Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Confidence in our Financial System is Not What We Need

The recession and gazillion dollar bailouts have provoked a whole slew of articles about the loss of confidence in our financial system.

Frank Rich says that the "wholesale loss of confidence is a catastrophe that not even the new president’s most costly New Deal can set right." Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in his October 14th statement justifying the bailout that "there is a lack of confidence in our financial system – a lack of confidence that must be conquered because it poses an enormous threat to our economy."

The Bernie Madoff scandal has now set off a whole new slew of articles about the lack of confidence in Wall Street - articles like Bernie Madoff, Confidence Destroyer and Madoff Scam Saps Confidence in Wall Street. But nobody seems to be questioning the underlying premise that we should have confidence in these people. Isn't too much confidence exactly what got us into this mess?

When I began my current employment, I dutifully filled out my 401k investment form. I glanced at the prospectuses for the funds I chose, but I didn't know the companies that I was investing in. I never met the person who was responsible for investing my funds. I don't read and investigate the claims of the companies in which my money is invested. I don't know how they treat their employees or if they are dumping mercury in a lake somewhere. How many of us know?

Should we be handing over our money to people we don't know to invest in organizations we know nothing about? Should we trust fallible humans with the power and temptation of dealing with billions of dollars? Power corrupts. Nobody is immune. And money buys a lot of power.

What I'm really saying is, shouldn't we have seen this coming? Is it confidence that we need to cultivate or some healthy skepticism?

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Terrorists are Criminals, Not Soldiers

Terrorism is not new. It did not begin with the twin towers falling. It did not begin with the Oklahoma City bombing. It did not begin with car bombs in Israel. It did not begin with hangings and church fires in the south. But all of these things were terrible, violent, and reprehensible acts of terror.

Wouldn't it make sense, given humanity's long history of dealing with terror, to study the cases where terror, if not ended, at least subsided?

In 1963, members of the klu klux klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church and killed four little girls. This was not the first time the kkk had perpetrated acts of terror. They have over the years been responsible for many bombings, hangings, kidnappings and deaths.

If we are to use the logic provided to us by President Bush when he wanted to invade Afghanistan or by Israel when they respond to terrorist attacks by bombing, then we would have expected the United States to fly a bombing mission over Birmingham in 1963. We would have expected that, after they bombed the innocent civilians of Birmingham, they would have blamed the kkk for hiding amongst civilians

But we did not do that. We did not do that, because terrorists are not soldiers. We did not do that because it is the soldiers responsibility to protect civilians, not harm them. We did not do that because many people live in Birmingham who are not terrorists and the idea that they harbored terrorists by having the pure dumb luck of being a Birmingham resident is ridiculous.

What the United States did do, far too slowly and painfully, is investigate the crimes of the kkk. We sent undercover operatives to infiltrate their organizations. We paid off inside informants. We treated terrorists like the criminals they are. (I know many of them walked free for many years and I don't make light of that travesty, but my point is that the terror began to ease without a war against the entire town.)

Violence is always tragic. War is always tragic. But it is so much more tragic when it is painfully clear that it can never bring the security and peace that most people want. Even if you are not a pacifist, the cold hard fact remains that responding to terrorists with war is irrational and effective only in creating more enemies.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Krispy Creme and Plastic Surgery Save the World

If you have not yet heard, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon may have just solved our energy crisis.

According to this report from Fox/Faux news, Dr. Craig Alan Bittner "claimed on a Web site that he created 'lipodiesel' from his patients' fat and used it to power his Ford SUV and his girlfriend's Lincoln Navigator."


We may not have much fossil fuel left in the United States, but our fat deposits are legendary. We could power the country for decades. I may even start a business. We could hire people to sit around and eat Krispy Cremes until they reach the proper mass and then suck it all out and sell it for fuel.

You know what the best part of the story is? "
California law apparently forbids the use of human medical waste to power vehicles."

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pope a Dope

Today, in his Christmas address, the pope asked for people to work together to solve our problems "in a spirit of authentic solidarity."

I thought about using this post to rant about someone who would call for authentic solidarity out of one side of his mouth while vilifying large swaths of humanity by talking about the evil dangers of homosexuality out of the other.

I thought about marveling at the shear audacity of someone who can add the accumulation of wealth to the deadly sins that will take you straight to hell, all the while sitting in the midst of thousands of years of accumulated riches.

I thought about a little diatribe on how many human beings have died of aids because they won't use a condom, as the pope thinks birth control is a sin. Or perhaps on how many women have died because of back alley abortions or because a doctor in Nicaragua suspected a miscarriage might have been an abortion and didn't want to risk prison.

I thought about recounting the history of Catholicism in the world. I thought about the crusades, the inquisition, forcible conversions, decimation of indigenous culture, appeasement of nazis, priests abusing children and concealment of their crimes...

But then I thought, who gives a damn what the pope thinks? The pope looks like what he is, a decrepit relic.

Catholicism is on the decline all over. In the United States, Catholic numbers have held somewhat steady due to an influx of immigrants from places like Mexico, but native-born Americans are dropping the religion. And with anti-immigrant hysteria and a declining economy keeping immigrants away, that number is bound to decline further.

Spain, once a bastion of Catholicism, is going the way of the rest of Europe and leaving the church behind. Latin America has been hemorrhaging Catholics. The number of nuns and monks in the world is on decline. The number of Catholic priests is on decline. And Catholic school enrollment is down. The drop-off in the United States has been precipitous, causing all sorts of ogeda in the conservative community. In fact, according to the Vatican themselves, Islam has now overtaken Catholicism as the worlds most practiced religion.

So who really cares what the pope thinks. Not even practicing Catholics pay much attention his dictates anymore.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Oh Great, Another Protest

Tis the season of protests here in DC.

In the last week I have seen a Code Pink shoe display at the Whitehouse gate, a dancing man wearing a paper mache George Bush head, and a pathetically small gathering of women marching for sex workers rights. In addition to which, at least two groups of drum wielding protesters have marched by my office building.

So what the hell do these people think they are accomplishing? I hate to be the one to break it to them, but protests don't do a thing. Millions of people around the world streamed out into the streets before the Iraq war and it didn't do a damn bit of good. Seattle protesters got themselves in the news and even managed to shut down a meeting, but the WTO is still here, the World Bank and IMF are still doing the same crap, and we all just mortgaged the rest of our lives to pay off a bunch of international bankers.

Much of this protest delusion comes from the notion that it was protesters that ended the war in Vietnam. United States participation in Vietnam went on for more than a decade, despite all the protesters. And it wasn't a bunch of marginalized kids marching that made your average Joe fed up with the war. It was seeing body bags come in by the thousands. It was learning about the lies the government was telling. It was seeing My Lai photos plastered all over the paper. In short, it was journalists who risked their lives telling the truth about what was going on, not a bunch of burnt hippies in moccasin boots.

I'm not saying that it is impossible for a large movement of people to force powerful interests to change their tune, but it is rare and requires strategy. The other day I received an email about arranging a general strike across the whole country. Nowhere in the email does it mention what we would be striking for. Where is the focus? Where is the strategy? How are you going to accomplish something if you don't even know what you are trying to accomplish?

The email I received says that Gandhi showed us how it could be done. Gandhi did show us how it could be done. Gandhi did not dress up in paper mache heads or turtle costumes. He didn't gather together disparate small groups all asking for different things. He didn't conduct protests just to pat himself on the back or meet and greet with like-minded people. Gandhi had a plan.

Gandhi's most famous protest was marching to the ocean to make salt. Gandhi wanted India out from under British colonial rule and knew he needed to show the world the injustice of British rule. The British imposed a salt tax, which gave them a monopoly on salt. Gandhi's march to make salt fulfilled a real need, highlighted the injustice of British laws, and showed the strength of his movement.

Gandhi was thrown in jail for starting these protests. His treatment by authorities, and the support for his cause, started a domino effect and protests broke out in other areas of the country. That was all part of his plan, as was the media coverage that he cultivated beforehand. He did not just throw something together at the last minute. Today, people just show up at the National Mall on a Sunday afternoon for protests that resemble support groups.

