Monday, October 13, 2008

Nuestros Hijos and the Iraq and Afghan Wars

Nuestros Hijos and the Iraq and Afghan Wars:

What this means to our Latino communities

Finding a person who knows how to cut curly hair is not easy. Lately, I've been visiting a salon in a Dominican neighborhood of Providence, where I live. I was sitting in the chair, wrapped in the plastic apron, when I spotted a photograph of a young man in uniform on the stylist's mirror.

"¿Su hijo?" I asked. "No, un vecino," a neighborhood boy, the stylist replied. Then she told me his bone-chilling story.

The young man had been blown up when his jeep hit an IED (improvised explosive device) in Iraq. Now he is in an army hospital in Texas. He lost his limbs, a buttock, his anus, and has severe head injuries that have damaged his ability to think. Given his injuries, I cannot imagine what the quality of his life could be. His mother is now alone in Providence; her husband abandoned her years ago, and her other son was lost to street violence. The salon was raising money to finance the mother's trip to Texas to be near her surviving son.

The government does not provide funding for that purpose. In fact, the Veterans Administration has been slow to respond to the need for treatment for vets with post-traumatic stress syndrome, as well as the head traumas and amputations, extreme physical disabilities that are the worst wounds of war. Helping families to travel to distant facilities where their wounded sons and daughters are being treated isn't even broached with Congress. Recently, Jim Webb led the Senate to pass part of an emergency spending bill that revises and upgrades GI benefits. Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain voted against it, saying that the benefits would be so attractive as to be a disinvestment for soldiers to reenlist.

To our everlasting shame, this nation, which prides itself on having the finest military force in the world, is miserly in the rewards it gives those warriors upon their return.

The government has been negligent in the distribution of veterans' health care and permanent disability support. Systemic dysfunction can be seen in the undervaluing of injured veterans' disability ratings, forcing many of the most severely disabled to fight the system by hiring lawyers to intervene on their behalf, and resulting in delays of months in the awarding of benefits to wounded soldiers who deserve them.

Last year, Washington Post investigative reporters uncovered severe neglect in the facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The problems included rat- and cockroach-infested quarters; a lack of heat and water, as well as security problems that resulted in injured soldiers having to stand guard duty!

When the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were mounted, few asked if we could afford them. Honor, revenge, power, and hubris overrode good sense in the rush to take up arms. We put the best interests of our own people at home in jeopardy in order to buy the costly weapons of war. How many school systems would be supported for the cost of one bomber? One helicopter? One load of bombs? How many schools could be built, outfitted and staffed by the money we are spending on Bhagdad's Green Zone? How many job programs and training programs could be funded to put all our unemployed to work? How many gangs could be undermined and prisons emptied if we poured the money we spent in Iraq in one year on education, training, and helping our impoverished citizens to get on their feet?

Our bridges and freeways are crumbling while Army engineers build armed fortresses in Iraq. Would it be a violation of government policy to put them to work here, rebuilding the infrastructure that we need?

In the run-up to the wars, President Bush insisted that he would not need draftees to conduct the war. As long as unemployed and underemployed people could be enticed by fat signing bonuses and the promise of funding for college, the pool of soldiers would remain large. For the first time in our history, we have a professional, all-volunteer standing army.

Many of the members of our armed services signed up because of a lack of job opportunities; they saw the military as a way to develop valuable job skills and experience. Most who signed up for the National Guard trained with the expectation of serving close to home. A weekend a month and a month's training in the summer prepared them for national emergencies at home. Once deployed, they never expected to be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan for second and third tours of duty because of Bush's stop-loss policy, his solution to the problem of replenishing the demand for troops and fudging the promise not to reinstate the draft. Instead, we have a backdoor draft that is taking advantage of the aspirations of our economically disadvantaged for better lives.

What has that meant for Latino communities?

Of the 157,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan at the height of the surge, 10.5% are Latino/as; 17% of the combat troops are Latino. But there is a hidden layer: Over 8,000 non-citizen Mexicans are fighting for this country in exchange for the promise of citizenship if they survive the ordeal; nor are they the only foreign nationals seeking to earn citizenship in the same way. This has been a traditional way that the United States armed services have filled out their rosters, unbeknownst to many Americans.

What happens to a Mexican national when he is gravely injured? Will his family be allowed to come over the border to attend to him in a hospital in Texas? Who will advocate for him in Congress?

The military itself is not the only recipient of government monies allotted to war spending. In this war, profiteers have been quietly legitimized by the current administration. Blackwater, and Vice President Cheney's company, Halliburton, among others, have made billions of taxpayer dollars in no-bid contracts. The professional army is "spared" day-to-day tasks and certain protection duties because Blackwater -- which is subject neither to governmental or military control -- has taken them over, for steep fees.

No wonder Bush crowed that he did not need to reestablish the draft: By engaging in a shell game, he can boast of the greatest military force in the world, run a parallel universe of mercenaries and contractors, and hoodwink the poorest Americans and immigrants yearning for legitimacy into enlisting.

Profiteering is no longer a dishonorable activity. Kleptocracy, ie., a ruling class that guts the public treasury, is now the rule of the day in the US, as is kakistocracy, rule by the worst or most unprincipled leaders.

We will be paying for these wars long after the neoconservatives who started them have gone on to their eternal punishment. The Almighty should put government officials who bequeath such extreme debt to one's children and grandchildren in the first circle of hell. War is such a costly venture, it is hard for a reasonable person to understand what would possess a country to go to war. Looking at the bare and shameless profiteering in America's two current wars, there is only one answer: Greed.

