Friday, February 29, 2008

Freedom Myth: Elite Culture of Incarceration, War, and Death

For the first time in American history, over 1% of the adult population is in jail.

Report: 1 percent of U.S. adults behind bars

-- For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report.

San Quentin State Prison in California holds more than 5,200 inmates.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

Using updated state-by-state data, the report said 2,319,258 adults were held in U.S. prisons or jails at the start of 2008 -- one out of every 99.1 adults, and more than any other country in the world.

The steadily growing inmate population "is saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime," the report said.

Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said budget woes are prompting officials in many states to consider new, cost-saving corrections policies that might have been shunned in the recent past for fear of appearing soft in crime.

"We're seeing more and more states being creative because of tight budgets," she said in an interview. "They want to be tough on crime, they want to be a law-and-order state -- but they also want to save money, and they want to be effective."

The report cited Kansas and Texas as states which have acted decisively to slow the growth of their inmate population. Their actions include greater use of community supervision for low-risk offenders and employing sanctions other than reimprisonment for ex-offenders who commit technical violations of parole and probation rules.

"The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens," the report said.

While many state governments have shown bipartisan interest in curbing prison growth, there also are persistent calls to proceed cautiously.

"We need to be smarter," said David Muhlhausen, a criminal justice expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation. "We're not incarcerating all the people who commit serious crimes -- but we're also probably incarcerating people who don't need to be."

According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states and the federal prison system.

The largest percentage increase -- 12 percent -- was in Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear highlighted the cost of corrections in his budget speech last month. He noted that the state's crime rate had increased only about 3 percent in the past 30 years, while the state's inmate population has increased by 600 percent.

The Pew report was compiled by the Center on the State's Public Safety Performance Project, which is working directly with 13 states on developing programs to divert offenders from prison without jeopardizing public safety.

"For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn't been a clear and convincing return for public safety," said the project's director, Adam Gelb. "More and more states are beginning to rethink their reliance on prisons for lower-level offenders and finding strategies that are tough on crime without being so tough on taxpayers."

The report said prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel increase in crime or in the nation's overall population. Instead, it said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tough sentencing measures, such as "three-strikes" laws, that result in longer prison stays.

"For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling," the report said. "While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine."

The nationwide figures, as of January 1, include 1,596,127 people in state and federal prisons and 723,131 in local jails -- a total 2,319,258 out of almost 230 million American adults.

The report said the United States is the world's incarceration leader, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which make up the rest of the Top 10.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

You might be wondering how we stack up with other, less democratic countries in the world. Not very well.

Incarceration Rates throughout the World (per 100,000 people)


Incarceration Rate/



Avg. Rate Worldwide


Avg. Rate of Group of Seven (Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, and Canada, US excluded)


Rwanda (where 80% of the prisoners are being held for prosecution for genocide)


Average rate in Iran and Iraq


Average rate of incarceration among nations noted by Amnesty International as having some of the most urgent human rights abuse issues (Uzbekistan, Iraq, Myanmar, and Sudan) (Human Rights Watch, 2006).


Estimated rate in the feared GULAG of the Soviet Union in 1950 (Getty, Rittersporn, & Zemskov, 1993; Andreev, et al., 1993).


SOURCE: US Rates of Incarceration: A Global Perspective.

Note, we have the highest incarceration rate of any recorded country since the Soviet Union under Stalin (and presumably Mao's China). This, of course, is in between our love for killing our own citizenry. Here is a list you will not be seeing in one of R.J. Rummel's writings about the joys of forced global democratization.

2006 Executions


2006 Executions


People’s Republic of China


1.321 billion



70 million



162 million



27 million



39 million



303 million

SOURCE: Amnesty International. Death Penalty Statistics.

Also of note, and not insignificant when mentioning our societal love of imprisonment as a solution to our problems, the number one group targeted for incarceration and capital punishment are African Americans.

Race and Executions in the US (1976-September 2007)


Race of Defendants Executed since 1976

Race of Victims in Execution Cases since 1976

Percent of Race in US Prisons as of 2005

Percent of Race in US Society as of 2005






















Include in that the number of people killed in our "wars from freedom" since the end of World War Two (1 million in Korea, 3 million in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, another 1 million in Iraq and the Middle East, as well as others in Panama, Grenada, and countless wars of aggression, which we started, except Korea and the first Gulf War), and that is over 5 million killed, 2.3 million imprisoned at home, and over 3,500 officially executed by the state since 1930. This is what the stormtroopers for democracy from the democratic peace camp like to call the pacific nature of free societies. Basically, when in doubt, bomb/invade non-Western countries, and incarcerate and kill your minorities.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Moron Report #11: Hillary Supporter Stabbing

I am not sure what is worse. Being arrested for stabbing your brother in-law. Being arrested for stabbing your brother-in-law because he is a Barack Obama supporter. Or being arrested for stabbing your brother-in-law because you believe that "Barack Obama was not a realist." In any case, here is prison meat Jose Antonio Ortiz, the man in question who knifed a family member for Hillary Clinton.