Your average person sees someone dressed as a stuffed animal or with F&#$ the Gap painted on their bare ass and just discounts everything the group is trying to say. Worse, some of my fellow anarchists seem to think that if you destroy everything now, something better will miraculously spring up in its place. Violence is a sure way to turn people off from what you are trying to say.

So please, don't send me any more calls to protest. Send me a plan. Invite me to a strategy meeting. Let's pick a realizable goal, identify the obstacles, figure out whose support is needed, and devise a cleverly effective way of pounding away at it until we get somewhere. And if you try to make me wear some ridiculous costume, we're through.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obama Bursts Black v. Gay Narrative

Barack Obama picked Rick Warren to speak at the inauguration. When I heard it, I was appalled. And what rational, compassionate person wouldn't be pissed that a man who compared homosexuality to pedophilia and incest was chosen for this honor. Take a gander at Rachel Maddow's take on the issue:

But while I am still pissed about the choice, I do find one thing rather interesting. Just a short while ago, I found myself writing a post to try and dispel the myth that African Americans were to blame for the passage of Proposition 8 in California. And I still keep hearing people blab about how African Americans are more homophobic than white people.

So isn't it ironic that it is the black religious leader at the inauguration who supports gay rights and the white guy (from the oh-so-liberal left coast) who is the homophobe?

The benediction is being given by The Reverend Dr Joseph E Lowery. Not only is the Reverend a respected civil rights leader who has come out in support of gay rights, he has also been supportive of the leftest of the lefty causes (like showing up to lead prayers for Camp Casey peace activists).

Watch him speak at Coretta Scott King's funeral. Watch the crowd go crazy when he says that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Note how he points out King being against homophobia.

Can people finally shut up now about how black people are so homophobic?!

Thanks to dmac and Pam's House Blend for bringing this story some coverage.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Honesty or Congeniality?

I'm not always a very nice person.

It isn't that I go out of my way to hurt or offend people. It isn't that I'm completely oblivious to how people are going to take things that I say. It's just that I have an overwhelming, internal compulsion to say what I really think. I also have a very hard time pretending to feel or think something that I don't.

Sometimes this honesty compulsion comes out in small things. Gift giving is a perfect example. I think obligatory gift giving is stupid and irrational. I know I'm supposed to act pleased in order not to offend people, but I just can't do it. Perhaps it is small minded of me to deny a person whatever benevolent feelings they get from gift giving, but why keep it a secret that I resent being saddled with some slave labor-made piece of landfill?

Being honest is bound to lose you some friends along the way, but being phony ensures that the friends you have will be superficial. And in the end, superficiality and dishonesty will erode any relationship.

While being honest can appear to cause more conflict and hard feelings at first, over time it actually causes far less. This is in no small part because, when you don't explain what you really think, the people around you are sure to make (often negative) assumptions about your motivations.

Work is the most difficult place to be honest. Many have blamed Dubya's disastrous presidency in large part on a staff full of "yes men". But how many of us are really honest with our bosses, especially if it would cost us our current and potential jobs?

If I had a dollar for every time one of my bosses wasted time making grand plans that they themselves would undoubtedly be the biggest obstacle to fulfilling, I'd be on a beach in Jamaica right now. But you're not going to keep your job for long if you tell your boss they are an impediment to getting things accomplished.

That, of course, is where power intersects with honesty. It's one thing to be honest with someone who might stop being friends with you. It's another to be honest with someone who can fire you.

As Dave Chappelle so brilliantly showed in his skit "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong", honesty comes at a price. But what is the price of not being honest? What's the cost of going along to get along? Is there a problem that can be solved without a willingness to risk the offense, conflict, and discomfort that comes from honesty?

What would happen if we all suddenly refused to be phony?

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Hillary Gets a Bailout Too?

This week, the Obama campaign (Joe Biden specifically) sent me an email asking that I give $100 or more to help Hillary Clinton pay off her primary debt.

Are they f'ing kidding me? Let me try to wrap my head around this one.

  • Hillary "loaned" her campaign $11 - 13 million so that she could string out her electorally impossible challenge against Barack Obama
  • About $5.3 million of the money the Clinton campaign owes is to pay slimy Mark Penn who ran her campaign into the ground and is also a lobbyist for people like the government of Colombia.
Oh yeah, and
  • We are in a major recession
So first I'm informed that billions of our tax dollars are going to pay for the greed fest of a bunch of uber-wealthy Wall Street billionaires who liked to play mortgage craps.

Then they want us to swallow paying billions more to bail out car company executives who couldn't manage their way out of a paper bag and who continued to make gas guzzling SUVs even though we were undoubtedly headed for an oil crisis.

Now I'm supposed to take some of what's left of my pathetic non-profit administrator salary to pay off some lobbyists so the Clinton's don't suffer a setback on their way to billionaires row?

Sometimes, I swear, I think my head is just going to explode.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Clinton as Secretary of State, a Disappointing Choice

It is now official. Hillary Clinton is Obama's pick for secretary of state. I am really bummed.

During the primaries, Obama consistently said that Clinton showed bad judgment in the biggest foreign policy decision of her career, Iraq. Was he just being a slimy politician, saying what he thought would play, even though he didn't believe it? Or does he truly believe that Hillary Clinton has poor judgment, but he is appointing her anyway because he thinks it will keep the party together. I'm not sure which scenario is more disappointing.

I'm particularly disappointed for what this means for Israel policy. Clinton has consistently come out on the side of the uber-Zionists, even when faced with massive evidence of human rights abuses and violations of international law by the Israeli government. Check out this report on the Lebanon war and Hillary's speech at the end.

That speech was during her senate race in New York. Her democratic opponent was Jonathan Tasini. He is a Jew who lived in Israel and has seen first hand the situation on the ground. When he asserted that Israel had violated international law, Clinton spokespeople said his comments were "beyond the pale." Tasini responded to them with a letter calling Clinton out for her irresponsible policies. I should note that human rights organizations agree with Tasini and that a 2007 Human Rights Watch report found that:

Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes, not Hezbollah’s shielding as claimed by Israeli officials, caused most of the approximately 900 civilian deaths in Lebanon during the July-August 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
The Israeli Palestinian conflict is a vitally important focus for any secretary of state. It isn't just the conflict itself, but the backlash when we are seen as taking Israel's side no matter what they do. World opinion polls consistently rate Israel as having a mostly negative effect on the world. We cannot dismiss this as pure anti-semitism. There are very legitimate criticisms to be made against Israeli government policies. When Bishop Desmond Tutu is comparing your policies to apartheid in South Africa, it's time to listen.

The fact that the U.S. so rabidly defends Israel, including consistently using our UN security council veto to block resolutions related to Israeli crimes, is a major sticking point in any effort to improve our moral standing in the world. How do we turn over a new diplomatic leaf with an old, compromised hoe.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Christmas is Evil

The Christmas season has officially begun. I know this, because a Walmart employee was trampled to death today (Black Friday) by a mob of Christmas shoppers. Happy birthday Jesus.

People say Christmas is a time to spend with family. Why do you need an excuse to get together with your family? If you love them so much, shouldn't you want to be with them more than once a year? And what about the large proportion of us who don't want to spend time with family, people for whom holiday celebrations are a cruel form of torture?

People say gift giving is a form of appreciation. First of all, that is a bunch of garbage. Most gift giving is a series of obligatory grab bags and "they got me something, so.." If you want to show appreciation, why only once a year? And are we so incapable of meaningful human interaction that the only thing we can come up with is putting yourself in debt to give your niece a GAP gift certificate?

People say this is the season of peace and good will. Considering the shopper death march of today, I shouldn't even have to address this one. Anyone who has ever been near a mall at Christmas knows that people are full of everything but peace and goodwill. And going into a spending frenzy or throwing tinsel on a dead tree is not going to bring peace to the earth. Ask how many of those peace and good will Christmas celebrators are also against war.

