Friday, December 05, 2008

if can't take the blame, then don't deserve the credit

M. Yglesias speaks wisely.

One we realize that that’s not the case, that there’s no “magic” at work in the financial field and people are just mucking around I think that has quite radical implications. If nothing the CEOs and top fund managers are doing makes them worthy of taking the blame when the crash hits, then they also don’t deserve nearly the share of the credit — and money — that they got while things were going up.
Bada bing!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

NBC shills for the war machine

Matt Y. unleashes on the TV networks:

But rather than focusing on McCaffrey and his issues, it’s worth contemplating the breathtaking lack of integrity on display from the television networks here. As I said, Barstow published a piece on this back in April. None of the TV networks addressed the issue he raised in anything resembling a serious manner. And, again, we now have NBC News caught flat-out in the midst of corruption, deceiving their viewers. And NBC News isn’t sorry. They’re not apologizing. They’re not ashamed. Because they’re beyond shame. They never had a reputation for honor, so they don’t even see this sort of thing as damaging.
Ouch. Perhaps NBC should pay more attention to one of this country's rising public intellectuals.

Or perhaps people will stop paying as much attention to NBC.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

gay marriage more threatening than torture

I had forgotten about this. It's quite upsetting, if the stories related are true.

And the political issues the church selects to get involved in seem odd, to say the least.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

nonpseudonymous blogging

Here's the post I just put up at Citizen Orange:

Some attentive readers might have noticed a recent change in the Citizen Orange blogger lineup. Some guy named "yave begnet" was replaced by yours truly without much explanation.

So here's a bit of explanation. When the website relaunched about a month ago, I joined the site as the immigrant rights blogger. I also changed jobs and moved to a new city around the same time, and the time seemed right to stop using my pseudonym, "yave begnet." So that is why you've been seeing less of yave, and more of me. It's less schizophrenic this way and less confusing to me, at least.

So check out the new site, if you get a chance. I'll still be blogging here regularly, but not quite as frequently as I have been for the past year.
My name, if you didn't catch it in the last post, is David Bennion. I'll still be blogging as "yave" here, though. I hope that clears things up a bit.

Prop 8 passage results in one less name on LDS church rolls

A couple weeks ago, I wondered why the LDS Church was so eager to deny equal rights to gays and lesbians. Then Prop 8 passed, due in no small part to the Church's efforts.

Though I am no longer an active member of the Church, and have little influence over anything it does on any level, I am still technically a member.

That will change after the Church receives the letter I am sending out tomorrow, reprinted below:

November 10, 2008

Member Records Division, LDS Church
50 E North Temple Rm 1372
SLC UT 84150-5310

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is my formal resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it is effective immediately. I hereby withdraw my consent to being treated as a member and I withdraw my consent to being subject to Church rules, policies, beliefs and discipline. As I am no longer a member, I want my name permanently and completely removed from the membership rolls of the Church.

I have given this matter considerable thought. I understand what you consider the seriousness and the consequences of my actions. I am aware that the Church handbook says that my resignation "cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member and revokes temple blessings" I also understand that I will be "readmitted to the church by baptism only after a thorough interview". (quotes from the current Church Handbook of Instructions)

I have not been active in the Church for more than 11 years now. I have moved several times and never contacted any local Church leaders or members to update my records. Until now, I was content with the current situation. Only once or twice was I visited by members or missionaries—the Church seemed to respect my wishes and by and large left me alone. If it had not done so, I might have resigned long ago.

One reason I had not previously resigned was because it didn’t matter much to me whether or not I was still listed as a member, and it didn’t seem to impact my daily life one way or the other. I felt the trouble it would take to resign was not worth the sorrow it might cause members of my family.

With respect and love to my family, I no longer feel that I can leave things as they are. My decision on this matter has changed with the Church’s public and very effective support of Proposition 8 in California in the recent election. I cannot allow my name to be associated, however symbolically, with this shameful attack on the basic civil rights of a historically oppressed group. The Church’s official position is doubly troubling given the history of persecution members of the Church—my ancestors—endured in the name of their faith.

Knowing that the outcome in California on November 4 was a direct result of the Church’s efforts was a deeply shameful realization for me, and may irreparably change my relationship with the Church. I can only hope that, sooner rather than later, the Church leadership comes to understand the harmful consequences of this misguided policy and reverses it, as it reversed the policy of refusing blacks the priesthood after President Kimball’s historic 1978 revelation.

My resignation should be processed immediately, without any waiting periods. I am not going to be dissuaded and I am not going to change my mind.

After today, I request that the only contact I receive from the Church is a single letter of confirmation to let me know that I am no longer listed as a member of the Church.


David Colin Bennion
The letter is a modified version of a letter I got from this website. This website gives instructions on how to request that the IRS revoke the Church's tax exempt status. I don't know enough about tax law to know whether that effort is just pie in the sky.

The LDS Church didn't pass Prop 8 on its own. I'm not too happy about the Catholic Church's role in the passage of Prop 8 and in fighting against LGBT rights more generally. I was employed by the Catholic Church for two years, and I have a lot of respect for Catholic Social Teachings on poverty and migration, among other things.

But the Catholic Church's backwards, hateful institutional posture on LGBT rights is the principal reason I did not seriously consider taking another position at a Catholic organization when I moved here to Philly from Brooklyn.

It gives me no pleasure to send this letter. I think there is a lot of room for collaboration on social issues between seculars like me and people of faith. I can only hope that as more members of the churches speak out against these policies, that the leadership will listen. (That is why I am publicizing here what should be essentially a private matter.) I am afraid, though, that the day of change will be a long time coming.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

not your fucking mascot

From Newsweek:

McCain was dumbfounded when Congressman John Lewis, a civil-rights hero, issued a press release comparing the GOP nominee with former Alabama governor George Wallace, a segregationist infamous for stirring racial fears. McCain had devoted a chapter to Lewis in one of his books, "Why Courage Matters," and had so admired Lewis that he had once taken his children to meet him.
It must have come as a hard blow to have one of your heroes compare you to such a villain. Maybe that would give you pause to reevaluate the direction of your campaign and think about why someone you admire would rebuke you so publicly.

But nah …

After Lewis’s statement, the GOP started running the Jeremiah Wright ads in Pennsylvania. That worked out well.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

a good night to stay in

Apparently, my new city is full of crazy people.

Crazy about baseball!

Oh dear:

On the 1400 block of JFK Boulevard, out-of-control Phillies fans have overtaken a Channel 3 news van. They're rocking it, trying to turn it over, according to police. The windows have been broken out of the van. There are also sporadic shots being fired throughout the city, and police are surging toward the areas of the largest crowds. Mayor Nutter, in TV interviews, urged fans to remain calm. "Enjoy it, savor it, but let's all be respectful to eachother," Mayor Nutter said.

