Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Moron Report #13: Larry Niven's Racism

As hard as this is to imagine, our federal government, at our expense, is eliciting the opinions of science fiction writers, to better understand how to protect the US. Yes, because when you need advisement on how to protect the US from another terrorist attack, who better to go to than people who make things up?

In this vein, meet Larry Niven, a sci-fi writer who has made his living off his family's millions (meaning he has never had to work a real job) and a couple of escapist books that otherwise weak-minded people who cannot face reality enjoy reading. What makes Larry worth paying attention to in this blog, or anywhere, is that he is not your typical court jester. No, Larry has a plan for how to save costs for hospitals--lie and scare off sick Latinos (and see if they die).


Science Fiction Mavens Offer Far Out Homeland Security Advice

Now a fixture at Department of Homeland Security science and technology conferences, SIGMA is a loosely affiliated group of science fiction writers who are offering pro bono advice to anyone in government who want their thoughts on how to protect the nation.

The group has the ear of Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Jay Cohen, head of the science and technology directorate, who has said he likes their unconventional thinking. Members of the group recently offered a rambling, sometimes strident string of ideas at a panel discussion promoting the group at the DHS science and technology conference.

Among the group’s approximately 24 members is Larry Niven, the bestselling and award-winning author of such books as “Ringworld” and “Lucifer’s Hammer,” which he co-wrote with SIGMA member Jerry Pournelle.

Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.

“The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.

“Do you know how politically incorrect you are?” Pournelle asked.

“I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work,” Niven replied.

“I cannot guarantee I’m going to be a great help to Homeland Security,” Niven said earlier.

Pournelle said that once mobile phone technology and the devices tacked on them to take pictures and record video become more ubiquitous, then ordinary citizens will be empowered to take security into their own hands — a prediction some have said already has come to pass.

“My guess is we won’t need quite so many paid agents of the state to do that for us, which means maybe we can try being a republic instead of an incompetent empire,” he said, then railed against the Transportation Security Administration for treating passengers like “subjects” rather than “citizens.”

The 45-minute panel discussion quickly deteriorated as federal, local and state homeland security officials, and at least one congressional aid, attempted to ask questions, which were largely ignored.

Instead the writers used their time to pontificate on a variety of tangentially related topics, including their past roles advising the government, predictions in their stories that have come to pass, the demise of the paperback book market, and low-cost launch into space.

David Brin, keeping on the topic of empowering citizens with mobile phone technology, delivered a self-described “rant” on the lack of funds being spent to support citizen reservists to back up the military, homeland security officials and first responders in times of crisis.

“It is impossible for you to succeed without us!” he shouted at the assembled officials, while banging his fist on the table and at one point jumping off his chair to wave a mobile phone in their faces.

SIGMA is the brainchild of Arlan Andrews Sr., who noted that many of the writers have advanced degrees, have jobs with the government or have been hired to advise the government in the past.

“If you like the ideas these people have, and you’re from the government, feel free to come talk to them,” Andrews said.

I suppose the apple does not fall too far from the tree. Niven's family blood is tainted by generations of unconvicted felons-oil tycoons, including his great-grandfather who, when not buying White House cabinet members, and causing the Teapot Dome scandal, took to breaking unions and raking in millions off the backs of others. This is a group I would certainly be looking for advice from, in hell.

Welcome to my hall of shame, Larry. Right where you belong, next to the spouse-killers, idiot criminals, pathologically homophobic politicians, and fools of the day. It is well earned. Here is to hoping your fans and readers wake up and realize what you really are, and reenter a world you have never been forced to live in, reality.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reverend Wright & White Amnesia About Race

If there is one big indicator that Americans are not willing to deal with the issue of race in this country, it is not the words of Reverend Wright. It is the manner in which white America obliges its few black candidates, who wish for our votes, into walking and talking like us, which means when it comes to issues of race you are not to emphasize maladies like racism, slavery, segregation, least people become uncomfortable or take offense at being reminded that we are not the most pristine democracy on earth.

What is it about Wright's words that offends people? Well, let us summarize some of major points in his speech the other day.

1. The US has an imperialist foreign policy, which encourages a blowback against it by the peoples who are negatively impacted by its actions.

This is beyond doubt, and if one does not believe the US is an empire in any way then they have to try to explain why the US (with a quarter of the world's economy and less than 5% of the population) retains nearly half of the world's military spending, has hundreds of military bases abroad (indeed, more troops stationed outside of the US, on foreign soil, than inside of the country), have been constantly fighting in wars since the early part of the 20th century, and currently occupy a not insignificant Middle Eastern country. Even our friends at the Weekly Standard admits to this much, and proudly so, to the point that some of its armchair generals would prefer to see the US become more imperialistic, like the British.

Moreover, the "chickens coming home to roost" is, whether we like to admit it, a part of American foreign policy and life. Whether or not we want to face this, Islamic terrorists could care less about our Bill of Rights, anymore than they did for Das Kapital back when they were fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s. They are fighting for what they believe in, and they do not commit acts of terrorism for the sheer joy of it. They did not hijack planes and wreck them into Geneva. They wrecked them into our buildings because of their dislike for US policy in their countries. You can think them crazy, foolish, or mass murderers (all of which they are, at least to me [being the life-affirming person that I am]), but their political motivations are quite obvious.

2. The US has a long history of racism against peoples of African descent and have used this to justify slavery, segregation, and even current economic arrangements.

Again, this is not much of an issue to dispute. It is sadly the history of this country, although to be honest if you were to look at almost any country they would have their own historical skeletons. Race is ours, or to be more exact the use of race to rationalize these abuses. Of course, this is not something you are supposed to talk about today. According to the Hannitys and O'Reillys of this world, we are in a post-racist panacea in America, which has nothing to do with what happened in the past, but Wright's comments address this issue by talking about how economic injustice still persists to this day, injustices reinforced partially along racially lines, because of our history (injustices that Fox "news" anchors do not see because they live among fellow Republicans in wealthy communities of this country).

