Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sm ppl hv gd sugstns

CNN ran a graphic encouraged people to Tweet their ideas for how to improve education.

My suggestion: develop enough civic literacy for people to recognize that complex issues can’t always be solved in 140 characters.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The triumph of hate: the US plunges further into the Dark Ages

”There’s nothing more frightening than ignorance in action.” –Tom Smothers

There’s was a lot of optimism that the inauguration of a not completely regressive (in rhetoric at least) president and administration might reverse the Dark Ages the United States has been in for most of this decade. Sadly, it’s seemed to embolden bigots and other retrograde forces.

It’s clear that Muslims are welcome to build a mosque and community center ANYWHERE* in this great and free land of America.

(*-This offer is not valid in the lower 48 states, Hawaii or Alaska)

Opposition to the fraudulently named* Mosque at Ground Zero was supposedly motivated only by (hold hand over heart) the fact that it was “too close” to Ground Zero... without ever quite specifying what distance away from Ground Zero would be tolerable.

(*-The community center would not be at Ground Zero. And the multistory building would have a mosque but only as one of many components. Calling the whole project a mosque is like referring to a YMCA as a swimming pool)

Subsequent events have laid bare the real agenda of these people.

Some news items you may have missed...

-Bigots torched the site of a proposed Islamic community center in Tennessee... this was after NPR reported on the controversy. The chief opponent of the TN mosque proudly displayed his ignorance by declaring, “We're Christians and this religion represents people that are against Christians.”

-The New York Times reported on opposition to similar Islamic community center projects in places as diverse as Florida, Tennessee and southern California. Apparently, San Bernadino, CA, is also “too close” to Ground Zero.

-Former House speaker Newt Gingrich recently compared supporters of the “Ground Zero Mosque” to Nazis.

-The Associated Press quoted the vile Gingrich as again fanning the flames of hatred with his comment that “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.” The AP also reported that Days ago, a brick nearly smashed a window at the Madera Islamic Center in central California, where signs were left behind that read, "Wake up America, the enemy is here," and "No temple for the god of terrorism." This past week in New York, a Muslim cab driver had his face and throat slashed in a suspected hate crime.

-Because of his refusal to fan anti-Islamic hatred (and perhaps his failure to invade any Islamic countries), an increasing number of Americans now believe the falsehood that President Obama is a Muslim. It’s not just that 20 percent of the entire nation’s population believe this lie, but that most would view this lie, if true, as an evil, horrible state of affairs.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims in America are peaceful, law abiding. They are respectful of the communities they live in. They serve on school boards and coach youth sports and serve in the armed forces of the United States. They consciously chose to live in a secular republic with a secular Constitution, rather than in a theocracy. They chose to live in America because they felt it had some appeal, not because, as the despicable Gingrich suggests, they want to undermine.

It’s clear that the far right and forces of Christian extremism are hell bent in alienating moderate Muslims, in pushing them into the extremist camp, solely to advance their own political ambitions. This is truly sickening and disgusting. It is against everything the Real America (if not Sarah Palin’s America) is supposed to stand for. This is not what my country is about. These divisive hatemongers ought to read the Pledge of Allegiance. “...indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.”

It’s quite clear that the domestic forces of darkness and hatred and bigotry are a far greater threat to American values and civilization than some Muslim version of the YMCA.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Tea Party’s Founding Myth

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

Brian Mann of NCPR’s In Box blog has a great essay on the self-delusional siege mentality and martyr complex that animates the Tea Party “movement.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The heroes of the world

This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, IsraelStine and the Trumped Up Enemy of the Month. A list of all pieces in this series can be found found here.

Today is World Humanitarian Day. The date was chosen because it marked the anniversary of the homicide bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad which killed 22 UN workers including former Human Rights Commissioner Sergio Vieria de Mello.

Humanitarian aid workers have always been in harm's way but they are suffering greater and greater numbers of casualties in recent years. This is not down to bad luck but rather to an intentional strategy by warring parties.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, which at the time hosted one of the largest refugee populations in the world, I made the acquaintance of many humanitarian aid workers. I visited a refugee camp and it gave me some idea of the absolutely miserable conditions these aid workers labor under.

Because of this and other direct interactions, I've come to consider humanitarian aid workers as the heroes of Humanity. The majority of western aid workers are people who could easily have remained at home in comfortable, air-conditioned apartments in London or New York but have chosen of their own free will to go to the worst places in the world in order to feed the starving and heal the sick.

