgotten, but racism was also being reinvented, as new and insidious forms of racial discrimination were institutionalized. According to Blight, "By 1913, racism in America had become a cultural industry, and twisted history a commodity".

While the Union cause was being lost to reunion induced amnesia, the Confederate cause was recalled and often distorted. Rather than a vision of white supremacy, the "Lost Cause" of the south was mythologized as virtuous. Popular books and films, such as Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation, and even influential historians of the day, glorified the south and further propagated this myth.
It is of no surprise that the purveyors of history at the time were primarily wealthy white men. However, Blight does a good job providing an African-American perspective to the narrative and emphasizes that the cause of emancipation was never completely lost. His treatment of the intellectual African-American history of the period is comprehensive, including extensive source material from Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois. In these thinkers, the emancipationist vision persisted. Blight contends that it was the inability of white America to reconcile a national "imperative for healing" among former enemies with the "imperative of justice" that was so deeply felt by former slaves. To be sure, Blight feels that justice should have trumped national unity, and he argues that in failing to fulfill this obligation race relations were badly damaged. In opting for what was portrayed as healing and national unity, racial hostilities were further fueled and race continued to be a dividing factor in American life. The healing that was supposed to come between the races after the Civil War was short lived.

Blight characterizes this as a tragic development, but still recognizes the Civil War as a "second American Revolution", a fundamental reformulation of national values. He credits this to the fortitude of African-Americans and others who carried on the emancipationist vision. The civil rights movement was the culmination, and in part the realization, of this larger quest for African American freedom and racial equality in the United States.
Blight's narrative begins and ends an account of the Blue-Gray Reunion at Gettysburg in 1913. The event is referred to as "the triumph of segregation", as no black veterans were invited to attend. If fifty years after the civil war segregation is deemed triumphant, can it be truly justified? Was it worth the lives of millions of Americans to preserve segregation and inequality? Blight contends that it was. While the emancipationist vision may have been partially extinguished, replaced by a drive towards national reunion, the legitimacy of white supremacy was called into question and it set the stage for future civil rights gains.

Blight recognizes the role of the North in reversing the gains of reconstruction and embracing reunion at the expense of emancipation, but he often underestimates Northern racism. He too often dichotomizes white supremacy as a southern mindset that northerners accommodated in their efforts to reconcile for economic and political purposes. The fact that northern statesmen so quickly cast aside the rights of African-Americans in favor of reconciliation makes one question whether a larger emancipationist agenda was ever considered as a driving force behind the Union war effort. If freedom was so fundamental a motivating factor, than why is it so quickly sold out? Blight partially deals with this concern by emphasizing the role that slaves themselves had in prompting and winning the war, both through slave rebellions and through service in the Union Army, However, the emancipationist vision encompasses more than just the slaves themselves according to Blight. It is the central guiding principal behind the Union effort. While I agree that emancipation was the central accomplishment of the war and its most important legacy, the demonstrated roll-back of African-American rights following reconstruction suggests that perhaps the Northern agenda was more complex.

Regardless, Blight weaves a masterful narrative in this work and keenly illustrates the ways in which a national trend towards reunion came at the expense of the most important principles over which the Civil War was fought. In an age of weapons of mass destruction, it is worth noting that weapons of mass distraction can be just as destructive. Blight brilliantly reveals the power of popular culture and its agents to manipulate opinion, and in effect, memory. Such propaganda was so strong in this case that it purportedly made a nation forget what it had fought a long and bloody war over. In cases like these, the truth is a victim, and the rights of many were deeply impacted.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

2006 or 1984?

George Orwell on Doublethink:

"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. ... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. "

George Bush engaging in Doublethink (In response to a massive data-mining and wiretapping program being exposed):

"the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected." The administration is not "mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans"

(Tapping millions of private citizens phone conversations can not take place in a government that "fiercely" protects privacy. Bush claims that the administration is not doing exactly what they have been exposed as doing when he refers to mining through personal conversations.)

"Today there are new claims about other ways we are tracking down al Qaeda to prevent attacks on America."

" The intelligence activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates, he said.
"Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval"

(If millions of American citizens are affiliated with al Qaeda we are really screwed. Bush's second point was refuted by the testimony of the major telecommunications companies that did not deny collaboration with the NSA to make millions of phone calls available for screening.)