3. Posited the theory from another author (
"Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola" by Leonard Horowitz) that the CIA deployed the AIDS virus in Central Africa at the height of the Cold War to reinforce its activities in the region. Furthermore, this theory was at least obliquely supported because of what happened during the Tuskegee Experiment.

For those white people who watch Fox, and think Tuskegee is just a place in Alabama, starting in the 1930s (and through the 1970s) the US government knowingly gave false treatment to hundreds of infected black people (mostly illiterate, poor workers from around the Tuskegee area) who were suffering from syphilis. Instead of being given real medical care they were given a placebo treatment, falsely informed that they were being taken care of, and while they suffered, before ultimately dying, were observed by doctors to see the effects of such non-treatment on their unfortunate subjects. Some of the patients literally died in the arms of the nurses that "treated" them, after years of being lied to. It is one of those incidents in this country's history that has done much to reify in the minds of many African Americans a healthy paranoia about the US government.

As for the theory itself, medically, even by Horowitz's admission, we do not know exactly when and where AIDS became what it did. We know it started somewhere in Africa, became an epidemic first in the central and then southern parts of Africa, but that is about it. This is not to excuse the conspiracy theory, as I am not a conspiracy theorist and generally do not agree with them, but it is impossible to be a black person in the US, considering previous cases like Tuskegee, and not at the very least wonder why certain misfortunes befall your community more than others. Sometimes, conspiracies help give an explanation for such concerns. Wrong, maybe, but then I can at least understand why someone from the effected community would be inclined to feel that way.

4. These realities of racism in American life are known to everyone, particularly every black person, including African American politicians like Senator Obama who, because he is a politician in our current environment, cannot openly talk about these issues.

Not being of African descent, it is not my place to judge or verify any claims about what an entire community knows, although I think it is safe to assume that the reverend is probably correct. Not surprisingly, Senator Obama took great exception to that part of the speech. In fact, in Senator Obama's denunciation of Wright, his most strident objection seemed to be reserved for that part of his speech, even more than the comments about AIDS or the Nation of Islam. Why? Well, if blacks secretly all know what it is like to experience racism, and you admit it aloud to a white audience that a black candidate is trying to placate, it plants the seed of doubt in the mind of the white voter that, God forbid, their beloved candidate of choice might really know what it is like to be black. It compels the white voter, as well as the black candidate, to address the issue, which in this election neither apparently seems willing to do.

In the larger sense, what Wright's speech does is force white people, and it is a speech directed at us (considering the venue and the fact I am a white man), to confront these issues. From the responses, it is pretty obvious that most whites in America want nothing of it. This is why Wright is denounced as an extremist, anti-American, anti-everything in the white "mainstream" media. Even if he is not right on some or much of what he says, the historical analysis of racism is a fact, not a matter of mere opinion, and yet it says much about the electorate of this country, because it coerces what few black candidates that exist at the national level to cater to our preferences (preferences predicated on the view that this country is a democratic utopia with no race problems whatsoever).

It is the lack of a discourse on the issue of race in America that is the most worrying in this campaign. It was also predictable because I have no illusions about how most white people in this country feel about race. When Senator Hillary Clinton talks about not having someone like Jeremiah Wright as her pastor, just like Ferraro's statements about Obama receiving special treatment because he is black, every white person knows what is being said. It is the same message talk show radio hosts make when stressing Senator Obama's middle name. He is black (i.e., a threat), so vote for me. Of course, we cannot say that openly anymore. You use coded language, just as Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy employed. The principle of that coded language, however, remains the same.

This is the political market that Senator Obama operates in. This is why he does not deal with these issues, explaining in part why he seemingly spends so much of his time trying to diffuse these so-called controversies and isolate them to momentary outbursts of some mad preacher. And that is the saddest part of all. Maybe we are ready to elect a black man President of the United States, but only on white peoples' terms.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Punishing Women for Discrimination

In a case that has been lost in the deluge of other hot button issues (the death penalty, gun control, or even the 2008 Presidential campaign [since the front loading of primaries has extended coverage]), the impact of the Supreme Court's decision last term, making it more difficult for women to bring discrimination lawsuits against employers was brought to a critical mass this week when Congressional Republicans refused to support a new law that would have overruled the decision. Here is the side of Republican politics that you will not see portrayed on Fox "news" anytime soon.

How Dumb Are We?How long will women shoulder the blame for the pay gap?

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have overturned a Supreme Court ruling (PDF) that sharply limited pay-discrimination suits based on gender under Title VII. In Ledbetter v. Goodyear (2007), the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 margin, held that the clock for the statute of limitations on wage discrimination begins running when the employer first makes the decision to discriminate, and does not run for all the subsequent months—or in this case, years—that the disparate paychecks are mailed. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, found that the plaintiff in this case, Lilly Ledbetter, was time-barred from filing her discrimination suit because it took more than 180 days after she first got stiffed to discover that she was being stiffed on account of her gender. The court agreed her jury verdict should be overturned.

Many of the Republicans who blocked the vote to reinstate the original reading of Title VII claimed they were doing so to protect women—read "stupid women"—from the greedy clutches of unprincipled plaintiffs' attorneys and from women's own stupid inclination to sit around for years—decades even—while being screwed over financially before they bring suit. That means they were, in effect, just protecting us from the dangerous laws that protect us. Whew.

For the purely Vulcan reading of the case, Justice Alito's opinion offers some good reading. But for those of you who suspect that gender discrimination rarely comes amid the blaring of French horns and accompanied by an engraved announcement that you are being screwed over, it's worth having a gander at Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent.

Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire in Atlanta for almost 20 years. When she retired, she was, according to Ginsburg, "the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark: Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month, the highest paid, $5,236." So she filed a suit under Title VII, and a jury awarded her more than $3 million in damages. The jury found it "more likely than not that [Goodyear] paid [Ledbetter] a[n] unequal salary because of her sex." You see, Ledbetter hadn't just negotiated herself some lame salary. She was expressly barred by her employer from discussing her salary with her co-workers who were racking up raises and bonuses she didn't even know about. She found out about the disparity between her pay and her male colleagues' earnings only because someone finally left her an anonymous tip.

There is plenty of evidence that all this had nothing to do with her job performance. Quoting Ginsburg again, "Ledbetter's former supervisor, for example, admitted to the jury that Ledbetter's pay, during a particular one-year period, fell below Goodyear's minimum threshold for her position." The jury also heard evidence that "another supervisor—who evaluated Ledbetter in 1997 and whose evaluation led to her most recent raise denial—was openly biased against women" and that "two women who had previously worked as managers at the plant told the jury they had been subject to pervasive discrimination and were paid less than their male counterparts. One was paid less than the men she supervised." Ledbetter was told directly by the plant manager that the "plant did not need women, that [women] didn't help it, [and] caused problems."

Stop me when you're convinced that maybe her gender was the issue here …

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, already passed by the House, would have reinstated the law as it was interpreted by most appellate courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, i.e., that every single discriminatory paycheck represents a new act of discrimination and that the 180-day period begins anew with every one. Yet 42 members of the Senate—including Majority Leader Harry Reid, but only procedurally to keep the bill alive—voted to block cloture. How can that be? As Kia Franklin notes here: Women in the United States are paid only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men; African-American women earn only 63 cents, and Latinas earn only 52 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Yet the Ledbetter decision tells employers that as long as they can hide their discriminatory behavior for six months, they've got the green light to treat female employees badly forever. Why isn't this problem sufficiently real to be addressed by Congress?

Have a look at some of the reasons proffered:

• The White House threatened to veto the bill even if Congress passed it. Why? The measure would "impede justice and undermine the important goal of having allegations of discrimination expeditiously resolved." Of course, there is a place for finality in the law, and nobody wants businesses to face prospective lawsuits for conduct from 20 years earlier. But unless an employee is psychic, 180 days is simply not long enough to sniff out an ongoing pattern of often-subtle pay discrimination. The notion that expeditiousness in resolving legal disputes should altogether trump one's ability to prove them is cynical beyond imagining. And the very notion that extending the statute of limitations somehow encourages scads of stupid women to loll around accepting unfair wages for decades in the hopes of hitting the litigation jackpot in their mid-70s is just insulting. "Sorry, kids! SpaghettiOs again tonight, but just you wait till 2037! We'll dine like kings, my babies!"

• Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, did one better in insulting women when he said, "The only ones who will see an increase in pay are some of the trial lawyers who bring the cases." See, now this is the argument that holds that the same women who are too stupid to bring timely discrimination claims are also too stupid to avoid being manipulated by those scheming plaintiffs' attorneys. First off, some of us still believe that those damn civil rights attorneys do good things. But what really galls me here is the endless, elitist recitation that it's only the really dumb people—you know, the injured, the sick, and the women—who aren't smart enough to avoid being conned by them into filing frivolous lawsuits.

• Here's the other reason proffered to oppose the equal-pay bill: According to the invaluable Firedoglake, it seems that some women themselves are actually to blame for their inability to negotiate. No need to fix Title VII! Just build more aggressive women! Women also are apparently to blame for not chatting with their male colleagues about the differences in their wages, even when that's explicitly forbidden, as it was in Ledbetter's case. So remember, ladies, it's better to be fired for discussing your wages than to be paid less for being a woman.

• All of which brings us to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who skipped the vote on equal pay altogether because he was out campaigning. (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both showed up to support it.) McCain's opposition to the bill was expressed thusly: He's familiar with the pay disparity but believes there are better ways to help women find better-paying jobs. "They need the education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else." As my colleague Meghan O'Rourke pointed out yesterday, all that is code for the obtuse claim that the fact that women earn 77 cents on the dollar for the same work as men will somehow be fixed by more training for women as opposed to less discrimination by men. Wow. Hey! We should develop the superpowers of heat vision and flight, as well.

So, 42 members of the U.S. Senate blocked a bill that would allow victims of gender discrimination to learn of and prove discrimination in those rare cases in which their employers don't cheerfully discuss it with them at the office Christmas party. And the reasons for blocking it include the fact that women are not smart enough to file timely lawsuits, not smart enough to avoid being manipulated by vile plaintiffs' lawyers, not smart enough to know when they are being stiffed, and—per John McCain—not well-trained enough in the first place to merit equal pay.

So how dumb are we? Well, if we don't vote some people who actually respect women into Congress soon, we just may be as dumb as those senators think.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sean Bell, RIP

As expected, or as I expected, the murderers of Sean Bell were acquitted today.

Tearful, angry crowd gathered outside courthouse
Friday, April 25, 2008 | 11:40 AM

The wail that came up from the crowd was as if they heard that Sean Bell had died again.

"No!" they shouted, while dozens of people, wearing Bell's face on hats, T-shirts and buttons, burst into sobs.

The scene unfolded outside the courthouse Friday as three police officers were cleared of all charges in the 2006 shooting of Bell, who died in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day.

Hundreds of friends of Bell and others wanted vindication for what they called a racially motivated shooting, and they reacted with tears and explosive anger to the officers' acquittal.

Many people in the predominantly black crowd began reciting other cases where black New Yorkers were shot by police, and the officers, they said, got away with it.

"This was a disgrace, what happened today," shouted Calvin Hutton, a Harlem resident. "We prayed for a different result, but we got the same old bull----."

Inside the packed Queens courtroom, gasps could be heard when Judge Arthur Cooperman acquitted the officers. Bell's mother cried; her husband put his arm around her and shook his head. Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, left the courtroom immediately. Officer Michael Oliver, who fired the most shots, also cried.

