Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Space for Discussing Decriminalization

Perhaps the most fascinating single trend in politics over the past month is the sudden space to have legitimate discussions about decriminalizing drugs. The utter failure of the war on drugs has been clear for 20 years. Drug use has not declined. Prison populations have skyrocketed. Drug gangs have grown. Drug farms infect our national forests and national parks. Etc. Lots of people have talked about this for a long time now.

But over the past month, the forums for decriminalization proponents have grown drastically. It's clearly for two reasons. First, the violence in Mexico spreading into the U.S. Second, the economic cost of the war on drugs and the potential to tax drugs. I wonder if this is a blip or whether we have reached a point of no return where support for ending the war on drugs will continue to grow and become more mainstream.

For instance, here's Jack Cafferty talking about the stupidity of the war on drugs. Meanwhile, Virginia Senator Jim Webb is exploring decriminalization through his fight to reform the prison system. While he won't use the word "decriminalization," Webb is open to any option suggested by his recommended bipartisan commission on how to end the expensive imprisonment of people for nonviolent offenses, the majority of whom are in on drug charges. As Webb says, "There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice." Not only is a moderate U.S. senator pushing this cause, but he even had a forum in last Sunday's Parade magazine of all places. What's more, some conservatives are also supporting Webb's commission.

The anti-drug warriors are clearly on the offensive, at least for the time being. Much of this is because their arguments are bankrupt. Examine the comments to Cafferty's piece. The anti-drug people say things like:

I disagree with making drugs legal. I don't want to see rapists running around with unlimited amounts of GHB, nor do i want to see babies that are addcted to cocaine at birth! While legalizing drugs would solve some problems, it would create many more.


Tell this to my brother who died of a heroin overdose.

OK, but how does making drugs legal change either of these scenarios? If the war on drugs had stopped anyone from taking drugs, then you'd have an argument. But it's made virtually no difference whatsoever on that front. I don't like cocaine-addicted babies or dead brothers anymore than you do, but that's already happening.

Ultimately, I think the fate of this debate will reflect where the culture war is at. Is the culture war over? Have the culture warriors lost for good? A real debate about legalization or decriminalization will test their ability to rile up their people for a new cause. I know they can lobby enough people to keep gay marriage illegal in California, but just barely. I really wonder if there's enough people in this country committed to the drug war to keep hard-core prohibition and prosecution of violators with long prison sentences the default policy in this country for much longer.

Legalized Rape in Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai is hopeless.

We've known this for a long time now. While I understand he faces some pretty tough conditions, the corruption of the Afghani government has only emboldened the Taliban. He holds elections, but he clearly has no intention of giving up power. And as the Americans have done at least since the beginning of the Cold War, we continue to back terrible rulers in the name of stability. You'd think that we'd learn our lesson about this by now, but we clearly have not.

Anyway, in an effort to gain support from fundamentalists before the upcoming election, today Karzai signed the "Sharia Family Law." What does this do? Among other things:

In a massive blow for women's rights, the new Shia Family Law negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage and restricts a woman's right to leave the home, according to UN papers seen by The Independent....

Article 132 requires women to obey their husband's sexual demands and stipulates that a man can expect to have sex with his wife at least "once every four nights" when travelling, unless they are ill. The law also gives men preferential inheritance rights, easier access to divorce, and priority in court.

A report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women, Unifem, warned: "Article 132 legalises the rape of a wife by her husband".

I know we are fighting a war on terror or something. Even if we aren't calling it that anymore. But how can we possibly support a ruler who has no interest in providing even basic human rights for half his people? I know that under Eisenhower or Johnson or Reagan, this law would not affect U.S. support in the least. I think it's really important that Obama break from the past and condemn Karzai for this, even at the risk of costing him the election. Of course, an open U.S. attack would probably be the best thing for his short-term electoral prospects, but the withdrawal of American aid would doom his ability to stay in power. And could his replacement really be that much worse?

Via Amanda
, who no doubt will be attacked from O'Reilly over this post too. I'm sure Bill O would love a law like this in the United States.

Twitter, WAM, and covering the story

So I wrote about my WAM experience over at Bust, but the thing that I've really been thinking about since the weekend was the Twitter coverage.

Not everyone has the finances or the ability to go to conferences, but the Web allows for the experience to be shared more widely. In addition to video coverage that will apparently be available on the web soon, the running Twitter stream managed to pull people who could not attend the event into the conversation.

The conversation started with a basic hashtag: #wam09. Conference attendees tagged their Twitter updates with #wam09 and a Twitter search for the hashtag allowed attendees and anyone else to see all public updates with the hashtag. As soon as I started tweeting with the hashtag, I got new Twitter followers.

From there, though, the conversation multiplied. At the first panel I attended, on Gender Non-Conformity and the Media, Jack from Feministe wrote a panel-specific hashtag on the board: #wam09gnc. We used that tag for our tweets from this panel, and I had the main search page, which automatically updates, open while I was listening and tweeting comments from the panel I was in.

This might sound like it requires an intense attention span, but I'm used to running three programs at once on a normal day.

On top of that, other WAMmers would retweet comments from others at other panels, spreading the discussion out further.

I met people through Twitter during panels, reading their Twitter feeds and then stopping to introduce myself at the end of the panel, and added new people to follow while picking up new followers and joining discussions on varying topics. In the final panel I attended, Women and the Economic Crisis: Getting Beyond the Corporate Media Narrative, (#wam09ec) we seemed to have perfected the process, googling and instantly tweeting links to organizations, books, and other sites referenced during the discussion in real time.

Twitter is ideally suited to events like WAM, where a large number of people are covering a specific event with several different parts happening simultaneously. Information was spread through Twitter--one attendee was stranded and needed donations, and the request for cash spread quickly across the Net, getting her home. Livetweeting one single event--like the presidential press conference or the debates--is fun, but often many people comment on the same things. The inauguration tweets were more useful because directions, warnings, and other information could be exchanged in real time.

But for an event like WAM--or many other conferences--this technology is perfectly suited. I'm sort of thinking on screen here, but I wonder what other events/issues could be covered this way?

Legitimate Technological Concerns

I think Josh Marshall is right on about some of the problems with embracing new media technologies. In particular, he expresses his concerns about electronic books:

The common book requires a threshold level of eyesight and literacy in the given language. Given those two abilities in the owner, once a book comes off the publisher's press, it takes on a life of its own. And as long as it's kept on a shelf, relatively free of moisture and out of reach of small children, even a cheap pulp book can easily last a hundred years. Quality bound books, meanwhile, can last many centuries. Today, though, I can't easily access even papers I wrote in college, which is a touch less than twenty years ago, because they're on floppy disks that few computers can any longer read and written on programs (remember Word Perfect?) accessible only through imperfect conversion utilities. If big swathes of book publishing go the electronic route, how many 'books' will have only a short window of existence before they get marooned in derelict and outmoded technology? Tomorrow's equivalent of Betamax, 8 Track and and now videotapes. Physical books, for all their other shortcomings, can still be read today and tomorrow regardless of technology progress or, as the case may be, regress.

I really agree with this. Now, I'm far from the most technologically adept person writing at this site, and I'll be curious for Sarah and Karthika's opinions on this. But the lack of a universal technology and that new incarnations of particularly technologies have made older versions not only outdated but unusable worries me greatly. I'll be sticking to my real books, tree killing or not, pretty much forever. Maybe that makes me old and out of touch. But I know that I can go back in 30 years and read the same books I have now. I like that guarantee.

I Hope Taft's Not On Top

The link is probably inappropriate for work, but artist Justine Lai is working on a series of paintings showing her having sex with the American presidents, in order of succession. She's as far as Grant I think. Here's her explanation:

In Join Or Die, I paint myself having sex with the Presidents of the United States in chronological order. I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents. A power lies in rendering these patriarchal figures the possible object of shame, ridicule and desire, but it is a power that is constantly negotiated.