Clintonite Stabs Obama Supporter
Cops: Man assaulted brother-in-law during political argument

FEBRUARY 25--Meet Jose Antonio Ortiz. The Pennsylvania man allegedly stabbed his brother-in-law in the stomach after the pair quarreled about their respective support of Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. According to cops, Ortiz, 28, stabbed Sean Shurelds last Thursday night in the kitchen of an Upper Providence Township home. According to a criminal complaint, a copy of which you'll find here, the 41-year-old Shurelds, an Obama supporter, told Ortiz that the Illinois senator was "trashing" Clinton (apparently in regard to recent primary and caucus results). Ortiz, a Clinton supporter, replied that "Obama was not a realist." While not exactly fighting words, the verbal political tiff led to some mutual choking and punching. And, allegedly, a stabbing in the abdomen. Ortiz, pictured in the mug shot below, was charged with a felony aggravated assault count and two misdemeanors and jailed in lieu of $20,000 bail. Shurelds was flown to Hahnemann University Hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition.

It must be stated, the brother-in-law gets extra points for landing a black eye on his younger and more agile relative, in spite of being stabbed.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ralph is In

In what will likely not be well received to many Democrats, Ralph Nader has decided to run again for President.

Ralph Nader starts presidential bid

By Donna Smith Mon Feb 25, 12:08 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, blamed by many Democrats for their loss of the White House in the 2000 election, said on Sunday he is launching another independent campaign for the White House.

Nader, who will turn 74 this week, announced his longshot presidential bid on NBC's "Meet the Press" saying that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans were addressing problems facing Americans.

Nader called Washington "corporate occupied territory" that turns the government against the interests of the people. "In that context, I have decided to run for president," he said.

Democrats said they do not expect Nader, who also ran as an independent in 2004, to have much of an impact.

"When you get into running for your third or fourth time, I don't think people will pay that much attention to it, and I wouldn't see it having any effect on the race," Virginia Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine said on "Fox News Sunday."

In an interview with Reuters, Nader said he will push the candidates on a number of issues including health care and changing the tax system to shift the burden away from wage earners and put it on things like pollution, tobacco and "Wall Street speculation" and reduce taxes on wages.

Nader dismissed Democratic criticism of his latest bid for the White House.

"For anybody who thinks that the third try is something that should be demeaned, it represents persistence, it represents never giving up the struggle for justice," Nader said. "The forces of injustice never take a holiday."

Nader ran for president in 2000, when he got about 2.7 percent of the national vote as the Green Party candidate. Many Democrats blamed Nader for draining votes from Democrat Al Gore and tipping the election in favor of Republican George W. Bush. He also ran as an independent in 2004, but got only a tiny fraction of the vote.

Nader said he expects to do better this time and will work to get his name on the ballot in all 50 states.

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," said he thought Nader could pull votes away from the Democratic nominee.

"Naturally Republicans would welcome his entry into the race and hope that maybe a few more will join in," Huckabee said.

Democratic candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama criticized the independent candidate.

"That's really unfortunate. I remember when he did this before, it didn't turn out too well, for anyone, especially our country," she said. "I hope it's kind of a just a passing fancy that people won't take too seriously."

Obama, Clinton's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, was asked on Saturday about a Nader candidacy. "My sense is that Mr. Nader is somebody who, if you don't listen and adopt all of his policies, thinks you're not substantive," he said.

(Additional reporting by Claudia Parsons, Jeff Mason and Nancy Waitz; Editing by David Wiessler)

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at

I do not mean to sound insulting to Ralph Nader, or to most Democrats, but the fear that he will "win" the election for John McCain seems rather preposterous. Unless the election is decided by 0.1%, this is highly unlikely. Nader's national vote share decreased from 2.7% in 2000 to 0.3% in 2004 (and that after fighting the Democrats to get on most of the state ballots in '04). It seems even less likely that he will break the one-third of a percent vote this time, as most of those voters are likely Democrats who will not consider a vote for Nader in 2008, anymore than most of them did in 2004.

