Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stumbling and bumbling toward end game

"There are reports from Washington that we are looking for a graceful exit," said Mr Bush. "But we will stay until the job is done."

... The Iraqi prime minister was a strong leader, "the right guy for Iraq," insisted Mr Bush.

BBC News, 2006

Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu later said, "Whoever has the Americans as allies does not need enemies."

On hearing the U.S. had sponsored a coup against Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, 1965

These tin pot politicians we employ to run these little countries we invade, they are disposable, aren't they?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A question

Will there ever be one of these books about Israel's apartheid wall? Or the U.S. border wall planned to enrich profiteering government contractors? Just have to wonder.

George Packer's plan for an Iraq exit

This Iraqi couple had a good life in Basra before the Americans came. He was a television technician. Last summer they were lucky to be unemployed in Damascus.

I have not read George Packer (The Assassins Gate and various New Yorker articles) on Iraq. Why would I bother? The guy supported, cheer led for, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, prima facie evidence of intellectual and moral bankruptcy, even in 2003.

Events have proved true the assumptions I made about this criminal war and its supporters. Those among its intellectual enablers who think of themselves as idealists and "liberals" are now tying themselves in knots as the bloodbath the U.S. and U.K. has wrought plays itself out. Most of them will never simply admit, as they should, "I believed a fantasy of benevolent U.S. hegemony; I didn't care who got killed for my fantasy; Iraqis and U.S. soldiers were not human beings to me, but game pieces on a chess board of my imagination."

The New Republic, home base for U.S. imperialists who claim to be "liberal" and consequently another publication I seldom look at, has just published Packer's cri de coeur for the (additional) Iraqis who will die when the U.S. finally gets chased out of Iraq.

Withdrawal means that the United States will have to watch Iraqis die in ever greater numbers without doing much of anything to prevent it, because [sic] the welfare of Iraqis will no longer be among our central concerns. Those Iraqis who have had anything to do with the occupation and its promises of democracy will be among the first to be killed: the translators, the government officials, the embassy employees, the journalists, the organizers of women's and human rights groups. As it is, they are being killed one by one. ...To me, the relevant historical analogy is not the helicopters taking off from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, leaving thousands of Vietnamese to the reeducation camps. It is the systematic slaughter by the Khmer Rouge of every Cambodian who appeared to have had anything to do with the West.

If [sic] the United States leaves Iraq, our last shred of honor and decency will require us to save as many of these Iraqis as possible. ... The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad does not issue visas. Iraqis who want to come to the United States must make their way across dangerous territory to a neighboring country that has a U.S. Embassy with a consular section. Iran and Syria do not; Jordan has recently begun to bar entry to Iraqi men under the age of 35. ...

We should start issuing visas in Baghdad, as well as in the regional embassies in Mosul, Kirkuk, Hilla, and Basra. We should issue them liberally, which means that we should vastly increase our quota for Iraqi refugees. (Last year, it was fewer than 200.) We should prepare contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground escorts.

On this Packer is right, though his continued lies about U.S. intentions and capabilities (pointed out in the quotation) are morally repulsive. These guys never take responsibility -- perhaps no one could.

The peace movement must campaign for the United States to take responsibility for the millions (literally) of refugees our invasion has created, not only by bringing a few here, but also by aiding the surrounding countries, notably Jordan and Syria, where most Iraqi refugees cluster in miserable conditions of poverty and despair.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Martha's Vineyard, late fall

I couldn't run in the woods today -- what my host here calls "bang-bang season" opened this morning. And the booms of shotguns fired at deer did wake me around 6:30 am. Hunting season is only two weeks, so hunters have not a moment to spare.

Vineyard trails, so lush in summer, reveal quite different sights once the leaves fall off.

Even with the leaves gone, open vistas mean ocean views.

The pot on the left was used on whaling ships to render whaleblubber.

Days are short, the landscape harsh, it's beauty subtle.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Whale Sale

Back on Martha's Vineyard this holiday weekend -- and somewhat attuned to the culture after a long summer here, so I wasn't entirely surprised to run across this outside the craft show at the Agricultural Hall.

Some of the monster mammals were fenced.

One was remarkably literary -- and not entirely plausible to my way of thinking.

This nautical whale offered a sunnier twist on the local motif.

While the pseudo-Aztec/Hindu whale seemed to have drifted in from another world.

To read all about this art project, see here. We didn't stay around to learn who prevailed in the auction, but I hope the charities did well.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Carnage in Baghdad

A man cries over the coffin of a relative who was killed during Thursday's bomb attacks in Baghdad's Sadr City November 24, 2006. The death toll in Thursday's Baghdad bombings rose to 202, police said, after more than 40 people died overnight following the worst sectarian attack since U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

Yesterday's appalling carnage in Baghdad and today's news of mosques burned in revenge reminded me of the extremely clear description of the onset of Iraq's civil war by Nir Rosen in the current Boston Review. The piece is very long and very dismal, but explains clearly how the U.S. invasion and occupation brought Iraq and the whole region to its current tinderbox condition.

Juan Cole pointed to an AP report quoting the Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr as urging, in the wake of the car bombs in the Shia suburb, "Be the ones who are unjustly treated and not the ones who treat others unjustly."

If Rosen is to be believed, such calming language is both too late and not seriously meant. Though al-Sadr has called for unity of Iraqis against the occupation, the events of the last few years have left him and his followers convinced that Sunnis have betrayed their overtures. Especially since the destruction of the Al-Askari Mosque in February 2006, Iraqi religious communities have plunged into intercommunal warfare. Some observations from Rosen:

Sunnis and Shias began using new terms to refer to each other. To Shias, Sunnis were Wahhabis, Saddamists, and nawasib[those who do not accept the Shia imams and hate the family of the prophet]. To Sunnis, Shias were al rafidha or al turs. Rafidha, meaning “rejectionists,” refers to those who do not recognize the Islamic caliphs and want instead a caliphate from the descendent of Imam Ali. It has become a blanket pejorative term. Turs, meaning “shield,” refers to the human shields used by the enemy infidels. It is permitted to kill these shields. Iraqi Salafis [people who practice a strict, reactionary form of Sunni Islam] call the Shias they kill turs to justify their killings.

