March 29, 2006

Immigration Reform and Silent Civil Rights Groups

Perhaps one of my biggest questions about the current rallying for the rights of illegal immigrants in the streets of major Ameircan cities, aside from my questions about the issue itself, is where are the old guard civil rights groups that have normally fought on behalf of the disenfranchised and underrepresented? I have to admit that I’m by no means settled on the issue myself, although I agree with the central principle that if someone wants to come to the United States, settle down, work, and pay taxes, they should be able to, legally, without going through the hoops and hassle that current immigration laws require from people, and that new immigration laws would impose (along with the other draconian measures that Congressional Republicans want to add, like a massive security wall between the United States and Mexico, or criminalizing both illegal immigration as a felony as well as helping illegal immigrants-and that’s not helping them get across the border, that’s helping someone dying of thirst in the desert find water, that’s criminalizing doctors and nursesn, churchs and charity groups as well) but luckily the Senate has pushed back on the more horrid and Anti-American legislation that’s been proposed and instead has brought up some more civil and comprehensive legislation that addresses both the security issue, the illegality issue, and extends the opportunity of citizenship for the illegal immigrants already here in the United States:

[ Full Senate to Take Up Immigration Debate ]
Source: Associated Press (courtesy of Forbes.com)

But even so, good old Senator Frist, true to the most conservative and racist elements of the Republican party, has tossed the bipartisan-agreed initiative aside and wants to bring to the Senate floor his own bill, which focuses only on controlling the borders and progressing his xenophobic agenda.

But I’m getting away from my point again. I’m curious where the civil rights groups, who could do so well if they made allegiances and forged relationships with Hispanic groups in their time of crisis, are to be found on this issue. Where is the Congressional Black Caucus, or the NAACP (the C does stand for Colored, after all, not just Black.), or the Black churches and community groups?

Admittedly there is a sense of xenophobia in the Black community against Latinos for the same old “taking our jobs” line that the radical conservatives like to dangle in front of the people, but there has to be more than that. For example, take an article posted at BlackAmericaWeb this morning:

[ Blacks in Los Angeles Have Mixed Reaction to Massive Immigration Rallies ]
Source: BlackAmericaWeb.com

In commentary from the Pacific News Service today, Earl Ofari Hutchinson takes those old guard groups to task for their inexcusable absence from this debate, and tries to examine some of the reasons why they might potentially have gone missing. Being a black man myself, this article piqued my interest particularly, since I can’t help but wonder why the protests in the streets haven’t been a rallying cry for all those who have been disadvantaged in one way or another, or oppresed, or discriminated against somehow, and that all of those groups, even if they have differing agendas, could accomplish so much greater social change together than apart.

But at the same time unfortunately, it shows that most minority groups in America, whether they’re minorities in race, equality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or political standing (where are the Democrats on this, by the way-this should be a rallying cry to bring American Hispanics under the tent. Democrats have always been the party more willing to look out for the interests of racial and economic equality and justice…why are they content to sit back, let the Republicans self-destruct, and work behind the scenes to come up with a consensus measure? They should be in front of the cameras!) we still stand more divided than united, and that will prove to be a hindrance if we cannot overcome it.

[ Old Civil Rights Groups Missing-in-Action As Immigrants Hit the Streets ]
Source: Pacific News Service

March 27, 2006

Keeping Tabs on the Peaceniks

A brilliant article over at Alternet this morning heads off with the lift quote: “What are political and activist groups like Indymedia and Food Not Bombs doing on the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List?”

I’d like to know as well. In this time where the Administration and Congress is telling the American people that we have to be on watch for enemies at all sides, when fear is the norm and we’re being told that any dusky-skinned man could have a bomb under his turban, one wonders why the FBI and CIA are more concerned with domestic peace activists than they are with foriegn terrorist groups. The argument is there that the FBI is likely worried that such terrorist groups could find sympathizers in those peace groups, but ranking them on the Terrorist Watch List? That’s a bit extreme, and obviously not so much a legitimate investigation as it is an intimidation tactic against dissenting individuals and groups that speak up and out against the current regime of fear.