I include myself in this bunch, potentially. I voted for Nader in 2000 (out of my hatred for the rightward shift of the Clinton-Gore Presidency) and Kerry in 2004 (strictly to vote against Bush, as I found Kerry uninspiring). I am split and undecided on what to do for 2008. I cannot stomach the thought of voting for the same person who lobbied on behalf of the Welfare Reform Act, and if Senator Clinton receives the nomination I will have to consider not voting, or possibly wasting my vote for a third party candidate (and yes, dear third party people, it is a wasted vote because 1-2% in a majoritarian system is an electoral throwaway). I could at least envision myself voting for Barack Obama, if for no other reason than the Iraq war, but he has run an ambiguous campaign, and has refused to make the Iraq war the focus of his campaign's differences with Senator Clinton. Instead, I am treated to the offense of having to hear which candidate is for change and which one is about experience.

Every Presidential campaign comes down to this. We are constantly fed certain lines every four years, such as, "This is the most important election in the last [generation, ever, since World War Two, etc.]." "My opponent is for change for its own sake." "My experience will get the job done." "These times call for strong leadership." It is literally the political version of what athletes do in their interviews when talking about "taking it one game at a time," "we're all in this together," "we're a blue collar team," etc. This is why I have given up on watching television during the campaign season.

The worst part of campaigns, though, are the endless phone calls, to which I have received too many to remember them all. "Did you know that Barack Obama never voted against the Iraq war resolution?" "Did you know that Hillary Clinton supported Republican candidates for higher office after the beginning of her political career?" "Did you know my opponent worships the devil and eats little babies?" Well, OK, I sort of made up the last one. I will never understand why they call, as it makes me more determined not to vote for anyone. Maybe that is the idea. I am not sure.

As for the Nader candidacy, I think it is wrong for Democrats to worry too much. One, the 2000 Nader campaign was anomalous. It was the product of liberal frustration with eight years of a less-than-liberal Democratic Administration, something which is not at issue in 2008. Plus, in 2004, when a mediocre candidate, John Kerry, received the nomination, he easily swept up the 2000 Nader vote, even though Kerry voted in favor of the Iraq War resolution. A Republican White House, and right-wing authoritarian one at that, has done much to deter liberal voters from voting for a third party.

Secondly, even if Nader is a legitimate threat to a Democratic victory, as he was in 2000, the question has to be asked: How inept could the Democrats be to allow a consumer advocate with no money or party to threaten their chances to win a national election? How morally bereft do the Democrats have to be to lose leftist votes to lose to such a candidacy? These are questions that are never asked. We are always treated to lectures of why we should be loyal to a party that has been so disloyal to many of our ideas. Maybe if the Democratic Party did a better job of representing those interests, instead of raising money from corporations (who are merely hedging their bets to gain political access and protect their investments), or enacting laws like NAFTA, GATT, and the Welfare Reform Act, this would not be an issue.

Still, Ralph is going to lose, and he is going to receive a much smaller percentage of the vote than Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich ever did in their primaries (funny how Paul's loyalty to the Republican Party is never an issue to his "progressive" supporters, who seem eerily silent these days). I do not want to tell him whether he should run, after defending the principle of third party candidacies, but if you have been a third party candidate on more than one occasion, and the only certainty is your downward vote trajectory, it might well serve a progressive to find someone else--a newer candidate, such as Cynthia McKinney, who is not only running for the Presidency for the first time, but doing so with the backing of a party.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Adios, Fidel

Ex-President Fidel Castro has finally resigned his claim on political leadership on Cuba, officially handing over the levers of power to his brother Raul. It has been a long career for Fidel. He has led the country for almost five decades, although they arguably never really recovered from the economic collapse after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Castro was hardly a perfect leader, but then he replaced a dictator who made the country into a repository of the American mafia. Cuba has a long history of resistance, to the Spanish and numerous invasions and entries of the United States. It is not an accident that it was the first country in the western hemisphere to become Communist.

Of course, those who lost to Castro in the '50s and '60s, and those who exploited favorable American immigration policies to become political and economic refugees in the last three decades, probably cannot wait for the generalissimo to die. Even John McCain himself has recently declared his wishes for Fidel to meet Marx (Karl, that is). It is one of the oddities that the US has always been a destination for ex-dictators and their supporters after losing their revolutions. From the Shah to Ferdinand Marcos, we have a love affair with market authoritarian leaders and their associates. One would think that considering early American history that this would not be so, but it should be recalled that President Thomas Jefferson once proposed the French to re-invade the independent republic of Haiti (the first black republic in history) to overthrow its regime and bring back slavery to its freed locals of African descent. Such a history has carried down, to this day, our perceptions and attitudes about Latin America, and especially Cuba, because it was one of the few countries in the hemisphere to successfully resist this history for more than two generations.