Meanwhile, at Pattison Avenue and Darien Street outside Citizens Bank Park, a group of youths was fighting police. One of the youths had some blood streaming from his head.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Prop 8 and the LDS church: a query

I have about had it with the LDS church and Prop 8 in California. Why is this such an important issue to the Church? I stopped attending church about 11 years ago. These days I go along, live and let live more or less, mostly out of respect for my family. I think religion is a personal choice--it works for some people, it doesn't work for others. That's fine. I even joined the "Mormons are Christians" cause on Facebook because it bothers me when people assert that they aren't--out of unfamiliarity with the doctrine or for other reasons.

But this is just over the line. Why is the leadership so motivated to persecute a disfavored minority? Do they have any idea of the consequences of what they are doing? Don't they realize that what they are doing will ultimately fail and only damage the institution's long-term viability?

I guess not. More on this to come.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

swing state life

Q: How awesome is Santogold?

A: Very much awesome. ("None" more black.)

Mental note: must check out Fela Kuti. Time to join eMusic again now that I have a job.

In other news, my vote in this year's election will count for the first time ... ever!

It didn't count in Utah.

It didn't count in New York.

It counts in Pennsylvania! Suck on that Tom Friedman!

(Santogold's vote counts, too, unless she foolishly moved to New York or something.)

Update: Looks like PA isn't turning out to be much of a swing state after all - Obama up by 15.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

zingers and one-liners

Andrea Mitchell is telling me that Barack Obama failed in last Friday's debate because he didn't have any zingers or memorable one-liners like Ronald Reagan did. He talked about policy issues too much.

What is it Brad DeLong is always saying? Why oh why can't we have a less retarded press corps?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

I bought Cormac McCarthy's most recent book, The Road, at the airport recently, and finished it the same day, even having spent most of my four-hour flight watching the airheads on CNBC explain how essential for my personal well-being it is for me to not raise too much of a fuss while their employers, associates, and benefactors borrow from China my alotted portion of $700 billion and give it to, um, themselves. Not that I have much say in the matter, anyway. But it makes the airheads feel better about taking their cut if they feel they've persuaded some of us to emotionally invest in our own bamboozlement. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard George Bush muttering, "If you don't hand over $2000 to my buddy Hank right now, the terr'ists have won."

Guess I was slightly behind the curve on this book, since Oprah endorsed it to her viewers about a year and a half ago. Better late than never.

The Road is, in literary parlance, some dark and foreboding shit. Reading it, I found myself scraping the empty corners of my soul, trying to dredge up some contemporary context, straining to find a moral purchase from which to defend against the horrors McCarthy was projecting into my visual cortex. Then tonight, researching this shitty post, I discovered that McCarthy's apocalypse was not a nuclear holocaust, as I had assumed, but an impact event. So in his world, it doesn't actually matter what happens through the puny self-serving machinations of governance, the construction and arrangement of social interaction to delude the masses for the enrichment of the few, the cosmic paper-shuffle known variously as "productive employment," "public service," "spiritual enrichment," or what have you . . . in McCarthy's world, most of us are inevitably the walking dead, existing only to prepare the ragged remnants of our progeny to endure unspeakable horror and degradation in the service of no greater end than the meagre comfort of a half-empty belly and a warm campfire. And there's nothing anyone can do about it.

Even taken as a metaphor, it's pretty depressing. So Onward and Upward! Toward a Bright and Prosperous Future! Can't wait to see the movie!

And I'd offer a note to McCarthy's other readers, and to Oprah: The Road may seem familiar to some, for whom similar travails constituted their childhood. Like the horror movies and churches to which Western audiences/parishioners flock to reassure themselves that death is only a nightmare (before dying--you'd think the Creator could have come up with a less predictable plot!), the post-apocalyptic genre serves to comfort the world's wealthy billion that they will never experience the sort of deprivation and hopelessness that periodically intrudes at the margins of their consciousness. Maybe that's the moral I was looking for.

speechless, or Palin/Romney 2012!!

For my 500th post at this crappy blog, I will celebrate again the Sugar Bush Squirrel, here commenting on the vice-presidential race.

When scholars dig up relics of American culture thousands of years from now and examine nuances of construction and arrangement for glimmers of insight into our society, I hope to god they find some representation of the Sugar Bush Squirrel. And if they then exhumed and reanimated my dusty remains and compelled me through some dark art to put into context what is pictured here above, I'd be just as lost for words as I am right now . . .

Friday, September 19, 2008

economic intellectual reassessment

As venerable financial institutions bite the dust with increasing frequency and the market jumps around like a hopped-up Charlie Kelly, bloggers are trying to make sense of the broader ramifications of the financial crisis. First, Henry from Crooked Timber weighs in:

[W]hat is utterly startling to me is that . . . the claim that the state shouldn’t be directly involved in running the economy – is under serious threat too. I genuinely hadn’t expected this to happen. As the NYT notes, countries like France are using US actions as a way to justify state involvement in picking and supporting national champions. In a couple of years, perhaps we’ll see a new version of ‘le Plan’ (I’m half-joking here – but only half-joking). As Tyler says:
The economic fallout from these events is dominating the headlines. The intellectual and ideological fallout we are just beginning to contemplate.

Mark Blyth’s book, Great Transformations has a theory of the relationship between economic crises and economic ideas. Very roughly speaking, when a crisis occurs that is difficult or impossible for the prevailing wisdom to explain or deal with, intellectual entrepreneurs have an opportunity to create a new (partly self-reinforcing) collective wisdom. We’re most likely in just such a crisis now. Which set of intellectual entrepreneurs are going to succeed in reshaping a new collective wisdom – economic nationalists like Sarkozy and Putin, social democratic globalizers like Dani Rodrik, or some other crowd entirely – I have no idea.

Jim Henley thinks the national liquidity crisis could be what finally gets us out of Iraq.

Reading casually into the ongoing financial meltdown this week, I keep coming across the bottom-line explanation that the world’s, and particularly America’s, financial institutions just don’t have enough assets to cover their obligations. The dollar seems to be Wile E. Coyote now, or a less sagacious mark than Dummy 2 in the flashlight joke - tiptoeing in midair with nothing under it while gravity clears its throat and prepares. The various central banks are trying to keep it going because the various central banks have a whole freaking lot of them. But the translation of the bottom-line explanation is that the world, and particularly America, are not nearly as rich as most of us thought. Sorry! And I’m not just saying that! I can’t see how that doesn’t mean pretty much all the central banks are going to want to sneak their way out of dollars if they can. I think it’s one of those prisoner’s dilemma things.

Meanwhile, as part of Uncle Sam’s attempt to keep the whole contraption going, the Federal Government has taken on massive, massive liabilities from Fanny and Freddy and AIG and who knows what else is coming.

Things move quickly in a crisis, and now we have an idea of "what else is coming," and it doesn't look good (as John Quiggen puts it, a "US government asset purchase on a scale that will make all past nationalizations look puny.")

Jim then discusses the principal components of the federal budget.

