Tag Archives: racism

Keep your friends close & family closer

Defriend on FacebookI defriended my cousin on Facebook. My father’s mother’s brother’s son. I feel bad about it, but he had stepped over the virtual line we had drawn by posting another pseudo-political diatribe/comment on my wall.

My cousin’s belief system has little room for fact and he has found that Facebook is the perfect pulpit for his sputem-stained dogma. Please don’t misunderstand, I have tremendous respect and admiration for people of faith – especially, religious faith, faith in aliens, faith in spouses, children, the dollar – that sort of thing. I really don’t think it is any of my business what someone believes that makes them happy or provides them the peace or comfort we all need to get through this life. Shoot, at appropriate times, I even think it might be wonderful when they share their life’s experience in the context of faith. I actually believe a couple things, too.

However, I do have a problem with people who pick fights on my Facebook wall, in front of my virtual friends and family, and lie, misrepresent, subvert and attempt to recruit others into drinking the cult tea of faith-cloaked narcissistic xenophobic ignorance, hatred and racism. It’s perfectly ok to be stupid, but keep it to yourself or share it quietly with people of a similar dementia. And for goodness sakes, don’t publicly embarrass the whole family after we have all spent a lifetime trying to hide our variations of bat shit crazy.

My cousin’s mom and dad were two of the kindest and enlightened people I have known. They were conservative when that label had nothing to do with politics – they were humble, loving and devoted. My cousin’s dad spent his working life as a government social worker – giving up better pay for the service of people. At least on Facebook, my cousin is an arrogant self-righteous sociopath.

I used to meet my cousin’s dad for coffee at Carpenter Brothers’ drug store where we’d talk and laugh about the news and politics. My cousin listens to talk radio, parrots it on Facebook and has no visible sense of humor.

For years, I tried to pretend his rants were a sophisticated, but twisted form of satire. That I could learn about this strange side of America who believes our President is not a citizen; a practicing Muslim, as if that mattered; both a socialist and a fascist; has a goal to bankrupt the country to achieve some unknown goal somehow related to illegal immigration; unregulated greed is better than equal protection; that democracy has been subverted when their candidate loses; that there can be simplistic solutions to solve complicated problems; and success is an indication of your favor with god while kindness, respect and understanding are abominations.

I had turned down his volume as low as Facebook allows, what was I to do, poke him?

The day the music died

Something sinister must have occurred to start the cycle we are in now.

A cycle in which our political center has moved. When being “pro-business” became more politically popular than being “pro-worker.” When being for “free markets” could rally crowds and “consumer protection” would bring on “boos.” When prosecuting a “war on terrorism” stokes jingoism instead of fears of “nation building,” while “presumption of innocence,” “due process” and the “right to counsel” was the treasonous coddling of our enemies. When “gun rights” became more important than “insuring domestic tranquility.” When “faith” could claim a higher standing than “fact,” or “truth,” or “science.” When a call for “tort reform” was politically correct and “rights to redress grievances” became archaic. When discrimination based on “immigration status” became acceptable and mainstream. When clean water and air became associated with our world “competitiveness” and the cost not to pollute became associated with jobs. When “illegal” addiction would become criminalized with three strikes and you’re out while “legal” addiction would be promoted in prime time and on nightly stock market reports. When farm subsidies turned into corporate farm subsidies and small farms began disappearing throughout our hemisphere. When simple charity and kindness came mean “socialism” or worse? When we forgot why we had had anti-monopoly laws, taxed inheritance and regulated trade. Exactly when did “corporations” begin to have the rights of people, but so much more power? When did the music of the great society die?

There are cycles to our young republic that affect individual rights, justice, fairness and equality. Since our beginning we have moved from plutocracy to populism to oligarchy to kleptocracy and back. And forth. From idealism to materialism. From racism, to closet racism, to pragmatic racism. From nationalism, to imperialism, to isolationism, to exceptionalism. From secular, to criminal, to “in god we trust” to “born again” rule. From open immigration toward closed borders. From due process, to no process and interdiction. From hope to fear. Boom to bust. Republican to Democrat. From divided, to united, to polarized. And variations in between.