When it comes to Latin America, the US government has an understanding and paranoia that any movement which empowers anything other than the proprietary and mestizo (i.e., light-skinned) elites is a threat which must be crushed. Thus it is why the US has invaded or used force in Latin American countries no less than 55 times since the issuance of the Monroe Doctrine. It is this history of paternalism and imperialism that helped make possible the Cuban Revolution, which is rarely written about in American history books--such as the time when the US Marines personally overtook the "free" Cuban parliament and at gun point overturned its laws that were seen as unfriendly to American investors' interests. This sounds harsh, but it was perfectly legal because when the US "granted" Cuban its independence in 1902 (after manufacturing a war to wrestle the control of the country away from Spain), the US wrote the Cuban constitution, which permitted US veto over any subsequent laws passed by the Cuban government that the Americans took exception to.

What made Cuba's situation untenable was a post-war dictatorship that was as every bit as repressive as Castro's, executing more people during his reign, actually, and over time tried to pursue a policy of economic growth by selling his country's assets to North American businesses, many of whom were openly operated by the mafia. Gambling, prostitution, and crime became the norm in Havana in those days. We forget today, but in the beginning, Castro was widely supported, even by many non-Communists, as a preferable alternative to the corruption of Fulgencio Batista, who after "resigning" as President, eventually departed for his friend Francisco Franco's fascist Spain (becoming, of all things, an insurance executive).

Castro's empowerment was a defeat for the US. Our embargo was imposed soon thereafter, further pushing Fidel into the hands of the Soviet Union, the remaining superpower of the world. I am not going to recite the Cold War here, but it was a marriage bound for divorce, as Cuba was always different than the brand of Marxist-Leninism practiced in the Eastern bloc. Even Che Guevara observed this once, declaring, "The Cuban people would resist to the last drop of blood any attempt by the USSR to make Cuba a satellite." It was not the wisest thing to write about Cuba's closest ally, but it exhibited the level of disagreement within many elements of the Cuban Communist Party about the Soviet Union, its policies, and its brand of totalitarianism in Eastern Europe.

The Soviet-Cuban variance also explains why Castro's level of repression came in waves, accompanied by numerous allowances for exiles to escape Cuba, a practice that would have never been allowed to such an extent in Eastern Europe. Not much has been written about why Castro did not kill all of his opponents or repress them by creating a more extensive gulag system in Cuba to "reform" its dissidents. It might have been that he felt it easier to let most of them go to the US, where they could do him and his state no harm. It could be he feared another attempted invasion by the US.

Of course, you will never hear about this from the anti-Castro lobby in south Florida. It is one aspect of the history of imperialism they take no interest in, for obvious reasons (they have reduced themselves to being subsidiaries of the government that was responsible for it). Listening to these people, you would think Cuba was the most repressive country on earth, but I have traveled to more than a few in my adult life, and I can say that Cuba is by far the least repressive of any Communist regime in my lifetime (if not since 1917). China and Vietnam are worse, much worse than Cuba (even today's China, which is less repressive than it was at the height of the Cultural Revolution). And North Korea is not even worth comparing, as it is an outlier of political repression that goes beyond probably any totalitarian state in history (including Stalin's rule or Hoxha's Albania). Context is always important, but you never get that feel when the ideological castaways of Castro complain about human rights in Cuba, which has had fewer state executions in the last three decades than since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States. The same people in America who see eliminating appeals for capital punishment as a necessity, incarcerating over two million souls a public good, and support torturing Muslim detainees with glee suddenly start mimicking the speech of defense attorneys when talking about a few arrests in Cuba.

For Fidel, there is much to criticize. That he felt compelled to maintain a one party state did much to undermine him with American liberals. His trade and aid dependency on the Soviet Union nearly bankrupted the country in the 1990s (and arguably may continue to negatively impact Cuba's economy after his death). Nevertheless, there are not too many foes of great power states who last as long as someone like Castro. When Latin America was a World Bank colony in the '80s and '90s, President Castro was for the longest time the lone leftist government in the region. Today, the majority of Latin American countries are under control of socialist or left-leaning governments (and elected governments at that). Castro has come full circle, the grand old man of anti-imperialism in the region.

In that part of the world, unlike here, Castro's legacy will always be intertwined with resistance to the US. For the invaders, we do not think in these terms, but when you are a citizen of a country that has experienced or lived under foreign colonial rule (with the Spanish, Portuguese, and then periodically the US), it become an issue whose presence never goes away.

What will replace him in the form of Raul Castro's state, once Fidel dies, is anyone's guess. Raul may well go the route of Gorbachev, whose perestroika and glasnost policies he supported back in the '80s, or Deng Xiaoping, liberalizing economically to foreign capital while maintaining one-party control over the state. My own guess at this point would be the latter because the former led directly to the collapse of the Soviet government which, while the preferable course of action for the exiles in Miami, may not be to Raul's liking. Either way, it seems unlikely that Cuba will continue is current path, as it still endures many economic problems nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War. And Cuba does not have the natural resources of Chavez's Venezuela, who is able to bankroll his socialist 'revolution' with accrued oil profits.