I’ll let the piece speak for itself:

“On a list of approximately ten groups, Food Not Bombs was listed seventh. Indymedia was listed tenth, with a reference specifically to IndyConference 2005. The Communist Party of Texas also made the list. Rasner explained that these groups could have links to terrorist activity. He noted that peaceful-sounding group names could cover more violent extremist tactics.”

Wagoner has made a Freedom of Information Act request for Rasner’s Power Point presentation.

Food Not Bombs (disclosure: the author [ed: of the Alternet article] used to participate in an Austin FNB group) is a moniker for volunteer-run groups that distribute unused vegetarian food from grocery stores and restaurants for free to the general population. Its name stems from a belief that excessive military spending could be redirected to provide food for the hungry. Indymedia is a decentralized grassroots online media outlet, which provides an alternative to the mainstream media coverage.

That’s worrysome. Seems, according to the FBI, that anyone who disagrees with our current state of fear and terror “could have links to terrorist groups.” That seems like the flag-statement for anyone the Administration finds questionable.

[ Keeping Tabs on the Peaceniks ]
Source: AlterNet

Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math

Ah No Child Left Behind, is there any child’s education you can’t screw up?

Seriously, now that No Child Left Behind has been in the national educational conciousness for the past several years and we’ve seen what it takes to meet those requirements, we also have the proof that what opponents of the program had been saying would happen from the get-go has actually happened; that schools would be forced to squeeze all of their other programs, like science, technology, and music and the arts in order to stress reading and math, two of the elements ranked and scored by No Child Left Behind testing that in turn determine the kind of funding and leeway in making their own cirriculum that schools recieve from federal Education Department authorities.

In essence, it goes like this: If your children do well when tested, local leaders and school boards get more money from the federal government, keep the federal eye off of them, and are allowed to manage their own classrooms. If they test poorly, federal funding is withheld, the schools are forced into managed-cirriculum programs that are supposed to “support” them, and local leaders, school boards, and parents, have little say in what goes on in the classroom. So what do schools do? Teach to the test, make sure the kids do well where it counts, even if it means they have to cut back on the other subjects. It’s sad, but apparently true. A new article from the New York Times tells the story:

[ Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math ]

Call for Censuring Bush Boosts Feingold

Now this is development I can get behind. Feingold, again the only Senator to vote against the original Patriot Act and one of the few that stood against it’s renewal a few weeks ago, made headlines again when he proposed that congress should formally censure the President because of both his illegal domestic program of spying on Americans without a court order or warrant (a program that still continues and Republicans are trying to shuffle it into the background) and for his handling of the war in Iraq that the President now says will be up to “future Presidents” to resolve.

I can get behind this. President Clinton was censured for far, far less, and don’t get me started on the ridiculous comparison to what it took to impeach him as opposed to what it’s taken to even start discussing the impeachment of President Bush, But regardless, Feingold’s proposal to censure the president and the hearing that should ensue this week will show the rest of us whether the Democrats have what it takes to stand up against the Republicans on their own turf and take a stand behind Feingold or whether they’ll shy away from the issue again, thinking that the way to woo voters is to be more like Republicans instead of standing up against them and presenting a real alternative.

Regardless, Feingold’s popularity has surged as a result of his stand, and I for one, would be pleased to vote for him in a Democratic Presidental Primary in 2008, and I’m sure he’s thinking about it.

[ Call for Censuring Bush Boosts Feingold ]
Source: The New York Times

Scalia: ‘US Detainees Have no Rights’

Well, we know where Antonin Scalia stands on the issue of prisoners and detainees at sites like Guantanamo Bay and in prison camps in Afghanistan and Iraq, don’t we?