I approach the spectacle of sex and politics with a certain playfulness. It would be easy to let the images slide into territory that's strictly pornographic—the lurid and hardcore, the predictably "controversial." One could also imagine a series preoccupied with wearing its "Fuck the Man" symbolism on its sleeve. But I wish to move beyond these things and make something playful and tender and maybe a little ambiguous, but exuberantly so. This, I feel, is the most humanizing act I can do.

While I'm not really qualified to judge Lai's work from an artistic standpoint, I like the principle of it. Humanizing presidents is a valuable service, particularly the most mythologized. The painting of her and Lincoln is probably my favorite because of its shocking humanization of a man that seems so unlike us. It reminds me of the greatest bit in John Stewart's book, the pin the clothes on the naked Supreme Court justices. That was one of the most juvenile jokes, but also the most profound.

Via Tomasky.

Historical Image of the Day

This week's historical image theme is "Americans Abroad," something I may return to from time to time.

Peace Corps volunteer, Ghana. Date unknown, but I'm guess mid-60s.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Economic Transition and Environmentalism in the Pacific Northwest

William Yardley's piece in today's Times on the shift in the Pacific Northwest away from a logging economy and its effects on the timber industry is worth reading. As the much-in-demand expert on logging here at Alterdestiny, I figure I should probably comment on it. And I do have a few points to make:

1. These changes are the back side of a process that started decades ago. After World War II, the United States Forest Service decided to serve timber companies over all other users of the forest. Combined with the postwar housing crisis, there was little incentive to treat the forest as a sustainable resource, thus leading to massive overcutting. The decline of virgin forests coincided with the rise of environmentalism and with the development of ecology as a respected scientific field. In the 1980s, these scientists documented the decline of the northern spotted owl in the forests, widely believed to be an indicator species. At the same time, the Reagan administration ordered full speed ahead cutting in the forests, placing the future of the species in doubt. The environmental groups took the scientific information and sued the timber companies and federal government, eventually ending most logging in the National Forests.

The larger point here is that the changes Yardley describes have a long history. Ever since the late 1980s, timber towns have dealt with a new economic reality, one without limitless logging. Many of them have faded, suffering economic depression and declining population. There is nothing new about any of this and I'm surprised Yardley didn't reference this past except in passing.

2. Not surprisingly, the loggers are reacting in a variety of ways to these changes. In the 80s and 90s, there was widespread hostility toward environmentalists. Much of this was irrational hate and misplaced anger, but much was also a result of openly hostile and anti-humanist behavior by the environmental community. Those days are long gone though. And while many loggers long for the days of unregulated logging, others are seeing the economic opporutnities of a post-logging economy, where the trees make you money in ways other than cutting them down. This is interesting and I think touches on a very important issue deep within many loggers' souls--love of nature.

In my not soon to be forthcoming (2013 maybe?) book, "The Battle for the Body: Work and Environment in the Pacific Northwest Lumber Industry," I argue that loggers cared about nature and that their relationships with nature shaped their lives and especially their labor relations. But of course, while they might have loved nature, they had to eat and that meant cutting down trees. Loggers frequently expressed sorrow over their actions. But what were they to do?

Today, there's other alternatives. See this quote by Harold Jones, of Lowell, Oregon. This town, 10 minutes from where I grew up, has long been under total control of the timber industry. But today, Jones says:

“The only money I’ve ever made is cutting down trees,” Mr. Jones, 75, said just after coming in from thinning the stand of Douglas firs he has planted on 125 acres he owns here in Lowell. “So what I’ve tried to do in my retirement is to try to bring back and repay the Earth for a lot of the devastation I’ve caused it.”

Mr. Jones started logging in 1948 and has long rolled his eyes at “countercultural types” who protest timber sales. Yet in front of his property now are signs saying “Certified Family Forest.”

This is interesting. It's my contention that loggers, even as they love nature, do not fit into traditional environmentalist categories of "conservationist" or "preservationist." In fact, I think these categories are extremely limiting and should be tossed out, yet most environmental historians still use them. The problem with these terms is that they only describe people who are in the environmental movement in some way. What about the millions of people who aren't "environmentalists?" How do we characterize their relationship with nature? In Jones' case, here is a man who loves nature and who admits that he has caused great damage to the planet. But he had to eat. He's 75 and the only way he's ever made money is by cutting down trees. Now he sees a different way and is embracing it, even while he shows clear contempt for "environmentalists." This kind of feeling is common among loggers, many of whom, past and present, love nature while also being dismayed at the culture of environmentalists, with their dismissal of the need to work in nature and their embracing of the counterculture.

3. Finally, a word needs to be said about consumption. I am glad logging has declined in my home state. It's a beautiful place. Clearcuts are horrid scars upon the land, designed to maximize profit for large corporations. This kind of logging well-served neither nature nor working-class people. But while the environmental community did good things by ending the ravages of logging upon the land, they said little about consumption. Recycling was always mentioned but that's limited and really is about reuse rather than outright declines in consumption patterns. Restriction without less consumption simply means that the logging in Oregon moved to other places--Indonesia, Brazil, Canada, Alabama, Alaska, New Zealand, etc. Those forests are still getting destroyed by logging. Why? Because we demand two-ply toilet paper, endless supplies of printer paper, etc., etc. I love my Oregon forests. But I love all forests in the world just as much. I don't want to destroy virgin boreal forest in Canada or rain forest in Brazil for my consumer demands. Yet we don't talk much about this 900 lb. gorilla. And that I think needs to be the next frontier in environmental communities--the fight against consumption.

From Colony to Superpower, Part XV

This is the fifteenth installment in the 20 part series Rob Farley and I have commenced to review George Herring's From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. See the Herring Review tag below for previous entries.

This week covers the Eisenhower administration (1953-61). I know Eisenhower's reputation has risen over the last 20 years. And he does seem to have had a pretty solid temperament for these difficult years. Nonetheless, I was surprised at the ineptitude of much of Eisenhower's foreign policy. His reliance on John Foster Dulles, arguably the worst Secretary of State in U.S. history, was a major problem. Dulles' reliance on Christianity as a major factor in his dealings with the world led to disaster, his favoring covert operations created some of the worst long-term messes in American foreign policy history, some of which still affect us today; his personality alienated key allies like Britain's Anthony Eden, and his racism blinded the government to the nationalist movements of Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

Of course, most of the American foreign policy establishment shared in that racism. Thinking brown people incapable of self-government, Eisenhower and Dulles continued earlier indifference to Latin American dictators, sought to create a US client state in South Vietnam, and thought we could maneuver the Middle East toward our interests. These were all colossal mistakes. Four incidents serve to show these follies. Dulles and Eisenhower's belief in the efficacy of covert operations led to the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala. The former, which led to the dictatorial Shah being placed in power, fed the Islamic Revolution of 1979. While Americans don't understand why Iran doesn't like us, they know very well why. It's not because they hate freedom, it's because of bitterness extending back to 1953. In Guatemala, the overthrow of Arbenz because he nationalized United Fruit Company land they were no longer using created instability and continued U.S. support of governments that killed, at a minimum, 100,000 citizens over coming decades. The interference in South Vietnam, ignoring the legitimacy of Ho Chi Minh's leadership and supporting Diem, primarily because he was a Catholic and therefore was one of us, set the stage for the nation's greatest foreign policy disaster. Continuing to think of men like Fulgencio Batista as our friend, ignoring legitimate nationalist concerns from the Cuban people, and believing the nation to be a vassal state set the stage for Fidel Castro's victory in 1959. A dozen more examples could be provided.