... Iraqis were breaking the final taboo: they were asking one another if they were Sunni or Shia. Sometimes this was done obliquely, one asking another about his name, or neighborhood, or tribe. Sometimes it was explicit. ...

... even if the Americans tried to reverse the sectarian trend in Iraq, it is too late. Muqtada’s supporters will not voluntarily relinquish control of the army or the police, and having fought the Americans in the past, many would be eager to fight them again. And who would replace them? There are no nonsectarian Iraqis left, no nonsectarian militia, and no physical space for those rejecting sectarianism. Even secular Sunnis and Shias are embracing sectarian militias because nobody else will protect them. ...

The American failure to provide security has led to the militias. The American sectarian approach has created the civil war. We saw Iraqis as Sunnis, Shias, Kurds. We designed a governing council based on a sectarian quota system and ignored Iraqis (not exiled politicians but real Iraqis) who warned us against it. We decided that the Sunnis were the bad guys and the Shias were the good guys. These problems were not timeless. In many ways they are new, and we are responsible for them. ...

America did this to Iraq. We divided Iraqis. We set them at war with each other. The least we can do is stop killing them and leave Iraq.

Until we take this advice, the United States in Iraq will continue to be more the problem than part of the solution.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

It's always Christmas time for Visa...

"It's always Christmas time for Visa
Mastercard gets presents every day
They're happy as can be when we Discover 'neath our tree
The finance charge that never goes away
It's always Christmas time for Visa
The lenders feel the splendor and the cheer
The interest that they're making is the gift that keeps on taking
And leaves us buried deeper every year."

This Consumers Union ditty is the opening salvo of a campaign to convince Congresscritters to set some limits on the credit card companies.

Raising the minimum wage would be a structural change that Democrats could enact to support the wellbeing of their low wage constituency (and the, often local, businesses that depend on their commerce). Reasonable controls on credit practices could be a similar boon to the middle class.

What better time of the year to sign on against credit gouging than the first day of the Great American Consumption Holiday?Add your name here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Happy Thanksgiving.

This could come in handy for peaceniks

A handy list of where Democratic and Republican Presidential hopefuls stand on the Iraq war.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

NRCAT at the AAR

Ethan Vesely-Flad of the Fellowship of Reconciliation collects signatures on a National Religious Coalition against Torture (NRCAT) petition.

A few conferees and friends went to the American Academy of Religion conference determined to suggest that academics do more with their bully pulpits than describe the world's ills. They brought calls to action.

Some sought to collect signatures to this NRCAT statement:

Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear. It degrades everyone involved -- policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation's most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.

Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let America abolish torture now -- without exceptions.

I asked Ethan, pictured above, what it was like to solicit signatures for the NRCAT:

"The ones I find strange are the ones who act like I am soliciting them on the street. They just give a brusque 'no' and rush by. They mean something by this, but I don't know quite what.

"Lots of people almost grab the clipboard from me. 'Of course, I'll sign,' is what they say.

"Others are more thoughtful and read the material, but are glad to sign and to talk."

You can join leaders of major faiths and denominations as well as many others by signing up here with NRCAT to oppose any use of torture by our nation.

On the Danish cartoons

On Sunday, November 19, the Islamic Studies section of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) hosted a panel of six scholars, each speaking briefly on the troubled matter of the Danish cartoons depicting (or defaming) the Prophet that inspired such outrage in some Muslim communities last year.

Although I have written about responses by San Francisco Bay Area Muslims to this brouhaha, I didn't go into the panel thinking that I knew quite what to make of the competing claims of free speech versus the injured offense felt by a culturally oppressed minority. I didn't come away much more sure of my own views, but I did learn some substantive things which I will share here.

Liyakat Takim of Denver University spoke on the nuances of the Islamic prohibition of representational images. In Sunni tradition, the prohibition is absolute; representational art is considered to attempt to usurp God's prerogative as the Creator. However, in Shia tradition, there is no absolute prohibition of respectful images of the Prophet and Imams. Intense identification with these persons in popular piety, especially through "passion play" reenactments of their stories, has forced scholars and clerics to make some allowance for depictions of these figures.

Marcia Hermanson from Loyola University quickly pointed out the many differences between Western responses to Muslim outrage over Salmon Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, and the Danish cartoons. Notably, the Rushdie controversy introduced the West to notions of Muslim law and fatwa, while the cartoon eruption was usually constructed as a matter of Islamic iconoclasm. In the Satanic Verses situation, it was the Left in the West which stood up for an author's option of free expression and creative license; on the cartoon issue, it was the Right that screamed "freedom for [offensive] speech" and "Islamo-fascism."

Laury Silver from Skidmore College discovered to her astonishment that, for many of her faculty colleagues and students, her felt offense at the images of the Prophet rendered her "an alien life form." Although a fan of such edgy, U.S. cultural products as South Park, the experience taught her to claim a "right to be offended" and to demand some sensitivity from persons claiming a collegial relationship. "It is not an attack on the right of free speech to expect sensitivity to possible offense."

Munir Jiwa of the University of Toronto attempted the most sweeping analysis of the cartoon crisis. For him the cartoons and the reaction pointed out the limitations of the secular, liberal state. The polity evolved in the West doesn't recognize hurt or disrespect as real injuries, yet for minorities surrounded by a disdainful dominant culture, they can be. The Danish context of the cartoons was a racist situation; the cartoons were intended to hurt. Our standards for civil society don't include remedies for this kind of harm done by a powerful majority to a minority. Christian Europe particularly has a hard time understanding the degree to which the Prophet is experienced by Muslims as an intimate relation, a member of their families.

Kristen Sands from Sarah Lawrence learned from these events "when not to have a conversation. " She found, as a Muslim and a teacher of Islamic Studies, that people would approach her about the cartoons, not because they wanted to have an exchange of views, but because they wanted to dump something on her that they felt/thought. People would "hurl their emotions at each other." Her general experience of teaching Islamic Studies is one of disabusing her students of powerful stereotypes of "veiled women and menacing men."