Social Security and Medicare have - nominally - their own funding mechanism. The US is probably not going to default on the debt. Nobody in power is going to want to compound possible Depression-level demand shocks by cutting entitlements or even safety-net spending. That big red wedge [Ed.: military spending] is where the savings are to be had. Because so much of war funding has been tucked into "emergency" appropriations, the big red wedge is probably even bigger. Sorry, American Enterprise Institute, it’s over. (NB: In this case, I am just saying that - the "sorry" part.) We are about to become, fiscally, Britain after Suez and the USSR after 1989. We don’t have the money ourselves, and foreign capital will be looking for the exits. In particular, the Chinese have no long-term incentive to pay us to maintain a military that threatens China. (Short-term incentive? Sure. In the short term, complications arise.)

In five years US military spending is going to be half what it is now, one way or the other. We could have planned a graceful disengagement even a few years ago, but nobody with the power to make it happen was in the mood. Now? I suspect it’s going to be hard no matter what. I have bottomless faith in our ability to make it harder, but why go to all that trouble?

So let's do our pocketbooks a big favor and bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan! As Jim says, pretty soon, we may no longer have a choice.

I'm not quite as sanguine--I think it'll take more than a major financial crisis for Americans to decide that spending ridiculous amounts of money to invade and occupy other countries, with great loss of life on all sides, is a bad idea. But hope (in reason and common sense) springs eternal!

Finally, Roberto Lovato sounds a cautionary, but somewhat hopeful, note:

The big dividend for us, especially the poorer among us, are increasing numbers of cops, national guard, heavily-armed immigration agents and other big gun-toting types whose primary function is serving and protecting-big business. Remember: the CEO’s and their military-industrial partners knew how much funny, fake money was on their balance sheets before we did (and we still don’t know how bad things are!) and surely started laying the policing-military groundwork to “protect” their interests long ago, but did so under cover of “the war on drugs”, “getting tough on immigrants” and “defending the homeland,” to name but a few of the more well-known excuses for militarizing society before the meltdown.

In any case, ou also can get a sense of Roubini’s approach from the MSNBC interview below. Note , for example, the enormous difference between the flubby tone and outlook of the corporate talking heads and Roubini’s diamond-cutter talk as when he predicts that upwards of 700 banks, maybe even including such giants like WAMU, will go belly up before this unprecedented economic threat subsides. Let us hope it subsides soon and brings about a new economic day. Just wanted to signal alert on an economic crisis I think will also be accompanied by even more repression if history holds any lessons. This abject, dangerous failure of and increased state violence prophecied by the Free Market Religion should serve to remind us that it’s High Time to dust off our own sacred books containing the ancient knowledge of self-determination, self-defense and bottom-up socialism. So, pay close attention to this tragic economic development as the seeds of perdition and possiblity are contained therein.
We know that in times of stress, the government's preferred diversionary tactic is to hype fears of outside attack. The powers that be will be looking for another October surprise to bail them out of this mess for another four years. (Remember this? "Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President.")

Will Americans fall for the con once again this fall? If so, perhaps it's not much of a con after all, but simply a plan of action that the average voter knowingly supports. But the world community will be moving on, whether or not the U.S. can get its act together.

la confusiĆ³n de McCain

The General brings us an update on John McCain's struggle for clarity.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

do your kids deserve health insurance?

I take my talking points on health care from Ezra Klein. And apparently today, he's taking them from Brad DeLong. So here they are:

Brad DeLong has a bunch of them. I'd slim the list down to three for each candidate. For McCain:

• McCain's health care plan will increase taxes on employer-based insurance, and kick 20 million people off the rolls.

• McCain's plan will throw you into the individual market, where the same plan your employer offered will cost $2,000 more, and you can be refused care because you were sick 10 years ago.

• McCain's plan will shift costs onto the sick.

For Obama:

• Obama's plan will cover tens of millions of Americans and reform the insurance industry such that everyone gets a fair deal and no one can be discriminated against because they were once sick or unlucky.

• It will create a group market that businesses can buy their employees into so that a small business that paints homes doesn't have to run a tiny insurance company on the side and an entrepreneur can pursue his idea without having to learn about health coverage regulations.

• It will cover all children. And Christ almighty, isn't it time we did at least that?
Past time.

This topic has special salience for me this month since until October 1, I'm one of the 47 million uninsured in the U.S. Cross your fingers for me and the other 46,999,999!

Georgia man faces execution despite lack of evidence against him

From Roberto Lovato today:

This very sad news from Georgia: Troy Anthony Davis, the Georgia man whose case has garnered international attention for what many believe is a case of shattered justice, is now set to be executed next week. Davis was sentenced to death for the alleged murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia; a murder he maintains he did not commit. Georgia authorities decided to move forward with Davis’s execution even though there was no physical evidence against him and even though the weapon used in the crime was never found. Unless immediate action is taken, he will be executed by the state based on a case made up entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.
Michelle Garcia, in her Amnesty International Magazine's article on Troy Davis, discusses key eye witnesses who withdrew their original testimony condemning Davis (linked to in Roberto's post):
It took nearly a decade for D.D. Collins, who was also at the scene of the shooting, to recant his eyewitness testimony; he had been just 16 when police took him in for questioning without his parents present. “I was scared as hell,” he said in his 2002 statement. “They told me I would go to jail for a long time and I would be lucky if I got out.”

And it wasn't until 2000 that Dorothy Ferrell, a convicted shoplifter who attorneys had argued provided compelling testimony against Davis, signed an affidavit recanting. “I had four children. I couldn’t go back to jail,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t have any choice but to get up there and testify."
Take action to stop this execution here.

accepting my 'pastitude'


Looks like Sarah Palin wants what many of us already have - Brown Skin

Actually, I caught this bit about Sarah Palin installing a tanning bed in the Alaska’s governor mansion yesterday, but it just illustrates the level of vanity and superficiality, which I recently addressed here with this woman. All of this is made more ironic when you consider that Senator McCain has been treated multiple times for melanoma. Personal tanning beds can cost as much as $35,000, which is not out of the ordinary for most folks from small town America, right?
I laughed when I saw the headline. I imagine she'd like the darker skin but maybe not the latinidad that goes with it.

Election commentary aside, I don't know why it seems nobody is happy with their skin color. I've been known to lay out in my back yard (when I had one), on the roof of the building (when I thought the landlady wouldn't catch me), or on the beach for purely cosmetic reasons. My Mii of choice is not the one that looks like me--shaved head, pale skin, blocky glasses--but one with brown skin and a full head of spiky black hair. Even my pseudonym doesn't reflect my Welsh/Scots/English/Scandinavian heritage, but that is probably why I stuck with it. Growing up white in Utah, Texas, and Hawaii, self-deprecatory humor about "pastiness" and ghostly white legs and bellies in the spring and winter months was an essential part of any skin-baring activity (swimming, skinny dipping, etc.). Bronzed skin was always the gold standard.

Then I look at the thriving market for skin bleaching products in Asia and Africa and scratch my head. I watch the Mexican telenovelas on Univision (now in HD!) and wonder why none of the actors look like my clients (in fact, some seem to my untrained eye to have landed roles principally based on their blond hair and blue eyes ... and, ahem, acting skills). I watch(ed) with bemusement as the Chinese women of Bensonhurst walk under umbrellas on sunny days.