And that wounded soldier's Mamita, trying to find a way to be by his side? She's on her own, still trying to scrape together her fare to Texas.

published on Mi Apogeo, September 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bristol Palin: What a Difference Four Decades Makes

Published on Thursday, September 4, 2008 by

Article printed from

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Playing Race Cards

Playing Race Cards

John McCain is absolutely right: Barak Obama should not play the race card. For things to be equal, we should give the same type of descriptor to each candidate. Obama will be "the first black Democratic presidential nominee." John McCain would be "the (approximately) 40th white Republican male candidate," or to be fair absolutely, Obama would be "the first black major party presidential candidate," and John McCain would be "the 87th white presidential candidate." Works for me.

The elephant in the living room better not tell anyone he's an elephant. We don't want the whole elephant-rights movement to get a foot up. Barak Obama better button his lip about being black. White people don't want their delicate consciences strained; Obama is running on a post-civil rights platform, after all.

Just think, it would be so great to have a black president in November who doesn't talk about black-people stuff. It's so BET. Why can't we all just be white and get over ourselves. This is the great melting pot. Immigrants coming here–whether they wanted to or not–are here now so they should put up or shut up. If you don't like it here, go back where you came from!

Of course, people ripped from the bosoms of their families and the center of their cultures and sold into slavery may not know where they came from. All Oprah has to do is to pay for one of those fancy DNA tests for all of our black citizens so people can ascertain what their true ancestral homes were. It's okay; she can afford it.

But Obama hasn't said a word about r-e-p-a-r-a-t-i-o-n-s. We have to be careful of our language here lest my computer program warn me that my "message is the sort of thing that might get your keyboard washed out with soap, if you get my drift..." Most Americans know about slavery but I'd bet that not one in ten knows what Jim Crow laws were, that is, the laws that were passed after Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and the U.S. Congress passed and the states ratified the laws giving African Americans the right to vote, and prohibiting slavery. I bet that they don't know that after those Reconstruction Amendments were ratified, in many communities, blacks were prevented from learning to read and that it wasn't uncommon for those same jurisdictions to have literacy requirements for voters. Or that some communities imposed a poll tax: Prospective voters had to pay to vote. So voters who were poor–many of whom were black–couldn't vote because they couldn't afford it.

We all know how the American people venerate Abraham Lincoln; for a while he had his own holiday. The only other President to have his own holiday, George Washington, was a proud Virginian who, at the time of his death, owned 316 slaves. He only inherited 11 slaves from his father; his marriage brought another 20 slaves to Mount Vernon. To his credit, he set them free in his will but that is rather beside the point, isn't it? The growth of Mount Vernon's slave population gives a whole different cast to his title of "Father of our Country." Although, to his credit, unlike his fellow-founder Thomas Jefferson, there are no allegations of his engaging in sexual relations with any of his slaves.)

In the United States Constitution, slaves were counted as 3/5's of a person in determining membership in the House of Representatives; that, in part, is what the Reconstruction Amendments changed.

Can they tell you that until 1967 with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, many states prohibited marriage between people of difference races? And if they know that such a law existed in America, even if they have never heard specifically about Loving v. Virginia, are they bothered by it? Or is it merely a curiosity to them?

Obama was lucky: Even though he was born in 1961 just a few years before the Loving ruling, he was born in Hawaii--a state whose majority at the time was not white.

If you are white and live in the vacuum tube of the twenty-first century, I guess you can be presentist; you can just live in the moment, to hell with the past.

Maybe you can if you're white, but if you aren't then the weight of history is on your bathroom scale, and your dark-skinned face, staring back at you, in itself, carries a history that cannot be ignored.

We understand that Obama has to tread somewhat delicately so as not to scare off the white folks but like it or not, his African American side is there.

published on Mi Apogeo.Com

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

“Omigod, Mom; I just voted for the first woman president!”

Voting on Identity: Time for A Change

My daughter is 27, married, a career woman and a political activist. On the day of the Massachusetts primaries, I got an early morning call. She was on the other end, sobbing­; it took me a moment to figure out who it was. All my mom-emergency alerts went off and I was suddenly completely awake.
“What’s wrong? Are you all right?”
“Omigod, Mom; I just voted for the first woman president!” Sigh... relief.

Lost amidst the reports of the extraordinary rise of Senator Barack Obama is the way women, both young and old, have come out for Senator Hillary Clinton. I have been to a couple of rallies here in the Northeast and I have seen women there in numbers I have never seen since the Equal Rights Amendment campaign. Yes, Obama is drawing an extraordinary number of people but this is also a historic race for women.

Is it a clash of identity politics? The Black Man vs. the Middle Aged White Woman?

Many voters decry the focus on gender or race. The campaigns should be based on issues; it’s a form of racism, they say, to vote for Obama because he is a black man, or sexism if one votes for Clinton.

That’s one way to look at it, but as a Latina who has watched generations of white men making all the decisions, I’m ready for a change because politicians do bring their genders and their races to the legislative table. We should not be lulled unto thinking that white men have anyone else's interests in mind.

Who can doubt that Hillary Clinton will have fresh perspectives and ideas about issues that are invisible to the generations of men who preceded her? Women are disproportionately affected by the issues of poverty, Medicare and Social Security. Yes, everybody should have Social Security but women outlive men by a considerable number of years. Women, more than men, nurse elderly husbands and then are left alone. There are many true horror stories about elderly women eating canned cat food or living in impoverished conditions after their husbands’ deaths.

I remember lobbying the California legislature for disadvantaged women and their children. We had a very tough time getting a bill passed that mandated pursuit of “deadbeat dads.” We were perplexed by this difficulty until someone explained that there were many divorced men in the legislature who would never agree to it. Even in that setting, the Old Boys stuck together.

Senator Clinton has already demonstrated her command of the issues pertaining to medical insurance. President Clinton would finally resolve that problem. Then she’d need to help another group of women disproportionately affected because of their gender: single mothers with dependent children. President Bill Clinton made a muck of welfare; she can set right what he compromised on. And that’s just to start with. It makes perfect sense to me that women,­ knowing the impact of one’s gender on the issues, would choose her to lead the nation.