Jocelyne Cesari, currently teaching at Harvard, sought to explain the European context of the cartoon eruption. She explained that the culture and history of European society is formed in a concept of Islam as the religious enemy. People in the U.S. don't entirely share this underlying perspective despite our Christian history. Rejection of and contempt for Islam is part of everyday "Voltarian secularism" in the European context.

Moreover, in Europe, only Muslims are actively religious; most Europeans are completely secular, simply oblivious to religion. So religious seriousness itself is suspect, odd. Further, Islam is conflated with an exploited, immigrant underclass. European hostility to Islam didn't start with 9/11, but since 9/11 additional license to insult Islam has made insults to Islam commonplace, normal. Further, Europeans have a different legal tradition relating to speech, labeling some verbal and written expression unspeakable, including Holocaust denial and sometimes blasphemy in reference to Jesus Christ.

Surveys at the time of the cartoons indicated that ordinary Europeans Muslims were offended but considered the affair just an ordinary part of an abuse of their religion that they expect in daily life. Cesari maintained that their clerical leadership could not/did not express their outrage in terms understandable to secular society. She believes that European Muslims need more leadership that can negotiate dialogue with secular societies. Clerics tried to limit debate about the cartoons not only among outsiders, but also within European Muslim communities.

The audience of some 100 or so religious academics had a chance to weigh in briefly. There followed some hurling of emotions, both secular liberal and pained Muslim. "Why did they have to do this?" came from both sides.

A Kenyon professor told of showing the offensive cartoons to a class on imperialism and globalization. Students immediately described the cartoons as anti-immigrant racism. However, nothing in his description of the student reaction conveyed that they could imagine the cartoons might have caused emotional injury, beyond causing a political reaction to depiction of Muslim powerlessness.

My reactions to all this: emotional injury from speech is simply not a category the U.S. understands. Yes, we have effectively removed overt racist language -- think of the "N word" -- from polite and political discourse. But there are no legal penalties for being a verbal racist asshole, although there may be social and political ones. The ways we think about these issues don't treat emotional injury as real harm. Majorities here enjoy license to inflict emotional injury. Although custom can inhibit expression, law does not. I can live with that -- even celebrate that -- but I'm not a member of the injured minority in this instance. When I have been a target, as a lesbian, I've known that gay bashing creates political and social advantage for my people, since the temperate center of the majority abhors conflict and disdains bullying. That reaction is political however. The Muslim reaction to the cartoons springs from core emotions and allegiances, not such a calculus.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Evangelicals and women's bodies

Researcher Lynne Gerber nailed it: fundamentalists seek to appropriate "health" to enforce their cramped "values."

The Bush administration's appointment of a fundamentalist nutjob doctor to oversee federal programs dealing with teen pregnancy and family planning underscores the importance of a panel yesterday at the American Academy of Religion conference on "Evangelical Initiatives/Women's Bodies." Moderated by Katherine Ragsdale, an Episcopal priest and director of the think tank, Political Research Associates, the panelists described how an array of programs initiated to assist and empower women have been warped by our current rulers to enforce their notions of morality on women, world wide.

Lucinda Peach of American University calls this drive for dominance "Globalizing 'the Word.'" Her paper illuminated how U.S. programs to reduce the trafficking of women for sexual slavery have been turned over to "faith-based organizations" that have made the work into a war on prostitution and then a war on the women caught up in prostitution. Because of U.S. prohibitions on foreign grantees working with organizations of sex workers themselves, HIV education and retraining programs have been undercut. Further, dramatic "rescues" of women trapped in trafficking too often lead to sending them back to the families and social circumstances that led to their being sold in the first place -- to places where they are shunned and starved or even sold again into prostitution. In Peach's description, "faith-based" anti-trafficking impressed me as "reality-resistant arrogance," however well meaning the individuals involved may be.

Jenna Gray-Hillenbrand of UC Santa Barbara described efforts by evangelical groups like the Family Research Council to prevent school systems from requiring mandatory vaccination of young girls against the HPV virus that is associated with cervical cancer. Scientific research indicates that vaccination before the age of sexual activity could great reduce incidence of these cancers that infect 10,000 U.S. women annually. But our fundamentalists fear that vaccination would teach girls that the bad consequences of pre-marital sex can be prevented with a shot. Better they die apparently, than fuck without a license. Gray-Hillenbrand was careful to say she didn't want to demonize vaccination opponents. I have ask, why not? This is not a courtesy that they will offer you.

Lynne Gerber from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley spoke about two evangelical initiatives, so-called "ex-gay" ministries and Christian weight loss groups. Gerber does what most of us don't: she talks with these people. She emphasizes they "genuinely" care about the targets they are seeking to change: gays and fat people. And apparently they frame their efforts in language that sounds to me like very ordinary American psycho-babble: adopting restraint of sexual drives and of consumption of food will yield "health." It turns out the "health" they value is the ability to do God's work as they understand it. Nowhere in this worldview, apparently, is there any sense that God names creation "good" or that God rejects nothing that God has made. This seems a sad, cramped, fearful world to me -- but hey, it isn't mine. And I'm not about to let these people enforce it on everyone. Lots of work to do.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Coming soon...

I spent the day wandering around the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature today in Washington, DC.

The AAR meeting draws 7000 or so academics interested in, studying, or teaching religion -- predominantly from the "reality-based" side of the cultural/political divide. That is, these folks do religion, but they aren't, mostly, pre-modern, anti-scientific, authoritarian cranks. The Biblical studies ones know all sorts of ancient languages; the religions studied include not only Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, but also pagan studies. I might think too many of these folks are complacent professors, but they aren't drawn from our fundamentalist nutcase population.

I know this because I even met someone who read this blog at the meeting -- so they can't be all nuts.

Having spent an intense day, I've no more energy for reporting now, but expect more here later.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

The god Imhotep receives homage, while wondering whether the goddesses Frisker and Pigeon Eater know he is encroaching on their realm.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gay marriage approved in South Africa

This week, South Africa did what seems to be beyond most of the United States: it legalized gay marriage. The vote in Parliament, where the elected African National Congress (ANC) commands a huge majority, followed a ruling by the country's Constitutional Court that unequal marriage rights amounted to illegal discrimination against gays and lesbians under the 1997 Constitution.