November 5, 1968.

1968, as years go, was a hellish time. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Lyndon Johnson was losing wars, Vietnam and the one on poverty. These wars divided our politics, our families and our generations. The US went off the gold standard. North Korea captured one of our spy ships and held its crew hostage for almost a year. The Civil Rights Act was signed amid protests from last generations’ Tea Party. We installed Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Pope condemned the use of birth control. Russia re-invaded Czechoslovakia. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their arms in a black power salute during the worldwide telecast of the Olympics. NBC cut off the final 1:05 of the Raiders-Jets football game to air the movie, “Heidi.” Airlines were hijacked to Cuba. Yale began admitting women. Jackie married Ari. During a violent Democratic convention, the sitting Vice-President from Minnesota defeated the populist, anti-war Minnesota senator, leaving most of the country wondering where the hell Minnesota was, and why the Democrats would think that we would want four more years of what we’d just lived through. Richard, aka: Dirty Dick, Milhous Nixon, with future felon, Spiro Agnew, became the Republican nominees. And “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” former Alabama governor, George Wallace with insane pro-nuke sidekick General Curtis LeMay, ran on the American Independent ticket and went on to garner over 13% of the vote.

November 5, 1968 was the day America elected the former Joe McCarthy inquisitor and former and almost-never-was-because-of-illegal-campaign contributions Eisenhower Vice President, former failed Presidential candidate, confirmed paranoid, anti-semite, homophobe, scare-mongering, foul-mouthed, dirty-campaigning, compulsively obsessed with a war on drugs, FBI and IRS abusing, media manipulating, Southern strategy architect, Bebe Roboso campaign money laundering, wire-tapping, lying, future-Watergate-burglary-conspirator, justice obstructor, power abusing, contempt of Congress, but pardoned, future impeachee, bigot, “I’ve got a secret plan to end the war, but I’m not going to tell you what it is because I don’t have one,” president.

It should be noted, that when Richard Milhous Nixon was elected, most of us didn’t know with certainty that he would one day be impeached for being so mind-bogglingly paranoid that he would do something as stupid as Watergate and actually get caught. The rest, however, was pretty common knowledge at the time.

So, how did this change things?