The people who claim they are celebrating Christmas for religious reasons may be the most delusional of all. Do you really think Jesus would have wanted his birthday to be about stocking up on video games at Walmart? If this was really about celebrating Jesus, people would be giving away their extraneous stuff and figuring out how to live simply and righteously.

My personal favorite may be the tradition excuse. How many stupid things are done in the name of tradition? Traditions can and should change. Killing trees and heaping a lot of crap onto landfills is not going to make our lives any better. Come January 1st you are just going to be hung over, in debt, and not on speaking terms with several relatives.

Bah humbug.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Prop 8: Direct Your Anger Where it Belongs

Immediately after Proposition 8 passed, the blame game began. And while it is perfectly legitimate to try and understand who voted for it and why, it is perfectly counterproductive to vilify those individuals and give them up for lost.

The blame in this case has been, by many, placed squarely on the shoulders of the black community, a larger percentage of whom voted for the measure than any of the other groups in California that people keep track of.

One of the first discussions I heard on the subject was on the Rachel Maddow Show. Maddow had Princeton professor Melissa Harris Lacewell on to talk about why so many African-Americans voted for Prop 8.

To their credit, both Maddow and Lacewell point out that the vast majority of people who supported Prop 8 were white. Lacewell argues that the people against Prop 8 never made effective arguments to the black community. Watch it and see if you can spot the glaring hole in their discussion.

Where is mention of the people who are both gay and black? Where are their voices in all of this? Where is someone like greling supposed to turn when confronted with hate from all directions?

I had been eagerly awaiting a response from my new favorite blogger, Monica Roberts at TransGriot. She was insightful as usual. In addition to pointing out the glaring lack of attention paid to the African American community during the campaign, she brings up the much larger issue of how invisible black GLBT people are within the GLBT rights movement.

It seems the GLBT rights movement has some of the same frustrating problems that steered me away from the feminist movement and frustrates the hell out of me working in nonprofits. Everyone talks about being "inclusive." At best that usually means "consulting" with a few supposedly representative minorities. Until people from all backgrounds - racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, whatever - are core voices in these movements and organizations, they will never succeed.

Perhaps more importantly, as Monica so wisely pointed out, the blame game is part and parcel of the usual divide and conquer strategy. When women, African Americans, Latinos, GLBT, and all the rest of the people who have been screwed to varying degrees by the current hierarchy get together - we can accomplish something. The only reason people like Dick Cheney still have power is that they have kept us mistrusting and fighting each other instead of them. Time to tell them to F-off with that strategy.

And here's something interesting. A study of public opinion actually found that black Americans were more likely to support job protections for homosexuals than white Americans. So why is the black community supportive of job protections, but not marriage equality? The same reason the white community doesn't support gay marriage - religion.

Another fascinating study (thanks for that Monica) is Say it Loud I'm Black and I'm Proud. In it, when GLBT respondents were asked about their experiences with black heterosexuals in four areas - families, friends, black heterosexual organizations, and religious institutions - only religious institutions showed more negative than positive or equal experiences.

Rather than create divisions between Americans or schizophrenia in those people who don't neatly fit into some arbitrary groups, lets focus on the real problem. The movement for Proposition 8 was led by religious organizations. The support of Prop 8 in communities, black and white, always had religious justification. Just check out the commentary to this article on Black Voices. The problem is religiously based intolerance.

Now anyone who knows me knows how I feel about religion. I find it hard to belief that religion ever does anyone any good. But I grudgingly admit that religious organizations were crucial in the civil rights movement and in bringing support and services to poor communities.

People should never forget that the same bible that Martin Luther King took his strength from was also used to justify slavery. Conversely, Martin Luther King took a bible that had been used to justify slavery and turned it around to compel people to do the right thing. If that kind of change in attitude is possible, then so is a change in attitude towards GLBT rights. Now, play this video of Wanda Sykes, get riled up, and do something.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Disastrous Political Interference by the Catholic Church

You would think 1,000 years of intolerant rule would be enough, but the Catholic church continues to interfere in matters of state all around the world.

It has come out that it was the Archbishop in San Francisco who requested and received help from the Mormon church to pass California's Proposition 8 (defining marriage as between a man and a woman). The Mormon church then sent a call out to its members to raise money and donate time to make sure the measure passed.

In Nicaragua, it was a Catholic church led movement that enacted a complete ban on all abortions. The ban, a violation of international law, imposes harsh criminal penalties on doctors who perform abortions and has made the medical community afraid to treat women who have miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. Within a year, the ban had cost at least 80 women their lives.

The Catholic church tells people who to vote for. They rarely say outright the candidate by name, as that will get them into some hot water. However, they tell their followers to vote based on one issue and one issue only - abortion. If Hitler were against abortion, and his opponent for it, they would say vote for Hitler.

The fact that our current anti-abortion president is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands in war doesn't matter. Whether or not the next leader's policies will help save some of the tens of thousands who die every day of starvation doesn't matter.

The Catholic church has almost always been on the wrong side of human rights - from the inquisition to appeasement of Hitler to the continuous subjugation of women. And they - the people who brought us an epidemic of horrific and concealed sex abuse - want to dictate the morals of our governments?

How dare they.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

A Thank You Letter to President George W. Bush

Dear Dubya,

You've probably been feeling underappreciated lately, with that 71% disapproval rating and all, so I wanted to take a moment to send you a little thank you note.

I thought trickle down economics and neoliberalism were here to stay, but your brilliantly mismanaged collapse of our economy has those formerly sacrosanct concepts gasping for air.

I thought the Christian Coalition and other "family values" groups would hold us hostage forever with their close-minded, self-righteous morality, but your example of how wrong an evangelical can be has opened many eyes.

I thought poverty in America would remain a subject hidden forever from public discourse, but your criminal negligence after Katrina left it stranded on New Orleans rooftops for all the world to see and talk about.

I thought no democrat could win against a war hero who accused them of socialism, terrorism, elitism, or (the most heinous) non-christianism, but association with your failures was to a candidate what communist party membership was to an actor in the McCarthy era.

I thought a black president was an impossible dream, but you shrewdly made people hate you so much that their prejudices seemed insignificant.

So thank you, Dubya. We have paid a heavy price in suffering and lives lost, but today's possibilities would not have been possible without your incompetence.


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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Obama is Going to Win Florida and Here is Why

Whenever anyone talks about Florida, they always make it seem as though winning Florida hinges on the votes in South Florida. But Florida is a big state and who wins or loses depends on more than just a handful of Cubans and Jews in South Florida.

In fact, South Florida is in the bag. It always votes democratic, despite the heavily Republican Cuban vote. In the 2004 presidential election Miami-Dade County favored Kerry over Bush 409,732 to 361,095. Broward County, where Ft. Lauderdale sits, was even more democratic with 453,873 voting for Kerry and only 244,674 for Bush.

In the 2000 Presidential Election Gore received 39,275 more Miami-Dade County votes than Bush. And Gore received a whopping 209,801 more votes than Bush in Broward County. That's about 69% of the vote. If it were up to Dade and Broward Counties, Florida would have gone democratic in both of the last presidential elections.

I would expect to see those democratic number rise even higher this election. George W. Bush's disastrous presidency will certainly push the votes in that direction, but so will demographic and generational changes. Look for an increase in votes from the citizen children of non-citizen immigrants who arrived from the Caribbean (particularly Haiti) beginning in the 1950s. Their children can vote, and I'm guessing they will.

Further, the Republicans' main voters in South Florida are an aging group of white Cubans. Their children may still be Republicans, but their ideological dedication isn't nearly as strong. What's more, later arrivals (many of whom are Afro-Cuban and have more ambivalent feelings about the Cuban government) may have a more open mind.

Regardless of how much Obama wins by in South Florida, it is northern Florida where the race will be won. It is northern Florida, which more closely resembles Georgia, that usually votes Republican in national elections. Duval County (Jacksonville) favored Bush in each of the last two elections. In 2000 it was 152,098 to 107,864 and in 2004 it was 220,190 to 158,610.