"It hurts," said Paultre Bell's attorney, Michael Hardy. "If it didn't you wouldn't be human. Because it touches real lives. ... This is not over. This is not over."

A friend led a visibly upset shooting survivor Trent Benefield from the courthouse, with an arm firmly around his shoulders, while enraged people outside shouted "Murderers! Murderers!"

Scores of police officers formed lines in the middle of traffic to block the crowd from charging the courthouse. Some spectators briefly jostled with the officers right after the verdict was announced and several people rushed out of the courthouse, but the contact didn't become violent.

The crowd wore black T-shirts with Bell's face in a yellow circle in the middle, while other shirts read "Justice for Sean Bell." One group held a banner proclaiming, "50 Shots. 50 More Reasons We Need Revolution."

Dozens of people briefly began pushing and shoving each other as a crowd of hundreds started a processional following Bell's fiancee and Rev. Al Sharpton to their cars, on their way to Bell's gravesite. No one was hurt or arrested.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, "We don't anticipate violence, but we are prepared for any contingency."

Despite the anger over the verdict, the protests were muted compared with past verdicts where officers were cleared in police shootings of black men. Several factors contributed to this, including improved race relations in the city in recent years and the fact that two of the officers are black.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the judge sent a message to officers that "when you're in front of the bench, that you will get fairness." But he said of the case: "there's no winners, there's no losers. We still have a death that occurred."

William Hardgraves, 48, an electrician from Harlem, brought his 12-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter to hear the verdict. "It could have been my son, it could have been my daughter" shot like Bell that night, he said.

He didn't know what result he had expected.

"I hoped it would be different this time. They shot him 50 times," Hardgraves said. "But of course, it wasn't."

(Copyright ©2008 WABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

I do not mean to sound overly cynical or disrespectful to the very real and understandable outrage that people outside of the New York City courtroom feel, but why is anyone surprised? The only evolution in the mentality of local law enforcement in this country is that if this had occurred in another state fifty years ago, they would have claimed Sean Bell committed suicide by shooting himself over 30 times with a police officer's revolver. Now, they just claim it was a split second mistake, even though one of the murderers took the time to unload his weapon, reload it, and continue to shoot. The irony is the cops and their white conservative apologists never want to live the standards and punishment they would exact on anyone else who committed a similar crime. Like their friends from the leadership of the Church when rationalizing acts of pedophilia among their employees, it all comes down to a mistaken choice, naturally.

By the way, just in case you would like to get in contact with the judge who basically declared that shooting unarmed people 50 times is less punishable than a parking fine, here are the particulars.

Hon. Arthur J. Cooperman

Supreme Court of the State of New York
125-01 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, NY 11415
(718) 298-1000

And since Art is described by his sycophants at the New York Post as a "no-nonsense judge," you should feel free to tell him in a no-nonsense way what you think of him and his view on sanctioning the murder of citizens who do not look like or live within a mile radius of himself. I am sure he will appreciate the honesty.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jimmy Carter's 'Bigotry'

If you believe the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, President Jimmy Carter is the new Hitler.

Israel's UN ambassador calls Jimmy Carter 'a bigot'

By VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press Writer 43 minutes ago

NEW YORK - Israel's ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday called former President Jimmy Carter "a bigot" for meeting with the leader of the militant Hamas movement in Syria.

Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, "went to the region with soiled hands and came back with bloody hands after shaking the hand of Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas," Ambassador Dan Gillerman told a luncheon briefing for reporters.

The diplomat was questioned about problems facing his country during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters lasting more than an hour. The briefing was sponsored by The Israel Project, a Washington-based, media-oriented advocacy group.

The ambassador's harsh words for Carter came days after the ex-president met with Mashaal for seven hours in Damascus to negotiate a cease-fire with Gaza's Hamas rulers. Carter then called Mashaal on Monday to try to get him to agree to a one-month truce without conditions, but the Hamas leader rejected the idea.

The ambassador called last weekend's encounter "a very sad episode in American history."

He said it was "a shame" to see Carter, who had done "good things" as a former president, "turn into what I believe to be a bigot."

Telephone calls by The Associated Press to two Atlanta numbers for Carter were not immediately returned Thursday.

Gillerman said Hamas is armed and trained by Iran, whose president once called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

"The real danger, the real problem is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the real threat is Iran," he said.

Gillerman spoke with reporters from around the world at the Times Square offices of a New York law firm on the day Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in Washington meeting with President Bush.

The ambassador said he was "quite optimistic" about the chances for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement because Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have met more times than any previous leaders of the two sides.

"I believe they've gone deeper and further than any other Israeli or Palestinian leader, and I believe that there is a very good chance (for a settlement)," he said.

Gillerman also was asked about another topic involving the U.S. government and Israel: the arrest last week in New Jersey of an 84-year-old man accused of passing U.S. weapons program secrets to an Israeli agent a quarter-century ago.

Retired U.S. military engineer Ben-ami Kadish faces charges linking him to the same now-defunct Israeli intelligence agency that used Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.

Gillerman called it "a very old matter."

"It pertains to something that may or may not have happened 25 years ago" and would be decided when Kadish goes to trial, he said.

In the wake of the Pollard case, the ambassador said Israel had made a pledge not to spy on the United States, "and that is something which I know that we have honored completely."

The ambassador declined to comment on U.S. government reports that Syria was building a nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance before it was bombed by Israeli planes last year.

Gillerman called Syria a "destabilizing influence" in the Middle East.

"You see Syria's hosting, very hospitably and warmly, over 10 terror organizations in Damascus," the ambassador said, adding that the country also supports Hezbollah, an anti-Israeli Shiite group in Lebanon with close ties to Iran and Syria.