As a small island country with an abundance of beaches, and no traditional or resource-laden industries, Cuba has always been a trade-dependent state, first the Soviets and now the Europeans. Its future will be tied to outside investments. Whether it will be Citibank or the Central Bank of Venezuela or Petrobas is up to Raul. Maybe with the options available due to the development of alternative regional trade areas in Latin America, thanks to Chavez, Cuba may try to steer a middle road between dependence on any one part of the world for outside investments, and avoid the bankruptcy of insulated state socialism or the poverty of neo-liberalism. We will see.

The Arnel Pineda Era

Here is the new lead singer for Journey, Arnel Pineda, in the group's most recent concert in Chile.

I have chronicled this band's struggle to find a lead singer since the departure of Steve Perry. I guess this is no longer an issue, as Pineda has a wonderful voice and instantly becomes the youngest member of the band. On the other hand, he is still a replacement of a replacement for a group that has become its own cover band.

If they are truly going to take a "new" path in the hiring of Pineda, the group needs to actually produce new songs, assuming there are any and that anyone would want to listen. Still, it beats listening to Fergie or that 47 year old who won American Idol a couple of years ago.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Utah and Guns

When not being home to a cult which claimed until three decades ago that black people were subhuman, the state of Utah is also a place that encourages and allows its college students to secretly come to class armed to the teeth.

Utah Students Hide Guns, Head to Class

Salt Lake City, Utah (CNN)
-- The senior at the University of Utah gets dressed and then decides which gun is easiest to conceal under his clothes.

If he's wearing a T-shirt, he'll take a smaller, low-profile gun to class. If he's wearing a coat, he may carry a different weapon, he said.

He started carrying a gun to class after the massacre at Virginia Tech, but the student says he's not part of the problem of campus shootings and could instead be part of a solution.

Nick, who asked not to be fully identified so his fellow students wouldn't know he carried a gun, says he has had a concealed weapons permit for more than three years. But it was Seung-Hui Cho's murderous campus rampage that made him take a gun to class.

"Last year, after Virginia Tech, I thought 'I'm not going to be a victim,' " Nick said.

"My first thought was 'how tragic.' But then I couldn't help but think it could've been different if they'd allowed the students the right to protect themselves."

Days after another campus shooting -- in which five students and the gunman died at Northern Illinois University -- students at colleges in Utah, the only state to allow weapons at all public universities, are attending classes.

Nick says his gun doesn't make him feel immune from attack. "But I feel that I will be able to protect myself, and I'm confident in my training and my ability," he said.

His confidence is not shared by fellow student Griselda Espinoza, who recently transferred to the university. Some 28,000 students attend the school, as of the latest enrollment figures.

"I feel less safe knowing that a stranger sitting beside me in class may have a gun in his or her backpack," she said.

"The only people that should carry guns are trained officials."

University of Utah spokeswoman Coralie Alder stressed that although the school has become a poster child in the media regarding guns on campus, the debate is really a statewide issue.

"The university is following the law as determined by the Utah Legislature during last year's session, which allows concealed weapon permit holders to carry guns on university and colleges campuses, as well as other locations," she said.

Amanda Covington, Utah State Board of Regents spokeswoman, would not comment on the current gun laws on school campuses.

However, she said the regents are opposing a legislative proposal to allow people with concealed weapons permits to have the weapons visible in public.

"We are worried that it may affect their [students' and teachers'] willingness or desire to go to or teach a class on campus," she said.

The University of Utah, based in Salt Lake City, had prohibited firearms on its campus until that ban was struck down by the state's Supreme Court in late 2006. The institution, backed by all other universities in the state, is still fighting through federal courts to reinstate the ban.

But state legislators could be moving in the opposite direction, considering a bill to modify current law to allow people in Utah -- including students -- to carry loaded weapons openly.

Utah State Representative Curtis Oda said the bill, which he is sponsoring, is merely to clarify that people with weapons permits may carry a gun openly or -- with a concealed permit -- they may hide it for the sake of surprise.

He stressed that people with permits have gone through rigorous checks.

"When you see someone with a gun, you are looking at some of the most law-abiding people in the state," he said.

The issue goes beyond campus. Last year, a few miles from the University of Utah, a man walked into Trolley Square, a Salt Lake City shopping mall, and opened fire. Police were there in only three minutes, but the shooter had already killed five people and wounded four others.