In the spring of 1990, my partner and I were witnesses to some of the history that led to this groundbreaking decision. We had the privilege of working in Cape Town providing tech support to a newspaper that was part of the "Mass Democratic Movement" against apartheid. Nelson Mandela had been released from prison in February; the ANC, which had led the struggle against racial oppression, had just been legalized; and the whole society was bubbling with an awareness of new possibilities.

The poster pictured above is a visual artifact of that heady moment: in a style reminiscent of 1960s Haight-Ashbury rock concerts, in the ANC's black, green and gold colors, it promoted what in other times would perhaps seem a pretty dry panel discussion. In Cape Town that year, big questions about ultimate meaning, about democracy, about freedom, were all up for grabs. I snared the poster off a lamppost; they blanketed the town.

Into this vibrant atmosphere, ANC leaders who had spent many years in exile returned to their country. In particular, Albie Sachs, arrived. Sachs is an attorney who defended ANC members under the apartheid government, was jailed without trial by that government, escaped into exile, and then was almost assassinated by a bomb placed in his car in Mozambique by South African security agents, losing an arm and the sight of an eye. On his return, his job was to listen to the hopes of the various "struggle" organizations within the country in preparation for drafting a post-apartheid constitution.

One of the groups Sachs met with in Cape Town was the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Activists (OLGA). Cape Town then and now was "the San Francisco" of South Africa, the place where behavioral limits are broader than in most of the country. Still this seemed an astonishing breakthrough for gays and lesbians in a country where homosexuality was at best something to snicker at. The meeting was possible because OLGA campaigned not only for gay rights, but also was a recognized "nonracial," anti-apartheid group. Nonetheless, the quite open-minded journalists at the paper where we worked were surprised by this open overture from the revered ANC to the gay community.

The paper got an invitation to a press conference held by Sachs and OLGA; our co-workers insisted we come along. We jumped at the chance -- and were bewildered by the dirty looks we got from some of the OLGA people. Much later we understood. Every gay and lesbian in Cape Town had wanted to attend the event. OLGA members had to limit attendance; they thought we were some local lesbians sneaking in, until informed that we were "press."

The statement Sachs made at that press conference remains an extraordinary document in the history of gay liberation. Some excerpts from a transcript we made:

"The question of homosexuality has never been treated in an open and honest way in South Africa. The first thing that has to be done is get the question out in the open and for persons who stand to be most affected by any future dispensation to say themselves what they would like to see. This is part of a very extensive process of consultation and debate, based on the principle that people must write their own constitution. ...

"We don't see the constitution as being the product of a few enlightened (or unenlightened) lawyers. People must make their own input. Somebody said that a constitution is the autobiography of a nation. Everybody is part of the nation. Everybody has a right to contribute.

"In the case of homosexuality in South Africa, there is a special pertinence in this phase where we are overcoming apartheid. The essence of apartheid was that it tried to tell people who they were, how they should behave, what their rights were. The essence of democracy is that people should be free to be who they are. Any full democracy in South Africa, in my view, should be such as to encourage everybody to be who they are. ...

We already know the people in OLGA -- they've been very active in general in the anti-apartheid struggle, they have standing and prestige in the movement, and there is a strong feeling they shouldn't be in any way discriminated against because of their sexual preference. But this goes a little beyond that -- it is part of people in general defining what their own rights should be. ...

"There is too much fear in South Africa in general. We want people to be free, to feel free. This is one more area, in my own view, where there appears to be oppression. We are against oppression and we want everybody to feel they are part of the nation, they are part of the new South Africa, as part of a general program against discrimination, against marginalizing people, against this idea of telling people who they are and what they are. ..."

When the new Constitution came into effect in 1997, equal rights for gays and lesbians were included. And last year the Constitutional Court overthrew South Africa's statute defining marriage as solely a union between one man and one woman, holding the provision a violation of the Constitution's general mandate for equal protection for all and its specific mandate against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The author of that opinion was Justice Albie Sachs. The legalization voted on last week is the follow-on to that decision.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reckoning time

Jeff Zeleny lays out the implications of the Democratic takeover of Congress for Washington's permanent professional class.

Republicans do not cede control of Congress for nearly two months, but money, power and influence are already beginning to change hands. The political economy, at least here in the capital, is humming for Democrats.

Democratic lobbyists are fielding calls from pharmaceutical companies, the oil and gas industry and military companies, all of which had grown accustomed to patronizing Republicans, as the environment in Washington abruptly shifts....

Democrats say the changing of the guard provides a raft of opportunities, second only to winning the presidency.

Former members of Congress who left Washington have placed confidential calls to headhunters, wondering whether firms are hiring. (They are.) Former staff members have fielded inquiries from lobbying shops that have an urgent need for people with current contacts and old relationships with Democratic leaders.

... At the same time, some Republicans began receiving materials on unemployment benefits this week as the party sheds thousands of jobs, relinquishing staff committee assignments and leadership posts in both chambers for the first time in 12 years. ...

Lawyers say they expect their business to increase if House Democrats follow through on their pledge to investigate the Bush administration. Real estate agents paid careful attention to the election results, too, sending welcome packets to newly elected Democrats.

It's a rare wind that doesn't blow some goodies to someone.

Zeleny's article is a cynical little smack at the notion that any politician could arrive in D.C. with good intentions. I'm sure some do. But Democrats will govern as well as the people make them and no better. It's our job to keep them honest; that's part of citizenship.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Latino voters send a message.
Will Dems offer path to legalization?

Josh Marshall points out:

...exit poll data suggests a big drop off for Republicans among hispanic voters. According to the CNN exit polls, the 2004 spread was 40% for Republicans, 53% for Democrats. This year it was 26% for the GOP and 73% for Democrats.

