A mostly left, feminist perspective of current events.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stop the scare tactics

From Salon:

News flash: Deadly terrorism existed before 9/11
We've been dealing with the same threats for decades. But we used to be a lot calmer about it, less self-defeating

Here's a scenario:
Middle Eastern terrorists hijack a U.S. jetliner bound for Italy. A two-week drama ensues in which the plane's occupants are split into groups and held hostage in secret locations in Lebanon and Syria.
While this drama is unfolding, another group of terrorists detonates a bomb in the luggage hold of a 747 over the North Atlantic, killing more than 300 people.
Not long afterward, terrorists kill 19 people and wound more than a hundred others in coordinated attacks at European airport ticket counters.
A few months later, a U.S. airliner is bombed over Greece, killing four passengers.
Five months after that, another U.S. airliner is stormed by heavily armed terrorists at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, killing at least 20 people and wounding 150 more.
Things are quiet for a while, until two years later when a 747 bound for New York is blown up over Europe killing 270 passengers and crew.
Nine months from then, a French airliner en route to Paris is bombed over Africa, killing 170 people from 17 countries.
That's a pretty macabre fantasy, no? A worst-case war-game scenario for the CIA? A script for the End Times? Except, of course, that everything above actually happened, in a four-year span between 1985 and 1989. 
If nothing else, it demonstrates how quickly we forget the past. Our memories are short, and growing shorter, it seems, all the time. Our collective consciousness seems to reinvent itself daily, cobbled from a media blitz of short-order blurbs and 30-second segments. There will be a heavy price to pay, potentially, for having developed such a shallow and fragile mind-set.
With respect to airport security, it is remarkable how we have come to place Sept. 11, 2001, as the fulcrum upon which we balance almost all of our decisions. As if deadly terrorism didn't exist prior to that day, when really we've been dealing with the same old threats for decades. What have we learned? What have we done?
Well, have a look at the debased state of airport security today. We continue enacting the wrong policies, wasting our security resources and manpower. We have implemented many important changes since Lockerbie, it's true (actually, many of the new protocols are post-9/11), but much of our approach remains incoherent. Cargo and packages go uninspected while passengers are groped and harassed over umbrellas and harmless hobby knives. Uniformed pilots are forced to remove their belts and endure embarrassing pat-downs.
And what of our rights as citizens? Body scanners are in the news this week. If a decade ago people were told that a day was coming when passengers would need to be looked at naked before getting on a plane, nobody would have believed it. Yet here we are, and what might be next?
Look again at that list above. All of those tragedies, in a four-year span, with some of the attacks actually overlapping. Try to imagine a similar spell today. Could we handle even a fraction of such disaster?
In the 1980s we did not overreact. We did not stage ill-fated invasions of distant countries. People did not cease traveling and the airline industry did not fall into chaos. We were lazy in enacting better security, perhaps, but as a country our psychological reaction, much to our credit, was calm, measured and not yet self-defeating.
This time, thanks to the wholly unhealthy changes in our national and cultural mind-set, I fear it will be different.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A worthy news item

You are no longer free to move about the country

It's not difficult to envision the day where anyone wishing to take mass transportation in this country will have to first submit to a government checkpoint, show ID, and answer questions about any excess cash, prescription medication, or any other items in his possession the government deems suspicious. If and when that happens, freedom of movement will essentially be dead. But it won't happen overnight. It'll happen incrementally. And each increment will, when taken in isolation, appear to some to be perfectly reasonable.

For the full video, click here.  Thanks to Boing Boing for the catch.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ich bin Berlinerin

No, I'm not German, but I could be. As an American, it is important to remember that we all came from somewhere else. Anyone proclaiming loudly "I was born here!" or even "my grandparents were born here," has too short a memory. White Americans on the whole suffer from a short term memory problem, it would seem. But is that just an excuse?

In his article "Red Brown and Blue," Ray Suarez discusses the changing face of who is white in this country. Too soon people forget, willfully, that to be Italian, Irish or Jewish did not always mean white. Celebrated immigrants were the pilgrims on the Mayflower, but some seem to think America ceased to be a nation of immigrants after 1776. How ridiculous would it have been for the travelers on the Mayflower, upon arriving, to turn to the succeeding ships with guns and declare them illegal? How silly this notion of "who has the right to be here" is.

Certainly don't ask Native Americans how they feel about immigration problems. I can only imagine the derisive laughter. But maybe their memory is short as well? I had a boss once whose heritage was half Cherokee and half European descent. She said she felt nothing for the plight of Native Americans in this country today; she had no feelings of loss over her people's heritage. How sad is that? Everyone who calls themselves white is so assimilated into the system that we have no history.

Kevin Powell writes an impassioned article for Huffington Post on how Black America has responded to the rising tide of Latino immigrants. It's a sad case of cycling marginalization that perpetuates closed societies and class distinctions. As Americans, we hold ourselves above the caste system of India; we claim to be better than the culture of monarchy and feudalism we escaped in Europe. But is today's immigration battle not simply the very same entitlement rebranded?