"Basically, Syria and Iran, together with Hamas and Hezbollah, are the main axes of terror and evil in the world," the Israeli ambassador said.;_ylt=AjjZwRgZoaokqQ2x2Y3PuP2s0NUE

You would think a benafactor of billions of dollars of my tax money would be friendlier to an ex-President, but then it is all the more hypocritical for Gillerman because this is the same Ambassador Gillerman who had no qualms during last year's war against Lebanon in dealing and negotiating with Hezbullah--another Iranian-backed terrorist organization that has killed an untold number of Israelis, as well as many Lebanese, in their struggle for the greater glory of their imaginary skygod.

Why is it an act of bigotry for President Carter to meet with Hamas, never mind negotiate with them as an ambassador of a state, and yet it is OK for Gillerman to negotiate with Hezbullah? In fact, for those who are not in the know, Hamas, the evil of all evils to Mr. Gillerman, was started two decades ago, in Israel. It has long been rumored that the Israelis encouraged the creation of militant Islamic organizations like Hamas to help divide and conquer the more secular nationalist Palestinian Liberation Organization. Notice how little attention is ever paid in the media, in the US anyway, about why an Islamic terrorist organization would first register itself inside of the heart of its ideological and religious enemy.

As for the talks, it is difficult to tell what good will come of them. Carter is no bigot, by any stretch, and was one of the few southern politicians, long before it was fashionable, to oppose racial segregation. Moreover, he is a man of good intent. Admittedly, good intentions do not always translate into achieving much in terms of negotiating agreements. His eleventh hour negotiations with the North Koreans back in 1994 created the framework for an agreement the DPRK deserted and answered by developing nuclear weapons. The same applies with Hamas. At this point, at the very least, it cannot hurt, although I would be surprised if anything substantive came from these meetings.

Another issue that is also downplayed in this fracas, outside of the fact that Israel is the only country in this dispute with a state, an army, and nuclear weapons, is how Hamas ever came to be in a position of authority, forcing someone like Jimmy Carter to come and meet with them to begin with. Remember a few years ago, when our dear leader, while in multiple private meetings with the 2,000 year old dead carpenter from his ranch in Crawford, preached the virtues of democracy and liberalism in the Middle East? About how the US needed to pressure the Palestinian Authority to hold honest and fair elections? As anticipated, or at least I predicted with my colleagues, this led to Hamas winning those elections. But for us pressing for those elections, Hamas would not be where it is right now in the Gaza Strip (and only missed ruling the rest of the Occupied Territories because the people they defeated in those democratic elections, the PLO-backed Fatah and PA, booted them from the West Bank and Jerusalem in a coup in 2007).

It seems rather hypocritical to complain about the group in power who were voted in at your insistence, and yet that is the case for Israel and the US. To be sure, it is perfectly logical why Israel and the US do not like Hamas, but then those countries helped nurture their empowerment, only to complain when the wrong party was elected.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Is Hillary Worse Than McCain?

According to this article (granted, it is CNN) that is the case for 15% of the Obama voters in the Pennsylvania primary.


Exit polls show sharp divide among Democrats

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Election officials in Pennsylvania's largest cities reported solid but not record-breaking turnout for the state's Democratic primary after a bruising seven-week campaign.

Democrats gather at a polling station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday.

Hillary Clinton led Barack Obama in published polls going into the primary, the biggest remaining contest of the Democratic presidential race. Analysts had said Obama would need to rack up a wide margin with strong turnout in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties to pull ahead.

CNN projected a Clinton victory. With about a quarter of precincts reporting Tuesday night, she was leading Barack Obama 54-46 percent.

Exit polls indicated that Philadelphia and its suburbs made up more than 30 percent of the vote, and those boxes were tilted heavily toward Obama. But Clinton supporters turned out heavily in Pittsburgh and the counties of western Pennsylvania, and she was racking up similarly lopsided margins in the state's industrial northeast, those surveys found.

Fred Voight, Philadelphia's deputy city commissioner, said there were long lines at polling stations in the state's largest city, with only occasional problems reported. He attributed the turnout to the fact that for the first time in 30-plus years, the Democratic race is not settled when Pennsylvania votes.

"You can't really judge until it's over, but based upon other factors, it's a very robust election," Voight said.

"The last time Pennsylvania was in that mix was Jimmy Carter [in 1976], so this is an unusual primary for us," he said. "But we've had other primaries that were monstrous."

In Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Elections Manager Mark Wolosik said turnout was "busy but nowhere near a record."

Obama racked up margins of more than 90 percent among Pennsylvania's black voters, who are heavily concentrated around Philadelphia. African-Americans made up about 14 percent of Tuesday's vote, and whites made up about 80 percent -- and voted 60-40 for Clinton.

The last week of campaigning included a bruising debate between Obama and Clinton, who also pounded her rival for a recent remark that decades of economic decline had left some rural voters "bitter" and clinging to religion and guns. CNN exit polls showed that nearly a quarter of state voters made their decisions in the past week, and those voters leaned toward Clinton by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.

Obama cut sharply into the double-digit lead Clinton held in published polls of Pennsylvanians when the campaign began seven weeks ago. But he outspent her by 2-to-1, and Clinton's campaign has begun questioning whether he could stand up to Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, after losing his third big state in a row.

"The press and the pundits have repeatedly counted Sen. Clinton out, and she has repeatedly proved them wrong," her campaign said. "The vote in the bellwether state of Pennsylvania is another head-to-head measure of the two candidates and of the coalition they will put together to compete and win in November."

Obama said he would continue to lead Clinton in the overall race even if he loses in Pennsylvania but admitted Tuesday afternoon that the state has been "an uphill climb."

"I don't try to pretend that I enjoy getting 45 percent, and that's a moral victory," the first-term Illinois senator said. "We've lost the state. What I do believe is that we're coming to the end of this process. We've won twice as many states, we've won the popular vote by fairly substantial margins, we've got a very big lead in pledged delegates, and we competed, win or lose."

Weekly churchgoers made up almost 36 percent of Tuesday's electorate, and they went to Clinton by a 56-44 margin. More than a third of the voters were gun owners, and they preferred Clinton by a similar margin: 60 percent to 40 percent, the polls found.