It'd be healthier, psychically and physically, for each of us to simply accept the lot we're dealt at birth, but then that's not human nature, is it.

[Adding that the reasons for and consequences of whites aspiring to be tan and nonwhites adopting trappings of whiteness are vastly different and this post doesn't begin to address them.

Also noting that "accepting the lot we're dealt at birth" doesn't come near to adequately characterizing the social implications of skin color. But before I end up fisking my own post, I'll just leave it at that.]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

immigration posts

Here are my posts from the past week elsewhere:

McCain distorts Obama's record on immigration

remembering those who have died shows wait times for citizenship "approach infinity"

Musical Monday - Arcade Fire - Black Wave / Bad Vibrations

shoe on the other foot

Jill at Jack and Jill Politics has a message for the journalists who read her blog:

From Letters to the Editors @ Fort Worth Star-Telegram

How racism works

What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?

What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said “I do” to?

What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?

What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama were a member of the “Keating 5″?

What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

— Kelvin LaFond, Fort Worth

Posted at 12:05 AM in Letters to the Editor, U.S. Politics
To which I’d add — what if one of Obama’s kids was teenage and pregnant? What if one of his kids was rumored to be an Oxycontin addict? What if Obama just did not know the basics of our mortgage system and how Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae work (like Palin)? What if he and Michelle belonged at one point to a fringe political party advocating secession from the United States (like Palin)? What if he lied to the American public about his opponents’ record and positions over and over and over?
Those seem like reasonable questions.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike hits Texas

I am hoping from Philadelphia that the people of southeast Texas, including blogmigo XP, are able to weather the storm that is hitting them right now.

I went to grade school in Houston, and one of the bayous mentioned in this article ran behind our house in Spring Branch. During one storm, the 20-foot bayou filled to the top and suddenly there was a brown river running behind our back yard. I can only imagine what happens when the bayous’ capacity is overwhelmed and those rivers spill over into neighborhoods.

I hope the damage is contained and the relief assistance can get to where it needs to go. Our thoughts are with you tonight, Texas.

U.S. strikes Pakistan, nominal ally

From Charlie Gibson’s interview last night with Sarah Palin:

GIBSON: Do we have the right to be making cross-border attacks into Pakistan from Afghanistan, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?

PALIN: Now, as for our right to invade, we're going to work with these countries, building new relationships, working with existing allies, but forging new, also, in order to, Charlie, get to a point in this world where war is not going to be a first option. In fact, war has got to be, a military strike, a last option.

GIBSON: But, Governor, I'm asking you: We have the right, in your mind, to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government.

PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.
In other news today:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — As the American campaign against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas seemed to intensify, two missiles fired from American pilotless drones killed 12 people Friday in an attack on a village compound in North Waziristan, according to a local journalist and television reports.

. . .

The missiles were fired at a village called Tole Khel, two miles east of Miranshah, and the dead included women and children, according to residents speaking to Pakistani reporters. There was no immediate word on the reported attack from American or Pakistani military authorities.

Pakistan’s government has little control in the tribal areas which the United States regards as safe havens for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. In July, President Bush approved secret orders permitting American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

Earlier this month, American forces raided a Pakistani village near the Afghan border in an attack that angered Pakistani officials who asserted that it achieved little except killing civilians and stoking anti-Americanism in the tribal areas.
Using the U.S. military means never having to say you’re sorry . . .

Obama’s not much better on this point, IIRC.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Peaches come from a can
they were put there by a man
in a factory downtown . . .
I forgot about this video.

I had not remembered that the two guys in the band who are not the drummer look like an accountant and a tech guy. I guess you could get away with that in the '90s.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

more civilian deaths in Afghanistan

There's a consensus forming outside the U.S. that last month's airstrike by U.S. forces in Afghanistan did, in fact, kill a large number of civilians, many of whom were children.

To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: more than 90 civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed.

The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.

Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable.

For two weeks, the United States military has insisted that only 5 to 7 civilians, and 30 to 35 militants, were killed in what it says was a successful operation against the Taliban: a Special Operations ground mission backed up by American air support.

. . .

The Afghan government is demanding changes in the accords defining the United States military engagement in Afghanistan, in particular ending American military raids on villages and halting the detention of Afghan citizens.

“People are sick of hearing there is another case of civilian casualties,” one presidential aide said.
I think what he or she means is “Americans are sick of hearing there is another case of civilian casualties.” Afghans are probably sick of being blown up by American bombs.

I don’t know what’s more upsetting, that the U.S. government is still set on denying the reports that have been confirmed by substantial evidence, including now from U.S. citizen reporters, or that the U.S. public doesn’t appear to care much that it’s government is blowing children into small pieces in its name and on its dime.

The outlines of a cynical strategy emerge: deny, deny, deny for the first week or two until the story recedes from the front pages, then concede in bits and pieces until the story is broken up and defused over time and new distractions materialize. End result: some tiny fraction of the U.S. voting public will remember this story 6 months from now, and most of those who do will reassure themselves that there was some controversy about that strike, wasn’t there, and didn’t the military say it wasn’t true what the UN was alleging, and the Taliban—my god, when was David Hasselhoff replaced by an android?

So let’s take a moment now to internalize just exactly what it is that our military is doing right now in Afghanistan.
Accounts from survivors, including three people wounded in the bombing, described repeated strikes on houses where dozens of children were sleeping, grandparents and uncles and aunts huddled inside with them. Most of the village families were asleep when the shooting broke out, some sleeping out under mosquito nets in the yards of their houses, some inside the small domed rooms of their houses, lying close together on the floor, with up to 10 or 20 people in a room.

. . .

Yakhakhan, 51, one of several men in the village working for a private security firm, and who uses just one name, said he heard shooting and was just coming out of his house when he saw his neighbor’s sons running.

“They were killed right here; they were 10 and 7 years old,” he said. In the compound next to his, he said, four entire families, including those of his two brothers, were killed. “They bombard us, they hate us, they kill us,” he said of the Americans. “God will punish them.”
I’m waiting for Eric Martin to highlight this passage
“This is not fair to kill 90 people for one Mullah Sadiq,” said Mr. Umarzai, the district chief. “If they continue like this, they will lose the people’s confidence in the government and the coalition forces.”
and bemoan the further loss of prestige and influence abroad that this signals. I’m waiting for Matt Yglesias to explain why Iraq is a diversion from real counterterrorism efforts and we need to send more troops to Afghanistan.

[To clarify, I think Martin's and Yglesias's priorities are misplaced and, though they've criticized Bush foreign policy consistently and persuasively, that is not enough. The Democratic Party and the mainstream left has bought into the Afghanistan War, which is why significant discussions about leaving that country are not even taking place.]

I’m waiting for someone to explain why we are blowing up children.

