Saturday, May 10, 2008

* America in denial – In an Op-Ed in the NY Times Tom Freidman makes the interesting observation, “We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.” He also notes that we are tired of nation building in Iraq and that as a country we are borrowing to shore up our banks. The big question he asks, who will tell the people? I believe the question points to failed leadership. Our elected leaders, either through an attempt to camouflage their actions and/or a ploy to tell us what they think we want to hear, too often distort reality. We bear responsibility in this dynamic.

* The denial of America – In a speech on Friday at the Center for American Progress Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said, “The world does not want an America that imposes, that dictates, that lectures, that preaches, that invades, nor occupies. I think the world does want a clear-thinking America that will lead with a consensus of purpose. That’s what we’ve done most of the time since World War II … and we can do that again. Reintroducing America to the world will be as important as any one thing this next president has to do…we need to reverse the optics, concentrating less on how we see the world, and more on how the world sees us.” I strongly agree with this position. The America that the world does not want should be an America that none of us desire. The last 7 years has taught us this hard lesson.

* Four letter word of the day ~ ELITIST – Apparently the word “elitist” connotes “disparaging” in today’s world of politics. Hillary Clinton just used it to describe economists who did not agree with her gas tax holiday. Ergo, I am an elitist because last week I noted this “holiday” to be shallow, damaging and a mere attempt to pander to Americans enduring the high price of gas (reference “America in denial”). Barack Obama has also been accused of being an elitist for reasons that I am not sure I understand. In the old days an elitist would be one who looked down upon the masses while favoring policies for the privileged. In the old days we called them Bush Republicans. Today an elitist is one who does not agree with you. I like it. It is so much more civil than calling them an SOB or bastard.

* Defying extraordinary odds – In 2007 there were 320 complaints about racial profiling against the Los Angeles Police Department. Investigations found that none of the complaints had merit. “It is at least the sixth consecutive year that all allegations of racial profiling against LAPD officers have been dismissed.” Either all LAPD officers are genetically connected to Mahatma Gandhi or Roberto Gonzales is handling the investigations. In either case it points to why people of color do not trust the police in the City of Angels/Angles/Angst.

* Evangelical movement ~ a priority shift – “A group of U.S. evangelical leaders on Wednesday called for a pullback from party politics so that followers would not become "useful idiots" exploited for partisan gain.” (I wish that I had composed that characterization.) The Evangelical Manifesto was signed by over 70 leading and mostly centrist evangelicals. "Christians from both sides of the political spectrum… have made the mistake of politicizing faith," the manifesto declares. Can I hear a Hallelujah for those people of faith refusing to be missionary pawns for the Republican Party and the aggrandizing leaders of the religious right?

* Reading between the lines ~ but not improved reading – “President Bush’s $1 billion a year initiative to teach reading to low-income children has not helped improve their reading comprehension, according to a Department of Education report.” What did improve was the financial gain of private contractors and publishers with ties to President Bush. This reminds one of the situation where the President’s brother, who owns an educational software company, has earned millions from selling his product through government programs. Investors in Neil Bush’s company include a Saudi Prince and onetime junk-bond king Michael R. Milken. “Junk” is the operative word. The results mirror the failures of the reading program. It would be naïve to expect every government initiative to be successful. It would be an exercise in futility to find any that has worked under the Bush administration. From “No Child Left Behind” we now have “A Country Left Behind”. There is little satisfaction that no Bush has been left behind.

* U.S. justice is not a grey area ~ it is very black and a little white – Last week I commented on the exploding prison populations in this country and with a nexus to the failed war on drugs. This week a study by Human Rights Watch offers statistics about this alarming and racist trend. “The 67-page report concludes that a black man is 11.8 times more likely than a white man to be sent to prison on drug charges, and a black woman is 4.8 times more likely than a white woman… Most drug offenders are white, but most of the drug offenders sent to prison are black," said Jamie Fellner, a Human Rights Watch official and author of the report.” Fellner concludes, "The solution is not to imprison more whites but to radically rethink how to deal with drug abuse and low-level drug offenders." Ryan King of The Sentencing Project said,
“These trends come not as the result of higher rates of drug use among African Americans, but, instead, the decisions by local officials about where to pursue drug enforcement.” Both organizations recommend the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences and a return to judicial discretion in the sentencing of drug offenders. I sense that this situation will improve. My optimism is not based on this country suddenly sprouting a conscience as much as it can no longer afford this prejudicial and head-in-the-sand policy.