It's also worth remembering that most big aid organizations also rely heavily on staff who are nationals of the countries in question. These are people who could very easily and understandably flee the conflict in their land but choose to stick around and help people who would otherwise suffer in misery or die.

I can think of no more noble calling.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Terrorism works by provoking self-destruction

There's been a lot of controversy about the mosque and community center to be built several blocks away from the Ground Zero site in Manhattan. Apparently, some people truly believed the line that 'they' hate us for our freedom so they're trying to remedy this problem by eradicating the freedom part.

Do opponents of the project object to its services for the elderly? Its day care program? The 9/11 memorial that it will house?

The religious bigotry underpinning the controversy has been whipped by venal, self-serving politicians, who are behind most forms of bigotry. The issue was first seized upon by Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino. These Republican candidates for governor are light years behind in the polls to Democratic front-runner Andrew Cuomo and they fabricated this issue in a pathetic attempt to get people to pay attention to them.

The hypocrisy was amplified when both of these 'men' proposed using eminent domain to stop the project. So these conservatives, who brag about supporting 'limiting government,' proposed using the government bludgeon to suppress both freedom of religion and private property rights.

Of course, the usual cacaphony of hatemongers like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck didn't miss their chance to stoke the fires of ignorance.

Some claim that their opposition is not to any mosque/community center but only to the location of this particular one. Those this page shows some of the other things that are even closer to sacred site.

There are no doubt some who oppose the project solely because its location. Perhaps in an ideal world, it would not have been built so close to the former Twin Towers' site. However, as the project's spokesman pointed out, real estate in lower Manhattan is neither abundant nor cheap.

But the reality is that much of the opposition is really based on religious bigotry. This article in The New York Times points out that opposition has arisen mosque building projects in places like Tennessee, Wisconsin and California.

As a representative of a California mosque/community center project pointed out, local Muslim families had contributed to the local food bank, sent truckloads of supplies to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and participated in music nights and Thanksgiving events with the local interfaith council. "We do all these activities and nobody notices,” he said. “Now that we have to build our center, everybody jumps to make it an issue.”
For some, 'too close to Ground Zero' for an Islamic site really means 'anywhere in America.'

If this is what Sarah Palin's sickening 'real America' is all about, then I'll stay here in the 'fake America' that was founded as a haven for religious tolerance and believes in freedom and other civilized values.

A good part of our foreign policy is based encouraging moderate Muslims to stand up for themselves against the violent, extremist strand of their faith and to support them when they do. So what's our strategy at home? To tar them all with the same brush. To act like all Muslims were responsible for 9/11 and that they should all face the collective punishment of being allowed nowhere even remotely near the site.

Yogi Berra famously said the secret of baseball management was to keep the guys who hated you away from the guys who were undecided.

It's a good national security strategy too, one that conservatives would be wise to follow.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

George W. Bush was a socialist

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

I was biking home from work today when I saw a bunch of signs tacked to telephone poles, all of which read, "Obama is a socialist and hates our nation" or something similarly unhinged. It's not really breaking news that respect has pretty much evaporated in our political dialogue. It's no longer a dialogue, but a series of independent monologues, loudly and furiously screamed. E pluribus unum, no more. But what I've noticed lately is how language has become another casualty of our national rage.

Epithets have become devoid of meaning, other than being an expression of anger. "Obama is a socialist" or "Bush is a Nazi" or "The Tea Party is fascist" don't really have anything to do with accurately reflecting socialism, Nazism or fascism. The appellations now just mean that a speaker doesn't like the object of his hatred.

Take the "Bush is a Nazi" remark. Some call the Bush administration incompetent. I think that undersells their intentions. In my opinion, BushCheney administration did great harm the country, the economy and the Constitution. It had definite authoritarian and hypernationalist instincts as well as a penchant for international aggression. But the sum of this did not make them Nazis or tantamount to them.

The Nazis more than an ordinary, aggressive dictatorship; there are hundreds of those throughout history. What made the Nazis different is that they represented well-planned, large scale and quite intentional mass murder. The BushCheney administration was venal but I think it would've been more than happy to conquer Iraq and its natural resources without the deaths of 700,000 or more Iraqis. The Nazis were purists for a psychopathic ideology; the BushCheney folks were just plain greedy and willing to stop at nothing. Not good, but not the same.

