Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bad times when this guy makes sense

In a speech at the United Nations last week, Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was defiant. He referred to America as an “aggressor” state, and said, “How can the incompetents who cannot even manage and control themselves rule humanity and arrange its affairs? Unfortunately, they have put themselves in the position of God.”

That quote comes from Seymour Hersh's latest New Yorker article laying out the landscape and prospects of Cheney's drive for war on Iran. Hersh is not hopeful.

A celebration of a too short life, well lived

Five hundred or so people celebrated Bill Sorro's life at Horace Mann School Saturday. The Filipino community activist, stalwart Ironworkers unionist, and affordable housing agitator knew everyone in progressive San Francisco. He was deeply loved.

In the same video from which I grabbed the picture above, Bill said something like:

When I go to talk to a city commission, or to the labor council, or a church, I'm not a different person. I'm always the same guy; I wear only one hat. ...

You could say there's a 'selflessness' in working for the community. But I don't feel that. By working for the community, we're working for ourselves.

Bill wore the one hat of man who struggled for justice for working class people in every setting throughout his life. Bill Sorro, Presente!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Burma supporters demonstrate

Burmese in San Francisco, supported by U.S. Buddhists and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, demonstrated outside the Chinese Consulate today, demanding that Burma's huge neighbor and chief trading partner bring pressure on the brutal Burmese military regime.

Several hundred people, watched by the SFPD, crowded on the sidewalks on Geary Blvd.

Leaders shouted a mix of democracy slogans and religious chanting.

Protesters hold China partially responsible for the repression currently taking place in Burma. China and Russia have threatened to veto any UN action against the ruling Burmese military.

Many hope Chinese pride in the upcoming Beijing Olympics can be used to leverage more action on behalf of the Burmese people.

The struggle is long. Gotta start young.

Because of past colonial ties, the Brits seem to have faster, better stories on Burma than U.S. media. To keep up-to-date over the next few days, try Faith in Society and Newsdesk Special: burma. The military has cut off most internet access, but twitters are still getting through.

UPDATE: Sunday, Sept. 30:BBC Correspondent Andrew Harding reports from Bangkok where he has been working the phones to reach his Burmese contacts:

After 20 tries, I got through to the home of a man who has spent a decade in jail for criticising the regime. He now lives in a dark, thread-bare house in the suburbs.

In precise, detached language he explained that a military response would soon be forthcoming.

"We can only hope", he said, "they will show restraint".

I thought back to a meeting I had at a monastery nearby, and the calm, resigned voice of an old monk.

"The army", he said, "will never run out of bullets"....

And now, despair is creeping into almost every phone call.

One man today was telling me how he had just come home on a bus full of people in tears. Everyone was talking about the way the soldiers had attacked the monks dragging them out of their monasteries.

There is so much anger in Burma right now, particularly about the brutal treatment of the monks.

But, as the crackdown continues, Rangoon seems to be sinking once again beneath its familiar, suffocating blanket of fear.

Friday critter blogging
Garden life

I sat still in the garden, hoping to catch a photo of the brilliant green hummingbird that has been supping on the remains of summer flowers, but she was too shy to come near while I waited.

However, I noticed there was a lot of activity right beside me.

Apparently the bees find the overgrown rosemary bush very tasty indeed.

And even so late in the season, there are still a few butterflies.

I'll keep trying to catch that hummingbird, but I imagine soon she'll be gone for the winter.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Canadian no fly list after three months -- a round up

The Canadian no fly list went into operation in June -- and rapidly ran into similar problems and criticisms to those which dog the U.S. watch list.

First there were the Butts
Apparently Transport Canada is concerned that someone named "Alistair Butt" might try to bring down an airplane. The first two Alistair Butts who presented themselves to fly turned out to be a 10 year old from Saskatoon and a 15-year old from Ontario. [Pictured left. Photo by Jana Chytilova.] Neither seemed much threat to aviation. The Saskatchewan family was furious to hear the airline's proposed remedy:

Butt was on a list, labelled as a person of interest, said his dad, Usne Butt. ...

What is particularly galling, Major Butt said, is the suggestion from the airlines that perhaps it would be best to change the child's name.

Civil libertarians point out obvious flaws
With the U.S. list as an example, it was easy for concerned Canadians to focus on likely problems. Paul Berton spelled on the problems in the Edmonton Sun:

Just how much is domestic flight safety in peril? How good is the list, developed with the help of the RCMP and CSIS, and will it actually work? How else might it be used? What are the criteria for it?

It's not just racial profiling we should be concerned about, but bureaucratic bungling.

He wrote before the Butts' experience came to light.

The Victoria Times Colonist [some name for a paper!] honed in on what in the States would be called "due process" issues.