So far, the President said, "we have been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil. As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy. Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack, and we will do so within the laws of our country."

(This echoes Orwell's concept of perpetual war exactly. Peace justifies war. War=Peace and Peace=War)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Case for Open Borders

The immigration issue has been introduced, shortly before the midterm elections, seemingly as a way for Republicans to shore up their political base. The choice of this issue is odd, since it serves more as a "wedge issue" in favor of Democrats, dividing the nativist right wing from the big business Republican constituency. Bush has attempted to appeal to immigrant voters as a counter to the solid African American vote that the Democrats often take for granted. He, and others, also recognize that business interests rely on the low-wage labor of non-citizens and this had led him to propose a guest worker program to legalize such exploitation. Another element of the immigration issue, border security, relates to national security in a time when fears of terrorism are palpable. Immigration is a complex issue and the public response to the issue has been equally complex and polarizing.

The minutemen and other extralegal possees of citizens have risen up to lock down the border and round up noncitizens. Some in Congress have even suggested ammending the constitution to disallow citizenship for those born in the United States to illegal immigrants. At the same time, millions of noncitizens have taken to the streets in protest, demanding that they be recognized and treated as human beings. A series of threats and actions have emanated from both sides, creating an atmosphere of brinksmanship. Immigrants have threatened to go on strike and nativists have threatened to build a wall across the US/Mexico border. The immigrant protests have helped to humanize the issue, but many have responded to their presence with hostility.

The most common compromise has been to allow for a path to citizenship or guest worker status for those already here illegally, but not without first completely locking down the border and barring future illegal immigration. This course of action would only legitimize nativist, nationalist, and sometimes even racist, sentiments. The proposed guest worker program would merely create an underclass of laborers and continue to drive down wages. Essentially, this is only a compromise between right wingers and big business Republicans.

In this way, perhaps the immigration issue will end up serving to divide Democrats rather than Republicans. In a shrewd way, the immigration issue may act as a "wedge issue", dividing working class Democrats and middle-class progressives. Working-class Democrats often fear that a guest worker program would essentially bring the offshoring of jobs home. Once legally endorsed, businesses could recruit workers from other countries and pay them well less than the minimum wage mandated for citizens. Middle-class democrats do not often fear competition from immigrants and frequently favor humane treatment of undocumented immigrants and value cultural diversity. This split could be politically damaging.

Democrats need to reframe this debate. Nativism should be ridiculed as the value historically embraced by the most despicable political movements. The Ku Klux Klan, Nazi's, and the Boers of South African apartheid were all characterized by xenophobia and racist nationalism. These sentiments are fundamentally opposed to an ideal American ideology that values liberty, equality, the pursuit of hapiness and universal human rights. Instead of nativism, an ethic of cosmopolitanism (meaning citizenship of the world) should be further realized. Insofar as there is an "American culture", it should be defined not in terms of nationality, but instead as an abstract collection of values. If being American refers to being a part of a society that embraces freedom and social justice, then it becomes counter-intuitive to exclude anyone from taking part in the American project.

Our laws should apply to anyone working in this country. To allow for the exploitation of undocumented workers or to deny them access infringes on the inalienable rights of all human beings. Furthermore, closing the border denies fundamental rights as well. Why shouldn’t one be free to cross a "border" to escape oppression or in search of work to sustain one's life? Borders to a free society are oxymoronic (or just moronic) and they do more to stigmatize those who cross them than they do to restrict passage.

But what about the terrorists you ask? If the United States is to effectively discourage terrorism it will be through a comprehensive shift in policy. Our policies should be based on the fundamental values that shape and define our culture. This supposed "war on terrorism" is more a war of ideas than a conventional battle. If we are to challenge Islamic fundamentalism, our weapons should not not be violence and hatred but the Enlightenment principles of reason and universal rights. Our interventionist foreign policy is based on the same sentiment of nationalism that our immigration policy is based upon. These policies are what spawn terrorism and hatred of the United States. The only permanent solution to terrorism against the United States is to abandon these policies and reevaluate our fundamental values. Building a wall is akin to burying our heads in the sand. We must challenge terrorists with the superiority of our ideas and values, not shrink behind our borders and beg for our government to protect us through any means necessary.