  • Campaign money. A little background: on this day, campaign contributions were limited by the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (revised in 1925 and several other times), which required Senators and Congresspersons to limit contributions by any single contributor (individuals, unions and corporations) to $5,000 and to report contributions within 10 days of the election. It had never been enforced. After the election of 1968, the Clerk of the House, Pat Jennings, decided to report violators to the Justice Department. The Justice Department, led by should-have-been-a-felon AG Ramsey Clark, and later by, future-felon AG, John Mitchell, ignored it.
    Corruption hardly began with Nixon, but his presidency set a new standard for the accumulation huge amounts of illegal and off-the-books contributions. They raised millions, and actually kept hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in the White House to fund secret campaign operatives, operations and dirty tricks. Post-Watergate, the rules changed a bit, but the cycle had begun: the quiet corruption changed overnight into an all out assault for campaign money. Everyone did it. Everyone got away with it and still does. And every large corporation knows they can bribe anyone in politics for special tax breaks, limited oversight, limited liability and most anything we don’t want to think about. This tiny event in our history, may have been the seed for most everything in the cycle that followed.
  • The Courts. Richard Nixon was in office for just five and half years, but was able to appoint four justices to the Supreme Court: Warren Burger, Harry Blackmum, Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist. Their appointments set the court solidly conservative as it remains today (Republicans had the White House for 32 of the 42 years before Obama). Combine a solidly conservative Supreme Court with 32 years of a solidly conservative Justice Department and the cycle begins to seem obvious.
  • Farm Subsidies. Yes, blame Nixon and Earl Butz. For corporate farms, monopolistic control of our food supply, genetic mutant seeds; excessive run off, huge pig farms, corn subsidies which have led to high-fructose corn syrup which has helped fuel the obesity problem, corn subsidies, which led to corn-based ethanol ,which sucks all the momentum from efficient alternative bio-fuels, subsidized, unfair trade, which undermined the family farms in our southern hemisphere, and deserves a great part of the blame for our immigration problem. When bread prices shot up before the election in 1972 because of a deal to ship huge amounts of grain to Russia, Nixon called in Earl Butz and told him that this was never to happen again. It hasn’t. The administration changed the subsidy system to stimulate production, resulting in a market glut and continually depressed below what-it-even-costs-a-farmer-in-Mexico-to-produce prices. And those subsidies underwrite the campaign donations to the small states that every year elect two Republican senators.
  • Deregulation. It was Nixon who proposed deregulation of the transportation industry and his appointed successor/pardoner, Gerald Ford, who signed into law the bill that first deregulated trucking and trains. Future Republican administrations continued his phased plan by deregulating shipping and airlines. Then energy, communication and banking. Yes, Nixon is responsible for the cycle that created the mess in airline travel, the mess on Wall Street and the mess in the Gulf.
  • The Southern Strategy. Nixon is most often credited for it, or Harry Dent, but some suggest that Nixon learned of it from George Herbert Walker Bush, who first reached out to the those disenfranchised former Southern Democrats in 1966 to become the first Republican to win a Congressional seat in Houston. The strategy was pretty simple: reach out to the former Southern civil war states with a pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-busing, anti-civil rights, anti-union, anti-hippie/free speech, anti-elite, anti-journalist, anti-evolution, anti-welfare, antebellum states rights message. Basically, the same party of “no” issues we have today.
  • The War on Drugs. Nixon flat out hated drugs. Not because of the pain it causes society or individual addicts, but because he believed deep down in his dark soul that it was in the nature of African-Americans to use drugs and that they sold it to young whites to turn them in to hippies (I’m not making this up). Under Nixon, the drug laws were re-written, which were the basis of the infamous Rockefeller drug laws creating easy prosecution and long prison terms for small amounts of drugs classified with these rules as “narcotics.” Under Nixon, and with the help of J. Edgar Hoover and Elvis Presley, the DEA was created. Under Nixon, we began sending weapons and money to tyrants in South America to execute a war on drugs (and revolution) on our behalf. The groundwork was laid to put a million people a year in prison, disproportionately black – which also, of course, got them off the voter rolls.
  • Anti-Communist Witch Hunts. Nixon cut his political teeth prosecuting Alger Hess and working for Joe McCarthy. His legacy of looking for “pinkos” reverberates on Fox news to this day. It may not be the reason that the “nabobs of negativism” no longer flourish in newspapers across the country, but the stench of the cycle seems to emanate clearly from this day.
  • China Policy. Seems pretty weird that this anti-communist would open up China? For Nixon, this was about his fear of red horde; it was about his legacy, his debt to campaign contributers and global trade. Cheap labor. Political payback to unions and industrialized states. His last snicker.

When I set out to write this, I wanted to find out what had happened to us. What had turned a generation so idealistic that we wouldn’t trust anyone over 30* to one that seems powerless and motionless on issues so similar today and of such heart-wrenching importance. What was keeping us from marching. What turned us so cynical. What changed us that we are quiet on the spewed and tainted politics and injustice of today.

Was there a moment? A point in time when we gave up and walked away? I kept coming back to the election of Richard Nixon as the moment when this terrible cycle began. There are plenty of others who built on his legacy of paranoia, division and hate – devil spawn of Reagan, Gingrich, Bush, Bush and Cheney. But I have drawn a line from that day to this one and feel it is time he acknowledged for his accomplishment.

