Monday, February 25, 2008

nobody tells me anything

The breakdancers on the D Train tonight were wearing tight pants. I mean, Sex Pistols, Wassup Rockers tight. I couldn't tell if it helped or hindered movement. The moves appeared to be the same as usual (these kids were 13, for God's sake--they weren't doing anything too innovative or sophisticated), just the look was different.

The B-boys are fun to watch sometimes, just as long as I don't get kicked in the face.

Occupation Dreamland: Iraq and immigration

Watching Occupation Dreamland, a 2005 documentary about the war in Iraq, it occurred to me that the effects of the citizen/noncitizen dynamic we’ve seen in the U.S. with inhumane and unjust treatment of immigrants in places like Don Hutto, New Bedford, and Oklahoma—presumption of guilt, inhumane treatment of noncitizens, fear and demonization of outsiders, and racism—are exponentially more devastating in Iraq in a war setting.

Iraqis have been arrested and locked up without charge or trial. They have been beaten, tortured, raped, and killed by their ostensible protectors—U.S. soldiers and contractors—very few of whom have faced serious consequences for their actions.

What few procedural guarantees exist for noncitizens in the U.S. are almost entirely lacking in Iraq.

[Continued at Citizen Orange]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

paranoia or pragmatism?

I was talking politics yesterday with a friend in town for the weekend, and he said all his coworkers support Obama except four middle-aged black women who support Clinton because they are convinced if Obama is elected, he will be assassinated.

Hhm, I thought, that’s weird. A little paranoid, maybe?

But then I saw this tonight in the NY Times:

There is a hushed worry on the minds of many supporters of Senator Barack Obama, echoing in conversations from state to state, rally to rally: Will he be safe?

In Colorado, two sisters say they pray daily for his safety. In New Mexico, a daughter says she persuaded her mother to still vote for Mr. Obama, even though the mother feared that winning would put him in danger. And at a rally here, a woman expressed worries that a message of hope and change, in addition to his race, made him more vulnerable to violence.

. . .

Not long ago, his advisers worried that some black voters might not support his candidacy out of a fierce desire to protect him. It was a particular concern in South Carolina, but Mr. Obama said he believed the worry was also rooted in “a fear of failure.”

A paranoia shared by many, it seems. Let’s hope those fears are not born out.

What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (part I of II)

I recently read two remarkable books, and I’d like to talk about them both, in separate posts. The first is What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, the story of one of Sudan’s Lost Boys as told by Dave Eggers. The second is The Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea. Both these books became bestsellers, and have been reviewed and discussed extensively elsewhere. I write about them now because I only read them a little while ago.

Each of these books revived for me an experience I used to have commonly as a child, but much less frequently in adulthood. I would pick up a book and not be able to focus on anything else until I had finished it. I would read on the bus to school, at my desk during class, and often during lunch break. Late at night I would sneak to my bedroom doorway to read by the light in the hall, which was ostensibly left on to comfort my siblings and I from nighttime terrors. On Saturdays, I would shut myself in the bathroom for hours to read and avoid my chores. On Sundays, I resented the three hours that church took away from my books. As an adult, I read primarily nonfiction, and much more slowly given the multiplying demands on my time, and I thought maybe I had lost that childhood compulsion completely. But with each of these books, the hunger to continue the story continued until I had read both of them in the same week. This I find a little strange, considering that either one could be the most depressing book I have ever read.

[Continued at Citizen Orange]

Friday, February 22, 2008

Radio Shack sucks

This will be one of those somewhat vindictive, purely personal blog posts that every blogger seems to come to periodically.

Don’t buy anything at Radio Shack, unless you don’t care if it breaks and you don’t see a dime of your money back.

Me, back at the store after buying a Radio Shack personal cassette tape player to listen to FOIA tape recordings of old immigration proceedings for work:

This tape player is broken after I used it for three days. Can I get my money back? I have the receipt and it hasn’t been 30 days yet.

Sales clerk: Do you have the original packaging?

Me: No, I threw it away because I didn’t think the tape player would break after three days.

Sales clerk: No packaging means no refunds, no exceptions.

