Thursday, December 14, 2006

Don't Go Away Mad, Just Go Away

Thanks to Think, we have this report that the outgoing majority leader, John Boehner, apparently has either not read the 911 Commission Report, doesn't understand the concept that one cannot do two contradictory things (or that, if choices are offered, making a choice means excluding others), or is simply acting like a petulant child, trying to make Pelosi out a lying, promise-breaking, San-Francisco-values demonstrating liberal. My actual preference is for all three.

Why is it anything these people say is reported?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Why I Like Al Sharpton

Note: The following post contains language that might be offensive to some readers. Please understand the context in which a certain word is used before you take me to task for using it.

In 2004, in the Democratic primary in IL, I was one of only three or four people in my county, a rural, heavily Republican area, to vote for Sharpton. I did it partly because I did not like the front-runner, Joh Kerry. I thought he was a weak candidate, as he turned out to be. I also did it because, of all the candidates then in the race, only Sharpton had spent a lifetime fighting for justice the only way it can be done. One case at a time, one incident at a time, bringing to bear all his personality and media-savvy when an African-American was wronged.

I find the usual portrait of Sharpton to be a fascinating study of the unreflective racism that still ahunts so many of our institutions, including the press. Sharpton is typical of that one black man in a community who refuses to lie down to white authority. In the past such persons were called uppity niggers. Today, they are called ambulance-chasing, self-promoting, media-whores. Sharpton refuses to concede there is only one road to racial justice in this country, a steady "drip-drip-drip" pf non-violent non-cooperation, complete with wide-eyed white kids with the best intentions in the world holding hands and singing "We Shall Overcome". They are the real leaders, of course, not an uppity, I mean an ambulance chasing media whore like Sharpton. Sharpton is a combination of an old-style urban ward-heeler, an old style African-American preacher/community leader, and a very knowledgeable manipulator of public imagery and consciousness. What angers whites more than anything else is, unlike white America's favorite civil rights leader, Sharpton has built in NYC an organizaiton that gets results.

In the movie The Cotton Club, Laurence Fishburne plays Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson. Johnson is accosted by the white overseer of the backstage area of the Cotton Club while he is trying to arrange a date with a dancer. When he is grabbed and asked what he is doing, he turns and says, "I am trying to talk to my friend Wilona. Who are you and what do you think you are doing?" The oversser grabs Johnson and calls him an uppity nigger, and prepares to beat his ass soundly. Two of Johnson's cohorts grab the man and drag him to the men's room where they shove his head into a commode, which Johnson proceeds to flush, saying, "This uppity nigger is buying you a drink." That is Sharpton; that is why the white American establishment hates him so much - he gives them a collective swirly time after time, and no matter what they try to do, he keeps dragging them, kicking and screaming and swearing, into the bathroom.

In his book, A Dream or a Nightmare? Malcolm, Martin, and America, James Cone shows that, rather than offering opposing ways of fighting white supremacy, King and Malcolm X were in fact complementary to one another, and that both were correct and incorrect in the ways they chose to fight. Sharpton has taken that lesson to heart, and refuses to concede that there is only one way to beat a system that is structured to defeat him at every turn, because by so conceding, one already admits the game is fixed. He plays, and wins by his own rules.

Sharpton is indeed a "controversial" figure, but that is because he shows us, again and again and again, the worst of who we are as America, and forces us to deal with it. He drags in to the light all the filth and stink of our racism and makes us confront it. That is why we hate him so. He is a threat to our sense of ourselves as good, honest, hard-working, tax-paying, rules-playing, racially-sensitive enlightened individuals. He knows the seedy underbelly of America, because as one of its victims, that is what he has been exposed to. God bless him, and all the uppity niggers out there who buy us drinks time and time again, dragging us into the bathroom to teach us a lesson.

Thinking Outside the Racial Box

Note: This is prompted by this post here.

Last week I wrote this about my intellectual development, and what I had been taught, at a remove, by Franz Fanon and James Cone, about the possibilities of thinking differently; about thinking from another perspective, another history, another social station. That is all well and good from an intellectual standpoint - a bit remote, but nonetheless crucial - but I want to give an example of what that means in life. After all, I should be able to show that I can actually think differently than would be expected from my background, my social class, my education, and my racial and ethnic heritage.