Since the beginning, our cycles have always been connected to our wars, and to some degree, to our prosperity. I pray that some years from now, November 4, 2008 will be recognized for the beginning of the next cycle and that our wars will end.



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*Updated, we shouldn’t trust anyone over 75 – When Jack Weinberg was quoted by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in 1965 saying, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” he was being sarcastic. Weinberg was a 24-year old activist at Berkeley and had been asked if the Free Speech Movement was being manipulated by outside adults. Unlike most of the rest of us, Weinberg kept believing, speaking, and, often getting arrested demonstrating. He dropped out of graduate school to work for civil rights in the South. In 1969, believing that societal change couldn’t occur without blue collar America (it was the time of the “silent majority”), he moved to the Midwest, working in automotive and steel plants and being active in the unions. It was in Gary that he’d spend five years working to see that a nuclear power plant would never be built. An economic downturn took him to Chicago where his involvement in the environmental moment turned into a full time job with Greenpeace, where, at 70, he’s still active today, but even Jack, hasn’t been arrested for demonstrating for while (almost 10 years, Manila).

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*Note: the story was edited to reflect a couple of mindless mistakes that are noted in the comments.

Themmigration Reform

A reasonable suspect

The only thing to fear is them themselves.
It is going around. There are at least ten other states, Utah, Georgia, Colorado, Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska among them, considering anti-immigration laws in the same spirit as the one passed by Arizona (ThinkProgress.org). Arizona’s new law requires law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” So, what would make you reasonably suspect someone? Language? Accent? Skin color? Hair type? Height? Weight? Surname? Intelligence? Car type? Living conditions? No driver’s license? Proximity to the border with Mexico? All of the above? Yes, that would be profiling. Constitutional? No telling from this court.

Los Angeles May Day rally in support of reform and rights - Lucas Jackson / Reuters

The Arizona law requires that those without documentation prove they are in the US legally (show me your papers), and are also to be charged with criminal trespass, confined and fined, at least, $500. The federal government does reimburse states and municipalities for confinement, so this may be nothing more than a way to turn a profit to Arizona for running prisons – sorta like parts of Texas does, but that’s another story.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that this law is not just about racism, xenophobia, fear, blame, census-forced redistricting and political penis measuring. It is also about funding civic services including schools, public safety, indigent medical care, unfair job competition – and, the despised, but desperately needed, deficit-financed by our children, federal funding. What it is not about, is solving any long-term problem or cause, civil decency or human rights.

What Goes Around Comes Around.
How soon we forget. Much of the west has a pretty short and convenient memory. Issues about who belongs where and who owns what is a pretty new idea. Arizona, and all the lands from Florida to California, has a much longer history being part of colonial Mexico/New Spain, than the United States – about 300 years. When we started migrating into Florida and out west about 160 years ago, we didn’t much care that we were the immigrants without documentation. On second thought, perhaps, Arizonians do remember.

In 1803, we bought the Louisiana Territories, which stretched to the north to the Dakotas and west to much of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and half of Colorado. By 1810, the illegals from the US outnumbered the Spanish in Florida and West Florida (southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and southern Alabama) was annexed by that famously, over-reaching president, constitution-writing, James Madison. During the next decade, it became clear that the indigenous people who had lived in these territories for 20,000 years, were bad for business, so we began a century of genocide. Among the early annihilations were the Seminoles by an army commanded by Andrew Jackson, which launched his political career with this campaign in 1818. A year later, Jackson formally took control of Florida from the Spanish in an agreement to renounce all claims to Texas, but he didn’t mean it.