Me: Can I get store credit? (Thinking to myself, “Not that I want to buy anything here anymore, but it’s better than nothing.”) Is there anything you can do for me here?

Sales clerk: You can't get store credit, but you can trade it in for another one at another store. You can’t do it here because we are all out of that item.

Me, before walking out in an aggravated state: Thanks.

Now, why did I feel it was necessary to say thank you after what had just transpired? It must be a thankless job enforcing such a customer-unfriendly return policy, but still …

So, having vented now, I’m feeling a little better already. I’ve re-learned what every junior high school student knows but I must have forgotten over the years: low price is not a reason to buy stuff at Radio Shack, it’s a reason not to buy stuff there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fukuyama reviews Power: Chasing the Flame

Francis Fukuyama recently reviewed Samantha Power’s new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. From the review:

In the wake of the Iraq debacle, the idea that strong countries like the United States should use their power to defend human rights or promote democracy around the world has become widely discredited. From an overmilitarized foreign policy, we are in danger of going to the opposite extreme, forgetting the lessons of the 1990s that hard power is sometimes needed to resolve political conflicts, and that we do not yet have an adequate set of international institutions to deploy it legitimately and effectively.

I take exception to one of the premises above. The U.S. does not use its power primarily to defend human rights or promote democracy. It has never done so. The U.S. acts in its own interest—the fabled “national interest” (as perceived by the ruling elites)—first, last, and always. From time to time, U.S. leaders see U.S. interests as concordant with those of defending human rights and promoting democracy, and act accordingly. But this is always incidental to the real goals of promoting national prosperity and security, and just as often the real goals conflict with the stated goals of saving others from themselves/promoting democracy, stated goals which are themselves often in tension with each other.

One lesson of the 1990s is that sovereign nations cannot be expected to act on their own to further the interests of noncitizens at some unquantifiable risk to their own interests. They simply won’t do it absent a more formal institutional structure for using multilateral military force than now exists. Any political leadership that does make significant sacrifices for noncitizens at the expense of citizens will soon find itself out of a job if that country’s democratic processes are functioning well, and rightly so, based on the existing parameters of sovereign government and international politics.

Perhaps Power’s thesis in Problem is correct, that the slaughters in Rwanda and Bosnia could have been avoided or at least contained with some minimal effort by the U.S. and other powerful countries. I am skeptical—militarists also predicted that pacifying Iraq would be a cakewalk and liberal internationalists still chide NATO members for not contributing adequate troops for the mission in Afghanistan as western troops still struggle to impose order there 5 ½ years after invasion. Neither of these wars should have been fought, whether unilaterally or not, and each of them acts as a cautionary tale for believers in the efficacy of military power like Power and Yglesias.

The important point, though, is that, contra Power in Problem, in the current international framework, any unilateral action will be doomed from the start. A sovereign country acting on its own behalf is only obligated to act in the interests of its own citizens. That is why the U.S. military strikes in Sudan in the late 1990s did nothing to ameliorate the raging civil war there, but were instead intended to reassure an anxious U.S. public that Clinton was capable of defending America.

But Power appears to have recognized some of the failings of the unilateral action she espoused in Problem, and in the new book argues for stronger support for UN peacekeeping operations.

“Chasing the Flame” argues, as Vieira de Mello himself once did, that the United Nations is often unfairly blamed for failures to protect the vulnerable or deter aggression, when the real failure is that of the great powers standing behind it. Those powers are seldom willing to give it sufficient resources, attention and boots on the ground to accomplish the ambitious mandates they set for it. At present, the United Nations is involved in eight separate peacekeeping operations in Africa alone; failure in a high-profile case like Darfur (which seems likely) will once again discredit the organization. Power (who has been a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama) makes the case for powerful countries like the United States putting much greater effort into making the institution work.

This is a strong argument, and I plan to read the book to see how Power develops it. But Fukuyama is not convinced.

In the end, the book does not make a persuasive case that the United Nations will ever be able to evolve into an organization that can deploy adequate amounts of hard power or take sides in contentious political disputes. Its weaknesses as a bureaucracy and its political constraints make it very unlikely that the United States and other powerful countries will ever delegate to it direct control over their soldiers or trust it with large sums of money.