Prior to and during World War II, U.S. government officials intentionally used immigration controls to prevent German Jews from seeking refuge from the horrors of the Nazi regime. Examples such as the infamous "voyage of the damned", which refered to the refusal of the U.S. officials to permit a ship full of Jewish refugees to port at Miami Harbor, are all too common in American history. I am under no illusion that the United States has lived up to its founding principles. History shows, however, that America is at its best when it moves towards the realization of these values. Emancipation, universal suffrage, the civil rights movement, the New Deal reforms- the United States has at times achieved great progress by appealing to fundamental rights and values. Reverting to nationalism and racism will only hinder this progression and set a dangerous precedent in a dangerous world. Open the borders and redefine American political culture!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Bush's Answer to the Deficit: Cut Social Programs

The size of government has actually been remarkably stable over the last fifty years. It is a misconception that Democrats tax and spend and Republicans slash government and lower taxes. In the end, at the federal level, government spending never substantially drops. The difference instead is between where the government money is spent. One of the most important responsibilities of the President is to introduce the national budget. Thus, the President has a large say over where that government money goes and must set priorities.

George W. Bush introduced his budget today and he has set some priorities of his own. Bush inherited a budget surplus but is now running deficits of over $400 billion a year. Under pressure to balance the budget, he has chosen to reduce government spending on many programs. Balancing the budget requires the President to find the programs that are not benefiting the nation. In essence, the goal is to cut the fat out of the budget and leave the effective programs well funded. Bush claims that this was his motivation in cutting programs in his latest budget proposal. I'll let you be the judge of whether he made the right decisions.

Bush decided that providing health care to the poorest of the poor was not worth the tax payer's money. He chose to cut the Medicaid budget by $45 billion dollars. This includes a program to train doctors for children's hospitals that would be cut by a third. Similarly, a program that helps many of these same poor Americans pay heating bills would be cut by more than 8%. Bush's proposals to Congress also includes cuts in public housing subsidies and in food stamps.

It is not just the poor that bare the brunt of the proposed cuts. Farmers and veterans will also experience the pinch. The budget would cut farm subsidies by $587million. A reduction in those subsidies will be welcomed by developing countries but would severely limit the ability for American farmers to compete.

Furthermore, while Bush claims to support the troops, his latest budget would make it harder for them to receive basic health care services after they return home from duty. It would more than double the co-payment on prescription drug purchases and would require some to pay a new annual fee to receive basic government health care benefits. In addition to these cuts, the budget also includes deep slashes in spending on environmental protection and education. Evidentally, these programs have no place in the national vision of this administration.

Even with all of these cuts to important social services, Bush's budget does contain some new spending. The Pentagon's budget is expected to increase by about $20 billion and the Homeland Security Department would get an extra $2 billion. After these increases in defense spending, the cuts in social programs becomes a wash. It is increasingly clear that this new budget is not about addressing defecit spending, but about shifting resources from social programs to the military industrial complex.

This budget does not even include expenses on the war in Iraq and reconstruction in Afghanistan, for which the administration in expected to seek an extra $80 billion out of budget. Also not included in the budget is the proposed cost of funding the administration's overhaul of Social Security. While there is a good chance the provision will never pass, if it did, it would require borrowing an estimated $4.5 trillion over a twenty year period.

The President's priorities are clear; cut social programs and fund defense, military ventures, tax cuts for the wealthy and reforms that benefit multinational corporations. Bush claims that his cuts will largely be administrative and improve the efficiency of the targeted programs. It is revealing, however, that the most visibly inefficient bureaucracies actually receive hikes in funding. The intelligence community and the military seem to require more streamlining than successful programs to provide basic health care to the poor and veterans, among others. We can not afford a tax cut, a war, and our social programs. Unfortunately, the social programs, which benefit the most helpless and vulnerable Americans, are the first to get the axe. For the Bush administration, the "war on poverty" has been replaced by the "war of terror".



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Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Social Security Strategy

George W. Bush seems to be placing Social Security reform near the top of his agenda. He proclaimed that he had secured political capital after the election and if this is the issue he seeks to pursue, he will need it.