My turtle-loving neighbors to the north would want us to believe, in the post linked above in the italics, that, by reporting the fact of racism, CNN is somehow responsible for it. While I am hardly one to trust any news outlet, and am grateful for any skepticism any one, left, right, or center, employs when encountering a news report, this is something that strains credulity. CNN is not promoting a racial divide; it was reporting that Americans feel there is in fact a racial divide, and are aware of those who hold bigoted views.

So much for the first part, some general comments.

In the comments section of the post, I noted that recetnly attorneys representing the Dallas, TX school board argued for separate-but-equal school systems, based on the claim that funding for these separate school systems would remain the same. Apart from the obvious questions, including whether or not this attorney had heard of this little court case known as Brown, et. al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka, KS, this case prompted me to state that the school district did not make this argument because it is liberal (Dallas, TX?) CNN, with Ted Turner and his fellow jet-setting cosmopolite George Soros setting the agenda, did not force the attorney to make this stupid (that word is popping up a lot lately) argument. The argument was made because the school district believes that racial segregation is preferable to the the hard work of integration - and all the risks that entails, socially, culturally, and economically. In other words, the current status quo is preferable. By arguing in favor of segregation, the school board is, by definition, RACIST.

Similarly, three young black men were followed by a police squad car after they left a New York club. They were followed for a block and a half. Details are sketchy, but the police opened fire on the three young men, who were (as far as I know) unarmed. One of those men is dead. Now consider this act from the perspective of an African-American. There is the whole history of near-genocidal violence against Americans of African descent - cultural destruction, rape, enforced religious conversion, the denial of even the most basic status as a human being (put most succinctly by Chief Justice of the United States in his horrendous Dred Scott decision: "No Negro has any rights which a white man is entitled to respect."). After "emancipation", the granting of "full citizenship", of "voting rights", of "equality before the law" came the imposition of legal segregation, enforced peonage, the terrorism of the Night Rider, the burning cross, the legal revocation of the right to vote, of access to education, of the status as an equal human being worthy of respect and having dignity simply because that person was, period (I am speaking of the social practice common in the south of whites referring to blacks as "boy", "girl", or perhaps "Uncle", or "Aunt", as in Uncle Tom and Aunt Jemimah).

Of course, the context to best understand what happened on that dark New York City street most clearly is the lynching. How many hundreds, or even thousands, of African-American men, women, boys, and girls, were tortured and murdered by cheering crowds who photographed themselves around the corpse? Since such murder was common, and unpunishable by law - quite often performed by the very people who were sworn to uphold the law (police, judges) - how should we expect the NYC African-American community to react? Does the passage of a few laws here and there wipe out the communal memory of racial violence and hatred; of the shackle and whip, the hangman's noose and the burning brand?

More to the point, why should any American, black or white, take seriously our government's commitment to equality when attorneys for municipalities make arguments as morally specious as the one offered by attorneys for the Dallas school district? Why should African-Americans trust any white person who claims to be one of good faith? How effective have those earnest, starry-eyed whites been in fighting off those who would enforce our national code of racial intolerance and white supremacy at the cost of thousands of lives? How many young black men have to die at the hands of police officers who claim they felt threatened? How many African-Americans have to suffer the indignities, large and small, heaped upon them by a society so entrenched in racism, so steeped in white supremacy, that advocates for racial justice are derided as ambulance chasing race-baiters, while the killers of black boys and girls and men and women are heralded as heroes? How long until someone says "ENOUGH!"?

I suppose, however, that as a liberal, I am just fanning those old racial flames. As Billy Joel sang, though, we didn't start the fire.

The Depths of Presidential . . . Stupidity Doesn't Even begin to Cover It (Updated with Correction)

Two things about the President's little news conference this afternoon. First, in his introductory remarks, he said that Iraq was a "war we now find ourselves in."

Uh. Huh? What?

You mean we didn't go through several months of discussion of mushrooms clouds and uranium cake and steel tubes and mobile biological weapons plants; we didn't go through the logistical task of staging 150,00 troops, with inadequate armor and supplies, and no plan for control in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Sadaam Hussein, with all its "messy" looting? You mean the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense didn't set up their own intelligence office in the Pentagon because they didn't like the intel coming from the CIA that consistently said Iraq had not reconstituted its weapons program? You mean we didn't have shock and awe that was mostly stop and yawn? We just happened to "find ourselves" occupying a country we invaded without reason, without pretext, without cause, without threat, and apparently without a clue?