IOZ observes that we had to

. . . destroy the village in order to save it. This shit happens all the time, and it's worth noting in passing just how dishonest is our whole Liberation theme here. You invade a country and depose its tyrannical government. The insane Buddha-blower-uppers go underground and mount an insurgency along with some various and sundry allies. From time to time, some of them enter a village or town in order to . . . what? Resupply? Grab some food and water? Kidnap a hostage or two. And what do you do? You call in air support and bomb the fuck out of the place, then deny that you killed any civilians. Dudes, you bombed a village. One begins to suspect that rather than going to the logistical trouble of constructing suicide bombs, these guys are just rolling into town, waving their hands, and waiting for the Americans to come and kill everyone for them.
Can someone remind me—why are we in Afghanistan as we now approach 2009?

hello Philly!

My wife and I have just relocated to Philly where she will begin teaching this fall at Drexel University. It has been strange the last week not going to work every day as I had for the four previous years since I graduated from law school. My employment situation is somewhat up in the air at the moment. I'll either be working at a local nonprofit or working as a solo practitioner here--under either scenario, I'll keep doing immigration representation, ideally working in the same low-income communities that I did in Brooklyn.

So big changes are underway! It's exciting--I relish change and a feeling of adventure, while these things tend to make my wife anxious. I know she is looking forward to getting started teaching soon, though.

So, my god, the views from our apartment are rather stunning and I feel compelled to share them here. Here's the sunset we're treated to after baking for two hours in our currently un-curtained west-facing apartment:

And here is the view at night.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Orson Scott Card: NOT a homophobe

Orson Scott Card’s latest anti-gay screed (via IOZ) is the equivalent of an early ’70s manifesto defending the restriction of the priesthood to non-blacks. The more out of whack with mainstream sentiment the cherished exclusionary position gets, the more passionately (and incoherently) it is defended.

Outspoken critics of positive social change like Card only serve to remind the younger generations who are behind the emerging consensus how ossified and absurd the institutional religious position is. A sampling:

Already in several states, there are textbooks for children in the earliest grades that show "gay marriages" as normal. How long do you think it will be before such textbooks become mandatory -- and parents have no way to opt out of having their children taught from them?

How long, indeed? Soon, dutiful parents will have no choice but to pull their kids out of public school and force them to watch the entire Left Behind series on an endless loop (or The Work and the Glory, for LDS nippers). [Image: PBS]

How dangerous is this, politically? Please remember that for the mildest of comments critical of the political agenda of homosexual activists, I have been called a "homophobe" for years.
This is a term that was invented to describe people with a pathological fear of homosexuals -- the kind of people who engage in acts of violence against gays. But the term was immediately extended to apply to anyone who opposed the homosexual activist agenda in any way.
How I revel in promoting the homosexual activist agenda. I sit at home at night thinking up ways to subvert traditional marriage and turn our beautiful suburbs by stealth into modern-day outposts of Gomorrah. Homosexual-activist-agenda-promoters weren’t content to let misguided anti-gay tropes that perpetuate a climate of fear and disgust and lead to anti-gay violence stand without challenge. So they pointed out how unreasonable and unsupportable opposition to equal rights for gays was. This was a step too far for some.

Remember how rapidly gay marriage has become a requirement. When gay rights were being enforced by the courts back in the '70s and '80s, we were repeatedly told by all the proponents of gay rights that they would never attempt to legalize gay marriage.

My personal goal is to require straight men across America to experience at least a year or two of gay marriage to give them a more empathetic perspective on the travails of adherents to the homosexual activist agenda.

I’m left wondering what distortion of common English usage Card has deployed to decide that same-sex marriage has become a “requirement.” Last I saw, same-sex marriage was still illegal in all but two states, one of which will not permit same-sex marriages between residents of the great majority of other states. Even in the two jurisdictions where it is permitted, gay couples are in no sense “required” to get married there. And straight people are certainly not “required” to gay marry.

These are the common sense meanings of the phrase “gay marriage has become a requirement,” but clearly no one is proposing that these absurd scenarios be legally mandated.

In using this terminology, Card seems to share Atrios’s fear that the government will “try to make me gay marry a dude.”

Here's the irony: There is no branch of government with the authority to redefine marriage. Marriage is older than government. Its meaning is universal: It is the permanent or semipermanent bond between a man and a woman, establishing responsibilities between the couple and any children that ensue.

Here’s the irony: Card carefully words his definition to permit the polygynous marriages that formed such a central part of the early LDS experience, and still feature in the doctrine of eternal sealing among family members (men and women receive differential treatment in the spiritual consequences of second marriages). Perhaps also ironic are the Old Testament heroes of polygamy, David and Solomon, who each had hundreds, if not thousands, of wives and concubines. In claiming that government cannot redefine marriage, is Card taking a stand in defense of polygamy? If so, more power to him—I see no compelling reason to legally preclude polyamorous relationships between consenting adults. But Card will quickly run into trouble if he condemns gay marriage while remaining silent on the topic of polygamy.

I’m always reminded in these discussions of the ignominious doctrinal walkback that Bruce R. McConkie performed on behalf of the LDS leadership after President Kimball’s seminal 1978 revelation sanctioning the priesthood for blacks. Rereading McConkie’s words, it’s not hard to transpose this debate onto that one, and wonder why, as in the perennial, illogical renovation of nativism in the immigration debate, our social institutions so rarely learn from past mistakes.

There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren that we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, "You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?" All I can say is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the Gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the Gentiles.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

watching strangers play Rock Band

I don't know what's more disturbing, that people have filmed themselves playing Rock Band and posted it on youtube, or that I am actually watching it.

Note the taped up drums, indicating high levels of use, and the ability to play decent drum solos, indicating that maybe if you play Rock Band long enough, you can actually learn an instrument ... ?

This is a very strange world we live in.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

urban riots - a thing of the past?

I watched Do the Right Thing again a few weeks ago. In some ways it seems very much the product of 1989 that it is (Rosie Perez's dance scene in the opening credits, Spandex biker shorts on every man, woman and child); in most ways it holds up very well. To borrow from Spike Lee, who will remember Driving Miss Daisy in 20 years?

The movie was not well-received by white critics at the time. New York Magazine recently revisited former NYMag columnist Joe Klein's notorious prediction that the film would spark riots among black audiences upon its release. Spike Lee remembers it not-so-fondly:

New York’s former political columnist Joe Klein and its former film critic David Denby had very strong reactions.
One of the big criticisms was that I had not provided an answer for racism in the movie, which is insane. And what’s even more insane is people like Joe Klein and David Denby felt that this film was going to cause riots. Young black males were going to emulate Mookie and throw garbage cans through windows. Like, “How dare you release this film in summertime: You know how they get in the summertime, this is like playing with fire.” I hold no grudges against them. But that was twenty years ago and it speaks for itself.
Klein's original article doesn't seem to be available, but this Time article from Richard Corliss titled "Hot Time in Bed-Stuy Tonight" is.
Everywhere, the film has polarized white liberals for whom Bed-Stuy is as exotic and unknowable as Burkina Faso. Some see Lee as the movies' great black hope; others tut till they're tuckered. A few fear that Do the Right Thing could trigger the kind of riot it dramatizes and perhaps condones.
I doubt white liberals were the only ones with opinions on the film, but they seem to be the only ones whose opinions were discussed in contemporaneous newsmagazine columns.