How can we be so shortsighted as to tell hundreds of thousands of people they've come to America two centuries too late? Perhaps it's a problem of space. The Louisiana Purchase was a gamble in its day, but one President had enough foresight to see that people were not going to stop coming to America, and there had to be a place for them all to spread out. Maybe we should look into buying Canada? </sarcasm>

Sarcasm aside, of course a country with a system of taxes based on nation-status must require a system of processing new arrivals. Why does it take months and years to process people? This may be a naive question, but I would counter that the responses on how to deal with a large group of undocumented (I will not say illegal. I did nothing to earn my right to citizenship in this country except be born) people has been equally naive, if not misguided at best to hateful at the worst.

What do laws like the one Arizona has proposed do to a society?

  1. Crimes go unreported & drug dealers operate unopposed due to upstanding community members fears of being caught & deported. Chris Burbank for Huffington Post.
  2. Police officers who walked the line before on venting their frustrations or prejudices on marginalized persons now have free reign to do so. Felipe Calderon in The Guardian.
  3. Businesses that rely on the cheaper labor source that undocumented workers provide suffer. Undocumented workers are not taking away jobs from any legal citizen of America. As Martin Kaste for NPR writes, Americans don't want these jobs. 
The pecking order of race in this country has to stop. Change will come when a bigger crisis unites us, or a catastrophe changes the dynamic enough to allow for attitudes to shift. We could hope for voters to write their Congressperson to vote for tolerance & rewrite the laws that make the path to citizenship such a turmoil. We could hope a mixed race President will signal an attitude shift. Sadly we will probably just have to wait for the earth to fix our problems for us. Bring on the zombies.


Love America's history of immigrants? Watch the waves of immigrants settle here in this interactive map from the NY Times.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


What the fuck has Obama done so far?
Trust me. It's not what you think.

Record Wins For LGBT Candidates
A historic 106 openly gay candidates have been elected to office this year.

My son is gay
A blogging Mom's decision & consequences of letting her 5 year old cross dress for Halloween.

Portia de Rossi, Ally McBeal, And A Generation Of Eating Disorders
I enjoyed listening to Portia speaking on Ellen. I didn't have any desire to see her on Oprah. I figured when it's your spouse doing the interview, you're likely to be more open. http://ellen.warnerbros.com/2010/11/portia_de_rossi_answers_audience_questions_1104.php

George Takei’s hilarious response to anti-gay Arkansas school board member. http://blog.equalitopia.com/post/1464274380/george-takei-hilarious-response-arkansas-clint-mccance
"George Takei, known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, has responded to the recent news about Arkansas school board member Clint McCance."
I think it's awesome how active Mr. Takei is on behalf of the LGBT community, however, I also think when a celebrity makes a public statement against a non-famous person, even a bigot, that's a kind of bullying. See Neil Gaiman's blog on a similar issue here: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2010/10/big-blog-on-train.html (scroll down to the bit about Debbie Reese)

A mathematical analysis of what happened the last time the House went Republican
Porter cautions that these models are not predictive. Just because there seems to have been more back-scratching between committees during a previous Republican House doesn't mean that will happen if the House goes Republican on Election Day today. "I try to be cautious about interpreting it," he said. "I prefer when possible to let the output speak for itself."
NY Times 100, 75, 50 Years Ago
1910 Defiance of Foreign Powers
1935 Priest Reports Secret Pact
1960 43rd Revolution Anniversary

Farm Work: Americans Steer Clear Of Apple Harvest

"Bob Brody, who has an apple orchard next door to Gebbers, says he thinks the visa system is too expensive, and the other alternative — hiring Americans — is a fantasy. 'They won't do it,' he says. 'Talk to any grower.'"

I'm thinking of following up that last article with a full post. Immigrant prejudice is something about which I feel very strongly.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Does it get better?

I've enjoyed, well maybe "enjoyed" is the wrong word, appreciated? the responses to Dan Savage's movement: "It Gets Better." I sincerely hope that angry, hurt, bullied kids will hear this message and believe it. I tried to trace back to when the suicides started. The first one I found in the news was Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, but others date bulling in general as a cause of violence back to Columbine. Carl was 11 years old and from Springfield, Massachusetts. But there's more. Jaheem Herrera was an 11 year old boy from Atlanta who hung himself after being bullied.  Eric Mohat was 17 from Ohio. There's too manyLee Simpson, Phoebe Prince, Billy Lucas, Tyler Clementi, and more. Is this a quiet genocide?

That may seem over the top, but these people brag about it. Look at this article on Phoebe Prince.  They bragged that they killed her. And then there's the stories of the parents who created fake MySpace/Facebook accounts to bully their children's enemies. What is wrong with people?