From a distance, it might not seem like the Republicans ran this race on immigration. And on the national level, they didn't. But if you watched how the campaign played out in competitive races across the country, it was huge. One of the big campaign gambits from Republican candidates was Democratic Candidate X is going to ruin Social Security by giving away money to illegal aliens (pan to pictures of Mexicans).

It's a pretty sad but also really familiar story. GOP spends years 'reaching out' to [insert minority group of your choice] until they find themselves losing an election and go hog wild with race-bating or whatever other nastiness looks like it will yield short-term political benefits.

Yes, the GOP has made itself the party of unalloyed white supremacy. And Latinos know it.

For Latinos moving to the Dems, the issue is immigration. This is personal and moral. Every "illegal" immigrant is the uncle or niece or spouse of someone "legal." Whatever other priorities Latinos may have, they will resent for a very long time demonization of family members. And the Republican base eats up demonization.

Roberto Lovato has described how Republicans who tried to rule through race baiting turned California Democratic:

I came to understand the long-term effects of anti-immigrant policies after fighting such policies in California. The most famous is Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative that called for the denial of health and education services to the children of undocumented immigrants. ...

... I'm reminded of a 1993 meeting between a delegation of Latino activists and Latino elected officials and then-California Gov. Pete Wilson, the main sponsor of Prop 187. "I resent the implication that I'm a racist," Wilson told the group, pounding his desk. "I am not a racist and I give the Hispanic community more credit than to fall for this kind of race-baiting." I'd asked Wilson how he felt knowing that many of the 10-year-old Mexican and Salvadoran kids I worked with thought he hated them because of his leadership around Proposition 187.

Those kids turned 22 this year. They remembered Pete Wilson and his imitators throughout the country and paid them -- and the Republican party -- back by building the youthful army (the average Latinos is 26) driving the largest mobilizations in U.S. history. Several told me that they organized around voting this year because they were too young to do so in 1994. As part of the largest Latino turnout (8.5 percent) in U.S. history last Tuesday, they delivered on their slogan, "Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote."

Little noticed findings from last Tuesday's exit polls suggests that immigrant bashing isn't even a smart tactic to win among the existing, majority white, electorate. Nationally, 57 percent of voters think most of the undocumented should "be offered legal status," while only 38 percent think the undocumented "should be deported." Border states like California and Texas were slightly more sympathetic to legalization. Even Arizona, which passed anti-immigrant initiatives, was only one percentage point less supportive than the national average. Most U.S. citizens understand the country needs the people who make up the undocumented work force and want elected officials to get on with creating a path to legalization.

If Democrats want to win and keep the Latino vote for a generation, their choice is clear -- become the party that works for a path to legalization and reap the credit. The party that puts its weight behind border fences and xenophobic laws will create a generation of young brown people who will remember your insult for a long time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Muslims organize and turn out to vote

Saifi Raniwala walks his first precinct for Democratic Congressional candidate Jerry McNerney.
When a community is stereotyped and stigmatized by the majority, one way out can be voting and contesting for political influence. Many Muslim-Americans took this route in the 2006 midterms.

For many, the sign of Muslim success is the election to Congress of Democrat Keith Ellison in Minneapolis; Ellison is an African American convert to Islam. Elections researcher Louise Cainkar of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois-Chicago comments on Ellison's win:

"Muslim-Americans are emerging as a voice to be recognized in American society," she said. "I don't think they have power yet. You must first acknowledge you have a right to be part of the discourse. They are working on that now and to some degree they have attained that."

"But there are a lot of people who don't want that voice to emerge," she said, a common theme in American history where Irish, Jews and other newcomers were repeatedly treated with suspicion and discrimination by those already established.

That comparison, though sympathetically intended, actually contains a misconception. Not all U.S. Muslims are newcomers. Though it is estimated that currently 70 percent are foreign born, their religion has been a largely hidden current in this country since the first African slaves were brought here in 1619, some bringing their Muslimm faith with them.

Mukit Hossain headed up a 2006 voter registration drive for the Muslim American Society. He explains Muslim activism:

This year "there is a great deal of concern and a strong sense of urgency to come out and vote in large numbers," he said. "We are callously eroding civil liberties and dismembering civil rights," while pursuing a foreign policy that targets Muslim countries, he added.

In addition to civil liberties concerns, polls report that Muslim citizens expressed other views they hoped to carry into the mainstream through participating in the election.

Seven in 10 respondents agreed with the statement, "A just resolution to the Palestinian cause would improve America's standing in the Muslim world;" two-thirds said they were in favor of "working toward normalization of relations with Iran"; and 55 percent agreed with the assertion that "The war on terror has become a war on Islam."

Some seventy percent of Muslim voters said they disagreed (46 percent "strongly disagreed") with the proposition that "The war in Iraq has been worthwhile for America," while only 12 percent said they believed that it was.

Electing one Muslim Congressman may not have been the most important measure of Muslim success in the recent midterms. Rather, perceived injustice domestically and in U.S. foreign policy mobilized Muslims throughout the country. Many, like Saifi Raniwala pictured above, took active roles in campaigns, acquiring valuable experience of the nuts and bolts of political mobilization. They voted heavily for Democrats. What stands out is how widespread this mobilization and excitement became.
  • In Virginia, Mukit Hossain, in his role as president of the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee, said his group [was] working to mobilize voters to get out and vote. "I think we can make sizeable impacts." He estimated that there were 60,000 Muslim voters in Virginia and worked to turn them out for winning Democratic Senate candidate James Webb.
  • In Worcester, Massachusetts, Muslims worked for Democratic nominee for Governor Deval Patrick. The Republican incumbent, Mitt Romney, had suggested bugging mosques in the name of national security. "Mr. [Tahir] Ali said many Muslims are actively involved in Mr. Patrick’s campaign, with many manning phone banks and doing other campaign chores."
  • In Chicago the local affiliate of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) focused its organizing efforts on Illinois' 3rd Congressional District, which includes Chicago's southwest suburbs, where it registered over 1000 voters. "The Muslim community needs to take part in everyday civic activity to set an agenda based on their needs," [Sadiya] Ahmed said.
  • In Chattanooga, Tennessee, some Muslim voters felt rejected by Republicans, but welcomed outreach from Democrats. "Chattanooga resident Salih Acarbulut said American Muslims, though they are well integrated, have to deal with misconceptions about Islamic values. 'The biggest issue that we see as Muslims is the notion that Muslims are anti-American,' Mr. Acarbulut said. 'The administration and the media have sold that idea, and that’s really probably the most painful part.'"
  • In Minnesota, Ellison's campaign directly inspired new Muslim political activity. Cory Saylor of the local CAIR chapter explained: "the use of fear tactics actually reinforces the message we've been giving the (Muslim) community.... America guarantees civil rights, but you have to stand up and earn them." Muslims can make their voices heard by contacting their representatives and letting them know what issues are most important to them, he said. "The squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease...."
  • In the highly contested state of Ohio, CAIR-sponsored exit polls showed 90 percent of Muslims voting Democratic in the races for governor, the U.S. House and Senate. "I think you can almost say it was a mandate on issues that had been implemented by the Bush administration," [Adnan Mirza] said.
  • In Seattle, columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. reported the excitement of new citizen voter, Abdinasir Ali Nur from Somalia.