Of all the abysmally stupid things Bush has said, this goes beyond stupid. This is almost criminally horrid. Does Bush actually refuse to accept responsibility for the irretrievable mess we now find ourselves in? Does he believe it is something that has just happened, that events are unconnected to one another, that responsibility and blame and culpability have no place in this world he has created in his mind?

Also, from the Q&A according to an AP report here, Bush had this to say about the Iraq Study Group:
"I thought it was interesting the Republicans and Democrats could work in cocnert to help achieve an objective," Bush said.

Like they were kids at camp given a goal to meet, and had done so without bringing down the cabin.

I know the President is claiming he is on a "Listening Tour", but perhaps he should be on a "Clue Tour", because he sure needs to find one.

January 20, 2009 is so far away.

UPDATE:I have changed the first paragraph to reflect a partial transcript of this line I found here. Thank you so much, Joshua Micah Marshall.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pinochet, Kirkpatrick, and the WaPo: Three of a Perfect Pair (With Update & Link)

I thought I had said all I wanted to say, or all that needed to be said, about the recent deaths within days of one another of Jeane Kirkpatrick and Augusto Pinochet. One languishes in the obscurity of right-wing intellectual iconography, the other awaits entry to the dictator room in hell, and neither are grieved over except among Americans of a decidedly right-leaning political bent. Glenn Greenwald has a wonderful (as usual) dissection of a Washington Post editorial that heaps accolades upon the dead dictator, placing it into a context that makes it less surprising than it might otherwise be. As the right has defended numerous Cold War dictators - with the "intellectual" backing of Kirkpatrick - and even now defends the Bush Administration's (admittedly mild in comparison) edging towards authoritarianism, it is no wonder that numerous American right-wingers mourn the passing of one whom they could call their own.

What makes it all the more interesting is that, in Chile, you know, the country Pinochet ruled for seventeen years, when news reached the street that Pinochet had shuffled off this mortal coil, there was celebration in the streets. There were, as the media duly reported, apparently under the rubric that there actually are two sides to any story, a small group of former supporters (I say former because you can't support someone who's dead) who gathered to publicly mourn, but their numbers were small and their presence insignificant. Indeed, the celebrations were initially described as riots in the press, because North Americans don't know what it's like to have a chance to give the final finger to one who held you under his thumb for so long. We would rather remind the Chilean people, who apparently are too carried away with the joy of freedom, that they have the most stable, most economically vigorous nation in South America as a result of Pinochet. The hubris of the American press knows no apparent bounds, as we lecture the ungrateful Chileans on what they should be thankful for. After all, through the CIA and Kissinger, we gave them seventeen years of capitalist heaven when they could have been saddled with the horrors of Democratic Socialism under Salvador Allende, one of the first of thousands of victims of Pinochet's rule.

There is a moral equivalence (if I can use the word "moral" in this context) between the Post's school-marmish lecturing and Kirkpatrick's turgid prose praising dictatorship. What, after all, is wrong with authoritarianism, since it leaves traditional elites in charge and does not threaten the social contract? So what if people are oppressed, jailed, disappeared, or killed? So what if the masses are left in poverty, while elites sate themselves at the public well? Democracy is a messy business, and people may make decisions that harm our, I mean their own, interests, after all. These same "arguments" are still trotted out by some on the right who want to replace the current elected government in Iraq because it has made decisions counter to American interests, or who are angry with the Palestinians for electing Hamas to leadership positions, or who are angry with Lebanon for electing members of Hezbollah to the parliament. It would be som much better if these people acted in our, I mean their own, interests and elected people to please America. People like Pinochet.

I wish I could find a link to this, but I remember a story that emerged a year or so after Pinochet left power and Chile began to emerge from its long, national nightmare. A former prisoner told a story about being flown in a helicopter over the Pacific Ocean. There were other prisoners with him. As he watched, the side hatch of the helicopter was opened, and an interrogator began to question the prisoners. When the first man either refused to answer the questions, or gavea answers the interrogators didn't like, he was summarily pushed out the open hatch. The helicopter was miles from land and close to a thousand feet above the ocean. This is what Pinochet did. This is what Kirkpatrick defended. This is what the Post dismisses in its editorial heaping praise upon the bloated corpse of a self-made President.