In the past, even the most ardent conservatives have balked when presented with the idea of fundamentally changing the crown jewel of progressives and the most popular social program in the nation's history. The prospect has been widely viewed as political suicide. Supporting privatization risks alienating retirees, future beneficiaries and is perceived as wholly reactionary, a rollback of FDR's New Deal revolution.

Thus begging the question, why Social Security? Why would Bush risk his political momentum on what most view as a loosing hand? Well...in typical Dubya fashion, he has a shrewd strategy in place to sell this to the people and the GOP. He actually feels he can turn this devisive issue into a winner and a potential death blow for Democrats. Here is his plan:

1) Remove retired persons from the crux of the debate by ensuring that their benefits will be not be impacted.

Bush has repeatedly noted that under his plan, the current benefits would remain unchanged. The effects of the reform will only be felt in the future. He hopes to neutralize political opposition from senior citizens and powerful organizations such as the AARP.

2) Scare young people by claiming that the system will be completely bankrupt by the time they are eligible to receive benefits.

Despite a consensus opinion among experts to the contrary, Bush continues to assert that Social Security will go bust in the future. This type of fear mongering is a familiar Bush tactic. He seeks to establish a sense of crisis and then exploit that fear to intimidate opponents and justify extreme reforms. If the system is doomed to insolvency, then why not gamble with it a little? Why not cut some guaranteed benefits? They won't be available anyway according to Bush. And when Democrats claim that his figures are wrong he plays the guardian, protecting the American public from deluded politicians who can't see the real dangers that lay ahead.

3) Appeal to a sense of risk taking among young people.

The prior two points are really nothing new. This tactic however could mark the true difference in the way that Bush approaches this issue. Bush is attempting to portray the old school Social Security defenders as behind the times and too rigid in their support of a system that is obviously imperfect. Similarly, he is appealing to young people who are willing to take some risks and take some personal responsibility for their future Social Security benefits. Bush tempts them with claims of invested money accumulating in private accounts. Of course part of this risk is that benefits can no longer be guaranteed. They are largely dependent on the performance of the stock market.

Wasn't the notion of a GUARANTEED social safety net the entire purpose of Social Security to begin with? The need for Social Security stemmed from a recognition that the stock market was subject to busts and that a SEPERATE trust needed to be set up to ensure people basic income after retirement. Bush hopes that young people, removed from the depression era history, will opt to give the stock market another chance.

The problem with this logic, aside from the obvious, is that it fails to account for the doom and gloom projections of the Bush Administration itself. If the economy collapses to such a state that the Social Security system goes "bankrupt", there is no chance that the stock market would be growing at such a rate to save the benefits. In other words, for Social Security to go bankrupt, the economy will have to really suck and if it sucks, your private account won't be worth shit.

Although Democrats have been gun-shy to provide their own solution to a potential Social Security crisis, the solution is really rather simple. Instead of radically restructuring the way the system receives its funds, why not just tap the same capital that the original system was based on? Raising the regressive cap on Social Security taxes would be more than enough to ensure the programs future solvence. As it is now, if you make more than $90,000 a year, you are out of the system. With incomes rising, it seems logical to simply remove that cap. Who suffers? Only people that make enough to bare the burden.

Democrats won't touch the issue because the know that it can be politically toxic. Bush is ignoring this conventional wisdom. Surely there are easier, more politically friendly, items to put at the top of the agenda. Why tackle this one? Perhaps Bush really believes that Social Security is doomed and views privatization as the best route to save it for future generations. More likely, he views it as a means to secure more available capital for investment in big corporations. Maybe it will "trickle down" to us young folks by the time we retire and we won't need Social Security.

Most importantly, Bush likely views this as a way to radically redefine the Republican Party. Give them an inch, they'll take a mile. Give them Social Security, they'll take us back to Herbert Hoover. Conservatives have been trying to reverse many of the gains of progressives for decades, from civil rights to social programs. Bush knows that if the neo-conservative agenda can co-opt the likes of Social Security, they can forge new voting coalitions and discredit past Democratic gains. This is the final prong of his Social Security strategy and it will be relied on to sell this reform to the Republicans in Congress.