Canada's new no-fly list won't make air travel safer, but it will violate basic principles of justice and fairness. ...

Your name could be on the list already. The government won't allow you to check.

The result is that you could be presumed guilty of an offence serious enough to keep you from boarding an airplane without having the opportunity to hear the allegations against you, confront the accusers or provide evidence to clear your name.

But while you are denied access to the information, the government says it can be shared with foreign governments and agencies, exposing Canadians to a real risk of detention or harassment in other countries. ...

It's important to guard against terror attacks. But it's also important to remember that the purpose of the exercise is to protect our way of life and our values.

Privacy commissioners weigh in
Unlike the United States, Canada has government officials charged with protecting citizens' privacy. They called for suspension of the no fly list program.

Federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and the 12 provincial and territorial information and privacy commissioners and ombudsmen, meeting in Fredericton, unanimously endorsed the call to suspend the no-fly list yesterday. ...

They said the no-fly list involves the secretive use of personal information in a way that will "profoundly impact" privacy and other rights such as freedom of association and mobility rights.

Maher Arar knows about watch lists
To their considerable credit, Canadians are ashamed and angry that Canadian Maher Arar [pictured with his wife; CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand] was snatched up by U.S. authorities when in transit through New York and shipped off to Syria to be tortured based on false suspicions emanating from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Canada's FBI equivalent). The Canadian government has paid the Toronto resident $12 million in compensation. He is still on the U.S. no-fly list.

Recently Arar has been speaking out against the Canadian list.

"The security agencies are telling us, 'You should trust us,"' Arar told a group of university students Tuesday.

"My answer to that would be: 'Well, we've seen good examples at the inquiry where we trusted them'."

Documents from the Arar inquiry suggest Canada's spy agency knew he would be tortured in Syria, and then tried claiming national security as an excuse for keeping their involvement secret. ...

He says he's certain that the no-fly list will encounter problems and excesses - and that they will primarily affect Muslim Canadians. ...

"We don't know the names on those lists but it's a fact of life that after the events of 9-11 the Muslim community have been targeted.

"It's safe to assume that most of those names are names of people who have a Muslim background."

Most Canadians don't want to be pushed around by the angry colossus to the south. Their no fly list sure looks like a concession to the U.S. security theater charade.

On mercenaries ... follow the money

New York Times

While the mainstream media are momentarily looking at the behavior of U.S. contractors in Iraq, it seems a good time to highlight this, from the Out of Iraq Blogger Caucus site.

Jeremy Scahill, author of a terrific book on the Blackwater mercenary army, spoke in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Tuesday to a packed hall. He took questions at the end, and one man asked something to the effect of "Why does the government want to privatize the military? We taxpayers have been paying for the Army." I wished Scahill had pointed out that it's the tax payers who are now paying the private corporations, but the answer Scahill gave was critical.

"There's a cynical answer and an honest answer," he said, "and I think they're the same answer." He said that the Pentagon is useless to politicians because it doesn't make campaign "contributions". But when you take a big chunk of that enormous military budget and give it to private companies, you free it up to come back (some portion of it) to politicians every campaign season.

The New York Times seems to confirm this today.

The company’s close ties to the Bush administration have raised questions about the political clout of Mr. Prince, Blackwater’s founder and owner. He is the scion of a wealthy Michigan family that is active in Republican politics. He and the family have given more than $325,000 in political donations over the past 10 years, the vast majority to Republican candidates and party committees, according to federal campaign finance reports.

Nice scam they've got going there, passing our taxes through to the politicians who make their riches possible.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

And in torture news...

Khalid El-Masri. Photo by Chip Somodevilla

Germany backs down

For a moment earlier this year, it seemed as though Germany might turn international relations on their head. A Munich court in January issued arrest warrants ... for 13 CIA agents allegedly responsible for kidnapping a German citizen. The agents are accused of flying him to Afghanistan for interrogation before dumping him on the side of an Albanian road in May 2004 after they realized they had abducted the wrong man.

Now, though, in the face of US intransigence, Germany has backed down. ... in order to avoid a conflict with Washington, Berlin has decided to forgo forwarding a formal request that the agents be arrested.

Der Spiegel,
Sept. 24, 2007

In case you've forgotten, El-Masri was held for five months, during which time he claims he was beaten and sodomized. All by mistake. Earlier this year, U.S. courts threw out his lawsuit seeking damages for his treatment because a public trial would "present a grave risk of injury to national security." The ACLU is appealing.

Congressional Democrats achieve something...
Now that is hard to believe, but apparently they indicated they couldn't stomach appointing a guy who approved of torture as the CIA's lawyer.