Duval County is about 30% African American, but only 60% of of African American voters in Duval showed up in 2004. A significant increase in black voting in Duval could turn the county democratic. If northern Florida counties turn democratic, and I believe some of them will, Barack Obama wins the state comfortably.

Another northern and Central Florida trend to keep an eyeball on is the influx of Puerto Ricans to the area. While the Puerto Rican community in the Orlando area has been growing for some time, it is only recently that they have been moving to places like Sarasota. Puerto Ricans tend to vote democratic.

McCain's campaign seems to have assumed that they would continue to pull in the Central and Northern Florida counties that have traditionally gone Republican. Or maybe, as Adam Nagourney reports in the New York Times article While McCain Looked Away, Florida Shifted, they believed that "Mr. Obama, as an African-American, would have trouble winning support from two of the state’s key constituencies: Hispanics and Jews."

If his report is true, it is delightful. Republicans have been trying to convince us that we hate each other and that we do not have common interests for so long that they actually started to believe their own hype. Once again, they counted on racism to help them win an election. But this time it is going to backfire in a huge way. Sweet.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why Can't McCain Make His Accusations of Socialism Stick?

Historically, if a politician, particularly a Democrat, dared to bring up the subject of inequality, they were branded as a Marxist or accused of trying to start class warfare. McCain and Palin have been reviving this tactic with gusto and are now trying to make it sound like tax cuts for the middle class are an "un-American" redistribution of wealth.

In the past, Republicans calling Democrats elitist or accusing them of socialism was effective. This time around, it isn't working. Why?

  • Economic Crisis - The most obvious answer is the economic crisis. It is blatantly obvious that the Republican sacred cows of greed, deregulation, and lowering taxes for the rich have caused an economic disaster. Even Alan Greenspan has (partially) admitted the error of his ways.
  • Anti-Corporatism - Feelings against large corporations have been growing for a long time. Growing up in the 80s, I watched massive layoffs of people who thought they had lifetime jobs. I saw the Reagan administration union busting. I watched savings and loan scandals and saw my father's small business be destroyed by Office Depot. I saw all of this in the midst of a cocaine and yacht-filled orgy of greed. Many of my generation learned not to expect much of employers. We refused to dedicate our lives to a company, preferring to make fun of work in movies like Office Space. From anti-Walmart films to protests against the WTO in Seattle, we have built up a deep distrust of "big business."
  • Generational Divide - The Cold War was the defining theme of my parents generation, but it is barely a blip for me. I am thirty-five years old and the only thing I know about the Cold War from personal experience is that a wall came down in Germany when I was a kid and that Reagan used communism as an excuse to fight illegal wars in many of my friends home countries. McCarthy is long dead. The Berlin wall has been down for almost twenty years. Cries of "socialist" don't mean much to anyone under the age of 40.
The truth is that it is Republicans who have been the primary class warriors. They're the ones who are always advocating policies that benefit only the wealthiest class while getting less wealthy people to vote for them by branding anyone intellectual as a coastal "elite."

I think we are all really tired of people with more houses than I have shoes telling us that letting them get richer, and bailing them out when they screw up, is necessary, but that doing something about the more than a million homes now in foreclosure is "socialism."

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

If McCain Loses, Does the Southern Strategy Finally RIP?

Republicans have consistently and explicitly used racism as a political strategy. Sadly, their tactics have all too often worked. They are trying it again this election, but this time it seems to be failing. If it fails, especially if it fails big, does the Southern strategy finally die forever?

Racism in Republican Campaigns

In my lifetime, I have come to know the Republican Party as the party of white people; specifically, old, white, Protestant, men. The Republican Party has encouraged this perception and still managed to win quite a few elections.

When Nixon talked about "states rights" in the south, what he really meant was that the federal government shouldn't make Southerners integrate. When Ronald Reagan began his run for the presidency talking about states rights in Mississippi, in the very county where three civil right activists were infamously murdered, he was sending a very strong message.

When George H.W. Bush used images of a black felon who committed horrible crimes (Willie Horton) in his race against Michael Dukakis, he conjured up images of the scary black man to win an election. And when George W. Bush's campaign flyered the South insinuating that John McCain had an illegitimate black baby, Bush rode racism all the way to the Republican nomination.

Republicans Moment of Demographic Realization

Bill Clinton's popularity and success depended in large part upon the votes of women, Latinos, African-Americans, and young people. It took Republicans a while to catch on, but some time during Bill Clinton's presidency they realized that demographics were against them. In fact, in just thirty-four years, white people will no longer be the majority of the U.S. population.

In 2000, the Republican National Convention looked like Sunday in Harlem (literally, the 2000 convention featured a black gospel choir). Republicans started trying to appeal to black voters and to court Latino voters (particularly Christian conservative blacks and Latinos). Prominent Republicans were even apologizing for their use of the Southern strategy.

McCain's New Southern Strategy

This time around, Republicans seem to have conceded the black vote and nearly conceded the Latino one. The possibility of the first African-American president is as exciting as the Bush administration's response to Katrina was infuriating to black voters. Their support of Barack Obama is strong. Latinos are angry at the anti-immigration Republican vitriol that has often turned just plain anti-Latino, and especially anti-Mexican. The GOP is losing them as well.

This leaves John McCain with only one way of winning. He has to make sure he appeals to the most base conservatives of the Republican Party (no that's not a typo) and bring them out in force. He must make sure every fearful, racist shows up at the polls to vote against the black guy with the funny name. He needs women to show up for the Republicans, as white men alone won't get them a win. Republicans thought they covered their bases by choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate. She is certainly appealing to anti-abortion zealots, Christian conservatives, racists, and aging cold warriors. Just check out some fan videos.

The Southern Strategy Backlash

Of course in trying to appeal to the fringe elements of the Republican Party, the party was bound to lose some of the moderates. They are betting on the fact that there are enough fanatics and racists out there (men and women) to bring the election home for them. But the gamble doesn't appear to be working.

Moderate Republicans and true conservatives are abandoning ship. Colin Powell just came out in support of Barack Obama, specifically citing the tone of his campaign and his choice of Sarah Palin. William F. Buckley's son, conservative columnist and writer Christopher, also came out in support of Obama citing the same reasons. A friends father, who hasn't voted for a Democrat since the seventies, is voting for Obama in large part because of the Palin choice.

In fact, it seems that the Southern strategy may be pushing the numbers in Obama's favor in some battleground states like Florida and Virginia. Polls there have shown Obama's numbers jump since McCain has gone increasingly negative, trying to paint Obama as an outsider, un-American, and suspicious.

The End of the Southern Strategy

I've spoken to a lot of people who worry about the ugliness of the campaign. They are afraid that appealing to racism will work yet again and wonder what happens then. A better question is, what if it doesn't work? What if it fails so spectacularly that no Republican politician running for national office will ever believe that he can win using those tactics?

A rout this election will not only give democrats a win, it will give fiscal conservatives and Libertarian Republicans an opportunity to end the days of the Southern strategy. It will give them an opening to end the stranglehold social conservatives and neo-conservatives have on their party. Let's hope they take it.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Redefining Success in a Post Bling World

It seems like I am not the only one who has had it with greed, selfishness and decadence.

Richard Fuld, the former CEO of the now bankrupt Lehman Brothers (a CEO who made $300 million dollars since 2000) was punched in the face at the company gym. (Man, that must have felt good.) Americans are up in arms about the $440,000 retreat taken by AIG executives right after we bailed them out with our tax money. And we sent thousands of emails to try and stop the bailout to begin with, mostly because we didn't want to help a bunch of overpaid, greedy, schmucks keep their millions.

So the million dollar question is - Will it stick? Is this a momentary hiccup or is something more substantial happening here? And if it is something more substantial, what does America look like if we're not all aiming for boundless riches? Will The Apprentice get cancelled? Will the Sex and the City women start wearing Converse? Will the $10 million stable full of thoroughbreds in this year's Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog go unpurchased? God I hope so.

What if the United States wasn't like an overgrown middle school? What if nobody cared whose name was sewn on the ass of your jeans or what car you drive (or if you drive one at all)? What if, given the choice between a new flatscreen and more time with the kids, everyone chose the latter? What if we redefined our idea of success?