Senator Obama’s presence in the White House would also make a huge difference. There is no question that recent administrations have had a devastating effect on African Americans. Take, for instance, the Civil Rights Commission. In the last eight years, it has quietly shifted its focus from racial and sex-based discrimination to cases of discrimination on the basis of religion. You can always count on George W. Bush to neutralize or pervert a government agency that was actually doing good for the people of this country.

According to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 9.7% of all black men are unemployed. The rate of unemployment overall is 4.5%. There are three times as many black men languishing in prisons than there are in our nation’s colleges; 40 % of our 2 million prison inmates are black. What kind of sense does it make for the government to spend more to incarcerate than to invest in education and job training? But have our traditional leaders paid any attention to the impact of these things on the black community? No, they just keep appropriating money for prisons and mandatory sentencing laws, spending money on the “War on Drugs” instead of going to the root of the problem.

Some 5.4% of Latinos are unemployed; 19% of the prison population is Latino. Una quinta, ­one-fifth: that is a heavy price to pay. Latinos have the lowest rate of high school graduation and the highest rate of teen pregnancy; more than 3 out of 5 Latina girls become pregnant before age 20. Those traditional politicians in Washington have not paid any attention to this problem except to condemn them and move on.

So, as a Latino, who should one choose? I am drawn to Hillary Clinton because her life has been spent trying to fix the problems related to women and poverty and because she has a history of working with Latinos. Barack Obama does not have the history of working for women or Latinos but if he gets the nomination, I will vote for him because even though he does not have a demonstrated history of attention to our issues, he will bring a fresh set of eyes to Washington and a demonstrated capacity for empathy and conciliation.

As for John McCain, he may be better than his GOP comrades on immigration but otherwise, he might as well live on a different planet.
published on, June 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Prime time to witness culture of waste

Prime time to witness culture of waste

TO STUDENTS, teachers and parents, during late May and early June everything shifts: Students’ school year ends; teachers limp across the finish line feeling lucky if they don’t teach in a year-round school, and parents arrange summer vacations, day camps, over-night camps, or other forms of keeping the kids occupied and safe.

But for sidewalk collectors, June is prime time, especially if you live in a city where there is an Ivy League college. I live just a mile from Brown University. Over the years I have collected all sorts of valuable objects left for the trash collectors: Two mini-refrigerators; an ice-cream maker; at least two televisions; a brand-new recliner; books; chairs; software; handmade crochet afghan blankets; tables; desks; bookcases; you name it, I’ve found it. And I wasn’t looking very hard: I was just driving by and they caught my eye.

It is a feature of our consumerist culture that today’s college students equip their dorm rooms with more furniture than our parents owned when they married: two sets of refrigerators, stereo equipment, televisions, microwave ovens, computers with all their peripherals are squeezed into a space that was designed to hold two beds and two desks. All that stuff has to be moved in and arranged more precisely than a Rubik’s Cube. Then it has to be moved out at the end of the school year, lining the pockets of the owners of public storage facilities.

When a student graduates, what happens to all that stuff? Some of it is kept by the students; some is passed on to other students or to younger siblings. But some it, worth too little to cart home or to save, ends up at a thrift shop, on the curb or ultimately, in the landfills. In such poor countries as Brazil and Guatemala, people have fashioned makeshift shacks and actually live at the trash dumps, carefully combing through all of their wealthier neighbors’ garbage, culling recyclables to be sold and salvaging things they can keep or sell, and eating the food that looks like it is still edible.

It is not only people in poor countries who eat out of garbage dumpsters. Some years ago, when I worked as a coordinator of homeless services in West Hollywood, I had the revolting duty of asking the owners of the local market to refrain from pouring chlorine bleach on the food they threw in the dumpsters: The supermarket managers were concerned about being sued if someone got sick from eating from the dumpster. The homeless were hungry: Cheese that had just passed the “sell by” date was still good to eat as far as they were concerned.

Driving around the East Side, seeing all the discarded, usable objects, I reckon that I am helping reduce my carbon footprint by rescuing an object and putting it to good use. How will our lives change when the petroleum-based plastic that so many of our things are made of becomes prohibitively expensive? Will we turn back to wood-based objects even as our rain forests disappear to accommodate growing populations who want the land to farm? Will we finally learn to live simply? Will the dorm room of 2020 be as spare as that of a student in the 1950s? Will the academic gowns that once kept students warm and now have only ceremonial use once again become the fashion rage as heating classrooms becomes too costly? We will see.

Rosa Maria Pegueros ( is an associate professor of Latin American History and Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

published in
1:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Republican with A Conscience—What A Concept!

So Scott McClellan has a conscience. What a concept—a member of the take-no-prisoners-Republican party has a conscience. It would be refreshing if it wasn’t so pathetic.

McClellan is a Texan. He knew George W. Bush. I don’t buy that “out of the loop,” “I was a poor innocent,” pap. That’s as believable as George Bush, Sr.’s claim he was out of the loop on Iran-Contra, or Ronald Reagan playing dumb on the same scandal.

Why do the majority of the American people believe these scoundrels? Or if they don’t, why do they let them get away with it? Why was getting to the “truth” so important to the GOP when the priapic Bill Clinton engaged in an assignation with an intern that resulted in no harm to anyone else, while Bush’s lies which have brought about the deaths of over 4000 American troops, not to mention thousands of Iraqis, have been unquestioned? Where has their pursuit of truth been?

Some have said that McClellan is to be lauded for showing some human conscience, even at this late date; he could have made much more money on the lecture circuit than publishing a book. Obviously, now he can publish a book, clear his reputation especially since, prompted by a petition drive on he is now giving part of the proceeds to the families of those killed in Iraq, AND still grow rich from a tour on the lecture circuit. His former friends are expressing outrage over his betrayal of their administration but none of them are screaming about the betrayal of the American people.