The White House withdrew its nominee to become the CIA’s top lawyer on Tuesday after Democrats raised concerns that the agency’s interrogation techniques may be illegal. ...

At the hearing in June, Rizzo said he did not object to the 2002 memo that said for an interrogation technique to be considered torture, it must inflict pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” He said he later deemed the document an “aggressive, expansive” reading of U.S. law.

Sept. 25, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Protest tactic

Photo: REUTERS/Stringer (MYANMAR)

The German paper Der Spiegel ran this photo from the Myanmar (Burma) protests with this caption: "The monks have been refusing alms from members of the military and their relatives, effectively excommunicating them."

Now there's a campaign tactic that wouldn't work here -- or would it? Obviously the fact that Myanmar's ruling military recognizes the majority Buddhist faith as the state religion makes the monks' rejection more powerful. But the underlying tactic -- claimants to moral legitimacy refusing to take gifts from persons or entities they deem immoral -- can and has been used in other settings.

In fact, I was part of communities that routinely practiced this in the 1970s. In Catholic Worker houses that served free meals to the hungry in New York and San Francisco, we begged for vegetables at wholesale produce markets every week. Our policy was to refuse donations of lettuce not picked by United Farm Workers Union members and tell the middlemen who offered it why we couldn't use it. The wholesalers were mostly good Italian Catholics. They were pretty flummoxed by our refusal of their lettuce.

As you might imagine, they didn't always react positively. "You aren't Christians; you are some kind of commie hippies!" Occasionally we lay folks would bring some visiting nun along, just to keep them confused. After some years of this, they got used to us and showed a grudging respect for our odd principles. We did other work in support of the UFW boycott of non-union lettuce, but this too was part of carrying a message of justice for the people who raise our food.

This is not a tactic whose only relevance is within religious contexts. Sometimes progressive movements have just about nothing except justice and truth on their side. When that's your situation, you have to be darn careful about who your "friends" are.

For many years, the movement for LGBT equality had very few rich and powerful friends -- and nonetheless in those precarious times, one of the movements' pillars was the boycott of Coors beer. We didn't want the homophobic, anti-union, racist Coors family cozying up to our emerging community, even if they'd pay for a few ads in gay papers and sell beer at a Pride march when nobody else wanted our "perverted" business. The Coors boycott hurt the company economically because for years they couldn't sell in gay bars -- but in addition, it hurt the Coors brand, calling the company on the right wing activities of the owners. It was only when LGBT folks had won a measure of wealth and power of our own that we were ready to take Coors' "friendship."

When the moral high ground is all you have, it's your best and only weapon. Don't give it up easily. There will be lots of "friends" who want you to disarm yourself by accepting their "friendship." You not only don't need them; you empower yourself by keeping them at arms length.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Let my people work!

This video is the inspiring story, told by the women themselves, of their struggle to get paid for work they are eager to do. That's right -- it is about a struggle simply to get paid. The labor market is that tough if you are an immigrant and work for a politically connected corporation that treats you as expendable.

It also points to the limitations of local living wage electoral campaigns. We can almost always win them: people who want to pay minimum wage are a tiny fraction of voters, while people who know they couldn't live on minimum wage are most everybody in the politically engaged class. But so long as so many low-wage workers are undocumented, employers can do what they want to far too many of them. If people are going ot work here, they need legal protections and a real chance to form unions.

The video comes via EBASE, advocates who have carried these Woodfin Suites workers' fight into the local community.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A fire for justice...

Gay Episcopalians wondered this weekend whether the bishops of our church gathered in New Orleans would throw us under the bus to preserve the Anglican Communion -- it’s a church kafuffle, if by chance you don't pay attention to this teapot. So it was great to read that they'd gotten an earful about the place they were visiting from Gus Newport, former mayor of Berkeley, an urban visionary, and a long time agitator for justice who can be trusted not gloss over realities. Episcopal News Service reports his talk:

"I have never seen such devastation, and I've been in war zones," Newport told the joint gathering of bishops and spouses about his first few weeks in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. ...

"Every evening, I would just cry, and wonder why there were no mental health experts here to help people get through this. When Columbine happened, that area was saturated with mental health professionals. How can a society like ours not think about mental health professionals, it's just plain racist," he said. ...

He told the gathering that present conditions were created after World War II when, in about 80 percent of the nation's cities, manufacturing and other jobs were outsourced to cheaper labor markets, interstate freeways were constructed and in many cases were built in the heart of black economic districts, effectively killing them and disenfranchising cities. At the same time, he said, real estate developers built suburban shopping malls and most of the white middle class moved away.

"That in a sense removed all the economies from the inner city, all you had left were philanthropy dollars and then they wonder why there's so much crime and violence. It's failed public policy." Newport said. ...