Of course, this all occurred in the Cold War context, right? Too often, I think this is used as an excuse for terrible foreign policy decisions that created great suffering for people around the world and that did not make the United States a safer nation. In reality, neither Eisenhower and Dulles in the US nor Khrushchev in the Soviet Union were particularly suitable leaders for such difficult. Both consistently misread the other, making often irresponsible decisions. On the US side, the U-2 spy plane missions that led to the shooting down of Gary Powers was particularly stupid. These missions accomplished nothing and led to great embarrassment to the U.S. Eisenhower personally approved the mission (though with reservations). Meanwhile Khrushchev simply didn't have the education or self-confidence to make correct decisions in many cases. He actually believed on his 1959 trip to the U.S. that Camp David might be a trick to capture him. Certainly crushing opposition in Hungary was a propagandistic nightmare for the USSR.

One other point about American foreign policy I found infuriating during these years was the falseness of American propaganda. Herring points out that propaganda dropped on eastern Europe during the 1950s promising American support for freedom fighters helped convince dissidents in the region to rebel against Soviet authority. When the Soviets rolled into Budapest, America did nothing. This happened again and again during the Cold War years, perhaps most devastatingly at the end of the Cold War when George H.W. Bush encouraged rebellions against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and then stood by when Saddam brutally crushed them.

There's much else to talk about, including the Suez crisis, rising tensions between Pakistan and India, China, and much more about Europe. But I'll let Rob take over.

Historical Image of the Day

Rent strikers, New York City, early 1930s.

In Which Mr. Trend Demands More Awesome Crazy Music in His Life

Dear Tom Waits,

I know you've always enjoyed acting, and I admit, casting you as the devil is an inspiring decision. You're a strange man, and certainly you've earned the right to do whatever you want, even if it's taking a role in a movie that sounds like a spectacularly ridiculous version of The Road.

However, it's been five years since you released one of your greater and stranger albums, and three years since we got an awesomely-themed strong compilation from you. I know you sometimes take extended breaks from music, but given that you toured just last year (after giving the greatest press conference ever to announce it), I'd really, really appreciate it if you could go back into the studio sometime soon and give us more of your insane, amazing, awesome music.

You're the best.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Big Media Duss

So here I am, living in obscurity in Texas. Meanwhile, Alterdestiny alumni Matt Duss, now working at the Center for American Progress, was on Rachel Maddow last night. Wow. Congratulations dude.

WAM! 2009

Hi Alterdestinians. I'm off at the WAM! Conference in Cambridge this weekend and I'm livetweeting the panels I'm attending, if you're interested in following along.

You can also check out the #wam09 feed for everyone tweeting from the conference.

Historical Image of the Day

As you can see in the caption to the photo, this building was the first office of Local 538 of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, a local at the Oscar Meyer plant in Madison, Wisconsin.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Shameless Self-promotion blogging: EFCA style.

My EFCA piece over at Global Comment.

In his press conference Tuesday night, Barack Obama took pains to emphasize that comprehensive solutions were needed to the economic crisis, and that working families were suffering and needed help to create real wealth.

Congress has before it a bill that would help lessen the inequality in America and support those working families by helping workers organize into unions. That bill is the Employee Free Choice Act, H.R. 1409, introduced on March 10 by George Miller of California, with a who’s who of congresspeople as cosponsors.

Economist Mark Price of the Keystone Research Center in Pennsylvania says,

“Unions make sure that as productivity rises the wealth which this increased productivity creates shows up in the paychecks of workers. Unions do this because they give workers more bargaining power and that bargaining power translates into higher wages.”

Price also notes that a stronger labor movement is key in creating a sustainable economy once the crisis is stabilized. “Like the need for increased financial regulation, a stronger union movement is critical to making sure that when the economy does recover that recovery produces widely shared gains.”

EFCA, as it is known, is shaping up to be the biggest battle over organized labor since 1947, and big business is pouring millions into advertising and lobbying against the bill—including Citigroup and other bailed-out businesses. The irony of using taxpayer dollars from working people to defeat a bill that aims to help working people is not lost on EFCA supporters.

Read on.

Historical Image of the Day

Minneapolis truckers' strike, 1934.

A Limp Bizkit Film? And It's Good?

I had heard that Fred Durst, that scourge of late 90s and early 00s music, was directing a movie. I did not take it seriously. However, it seems to actually be good. And I certainly didn't expect to be reviewed in these terms:

The directing debut of Fred Durst (the former frontman of the band Limp Bizkit), “The Education of Charlie Banks” probes class consciousness with rather more sensitivity than originality. But thanks to sincere performances (most notably from Mr. Ritter and Eva Amurri as Charlie’s upper-crust crush) and clever writing (by Peter Elkoff), the movie never becomes maudlin. Drawing a firm line between blue blood and blue collar, Mr. Durst keeps his eyes on details — Charlie’s merit-scholar tweed jacket, a rich girl’s fridge stocked with brie and Champagne — as distinguishing as Mick’s flaring, uncontrolled temper. Mick’s dreams of class mobility appear ridiculous only because they are.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Class Film Query

This summer, I am teaching a 3 week course on politics and society of the 1960s and 1970s through film. I have time to show 14 films. What would you show? I am up for American and international films, preferring to focus on race, radicalism, student movements, and related issues, but open to everything.

My early list likes this:

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Battle of Algiers
Memories of Underdevelopment
The Green Berets
Easy Rider
Medium Cool
Bonnie & Clyde
In the Heat of the Night
The Deer Hunter
I Am Cuba
Dr. Strangelove
The China Syndrome
When We Were Kings (a documentary from the 90s, but I think very useful to talk about race and decolonialization, could work well in a unit with I Am Cuba, Memories of Underdevelopment, and Battle of Algiers).

However, this list is extremely fluid. What suggestions do you all have? All are most appreciated!

John Hope Franklin, RIP

As many of you may have read, the great African-American historian John Hope Franklin died yesterday. Scholar, pioneer, activist, leader--Franklin was about as great of historian who ever lived.

This is a very nice memorial.

Lucid until the end of his 94 years, here is an interview with Franklin on the election of Barack Obama. It's great that he lived long enough to see this day.

Virginity By Major

Via Sociological Images, this survey of virginity by major at Wellesley is interesting. But the numbers seem awful high to me. Are well over half of all college students really virgins? This seems highly dubious.

Nonetheless, I am glad to see historians getting way more action than political scientists. Take that Yann!

And evidently studio arts equals one endless orgy or something.

Historical Image of the Day

Unemployment Council (a communist organization) led demonstration at City Hall, Tacoma, WA, 1931

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Intelligence: Not A Job Requirement For Congress

Texas Republican congressman Joe Barton had this to say about climate change today in a committee hearing:

I believe that Earth’s climate is changing, but I think it’s changing for natural variation reasons. And I think man-kind has been adopting, or adapting, to climate as long as man has walked the Earth. When it rains we find shelter. When it’s hot, we get shade. When it’s cold, we find a warm place to stay. Adaptation is the practical, affordable, utterly natural reflex response to nature when the planet is heating or cooling, as it always is.

Hmmm....How do we adapt to having idiots in positions of power? As for global warming, I guess I should plant a tree or something. That'd solve all my problems.

Via Think Progress

Stimulus Saves Jobs, Tennessee Higher Education

Thanks in part to pressure applied by the United Campus Workers (a union of University of Tennessee employees), Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen is using the state's share of stimulus money to eliminate all planned cuts in higher education. This not only saves hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs, but also goes a long way to ensuring decent education for Tennessee's citizens.

This is a great example both of how Obama's stimulus plan is making positive improvements in the country and of the necessity of unions as a force for good in public life. As the union itself said in a press release:

Since last fall UCW-CWA has been clear: the Governor must use any available federal assistance, the rainy day fund and other available resources as a bridge to better economic times instead of implementing the steep budget cuts proposed for higher education. During a time of economic recession the state's public colleges and universities are the last place we should look to for budget reductions. Instead, higher education is one of the best job creation programs our state has; public higher education is an economic engine that benefits all residents of Tennessee.