I don't know why it is but columnists never seem to expend much ink worrying about the "shenanigans" of white sports fans, for instance, these in Boston after the Celtics won the NBA championship on Tuesday (via).

Love of basketball causes drunken sports fans to riot--Richard Cohen or David Brooks better get on this alarming social trend right away ...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"Afghanistan is not our country any more"

Here’s a story I just read in the Toronto Star. To summarize:

On the highway to Kabul, one of the open-bed trucks in a U.S. military convoy in Afghanistan had been improperly loaded and its containing straps had been snapped, spilling munitions all over the road.

The Americans stopped traffic but didn’t bother explaining why. An ambulance carrying the victim of a motorcycle accident was caught in the jam, unable to pass. While the Americans threatened anyone who approached with machine guns, the victim was lying there dying.

The journalist who wrote the piece couldn’t watch this happen, so she approached the convoy. She was afraid she’d be shot, as this happens often to people who approach military convoys. One soldier at his turret aimed his machine gun at her, and another one came over to scream at her.

Finally, the soldiers allowed the ambulance to pass.

When an ambulance passes by on the street with sirens on and lights flashing, which happens often here in New York City, motorists and pedestrians are expected to get out of the way, no matter what. This is based on the principle that, however much a hurry you are in, if someone’s life is in danger, you will step aside and patiently wait for the vehicle to get through.

Our soldiers are supposedly in Afghanistan to protect Afghanis. If that is so, then why do they so often end up protecting themselves at the cost of Afghani lives? Our entire presence in the country is represented by this anecdote.

Here is what the journalist was told by her Afghani driver at the scene of the incident:

"This is why Afghans have come to hate Americans," said my driver, who works as an interpreter for ISAF and is a strong advocate of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is not our country any more. They are our bosses. They treat us sometimes as if we are trespassing on our own land."

Is this freedom? Is this liberty? Is this democracy?

No, this is empire.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Citizen Orange

As I get lazier and lazier, I'm now just posting links to recent immigration-themed posts of mine over at Citizen Orange.

support the Uniting American Families Act

U.S. set to give Uzbekistan a free hand to repress its people

emotional trauma of splitting up families is long-lasting

one deportation: Armando's story


Also, read about Citizen Orange in the Chicago Tribune. The author doesn't seem to understand the sanctuarysphere, but it's not all bad.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

one deportation: Armando's story

A few weeks back, I ran across the story at RaceWire of Armando, a Honduran who had lived all but 9 months of his 26 years in the U.S. Armando wrote to RaceWire's Raha Jorjani from immigration detention about his thoughts and experiences:

I have been “detained” by the Department of Homeland Security for over ten months now, as I had been fighting my deportation case and hoping for a second chance. I really don’t like the word detained because I feel it is a word used by “them” in an attempt to lessen the truth; that I am their prisoner.

It seems all I have been doing in my life is adapting to major changes, one after the other. From the loss of my father at seventeen, to adapting to military life, to getting used to a 6x9 cell. I have had to make some major adjustments and I have come to learn that change is inevitable.

However, I never would have guessed that I would now be getting ready to be deported to a country I know nothing about. I never thought I would be preparing to be banished from the only country I have known, the country I volunteered to fight for, and not to mention the country that my family lives in.
[Continued at Citizen Orange and the Sanctuary.]

Monday, May 26, 2008

no more cowbell!

It's Memorial Day, so the asshat with the cowbell is back. God help us.

Bush administration takes unprecedented punitive action against Postville workers

Julia Preston at the New York Times reported Saturday on an alarming development in the Postville debacle:

In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds here, 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.

The prosecutions, which ended Friday, signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration’s crackdown on illegal workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested in a May 12 raid. Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration officials for civil violations and rapidly deported.

[Continued at Citizen Orange or the Sanctuary.]

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Uploaded by KayM4ster

Modeselektor with TTC.

I don't know what they're saying, but I like it. Happy Birthday! is a great album overall.

And I thought this was entertaining, though again I'd probably have more to say about it if I understood French:

Friday, May 23, 2008

FLDS children going home

The FLDS children in Texas will likely be going back to their homes soon after a higher state court ruling:

HOUSTON — A Texas appeals court ruled on Thursday that the state had illegally seized up to 468 children from their homes at a polygamist ranch in West Texas. The decision abruptly threw the largest custody case in recent American history into turmoil.

Although the court did not order the children’s immediate release, it raised the prospect that many of them would be reunited with their families, possibly within 10 days. The children have been in foster homes scattered across Texas since early April, making their parents travel hundreds of miles to visit them.

I had doubts from the start that sweeping up all the children in a community, separating them from their siblings, and throwing them into foster care was in the best interests of the children in every case. There has been evidence of abuses, and young teenagers shouldn’t be permitted to be married off to old men by their parents, but there are better ways to police the situation than raiding the community and taking away all the kids.

The case began on April 3, when Texas investigators, saying they were responding to a girl’s call for help, raided the 1,691-acre Yearning for Zion ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo.

The caller was never found, and investigators now suspect that the call was a hoax.

. . .

The appeals judges who ruled, Chief Justice W. Kenneth Law and Justices Robert. H. Pemberton and Alan Waldrop, all Republicans, said removing children from their homes was “an extreme measure” justifiable only in the event of urgent or immediate danger.

Instead, the court said, the state argued that the “belief system” at the ranch condoned under-age marriage and pregnancy and that the whole ranch functioned as a “household” in which sexual abuse anywhere threatened children in the entire community.

But in reality, the judges said, there was no evidence of widespread abuse, and they faulted the district judge, Barbara Walther, for approving the children’s removal based on insufficient grounds.

. . .

Jim Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said it was highly unusual for an appeals court to intervene in a continuing case, especially one involving child protection.

“It showed the proof was really weak, not a close call at all,” Professor Cohen said.

Tim Edwards, a lawyer in San Angelo who represents four mothers, said: “This is a wonderful day. It confirms not only my feeling, but the feeling of many, many attorneys involved in the case, that Child Protective Services failed to meet their burden of proof to justify a court order to remove more than 400 children from their homes for the last six or seven weeks.”

Mr. Edwards said even if the children went home soon, the effects were likely to linger.

“You’re talking about a situation that is traumatic to many people,” he said, “and the recovery from that trauma may be slow in coming.”

. . .

Laura Nugent, a lawyer in Austin who represents four of the children, said she was thrilled. “I feel this is the correct way to rule on the evidence,” Ms. Nugent said. “I felt all along that the department did not bear their burden of proof.”

Ms. Nugent, whose clients are 6, 10, 11 and 12, said she was unsure whether the ruling applied to all the children she represented and was awaiting details.

“They all want to go home,” she said. “They are emphatic that they want to go home and be reunited with their parents and their siblings.”

Which raises a question: everybody seems to “know” what is best for children of this age, but did anyone think to ask the children themselves? Presumably they should at least have their opinions about where and with whom they want to grow up heard.

It was not the first time a raid on polygamists may have backfired. In 1953 Arizona authorities under Gov. Howard Pyle raided the fundamentalist community of Short Creek, which is now Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, taking about 160 children into state custody.