Now, he added: "These cities are time bombs waiting to detonate. In the case of New Orleans, the infrastructure was extremely flawed, there was a poor tax base, the levees hadn't been fixed for years. We wonder sometimes where are our priorities as a society.

"How can we spend trillions of dollars going into war in Iraq at the expense of a country so deteriorated, where our public school system is in such a state of decline?"

Newport has always told it like it is.

I have a vivid memory of Newport from the mid-1980s. President Reagan was funding a guerrilla assault on the elected government of Nicaragua without telling Congress where he was getting the money; in El Salvador, the U.S. was propping up a brutal military and right wing death squads. Bay Area activists in solidarity with popular movements in Central America held a meeting in the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall in Pimentel Hall at UC Berkeley; as a courtesy, the mayor was invited to say a few words.

Newport got up and rocked the house, saying something like this:

I don't understand you white people. The government in D.C. is making war on some the most important movements of poor people on the planet and you are sitting around talking. If I were you, I'd be organizing people to stop this right now. You hand out all these papers; you could have people out there with torches messing up the ATMs at these banks that pay for this stuff. You could be forcing the government to stop. That's what being serious about liberation would look like. Stop them!

Well, we didn't do it and Newport didn't either, but he meant it about seriousness -- and we still need that kind of fire. Glad the bishops got to hear from him.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday cheer

Click on this image if you can stomach (or delight in) a flash animation that makes a lot of sense in a troubled world. Don't know what the rest of the site is about. But enjoy.

Via the Porcupine who doesn't have a blog that I know of.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What MoveOn should publish...

... in response to Democratic Senators, including my own Dianne Feinstein, who colluded with Republicans to attack the antiwar movement yesterday. Courtesy of Dood Abides who blogs here.

Friday cat blogging

When she sits here -- and she sits here often -- the computer emits a loud hum until she's evicted from the keyboard. She doesn't appear to notice. Since she reacts to other sounds, we know she's not deaf. There's no getting inside that furry brain.

The Bush the press corps sees ...

Maybe they don't usually write about these things or put them on TV -- or maybe we've long ago tuned them out. I don't think most of us have a proper appreciation of how completely whacked out the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger is these days. From CBS News:

"Bush: I'm Still Here!"

... He dismissed concerns about lack of political progress in Iraq, saying people there are still recovering from the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein. Then, pounding his lectern, the president said, "I heard somebody say, 'Where's Mandela?' Well, Mandela's dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas." The actual former South African president, of course, is still very much alive. ...

Ken Herman of Cox Newspapers, who's covered Mr. Bush since before he became governor of Texas, put it to him: "Mr. President, for Republicans seeking election next year, are you an asset or a liability?"

The president didn't hesitate.

"Strong asset," he shot back.

And there's no doubt in the minds of those who cover him that he believes it.
The man is obviously off his rocker. He scares me, appropriately I think.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

No more silencing ...

It is hard to believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq could have any semi-positive by-products -- but perhaps I witnessed such a thing last night. This war has become so obviously catastrophic and so contrary to the interests of the vast majority of us, that "realist" elites are not only expressing some opposition to the war itself, but also opening up a topic long denied public airing: the stranglehold the Israel lobby exercises on U.S. foreign policies and politicians of both parties.

John Mearsheimer, political science professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, seem to be conventional academic alpha males. These kinds of figures don't subject themselves lightly to loud, well-organized denunciations by advocacy groups. Former President Jimmy Carter opened the way by publishing Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Mearsheimer and Walt followed with an article in the London Review of Books, a response to critics, and now a book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Last night the two authors spoke at a meeting in Berkeley co-sponsored by Codys Books and Tikkun.

These two are not peddling anything very radical. Here is some of what they said, from my notes; quotation marks indicate I wrote down the words verbatim.

The Israel lobby is an interest group like any other that tries to influence policy. There is nothing nefarious about their activities; this is what interest groups do. The lobby is not all Jewish; in addition to many Jewish organizations, it is also home to many Christian Zionists.

The United States' unwavering support for Israel against the Palestinians "makes it harder, not easier, to address the problems of the Middle East." For the United States, "Israel is a strategic liability." (Walt)

The lobby is very good at its project of contributing to friendly candidates and pushing legislators to get policies it wants. "Everybody in Congress knows you are playing with fire if you question U.S. support for Israel." (Walt)

Charges of anti-Semitism against critics of the lobby serve to distract from real policy discussions, discourage advocates of other policies, and marginalize those who try to raise criticisms.

"The lobby has pushed U.S. policies in the Middle East into forms that are not in U.S. interests." (Mearsheimer)

It is wrong to claim that most Arabs don't care about the Palestinians. Anger about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians fuels terrorism in Israel and against the United States.