    I had come to check on a tip that Nur, who became a citizen last year, had just done something quintessentially American.

    His mood brightened.

    "I diiiiiiiiid," he said, with singsong glee. "I voted today. First time. I'll keep on doing it, Insha Allah."

    Insha Allah is Arabic, meaning "if it is God's will."

    This innocent man was once a victim of Bush-Ashcroft-Rumsfeldian zeal, like so many Muslims in America after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. [Mr. Nur's business had been trashed in a misdirected Fed raid in 2001.]

    Now he has a voice in how we are governed -- a voice that counts.

  • On Long Island, Muslims mobilized to defeat Republican Congressman Peter King who claimed their mosque was run by extremists. Mosque official Faroque Khan described community reaction: "'I can tell you the community is energized,' said Khan, estimating he knew of 'at least 20 to 30' local Muslims working in phone banks and on get-out-the-vote drives for [Democratic challenger Dave] Mejias." In this case, King survived the challenge.
  • However in California's Central Valley, Muslims did their part to replace sleazy Republican Congressman Richard Pombo with Democrat Jerry McNerney. Saifi Raniwala met with Jerry, then organized a community meeting and fundraiser that brought out some 50 people from a community he estimated includes some 1500 voters. "It was a start," Raniwala said. With others, he took to the phones to encourage the community to vote. McNerney's weakness had always been in the valley towns where the Muslims are located. McNerney lost that part of the district by the tiny margin of 1244 votes, while winning heavily in all the other areas. Muslims were certainly part of lowering Pombo's margin in San Joaquin County, thereby enabling McNerney's win. Raniwala and his family are shown below with their new Representative.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Forget that "default demographic"

In Thomas Schaller's Whistling Past Dixie, the political scientist discusses what he calls "the disappearing default demographic." He contends the Democratic Party could once picture of its normative supporters as primarily "Christian, white, married men from traditional families." But not anymore.

Last night I attended a volunteer appreciation party in Tracy for the folks who just helped Jerry McNerney win election to Congress from California's 11th district.

Twenty years ago, Tracy was a small agricultural and ranching town. Today it is an explosively growing exurb, home to sprawling tract housing developments quickly filling with young families whose working adults commute long hours to middle class jobs.

Tracy is certainly not radical Berkeley. Tracy is not a city. Tracy is a central valley town, as "middle American" as anywhere in California. With that in mind, take a look at the people who worked in the McNerney campaign -- and let go once and for all the image of the old "default demographic."

The newly elected Congressman himself fits the old image...

but how many others do?

Campaign staff.

Update: one more from Saifi Raniwala. Our future...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Buffalo, New York:
a case study in urban inertia

When people ask me where I "come from," I usually answer, "my parents lived in Buffalo, New York." To the few who ask more about Buffalo, I add: "Buffalo is a sad, segregated city which lost its economic reason for being sometime in the 1940s. Most people with ambition and gumption got out, so it has been run ever since by those who couldn't or wouldn't leave." That's probably grossly unfair, but it is how it looks to this escapee who left in the 1960s and has since prospered on the Left Coast.

Knowing that I probably don't give my birthplace its due, I turned eagerly to Diana Dillaway's study, Power Failure: Politics, Patronage, and the Economic Future of Buffalo, New York. Like me, Dillaway comes out of Buffalo's old white, WASP elite; like me, she moved on the west coast to learn about cities that work, or at least work differently.

I really wanted to like this book; I really wanted to learn more about what happened to my hometown than the nasty capsule summary I'd been offering people. I did learn some things, but not as much as I'd hoped.

Dillaway used her social connections to get access for interviews with the movers and shakers of Buffalo civic life in 1987 and 1996. She presents a catalogue of parochialism, lack of imagination and pure inertia on the part of those with power. I can believe these individuals did contribute by their mistakes to Buffalo's decline, but I wonder whether better leadership really could have done anything to stem the cascading tide of failure set off by economic irrelevance. Of the great rust belt cities, only Pittsburgh seems to have fared much better; Cleveland and Detroit are also studies in collapse.

In order to get her interviews, which are the linchpin of the book, Dillaway had to promise her subjects complete confidentiality. And she largely kept her promise, though there are hints about identities, especially in the pictures. This sort of bargain may work for an academic exposition of an abstract paradigm of urban failure, but in a more popular case study with a quasi-journalistic tone, it makes the book seem secretive, as if the author had something to hide. I don't think she is actually hiding something -- I just think she can't write the story as she really understands it.

After reading Power Failure I checked out what others had to say about it. Anyone truly concerned about the future of Buffalo might want to look at a thoughtful, if scathing, review by a couple of SUNY luminaries who charge that Dillaway, like the parochial class she derives from, has failed to situate the prospects for the city of Buffalo in the context of its economic region. The charge rings true to me. My father never stopped dismissively labeling the suburbs that enjoyed what little growth and prosperity survived as "the sticks."