George W. Bush frightened me long before he set foot in the White House; long before, in fact, he ran for the White House. When he cheerily stated he never lost any sleep over the people he sent to be executed, his lack of doubt was alarming. Scarier than his vaunted clean conscience was his plain inhumanity. What if he’d made a mistake? What if one over-zealous prosecutor pushed too far; what if one hanging-judge was too willing to disregard exculpatory evidence? Who cares? So what if Texas has become the charnel house of the United States and of the industrialized world? He looked tough and that was all that mattered.

When 9-11 changed the course of American history, his demeanor set all my alarms ringing. He likes this, I thought to myself; now he has the perfect excuse to impose his agenda on this country. He has surrounded himself with the conniving Cheney and a collection of sycophants while punishing anyone who opposed him. Bush has a mean streak that will not stop at mere denunciation. Given W’s nasty habit of destroying those who cross him—just ask Valerie Plame—McClellan should watch his back.

Who can forget the debate when he was asked to name a mistake he might have made and could not think of a single one? Or his obfuscation of his so-called military service? Or his lies about his drunk-driving arrests, and cocaine use before he became president? Now we’re told that he privately weeps over the Americans killed in Iraq. Give me a break! How stupid do they think we are?

Much has been made of Bush and Cheney’s determination to restore powers to the president that had been lost since Nixon’s failure. But no one party keeps the presidency forever: The GOP must know that eventually a Democratic president will come to power and all those imperial powers will then be at the fingertips of that Democrat, unless there is something off-stage that we do not see. Will they steal yet another election? Will the elderly McCain run with a stealth neo-con; somehow beat the Democrat, and then be disposed of, replaced by his uber-conservative running mate?

Am I paranoid? After almost eight years of lies, theft, graft, subterfuge and chicanery, you would have to be Candide not to look over your shoulder and feel the hot breath of the GOP’s menacing presence on your neck. The American people have reason to be alarmed, alert, and even paranoid but they are so easily distracted by all the garbage floating on the airwaves that we could end up with a so-called maverick who swears never to surrender in Iraq as president.

Why do people consider McCain a maverick? Isn’t “conservative maverick” an oxymoron? The dictionary tells us that the original Maverick was Samuel A. Maverick, an American pioneer who died in 1870 and refused to brand his cattle. In every way that matters, McCain is a true-blue Republican. In most cases where he has broken with the party, including his criticism of Bush’s tax cuts, he has backpedaled: Now he says that he’ll support them. Yet people call him a maverick because he has occasionally crossed party lines. .

In less politically-charged times in our history, senators and representatives routinely crossed the aisle to join with the other party to pass legislation. Ted Kennedy has even joined with George Bush on an educational bill and has worked with many Republicans on any number of issues. Is Kennedy too liberal to be thought a maverick? Or is the Republican range of movement so minuscule that when it occurs, it is thought to be a great aberration: One thing is sure; since George W. Bush came to Washington claiming to be a “uniter,” the functioning of representative democracy has been undermined by his actual “my way or the highway” tactics, for which the prodigal McClellan was a spokesman.

Americans have to take responsibility for the future of our country and the planet. That means reading and thinking, and acting, not just swallowing whole the rhetoric of the presidential campaigns. Words have meanings; politicians have histories. Change, real change, is uncomfortable. America is no longer young but neither is it mature politically. It is too late for feckless youth. This time, we must make real change and that means recognizing the consequences of our history, of our irresponsibility, and of our lazy acceptance of the lies fed to us by politicians.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Latino in the White House -- Cuando, Cuando, Cuando?

from (Check out MiApogeo for Latino news and views!)
March 2007

A Latino in the White House -- Cuando, Cuando, Cuando?

Why Not This Time Around?

Governor Bill Richardson cut an imposing figure at the presidential debates. Currently in his second term as governor of New Mexico, his curriculum vitae is more impressive than that of anyone in the race: He served seven terms in the House of Representatives; represented the United States in negotiations with Saddam Hussein, North Korean generals, and in the Middle East; as well as serving in Bill Clinton’s administration as Secretary of Energy and Ambassador to the United Nations. He has all the skills that would benefit an American president; he presented himself very well in the debates, yet he was flushed out of the Democratic primaries early on. And he has been the first Latino to do many of those things.

The answer that former Senator and also-ran John Edwards might give is that the money flowing into the superstar candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, washed everyone else out.

A simpler answer might be that getting the attention of Americans is very hard; Senator Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) learned this the hard way in 2000 when he ran in the Republican primaries as the “Proven Principled Common-Sense Conservative.” He thought that his high profile as chair of the Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment hearings would provide the visibility he needed to mount a presidential campaign. He slunk away after his best efforts gave him less than 10% of the vote, an experience that he said he found very humbling.

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Googling the web for clues to Richardson’s failure, I came upon Big Fat Blog. In one of the debates, Richardson had advocated a government program to end obesity saying that he had started to reverse it in his own state by changing the kinds of food available in school cafeterias and mandating exercise programs, to which one writer responded, “Has he looked in a mirror lately? He's fat!” And another blogger responded, “Yeah, he has awesome double chins!” He certainly is not the tanned, trim Richardson he was back when he was touring for Al Gore’s campaign in 2000. Eight years is a long time for those of us protected by evolution against starvation. Maintaining that slim and trim appearance at 61 is very hard for los gorditos among us.