The fact that a US Supreme Court justice has stated as blatantly as he has that detainees held in the name of the “war on terror” have “no rights,” is not only troubling in that we know for a fact now how he’ll rule on every single civil rights and liberties case that might come before him with regard to such cases, but it’s disturbing that Scalia has such strong prejudices on the mater and has failed to recuse himself from such cases as they approach the Supreme Court.

I understand his contempt for people who seek to do harm to America and Americans, and I understand that contempt in everyone who stands on the other side of the fence that I do, but I do completely and totally believe that the few things that set our system of justice and our military apart from the ravenous militias and rogue armies of the world is our discipline, our commitment to the rule of law and the Just War, and our adherence to decorum and humanity, even on the battlefield. We kill because we have to, not because it’s easy, and we treat our prisoners and enemies with respect. We don’t have to love them, or put them up in cuddly estates, but we don’t smear them with feces and set dogs on them for our own amusement. But apparently Scalia doesn’t see that kind of America. What happens in Gitmo stays in Gitmo, I suppose.

[ Supreme Court: Detainees’ Rights—Scalia Speaks His Mind ]
Source: Newsweek

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

In a glorious interview, Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary discussesher new book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. [ http://www.posttraumaticslavesyndrome.com/ ] the issue of race, the emotional and psychological and social impact of the events of the past on present-day America. Leary moves past the point that slavery happened in the past and that we should just leave it in the dust, but instead opts to take the issue of slavery and the effects that slavery, freedom, integration, and race relations ever since to the black community in the effort to help us understand why racism hurts us so much, how we can overcome it.
Allow me an excerpt from the reprint of the interview at Alternet, located here:
[ Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome ]
Source: Alternet

Leary adapts our understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to propose that African Americans today suffer from a particular kind of intergenerational trauma: Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). The systematic dehumanization of African slaves was the initial trauma, explains Leary, and generations of their descendents have borne the scars. Since that time, Americans of all ethnic backgrounds have been inculcated and immersed in a fabricated (but effective) system of race “hierarchy,” where light-skin privilege still dramatically affects the likelihood of succeeding in American society.

Leary suggests that African Americans (and other people of color) can ill afford to wait for the dominant culture to realize the qualitative benefits of undoing racism. The real recovery from the ongoing trauma of slavery and racism has to start from within, she says, beginning with a true acknowledgment of the resilience of African-American culture.

“The nature of this work,” Leary writes in her prologue, “is such that each group first must see to their own healing, because no group can do another’s work.”

I think that’s an excellent analysis, and I think Leary is absolutely correct. African-Americans cannot wait for white America to come to understand the notion of privilege and attempt to undo it; current efforts to step back the institutionally extant issue of privilege have met with aggrivation and defensiveness on both sides of the discussion, which then winds up degrading into something less than a discussion. The Black community would do well to look completely past the struggle against an unseen, unknown “oppressor,” and seek to remake itself into a healthier and more self-sufficient (while not alienating) community, which acts as a united body of people seeking social change and moves as an activist body, empowered by numbers of like-minded individuals.

Leary has some excellent ideas, so I’m going to borrow another piece of the interview. Here’s two questions and her answers that I think are incredibly telling and enlightening.

Throughout your book, you emphasize that an acute, social denial of both historical and present-day racism has taken on pathological dimensions. You write that this country is “sick with the issue of race.”

The root of this denial for the dominant culture is fear, and fear mutates into all kinds of things: psychological projection, distorted and sensationalized representations in the media, and the manipulation of science to justify the legal rights and treatment of people. That’s why it’s become so hard to unravel.

Unfortunately, many European Americans have a very hard time even hearing a person of color express their experiences. The prevailing psychological mechanism is the idea, “I’ve not experienced it, so it cannot be happening for you.”

Truly, how can anyone tell me what I have and have not experienced? This is a very paternalistic manifestation of white supremacy, the idea that African Americans and other people of color can be told, with great authority, what their ancestor’s lives were like and even what their own, present-day lives are like. The result for those on the receiving end of this kind of distortion is an aspect of PTSS. People begin to doubt themselves, their experiences, and their worth in society because they have been so invalidated their whole lives, in so many ways.