"And not just shootings, but [serial killer] Ted Bundy did some of his crimes at the University of Utah campus," said David Seelly, a recent University of Utah graduate who says he carried a concealed gun on campus.

"If one of those ladies was a concealed-weapon holder, she could've stopped him before he did as much as he did."

To get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, people in Utah must, among other things:

· Be 21 years old

· Have no criminal record of violent, immoral or substance-related crime

· Be mentally competent.

Student Kevin Rechtenbach of the University of Utah said he was open to carrying a gun, but not certain that would solve problems.

"If acts of terrorism continue on campus, then I will have no choice but to carry a concealed weapon," he said.

"But you see, that is where the problem lies: Everybody will end up carrying concealed weapons, and everyday problems will be solved with guns rather than words or even fists."

The only places on campus that have restrictions are the dormitories. Students can request a roommate who doesn't carry a gun.

Private colleges in Utah, like the Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, do have more power to ban weapons on campus, but that, too, causes disagreement among students.

"I own some guns, and I wish I was allowed to have them at school," said Collin Barker, a BYU student. "I would just keep [them] in my car for target shooting."

Casey Matheny, from Plano, Texas, now studying at BYU, appeared indifferent to the debate over students carrying guns.

"I don't mind if they have one, I just don't want to know about it," he said.

Rob Morrison, a BYU student from Ontario, Canada, doesn't think that having guns on campus would necessarily stop a potential killer.

"The people that do it want to commit suicide anyway," Morrison said. "But it would give students a chance to defend themselves, and at Virginia Tech, it could have ended sooner than it did."

I must say, as a college professor the thought of having to bring a gun to class, so to consider which secretly armed student I might have to kill, never crossed my mind. It is this type of psychotic thinking that is part of the problem, not the solution to campus shootings. But for all of those who think college students everywhere should be carrying concealed firearms, let us review what your little precious ones, if packing heat, will be doing on these campuses on Friday and Saturday nights.

Yes, because for every one campus shooting that could be brought to a stop, a thousand more local parties and bars nights can end in a similar fashion, as well. Now, I am not against my students having fun. Actually, minus the rioting, I think it perfectly normal for young adults to spend ages 18-22 partying, drinking, toking (on perfectly legal substances, to be sure), and partaking in other consensual activities. It is part of the experimentalism and self-discovery of youth (like if you shotgun eight beers in a row, within three minutes, can you still stand up?). However, I have no illusions that over half of these young adults are responsible enough to be carrying a water gun, not along a real firearm, to class or anywhere else. And while no one likes to consider this I have seen enough of my students in morning classes on Fridays to know that they sometimes begin their weekend rituals on Thursday evenings, too.

Well, if my state or university ever allows these beer pongers to carry concealed weapons in my class, we are going to need protection--from logically half-crazed gun-toting students who are only a temper tantrum away from becoming otherwise law abiding, "moral," upstanding citizens (as Steven Kazmierczak
was before February 14, 2008) into homicidal shooters. It is ironic that we only consider mass murderers crazy when they kill, and not when they exploit the means by which we enable them to become murderers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kosovo Independence: A Disaster

There are many reasons to oppose Kosovo's independence from Serbia. The Serbs, not surprisingly, oppose it on the grounds that Kosovo is their spiritual homeland, and to permit the breakaway province to secede from what remains of Yugoslavia would destroy that traditional, historical link between Serbs and Kosovo. The Chinese and Russians, as well as the Spanish (because of their own problems with Basque separatists), are worried that recognizing Kosovo’s independence will set a dangerous precedent for other separatist movements, who will obviously look to the Kosovar Albanians as an exemplar for their future. Lastly, there are those right-wingers in the West who see any creation of a Muslim majority state as a threat to the future of a white Christian (or at least non-Muslim) Europe.

None of these rationales are overly appealing. First, historically, the Serbs had no problem using political violence to separate from the Ottoman Empire, or assassinations to annex Serb-dominated areas of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To hear the Serb nationalists, you would think they are history’s victims. They are not. They certainly were not when they tripled their territories during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, which came at the expense of neighboring territories (who certainly did not enjoy seeing any part of their country declaring “independence” from them). There are very few countries in this world, including my own, which can legitimately make a moral argument against separatism for its own sake.

Two, the Chinese and Russians, as well as the Spaniards, are hardly believers in democracy and self-governance in their own territories historically, because all of them have dealt with breakaway movements (and virtually all of them a response to very real repression minorities have faced at the hands of their central governments), which is the main motivation for their opposition to Kosovo’s independence. Does anyone care anymore that Stalin had the entire Chechen population ethnically cleansed and sent off to exile from Chechnya during World War Two? How many non-Basques in Spain recite Franco’s repression of the Basque language, and politically-targeted assassinations of Basque activists during his reign?