While many of our colleagues enjoyed the winter break, our members actively reached out to the Tennessee Congressional delegation asking for federal aid for higher education. During the week of Christmas our leadership continued to plan our legislative campaign. While many around us descended into hopelessness and the ere of inevitability, our members rallied in support of federal aid and pressured Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with its State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. When many talked of pink slips soon to be arriving in the mailboxes of campus employees we, at points by ourselves, boldly spoke up that these cuts would not have to take place now given the aid on its way to states. Our members spent Spring Breaks lobbying our elected leaders in Nashville, many of them using their annual leave in order to attend.

Last night this work finally began to come to fruition. In his Budget Address to a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly Governor Bredesen announced that due to the federal economic stimulus bill's State Fiscal Stabilization Fund higher education, "not only won't have to make cuts [this year], but cuts they have already taken here in Tennessee have been restored."

It is important that our coworkers, our colleagues, and our communities know that these sorts of developments do not simply drop from the sky. Average people can make positive change in our own lives, these development are proof positives of this fact. The struggles to see our jobs respected and secure, higher education well funded and positioned for the future, and our state, national and world economies back on track are all far from over. But good news is always welcome news.


Angry Mexico

Mexico is angry at the U.S. As well they should be:

Mexico’s economy is being dragged down by the recession to the north. American addicts have turned Mexico into a drug superhighway, and its police and soldiers are under assault from American guns. Nafta promised 15 years ago that Mexican trucks would be allowed on American roads, but Congress said they were unsafe.

Not to mention the other failures of NAFTA, as Trend mentioned yesterday. And the border wall.

Now, Mexico has a lot of problems of its own. An unresponsive government unwilling or unable to deal with poverty and a corrupt police force top the list. But before we tell Mexico to look into the mirror for their problems, maybe we should do the same. If Mexico is being unreasonable in blaming the U.S., aren't we just as guilty? We took what we wanted from NAFTA and reneged upon what we decided we didn't like. It is our drug demands and our unthinking belief that drugs should be illegal that is fueling the violence in Mexico and increasingly in the U.S. It is our loose gun laws that facilitate the violence. It is our border wall that makes people more desperate in smuggling both themselves and drugs into the United States.

There is an obvious step the United States could take to help solve all of these problems: decriminalize marijuana. While cocaine and heroin are big problems too, a lot of this trade and violence revolves around weed. I think it's increasingly clear that decriminalization is going to happen in the next 2 decades, given polling number demographics on the issue and the increasing acceptance of the drug into mainstream America. Doing so, or at least beginning to take the first steps, would make our borders much safer, save both Mexican and American lives, and probably improve relations with our southern neighbor.

GMOs on National Wildlife Refuges?

In what should have been a fairly obvious decision for the U.S. government in the first place, a federal judge yesterday banned the farming of genetically modified organisms on National Wildlife Refuge land. First of all, there should be no farming on NWRs anyway except to feed birds and other wildlife. And while real scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful is lacking, why take the chance in the few places sat aside for wildlife? These are special places and should be treated in special ways. That the Bush administration allowed this is hardly surprising of course.

Peretz--Not Only Racist Toward Palestinians!

New Republic owner Marty Peretz's racism toward Palestinians is well documented, particularly by our own former writer Matt Duss. See this example:

I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) "atrocities." They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn't comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do. But the mutilation of bodies and beheadings of people picked up at random in Iraq does not scandalize the people of Iraq unless victims are believers in their own sect or members of their own clan. And the truth is that we are less and less shocked by the mass death-happenings in the world of Islam. Yes, that's the bitter truth. Frankly, even I--cynic that I am--was shocked in the beginning by the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq. But I am no longer surprised. And neither are you.

And Matt has many more examples here.

But now, Peretz is expanding his game, attacking other brown people as well, particularly the Mexicans. This is what he had to say yesterday about Mexicans:

Well, I am extremely pessimistic about Mexican-American relations, not because the U.S. had done anything specifically wrong to our southern neighbor but because a (now not quite so) wealthy country has as its abutter a Latin society with all of its characteristic deficiencies: congenital corruption, authoritarian government, anarchic politics, near-tropical work habits, stifling social mores, Catholic dogma with the usual unacknowledged compromises, an anarchic counter-culture and increasingly violent modes of conflict. Then, there is the Mexican diaspora in America, hard-working and patriotic but mired in its untold numbers of illegals, about whom no one can talk with candor.

Marty, what about the fact that everyone is lazy? Aren't there some stereotypes from Speedy Gonzalez cartoons you could throw in there too? One could take apart Peretz's stereotypes, but why bother. He's a racist, but a rich racist who owns what used to be one of America's greatest progressive magazines, so he has a soapbox from which to spout hate.

H/t to Lindsay

Historical Image of the Day

Disney animators strike, 1941

Some People Are Insane

Exhibit A:

A Brazilian man has descended a 127ft waterfall in a kayak, breaking the world record.
Pedro Olivia took just 2.9 seconds and hit speeds of 70mph as he hurtled down the Amazon's Salto Belo falls.
The 26-year-old shattered the existing 108ft world record with his drop into the Rio Sacre river

The descent was almost double that of Niagra Falls on the US border with Canada. Despite being 176ft high, the actual drop is only 70ft because of rocks at the bottom.
Olivia, 26, said: "It's a story that I will be telling for the rest of my life."

A life which, when you're seeing how high a waterfall you can plunge over without dying, will most likely not last much longer.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From Colony to Superpower, Part XIV

This is the fourteenth installment in the 20 part series Rob Farley and I have commenced to review George Herring's From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. See the Herring Review tag below for previous entries. Rob's entry for this week is here.

This week covers the Truman Administration (1945-53). It's amazing thinking about what a huge change these years were for the United States. Before World War II, the U.S. tried very hard to stay out of international commitments unrelated to trade, had little interest in policing the world (outside of Latin America anyway), and had a strongly isolationist population. But the war created a new U.S. foreign policy of one of two world superpowers vying for world control. This is one of many reasons why I think World War II is the second most important event in American history (after the Civil War, and just above the introduction of slavery, the Constitutional Convention, and the civil rights movement). It was so transforming to all of America. Maybe I'll do a full post on this soon.

Anyway, the Truman years brought the beginnings of the Cold War, the atomic bomb, the Korean War, NATO, the Marshall Plan, the Chinese Revolution, the Berlin Airlift, the birth of the CIA, McCarthyism, and many other amazingly important events. That Americans dealt with the transition relatively smoothly is surprising. By this, I mean there was little organized opposition to this shift in U.S. foreign policy, with the most substantive criticisms coming from the right, who wanted the Cold War fought with more vigor.

One of the most disastrous success in U.S. foreign policy history may have been the success of covert operations in Greece in 1948. Not that I think Soviet domination of Greece would have been a good thing, but because it converted many in the foreign policy and intelligence establishments of the value of covert operations, leading to many horrible incidents from Iran and Guatemala to Chile and Indonesia. And of course, the Bay of Pigs.

I do wish Herring had dealt a bit more with Vietnam and the our support of French colonialism. It's mentioned, but only in passing. This was a major blunder, as early support of Ho Chi Minh could have created a peaceful transition to power in Vietnam and avoided the Vietnam War, and by proxy, the Khmer Rouge. On the other hand, the U.S. was not mentally prepared to support anticolonial movements in 1945 and failed to do so in almost every case. Racism toward non-whites still dominated the foreign policy establishment and the Vietnamese being more qualified to run their land than the French occurred to few.

On the other hand, I was pleased to see Herring rely on one of the most interesting books of the new U.S. and the World field, Ed Wehrle's Between a River and a Mountain: The AFL-CIO and the Vietnam War, which I reviewed here. The AFL got deeply involved in American foreign policy during these years, supporting conservative labor movements throughout Europe and eventually Vietnam, Latin America, and other parts of the world. They basically offered themselves up to the CIA as stools, particularly under the leadership of the deeply anti-communist George Meany. This is the kind of work that I hoped Herring would reference throughout his work, expanding our view and broadening our understanding on the nation's foreign relations.