The Iraq war is one of the greatest strategic blunders in U.S. history. The Israel lobby was one (among several) of the authors of that war. Israel has wanted to see the U.S. attack Iran.

The United States should treat Israel like a normal country, not supporting it unless it is in U.S. interests to do so.

The United States should push for a just peace between Palestinians and Israel along the lines of Israel giving up the settlements in occupied Palestine and returning to 1967 borders.

Since this talk was in Berkeley, several questions came at these authors from the left: just what are U.S. "national interests" and are those the same as the worlds peoples' interests? M&W were quite clear on what they consider "U.S. national interests."

  • keeping oil flowing;
  • preventing nuclear proliferation;
  • preventing terrorism against the United States.
When challenged about why Israel and India, countries which never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, should be treated as good guys, while Iran which did sign and has not been proven to be in violation is a pariah, they allowed as how the United States was indeed inconsistent about nuclear weapons.

These are not radicals or even liberals -- yet they have crossed a line and are getting the full pushback reserved for people the Israel lobby designates as enemies.
People often ask, is the Israel lobby really so influential? Aren't there lots of crazy, racist warhawks in Washington that have gotten us into the Iraq mess and our generally hostile posture toward the Islamic world? Yes, there are -- and the Israel lobby is nonetheless a real force that needs to be talked about. Here's what M.J. Rosenberg at Talking Points Memo Cafe says about the pressure of the lobby in D.C.:

I spent almost 20 years as a Congressional aide and can testify from repeated personal experience that Senators and House Members are under constant pressure to support status quo policies on Israel. It is no accident that Members of Congress compete over who can place more conditions on aid to the Palestinians, who will be first to denounce the Saudi peace plan, and who will win the right to be the primary sponsor of the next pointless Palestinian-bashing resolution.

Nor is it an accident that there is never a serious Congressional debate about policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. Moreover, every President knows that any serious effort to push for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement based on compromise by both sides will produce loud (sometimes hysterical) opposition from the Hill.

And these pressures reach down to the local level. I've worked for politicians running for offices no more genuinely important than dog catcher -- and to a man or woman, they believed that they must never utter the slightest question about Israel's virtue even privately or they would be opposed by influential people in their communities who made it their business to police the most local of politicians.

By stifling debate, people who believe they are acting as friends of Israel are actually storing up resentment in many quarters. In particular, young people, many of color, who will be the backbone of the future Democratic Party, don't get it. Many don't know about or don't feel very responsible for the Holocaust -- wasn't that something way back in history that Europeans did? If they know there are Palestinians, they identify with them more easily than a group of Europeans who dropped themselves on land lived in by Arabs. The idea of Jews as people oppressed and at risk simply makes no intuitive sense to them when Israel has the nukes.

The San Francisco Mission District has recently seen a round of this. An anti-gang arts organization painted a mural that included one segment showing Palestinians busting through a wall -- alongside slogans about self-determination and breaking down borders. Here in immigrant San Francisco, the parallels (accurate or not) between Israel's Wall and the U.S. border wall seem to many so obvious as to be almost not worth mentioning. But the Jewish Community Relations Council went ballistic; can't have such images here! Supporters of the youth, including anti-Zionist Jews, organized in support. Finally the youth agreed to compromise:

...the supporting organization had its funding stalled and agreed to alter the controversial image. ...

The controversy ended up pitting some members of The City’s Jewish community against each other, with some saying the images were appropriate. HOMEY, the organization that received a city grant to create two murals, said the mural was meant to unite the Mission district. Members of the Art Commission simply said the work did what it was supposed to — start a dialogue.

SF Examiner,
Sept. 20, 2007

This kind of bullying behavior just pisses people off. We need the kind of dialogue that Mearsheimer and Walt open up in their world -- and the kind of dialogue the mural opens at the street level.

The not-yet altered mural.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Judge was nearly deported

MAPA Photo

Carlos T. Bea, a judge of U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, was put on the court by George W. Bush. I don't expect much from such appointees. But I can be wrong. Bea has not forgotten his immigrant experience and he recently told immigration judges [pdf] how easily even a Stanford-attending newcomer can fall afoul of the complicated regulations that govern new arrivals.

Every immigrant has a story. You see before you an immigrant who was once under an order of deportation. ...

[Born in Span, his family fled the Nazis in 1939, stopping briefly in Cuba where he had citizenship through his deceased father, then coming on to the United States.] So I became a resident alien until 1952.