Up until now, success for most people seemed to be based on how much stuff they had or what they could get. Success meant career "advancement," a mcmansion in the suburbs, designer clothes, the right car, resort vacations, and lots of toys (adult and child-sized). We filled our lives with things, hoping each new thing would be the one that finally made us feel good about ourselves. Success was measured by how far "above" other people one progressed, because success entailed an illusion of superiority.

Now what if we judged success differently. What if the most successful people were the ones who were truly happy? What if our jobs supported our lives instead of our lives supporting our jobs? What if we admired people who had the most time to spend with the people they loved? What if we congratulated the people who left work on time and not the ones who stay at the office until midnight? What if we just shook our heads and chuckled at people who spent all their time trying to keep up with Joneses? What if their were no Joneses to keep up with?

Financially, things are going to get tougher for a lot of people and attitudes are likely to change out of necessity. Perhaps this is just the kick in the pants we need. Perhaps we'll start buying less, conserving more, fixing things, and rethinking our priorities. Perhaps we can build a culture where it is the greedy who are pariahs and not the poor.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Against The Rich

I am so tired of rich people. I'm tired of people who admire rich people. I'm tired of people who aspire to be rich people. I'm tired of Paris Hilton and MTV Cribs. I'm tired of televised yacht tours. I'm tired of walking by empty beach-side mansions that are only occupied one month per year while thousands of homeless don't have shit. I'm tired of hummers and beemers, of six hundred dollar purses and thousand dollar shoes. I'm tired of the shallow, materialistic, empty, selfish, and greedy culture that underpins it all.

Most of all, I'm tired of the people whose desire for money goes beyond what they can get for it. The worst are those who just want money to have it. They want as much of it as possible. And they don't give a damn who they step on in the process of getting and keeping it. And don't kid yourself into thinking that it is possible to acquire that much wealth without being ruthless. Acquiring that much wealth is in itself ruthless.

What is wealth really? It is a representation of natural and human resources. It is the value of commodities plus the value of labor. What gives anyone the right to hoard that much of the natural resources and labor in the world? And why do we accept it? We are all getting raped in every orifice and yet, instead of raising hell, we just go to the corner store to buy a lotto ticket in the hope that we can be one of those rich people. It isn't going to happen.

Goldman Sachs is one of the firms whose speculation and greed has caused this supposed meltdown of our financial system. Of course, it is former Goldman Sachs CEO and current Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who is telling us the sky is falling, but lets pretend it is for a moment. Not only are the Goldman Sachs of the world costing each of us more than $2,000 with this ridiculous bailout, they are also one of the major oil speculators that has been driving the price of gasoline sky high. Goldman Sachs executives have been pulling in $50 million a year. Why are they coming to us for $2,000 a piece? Why aren't they taking the $54.3 million Lloyd Blankfein made in 2006?

No one needs to make 50 million dollars a year. And making 50 million dollars a year isn't good for anyone. It means hoarding resources that could be better used by others, at best. At worst it involves crushing other human beings. It creates extremes of wealth and poverty that aren't good for the people at either end of the spectrum. The poor are dehumanized by their desperation and the rich are dehumanized by their inability to empathise or relate to real life.

This country is full of addicts. The bastards we are bailing out with our tax money are addicted to cash. They don't need us to provide another fix for them. They need a twelve step program. They need some tough love. Cut them off. Let them hit rock bottom. Let them lose their mansions and yachts and trophy wives. Put them to work tarring driveways or cleaning airport bathrooms for minimum wage.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

American Anti-Government Sentiment and False Choices

I work with many Europeans and Canadians who follow U.S. politics, particularly this election, and are positively flummoxed by the kind of anti-government rhetoric that we hear from conservatives.

Case in point - one of my co-workers from the the United Kingdom came into my office, flabbergasted by a quote he read by Ronald Reagan. The quote was "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." From his perspective, this is an insane statement. He is thinking of government in terms of what it does. He is thinking of education, health care, roads, laws and protection for the most vulnerable. He is thinking of governance.

But that, oft cited, Reagan quote is only the beginning of what he said. The rest of that quote from his 1981 inaugural address is:

From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself,then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?
Far be it for me to agree with Ronald Reagan on anything, but the man had a point. And it is a point that resonates with many, perhaps most, Americans. The majority of us are escapees from bad governments. Quakers and Puritans came escaping religious prosecution by their governments. Mexicans came fleeing from the Mexican Revolution and the parade of bad governments that came with it. German Jews fled the Third Reich and Soviet Jews fled Stalin. Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Argentinians, and Chileans fled the dirty wars. Haitians fled Papa Doc and Baby Doc.

More than a few of these people fled as disillusioned former supporters. Some Cuban refugees had been supporters of Castro and the Communist party, but were disillusioned by the poverty and political persecution that came later. Jews fleeing Russia were often former supporters of the revolution who came to find out that a dictatorship of the proletariat was worse than the aristocracy had been.

And then there are the people who found themselves under the rule of the United States government against their will. For Native Americans and African Americans, the United States government has historically been the mechanism by which they were oppressed, not an institution that protected them from harm. All of which is to say that we Americans come by our suspicion of government, and government power, honestly.

The problem with conservative rhetoric isn't that it creates suspicion where there is no cause for it. There is plenty of cause for suspicion. If the conservatives truly wanted to limit the power of government representatives, I might actually support them. The problem with conservatives (and with anyone else who obtains power) is that they never limit their own power, once they have it. What we have ended up with is the worst possible outcome - a group of "representatives" abusing their enormous power and privilege, without even a modicum of the governance we need.

Americans don't want their lives to be dictated to them. Conservatives have laid out the choice as being between a powerful government that takes your money and tells you what do, and a (theoretically) small government that tells you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Those are false choices, and not just because conservatives have consistently enlarged government.

The other choice is a real democracy, a direct democracy, one in which we all decide for ourselves how our money is spent, and one which understands that it is possible to have governance without relinquishing our power to people who will only abuse it. It requires us to actually invest ourselves in learning about and trying to solve the problems we face. It requires a commitment to work with and try to understand people who think differently. It requires people to do more than (maybe) vote once a year in an election between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Does McCain Want to Replace FEMA with Fedex?

After the appearances of McCain and Obama at the recent forum on service at Columbia University, most of the pundits were saying that there was not "a lot of contrast between these two candidates” (MSNBC) - or something to that effect. Not one person mentioned McCain's comments about the private sector.

When talking about service programs, McCain took great pains to “emphasize...it doesn’t always have to be run by the government" and then he laid out his philosophy. “My philosophy is, lets not have government do things that the private sector can do or other organizations can do. That’s just my theory of government.”

Let's break that statement down a little. Is there anything that the private sector couldn't theoretically do? The Bush administration certainly doesn't think so. They've been desperately trying to privatize social security. They're giving billions of our tax money in no-bid contracts to well-connected private companies in Iraq. Intelligence is now largely in the hands of private contractors.

In fact, private contracts in general have exploded under the Bush administration and now account for 40 cents of every discretionary dollar in the federal budget. Think about that for a second. Your hard earned money is being taxed and then given to huge private companies. And I'm not talking about thousands of dollars, or millions. They are receiving billions. And what have those companies done with your money?

Blackwater "private security" was kicked out of Iraq after murdering civilians. STIS was given 320 million dollars for building an Iraqi power plant that was never built. Bricks of money were sent to Iraq and just disappeared into the ether. If you want to get really depressed, read Matt Taibbi's article, The Great Iraq Swindle.

To the Reaganites (and as often as they mention Reagan it appears all Republicans are Reaganites) "government does not solve problems, it subsidizes them." To these people, government is always bad, or at least worse than the alternatives. Apparently, they believe that the minute a person steps over the threshold of a government building to take a job, they are immediately evil. It's the Invasion of the Body Snatchers theory of government. (Although that would explain a lot about Cheney.)