Overall, while Truman left the presidency with low ratings and reputation, it's hard to criticize him too harshly on the foreign policy front. He made some terrible decisions (supporting apartheid South Africa for instance), it's true, and he did provide Roosevelt's leadership. But considering he was pretty unqualified and uninformed on these issues when he took office, it seems that he acquitted himself fairly well. He could have tried to run an armed convoy through to Berlin, he could have committed ever-increasing U.S. aid and military advisers to Chiang Kai-Shek in a losing cause, he could have let MacArthur run roughshod over him and bomb China. These were incredibly challenging years, and I can think of a lot of worse outcomes than where we were in 1953 and I can think of a lot of presidents who would have handled things far less well.

Your Ask the President Question for Today

It was fourth from the top earlier today--let's see if they'll answer why single payer isn't on the agenda. Click the green "Thumbs up" to vote yes.

Abbie Conant

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a talk and concert by one of the world's most accomplished and polished trombone virtuosi, Abbie Conant. She and her husband (both New Mexico natives, I might add), composer William Osborne, collaborated on a two large multimedia performance art pieces, which were presented last night here in Redlands.

The first, Cybeline, features Conant portraying a cyborg trying to assume the role of a talk show host in order to prove that she is human, and interrogates the gender-coded aspects of technology and sexual violence. It is an effective contemplation of the effects of mass media on our humanity and the "programmability of the mind". The work is vivid and immediate; Conant's own animations are projected onto a screen as the images of the cyborg's conscious and unconscious thoughts.

The second work, Music for the End of Time, is a stunning piece for trombone, quadraphonic electronic sound, and video. This "dramatic tone poem" seamlessly unfolds, not in the least part due to Conant's impeccable technique and haunting sound, providing not only some of the most violent, ominous music I've heard, but also some of the most plaintively beautiful. The last major section of the work is a true gem-- flawless in both its construction and execution.

"You know the problem, we need a man for the solo trombone.”
--Munich Philharmonic conductor Sergui Celibidache

Aside from these remarkable works, Abbie and Bill have become a strong voice for the cause of gender parity in orchestras. Upon winning the solo (principal, as we say in America) trombone spot via audition for the Munich Philharmonic in 1980 (an audition that was 'screened', meaning that the panel did not see the auditioning performers until after the process was over), Abbie was immediately demoted to second chair because she was a woman. The quote above, from the orchestra's misogynist conductor, was given as the reason.
This was in clear violation of the rules governing orchestra labor (any demotion must be clearly justified and preceded by a number of written warnings), so Conant took the orchestra to court.

In Europe, orchestras are government-funded (which makes their extreme sexism even less defensible), which caused not a small conflict of interest-- Conant was ostensibly suing the city (which "owns" the orchestra, so to speak), which also had the say in channeling the case to specific judges. In the end, Conant had to "redo" the audition for a court-appointed expert, and was put through a grueling 45-minute "re-audition". In a bizarre move disgustingly similar to the racist craniology experiments of the late 19th century, they even had her undergo medical tests regarding lung capacity and other physical traits (assuming that as a woman, she wouldn't have the same physical abilities of a man; the doctors who examined her thought she was some kind of professional athlete, based on the results).

After she eventually won her seat back (after 8 years in the orchestra playing second and six years of litigation), it was then discovered that she was being paid less than the male wind soloists-- about $800 less per month. The orchestra's management lied in subsequent litigation. Conant eventually obtained documents to prove otherwise, and won another series of court cases. This was the longest labor dispute in the state of Bavaria-- all said, Conant was involved in 13 years of litigation. Though because of the length of the court cases (much of it do to stalling at the behest of the city and orchestra management), the statute of limitations had run out on a number years of back-pay.

The whole story is here, detailed expertly by her husband, William Osborne. My cursory retelling can't really do it justice-- the extreme efforts that the orchestra's management went to in order to force her out are astounding as they are maddening.

Conant and Osborne, along with International Alliance for Women in Music, were also at the forefront of protests that forced the Vienna Philharmonic to end its policy of only having men (more specifically, white men) in the orchestra-- which only happened in 1997.

Things are better, seemingly, in American orchestras-- upwards of 40% of U.S. orchestras are women, and the trend is for the number to hopefully get closer to 50%. There still are very few female brass principals, but Conant provides a fantastic role model for female orchestral musicians here and in Europe especially, having taken a big chunk out of that particular glass ceiling.

Self Destructive Zones

In what probably was the best song of 2008, Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers wrote "Self-Destructive Zones." It's a song about the grunge scene of the early 1990s and how it all went to hell real fast. I was never a grunge kid. At the time I thought that it was because recent rock just didn't appeal to me, but I think it's because a lot of those bands sucked. Anyway, it's interesting to look back on that time from 15 years out. Maybe these awesome lyrics will start a conversation about that scene and those bands.

It was 1990 give or take I don't remember
when the news of revolution hit the air
The girls hadn't even started taking down our posters
when the boys started cutting off their hair
The radio stations all decided angst was finally old enough
it ought to have a proper home
Dead fat or rich nobody’s left to bitch
about the goings' on in self destructive zones

The night the practice room caught fire
there were rumors of a dragon headed straight for Muscle Shoals
"Stoner tries to save an amplifier"
and it's like the dragon's side of the story is never told
When the dream and the man and the girls hang around long enough
to make you think it's coming true,
it's easier to let it all die a fairy tale,
than admit that something bigger is passing through

The hippies rode a wave putting smiles on faces,
that the devil wouldn’t even put a shoe
Caught between a generation dying from its habits,
and another thinking rock and roll was new
Till the pawn shops were packed like a backstage party,
hanging full of pointy ugly cheap guitars
And the young'uns all turned to karaoke,
hanging all their wishes upon disregarded stars

My Grandaddy's shotgun is locked in a closet
and it never shot a thing that could have lived
An old man decided that you couldn't choose your poison
till you're nearly old enough to vote for him
They turned what was into something so disgusting
even wild dogs would disregard the bones
Dead fat or rich nobody’s left to bitch
about the goings' on in self destructive zones

Historical Image of the Day

Receiving supplies, Emerson Sit-Down Strike, St. Louis, 1937.

One More Example of Neoliberalism's Failures in Latin America

I may have more to say on this later today (though I invite Kim, Yann, Erik, and/or Sarah to join in if they have more to say), but, to go along with Sarah's posts, it should come as no surprise to anybody that neoliberal free trade policies may not be as helpful to Latin America as many people argued they would, and that "Nafta produced results that were exactly the opposite of what was promised." A policy that has effectively helped rich companies get even richer while paying less, ravaging workers' rights and living conditions, with economic, social, and political results that economists naively didn't see coming because the real world didn't actually fit into the model? Shocking, I know, but it does sum up a lot of what has been wrong with U.S. economic policy in Latin America in the last several decades of decades

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why I Study Latin American Dictatorships and Military Politics

There's no big mystery or moral crisis as to why I study Brazil. Through a series of happy accidents that aren't worth recounting in detail here, I discovered early in my graduate career that I really enjoyed Brazilian history, that it made sense to me, and that I was good at it. I opted for Brazil over Chile, and the rest is cheesily history.

But, as Erik pondered here, the explanations not just as to why I study dictatorships, or how I can, is more interesting, and more difficult. And quite honestly, at the end of it, I don't know. A lot of historians are fascinated by the dark, macabre side of history - I suspect that's what draws many environmental historians to their field. Likewise, labor historians probably find labor unrest more interesting than labor rest, and there's a reason that there are so many amateur (in the broadest and worst sense of the word) "military historians" out there. I think we historians generally just like things when they are at their messiest, most complex, most volatile.