That year, as a sophomore at Stanford, and a basketball player, I made the Cuban Olympic team that played in the Games at Helsinki, Finland. I left for Havana without getting a re-entry permit, confident I could get a resident visa for return, as I had on earlier trips to Cuba. After the Games, I delayed my return for a year to play basketball in the European league with Real Madrid. When I went to get my visa at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, I was asked why I was returning; I stated to go back to Stanford. I was given a Student Visa. I did not grasp this was a non-resident visa that would interrupt my resident status, until 2 years later whenI attempted to get U.S. citizenship. Through a lawyer I filed an affidavit stating I intended to remain in the U.S.; that prompted the Service to start a deportation hearing.

Interpretation here: inadvertently, despite being a Stanford student on the way to a law degree, the complexities of the various immigration statuses available to him tripped him up and he ended up on a deportation track! The rest of his story is, basically, that he would have been tossed out of the country if an appeals judge had not been intrigued to interview this Stanford basketball player and later upheld his appeal.

Only years later, when I started handling a few immigration cases, did I realize how unusual was this appellate finding.

The rest of Bea's speech is almost as interesting as this anecdote.
  • He points out that the Gonzales Department of Justice appealed to Congress to create more immigration judgeships -- and then left 6 of 15 slots unfilled.
  • He presents some serious thinking about how to reorganize immigration appeals so judges would have a chance of really thinking about them, while appellants receive an automatic stay of their deportation orders.
  • He urges the judges to police the lawyers of the immigration bar. Apparently Congress gave the Attorney General the job of issuing regulations for judges to follow in sanctioning attorneys for both the state and the immigrant appellants, but these have not been issued

    perhaps for fear an IJ might one day sanction one of the government's attorneys. ...

    Although the immigration bar certainly has some of the best and most dedicated attorneys, it is also an area that attracts some of the worst. First, the clients tend to be uninformed about how the American justice system operates. They have few connections with business and community leaders who can inform them. They unquestioningly accept whatever the attorney tells them. [And] if malpractice is committed, the likely result is the client is removed...

  • He's distressed by what he sees in pleas about whether immigrants should be deported as felons.

    I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have seen the facts of the crime detailed in a document that we--and YOU--are not allowed to consider in making our determination.

    While he is awfully sympathetic to the idea that felons should be automatically booted out of the country, he wants proper evidence, not assumptions of criminality, to govern the procedures.
  • He admonished the immigration judges

    ... please remember that aliens are not presumptive criminals and you are not tasked as gate-keepers, your value to be calculated by how many applicants you turn away. By and large, aliens come to this country to work and to raise families, not to plunder and pillage.

You tell'em, Judge Bea.

Via The State of Opportunity.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Iraq: "Vietnam on steroids" revisited

General William Westmoreland, a 1960s era Petraeus

When Bush launched the Iraq invasion, it was common for war opponents to warn: "this is going to be Vietnam on steroids." And it was, in the sense that, just like the Vietnamese, Iraqis didn't take kindly to being occupied by huge foreigners, swathed in modern armor, unconstrained in their use of violence, who knew nothing of their history, religion, cultures or language.

Unlike the Vietnamese, the Iraqi resistance does not have a popular, widely legitimate, leadership. But the U.S. invasion has empowered various groups to fight and manipulate the occupier while concurrently taking aim at each other. The "Vietnam on steroids" metaphor had diminished currency as the Iraqi civil war took center stage.

Lately our rulers have revived the metaphor for their own purposes, not only in Bush's absurd effort to pump up the "stab in the back" myth about our lost Indochina war, but also by trotting out an ambitious, television-savvy general to try to sell continued mayhem to a weary public.

What will happen in Iraq will happen. The U.S. has lost that war and will eventually get out; the Iraqis will make us leave -- here in the U.S., most of us see no point in getting more of our young people killed.

Democratic would-be Presidents can dither all they want. What do they mean by withdraw all "combat" troops? Any troops they leave in Iraq who aren't "combat" troops will rapidly become dead bodies. All of this discussion is irrelevant -- the Iraqis will eventually boot us out of their destroyed country.

Where it is important to look at the "Vietnam on steroids" metaphor today is on the home front. Wars, especially failed imperial wars, have consequences -- this one, in addition to exposing the fragility of our economic system as the United States government goes further in hock to China to pay for it, is changing our political culture in ways reminiscent of Vietnam.

Because the Iraq invasion is so closely identified with a President who controlled both houses of Congress and whose legitimacy was quite fragile aside from posturing as a permanent "Commander in Chief," disgust about the war has been a huge spur to Democratic Party activism. After all, it was the Republicans who gave us this mess -- so in a two-party system, opponents naturally run over to build up the other guys.

Concurrently, since the mainstream media were complicit in the lies that got us into war and the internet was changing where some people meet and organize, the war spawned a lively Democratic netroots which became a major arena for expression of antiwar energy. So we've got Daily Kos and a plethora of other sites.