* The progressive progress of Spain ~ I am envious – Sue Katz writes the blog Consenting Adult. This week she discussed the dramatic changes that Spain has experienced. Recall that Spain was controlled by the rightwing dictator Francisco Franco from 1939 until 1975. The political landscape is ever-changing. “Spain has re-elected their Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero after his government initiated a series of progressive changes in its first term, including legal gay marriage, a simpler divorce process, election procedures that push for more women candidates and legislative pressures to increase gender economic equity.” It is interesting that 9 of the 17 cabinet positions are filled by women, including the appointment for Defense Minister Carme Chacon, a 37 year-old woman who is pregnant. I love the idea! It seems to me that a woman with child is less likely to take her nation to war, especially an unprovoked war such as Iraq. If only George Bush had been pregnant, or, at least Condi Rice. Maybe she would have cut back on that torture stuff.

* Thank God for the Supreme Court ~ saving voter “integrity” – Our highest court recently upheld an Indiana law requiring that voters have photo identification. The law requiring photo ID had been passed by a Republican majority in the Indiana legislature in spite of the fact that there was no record of serious voter fraud. I guess you can call it preventive voter fraud or more likely an attempt to reduce the voting of poor people that tend to vote for Democrats. Well the law sure worked out this week in the Indiana primary. At least 10 retired nuns were prevented from voting even though some had been voting all of their lives. Most were in their 80s and 90s and did not possess driver licenses. Only God knows how they would have voted. Rumor has it that the nuns felt fortunate that they were not thrown to the ground and tasered. Indiana must be one of those rare states that do not have real problems that the lawmakers must be addressing.

* Derriere Orifice of the Week ~ good riddance - EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett resigned this week. Pathogenic and pathetic would describe his “service” to his country. His actions included: promoting arsenic in drinking water because economic costs should trump scientific recommendations; authored the industry-friendly mercury regulations that were rejected by a federal appeals court in 2008. In its decision, the court said the EPA’s “explanation deploys the logic of the Queen of Hearts”; over-ruled soot health standards at the behest of industry putting 77 million people at risk; worked on EPA’s controversial decision to deny a California petition seeking to regulate cars and trucks for climate change. Rumor has it that Mr. Burnett resigned so he could move his family to the Pacific island of Rapa Nui to escape the dangerously polluted air and water in the United States. Thanks to for compiling this information.

* This land is my land. This land is your land ~ but no reason to break out in song – On May 1st nine detainees at Guantanamo were released. One of the prisoners was Al Jazeera News cameraman Sami al-Hajj. In 2002 he was assigned to cover the conflict in Afghanistan. While traveling in Pakistan, he was stopped by Pakistani police and detained. He was handed over to U.S. forces and eventually taken to Guantánamo. He was never charged with a crime, yet was held and allegedly tortured for over six years. Upon his release al Hajj was flown to Khartoum, Sudan where he was removed from the plane by stretcher because his health is so poor. Can I hear another GOD Bless America? If the United States has a chance to regain its moral footing it will have to begin with the recognition and admission of the human tragedy that it is causing. If the United States wants to reduce the threat of terrorism it will have to alter its policies that have in fact increased the conditions that produce terrorists.
~Footnote: Cause and effect? - Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi is a Kuwaiti who had been imprisoned in Guantanamo for more than 3 1/2 years but never charged with a crime. In 2005 he was transferred to Kuwait and in May 2006 a Kuwaiti court acquitted him and four other former Guantanamo prisoners of terrorism charges. I have no sense of the veracity of the Kuwaiti court system but I feel that the U.S. would not have released these people if they had a shred of evidence proving them to be terrorists. Last month Salih al-Ajmi took part in one of three suicide bomb attacks in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

* “As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
William O. Douglas (1898 – 1980), longest-serving Supreme Court Justice in American history – over 36 years


Sue Katz said...

I really had to laugh at the clever title of your note about the use of the word "elitist" as the new "four-letter word." Of all the things one might call Obama, this one left me scratching my head. Stephen, didn't I hear somewhere that only in the last decade or less did the Obamas pay off their student loans and buy their first house? The way in which this absurdly distorted use of the word "elistist" got picked up by the press, as if it made any sense, just shows how very bankrupt mainstream news sources are. We're lucky to have you!

Ruth Deming said...

As Wm O Douglas said (and thanks for quoting him) we are past the twilight and are on the threshold of a brave new future since America is now run by elitists who sold our goods & values to the highest bidder, hence the great mess we are in, as eloquently stated by the Times' editorial and your own smart self. - Ruth Deming & Scott Sherman wishing you & your readers a Happy Mother's Day