But studying dictatorships has a particular oppression looming over it. Environmental destruction, strike-breaking, and war all have really ugly components. Yet, at least to my way of thinking (and I think a lot of people's more generally), dealing with issues like methodical torture, disappearances, and murders in lop-sided "battles" is really, really hard to deal with. I'm pretty sure every Latin Americanist who studies dictatorships (not just Southern Cone) passes through a phase somewhere in their professional path where they seriously worry, "is there something WRONG with me for wanting to study this?" At least for me, it wasn't just some passing question I waived off - it ended up involving some pretty heavy moral and philosophical reflection in my second year of my Master's. And I've known many people who started off wanting to study dictatorships, but once they really got into how awful those governments could be, they opted out, choosing to focus on some other issue either topically or temporally (or both).

Ultimately, those of us who really want to study these things in depth find many ways to deal with it. Partly, you take comfort in the fact that, if those who survived this made it through some of the most brutal tortures you could imagine, then you can too. In part, there's a wish to overcome the frustrations, the horrors, the complete despair in the face of some of the despicable acts humans can perpetrate against other humans, because I (we?) believe that, if we can just teach others about these horrors, then maybe we're taking some small step to preventing their repetition. There is also the fact that you learn and understand the complexities of the issues, so the fact that the French or Americans taught many of these torture techniques leaves plenty of blame to be spread around. And, at least in the case of Latin America, we have other areas we don't study that seem even more horrific. The 30,000 dead in Argentina is terrifying and brutal, but we can still say, "well, at least it's not Stalin, or Pol Pot."

Ultimately, none of this satisfactorily answers the question, "is there something wrong with me?" But at the end of the day, it's much better to be teaching others about the torture and murders that happen in dictatorships than to be perpetrating them in the name of a government.

The EPA Finally Does Something Right

The EPA is finally (probably) going to declare that greenhouse gases are "pollutants" under the Clean Air Act.  This could possibly lead to much-needed regulations on car emissions and other industries that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases.  

I've never been the biggest fan of the EPA because I think it just loves big business too much to make any of the "radical" changes that are needed, but maybe this will be its chance to make me change my mind...

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images will focus on labor struggles during the Great Depression.

Images from sewing workers strike, Tampa, Florida, 1937.

The Shock Doctrine 6: Entirely Unrelated

(Previous posts here, Matt's posts here, Trend's "How to Overthrow a Government" here.)

Since Klein's chapter here notes how the Nobel Prize for Economics legitimized Friedmanism and cleansed it of its taint of involvement with the horrors of the Pinochet regime (after Amnesty International won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work against Pinochet), I thought it was only right to quote another Nobel Prize-winning economist on Friedman.

Paul Krugman wrote,

"Keynesianism was a great reformation of economic thought. It was followed, inevitably, by a counter-reformation. A number of economists played important roles in the great revival of classical economics between 1950 and 2000, but none was as influential as Milton Friedman. If Keynes was Luther, Friedman was Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. And like the Jesuits, Friedman's followers have acted as a sort of disciplined army of the faithful, spearheading a broad, but incomplete, rollback of Keynesian heresy."

Krugman is a little bit intellectually dishonest in this piece, I think, mentioning Chile briefly and all but ignoring the abuses of the regime while poking at Friedman's failures there, but this shows exactly what Klein is talking about in this chapter. As here:

"Similar questions about the lack of clear evidence that Friedman's ideas actually work in practice can be raised, with even more force, for Latin America. A decade ago it was common to cite the success of the Chilean economy, where Augusto Pinochet's Chicago-educated advisers turned to free-market policies after Pinochet seized power in 1973, as proof that Friedman-inspired policies showed the path to successful economic development. But although other Latin nations, from Mexico to Argentina, have followed Chile's lead in freeing up trade, privatizing industries, and deregulating, Chile's success story has not been replicated.

On the contrary, the perception of most Latin Americans is that "neoliberal" policies have been a failure: the promised takeoff in economic growth never arrived, while income inequality has worsened. I don't mean to blame everything that has gone wrong in Latin America on the Chicago School, or to idealize what went before; but there is a striking contrast between the perception that Friedman was vindicated and the actual results in economies that turned from the interventionist policies of the early postwar decades to laissez-faire."

"Everything that has gone wrong in Latin America" clearly is a euphemism for the abuses of the people, and "what went before" is the developmentalist/socialist state of Allende.

Still, I didn't start this to beat up on Krugman, just to use him to illustrate a point. It's simply not allowed for anyone, even a high-profile progressive who has no problem attacking others (:cough: Obama) to question whether Friedman was "a great man," let alone to imply that he might've been willing to collaborate with disgusting regimes with full awareness of their abuses.

Klein goes on to discuss Amnesty International and the rise of nonpartisan human rights watchdog groups, who were forced to prove their lack of partisanship by only being allowed to critique the abuses, not the governments that perpetrated them and the larger framework under which those governments operated.

This reminds me of nothing so much as the tendency of the US military to blame abuses of detainees on "a few bad apples" and ignore the larger, systemic flaws. And we see this now going on with our own economic policy.

Human rights abuses connect with economic policy abuses very easily: laissez-faire economics favors the rich and its supporters, and writes off as bad in itself the idea that people should care what happens to those poorer than they. If we should not care about what happens to poor people as far as paying bills and feeding kids, why bother worrying if they simply disappear off the streets? (Of course, things went the opposite way in repressive Communist states--those who dissented were counterrevolutionaries who were out to hurt the people and must be reeducated or removed. Either way, the idea they would pollute the whole is significant.)

Klein also notes the involvement of philanthropic groups in this scrubbing of human rights talk from left-right ideologies. The Ford Foundation, she notes, was funding both the programs that trained economists in Friedmanism and the human rights groups arguing against the regime's excesses. It was possible to critique the violence, but never to connect the dots.

Klein writes,
"In a way, what happened in the Southern Cone of Latin America in the seventies is that it was treated as a murder scene when it was, in fact, the site of an extraordinarily violent armed robbery."

It is impossible, she notes, (and cites such voices as Simone de Beauvoir for support) to rule a people against their will without violence. It is impossible too to take away social supports they have grown used to without violence. The violence stems from the ideology that says you do not have to care what happens to the others, you just take care of yourself.

Krugman again:

"When Friedman was beginning his career as a public intellectual, the times were ripe for a counterreformation against Keynesianism and all that went with it. But what the world needs now, I'd argue, is a counter-counterreformation."

He's right. But he does not take it far enough. What we need is not just a counter-counterreformation of economics, but one that links everything in the chain together. An understanding that people have basic needs and rights and that the job of government and economic policy is to provide for those needs and protect those rights for ALL, not just for the people who can afford to have them protected. The anger over bonuses and such is for the first time properly directed: at the rich. Now we have to direct that anger in the right direction and use it to change policy, not just opinion polls.

I'm glad Obama's president, but...

...some of his cabinet picks really make my head hurt.

I won't be harping on Geithner at the moment--others have done that, and I'll just note that I've got a list of people I'd replace him with in a heartbeat.

No, today I want to kick the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, a "school reformer" and douchebag entitled white guy extraordinaire.

This New York Times article on the way the funds from the stimulus are being misappropriated, overfunding rich schools and underfunding poor ones (as per fucking usual) made me angry--which it was supposed to do. We already have a huge gap between the well-off school districts and the poor ones, and the idea that stimulus money is making that gap worse just hurts me.

The article explains how funds were allocated, and I do understand that they used existing formulas, as they say, because negotiating new ones would take months and school districts need the money now.

But this quote made me see red:

“In this case, people are just extraordinarily thankful for these unprecedented resources,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview. “So I’m aware of these disparities, but we’ve received zero complaints.”