Republicans have been telling us that government is evil and inept since I was in diapers, and they have been doing a damn good job of proving their point. Perhaps the best example of this was during hurricane Katrina. FEMA was in shambles after the Bush administration was through gutting it, privatizing it, and appointing political fundraisers to head it.

When McCain was asked about the government's role in disasters, like Katrina, he admitted that “the role of government obviously is the primary role," but then he went on to say that "I don’t think frankly if Fedex or Target or any of these organizations had been in charge we wouldn't have had a truck full of ice ending up in Maine."

Would Fedex have done a better job than FEMA? They certainly couldn't have done worse, but it is not because people who work for a private company are inherently better and more capable. It is because Fedex would never hire a CEO for disaster relief who had done nothing but run a horse track.

I understand peoples frustration with taxes, government, and bureaucracy. When I see the salaries of Halliburton executives, knowing that my tax money is paying that salary, it makes my skin crawl. But rather than just take the Republican bait about all government being bad and all taxes being evil, we need to start having sensible conversations about what government is and should be.

Of course, if we look at many on the left, their feelings about the private sector are a mirror of Republicans feelings about government. As much as I hate the Walmart-inization of everything, not everyone who works for Walmart is automatically evil. And a new government agency for every problem isn't the solution either, Democrats.

Is it that government corrupts or that power corrupts? Is there any organization that would be impervious to greed? Is the problem that we rely too much on "representatives" rather than direct democracy? I'd love to have a real conversation about that, rather than what passes for a conversation in our system, which goes like this:

Republican: They are just a tax and spend democrats.
Democrat: Republicans don't care about you.


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Monday, September 15, 2008

Obama, The Military, and the Dreaded P Word

During the recent community service forum at Columbia University, Obama said the ROTC should be invited back to Columbia and other college campuses who don't currently allow them. He said that he recognized the "differences in terms of military policy," but felt it was a mistake that "young people here at Columbia or anywhere at any university aren’t offered the choice, the option, of participating in military service."

Now it so happens that I agree with Obama, if only because I don't feel I have the right to impose my morals on others. But by copping out with a weak statement about "differences in terms of military policy" he avoided talking about some issues that we really need to be talking about.

First of all there is the dreaded P word. No, I'm not talking about Palin...or Pig...or Pussy. I'm talking about Pacifist. Now I don't expect any politician to be one (god forbid), but it's like they can't even say the word. We revere Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and yet being a pacifist is seen as naive and weak. If a presidential candidate uttered the word, would their candidacy immediately go down in flames?

Perhaps even more importantly, military service is not just about sacrificing and laying yourself on the line for others. It is about taking other peoples lives. It involves joining an institution that expects its members to follow orders, even when those orders turn out to be disastrous. Willingness to serve in the military isn't just about willingness to sacrifice, it is about trust in the people who are going to be asking for your sacrifice.

In my father's generation (he was born in 1929), military service was far more common. World War II was heinous, as all wars are, but soldiers felt honored and honorable when they returned. They felt they were fighting the good fight. People trusted that their government was sending them where they needed to go.

Many Vietnam-era conservatives will tell you that it was lack of support by traitorous hippies that made Vietnam different. (Ironically, the same conservatives who scoff at distrust of the military will swear that government is incapable of doing anything right when it comes to anything else.) But the truth is that any lack of support from the American people was well deserved by a government that lied to us repeatedly (and continues to do so).

Obama speaks often about taking us past the old battles of the baby boomer generation. He talks about revitalizing a culture of service (military and otherwise). He talks about restoring faith in government. If he really wants to do those things, he can't avoid discussing the issues at the root of our distrust, and apathy, and unresolved anger.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Why We Can't Talk About Immigration

My boyfriend received a forwarded email from his mother some time ago. The title of the email was "In Just One Year" and it arrived with the comment "So, I thought this was interesting..." The email paints immigrants as criminals and parasites (responses to those accusations can be found in my previous post). Both of her sons were livid when they received it. I can't imagine that she would have sent the email to her sons had she realized how angry they would be. So what is the disconnect here?

A Short History of Immigration Policy in the United States

Americans have a short historical memory, especially when it comes to immigration policy. We haven't always had laws against immigration, although I'm sure many Native Americans wish they had thought of it. In fact, the first immigration law wasn't passed until 1882. Until then, anyone who wanted to immigrate could do so. (I should note that the naturalization laws of 1790 and 1795 restricted citizenship to white people.)

The late 1800s were tumultuous. There was a long depression from 1873 through 1896 and several outright panics. In California, the gold rush was long over and the merchants and railroad barons who had benefited the most were sitting on huge fortunes. The major national railroads were completed and the laborers who had built the railroads (and often died doing it) were no longer needed. Many of those laborers were Chinese.

A worker movement was developing in the face of the tough economic times and the movement took a decidedly ugly, racist turn. (Click here to see a poster from that period telling workers that they should boycott all Chinese businesses or businesses who hired Chinese labor and here for a cartoon demonstrating anti-Chinese sentiment.) Eventually, after much pressure from Californians and considerable violence against Chinese people, the nation passed its very first immigration law. It is known as the Chinese Exclusion Act and it was intended to do just that, exclude people based on their national origin.

As the years went on, further court cases and immigration laws reflected the racism accepted in the United States at the time. Until 1965, when the Johnson administration revamped our immigration laws, they were based on trying to keep the nation as white (ie. Western European) as possible.

The Anti-Immigration Movement is Still Racist

While the target of the anti-immigration movement is now more Mexican than Chinese, the underlying racism remains. If you want proof of the racism in today's anti-immigration movement, just look at the email that kicked off this reply. One of the sources used by the author was the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

FAIR was founded by John Tanton, a man who has said that the fight against immigration is a fight to keep white control. Tanton also founded The Center for Immigration Studies, another source used by the author. See this enlightening (and disturbing) article about the connections between white supremacists and anti-immigration groups for more information.

Tom Tancredo is another source from the emails. Tancredo was called an "idiot" by the (conservative) National Review and voted one of the 10 worst congressmen by the (not so conservative) Rolling Stone. Although the grandson of Italian immigrants, he wants to stop even legal immigration. He also took a bit of heat for accusing the Catholic Pope of trying to increase membership in the Catholic church by encouraging immigration and for referring to Miami as a "third world country."

And while it takes all of five minutes to discover that the above sources are (at minimum) linked to some very nasty hate groups, the mainstream news regularly calls on them to comment. They never ask on air about their qualifications, sources, or methodology. They never explain to the audience who they are or what their philosophy is. So if some people believe these statistics to be true and remain blissfully unaware of the reaction they might get when spreading them, it is somewhat understandable.

But while many non-Latinos may believe the "experts" provided by the media, Latinos personal experiences with racism in this country leave them skeptical of even the more mild arguments for changing our immigration policies. This is not just a matter of hurt feelings. According to 2007 FBI statistics, hate crimes against Latinos rose 35% between 2003 and 2007. Not all of the victims survive, including 25 year old Luis Ramirez who was beaten to death by several teenagers.

Beginning a Conversation About Immigration

After a bit of research, I was able to find the original post of the article "In Just One Year." It was written by an ultra-conservative woman named Carolyn Hileman and published on the American Conservative Daily. Google Carolyn Hileman and one of the links you will find is a site called "Mexicans Go Home."

I hate to add to the click rate on that trash site, but it's one of the most disgusting examples of the hateful, anti-Mexican core of the anti-immigration movement. I felt like I had to expose it. In one post, the site has a Mexican flag where the eagle and serpent have been replaced by a pile of shit. Across the flag it says "Mexico, Land of Shit and Druglords"

We need to be able to speak about immigration, but we won't be able to do it until the hateful fringe elements stop being treated like legitimate sources for non-biased information. People have to stop spreading information without first identifying who it came from (or at least identifying that it may not be true) and we can't allow our media to do it either.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Immigrant Scapegoats: Part 3 of Response to “In Just One Year”

The email I have been responding to in my last couple posts blames immigrants for "bankrupting us." The email then goes on to cite a litany of statistics used to perpetuate two of the biggest myths promulgated by anti-immigrant groups.