But the contest appears to have left a bad taste in the mouth of many voters: Eleven percent of those voting in the Democratic race said they would vote for McCain over Clinton. Another 6 percent said they would stay home in a race between McCain and Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady.

Ten percent of Democrats said they would sit on their hands in a McCain-Obama race, and 15 percent said they would vote for McCain over the Illinois senator.

A total of 158 delegates to the party's August convention in Denver were at stake Tuesday night, with delegates allocated by congressional district and weighted toward districts with strong performances. Clinton trails Obama in the number of delegates each has won to the August convention and would need to win by a large margin to make up much ground.

Pennsylvania has high percentages of some core Clinton constituencies: Catholics, voters over 60 and blue-collar workers. She led strongly in all those categories, according to exit polls, and Obama led strongly among voters 18-29.

Clinton had the support of the state's top Democrats: Gov. Ed Rendell and the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. But another leading Clinton backer, Johnstown-area congressman John Murtha, said Clinton "has to" win the state.

"That's all there is to it," Murtha said.

As in previous contests, the slumping economy was the No. 1 issue among Pennsylvania voters, polls found, and Clinton led Obama by a double-digit margin, 56 percent to 44 percent, among voters who considered it their top concern.

Fifty-four percent ranked the economy the biggest issue, placing it far ahead of the next-highest issue, the war in Iraq. Among voters who ranked the war their top issue, Obama reversed Clinton's edge to lead 56-44.

Admittedly, I am much more sympathetic to Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton. This is in large part because his last name is not Clinton and not associated with all of the right-wing legislation that was passed during the Clinton Presidency, which Hillary supported--such as NAFTA and the Welfare Reform Act (even lobbying for its passage, after betraying her political friend and mentor, child-rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman). Most importantly, Barack Obama opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, which Senator Clinton did not, at least until around 2004 or 2005 (depending on which speech you believe). Of course, Obama is hardly a perfect figure for progressives. He has stated his support for the death penalty, has a health care plan every bit as watered down as Senator Clinton's, and while right on Iraq has also made remarks about Pakistan that almost sound like a call for a pre-emptive invasion.

The clincher in cementing my dislike for the Hillary Clinton 2008 Presidential campaign has been the low-level race-baiting. Be it Senator Clinton's campaign staff sending a picture of Senator Obama in a local garb during an African trip to the Drudge Report (with the intent of making Obama look like a radical Muslim), Clinton campaign finance director and ex-VP nominee Geraldine Ferraro openly race-baiting Senator Obama by claiming he is receiving special treatment because he is black, to the hit squad speeches of people like Bill Clinton (again, claiming that Obama was "using the race card" on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary to whiten Clinton's support in the state [the one and most loyal voting bloc to her campaign]). It is something right out of George Wallace 1968, and to see so many liberals within the party willingly sticking their heads in the sand, knowing that Senator Obama cannot complain (without fear of being accused of "playing the race card" [thereby realizing what his opponents have been trying to do all along, which is constrict Senator Obama's base to African Americans only]), has been one of the real disgraces of this campaign.

And where is the Democratic leadership? Mostly behind Senator Clinton. It says much that the vast majority of the elected white Democratic officials have backed Clinton in this campaign, even thought they are well aware there is no way, even with Pennsylvania, that she can win the popular vote or elected delegates before the convention. Knowing this, why support Clinton? Loyalty to a party from a family that has done more to destroy the remaining progressive roots of the Democratic Party?

The support of unions is the most odious of all. When Bill Clinton was elected President back in 1992, he ran for office as a pro-union Democrat. He criticized trade pacts that hurt American workers and called for a striker replacement bill (sound familiar?). When Bill was elected President in 1992, he had a near 3 to 2 Democratic advantage in the House and Senate. He spent absolutely no time, not one minute, campaigning for a striker replacement bill, which died in committee (a Democratic one, in which the President who ran for office on signing an anti-scab bill did nothing to stop). And yet, during the year 1993, Bill Clinton's first as President, he found time, over a hundred hours, to personally lobby and campaign members of Congress for the passage of NAFTA. In fact, the same NAFTA that Hillary Clinton is so mildly critical of today, she supported the passage of in 1993 in multiple public speeches. And what are Senator Clinton's words on a striker replacement bill today?

It is not an understatement to say that NAFTA has probably done more to destroy the blue collar and industrial base of this country's work force than any piece of legislation in American history. It is the Poor Law of the American worker, not because it liquidated all of those jobs to Mexico (although this took place to some extent). It was the death knell of the American worker because NAFTA was the precursor to its global version, GATT. The moving of capital and jobs across borders without consideration of worker's rights, wages, and jobs is why states like Ohio and Pennsylvania have lost 1 out of 6 jobs in traditional industries in the last decade. It is why the Midwest is being turned into a modern day clearinghouse for coming ghost towns and post-industrial cities (Youngstown, Ohio, a steel town, has seen its population halved in two decades and Pittsburgh shrank by 60% since the mid 1960s). And what is labor's response to the people who stabbed them in the back, cut them off at the knees, and slit the artery veins of their base's jobs year after year? Note that Clinton 2008 does not even bother to campaign on the issue of a striker replacement bill.