160 years ago, we were the illegal immigrants

By 1835, Jackson was dead set on getting all the land west to California. More accurately, he wanted California and didn’t much care about the rest. By that time, the US immigrants to East Texas outnumbered the Mexicans and declared their independence. Mexico, on the other hand, considered all of Texas still part of Mexico. The Texans, fearing they didn’t have enough guns, were bailed out by a free-spending Congress who forgave their debts and made them a state so they would qualify for all kinds of federal programs,  including fort building and war making. This really pissed off Mexico, so we got out our checkbook and offered a deal too good to refuse to buy most everything we wanted. The deal was turned down, so we picked a fight (there was no UN in 1846), won, and took what is now the western half of Texas, part of Colorado and all of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, and Nevada. Which led, of course, to the civil war, but that, again, is another story.

My version of this history should indicate my bias that these Arizona children of principally European immigrants have an awfully lot in common with the Central and South American and Caribbean children of principally European immigrants.

Why is it that this issue has not been dealt with in Congress?
I dare say that immigration reform is the least popular initiative in America today. Everyone hates the problem and the remedy. There may never be 60 votes in the Senate to solve immigration issues.

Some of the issues:

    We have 108 miles of fence along our 1,969 mile southern border so far - should be finished in 2040

  • Secure our southern border. It is an almost ridiculous ambition to erect and guard the 1,969 miles we share, and yet, if we have laws, shouldn’t we enforce them? The current estimate for 700 miles of fence is $49 billion and would be expected to last just 25 years. Five years into it, we’ve gotten 106 miles finished (in those areas, immigrants must tunnel, use ladders or go around it) – at that rate, we will finish the fence in 2040, but then it will be worn out and need to be replaced. To date, we have also spent $1.1 billion on a seven mile virtual fence (high tech radars, cameras and motion detectors) that doesn’t work and are planning to build another 53 miles of it. The Obama administration has recently frozen funding until the private contractor can make it work or lobbyists can convince our government that it shouldn’t have to.
  • Path to citizenship. Their presence here breaks our laws which makes them ineligible to apply for citizenship. Should they return to their native country and apply, the application requires they affirm that they have not broken the laws of the US, which, of course, is the catch 22. They could lie, but our background checks are thorough and they would be caught. Any path to citizenship would require the ”A“ word – amnesty. Those supporting it have long included a call for a fine and penalty which wouldn’t be amnesty, but amnesty is what it would be called on Fox.
  • Sheer numbers. Depending on who is guessing, it is generally believed there are 10-20 million people living in the US illegally. Arizona entire population is 6.5 million, but, of course, those unlawfully present, don’t have two senators.
  • Family values. US-born children have rights to citizenship. Were their parents to be deported, do we split up the families?
  • Human rights. Among other issues, they have limited rights and protections in our courts and almost none in our immigration courts; are not allowed to vote; risk confiscation of property; are not legally allowed to work and if they do, are often are forced to work below minimum wage and without workplace safety standards; cannot legally obtain health insurance or a bank account; and are often victims of crime or preyed upon by nefarious business (for instance: check cashing companies) wishing to capitalize on their plight. Millions of them have lived here for decades, own property, operate businesses, attend church, obey laws and are frightened of detainment or deportation at all times. Tens of millions of people are living in a shadow economy without human rights and at odds with the ideals of American democracy.
  • Cost to provide services. Their children attend schools and sometimes require special language consideration; they use our hospitals, often as indigents; using fraudulent identification, many take advantage of food stamps and other government programs; government must pay for indirect services such as police and fire protection, roads, water, sewer, prisons, etc.
  • Armed services. They serve legally in our armed forces, but their status does not change upon their return.
  • Taxes and Social Security. Many pay only local sales taxes. Income taxes and social security can only be paid if they are using fraudulent identification.
  • Drugs and worse. Border crossings are all mixed up with drugs, violent crime, rape, forced labor, forced prostitution and the like.
  • Language. Many are concerned that undocumented workers don’t speak “American” and are afraid they’ll be called a name and not be properly insulted.
  • Jobs. US unemployment is around 10% and it is assumed it would be lower if workers here illegally would stop competing for jobs. Business on the other hand, needs these workers for specialized jobs, such as computer programming or picking Vidalia onions.
  • Employer enforcement. The Chambers of Commerce, who spend more than the national GOP or the national Dems on campaigns, don’t want businesses to get into the business of determining who’s here illegally.
  • The Central and South American and Caribbean standard of living. Until it improves, the faucet of aliens crossing our southern border won’t stop.
  • Blame. It isn’t healthy, but it is human nature.
  • Voting. Those gaining citizenship generally vote democrat.