Unfortunately, I don't believe that Bush really cares if future generations get their Social Security benefits. If he did, he would not have raided the Social Security surplus and spent it on a war. He wouldn't have pushed for a massive tax cut for the wealthy that could have been used to make Social Security solvent. He also would not be so quick to rule out raising taxes in the future to ensure its solvency. Just as he did with Medicare, Bush is claiming to improve a valued social program with the intent to merely funnel tax payer money to big business.

Luckily, Democrats have a strong opportunity to sap the President of political capital and set a tone of progressive resurgence on the Hill. Social Security is the type of issue that can unite Democrats and split Republicans. Democrats are unlikely to allow a band of neo-conservatives to fiddle and gamble with a defining social program and many Republican's still view Social Security reform as a political lightning rod, much as tax hikes are for Democrats. In the end, I expect the legislation will stall in the Congress and the President will be put on the defensive. But, if Bush is successful, it could signal a true political realignment. Is nothing sacred?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The State of Political Theater

President Bush took political theater to a new level during last night's State of the Union address. What in the past was a short speech to Congress has gradually morphed into a grand platform for rhetoric and propaganda. If I agreed with his ends, I may applaud his means. After all, this is politics and there is a fine line between manipulation and communication. There is little more agitating than observing a carefully crafted political message and knowing all along that the masses are going to eat it up and ask for seconds. This despite the facts that the display is full of logical holes, exaggerations and neglect for the truth.

The most striking example of Bush's thematic skills was the recognition of the mother of a marine slain in battle and an Iraqi woman whose father had been assassinated at the order of Saddam Husein and who voted in the recent Iraqi election. As the two women embraced, Bush looked on as the triumphant hero who wishes to be seen as the one that made it all possible. In this single event, the themes of the entire military campaign were dramatically played out for the entire nation to witness. The sacrifice and the spoils of victory that make it all worth while. How do you argue with this? This was a big FUCK YOU to Michael Moore, bleeding heart anti-war liberals and anyone else who dare question Bush's decisions. At that moment you were either moved or recognized who really held the reigns of political power, or perhaps a little of both.

But in the end, this staged event did not communicate the truth. For every isolated situation such as this, there are many more mothers who have lost children and do not feel that the price was worth it. There are mothers in Iraq that wonder why they lost their children to malnourishment during a harsh regime of sanctions imposed by the United States. There are Iraqis who value their right to vote but would have liked to have achieved that right in their own struggle. There are members of the Shiite majority who were egged on to rise up against Saddam, only to be abandoned by the elder President Bush. Later, had they not been deprived of basic living standards largely because of the rigid sanctions, perhaps they could have successfully revolted. To these Iraqis, "victory" is bittersweet. They want to create their own Iraq, outside of the blanket of paternalism offered by the United States. Will George W. Bush allow them to?

If this speech was any indicator, he will not. Bush declared the fighting in Iraq to be a battle with terrorists. Many of these supposed terrorists were eligible to vote in the election. These are Iraqi's who want control of their country. A fraction of these insurgents may be terrorists, but most are labeled as such only in that they actively reject the imposition of "democracy" by a foreign power and do so in a violent fashion. These are Iraqis that do not benefit from "majority rules" democracy, because they are in the minority. They fear that an elected Shiite leader will seek vengeance against them and their fears are probably well founded. These people MUST have a place in the future of Iraq if it is to become the stable, liberated state that Bush likes to talk about so frequently. To brand them all as terrorists is to turn a blind eye to history. Ethnic conflicts in Africa, the Balkans and elsewhere stemmed from the reinforcement of ethnic division. But the label is politically and rhetorically potent, and Bush exploits it. Framing the war in Iraq as a single battle in a larger "war on terror" serves the imperialist intentions of neo-liberal world order. And of course, people love to hear that they are part of a dramatic crusade to end terrorism and tyranny.

But in reality, these are not the terrorists that seek destruction in the United States. To portray them as such is another political manipulation and justification for ongoing military action. Bush would like to portray the mother of the Marine and the Iraqi woman who voted on one side and those who object to the military campaign on the other. Those who fight the Bush administration, whether it is politically or militarily, here or abroad, are "with the terrorists". This is a powerful rhetorical weapon indeed.