The moral vacuousness of such a view is stunning. The ability to rationalize horror is breathtaking. Is it any wonder the right is held in such contempt?

UPDATE: Apparently, Glenn was as angered as I was, judging by this post. The decline of any moral sensibility at all among our "elites" is truly a breathtaking thing to behold. While I know it is wrong, I will say it once again. I do solemnly hope Augusto Pinochet is burning in hell.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Short Take

So now Bush's numbers are at 31%. All those America-hating Americans!

Is he a Terrorist?

If you've not heard the news, a resident of Rockford, IL was arrested last week for plotting a grenade attack on a local mall. When I first heard it, I scoffed. When my turtle loving neighbors to the north blogged about it, I said that I refused to believe it. Yesterday's Rockford Resgister-Star contained the sworn affadavit that led to the charges against Derrick Shareef, and I have to say I am much less skeptical than I was, at least concerning whether or not he was planning to attack the CherryVale Mall.

My initial reaction upon reading the affadavit, printed in full and unedited, was completely emotional. When Shareef spoke about the possibilties for added shrapnel by putting grenades in garbage cans, all I could picture was my wife and kids standing by those garbage cans. We shop there frequently. I was horrified at the thought of an indiscirminate attack that would lead to the injury or death of my wife and/or children.

Along with specific plans to attack the mall, Shareef also made comments that, during the Israeli war against Hezbollah this past summer, he had urges to attack worshipers at a DeKalb, IL synagogue as they entered for Friday night services. He also expressed a desire to attack the DeKalb County courthouse, including killing guards and judges. Clearly, here is an individual so twisted by rage that violence becomes an outlet; he wants to strike out at others, and injuring or killing them means very little to him.

Under the law, planning a mass attack like the one Shareef planned us an act of terrorism. Does that make Shareef a terrorist? In what sense is he qualitatively different from members of Al Qaeda? I am not sure I am qualified to answer, and I have to admit there is still that conflict within me due to my own visceral anger at someone who would injure or kill strangers, including my family. I will say this, however. Had Shareef purchased a gun and entered the mall, shooting indiscirminately, and this been twenty years ago, we would not have considered the word "terrorist". Mass murderer, perhaps. "Sick, deranged individual going on killing spree" would probably have been the headline, rather than "We Were the Target". While I do not know whether Shareef is a terrorist, I do know he is an unwell man; his violent urges and impulses, his desire to harm others for no reason other than perceived grievances against himself, should prompt any thinking person to insist he he put somehwere where we are safe from him for a long time to come. I do not know whether or not he is a terrorist.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

May he Burn in Hell, With an Empty Seat Next to Him for Henry Kissinger

Augusto Pinochet has escaped earthly justice, breathing his last a free man, indicted in Spain yet unconvicted of the numerous crimes against Chile and foreigners, including a car bombing in Washington, part of the Condor operations he and Alberto Stressner of Paraguay concocted to strike out at South American ex-pats working against tyranny. I hope that, rather than a tunnel of light with his loved ones beckoning him on, he saw only a tunnel of darkness, filled with the screams of his victims. I know he was as much a child of God as I am, and as worthy of love and forgiveness, but I will succumb to a more base, crass emotionalism and wish him a roasty toasty time in hell. I pray for that part of me that would wish that upon anyone. I will also pray because I will not pray for him.

Focus on the Disease

Thanks to Crooks & Liars, I found the site, now linked to the right, Right Wing Watch, a service of People for the American Way. I have to say I am not a fan of PAW for a variety of reasons, not the least its intellectual shallowness (now who sounds like an elitist?). The site, though, is a wealth of information, including this on efforts by Focus on the Family (FoF) to kill increased funding for AIDS treatment and prevention on the continent of Africa. The reasons are petty, and simply put - the pet project of the right, abstinence-only education is not funded. While FoF have a point, abstinence is the only sure prevention for HIV, there has been no study to show it as an effective education tool.

The increase is modest, but at a time of severe budgetary constraints welcome, yet FoF is refusing to budge. I wish, for just one moment, a thoughtful person would ask them a question concerning the compassion we all should have for a continent quite literally losing a generation to the ravages of HIV and AIDS. For an organization that advertises its adherence to the faith of Jesus Christ to insist that nothing be done if its own projects are not supported undercuts any claim the group may have to the name "Christian". I am, to put it mildly, sick unto death of this nonsense, and keep praying for the day James Dobson and his group fold their tents and go away.