Oh, that's right, Arne. Those poor people are just so happy for what they get, thank you, Mister Education Secretary, Sir. They wouldn't dare suggest that a school district whose chief says this:

“Out of the blue this money has dropped in, and it’s kind of a distraction,” Dr. Bailey said.

maybe could pass some of that "distraction" over to districts that badly need the funding, not to create jobs, but just to make sure they don't lose any more teachers than they already have.

When I was in college, waiting tables to pay my rent, I would constantly get asked what I was majoring in, what I was going to do. When I told people I was an English major, they immediately asked if I was going to teach. I would tell them no, sometimes laughingly adding that I made more money waitressing than I would teaching.

Funny, because it's true.

One of my favorite teachers in my South Carolina high school quit the year after I graduated to wait tables full-time because she made more money. "School reform" is fine--I don't have a problem with acknowledging that standardized public education isn't always the best way for kids to learn. What I despise is that what passes for innovation and merit-based reward systems means in actuality, teaching to the standardized tests and punishing the very schools that need help the most.

I don't teach, and I don't have or want kids. The closest I came to teaching public school kids was working with a nonprofit--in which I saw firsthand how creative, innovative methods can help kids get engaged with learning.

The fact that our education secretary seems willing to continue assuming that poor kids and poor school districts should be grateful for any handout the federal government is willing to toss their way makes me absolutely livid. This is NOT the change I worked for.

Global adoption at a tragic price

Here's a very compelling, and heart-wrenching piece in Mother Jones about a kidnapping racket that is delivering Indian children to unsuspecting couples in western countries. Many of these children are from poor families in Indian slums, and while their lives are not perfect, their loving parents are very much alive – and desperately searching for them, in many cases giving up securities and assets just to be able to afford it.

The particular couple that Scott Carney details in his piece has tried for several years, in vain, to find their missing son. Little did they know that Subash was ten thousand miles and two oceans away in the American Midwest. For almost a decade, an Indian orphanage had been paying a couple hundred dollars per child to willing kidnappers, and shipping off children to unwitting couples located anywhere from the US to Australia.

The bureaucracy surrounding global adoption laws, and the incompetence of the Indian legal system ensured an ideal cover for this deplorable kidnapping conspiracy. This sort of child trafficking is not limited to India, of course.

Put together the amount of money involved, too many middlemen and little oversight, and you end up with child trafficking in developing countries. It’s little surprise, then, that of the three hundred suspected adoption cases handled by the same orphanage, only three are being examined by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation; all of the cases are about a decade old.

Due to the number of years that have gone by, and the belief that life would probably be better for their children in western countries, the few Indian couples who have been fortunate enough to learn the whereabouts of their kids choose to not re-claim them but merely ask permission to communicate.

When Carney approached Subash’s adoptive parents with the details of the investigation, adequately aided by police reports and photographs, they remained skeptical and unwilling to correspond with the Indian family. So, this case literally hangs on a standoff between the American and Indian parents, orchestrated by a journalist. There is something terribly wrong with this picture.

An Interpol request has finally reached the attorney general, and there’s hope that the FBI will make a request for DNA samples to confirm the boy’s identity. However, assuming that the adoptive family would probably go to court, Carney reasons that the case could be stalled for years till the boy turns 18.

The western agencies that arrange these adoptions aren’t totally guileless in this process. Many don’t bother to gather sufficient information about the source of the children or the authenticity of the organizations delivering them. And from the recent case involving the American agency, Focus on Children, we know some have their very own child-snatching schemes.

Inexplicably, the Hague Convention on international adoption does not set any standards on how to deal with kidnapped children.

Carney zeroes in on a point made by the lead Indian investigator in this case, “If you didn't have to pay for a child, then this would all disappear.” Many have suggested that capping adoption fees paid by western countries could alleviate issues of child trafficking for this purpose.

The money is the huge incentive, no doubt. Orphanages in India, and in other popular adoption destinations are charging huge sums of money for these stolen kids. And understandably, unwitting - or witting - western agencies and parents would comply, as long as they deliver them a child with little complication.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I've already linked this post at Twitter and I'm going to recommend it here too because it's absolutely right on. Please read it, from Echidne of the Snakes.

By “we” I mean us, the ones who are supposed to really own the United States and its government. That our government puts our needs behind the insatiable greed of the economic elite is the clearest of all signs that our legal and governmental system is entirely gone awry. That our clearest needs and our ability to force our government to address those needs are constantly undermined by the mass media is the fact that they are the servants of that economic elite. The judiciary and legal orthodoxy which enforces a system that protects both a lying, propagandistic media and the direct theft of our money is another basic aspect of the ruin of our country and our lives.

This is such an amazing, killer post that points out exactly what's wrong right now. It's much longer, so please click through and read.

Spitzer and populism

Yes, I know, as a feminist blogger I'm supposed to be OUTRAGED at Eliot Spitzer, right?

Yeah, F that.

When the man is right, he's RIGHT. And he is absolutely right on on the financial crisis, and I wish he hadn't been stupid enough to be caught with his pants down acting like a hypocrite. My views on sex work (decriminalize, harm reduction) aside, the point is that Spitzer's voice is an important one that is simply not getting heard on this issue.

Today, he appeared on Fareed Zakaria, for my money the only person on CNN worth watching (I know Karthika agrees with me on this subject). In his first interview since resigning from office, Spitzer, who went after AIG when he was NY Attorney General, called out executives, regulators, and congresspeople alike. He denounced false populism from legislators who had plenty of authority to enforce regulation (:cough: Chuck Schumer) and noted that the SEC and other regulatory agencies had plenty of authority to do what they needed--like I wrote here, they simply didn't do it.

Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation has an interesting proposal.

Then there's a novel idea. Why not bring in the man who took on Wall Street and AIG long before it was trendy? Elliot Spitzer. Call me crazy. But he foresaw the bubbles and disasters resulting from deregulatory frenzy and the financial service industry's creation of toxic credit default swaps and derivatives. As the Sherriff of Wall Street, Spitzer launched investigations and lawsuits deploying the creative cudgel of the previously-obscure 1921 Martin Act. Yes, he acted miserably toward his wife and family and he should pay the price for that. But some believe Spitzer was taken down by certain "masters of the universe" seeking vengeance for his aggressive policing of their financial fraud and corruption.

"The search for villains is emotionally satisfying, but...it does not solve the problem," Spitzer said, and he's right. And whatever you think of his past screwups, he's right the hell on and has EVERY moral authority to speak out on AIG and Wall Street, and far more than most.

After Spitzer, Fareed lost a whole bunch of credit with me by convening a "panel of experts" to talk about populist rage. His panel? Megan McArdle, Henry Blodget (formerly investigated by Spitzer on fraud charges from his tenure at Merrill Lynch, now a "journalist"), and Roy Smith (formerly of Goldman Sachs). A bunch of experts on populism, in-fuckin-deed.

Or absolutely not. Fareed's had Barbara Ehrenreich on before--he knows where to find actual populists and outside voices, if he wanted them. Instead, he chose a bunch of the very same vapid insiders who both caused the current crisis, and failed to see it coming--or made excuses for it. One of his "experts" is banned from ever working in securities again after fraud charges. Seriously?

This is exactly what's wrong with the media. The reliance on insider voices, a circle of consensus and a very, very narrow sphere of legitimate debate. You're talking about public rage without a single voice of public rage? People are organizing a march on Wall Street--where are they? Where are the labor voices, the people? How about William Greider, with a great op-ed in the Washington Post today?

How about our own Erik, whose study is actually relevant? How about historians, organizers, anyone who is actually used to dealing with "the great unwashed"? (Y'know, us?)

This isn't helping. Following Spitzer's great interview with this panel of so-called experts is insulting--or maybe a failed attempt at balance?

I was starting to have a little faith in the media for a second. But by the end of that, I just wanted my pitchfork again.

Maybe that was what Fareed was going for? Stoking the populist rage rather than understanding and explaining it?