How to solve it:

Incrementalism. Themmigration reform is complicated. The right says that thousand+ page bills are too complicated to be read, understood, spin, parse or pass. They are right. Short of some strategic major Senate scandals requiring resignation, illness or flip-flop, no omnibus bill is going to get to the floor. The right called for incremental bills on health care, finance and energy, why not take their bluff? Introduce a series of simple and separate bills addressing each of the issues. Bring a couple of important bills for vote. Something like:

  • Fully fund the fence even though it will never work, pay for more border patrols and the National Guard (as soon as they get home from Afghanistan), but require taxes on the the top 1% to pay for it.
  • Everyone here illegally, but with no felony criminal record, can pay an application fee that would go to the states, get a green card good for six-months and it comes with a method to pay social security and taxes. At the end of the time, they must either go home or apply for citizenship to get it renewed. During the time they here as documented workers, they would be required to do part-time community service.
  • Assuming no felony criminal record, parents, grandparents and siblings of children born in the US of illegal aliens, could get in the middle of the line for citizenship without fear of being deported or separated from their families in return for a paying an application fee and a one time $10,000 fine which could be financed, the proceeds of which, would go to the states, and four years of part-time community service.
  • Those here illegally under the age of 24, after serving in the US Armed Forces, would be in the front of the line for citizenship with no penalty or other requirement.
  • Everyone else here illegally, assuming no felony criminal record, can get in line for citizenship without fear of being deported or separated from their families in return for a paying an application fee and a one time $10,000 fine which could be financed, the proceeds of which, would go to the states, and eight years of part-time community service.
  • Business would have the responsibility of examining and reporting employee applicant status and be subject to a big fine for failure to do so – states would be responsible for ensuring compliance and collecting the fines.
  • Create a favored status for investment in Central and South American and Caribbean with all kinds of incentives the world might deem unfair, to raise their standard of living and give some of these people a chance to live in their own land and survive. Include in some extra incentives for Mexico to create a safety net for their people.

Simple and separate bills that get introduced, debated and voted on. Get them to the floor for an up, or down vote. The toughest wouldn’t pass. Some would, and that’d be a start.

The levels of irony should not be lost.

There’s never been a fence. If you have ever been in the Southwest, one thing seems clear: there is a lot of it and most all of it looks the same. Those lines we draw on the maps, mean a lot to those who draw them and profit from them, but seem pretty meaningless if you are just staring out on the prairie. It is little wonder that a person whose family is starving, doesn’t start walking north to the land of their fore-parents and a land where the majority of people are like them: hardworking, family-oriented, and children of immigrants in a new world.

“Civil disobedience” is a term coined by Henry David Thoreau in 1848 in an essay about his decision not to pay a poll tax to fund a war with Mexico and catching fugitive slaves. Civil disobedience. Isn’t an unenforceable, inexplicable and unjust law what all of the “us-versus-them” immigration debate is really about?

“Civil disobedience is the active refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power, using no form of violence. It is one of the primary methods of nonviolent resistance. In its most nonviolent form … it could be said that it is compassion in the form of respectful disagreement. …Civil disobedience is one of the many ways people have rebelled against unfair laws. It has been used in many well-documented nonviolent resistance movements in India… in Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution and in East Germany to oust their communist dictatorships… in South Africa in the fight against apartheid, in the American Civil Rights Movement, in the Singing Revolution to bring independence to the Baltic countries from the Soviet Union, and recently in the 2004 Orange Revolution and 2005 Rose Revolution, among other various movements worldwide.” – Wikipedia

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