If Gerald McEntee, the leader of AFSCME (one of the largest unions in this country and a longtime Clinton supporter), honestly thinks that Hillary Clinton is going to represent his interests, he will be as mistaken as he was in 1992 (back when he put his support behind Bill Clinton). I remember that campaign because I was a member of a related union and received some of the AFSCME "literature" at that time. I remember the speeches McEntee made on behalf of Bill Clinton during the '92 primaries, claiming that only Bill Clinton would get a striker replacement bill and only he would stand up for American workers in trade agreements (as then Governor Clinton used Bush's support of trade with China to criticize Bush Sr. for "coddling" the "butchers of Beijing"). The same Gerald McEntee is now making near identical speeches on behalf of Hillary Clinton, knowing (and there is no way he can be so blind) that she will never try to renegotiate NAFTA and will pay as much attention to a striker replacement bill as the average Republican. He knows she supported the passage of NAFTA and still supports it today (only advancing a greater enforcement of toothless environmental and labor rights side agreements in the treaty [which even then was not taken seriously by McEntee, who opposed the passage of NAFTA]). How can any person who considers him or herself responsible for the livelihoods of over a million workers in good conscience be so gullible as to return the support of someone whose rhetorical advocacy helped lead to the passage of the greatest killer of American jobs in the post-World War Two era?

So, then, why are so many labor leaders content to being treated like useful idiots come election time, knowing they will be deserted even if their candidate wins? That is an open question to me and it is one I do not understand to this day. I can guarantee that if you ask the leadership of the AFL-CIO, you are not going to receive an honest answer (I know of not a single union person in my family who thinks that the side agreements of NAFTA are anything more than a ruse to bolster trade bills designed to subsidize the stockholders at the expense of pauperized workers). That alone should exemplify why unions are so irrelevant in this country--the liquid spines of its leadership. The only thing that would not surprise me more is if they went ahead and endorsed John McCain. It would be a more honest expression of what they really think of themselves and their membership.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Real Rebel

Meet Mohamed Bougrine. He is one of the oldest leftist resistance fighters in the world. It is remarkable that he has lived though as much as he has.

The Moroccan jailed by three kings

Mohamed Bougrine has been a constant thorn in the flesh of the Moroccan authorities - resistance fighter, dissident and human rights campaigner. James Copnall meets a man who expects to return to jail, despite a recent royal pardon.

Seventy-two-year-old Mohamed Bougrine is not just the "prisoner of three kings".

He also held another title - Morocco's oldest political detainee - but that no longer applies.

At the beginning of the month, the old man was given a royal pardon, following several months in jail for what the authorities termed "lacking the respect due to the king".

Mohamed had taken to the streets in solidarity with men who had been locked up on a May Day march.

Armed struggle

Since he was a teenager, Mohamed has been campaigning against what he sees as evident injustice.

First it was the French colonisers. Then it was the Moroccan monarchy that replaced them.

A committed left-winger and human rights activist, he does not flinch from admitting he participated in armed movements against the state.

At first, it is difficult to reconcile that flinty portrait with the man who steps out of his house to greet me, a maroon cape billowing around him, a fluffy white hat on his head and a friendly gleam in his eyes.

Inside his modest but impeccably tidy home, Mohamed is true to the traditions of Moroccan hospitality, keen to make sure his visitors are at ease, while his wife, Fatima, pours mint tea from a burnished silver pot and distributes pastries.

But when he starts to describe his six jail terms, the steely strength of his determination becomes clear.

First arrest

"I was arrested for the first time 17 March 1960," he says, every date stuck in his mind.

"I was freed on Thursday 30 December 1966."

He had taken up arms against the royal army, and was heavily beaten in prison, he says.

That experience did not come close to stopping him.

Mohamed was imprisoned four times under the next Moroccan king, Hassan II, sometimes for supporting resistance movements, at other times for his political activity.

Hassan II was highly regarded for his political skills, but presided over a dictatorial regime in which opponents and human rights activists were regularly rounded up and tortured.

Mohamed does not try to hide the crimes he committed which led him to jail - indeed he seems proud of his personal acts against the regime.

But in the middle of his story, narrated in a clear, even voice, he suddenly loses control of his emotions.

Twenty-six of his comrades were killed in prison, he explains - and as he does so his voice cracks.

Then, he says, struggling to get the words out, they stripped his mother-in-law naked in front of him, to humiliate them both.

Difficult years

Suddenly the upright militant can no longer keep the tears from flowing.

Fatima hands him a paper tissue and he wipes his eyes, apologising profusely for his lack of control.

"I love my wife," he says, in a quiet but firm way that brings a timid but very proud smile to her face.

The many years Mohamed spent in jail were clearly extremely difficult for his family.

His son grew up without his father for the first five years of his life - and everyone was shocked when Mohamed was arrested again last year.

His royal pardon came just a few days before King Mohamed VI visited Beni Mellal on a tour of the regions.

The long road leading past Mohamed Bougrine's house, named after the king who first imprisoned him, is crowded with the red and green Moroccan flags, and larger-than-life portraits of the current sovereign, to celebrate his day in the town.

It was another reminder of the cult of personality around the king, one which has scarcely changed over the years.

'Despotic regimes'

Mohamed Bougrine seems a good person to ask if life in Morocco is improving under Mohamed VI.

Hassan II's son received high praise for opening up Morocco when he came to the throne in 1999.

Prisoners were released, more rights granted, and some of the abuses of the past were admitted, for the first time.

Still, the old man in the white hat is not convinced.

"Hassan II ruled the country with an iron fist," Mohamed says.

"Mohamed VI rules with an iron fist - but in a velvet glove."

"He talks about reconciliation and humanitarian issues, but it's all a bluff."

Mohamed Bougrine says he has no personal problems with the three kings who have locked him up, and has no desire for revenge.

But he wants a true democracy for his country, and says almost all Arab regimes are despotic.

His 27-year-old son - the one who hardly knew his father growing up - is already a human rights campaigner, ready to follow in his dad's footsteps.

As I get ready to head back to Rabat, I ask Mohamed a last question.

After more than a decade in jail, after being tortured and humiliated, and at his advanced age, would he be prepared to go to prison again for his beliefs?

The response was as firm as this extraordinary man's convictions.

"I don't think I have been in jail for the last time, and it doesn't scare me," he said. "I am fighting for a better Morocco."

It is a pity there are not more people like him in Morocco, heck, in the US.