Lastly, the real onus for so many Americans and white Europeans opposing Kosovo’s independence, that it is yet another Muslim country in the West, has limitations to the extent that Albanians are fairly secular (thanks in no small part to the punitive atheism of Enver Hoxha’s brand of Communism [which demolished Islam on the threat of banishment, imprisonment, and sometimes even death for the believers and their entire families]), and less inclined to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism than Bosniaks (i.e., Bosnian Muslims) or Chechens--never mind our friends roaming the Kandahar region of Afghanistan, looking for their 72 virginal Salma Hayeks. Indeed, there are probably more Islamic terrorists inside of England or France than in Albania or Kosovo.

No, the biggest threat of Kosovo’s independence is not to any of these. It is to the concept of opposing the kind of wholesale ethnic nationalist politics and warfare that has taken place before and after the Kosovo War. For those who remember this war, back when Bill Clinton was at the height of his glory (during the impeachment scandal), Kosovo was the centerpiece of the Clintonian doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.” Naturally, this humanitarian intervention was not an international undertaking, as NATO is an American-dominated regional military alliance, and acted without prior authorization of the UN Security Council (a violation of international law [as if anyone cares about that anymore]). But the reason for this war, no matter how insincere, to oppose the “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovar Albanians by Serb police and government officials, who were backed by the Yugoslavian government (then under the control of Slobodan Milosevic), was seemingly a worthy cause in the first days of the conflict. It was difficult to sympathize with people who claim the Srebrenica massacre never occurred, or that Albanians were, as an ex-friend of mine from Macedonia once told me, “like breeding jackrabbits” (the accepted racism against Albanians in Orthodox communities in the Balkans is sadly commonplace).

However, there were problems with the Kosovo War from the start. The Kosovar Albanians, for their part, wanted nothing to do with any negotiations with the Serbs, and supported wholesale independence (something not reported on that much at CNN, back when Christiane Amanpour was reporting on the massacres committed by the Serbs, without mentioning the ethnic war that had been transpiring at least since the early 1990s inside of the province). The portrayal of this war was one of peaceful, pacifistic ethnic Albanians, and their political leaders, like Ibrahim Rugova (a supporter of Kosovar independence throughout his adult life), being oppressed by the mad Serbs, out to destroy all traces of Albanian life in Kosovo. Very little attention was paid to the Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA/UCK), which was condemned by the US State Department as a terrorist organization enflaming inter-ethnic strife, all the while supporting the KLA with US arms and tax dollars. Of course, after a few months of NATO-led bombings that killed over 5,000 Serb civilians, President Milosevic capitulated, and with that Kosovo became an international protectorate (of both NATO and eventually the UN [even though formally the province was still on paper a part of Yugoslavia or what remained of it]).

The culmination of this victory was the enshrinement of KLA leader Hashim Thaci to the Prime Ministership of Kosovo (supported by the US government, in spite of his ties to a self-admitted terrorist organization that Thaci helped fund by dealing heroin and cocaine [the kind of activities that leftist rebels in Colombia would earn the nickname “narco-terrorists”]). Had Mr. Thaci been born in Baghdad, Belgrade, or Tehran, not only would he be considered a terrorist (of the unacceptable variety), but a bandit on the first order, deserving reform through cluster bombs (cheered on by the likes of Michael Ledeen). That an open drug dealer, gangster, and leader of one of the most violent private armies in Europe is leading the new independent country exemplifies its lack of legitimacy--not that his competitors in Serbia are much better (then or now).

Worse, the demographic and internal political situation of Kosovo became in the 2000s barely palpable, largely because of the lack of acceptance of non-Albanians in Kosovo by the likes of Mr. Thaci. What transpired after the Kosovo War was nothing short of the kind of behavior that NATO, and especially the US, claimed elicited our intervention in 1999--the mass expulsion and destruction of the remaining minority population in Kosovo. The 2004 attacks, in which hundreds of churches and Serb and non-Albanian enclaves were razed to the ground, thousands of Serbs and Roma expelled (no CNN ruminations for them), became the new Racak of Kosovo. That most of the remaining Serbs and Roma (over 200,000 before 1999) have now been “cleansed,” mostly by violence, is of no signficance, even though they were supposed to be under NATO and UN protection.

The Lessons of Kosovo

Most importantly, Kosovo’s independence has taught the Albanians and all other ethnic nationalist/breakaway movements some important lessons. One, if you have a separatist movement, above all else, make sure to garner support of the US or a corresponding great power for your movement and its actions. This will guarantee that no international organization will be able to stop you, since that great power, especially in the UN Security Council, will be able to block any resolutions denouncing your behavior. Also, currying favor means gaining the support of the great power’s dominant culture, its elites, and media entertainment outlets, which will disseminate, humanize, and rationalize your movement.