Fukuyama’s circular argument here is partly descriptive, but partly a common normative argument employed by sovereignists: as long as the UN is weak and ineffectual, strong countries won’t trust their troops and money to it, keeping it weak and ineffectual, undermining trust and contributions, etc.

For neocons, it’s always 1938, the year Chamberlain capitulated to Hitler at Munich. As a recovering neocon, Fukuyama would be well-advised to fast-forward to 1945, the year the Allied powers acted on the lessons of 1938 and founded the United Nations. After the UN was founded, Allied leaders worked hard to solidify public support for the organization. In the U.S.:

The overwhelming majority of the American people, regardless of party, support the United Nations.

They are resolved that the United States, to the full limit of its strength, shall contribute to the establishment and maintenance of a just and lasting peace among the nations of the world.

---Harry Truman, 1946

And Britain:

A world organization has already been erected for the prime purpose of preventing war, UNO, the successor of the League of Nations, with the decisive addition of the United States and all that means, is already at work. We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not a sham, that it is a force for action, and not merely a frothing of words, that it is a true temple of peace in which the shields of many nations can some day be hung up, and not merely a cockpit in a Tower of Babel.

. . .

Courts and magistrates may be set up but they cannot function without sheriffs and constables. The United Nations Organization must immediately begin to be equipped with an international armed force. In such a matter we can only go step by step, but we must begin now. I propose that each of the Powers and States should be invited to delegate a certain number of air squadrons to the service of the world organization. These squadrons would be trained and prepared in their own countries, but would move around in rotation from one country to another. They would wear the uniform of their own countries but with different badges. They would not be required to act against their own nation, but in other respects they would be directed by the world organization. This might be started on a modest scale and would grow as confidence grew.

---Winston Churchill, 1946

The same Allied leaders who defeated German and Japanese aggression after the missteps of 1938 had no qualms about offering unqualified support for a powerful UN. So why is it so hard for Fukuyama and other UN-skeptics to do the same?

[Cross posted at Citizen Orange]

fearful population = compliant population

In response to this:

Amtrak will start randomly screening passengers' carry-on bags this week in a new security push that includes officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling platforms and trains.

The initiative, to be announced by the railroad on Tuesday, is a significant shift for Amtrak. Unlike the airlines, it has had relatively little visible increase in security since the 2001 terrorist attacks, a distinction that has enabled it to attract passengers eager to avoid airport hassles.

Atrios said this:

Trains are not planes, and random checks like this are pointless.

I respectfully disagree. These searches may well have a distinct purpose: immigration enforcement. Lately, I have been hearing from clients about immigration searches on trains in upstate New York, even on trains that do not cross into Canada. Undocumented New Yorkers take a risk anytime they leave the city. Any undocumented immigrant anywhere in the country takes a risk whenever he or she rides a train or a bus outside a sanctuary city, a risk that passengers will be stopped and searched and questioned about their immigration status. Those who can’t persuade officials of their lawful status may be issued a notice to appear in immigration court for removal proceedings. This constitutes another step on our national path towards a security state of the kind that would make any 20th-century totalitarian proud.

These random checks are far from pointless.

[Cross-posted at Citizen Orange]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

thanks again, NRA

I think this may be a recurring feature here.

Desiree Smith, one of the public university’s more than 25,000 students, said she saw students fall down around her as the gunman opened fire. She tried to crawl away, she told a local television station, CLTV, thinking she was going to die, then wondered if she should play dead before getting up to run out of the classroom. Other students told of a chaotic scene in which panicked students dropped to the floor, the blood of victims spattering on those who escaped injury.
This should not be a monthly story in our newspapers. At some point, you have to stand back and say, "This is what Americans want, this is what they voted for." To have the freedom to have their children shot down in the classroom. Who are we to deny the voters what they voted for?

stay calm, relax

Greg Siskind brings us word of this horrific story from Hawaii:

The mother of a 2-week-old boy said her son would be alive today if they and his traveling nurse hadn't been held up at Honolulu International Airport by customs personnel.