I wonder if Barak Obama had looked like Norbit, Eddie Murphy’s movie character of the same name, Richardson would have had a better chance. One simply doesn’t associate soaring rhetoric with a person who is, as author Daniel Pinkwater would say, “circumferentially challenged.” This anti-fat prejudice has a long history: Part of what makes Shakespeare’s Falstaff funny is his corpulence; in the comedy duos of Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello, much of the hilarity comes from making fun of the fat one. And we should not forget Garfield the ultimate fat cat. Even if the American people could look past Richardson’s girth or if he were to get back to his fighting weight, he is a policy wonk. Like Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, he radiates intelligence, experience and gravitas but, in his rumpled suit and unruly haircut, he lacks glamor and charisma.

It is too bad because he is the first Latino candidate to get this far in a national election. How can it be that estimates say that our population will be the largest minority by 2050, but we cannot get traction on the national stage?

Is it simply that charismatic candidates are rare in any season? Or is there something about Latino culture that does not translate into the mainstream culture? Or is it the simple fact that American voters are accustomed to being led by white men, have seen other black male politicians like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton running for president, but Latinos are not yet on the radar?

Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is trim, slim and charismatic but he has that wonderful and unpronounceable Hispanic name and therein may lie a problem in the national arena. Any serious Hispanic candidate with a recognizably Spanish name will be burdened with the immigration issue, simply because there is so much raw animus against those who continue to steam across our southern border, all of whom are Latinos. I do not know the numbers but no one seems to be huffing and puffing about the number of immigrants coming in from Asian countries.

Immigrants and gays are the only remaining groups Americans feel safe hating outright: One need listen to CNN’s virulently anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs for five minutes to see the hate that he is perpetrating against these groups. Many non-Latinos assume that all Latinos are here illegally. The possible threat posed by a member of Al-Qaeda sneaking across the border is a cover for the long-standing hate for Latinos.

Did this affect Richardson’s candidacy? Because his name is not recognizably Hispanic, he might have flown in under the radar. But he made a point of announcing his heritage and that may have been a deciding factor in his poor showing. However, if Senator Clinton wins the nomination and has the good sense to tap him for the vice presidency, he could be a force to be reckoned with in the new administration.

Much has been made of some pundits’ comments about racism in the Latino community as well as anti-immigrant anger in the black community. I’ll discuss that next time.

Latinos -- What’s Race Got to Do With It?

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Latinos -- What’s Race Got to Do With It?

Can there be one unitary Latino vote? Which "Latino strategy" will succeed?

If you walked into a room full of Latinos in New York City where there are many people from all over Latin America, and dozens of variations of hyphenated Latino-Americans whose families have been here for several generations, and ask them to paint a mural representing their people, you could not find enough cans of paint: We have many colors, many cultures, many customs, and many variations of the Spanish language.

We eat many different foods: Ask for a pupusa in an Argentine restaurant, and you will be met with a blank stare, while in El Salvador, you can buy them from women grilling them on comales on the street, as common as hot dog stands in Manhattan. In Mexico, a quesadilla is a kind of cheese taco made by putting cheese in a tortilla, folding it over, and grilling it. In El Salvador, a quesadilla is a rich cornbread made with parmesan cheese and ten egg yolks. And a turkey sandwich? Depending on the ethnicity of your cook, you would be ask for pavo, chumpe, guajolote, or chompipe; if you used the wrong word, again, you would get a blank stare.

Now, which presidential candidate do you think “the Latino community” will support in the upcoming election? Which Latinos do you mean?

Let’s start with the Cubans. Some 248,070 escaped to the United States in the wake of the Cuban revolution between January 1, 1959 and the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 22, 1962. They are now in their eighties. They tended to be middle- or upper-class, well-educated, business owners and professionals. Their arrival in the U.S. was eased by a Communist-phobic American government, who placed them in refugee communities in Miami, New Jersey or Indiana, and provided jobs and shelter, thus gaining everlasting loyalty for the most conservative politicians. They repaid the Cubans’ devotion by sustaining the embargo against Castro’s Cuba and engaging in all matter of subterfuge to assassinate Castro.

But they are not the only Cubans. A trickle of refugees followed that initial rush, the balseros or rafterers, arriving in the U.S. after perilous sea voyages in rafts, across the 90 miles to Florida, resulting in only a small percentage surviving the trip. Most came for economic reasons. Life in Cuba has been hard for a long time; the American embargo guaranteed that Cuba would remain in a kind of time-bound suspension. Getting the things you need there has been impossible. Since no cars are imported, the cars on the road are from the late fifties and sixties, running with parts that Cuban mechanics have created to replace the parts they cannot import. Most buildings in Cuba are in frightening condition but there is no money for paint, repairs, or reconstruction. Now the Cuban currency has been undermined by an underground economy of American dollars, making it hard for ordinary Cubans to buy the few things that are available.

Adding even more confusion to the mix are the 125,000 Marielitos. In 1980, Castro said rancorously, you want refugees? I’ll give you refugees! And he emptied his prisons and sent them to the United States: Political prisoners; common criminals; “sexual outlaws,” that is, gays, lesbians, prostitutes; petty thieves, and residents of mental institutions. Neither President Jimmy Carter, nor the governors of the states where the Marielitos ended up, including the youthful Bill Clinton, at that time, governor of Arkansas, knew what to do.

Unable to absorb them at once, fearful of loosing potentially dangerous criminals into our population; and wary of the large number of gays who came, they put them into open-fenced enclosures in detention camps while they processed them. Legal aid attorneys devised a system for the newcomers to prove that they were not dangerous. Nevertheless, in 1987, some Marielitos sparked a prison takeover when they learned that they would be sent back. There was also the question of whether Castro would take them back. For at least a decade, his nasty stunt gummed up the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

So for whom do you think the Cubans will vote?

Then there are the Mexicans, who range from those who ancestors have been here since the Spanish colonized Mexico in the 16th century, to those whose families were split when the United States strong-armed Mexico into giving up half of its territory in the mid-1800s, to those whose parents first came fleeing the Mexican Revolution, as my father’s parents did; to migrant workers in a bracero program; or undocumented workers who braved vermin-infested sewer tunnels, cutthroat coyotes, and so-called Minutemen to find a better way to support their families.