From the new Democratic netroots, a generation of people who hadn't paid much prior attention to politics cut their teeth in Democratic campaigns, both losing (Dean, Lamont...) and winning (Congress 2006) and pinned their hopes on a Democratic ascendancy.

As they watch Democrats in Congress waffle on refusing to fund the war, they are learning bitterly what a previous generation of anti-Vietnam activists never had a choice about knowing because Vietnam was Democratic President Lyndon Johnson's war: Democratic party elites share with Republicans a confidence that the United States can and should rule the world. Listen to smart electoral wonk Chris Bowers at Open Left:

... if Democrats end up nominating a candidate who supports a substantial residual forces plan while thinking that candidate will actually withdraw virtually all troops in a short period of time, then basically our party will have been hoodwinked in a manner not unlike the way the war was first sold to the American public back in 2002 and 2003. While that will be incredibly depressing and infuriating, it also won’t be that much of a huge surprise. After all, most of the Democratic foreign policy elite behind the substantial residual forces plan actually helped sell the Iraq war before it began.

He also labels the Democratic presidential offerings "Hillary Edwama."

At this moment, the phrase that "Iraq is Vietnam on steroids" applies all too easily to the developing alienation from electoral struggle among many of the most committed, competent and effective activists brought forward by this generation's war. That is exactly what Vietnam did among a previous generation of activists. Get involved with Democrats? No way!

I'm not going to argue that playing in party politics is good for the soul. It is not. But I do know what happens when progressive activists walk away in disgust from this noxious arena. Activists from the Vietnam generation know -- because many of us already did that. The result was that the Boomers now in office are not the people from the vigorous movements, the creative sectors, of that era's popular struggles. Our generation's pols are the cautious, the amoral, the careerists, the hustling ladder climbers. (Sound like any Clintons you know?)

If Democrats' adoption of Bush's war as their own proceeds on its current trajectory, many of the people who have created the progressive netroots will similarly walk away from oppositional political activity. "Did that; wasted our time."

Since United States wealth and power are much less than they were a generation ago, leaving the field to the second raters will have harsh consequences for all of us, most especially all those who never got into the game at all, even into the relatively open netroots: the poor, the racially excluded, the very young.

Tom Engelhardt suggest it's time for a new metaphor; we are now living in

...the Roman Empire on crack cocaine. ...

As it happened, 40 years [after Vietnam], the planet had changed. American military power not only would fail (as in Vietnam) to conquer all before it, but the United States would no longer prove to be the preeminent force on the planet, just the last, lingering superpower in a contest that had ended in 1991. ...

Whatever our country was in my 1950s childhood, Americans were still generally raised to believe that empire was a dreadful, un-American thing. We were, of course, already garrisoning the globe, but there was that other hideous empire, the Soviet one, to point to. Perhaps the urge for a republic, not an empire still lies hidden somewhere in the American psyche.

Let's hope so, because one great task ahead for the American people will be to deconstruct whatever is left of our empire of stupidity and of this strange, militarized version of America we live in.

And Gary Kamiya speaks to the urgency of the moment, dismal as it seems:

We need to remember that every American who falls in Iraq is someone's son or daughter. We need to commit ourselves to working with the Iraqis, whom we have so terribly wronged, and with the rest of the world to ensure that our departure will not cause Iraq's people to suffer even more. We need to remember that war is not normal, that it is the worst thing in the world, to be undertaken only in extreme need. And we need to remember that a nation that does not rise up when arrogant and foolish leaders sacrifice its less privileged members is in danger of becoming a nation in name only.

This is no longer about Bush. This is about remaking America.

Clinton has a health plan; so what?

Pollster's presentation to Dems on how to present health care issues.

How about calling it "Reward the Greedy to Care for the Needy." Insurers are reassured they won't lose; all other benefits are up for legislative negotiation.

Note that neither the Obama nor the Edwards plans are honestly more promising. None of them take private profit out of caring for sick people. As long as health care is required to serve as a source of private wealth, people who can't pay for their medical needs will get screwed. The poor just don't have the wherewithal to prime the system's pump.

I don’t think we can use the details of these plans to help us decide which of these aspirants we hope to see as President. The proper questions seem to me: Will any of them fight for some improvement? Which one is more likely to get something enacted? I don't at the moment have a personal answer to that question. Very probably, I never will.

Certainly "Reward the Greedy to Care for the Needy" is in the grand tradition of US. philanthropy: the entire non-profit sector, about 12 percent of our economy, runs on that premise through the practice of tax deductions for charitable giving.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Some people will not be missed

Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has long identified himself as an Episcopalian, said this weekend that he is a Baptist and has been for years.