Buffalo has an unfair, lousy rep -- all about snow and layoffs. That's too bad. It can be green and lovely in the right seasons. The small scale of civic life can be attractive. But the place needs an economic engine and it hasn't yet found one.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Poll worker story

Photo by Ruby Washington/The New York Times

This from an email acquaintance; it rings true to me:


If any of you have been following the news about last night's election, then you know that Cora Howe in East Nashville was one of the last polling precincts to close last night (at 12:45am) & that we have the dubious honor of being the place where the last official voter in Davidson County voted, our machine operator, Bill Flum.

I'm writing because, in spite of the long lines and the rain, I experienced there an extraordinary demonstration of community harmony that reaffirmed my belief that people are basically good and will do the right thing in the face of adversity. I will never again talk blithely about the "apathy of the American voter" because these people showed me that they take democracy seriously.

Many people stayed in line for over four hours, with the last people staying in line for over five, to make their voices heard. And what's amazing about it is that they did it with such good spirits. ... And amazingly, several people had made such strong connections with each other (and with us the poll workers) that after waiting for over five hours, they stayed to watch until the last voter voted and then sang "God Bless America". This was well after midnight.

I was proud of East Nashville last night and humbled because those of us who call ourselves community leaders often have a jaded view of the people we are supposed to be helping and we get tired because it often seems like things never change. But seeing the spirit of those ordinary working folks, I know that I have to keep working to make sure that the people's voices are always heard.


There's a force in peoples' sometimes naive belief in voting. Both right and left trifle with it at their peril.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Benchmarks after this election

Tom Engelhardt; Steve Rhodes photo

I like benchmarks. Last year I posted Van Gosse's list of signs that the peace movement was succeeding and have referred to them frequently since. Interestingly, they now suggest to me that what we needed was a more nuanced understanding that a contemporary peace movement might look very different than the 1960s one -- but that too is utility. (See this for example.)

Today Tom Engelhardt offered his commentary on the implications of Tuesday's elections, Plebiscite on an Outlaw Empire. Every bit of this long exposition is worth reading and pondering, but I want to share here my abbreviations of his concluding questions.

Here, briefly, are five "benchmark" questions to ask when considering the possibilities of the final two years of the Bush administration's wrecking-ball regime:

Will Iraq Go Away?... Yesterday's plebiscite (and exit polls) held an Iraqi message. It can't simply be ignored. But nothing will matter, when it comes to changing the situation for the better in that country, without a genuine commitment to American withdrawal, which is not likely to be forthcoming from this President and his advisors any time soon. So expect Iraq to remain a horrifying, bloody, devolving fixture of the final two years of the Bush administration. It will not go away. Bush (and Rove) will surely try to enmesh Congressional Democrats in their disaster of a war. ...

Is an Attack on Iran on the Agenda?...If Iran is to be a target, 2007 will be the year. So watch for the pressures to ratchet up on this one early in the New Year. This is madness, of course. ...Failing empires have certainly been known to lash out or, as neocon writer Robert Kagan put the matter recently in a Washington Post op-ed, "Indeed, the preferred European scenario [of a Democratic Congressional victory] -- 'Bush hobbled' -- is less likely than the alternative: ‘Bush unbound.' ..." So when you think about Iran, think of Bush unbound.

Are the Democrats a Party?...Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats in recent years were not, in any normal sense, a party at all. They were perhaps a coalition of four or five or six parties (some trailing hordes of pundits and consultants, but without a base).... They have a genuine mandate on Iraq and a mandate on oversight. What they will actually do -- what they are capable of doing (other than the normal money, career, and earmark-trading in Washington) -- remains to be seen. They will be weak, the surroundings fierce and strong.

Will We Be Ruled by the Facts on the Ground? In certain ways, it may hardly matter what happens to which party. By now -- and this perhaps represents another kind of triumph for the Bush administration -- the facts on the ground are so powerful that it would be hard for any party to know where to begin. Will we, for instance, ever be without a second Defense Department, the so-called Department of Homeland Security, now that a burgeoning $59 billion a year private "security" industry with all its interests and its herd of lobbyists in Washington has grown up around it? Not likely in any of our lifetimes. Will an ascendant Democratic Party dare put on a diet the ravenous Pentagon, which now feeds off two budgets -- its regular, near-half-trillion dollar Defense budget and a regularized series of multibillion dollar "emergency" supplemental appropriations, which are now part of life on the Hill. .... So, from time to time, take your eyes off what passes for politics and check out the facts on the ground. That way you'll have a better sense of where our world is actually heading.

What Will Happen When the Commander-in-Chief Presidency and the Unitary Executive Theory Meets What's Left of the Republic? ... when the new Congress arrives in January, buckle your seatbelts and wait for the first requests for oversight information from some investigative committee; wait for the first subpoenas to meet Cheney's men in some dark hallway. Wait for this crew to feel the "shackles" and react. Wait for this to hit the courts....

Dire thoughts, but questions I'm sure I'll return to over the next year.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election afterthoughts

Rep. Harold Ford, Jr (D-Tenn)(Maya Alleruzzo photo/The Washington Times)

Republicans won only one seriously contested U.S. Senate race yesterday, that between Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) and former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker (R) in Tennessee.

In that one context, they demonstrated that Republicans still own one issue that trumps Iraq, Bush-loathing, a sluggish economy, and lack of healthcare for many voters. That issue is race. Or, more accurately, white supremacy.

Since 1968, Republicans have made themselves the comfortable home of our ample supply of white racists. Sure, they don't wear Klan robes anymore, or usually use the language of explicit racism. But they know who ought to be boss and it infuriates them when people of color step out of their places. An awful lot of those white supremacists are in the South. Yesterday, the Republicans were further confirmed as the party of the white South, losing most of their already diminished presence in New England and slipping in the middle and west of the country. Republicans are on the way to becoming a regional party of anti-modern, racist cranks.

This is a horrendous reality for the most loyal Democrats of all, southern Blacks who make up double digit minorities across the South. Gerrymanders sometimes give them Black representatives, but their power in their states is thwarted by majorities whose unspoken, but real, unifying principle is white racial solidarity.