Myth #1 - Immigrants are Dangerous Criminals

Anti-immigration groups like to paint immigrants as dangerous criminals. They know that most people's basic human decency would not allow other human beings to be treated the way they propose immigrants be treated. Most of us don't feel much compassion for rapists and murderers, so they try to insinuate that immigrants are rapists and murderers.

The first article the author cites is titled "The Dark Side of Illegal Immigration: Nearly One Million Sex Crimes Committed by Illegal Immigrants in the United States." First ask yourself - is that even possible? According to FBI crime statistics, there were 80,414 reported rapes and attempted rapes nationwide in the year 2006. There were 15,854 reported murders nationwide. That is a total of 96,268 rapes and murders in one year in the United States.

I could not locate any good, recent statistics on incidents of child molestation in the United States, but the last U.S. Children's Bureau estimates for the number of children molested in 1993 was 217,700. In short, we don’t even reach 1 million murders, rapes, and molestations for the entire country in a year. Perhaps the person who wrote the article was guesstimating crimes from the beginning of time until doomsday?

The next claim is that “illegal aliens in the United States have a crime rate that’s two and a half times that of white non-illegal aliens (and that) their children are going to make a huge additional crime problem in the US.” The source for this information is Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation (speaking on Lou Dobbs). Rector does not say how he obtained that figure, nor does anyone ask him.

In fact, a study performed by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that U.S. born men have crime rates two and a half to ten times higher than immigrant men. They also found that cities with higher proportions of immigrants have seen crime rates fall faster than cities with less immigrants.

Follow a link from the “In Just One Year” email and it will take you to another Lou Dobbs transcript where CNN correspondent Christine Romans says that “30 percent of federal prisoners are not U.S. citizens” and that “taxpayers spend more than $3 million every day to house non-U.S. citizens.” It is true that there are non-U.S. citizens in prison. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 1,595,034 people in federal and state prison as of June 30, 2007. Of those, 96,703 (or about 6%) were not U.S. citizens.

Not surprisingly, Lou Dobbs correspondent does not ask why the non-U.S. citizens are in prison. A large portion are in prison for crossing the border and for no other reason. Immigration related prosecutions have risen substantially since a 1996 law authorizing increased INS hiring, as has the amount of time each immigration offender has had to stay in prison. I can’t find evidence to back up the claim that it costs us $3 million every day to house non-U.S. citizens, but sending someone who crossed the border to prison for 20 months is bound to have a cost.

Finally, the author tries to connect immigrants crossing the southern border with terrorists, saying that “as many as 19,500 illegal aliens from Terrorist Countries” crossed the border in 2005. The source is a Homeland Security report which does not say “Terrorist Countries” but “special interest countries.” And while it is certainly possible that a terrorist could come into the country illegally via the southern border, it is also true that the majority of the 9/11 hijackers had visas and were processed by U.S. immigration.

Myth #2 - Immigrants are a Drain on the Economy

When not made out to be violent criminals, immigrants are painted as parasites here to live off the hard work of U.S. citizens.

The email titled "In Just One Year" claims that "$11 Billion to $22 billion is spent on welfare to illegal aliens each year by state governments." The link they provide leads to an article by FAIR. However, the article doesn't claim that money is being spent to provide services to illegal aliens, but to legal immigrants. The article lists the benefits available to legal immigrants as "school lunch and breakfast programs, immunizations, emergency medical services, and disaster relief."

So even if we believe the statistics in this article (and I do not), what these people are saying is that they want to deny school lunches to children of legal immigrants. They don't think legal immigrants should be immunized against diseases. And they want to let legal immigrants die rather than receive emergency medical care? How heartless does a person have to be to deny nutrition to a child because their parent is an immigrant? What kind of person would let another human being die in an emergency room because they weren't born here? And finally, even if you are completely heartless, how stupid is it to have un-immunized people living in the country, increasing all of our risk for disease?

Immigrants here without documents are not eligible for welfare programs like food stamps. And while it is true that there are costs associated with education, health care, roads, etc; an in depth study by the CATO Institute shows that immigrants (legal and illegal) pay significantly more in taxes than they receive in services. It is also important to remember that the vast majority of immigrants (80% according to the U.S. Census Bureau) are between 18 and 64. That means the majority had any schooling paid for by their home country and are too young to be participating in the most costly welfare programs, those meant for the elderly.

Next the author says that "illegal aliens sent home $45 billion in remittances back to their countries of origin." The source for this information is dubious to say the least, but the figure could conceivably be correct. According to the World Bank, recorded remittances to developing countries totaled $251 billion in 2007. That figure is for the entire world. I might note that the top two receiving countries are actually India and China, not Mexico. And that, in fact, remittances to Mexico have been decreasing in recent years.

The implication is that this money should be staying within our borders. Does that mean that, conversely, U.S. citizens should not be benefiting from the human and natural resources of other countries? You'd be hard pressed to find something that you own that does not contain raw materials from another country or was not made by workers in another country. Those $5 T-Shirts you get from Walmart come courtesy of garment workers making pennies somewhere overseas. Are you ready to give up oil? To start paying the true price for your food and toys?

And what about U.S. companies working overseas. U.S. companies are operating around the globe and making enormous profits which they then bring back to the United States. Many extract natural resources, use the cheap labor, and take advantage of weak protections for workers. Dole was using banned pesticides in Guatemala which caused Guatemalan workers to become sterile. Coca Cola workers in Colombia were killed when they tried to unionize.

And to this day in Bhopal, where 5,000 people were killed and babies are still being born with birth defects twenty years later, the U.S. company behind the chemical disaster is yet to be held responsible. And that one company, Dow, grossed $49 billion in 2007 - well over the total amount of remittances claimed by the author. Yet if one of these Guatemalans or Colombians or Indians wants to come to the United States and send a little money back home, anti-immigrant hysterics ensue.

Finally, the author of "In Just One Year" claims that "$200 Billion Dollars a year in suppressed American wages are caused by the illegal aliens." This statistic comes from Lou Dobbs himself who claimed the statistic came from "the most authoritative and recent study." Unfortunately, he doesn't actually name the study, making this claim impossible to verify. And although many other anti-immigrant groups on the internet cite this figure, none of them provide information about the actual research.

The truth is that it is almost impossible to know whether or not immigrants are keeping wages down and, if so, by how much. See this Washington Post article for a good summary. Many people who hire immigrant farmworkers or construction workers claim that only immigrants even apply for the jobs. Is it conceivable that, if you paid strawberry pickers $30 an hour, other people would apply? Sure. But how many strawberries do you think you could afford to buy if that's what they made?

Personally, I think the minimum wage should be much higher than it is and that everyone (immigrant or no) should receive enough to live human. But the idea that we can obtain that goal by shutting our doors to new labor is naive. Our wages have stagnated because most businesses can relocate if they feel they can get cheaper labor elsewhere and because businesses are more interested in making money for their CEOs and stockholders than in treating their workers decently.

Besides, you have to look at why people are coming to work here to begin with. Since NAFTA, small farmers in Mexico have been losing their farms. Mexico, the birthplace of corn, is now importing corn from agribusiness in the United States. When these farmers lose their land, they often end up here, as farmworkers. Rather than demonizing these people, we need to recognize that the same trade deals that hurt people in the United States, also hurt people elsewhere. Many small farmers in the United States are beginning to recognize that fact, visiting with farmers in other parts of the world, and doing what they can to support better policies.

Corporations and capital are not constrained by national boundaries. Until we recognize that fact, we will never have a chance at better standards of living for workers.

To be continued...

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Who is to Blame for Rising Gas Prices? Part 2 of Response to "In Just One Year"

There is an email circulating around the internet titled "In Just One Year." In it the author states that, when democrats took office in 2006, the price of gasoline was $2.19 a gallon. The implication is that the democrats caused the price of gas to go up.

Anyone who has to fill up a gas tank knows that the price of gasoline has gone up, but it has been going up since long before the democrats took control of congress. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a handy chart showing the rise in gas prices since 1998. (You may have to scroll down a bit on the page.) Note that the average price of gasoline in 1996 was actually around $2.80, not $2.19 as the author of the email claims.