But the custody ruling was overturned on appeal in 1955 after lawyers for the children argued that they were denied adequate legal representation. Most of the women and children then returned to Short Creek to join their husbands, who had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy to commit unlawful cohabitation and were sentenced to one year on probation. Governor Pyle lost the 1954 election.

Mohave County Judge J.W. Faulkner later said he made a legal “blunder” during the custody hearings, writing after his retirement in 1955 that the reversal “will inevitably give new life to the cause of polygamy, and prolonging the fight for another 50 years."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

nativism: a global problem

I posted last week about an Italian man who was locked up by Customs and Border Patrol for 10 days without cause and then sent back to Italy. (We had one commenter with what appeared to be inside knowledge of CBP procedures come to defend CBP’s actions and cast aspersions on the NY Times reporter who broke the story, the detained man, and his girlfriend’s father.) This story was just one more bit of evidence of our deeply warped immigration policy. The problematic Postville raid and the disclosure of scores of deaths in immigration detention over the past few years are two more.

But for anyone who thought that nativism and government overreach were strictly American phenomena, the last week has shown otherwise.

[Continued at Citizen Orange; cross-posted at the Sanctuary.]

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

the Sanctuary

Duke from Migra Matters announces the launch of the Sanctuary, a website designed to give a voice to migrants and migrant advocates. It's an open forum in the Daily Kos model--anyone can join and post diaries, and there are built-in anti-troll measures based on community ratings. Some long-standing immigration bloggers have signed on as founding editors, and I'll be cross-posting there as well. Check it out, leave a comment, even put up a diary. Make yourself heard!

After months of planning and work, I'm proud to announce the opening of a new on-line community for all those interested in humane and practical immigration reform, migrant-rights, human-rights, and the greater struggle of all who those have left friends and family behind to start new lives in new lands.

The Sanctuary is a grassroots effort of a group of pro-migrant, human-rights, and civil-rights bloggers and on-line activists dedicated to the enactment of meaningful immigration reform that is practical, rational, fair and most of all humane.

Started to help offset the growing influence of right-wing, anti-immigrant, voices that have thus far dominated the debate, it's mission is to create a broad community of on-line pro-migrant activists, and translate digital activism into real-world, practical action.

The Sanctuary is intended to be a "cyber-sanctuary", free from the din of right-wing noise, where those working towards meaningful reform can come together in the hope of magnifying their individual efforts through community action and cooperation, and build bridges with like-minded activists from a wide cross-section of the political spectrum.

By working in cooperation with mainstream organizations and advocacy groups involved in the struggle for immigrant and human rights, we hope to build an issue-focused on-line community that facilitates direct communications and coordination between on-line activists, the new media, and those working daily in Washington, and on the ground to effect change.

After years of having the debate over immigration reform controlled by forces of intolerance and hate, while pro-migrant voices played defense in hopes of swaying public discourse, we are about to go on the offense against ignorance, bigotry, and hate – and The Sanctuary is just the first step in that offensive.

More on The Sanctuary from some of the other founding editors

Announcing the Launch of The Sanctuary by ManEegee from Latino Politico

Path to the Oasis by Nexua from The Unapologetic Mexican

The Sanctuary — A New Nexus by Kai from Zuky

"The Sanctuary" launch! by KetyE from Cross Left

Monday, May 19, 2008

why Clinton is losing

Jodi Kantor in the NY Times ponders the impact of gender discrimination on Clinton’s impending loss. She raises a few good points:

But as others watched a campaign that starred two possibly transformative figures, they felt a growing conviction that the contest was unfair. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters point to a nagging series of slights: the fixation on her clothes, even her cleavage; chronic criticism that her voice is shrill; calls for her to exit the race; and most of all, the male commentators in the news media who, they argue, were consistently tougher on her than on Mr. Obama.

But, Matt Yglesias wonders, how can you talk about Clinton’s likely loss in the primary and not talk about her famous 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq?

Lots of interesting material in Michelle Cottle's notebook dump on what various Clintonistas think the campaign did wrong.

. . .

[I]t's fascinating to me that nobody mentioned the war. Clinton supported the war. In retrospect, the war was a terrible idea. Her support for it was a mistake. What's more, it's inconceivable to me that Obama's campaign could have gotten off the ground had Clinton spent 2002 and 2003 as a lonely liberal voice speaking out against the war, then spent 2005 and 2006 being completely vindicated in her judgment. It's not just that Obama wouldn't have beaten her, he wouldn't have run at all -- it would have been preposterous. She would have faced a from-the-right challenge in the primary that would have gotten some attention but never posed any real threat.

But Clinton's error on the war opened up serious doubts about her substantive and political judgment about one of the highest-profile issues of the moment. In many ways it's a testament to how brilliant her campaign was all throughout 2007 and 2008 that they never allowed the war issue to bury her, considering that an overwhelming majority of Democratic primary voters think she made a mistake.

I’ll take this opportunity to be super-annoying and post excerpts from a couple of letters I emailed Senator Clinton over the past few years. A resident of New York since 2001, from time to time I exercised my prerogative to give my Senators an earful (until I realized they just weren’t listening).

I first wrote her and Senator Schumer in October 2002, asking them not to support the war authorization, but I didn’t make a copy of whatever I sent them.

Then I sent Senator Clinton this letter in December 2004:

I write to encourage you to reconsider your stance regarding Iraq and the war on terror given a the recent DOD strategic communications report from the Defence Science Board. The Dec. 5 Sunday Herald states that "[o]n 'the war of ideas or the struggle for hearts and minds', the report says, 'American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended'.

'American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of, and support for, radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies.'" The report goes on to say that "Muslims do not ‘hate our freedoms’, but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing support, for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states."

It seems evident that the hard-nosed approach to the war on terror being pursued by the current administration is having massive unintended consequences, in the form of increased support for Al-qaeda in the Muslim world and decreased US legitimacy. That is largely because stated US goals and objectives (promoting democracy in the Middle East, protecting the US from imminent threats) have not aligned with real ones (stabilizing the energy supply, projecting US power into the heart of a hostile region). It may be easy enough to justify US actions in Iraq to a domestic audience, but the flimsy arguments that have been put forward will not convince the Muslims who need to be convinced for the war on terror to succeed.

In October 2002, I urged you and Senator Schumer to vote against giving the president the authority to go to war in Iraq. I knew then that the president was not going to Iraq for the right reasons, and that starting a war against a country that had not attacked us, and was in no position to do so, right in the heart of the middle east, would be hugely counterproductive. (This is the "naked self interest" argument against the war. There are other persuasive arguments against the war, foremost among them the fact that we now have the blood of thousands of innocent civilians on our hands.) You ignored my advice and continue to position yourself as a hawk in the war on terror. As pleasing as the short-term domestic political results of this approach may be, it will backfire in the long run, both politically and for the people of the US and the middle east.