The election results are not yet in, but much speculation is flying about regarding the potential victor. The favorite seems to be a Shiite Iranian-born and backed religious leader. Suppose the new government in Iraq aligns itself with the current regime in Tehran. Mind you, this is a regime which he specifically threatened in this very State of the Union address. He warned Iran to abandon any pursuit of nuclear weapons and vowed that America will stand against the leadership in Tehran and with Iranians who "seek liberty". We could very well end up involved in a conflict with Iran and, in turn, with the very leadership in Iraq that we helped install.

I highly doubt that Bush and his cohorts will allow this to happen however. It is more likely that America will continue to meddle with Iraq's political system until we achieve the result WE want. This would be very similar to what happened in South Vietnam, where the U.S. denounced a democratically chosen leader as unfairly elected.

Nevertheless, in George W. Bush's world these geopolitical complexities have no place. He preaches sacrifice, democracy and freedom. He is the crusader who feels that it is his calling, and therefore the calling of the United States to "rid the world of tyranny". What significance does the death of a single soldier have in the light of a world free of tyranny? Who would not sacrifice for such an achievement?

Unfortunately, this rhetoric more closely resembles that of a tyrant than a public servant. Bush asks us to sacrifice for the state and its crusade, he speaks about freedom and democracy but cracks down on civil liberties in his own country. He supports altering our Constitution to specifically deprive same-sex partners of any chance at achieving marriage rights. He cuts funding for social programs here at home to fund bombings abroad. The path to ending tyranny is not to fight every people's battles for them, but to serve as an admirable model to the world. We cannot simply impose our values on the world. That may play well during a stateside speech, but oversees it offends and undermines the valuable ability to promote democracy.

I hope that viewers and listeners of this speech will take it for what it was, political theater. One can admire a savvy politician but must never lose sight of the little man behind the curtain. It was a flashy show with little substance and I believe that most will find it impressive but unsettling. In the end, truth will win and Bush and his administration will be exposed. People can be easily manipulated, but they are often very angry when they realize that they've been had.




Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Imposed Democracy Will Never Succeed

Iraqi voters bravely risked their lives in an inspiring collective act of courage in the recent election. In turn, the United States should act in good faith and fulfill promises of liberation. If the goal of this effort is truly to establish the foundation for a working democracy in Iraq and not to facilitate the veiled appointment of a puppet regime, then the United States should be prepared to honor the results and soon withdraw militarily.

Many Iraqis probably dreamt of this moment, but few likely anticipated that it would come in this fashion. Weakened by years of sanctions and Stalinist tactics, most Iraqis were more concerned with ensuring their next meal than in overthrowing a long entrenched dictator. But, throughout their struggle, some likely maintained faith that a revolution would come. It took great courage to participate in an election largely orchestrated by what most view as an occupying power. When the promise of democracy came, however flawed a process as it may in reality be, many Iraqis seized the opportunity to make a difference in charting a new course for a long suffering nation.

Similarly, the United States has an opportunity to chart a new course. In the past, we ousted elected leaders in Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Chile and Vietnam, among others. When the people chose to elect leaders whom we ideologically opposed, or viewed as a threat to our own national interests (usually economic), we installed our own hand picked "leaders". I hope that we do not undermine the votes of those who risked their lives in this case.

Ideally, the Iraqi voters will choose a leader that serves their best interests and one that can work with the international community, including the United States. However, it is unlikely that this process will go completely smoothly. A large faction of the Iraqi electorate largely boycotted the election. The Sunni Muslim minority, which ruled the country for centuries, has not embraced the process and it will be difficult to avert future ethnic conflict in the region.

I passionately hope that the Shiite majority does not wield their newfound political power in a democratic "reign of terror" against minority ethnic groups in the region. Democracy surely does not preclude this from happening. After all, when two wolves and a chicken vote on what's for dinner, the outcome is all too clear. Perhaps after decades of recent oppression they can seize the opportunity to start anew and avoid the cycle of political violence. Maybe they will choose a leader that can unite Iraq and regain its strength. In the end, the choice is largely theirs to make. The United States should honor its rhetoric and allow them to create their own destiny.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Robbed!?