I just hope there's more of the good kind of people than bad. People like these:

Dan Savage to Gay Kids: "It Gets Better"

Ellen DeGeneres

President Obama

Chris Colfer from GLEE

Even more so, I appreciate this message from various religious groups to stop the bullying, and to let kids know things will get better for them.  There aren't enough messages like that.

The BBC has links to several other celebrity and political videos on their site.

Not everyone sees this campaign as a good thing, or at least not doing enough. One blogger has a lengthy monologue here on why Dan Savage's campaign is overly simple. And truly, all one need do is look to the Don't Ask Don't Tell issue to see how much of a problem adults have with accepting someone as different.  There was a Supernatural episode that dealt with more generic bullying, and took a good look at who is the bully? Sometimes it's a sympathetic figure; sometimes it's a victim who crosses over to being the bully. This is a vicious cycle perpetuated by our reluctance to accept those who are different.

It's not a new issue. Once upon a time, if you were born with a cleft lip, you would have been left in the woods to die. Leper colonies. So we've evolved a bit, but not enough. We still make life very miserable for those who can't or won't conform. Is it so hard to believe that one way could be right for some, but not for another? Must I beat down anyone who disagrees with my view of life so that I am validated? I hope not.

More on Bullying
Bullying Bill Okayed in the House
Why anti-bullying programs fail
Campaign Offers Help to Gay Youths

Monday, October 25, 2010

NPR and the politics of fear

I admit I haven't listened to NPR news in a while; since moving to Minnesota I've greatly enjoyed listening to their Current radio station that mostly pays a mix of indie bands or other less than popular musicians. But I have always respected their news programs as balanced, well-done and of the highest ethical standard. What has happened to Juan Williams is lamentable, but has not changed my opinion of NPR.

On October 21, 2010, NPR terminated Juan Williams' contract after the remarks he made on a FOX news program. I honestly don't understand how he was allowed to be a part of that news program in the first place. It seems an obvious conflict of interest to me, but admittedly I do not know very much about how journalism or news stations run. Maybe it's an incestuous world of corporate owners, and no one higher up really minded?

Politico has this Juan Williams' comment, "Look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality." As a journalist, his comments seem a bit naive to me. It's not like he hadn't been at NPR ten years, and couldn't have guessed how they would react to such statements regarding a blanket fear of Muslims. I agree with the NPR ombudswoman Alicia Shepard who compared his statements against Muslims to another race saying, "But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see an African American male in Dashiki with a big Afro, I get worried. I get nervous." You just don't say things like that when it's your job to be unbiased and without prejudice.

The NY Times also did an article describing how NPR's Shepard stated "she had received 378 listener e-mails in 2008 listing complaints and frustrations about Mr. Williams." They also quote Shepard's piece where she said that Williams tended to show one face to NPR and another to FOX. Maybe it was just time for a change? As Williams has been given a highly lucrative position at FOX, I doubt he's too upset. And his confusion over whether Muslims are terrorists by default should fit right in. I also disagree with this Slate piece that says acknowledging your fear of a large group of innocent people on national television is the best way to transcend your fears. Wrong. The best way to transcend irrational fears is to look them in the eye for what they are: irrational. Then move on. And that's not proclaiming to "merely hold consciously egalitarian views." No one is perfect; no liberal is claiming to be a saint. Suggesting otherwise is just silly.

Huffington Post has a similar take from Mark Green who says Williams should have been given a choice to stay at NPR and shape-up, or go to FOX where his more opinion-based commentary would be acceptable. I especially agree with his comment on "William's [writing] in the New York Post after his firing that the events were 'a chilling assault on free speech.' This is a Christine O'Donnell-level misunderstanding of the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from enacting any law limiting speech. So everyone has a right to free speech but everyone does not have a right to an on-air job at NPR. That's up to them and them alone."  If you're interested in some further misinterpretations of free speech and the whole affair by conservatives, I suggest taking a look at the NY Magazine Daily Intel piece.

More on Juan Williams' Firing
An hour by hour breakdown from NPR
NPR CEO Apologizes For Handling Of Williams' Termination


If you fell in love with the idea of American politics from shows like The American President or The West Wing, everything you read or see on the news must be a major let down. Where are CJ, Josh and Toby? Alas, real pundits and DC politicians aren't quite the same.

That being said, I love American politics, government and history. I have a bachelors degree in History, and love to share the news and commentary I find that seems worth sharing. Sadly thanks to Facebook, I have learned the pitfalls of expressing your honest opinion to family and friends. From Twitter, I have learned that sometimes strangers can be more respectful and thoughtful in their comments or criticisms.

This blog is a place for me to express my thoughts and share what's going on in the world with a group of readers who choose to come here, instead of forced to read it in their feed. I reserve the right to remove hateful comments. Choose your words carefully. No one is truly anonymous on the internet.

You may contact me at punditryalas [at] gmail [dot] com.