As someone who supports 90% of your policies, I strongly encourage you to rethink your position on Iraq. This isn't just about poor execution of a good idea, as many have cast it, including Senator Kerry in the recent presidential race. Launching a preventive war in Iraq was deeply flawed conceptually, and will have dire consequences for Americans abroad and at home for years to come. This is still a minority view at home, but as we reap the benefits of our actions in Iraq, it will gain traction with your constituents. I urge you to be at the forefront of that sea change, not reluctantly dragged along by it.

I can no longer say I support 90% of Clinton’s policies. That’s probably more a reflection of changes in my views than in hers, though.

Noting that the good senator opted not to take any of my advice or that of the legions of other constituents upset about the war, I wrote again in July 2006:

I applaud you for your recent statement expressing your support for the winner of the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut later this summer. Senator Lieberman has done more to damage the prospects for a national Democratic resurgence than almost anyone else in the party. His unquestioning support for the war in Iraq and for President Bush is unconscionable, and also extremely foolish politically given that these are the issues that Democratic voters are most concerned about at the moment.

I urge you to revisit your own position on the war in Iraq. The administration's policy has demonstrably failed. The administration has made clear that it is incapable of resolving the situation in an effective, competent manner. The country looks to Congress for alternatives to the current policy of failure, particularly to the Democrats. You are uniquely positioned to give voice to the discontent of the majority of voters who are dissatisfied with the administration's policies on the war in Iraq and the war on terror. We cannot afford "more of the same" for another three years and possibly beyond. Also, from a political point of view, I encourage you to view Senator Lieberman's current situation as a test case for the 2008 presidential primary. You will not make it through the 2008 primary unless your current position on Iraq changes. It doesn't matter what the polls say now, the political situation is dynamic and the momentum is with Lamont and other leaders like him who are giving voice to the massive frustration of voters on the left. So I ask you, as your constituent, to lead rather than follow. I believe that your recent statement expressing your commitment to the winner of the Connecticut primary is a step in the right direction.

Realizing how little attention powerful senators like Clinton and Schumer pay to emailed letters, I decided to stop wasting my time. But the point of this post is that any examination of Clinton’s failure in 2008 should start and end with the war in Iraq. If she’d made the right choice in 2002, she would have been in a position to destroy any opposition in 2007-2008.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

slumber will come soon

The word of the day is "slumber."

So, you're feeling unimportant,
'Cuz you've got nothing to say.
And your live is just a ramble
No one understands you anyway

Well, I've got a piece of news son,
That might make you change your mind
Your life is historically meaningful
And spans a significant time

Slumber will come soon
And you are helping to put it to sleep
Side by side we do our share
Faithfully assuring that
Slumber will come soon.

Well, now do you feel a little better
Lift up your head and walk away
Knowing we're all in this togeter
For such a short time anyway

There is just no time to parade around sulking
I would rather laugh than cry
The rich, the poor, the strong, the weak
We share this place together
And we pitch into help it die

I'm not too good at giving morals
And I don't fear the consequence
If life makes you scared and bitter
At least it's not for very long

Slumber will come soon.

--Greg Graffin

Slumber. Embrace it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

wrong again

One of the vanishingly few political positions the LDS church has staked out a firm position on since the 19th Century was its opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, opposition which helped lead to the amendment's defeat. First proposed in 1923, the amendment is quite simple:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
The proposed amendment hardly even seems controversial anymore. Maybe it wouldn't be except for its potential ramifications for the gay marriage debate. Which brings us to one of the only other political positions the LDS church committed itself to: opposition to same-sex marriage. In particular, the church helped bankroll Proposition 22, which added to the California Civil Code the provision that "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

One all-too-common result of the church's institutionalized homophobia is depression and suicide among LGBT Mormons. From a Salt Lake Tribune article published just before the initiative passed:
Just last week, a 32-year-old gay Mormon man put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger on the steps of a Mormon chapel in Northern California. He was profoundly opposed to Proposition 22, though his family insists the suicide was not politically motivated.
Once again, the church finds itself on the wrong side of history, as Prop 22 was invalidated by the state's high court yesterday.

The California Supreme Court struck a historic but possibly short-lived blow for gay rights Thursday, overturning a state law that allowed only opposite-sex couples to marry.

In a 4-3 ruling that elicited passionate responses on both sides of the debate and touched off celebrations at San Francisco City Hall - the scene of nearly 4,000 same-sex weddings four years ago that were invalidated months later - the court said the right to marry in California extends equally to all, gay and straight alike.

The state Constitution's guarantees of personal privacy and autonomy protect "the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one's choice," said Chief Justice Ronald George, who wrote the 121-page majority opinion. He said the Constitution "properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples."

. . .

The high court - with a 6-1 majority of Republican appointees, including George - is the second in the nation after Massachusetts' to declare a right of same-sex couples to marry. It is the first high court to rule that the state's Constitution forbids all discrimination based on sexual orientation with the same strict type of prohibition that applies to bias based on race, sex or religion.
The judges drew explicit parallels to the black civil rights struggle of the last century.

Not long into the oral argument before the California Supreme Court in March over whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry, Chief Justice Ronald M. George showed his hand.

Three times he quoted from the court’s 1948 decision in Perez v. Sharp that struck down a state ban on interracial marriage, a high point in the history of a prestigious and influential court.

“The essence of the right to marry is freedom to join in marriage with the person of one’s choice,” Chief Justice George said, quoting Perez.

That was when Shannon P. Minter, a lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, knew things were looking good for his side. The chief justice seemed to be accepting arguments for same-sex marriage that were consciously rooted in the struggle for equal rights for blacks.

And this in a court with a solid majority of GOP appointees! Back to the SF Gate:

[T]he court majority rejected an array of legal justifications for excluding gays and lesbians from marriage, including religious conservatives' argument that same-sex matrimony would alter the definition of marriage and weaken the institution.

Allowing same-sex couples to marry "will not deprive opposite-sex couples of any rights and will not alter the legal framework of the institution of marriage," George said.

Addressing the same groups' related argument that marriage should be reserved for couples who can procreate, George said the right to marry "has never been limited to those who plan or desire to have children."

. . .

Marriage, George said, is not just a bundle of rights, but is a relationship uniquely honored by the state and society. Confining same-sex couples to a different category marks them with "second-class citizenship," the chief justice said.

As for the argument that marriage has historically been reserved for a man and a woman, George said that even the most widely accepted traditions "often mask an unfairness and inequality" that only the victims understand.

One justice positioned herself in the mushy middle:

Justice Carol Corrigan, Schwarzenegger's sole appointee to the court, said in a separate dissent that she personally believes "Californians should allow our gay and lesbian neighbors to call their unions marriages." But she said public opinion is to the contrary, at least for now, and should be allowed to run its course.

"When ideas are imposed," Corrigan said, "opposition hardens and progress may be hampered."

That is--how can I put this politely--bullshit. Call it what you want, call it upholding God's word, call it fighting the work of the devil, but don't call standing in the way of marriage equality "progress."

The church's current leaders leave the task of explaining the church's stark opposition to basic equal rights to the next generation, burdening them with all the logical and moral contortions this will produce. Some will consequently choose, as I did, to simply abandon the whole project.