The "Obama is a socialist" slur is another that purges language of any meaning. 'Socialist' has always meant something along the lines of redistributing wealth from the rich to the working class for the purposes of a creating a more equal society. You can argue whether that's good or bad, useful or harmful, but this is what the word has traditionally meant. But in our culture of meaningless language, the name-calling simply means "I don't like him."

The bank bailout takes money from the working class to subsidize rich banks and bankers. Obamacare takes money from the working class and forces them to give to rich, private insurance conglomerates. The health care, pharmaceutical and banking industries overwhelming preferred 'donating' (investing) its money to candidate Obama rather than candidate McCain, so it's little surprise that the current president is so beholden to them.

But these things take money from the working class to give to the rich for the purposes of creating a more unequal society. This is corporatism. It's not socialism. In fact, it's the complete opposite of socialism.

Yet, in the current political culture, Nazi means any enemy of civil liberties and socialist means anyone who supports the use of government for any purpose.

Using those 'contemporary' definitions, Woodrow Wilson was a Nazi and George W. Bush was a socialist.

The words don't really matter. It's the incoherent rage, the idea is that my side is uniquely virtuous and the other side inherently malicious, that's supposed to resonate. It's the intent, not the specifics, that matter.

But while I realize this makes me hopelessly anachronistic, words SHOULD matter.

No matter how much the hateful (Ann Coulters), the shrill (Rachael Maddows) or both of the above (Glenn Becks) may loathe it, their ideological opponents are and will remain Americans. America belongs to all of us, not just any one of us.

There have always been disagreements, often bitter, sometimes bloody, over policy decisions in this country's history. There have always been disagreements about what sort of America its citizens want to live in. But (in the non-bloody cases) the way these disagreements get resolved is by people talking, even arguing, but eventually listening and then trying to come to some sort of consensus.

Americans may honestly disagree over what should be done. But how can they find that consensus if they can't even agree on what basic words mean?

Or maybe crushing honest citizens in the name of ideological is more important than finding that broad but imperfect consensus. Love America by hating Americans.

Welcome to 2010!

Friday, August 06, 2010

'Patriots' claim that freedom is for Afghans and Iraqis, not for us Americans

Earlier this week, a federal judge in California ruled that the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. This decision was not unexpected although welcome, as I've never heard a rational, compelling reason why the state should be allowed to discriminate against gays. The case will no doubt go up the judicial food chain.

However, some on the far right are so pissed off because of this ruling by a conservative judge appointed by Ronald Reagan that they want to impeach him. They want to impeach him for deciding that the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution was still valid and should finally, if belatedly, be applied to this group of American citizens. A judge should be impeached for UPHOLDING the Constitution? Bizarroworld indeed.

Apparently, these self-appointed "patriots" believe that freedom (said breathlessly) is for Afghans and Iraqis, not for us Americans.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The sleaziest man in Albany deemed a 'hero of reform'

A lot of noise has been made recently by the group NY Uprising, founded by former New York City mayor Ed Koch. The group states three principal goals: non-partisan independent redistricting, responsible budgeting and ethics reform. I support all of these things, as does the truly reform minded Green Party of New York (whose candidates' opinions apparently weren't important enough to Koch's group to solicit).

NY Uprising takes it one step further. It categorically labels those who sign a pledge supporting these three issues as "Heroes of Reform," and those who don't "Enemies of Reform."

I don't like this.

First, I'm not a big fan of this sort of pledge because it essentially reduces complicated issues to black and white, squishing out any nuance.

If I were a politician, I'd be wary about being pressured to sign something by a group trying to put words in my mouth.

Second, it deems people heroes and enemies solely based on whether a politician agrees to someone else's words.

Especially in Albany, talk is cheap.

My local Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward took a shot at Koch's group for exactly this reason.

She wrote: Your lists mean nothing if in fact those who have taken your pledge as reformers have legislative voting records against reform and those named to the list as enemies have consistent reform records.

The ultimate illustration of the meaninglessness Koch's lists is the legislature's most infamous member (a pretty powerful label considering the competition).

You might remember Sen. Pedro Espada as the main instigator of two changes of power in the senate, both exploited by Espada to gain plum leadership positions for himself. Or perhaps you might remember him as the latest legislator to find himself under criminal investigation (for suspected corruption and campaign finance violations). Or maybe you remember him as the guy who dismissed all criticism of his lust for power and alleged corruption as racially motivated.

According to Koch's group, this sleazeball was decreed... (drumroll please)... a Hero of Reform.

If the hope of ethics reform and good governance in New York rests on the shoulders of Pedro Espada, then the state is truly screwed.