Blame Anyone but The Perpetrator of the Crime

I have been reading more and more of this, and more and more commentary upon it, recently; it seems the right has decided that the problem in Iraq is . . . the Iraqi people! There was more than some of that in the Cal Thomas piece I quoted below, and over at, Joshua Holland has this piece quoting a George Will column that sums up the new blame-shift. As Holland points out, this view is neither new nor typically American. It has long been the conceit of colonial powers that they are offering the great gift of civilization to those who are bereft of true enlightenment. How ungrateful of these lesser breeds without the law to refuse to acknowledge not just the soveriegnty but the supremacy of their betters?

The rhetoric of democratization (a horrible neo-logism that carries baggage that undercuts the ideal it claims to support) should have been a warning to anyone who heard it that we were engaged in a task destined for failure. One does not "democratize" a country, especially through force of arms. Political form follows history, tradition, accident and contingency, and a whole host of other factors that create a calculus dooming imposition to dismal defeat. This is not to say that democracy is not preferable to other forms of governance; nor am I saying that those forces in authoritarian and dictatorial regimes that work towards democratization, often at great personal risk and cost, are illegitimate. I am saying that imposing a foreign form of governance upon other people distorts their whole political outlook. In other words, if democracy is to come to Iraq, or Saudi Arabia, or Myanmar, it has to be an Iraqi form of democracy, a Saudi form of democracy, a Burmese form of democracy, flowing from their own struggle, their own social history, and the social and civil infrastructure that exists in these societies.

Arthur Silber has written long and often on the concept of American exceptionalism, and his pieces bear thinking through. The roots of this notion, expressed best in recent history by Ronald Reagan's acceptance speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention in a speech now known as "The Shining City on a Hill", quoting from a speech given by Governor John Winthrop just before he landed at the Plymouth Bay Colony in the 1620's, lie deep in the American psyche, and are not easily dislodged. It is often spoken of in non-religious terms by those who insist that "America is the greast country in the world," while ther reasons for this greatness usually devolve to questions of economic, military, or social power. We delude ourselves when we think we are somehow immune to the forces of history.

As Iraq descends further into civil war, and as the American people clamor for our troops to leave sooner rather than later (despite the wisdom of our Washington-based elders), there has been an attempt to find a scapegoat for the "situation". For those who have supported this war since before it began, the easiest culprits are the lazy, shiftless, ungrateful, maniacal Iraqis, who would rather kill one another than toss flowers at American troops and bureaucrats who freed them from the horrors of a latter-day Adolf Hitler. This ignores the fact that, again as Holland points out, Iraq was a stable, indeed flourishing secular society prior to the 1991 Gulf War, and an at least stable one until the American invasion. When Paul Bremer de-Baathified the Iraqi government and idsbanded Sadaam's army, he essentially stripped the social and civil infrastucture of Iraq of those who had both the understanding and the competence to run the country. We Americans make a fetish of disliking bureacracy, but the oldest civilizations, China, Egypt, and Sumer, thrived precisely because they developed a civil infrastructure that maintained socio-economic order even in the face of myriad political crises. While Egyptian and Sumerian greatness has waned, China is still going strong, four thousand years after unifying under the Ch'in Dynasty. we may call their form of government communist, but in fact there is a reasonable argument to be made that it is a modern extension of the Chinese genius for maintaining civil order on a grand scale.

The worst thing, of course, is totally ignoring the truth that the only ones to blame for the situation in Iraq are us. We invaded a country that had neither the military capability nor the political willingness to threaten us; we stripped it not only of its top leadership, but of all those functionaries necessary to keeping a modern state humming along. We removed the army and police from authority, creating a vacuum that has yet to be filled in a way that is acceptable to all Iraqis. There is no way social and civil order can be restored in Iraq in a short enough amount of time to rescue George W. Bush's legacy as the breaker of the Iraqi nation. There are no military solutions. There are no short-term political solutions. There is only the grief that should come from knowing that all of us, whether we supported the war or not, are complicit in the destruction of a highly urbanized, cosmopolitan society for no reason whatsoever. The finger of blame points at us; the only thing worse is that, by denying it so vehemently for so long, things have descended to a point that matters are beyond anyone's capacity to control or influence.

Virtual Tin Cup

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