Nancy Pelosi will lead the first Democratic post-Civil War majority that is not dependent on Southern conservatives. That is a huge realignment, one whose implications will take awhile to work themselves out.

By gosh I think we did it...
It's Congressman McNerney

12:13 a.m. This may be premature, but at 74 percent of the precincts counted, Democrat Jerry McNerney is holding a 3-4,000 vote margin over Republican Congresscritter Richard Pombo. His margin has held since the beginning of the count. And fully 80 percent of the San Joaquin County results, where Pombo was pretty certainly to lead, have come in. There, Pombo leads by only about 2,000, while McNerney leads in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties by enough to surpass Pombo's San Joaquin. And those other counties haven't reported as large a fraction of their votes as San Joaquin. Could decency and sanity be about to defeat corruption and arrogance?

Hey -- maybe I'm about to be proved wrong. I didn't think any Democrat who wasn't named Machado could win this district.

It's been a long time since I worked, even briefly and peripherally, on a tough winning campaign -- I guess Jeff Adachi's election as San Francisco Public Defender in 2002 was the last one. I've worked on so many worthy, necessary, but doomed campaigns that I'm shy about committing myself on the tough ones. But really, we can't expect good outcomes if we can't find the courage to throw down.

I didn't really throw down on this one, just worked a few shifts at the end. McNerney will make a good, thoughtful Congressman. Congratulations (prematurely, but I need to go to bed) to Jerry McNerney and all the hundreds of residents of House District 11 who gave months of their lives to the task of replacing their corrupt representative.

1:01 a.m. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Jerry is at 52.3 percent, up by over 6000 votes. Awesome.

The Sierra Club helped too.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election day

Martha Gamez leads Get Out The Vote for Jerry McNerney in Tracy, California.

Barbara Crafton describes an engaged citizen.

Informed and devoted. He never gives up on our political process, no matter what it serves up. He never disengages. He's not a person who won't watch the news because it's "too upsetting." He'll risk sad and he'll risk mad, but he won't risk apathy, because an apathetic voter acquiesces in tyranny, which is more possible in this country than most Americans think it is.

Today belongs to the voters and the scurrying campaign volunteers. I must run off to hunt down voters.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hope on the verge of an election

Blogging will be sparse or perhaps non-existent for the next few days. I'm getting out the vote for Jerry McNerney and afterward probably collapsing. It is hard not to be nervous. Republicans are vigorously trying to suppress the independent vote with phony robocalls. Somebody finally figured out a use for the damn things. Ugly.

But concurrently I'm in the middle of a related but different storm that is very heartening. On Friday War Times/Tiempo de Guerras sent out a pre-election offer of free newspapers with this message:

As we approach an election in which Democrats look likely to capture at least one house of Congress, people who seek peace cannot afford to ease up. The election may put new faces in Washington in January, but unless the people of the United States push our representatives to end it, the war in Iraq will grind on.

Over the last three days I have processed over 100 orders and shipped literally thousands of free copies to activists around the country. Apparently we are developing the sophistication to struggle on more fronts than one at the same time. Good -- we are going to have to.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Republican athletes

Dave Zirin, an interesting observer of sports from a left perspective, has done the digging to assemble a catalogue of political donations in the current election from prominent athletes. The piece is not online anywhere I can find, but you can sign up for Zirin's emails (that's where I got this) at Edge of Sports. I'm going to cherrypick some of his findings here, pointing to his football examples:
  • "Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl hero Jerome Bettis gave $2,500 to Michigan Democratic Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick – two years after giving $2,000 to Bush-Cheney."
  • "Former Denver Broncos Quarterback John Elway has given $6,300 to Rick O'Donnell's Republican Colorado run for congress this election cycle. In 2005 he also gave $1,000 to notorious anti-immigrant Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO)."
  • "Washington football's Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs gave $1,000 to Republican George Allen's Virginia Senate run in 2000 but nothing this year... Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has...has also given thousands of dollars to Allen's campaign."
  • "...Colts All-World quarterback Peyton Manning gave $2,100 to Tennessee Republican Senatorial candidate Bob Corker during his bitter primary battle..."
Zirin assembled his data in order to throw disdainful barbs at a corrupt electoral process and the athletes who play in it. I'm more interested in the process that makes high achieving athletes into conservatives. The sports owners are easy to understand -- they are rich, often bullying, old white guys, so they find their natural allies. But many of the best athletes come from poor backgrounds and are people of color; their home communities don't share their enthusiasm for the white, rich, and powerful. So what's up?

In 1976, James A. Michener published a classic study, Sports in America that is still very much worth picking up, probably from the throwaway section of a used bookstore. It's certainly got many shortcomings, but it is still an interesting, broadly conceived look at our national obsessions. The novelist Michener was a liberal Democrat; in fact he once ran for Congress unsuccessfully from a Republican district in rural Pennsylvania. His speculations about athletes and political ideology still ring true.

Of the sixty [star] athletes I have known, fifty-nine have been Republicans. ...The athlete and his coach move in a world of conservative values and are surrounded by conservative types. Very few Democrats among the alumni have private jets, or good jobs to dispense, or the spare cash to endow athletic scholarships or build press boxes so the university "can go really big time."...

Also coaches know that conservative, hard-nose procedures pay off. ... If I were a coach I'd recruit all my boys from underprivileged Democratic families and convert them to Republican linemen. ...I wouldn't have a single Democrat among my assistant coaches and I'd quickly identify the businessmen in my area who had private jets....[These are] the coaches who remain in coaching....

Since Michener wrote, professional athletes have far more clearly joined the moneyed few. Now they can own the private jets themselves. No wonder they mostly line up with Republicans; for most it would be literally costly to do otherwise.

In this cycle, Heath Shuler, former Tennessee and Washington Redskins quarterback, is running as a Democrat for a North Carolina seat and has a good chance. Meanwhile Lynn Swann, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, is crashing as Republican running for Governor in Pennsylvania. I see no reason to believe that athletes are either more or less qualified than other candidates -- except they may start with more money.

Stuff to think about while we enjoy watching football.