Mexican communities are rich with several layers of these old Californian, Texan, or New Mexican families; old immigrants; prosperous and successful Republicans; unionists who vote Democratic and recent immigrants who cannot vote either because they are undocumented or have not yet been here long enough to qualify for citizenship. Like upper- and lower-classes everywhere, they tend to vote their pocketbooks, and you’ll find a layer of English-only, comfortable Latinos whose conservative Roman Catholicism draws them to anti-choice conservative politics.

That’s just the Cubans and the Mexicans. Then there are the Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, Dominicans, Colombians, and others. Most of those populations in the U.S. fled the civil wars of the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, and the continuing extreme poverty and street violence of their own countries to come here and take their chances against the anti-immigrant anger led by the likes of CNN Lou Dobbs, not to mention the migrants from our own colony of Puerto Rico. Again, there are several generations here now, with varied priorities and levels of success, who will vote their pocketbooks. Then there is the matter of racism. Latinos, it is said, will not vote for a black man. Immediately, one hears of the Latino support for black politicians like the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, proof that Latinos WILL vote for an African American. The truth is, like everything else about this picture, it is much more complex than that.

There are different levels of the issue. Some Latinos deny their own black heritage. The African slaves were brought to the New World by the Spanish conquerors from the earlier expeditions and they fathered children with them as well as with the indigenous people. During the colonial period, there appeared a whole vocabulary for these racial mixtures: mulatto for Spanish and Black; mestizo for Spanish and Amerindian; pardo for an African, European, and Amerindian; sambo for an African and Amerindian. But it did not stop there. One could be a “tente en el aire,” somebody who is “up in the air,” that is, not easily classifiable because of their racial mixtures. Perhaps most offensive of all, “salta atrás,” which refers to someone who was “moving up” in society but cast themselves back by marrying an African or mulatto. In the community I grew up in, African-Americans were “chamuscados,” or “burnt ones.” It was a way of talking about Blacks without their recognizing the ordinary word for them, at the time, “Negro.” Moreover, the Caribbean islands whose populations were wiped out primarily by diseases borne by the Europeans, were repopulated with African slaves and Europeans.

To this day, there are still many Latinos who simply refuse to acknowledge their African roots; racism, especially of the self-hating variety, runs deep in our communities, both here and in the many countries we came from. Children who are light-skinned and/or have light eyes tend to be favored by their elders.

Furthermore, in the U.S., there is hatred between African American and Latino gangs; as well as resentment of Latino immigrations by American blacks who feel that they are losing jobs to the intruders. Even The Nation, a progressive magazine, has run ads from groups advocating tight strictures to limit Latino immigration.

So, will they vote for Hillary Clinton; after all she has deep connections in the Latinos communities that reach back to the years just after college when she did voting registration with Latinos in Texas? Or for Barak Obama whose father was himself an African immigrant and whose mother took him to live in Indonesia for a time?

Beats me. Like I said, it’s complicated.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hillary's Human Side

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is the latest to write that everybody wants to see Senator Hillary Clinton’s human side. What DO they think they’ve been looking at?

There is Hillary the wronged spouse who first believed Bill’s protestations that he had not been messing around behind her back and so blamed a broad Right-wing conspiracy for trying to destroy her husband. This was followed closely by Bill’s shamed admission that the rumors were true and her horror at Bill's long overdue admission:
I could hardly breathe. Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him, “What do you mean? What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?” . . .I was dumbfounded, heartbroken, and outraged that I’d believed him at all. (Living History, p. 466)

That is about as human a reaction as one can get.

Then there is Chelsea: Strong, loving, smart, articulate Chelsea who survived her time in the White House without getting arrested for showing a false I.D. to buy booze or driving drunk; who went on to graduate from Stanford and follow in her daddy’s footsteps studying at Oxford though not as a Rhodes Scholar. How did Hillary’s critics suppose Chelsea got that way? Whose example did this accomplished young woman follow if not that of her strong, smart, determined mother?

There’s Hillary who cites her long history of activism—signing up Hispanic voters in Texas, working for children with Marian Wright Edelman; don’t tell me that that’s just evidence of her plot to attain power. Registering voters and working for children are not the most efficient ways to gain power or the world would be filled with politicians who are former social workers and social activists.

She is the same hard-hearted, cold, rhymes-with-witch who talks about how beautiful her husband’s hands are. Do you really think that if she loathed him and wanted to stay married only to feed her ambition, she’d be waxing poetic about his hands?

Hillary gets a little misty and the media goes crazy. She cried! Somebody showed a little sympathy and she cried on the campaign trail! How manipulating can you get? Except that she did not cry; her eyes misted up for a moment which showed how she was just a weak woman OR it showed that she is such political Sarah Bernhardt she can cry on command for the camera.

Last week she was caught in a lie about landing in Bosnia and it is taken as proof-positive that she is a liar!! Human beings slip up; sometimes we lie. It’s one thing to tell a lie about something pretty insignificant and another to lie about hidden WMDs and lead us into a war that so far has cost us 4000 American soldiers but somehow she is the master liar. Does Obama's goof with the real estate deal make him a thief? Or was it a mistake? Good news: he's human.

Hillary portrays herself as a fighter and the impression she makes successfully is that she is tough as nails. Were she to project a softer side, how would that benefit her pursuit of the White House? Softness is part of the intimacy normally reserved for family and is better kept in the private realm. Public softness is a Damocles Sword for women politicians. The media and the public are just waiting for the Sword to fall; witness the reaction of the world to the misting of her eyes on that one occasion. The schizoid accusation that she is a monster and the continual search for her soft side while at the same time trying to find a feminine softness that can be used to disqualify her is a measure of the misogyny of our political life.