And speaking of some successful rebels, who are actually progressive and able to succeed, it appears the Maoists are going to take power in Nepal and end the autocratic monarchy of this troubled country (a monarchy whose current holders on power came to authority by fratricide).

Nepal Maoists on track to dominate new government

Saturday, April 19, 2008

KATHMANDU: Nepal’s Maoists are set to dominate a new assembly tasked with rewriting the Himalayan nation’s constitution but are likely to be short of an absolute majority, officials said on Friday. With the count from the April 10 elections still in progress and 601 seats in a constitutional assembly up for grabs, the former rebels have won nearly half of the 240 seats allocated by the first past the post system.

They are also on track to win around a third of the 335 seats allocated by proportional representation, election official Dilliram Bastola told AFP.

This would give them a total of around 230 or more seats in the assembly - making them the largest single bloc but still required to work with their mainstream rivals.

The count is expected to be finished next week, after which a new interim government will also be formed on the basis of the results.

“The Maoists will not be able to get a clear majority,” political analyst Bhaskar Gautam told AFP. “They will need around 60 per cent of votes under the proportional representation system, which is impossible. They will probably end up with between 240-260 seats.”

The performance of the fiercely republican Maoists almost certainly means the end of King Gyanendra’s 240-year-old dynasty, as the body is supposed to officially abolish the monarchy in its first meeting.

The elections were a central part of a 2006 peace deal that ended a decade-long Maoist insurgency.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Village Idiots

The recent brouhaha over Senator Obama’s statements about small town voters is still being used, to a much greater extent, by the media and, sadly, by what constituted ABC’s debate questioners the other night. What is not being done by the Newsweeks and Times’ is to review exactly what Senator Obama said and test the results of his statements. The Senator’s sentiments are as follows.


You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, a lot of them — like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they’ve gone through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

It is understandable why Hillary Clinton would accuse this of sounding “elitist.” After all, it was Bill Clinton’s Presidency who was one of the guilty parties in helping to bring this about, especially his support for free trade (which Senator Clinton supported during her years as First Lady). And naturally, as a member of a party that represents the interests of the upper income tax bracket, it is even less surprising that Senator McCain would disagree with such views.

What is not addressed often enough, however, outside of the liberal media sphere, is the use of those wedge issues to maintain political power, or as Senator Inhofe once said in responding to how the Republicans became the majority party in the ‘90s, “God, guns, and gays.” To that ends, the unfortunate truth is that for the most part Senator Obama is right about small town and rural voters in America. They do tend to represent the most religious and violently reactionary elements in our society, historically and even today. I know because I have lived among these people for the past several years, and it is at times during my encounters with these folk that I realize what Marx meant when he referred to the idiocy of rural life. Certainly, this is not a nice thing to say about voters come election time. No one likes being told that they are using their belief in a make believe friend (on par with Santa Claus and the tooth fairy) to justify hating someone for being a faux Muslim, further rationalizing their racially-motivated disinclination to vote for a black person that is running for office.

And yet, why is it that we do not ask these questions about small town and rural white voters? We see nothing wrong with attacking poor people and especially minorities who live in inner cities. We even give air time to millionaire members of such communities, who attack their own with the glee that only Rush Limbaugh could admire. But if you attack the Christian religion and the values of the same people who gave us the Ku Klux Klan, you are suddenly committing political suicide? How many of those voters are voting for a progressive anyway? Maybe in the minds of those few remaining leftist Ron Paul supporters, but no one in the real world can be that deluded.

I will never forget an encounter I had with one of these beloved white rural Americans back in 2004. She was a nice enough lady, in her 60s, just retired as a secretary at my university, but was in dire straits because her husband had no health insurance from his employer and just suffered a heart attack. This poor woman did everything she could to come back out of retirement, so she could receive the university’s health insurance (the one for retirees apparently did not cover most of the costs for her husband’s mountainous debts from his extensive hospital stays). There were people in my department, the chair, and a few of us who went to bat for this lady, trying to convince the administration to re-hire her, but like most university admin they ignored us.

This proud lady that I had come to know and like over the years was forced out of retirement and taking a job at a particular chain store, just to receive the extra insurance to take care of her husband. The man almost died in between all of this. What makes this significant is that when I asked her who she voted for in the elections, she proudly said George Bush. When I informed her that the man she voted for opposes the universality of the kind of healthcare services her family most needed, she defended herself by saying, “but he supports the life of the unborn. He believes in our God.” Her Christian values, in her mind, compelled her to vote for a candidate with a healthcare plan that equaled having tax shelter accounts for payments to the same unregulated industry that was legally allowed to overcharge her husband tens of thousands of dollars for healthcare--to summate, she knew she was voting for someone whose remedy for her ills was to not get sick.

And that is not the first time I have encountered voters like the lady I used to work with. Still, there comes a time when the obvious needs to be stated, even at the expense of someone’s feelings. If you are willing to die or potentially allow someone to be physically injured or waste away in bankruptcy because you think some invisible man tells you that a fetus is equivalent to a live human being, then you are the last individual who should be voting in any election. Having the vote does not mean having to intellectually suffer fools, and there is nothing more foolish than hearing someone who should know better, who has the personal experience and circumstances to fully comprehend the situation, and yet willfully chooses the blissful ignorance of the make pretend. Admittedly, I too once believed in Santa, but I grew up, and I certainly do not base my politics on such trivialities, particularly as an adult. It is a sad state of affairs that people continue to live in such blindness, and if it insults them, then they deserve nothing less.

And speaking of bitterness, what about the special treatment of small town and rural voters? When whites complain about affirmative action, what about the greatest affirmative action for rural white people in the US, the Electoral College? Rural states (filled primarily with these hateful voters) receive approximately 10% more electoral representation overall through the Electoral College--a handout that not only overinflates their numbers, but allots them with extra protection of their political interests. Imagine if we gave extra electoral votes to all states that had sizable minority voters. You would be sure the Limbaughs would complain about that.