Luaipou Futi of American Samoa spoke through an interpreter during a news conference Tuesday at the offices of the family's attorney, Rick Fried.

Futi's son, Michael Tony, died Friday at the airport after he, Futi and the nurse, Arizona Veavea, were kept in a locked room after flying nearly five hours from American Samoa so the child could be treated for a birth defect, a hole in his heart, Fried said.

[Continued at Citizen Orange]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obama reaches out to Latina Lista

Seeing Clinton’s persistent lead in the polls among Latin@ voters, and drawing criticism from some initially sympathetic sources for lackluster outreach efforts, the Obama campaign decided last week after Super Tuesday to guest blog on Marisa TreviƱo’s site, Latina Lista. The takeaway line for me is in the second paragraph below:

I also know that for women of all backgrounds, keeping their families together is a top priority. It is no secret that Latino families are being separated from their families every day in this country because of raids and deportation policies that do not take family and humanity into account when trying to enforce laws.

That’s why when I'm President, I will put comprehensive immigration reform back on the nation's agenda during my first year in office, and I will not rest until it is passed once and for all.

I will take that as a campaign promise to work during his first year to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and I hope migrants and migrant advocates hold him to it.

[Continued at Citizen Orange]

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Myers' explanation of blackface incident doesn't hold water

I see the Myers blackface story has gotten some additional exposure. I’d like to address a point that I didn’t examine in my earlier post. Rather than bury it in an update, I’ll post again. The WaPo covered the story, and this part jumped out at me:

In a Nov. 8 letter replying to questions by McCaskill, Myers said that she was "shocked and horrified" to learn that the employee was wearing makeup but that within minutes of leaving the party she instructed her chief of staff to direct ICE's events photographer "to delete all photos of the employee."

"Although I didn't know that the employee had disguised his race, I believed I had made an error in judgment in recognizing an escaped prisoner," Myers wrote.

Explanation 1: She really did think the employee was black, in which case she is not smart enough to run a lemonade stand, much less a large government bureaucracy which requires substantial judgment and wisdom to enforce the immigration laws in a race-neutral way.

[Continued at Citizen Orange]

Friday, February 08, 2008

photos surface of ICE employee at party in blackface and prison costume

CNN recently compelled the government to release photos taken of the official in charge of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) with an ICE employee in blackface and fake dreads dressed in a prisoner’s uniform at an office Halloween party last year. View the segment here. See some of the redacted photos here.

At the party, Julie Myers, then-acting chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security, gave an award for "most original costume" to an employee wearing prison stripes, a wig with dreadlocks and face-darkening makeup.
[Continued at Citizen Orange]

Thursday, February 07, 2008

o frabjous day

Up late when I should be in bed, I stumbled across this gem. I don’t know how, but I never came across it as a kid (thank goodness). As a former white-shirt-wearing, clip-on bowtie sporting, damnation-to-your-soul-eating, bona fide polyg-progeny deacon, it hits a little too close to home …

But I was scratching my head over this:

Keep your bladder empty. Refrain from drinking large amounts of fluids before retiring.

??

Reduce the amount of spices and condiments in your food. Eat as lightly as possible at night.

????

Really, can someone help explain this?

Then there was this, which I enjoyed:

It is sometimes helpful to have a physical object to use in overcoming this problem. A Book of Mormon, firmly held in hand, even in bed at night has proven helpful in extreme cases.

Oh, snap! He didn’t just go there … Yes he did!

And finally:

Avoid people, situations, pictures or reading materials that might create sexual excitement.

In other words, avoid life. If at all possible. It’s dirty, you know.

[Image: Wikipedia]

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Obama: the pro-migrant choice

Under the assumptions that (a) a Democrat will win the White House this year and (b) that whoever is crowned the “winner” by the media after Super Tuesday will be the Democratic nominee (this second assumption may be on shakier ground than the first), tomorrow’s primary election in selected states might be more important than the November general election.

So from a pro-migrant, progressive perspective, which of the two leading Democratic candidates is preferable on the issue of immigration? This blogger concludes that Obama—though far from perfect—is the better candidate for migrants.

[Continued at Citizen Orange]