An Eventful Week in Brazil: Argentine Agreements, Challenging China, and a Major Court Ruling in Indigenous Rights

Brazil and Argentina met this week to re-affirm their economic and political relations. The meeting itself sounded innocuous enough - standard diplomatic promises to "iron out" some minor trade issues over things like import licenses on shoes and textiles (exciting!), as well as Brazil signing a deal with Argentina to help with the recent nationalization of Aerolineas Argentinas.

While that all seems minor enough, the language on China coming out of a business leaders' meeting between reps from both countries during Presidents Kirchner's visit was far more interesting. It's no secret to anybody that China has become a growing power in trade with Latin America. However, not all that trade is good, even for Latin America, as it has also been flooded with inexpensive products that undercut national economies in South and Central America, and reps from that meeting between the two countries didn't pull punches in mentioning China's role in the hemisphere, either commenting:

“The objective now is to fight against the common evil, Chinese products which are sold at dumping prices[...] With bilateral differences back on the right track, we must address the outside enemy."

That's some pretty tough talk there for an issue that hasn't really come up yet. Of course the Argentine and Brazilian business leaders who met have their own interests to defend, and Chinese products no doubt cut into their market somewhat. Nonetheless, even if criticisms of Chinese products undercutting local companies in South America seems fair enough, referring to China as "the outside enemy" raises eyebrows a bit. If this had come from Kirchner's or Lula's mouth, it would be even more shocking and newsworthy, but even as it stands right now, it does hint at future issues facing Latin American economies as they try to increase relations with China without having their own national companies and economies being undermined by cheaper Chinese products.

Also in Brazil, the Supreme Court refused to split up an indigenous reserve half the size of Belgium in the Amazon. White farmers had insisted it was too much land for the twenty-thousand indigenous inhabitants, while logging, mining, and agricultural companies had said the reservation's existence (required in the 1988 constitution) was "an obstacle to growth."

This is a major victory for indigenous rights and the environment in Brazil, and I have absolutely no sympathy for either the farmers nor the corporations. The damage farmers, miners, loggers, and agribusiness have caused in the Amazon is already irreparable, and the cycle probably won't end without measures like the court's ruling. While indigenous people will still obviously need to cultivate the land in ways they seem fit, and while I hate essentialist notions of indigenous peoples as being "in harmony" with the earth, I think it's a fair bet that they will manage the forest in the reserve better than logging and mining companies do - hell, by simply not clearing hundreds of acres a month, they'd be managing the environment better than the corporations. It's also a huge victory for re-affirming indigenous rights in Brazil, which often go unheeded in a society that considers itself a wide spectrum of racial mixture, but which often leaves indigenous peoples out of the equation in the present even while acknowledging their past.

The ruling won't just make all of the entanglements and problems go away. Violence will persist, and even some indigenous peoples don't like the ruling and feel it perpetuates racist stereotypes by trying to keep the indigenous communities "cut off from modernity." Nonetheless, the importance of this legal precedent cannot and should not be ignored, either. The Constitution of 1988 said that indigenous peoples were to get their traditional lands back, and when the businesses and farmers, miners and loggers, pushed and pushed, trying to effectively undo the constitution, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution stands, and the reserves cannot be split up. And that alone is a major step for indigenous rights in Brazil. We can only hope it leads to real gains for the communities, the environment, and Brazil overall.

Your Cat's Toll on the Environment

The fishlife in rivers and oceans is already pretty much screwed, but beyond the human toll of fishing, Paul Greenberg's op-ed reminds us of yet another way people's seemingly innocuous decisions about things as seemingly mundane as domestic pet ownership are leading to the not-so slow death of the oceans. While Greenberg has some suggestions (including policy suggestions for Obama), I'm just not hopeful about the future of fish and the oceans, and this is just one of many reasons why.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Obama's Financial Plan

I've been on the beach this week so I mostly missed the sudden rise of populist anger over Obama's dealings with AIG and other financial institutions. Reading over the stories of the last few days, I really worry that this issue could undermine his whole presidency. I see that a poll now has approval of Obama's economic policy at less than 50%. Recent reports show that the deficit is going to be much higher than Obama says. As Paul Krugman says, "The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system." Hardly surprising given that Obama's financial team is made up of Clinton appointees who helped get us in this mess in the first place. Obama's had to react on the fly to this and generally had a terrible week. It seems that the crisis could end Chris Dodd's senatorial career, as well as that of many other politicians of both parties.

Krugman goes on:

Treasury has decided that what we have is nothing but a confidence problem, which it proposes to cure by creating massive moral hazard.

This plan will produce big gains for banks that didn’t actually need any help; it will, however, do little to reassure the public about banks that are seriously undercapitalized. And I fear that when the plan fails, as it almost surely will, the administration will have shot its bolt: it won’t be able to come back to Congress for a plan that might actually work.

What an awful mess.

I'm really worried. Obviously, Obama inherited a mess not of his own making. I'm actually somewhat hesitant about not bailing out AIG, not because I think the bastards deserve it, but because I'm afraid that letting it collapse will destroy much of the economy and create an even worse situation. Bush let Bear Stearns die and it was a disaster. From what I read, AIG's demise might be even worse because they insure so many other corporations. So I don't know what to do, and I suspect Obama might not know either. But he'd better recognize the popular anger over these corporations and he'd better change his tune that the system is actually OK. Because not only could the whole economy tip over, but his ability to get anything done on any issue could disappear very quickly.

License Plates I Will Not Be Getting

Would you like this image on your license plate? If you live in West Virginia, you soon may be able to fulfill your dreams. This is such a great idea. I am thinking of some other great license plates.

Oregonians for Deforestation
Buddies with Nuclear Waste (this would obviously include a cuddly figure snuggling with a piece of plutonium)
Mississippi Thanks Segregationists
Americans for AIG

Really, the possibilities are endless. And if you are going to express your love for destroying mountains, dumping their remains in valleys where people live, and creating climate change, you might as well go all the way.

Via Coal Tattoo

Historical Image of the Day

Poster promoting "The Birth of a Nation," 1915.

Ask the President for the day

Friday, March 20, 2009

Comment Test

There's been some concern that Haloscan is losing comments.

So if anyone would care to drop a comment in to check, I'd appreciate it.

We can make this a comment contest. Wittiest comment gets a free year's subscription to Alterdestiny.

Historical Image of the Day

C.J. Taylor political cartoon of John D. Rockefeller.

Brazil and Colombia: Offering a How-to and How-NOT-to Crash Course in Diplomacy

I'm can only echo what Randy said in regard to this editorial (translated here):

While President Lula da Silva of Brazil meets face-to-face with President Obama in the White House to discuss global and Latin American policy, the Colombian vice president laments the mistreatment that, according to him, Colombia receives from a sector of the Congress and U.S. civil society, and proposes to do away with Plan Colombia, considering it to be a source of humiliation.

Those news [sic] make apparent the shameful contrast bewteen Brazilian and Colombian foreign policy. Thanks to the former, Brazil will become the United States’ strategic partner in the region, and thanks to the second Colombia will be it no longer. Brazil will take on this role for obvious reasons. Because it is the 10th-largest economy on the planet, the most stable and progressive democracy on the continent, the only one with a world-class foreign ministry and president, a player with regional and global leadership.

[...] If you want to be treated like statesmen, behave like statesmen. Stop asking, stamping your feet and threatening. Take the initiative, propose things and keep your word. Develop a bilateral agenda that incorporates both countries’ issues, interests and concerns, and propose specific goals within specific time periods.

Exactly. Like Randy, I have had nothing but praise for the Brazilian diplomatic corps and Lula's diplomatic approach, and Colombia during the Uribe administration has offered a thorough course on how not to conduct productive diplomatic relations. Brazil has conducted itself as masterful diplomats, respectful of differences and making clear their agenda, while Colombia has behaved like a spoiled little brat. It's easy to see why Obama met with Lula, and not with Uribe - after all, the Bush years are in the past.