Attempts to encourage European Americans to join in on a more honest, national dialogue about “race” and racism often results in defensive posturing and positioning. Common responses include “slavery happened a long time ago,” or people saying that they’re tired of being made to feel guilty about something they didn’t do. How do we respond to this detachment from the crucial issues of the legacy of slavery?

It’s irrelevant that you weren’t alive during slavery days. I wasn’t there either! But what we as a nation face today has been heavily impacted by our history, whether we’re talking in the gulf between the haves and have-nots; education gaps between white and black children; or the racial disparities in our prisons.

I don’t believe in making people feel “guilty.” We have to recognize that remnants of racist oppression continue to impact people in this country.

Much of my work really is about black people looking at ourselves and understanding how our lives have been shaped by what we’ve been dealt. I don’t want to wait for permission to examine this or to hear that looking back into our histories is somehow counterproductive.

See what I mean? The entire interview is below, and you can bet I’ll be preordering her book.

[ Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome ]
Source: In These Times

State Bans Federally-Funded Abstinence-Only Program

Well here’s some good news, to say the least; Rhode Island has reviewed an abstinence-only education program that had drawn the criticism and ire of many parents and community groups, including the local chapter of the ACLU. Partially because the cirriculum seemed to have been drawn from the 19th century, with some of the texts telling women to “wear clothing that doesn’t invite ‘lustful thoughts’ from boys,” for example.

The bad news, unfortunately, is that the program is federally-funded, meaning that for some ridiculous reason, the Department of Education believes that a program of this type is acceptable sex education for children in public schools, even though the private firm that was responsible for distributing the materials to the schools stopped using them over a year ago. The problem with that statement is that, while it’s nice they stopped using it, they still used it over a year ago, when the material was just as sexist and just as outdated.

Read the entire article; this is just another example of how shocking the kinds of study and course materials that schools are being provided with for their family life or sex-ed classes really are. Thank goodness for intelligent teachers who can see through this kind of material and give their kids the straight dish; and I sincerely hope that America’s teachers do indeed see through this kind of chaff. In the meantime, if this upsets you as much as it does me, it might be worthwhile to contact your local school board or school system and ask how you can help your school’s sex-ed teachers get the materials they need to teach our children both wholesome, truthful AND helpful information to prepare them for the sexual onslaught they’ll have to face as they get older.

[ State Bans Federally-Funded Abstinence-Only Program ]
Source: The Westerly Sun

March 24, 2006

Carbon Cloud Over a Green Fuel

In a classic example of marketing ruling out over science, let’s stop for a minute and think about all of those commercials that companies like Ford have on television already touting their “flexfuel” vehicles sporting people in yellow shirts claiming to be saving the environment by driving cars fueled by ethanol.

Well, all of that would be well and good, don’t get me wrong, and I’m definitely an advocate of ethanol as an alternative fuel (although I have concerns over the amount of energy required to produce and process the ingredients and make the ethanol) but this is an example of trying to force one hand to not know what the other’s doing. The Christian Science Monitor yesterday reported on an ethanol plant that’s being touted as the wave of the future, except that instead of burning natural gas, a relatively clean and abundant fuel source, the plant burns over 300 tons of coal per day in order to produce its ethanol. That’s right, it’s a nightmare for clean air, and it’s a significant change from the manner in which essentially every other ethanol plant in operation.

And herein lies the problem. To the plant, it makes economic sense to use coal, even if it doesn’t make environmental sense. And this leaves people who support ethanol confused; do they want to use an alternative fuel that dumps pollutants in the atmosphere at the plant instead of from their cars? And if the whole point of making ethanol is to be environmentally friendly, why the hell isn’t the plant environmentally friendly too? What’s the price difference to the consumer?

The article tries to answer as many of those questions as it can, although some of them aren’t questions that can be answered yet.