Two, if your movement gains enough support, and the time is ready, do not negotiate with whomever you are fighting. They must be physically separated from your polity by all means necessary, and be certain that this does not run counter to your great power sponsor’s wishes. If anyone complains about your conduct, simply demur that it is the responsibility of some irresponsible parties, or possibly staged by your opponents to gain sympathy for their cause (a common tactic by both sides in this conflict). Nevertheless, since ethnic wars are total wars, the defeat of your enemy must be complete and their presence within the realm of your new territorial state vanquished.

From these Machiavellian lessons, it could be argued that what happened in Kosovo was inevitable. Maybe Cubrilovic was right, the Balkans is too much of an ethnic caldron, and there is no way one can have anything but a peace that is created on the dessert of a post-war graveyard of total ethnic conflict. If that is the case, the least we could do is not recognize it, after using our opposition to such revanchist principles as the justification for dropping over 20,000 cluster bombs and missiles on one of the offenders.

By recognizing Kosovo’s independence, we (that is, the United States) implicitly endorse ethnic cleansing as a means of obtaining a political goal (for Kosovar Albanians), that political dialogue and recognition of your enemy is unnecessary, even dangerous, and that terrorism (by the standards of our government) is rewardable--on the condition that the terrorists have the support of a great power patron. In other words, with Kosovo’s independence any and all future claims about opposing terrorism and ethnic cleansing carry the same moral authority as they did on the day we recognized those terrorists who ethnically cleansed their way into nationhood. In the end, the crime of the Serbs, to this ethos, is that they did not have permission to kill their minorities. Their undesirables beat them to the punch. For all it is worth, as of now, makes right, and justice for everyone, regardless of their background, be damned.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dennis Kucinich Needs You

Congressman Kucinich had to stop his Presidential campaign this last month. This is primarily because what passes for the spine of the House Leadership (the same cabal who declared a year ago that they were going to "hold George Bush accountable for Iraq") have floated up a primary challenger in Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman (garnering the support of longtime Kucinich foe The Cleveland Plain Dealer [one of the papers that tried engineer the recall of Dennis back in his days as the "boy mayor" of Cleveland]).

Why this is happening is no conspiracy. Unlike the limousine liberals that populate the beltway, Kucinich is a bona fide progressive, who has been a strident supporter of universal health care (particularly a single payer system), a critic of the war of Iraq (favoring an immediate pullout of troops) and, most offensive of all to the House Democratic leadership, a maverick that has refused to agree to support the party's eventual Presidential nominee (a loyalty oath requirement in some primaries that was used for the expressed purpose of keeping Dennis out of the public airwaves). He has also supported the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney (something which the Democratic House leadership is about likely to support as they are a single payer system).

You may be wondering why the Democratic Party so hates someone like this. After all, they have no problems suffering someone like Joe Lieberman, who after being defeated in his primary race to an anti-war candidate, decided to run as an independent (getting elected, against the wishes of his party). His punishment? The Senate Democrats use him to gain their majority and gave him Chairmanship of the Governmental Affairs Committee. This is a party that does not mind enduring the presence of center-right groups like the Blue Dog Democrats and the Democratic Leadership Council, who have successfully re-oriented their party towards supporting conservative policies like welfare "reform," free trade, and capital punishment. Their punishment? They get elected with the full graces of the party leadership. No, it takes one of the few remaining progressives, who refuses to bow to those forces, that is the threat.

Enter Joe Cimperman. Before 2008, Cimperman was a nobody city councilman, still in his 30s, and living the life of a local pol. That was until banking and real estate interests, with ties to the Cleveland Plain Dealer (who still remember their failed campaign to get Kucinich recalled), decided to subsidize Cimperman, with nearly $230,000, to "enter the race." His reason? Because Kucinich was spending too much time outside of his district. Of course, I do not see anyone making that argument from the DLC about Hillary Clinton in New York or Barack Obama in Illinois. Apparently, only Kucinich's district matters with such matters.

As it is, the primary for his district in Ohio is March 4. Needless to say, the Congressman's coffers are hardly teeming with money--one of the disadvantages of not being a candidate of corporations. I do not usually endorse candidacies to the point of encouraging people to donate money to their campaign, but if we lose Kucinich there will not be too many other progressive voices left in Congress. He needs our support, especially from those who live in or around his district.

Here's is Kucinich's Congressional re-election site.

Here is Representative Kucinich's campaign appeal.