Civilized society, said novelist Dostoevsky, is judged by the way it treats its criminals. I would say civilized society is judged by the respect it gives its women.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Them Must Be Some Cookies

When John Kerry, a genuine war hero and anti-war hero, was Swift-boated, he was too stiff and too genteel to win the support of the common American. W defeated him easily, if one accepts the dubious notion that the Ohio totals were not tainted.

During Michael Dukakis's pursuit of the presidency, he appeared popping out of the top of a tank wearing a helmet that made him look as geeky as he really was. He became a national joke; yet some years later, George W. Bush appeared in full fly-boy regalia landing on an aircraft carrier festooned with a banner reading, Mission Accomplished. Only liberals objected. During a 1988 presidential debate, against George H.W. Bush, CNN's Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis how he would react if his wife had been raped and murdered. He dispassionately reiterated his opposition to the death penalty. That duck was cooked; he was not tough enough to be president either.

Al Gore chose to accept the vote that stole the election from him and from us in the 2000 election. Many liberals would never forgive him for what they considered to be a lack of spine.

If there was one lesson for any Democratic candidate pursuing the presidency it is that s/he must not let any insult go unchallenged. Politics is to us what cock-fighting or pit-bull fighting is to others: A blood sport played with a good shield and any weapon that comes to hand.

In recent days, I have read or heard, publicly and privately, Senator Hillary Clinton called a bitch, a shrew, and a monster, among other things. One commentator sarcastically asked if we would have voted for Mamie Eisenhower, to pick the sweetest and most oblique of First Ladies in recent history.

On Bill Maher's HBO Series Real Time, her own words about her reaction to her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky were played as evidence that she does not have the steel to react calmly to a crisis: "I could hardly breathe. Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him, What do you mean? What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?" And that was just because her husband had an affair! What if it was an international crisis, demanded one of the pundits. I guess it shows that she was not the brittle ice queen they like to portray her as. Perhaps a cool, calm fellow, like Senator John "Mad Dog" McCain, or President George W. Bush, or Vice President Dick Cheney would be a better choice. In fact, the last several of Maher's programs have featured public figures who, along with Maher, gleefully rip her apart. I can no longer stomach him.

If Barack Obama were pilloried in a comparable way, the screaming would be heard on the moon. Yet Obama himself, in discussing Clinton said, that she claims to have taken 80 journeys representing our country: What foreign policy experience? What was she doing, he asks, negotiating treaties? No dear, she was comparing chocolate chip cookie recipes with the other First Ladies, except for the last eight years when she traveled as a United States Senator. Now she only compares cookie recipes with other female legislators and heads of state. Them must be some cookies.

Then Clinton says she has foreign policy experience and she is ready to lead; and that McCain also has that experience, and she asks if Obama has. By comparing a GOP opponent favorably to a fellow Democratic rival, she crossed a line some say should not be breached, but what lines should be drawn that the men who oppose her should not cross? Are the kid gloves off because she is a political opponent? Because she is a woman? Or just because she is Hillary Clinton? Even Republicans ignore the eleventh commandment these days: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. But I have not yet heard one of the men attack another man by calling him the male equivalent of a bitch. The closest I have heard are references to Senator John McCain as Mad Dog McCain or Senator Hothead that long predate his current presidential run.

What's fair and what's dirty pool?

Hillary Clinton was first lady for eight years. It is no secret Bill Clinton looked to his brilliant intellectual equal and spouse for counsel. She made it very clear from the beginning that she did not plan to stay in the kitchen and bake cookies. The protests that erupted against her when she said so openly were as hysterical as though she dismembered small animals in her free time. She was accused of putting stay-at-home moms down, and the din continued long past her apology and publication of her cookie recipe

Is that why they call her a bitch? Or is it because she argued that there was a vast Right Wing conspiracy against her husband? Now the Right has her in its sights, and the New York Times reported this week that the Republican National Committee has bought up a large number of domain names to smear her, like,,,, among dozens of others.

America's expectations of its First Ladies are almost Victorian. They are supposed to be ladies, first of all, who glide in and out of the background silently. They are supposed to devote themselves to innocuous causes that are not tainted by politics. First Ladies are meant to be eye candy. If they are soft-spoken, declining to talk about politics or appear to influence their husbands in matters of state, they are acceptable. Jackie Kennedy was hailed for her fashion sense and her redecorating of the White House. Betty Ford was considered a firebrand next to her bland husband for speaking out for the Equal Rights Amendment but what really earned her press notices were her battles with substance abuse and her creation of the Betty Ford Center. Rosalynn Carter was dubbed a Steel Magnolia, but I do not know why. She never did anything controversial or spoke out of turn, though in retirement she and her husband founded not only the Carter Center that focuses on human rights around the world, but also the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving; the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Partnership Foundation Inc.; and the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. Steel Magnolia, indeed. Nancy Reagan only had eyes for Ronnie and the most controversial thing she did was to consult astrologers to help schedule important meetings. Most of all, First Ladies sure are not meant to discuss politics, run for the Senate, and then take on the boys. It is not lady-like.

Liberals criticize her for staying with Bill after his affair with Monica Lewinsky, saying she did so only out of political opportunism: Is that why the hard-hearted Hillary went into couples' counseling with him for a year following the incident? I suppose the American public prefers its female presidential candidates to be more like former U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder: She used to put little hearts on her autographs. In 1987, she tearfully withdrew from the presidential race saying hat she could not find a way to run. Such a lady.