[ Carbon Cloud Over a Green Fuel ]
Source: The Christian Science Monitor

Running From Roe

In yet another of a long running set of articles and discussions about the issue of choice and reproductive rights, and at the very core of the argument, the fundamental right and freedom to decide when and how American women and familes would like to have and raise a child, Paul Waldman, an excellent commentator at TomPaine.com points out that while advocates for reproductive rights are worried about the trend backwards to the dark ages when it comes to choice in America, the moderate right, the religious left and religious center, and most moderate conservatives that are really shaking in their boots about this one.

The trouble is that these new challenges are a drastic shift from the trend of chipping away at reproductive rights that has allowed anti-choicers to garner public support over the long haul, and given them the opportunity to parade issues like “late term” and “fetal pain” on which the public will sympathise (even if-at least the latter-is factually incorrect), and trend more conservative. Unfortunately, this rapid and abrupt switch may prove fatal for the anti-choicers, and could be a pouncing point for reproductive rights advocates seeking to press the issue into public conciousness on the terms of, for example; “These radicals don’t even want women who have been raped to have the right to choose to not have their rapist’s child,” and “How do you tell a child that their father is a rapist/child molester?” or “These folks would tell a 14 year old girl who’s been molested by her uncle essentially ‘too bad, so sad.'” And that is essentially what South Dakota is doing, while other state legislatures do the same thing, while similarly curbing availability of contraception, state funding for women’s health and sex education, and so on. The argument that they’re preserving life never did hold water; the same folks giving rape victims static for not raising their rapist’s child also lobby congress to cut sex education and social programs that would help that hypothetical victim raise that child if she had to. So whose life, again, are they claiming to be “pro?”

Regardless, Waldman gives us an in depth analysis of how progressives and pro-choicers around the country can and hopefully win the abortion debate and reclaim the moral high ground in the issue. It’s not horribly hard, but it will require progressive politicians, and even moderate politicians who are pro-choice to take a stand on the issue and make their beliefs known. It’s a wonderfully written piece.

[ Running From Roe ]
Source: TomPaine.com

March 22, 2006

The Budget and the Damage Done

Quantifying the effects of the President’s budget plans in human terms may be the only way to get some people of the fiscal conservative side of the argument to start listening and pull their heads out of the sand to the very real financial and fiscal problems that the United States has right now. If someone can seriously tell me why the Navy needs another Nimitz-class supercarrier and 80-year old Sally Shaver from Columbia, South Carolina doesn’t really need another meal, then we can talk about fiscal conservatism, but it seems that when discussing budgets and balancing them, the buck always stops with America’s neediest citizens, and they’re the ones left behind to pay the bill when it comes time to increase defense spending, give politicians pay raises, or approve pork-barrel projects like Ted Steven’s famous Alaska “Bridge to Nowhere.”

A brilliant article at Alternet this morning outlines some of the very real and chilling results of the 2007 budget, which cuts deeper into many of the same social services and human services programs that were attacked in the 2006 budget, from cancer and AIDS research (like the Alabama program that tries to provide affordable drugs to AIDS patients that hasn’t recieved any funding at all for the past five years) to childcare for working families. (the article states: “over 40,000 middle and lower-class children will lose childcare under Bush’s budget, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This is in addition to the 250,000 children who have lost child care assistance since 2000. The budget predicts 1.8 million children will receive childcare in 2011, compared with 2.45 million in 2000.” Isn’t this going in the wrong direction?)

It’s apalling that the Republicans are patting each other on the back for proposing that the best way to solve America’s financial problems is to cut off the poor and elderly from financial assistance altogether, rather than look at their own pork earmarks and bloated defense spending as even a viable option.

Again, I don’t have solutions to the budget mess; and I sincerely wish that Congressional Democrats woudl propose a counterplan to the current budget so America could see that we could make progress on all fronts by reallocating funding, but I can still wince at the very real consequences of an Administration that apparently lives in a bubble and has no real notion of what’s going on across America unless its time to give a speech to a friendly audience.

[ The Budget and the Damage Done ]
Source: Alternet