Demand for Oil is Growing, But Supply is Limited and Precarious

The U.S. uses more than 20 million barrels of oil per day, the majority of which is imported (see this handy CIA factbook chart). The next highest consumer is the European union. While we have 40% less population than the EU we use 30% more oil. China and India use only a fraction of what we do (7 million and 2.5 million barrels respectively), but their use has been increasing steadily. China's oil needs are growing by 4% a year, fueling oil speculation and even Chinese bids for U.S. oil companies (see this article from NPR).

No one knows for sure how much oil there is left or how long our supply can meet the growing demand. According to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), there were 1,204,182 million barrels of oil reserves as of the end of 2007. But OPEC figures are not audited and, although oil is being taken out of the ground, the reserve estimates remain the same year after year. Moreover, estimates don't necessarily differentiate between oil that can be extracted using present technology, at a reasonable cost, and oil which may be too expensive or difficult to extract.

Whether or not the OPEC figure is correct, we have always known that the supply of oil is finite. This shouldn't come as a great shock to anyone. The Federal Trade Commission started warning us in 1923 that the supply of U.S. oil was being rapidly depleted. In 1943, former Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes published an article titled "We're running out of Oil!" And in 1956, a geoscientist by the name of Marion King Hubbert calculated that the United States would reach peak oil sometime between the late 1960s or early 1970s. His prediction proved true. U.S. oil production did peak in the 1970s and has been declining steadily (see this chart from The Heritage Foundation). Scientists have been using Hubbert's Curve to predict peak oil worldwide. According to the curve, we are reaching worldwide peak oil right about now.

While no one can yet say with certainty whether or not we have hit peak oil, there are a few things we do know for certain. Oil discoveries have been decreasing steadily since the 1960s. See this handy graph published on The Oil Drum for a visual. We also know that oil production has been stagnant since 2005. Many blame the stagnation on the fact that several of the largest oil fields seem to be in decline. Another reason is lack of refinery capacity. We haven't built a new oil refinery in the United States since 1976. And while refiners have been able to squeeze more and more production out of current facilities, they are running near maximum capacity. (See this article from MSNBC)

Then there are the problems of extraction. Much of the oil that is left is more difficult to extract and produce. It may surprise some of you to know that Canada is our top supplier of crude (see figures on crude imports from the Energy Information Administration). Unfortunately, the biggest reservoir of oil in Canada is in the form of "heavy crude" which is a sandy, sludgy mess that is costlier to extract than lighter versions. (Wired Magazine has an interesting article about it here.) While companies have been able to improve extraction techniques, higher costs to produce will undoubtedly mean higher costs to use.

Transportation shortages and shutdowns have been a problem as well. In 2004, the New York Times ran an article about the shortage of oil tankers and the higher fees companies are having to pay to move their oil around the world. There have also been pipeline problems. In 2006, congress held hearings about a major shutdown of the Alaska Pipeline (a shutdown which led to a spike in gas prices). While the Alaskan shutdown seems to have been human error, other shutdowns have been deliberate. The blowing up of an Iraqi pipeline sent prices upward in March, see article here. Another pipeline attack in Nigeria just occurred this month. On top of which, acts of nature can cause shutdowns and send prices soaring. Gas prices shot up after Katrina, which damaged several refineries. Even less severe storms, like the recent Dolly, will cause production to drop.

Oil is Big Business and Highly Speculative

Profits in the oil business are enormous. Three of the top five Fortune 500 companies of 2008 are oil companies

1. Wal-Mart
2. Exxon Mobil
3. Chevron
4. General Motors
5. ConocoPhillips

In 2007, Exxon made $40.61 billion net profit. To put that in perspective for you, that is double the 2007 budget for the U.S. Department of Energy and about 60% of the U.S. Department of Education budget for the year (sans loans). And lest you think all that profit is going right back into exploration and infrastructure, let me assure you that the employees of these companies are doing just fine. Lee Raymond received $48.5 million the year before he retired from Exxon. And while pensions for most of us shlubs are becoming a quaint thing of ancient history, Raymond was eligible for a pension valued at $98.4 million.

Incredibly, that's not even where the real money is. If you want the fattest CEO salary, it is all about working for a global investment firm like Goldman Sachs. Four of the 25 most highly paid male executives work for Goldman Sachs Group, each bringing in $40 to $50 million in 2006. Goldman Sachs just so happens to be heavily invested in energy markets. Many believe that the kind of speculative investing that Goldman Sachs does is actually what is causing the bulk of the rise in energy costs. F. William Engdahl blames as much as 60% of the rise in oil prices to speculators. You can read his article, which has a detailed explanation of the oil market here.

Oil was always a crap shoot investment. If you drilled and came up with nothing, you were out a huge chunk of change. The speculation centered on whether or not you would find oil. In 1983, a futures market for oil opened up. Now speculators were guessing, not on whether or not oil would be found, but on how much the price of a barrel of oil was going to be. A firm like Goldman Sachs can buy a future guaranteeing them a set price and, if the price of oil goes up, they get to buy it at the promised cheaper price and resell the paper at a huge profit.

Not surprisingly, Goldman Sachs keeps on predicting higher crude prices. Of course, the higher prices they predict, the more investors run to buy. The more investors run to buy, the higher our gas prices go. While there has been some (barely discernible) talk in congress about ending this speculative frenzy, so far they have done nothing.

The Effect of War on Oil and of Oil on War

Oil prices and availability have always been effected by war. In 1899, they shot up during the Boer War in South Africa and in 1905 because of the Russo Japanese war. German destruction of U.S. oil tankers during World War I led to the complete banning of any pleasure driving in England and to the appointment of the first energy czar in the U.S. World War II saw strict oil rationing, even in the then oil rich United States. Quite simply, war uses a lot of oil. In fact, the U.S. military is the largest oil consumer in the world.

In the case of our current war, the oil factor is even more acute. Our war is being fought on top of the fourth largest oil reserve in the world. The war shut down oil production in Iraq and it still has not recovered. Of course, there are many people who believe oil was a factor (if not the factor) driving the war to begin with. I won't go into the arguments here, as the case has been laid out in many places. I'll just point you towards a few articles.

Regardless of whether or not you think the Iraq war is about oil, what is indisputable is that military superiority depends on oil. In World War I, it was oil powered tanks and trucks that defeated the Germans (who still relied on the railroads to transport their troops). In World War II, Rommel's defeat in North Africa was due in large part to lack of oil, as was Germany's defeat in Russia. And it was the successful bombing campaigns against Germany's synthetic fuel industry that helped ensure their defeat at the Battle of the Bulge.

In short, the nation with the largest and most secure oil supply has the advantage. Given that fact, not to mention our dependence on oil for everything from food production to home heating, wouldn't it be absurd for a U.S. leader not to take oil into consideration when making decisions about war?

So Why is the Price of Gas so High and Who is to Blame?

The essential problem is basic supply and demand. The supply is only getting smaller and the demand is only getting bigger. The volatile political situation in the areas where much of the oil is located doesn't help. Neither does the greedfest fueled by Wall Street speculators. The fact that the value of the U.S. dollar has been steadily declining isn't making things any easier. Our insatiable appetite for energy wasting McMansions and gas guzzling SUVs isn't helping much either. And factoring in the environmental costs of burning fossil fuels isn't likely to make things any cheaper.

Ultimately, we all have to take some of the blame. In 1973, Nixon delivered the first presidential address on energy and called for an Apollo type program for energy independence. James Schlesinger, who worked in the Carter administration, tried to come up with a plan to wean us off oil and promote conservation, but we didn't listen. Instead of learning lessons from the gas crises of the 1970s, we continued to operate for 35 years as though oil would last forever. Even as recently as 2006, our government was cutting funding for research into renewable energy. We could blame the various administrations (democrat and republican) for this fiasco, but most of us weren't exactly clamoring for more responsible policies.


Yergin, Daniel. 1991. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. New York: Free Press.

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