Campaigning in ... conservative, predominantly Baptist [South Carolina], McCain called himself a Baptist when speaking to reporters Sunday and noted that he and his family have been members of the North Phoenix Baptist Church in his home state of Arizona for more than 15 years.

"It's well known because I'm an active member of the church," the Arizona senator said.

Huffington Post

Nothing against Baptists, but for a "straight talker," McCain has certainly proved to be a squirrelly guy. I believe the former POW used to be against torture as well, until he enabled the Bush Administration's effort to legalize its practice through the Military Commissions Act. Do the Baptists want him?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Beach Impeach: a view from within the "M"

For an overview of about 1000 people spelling out

with our bodies at Crissy Field yesterday, watch the YouTube. Here are a few shots from the Beach Impeach:

The sloops of the boating class raced on San Francisco Bay...

..while on land, folks began to straggle in. The night before, organizer Brad Newsham had about 650 sign-ups, but he projected an enthusiastic faith that enough folks would show to make the project work. Would be he right?

Here Brad instructs his "letter captains." Code Pink occupied the "C" in "IMPEACH!"

"H" leader recruits people arriving to his letter.

We spread ourselves out between yellow ropes spelling out the letters.

Meanwhile Alan Barnett of the Marin Peace and Justice Coalition hawked bumper stickers galore!

Groups settled on their places.

Even the many dogs were mostly peaceful.

This one enjoyed a good scratch.

Within an hour, there was nothing more to do but wait for the helicopters that would record our event. And get sunburned.

Finally the helicopter Brad had rented as well as a news chopper buzzed overhead!

We did our moves; those of us who formed the bottom of the "M" during "IMPEACH!" trotted all the way down the field to become the "N" in "REASON:" and "TREASON!"

We ended the day with a series of "waves" passed back and forth across the "letters."

And Brad Newsham was one happy anarchist-artist-cab driver on his 56th birthday!
Is the Beach Impeach, in the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut's categorization, a a karass (a meaningful community) or a granfalloon (a meaningless assembly of persons with no real bond)? Time and the staying power of the movement for peace and justice will tell. Meanwhile, a lot of sometimes frustrated activists had a good time making our statement yesterday and that has to do some good in hard times.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Richardson must be a football fan

"The President has been allowed to spy on Americans without a warrant, and our U.S. Senate is letting it continue," Richardson said. "You know something is wrong when the New England Patriots face stiffer penalties for spying on innocent Americans than Dick Cheney and George Bush."

Bill Richardson

Friday, September 14, 2007

Awesome membership-building gimmick

If the back of your car looked like this:

And you parked it somewhere in Kentucky...

... you'd stand a good chance of finding one of these

under your windshield wiper. Here's the other side:

The organizer who showed this to me explained:

We give every member a handful. I find one on my car every once in a while.

Yes ... we have had people come to a meeting after getting one of these.

I love this simple outreach trick. I'm sure it works on a couple of levels. It gives current members a way to do something really easy that builds their identification with their community organization. And it makes a very simple invitation to the person who gets a card to do something concrete. Offering a meeting is much better than just pointing to a website, even if most recipients are more likely to look at the website.

Nice work, KFTC.

Iraq: over one million dead civilians

Since our media endlessly spew tiny numbers of Iraqis killed since we trashed their country, it is good to find in the Los Angeles Times that a British outfit has made a serious effort to discover what our military hopes to sweep under the rug.

The figure from ORB, a British polling agency that has conducted several surveys in Iraq, followed statements this week from the U.S. military defending itself against accusations it was trying to play down Iraqi deaths to make its strategy appear successful. ...

According to the ORB poll, a survey of 1,461 adults suggested that the total number slain during more than four years of war was more than 1.2 million.

ORB said it drew its conclusion from responses to the question about those living under one roof: "How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003?"

Based on Iraq's estimated number of households -- 4,050,597 -- it said the 1.2 million figure was reasonable. ...

ORB said its poll had a margin of error of 2.4 percent. According to its findings, nearly one in two households in Baghdad had lost at least one member to war- related violence, and 22 percent of households nationwide had suffered at least one death. It said 48 percent of the victims were shot to death and 20 percent died as a result of car bombs, with other explosions and military bombardments blamed for most of the other fatalities.

The U.S. Census estimates [pdf] that there are roughly 115 million households in the United States. Now those households probably contain a lot less persons than Iraqi households. Let's pretend to correct for that difference by estimating that the U.S. has roughly 57 million Iraqi-size households. If 22 percent of those U.S. households had suffered a death from invasion- and occupation-related violence, 12.5 million of us would be dead. Just to put what we've done in some context.

Nobody can produce exact numbers, but this British survey suggests that, if anything, the counter displayed at the top of this blog is a conservative estimate of the carnage!