I am not worried about Hillary Clinton despite the viciousness of the attacks on her. She has had everything thrown at her and has had every bit of her personal life exposed and explored. For all the noise, they have never gotten anything on her. Some pundits are saying that McCain would prefer her to Obama as an opponent. If anyone thinks the GOP will go easy on Obama think again. Here are some of the domain names they have bought to smear Obama:,,,,,, and

Unfortunately, the other hard lesson the Democrats learned, this one from Jimmy Carter's presidency, is that in politics, if you take the high road, the train will pass you by. Whoever wins the nomination wins the chance to face off with the junkyard dog of the Senate. You think the primaries have been nasty? Just you wait.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

“Blowtorch Bob”: The Duty to Remember

“Blowtorch Bob”: The Duty to Remember

El Salvador’s Roberto D’Aubuisson (1944-1992) was uniquely malevolent. He would throw babies in the air and shoot them in midair, just for fun. The “Death Squads” of which he was the leader, hunted down and executed insurgents in the slowest, most exquisitely painful ways possible. The Spanish Inquisition could have learned a thing or two about torture from him: His favorite method involved a blow torch, earning him the nickname of “Blowtorch Bob.” I bet no one ever called him that to his face.

During the Salvadoran Civil War, 75,000 people were killed; 8000 were disappeared, and one million were left homeless, slaughtered by D’Aubuisson and his Death Squads. They killed a group of Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter; and a group of Catholic lay nuns who had just arrived in El Salvador. In El Mozote, they killed at least 794 townspeople: They separated the men from the women, locked them in a church, then took them out in small groups. After they raped the women, they murdered each one of them. Then they burned the bodies.

His crowning achievement was assassinating Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero: On March 24, 1980, one of his gunmen shot him in the heart as he was saying Mass. Romero’s offense? Demanding the end to the killing of innocent men, women, and children in El Salvador’s Civil War. What an odd demand from a Catholic priest: Love thy neighbor.

When throat cancer killed D’Aubuisson on February 20, 1992 , sending him, one hopes, to join Satan’s own favorite sons, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Chauchesku in the first circle of hell, I vowed I would remember and celebrate his date of death every year. So today, I remember by telling my students, my friends, and you, my readers, about the fiend of El Salvador, Roberto D’Aubuisson.

D’Aubuisson’s education at the School of the Americas is particularly galling. The SOA, chartered by the United States Congress, and sponsored by the United States Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, gained its fame by training Latin American military officers in methods of interrogation, torture, kidnapping and executions. These methods were described by former United States Representative Joseph Kennedy (D-MA) as “worthy of the Soviet gulag.” Our government allowed and encouraged this instructional program as part of a perverted foreign policy focused on maintaining stability in the region at any cost rather than in protecting the basic human rights of all of the citizens of the hemisphere.

Today, of course, the U.S.Army claims that it was mistaken when it published manuals on torture and related topics, but that admission has come only as a result of pressure from human rights groups to close the school. Despite years of civil disobedience, protests and intense lobbying, the SOA continues its nefarious work, nowadays touting a new name and a curriculum that includes a seminar on human rights: the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The name may be new but we are not deceived: The leopard may have changed its spots but it is still as deadly as ever, turning out military officers who are the heirs to D’Aubuisson and his henchmen.

People never cease to amaze me. In an Alzheimer’s-like delusion of the past, the Salvadoran government dedicated a statue of D’Aubuisson and has a memorial Mass for him each year. One could argue that if anyone needs prayers for his eternal soul, he does but there is something ignominious about a tribute to a mass murderer who killed with such glee.

El Salvador also built a memorial to General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, its dictator from 1931 to 1944, who is best known for the massacre of 32,000 Salvadorans in 1932 in what is now called La Matanza, or massacre, which is the turning point of Salvadoran history. After that, the indigenous people of the country grew fearful of being seen as natives and their culture was virtually obliterated. Is it an indication of the continuing disenfranchisement of the peasants in El Salvador that these two monsters would be so honored?

A year after the memorial was dedicated, D’Aubuisson’s son and several other state officials were murdered in Guatemala on a diplomatic trip: The sins of the father visited once again on his son? A son who was carrying out the same regressive philosophies espoused by his father? Perhaps there is some justice after all.

Nunca mas.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Guantanamo–Six Years of Impunity

Published on Friday, January 11, 2008 by

Guantanamo–Six Years of Impunity

by Rosa Maria Pegueros

Twenty years ago, when I was the coordinator of a city program for the homeless, I spent an afternoon in jail, with an aching head from being put in a headlock and slammed against a wall by a rogue Los Angeles County Sheriff who hated the homeless and the people who served them. It was a very strange experience for someone who had never been in any kind of trouble before, and who always had a book in hand to ward off boredom.

For several hours following my arrest, I sat on a steel bench in a vacant holding cell. There was nothing to look at; nothing to read, not even graffiti. After a little while, I was desperate for anything; even a newspaper sports page would have been welcome. Outside, a city councilman argued with the chief of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs. In the meantime, I had no contact with anyone; they did not let me call anyone; they did not even book me until a couple of long hours later. Charlie, the policeman who booked me, was a nice guy with whom I had gone on a ride-along. Ride-alongs for the city’s social workers were encouraged, in part, to help us understand the role of the police on the street.

Charlie looked embarrassed as he took my fingerprints. He didn’t want me there any more than I wanted to be there. I went back to the cell to wait. I started to sing everything I could think of: children’s songs (my daughter was in first grade at that time); synagogue melodies, many of which had no words, just the nonsense syllables: di, dee dee di, dee dee di, di; songs I learned in grade school, “This Land is your land,” “Oh beautiful for spacious skies,” “Amazing Grace.” I don’t know if my singing persuaded them to let me go but after what seemed like an eternity, the city Councilman and the chief of the County Sheriffs finally came to an agreement: I would be released on a warrant—something like a moving violation—but I had to appear in court to answer the misdemeanor charges. The charges were very funny to anyone who knew me: assault on a police officer, interference with an officer in the course of his duties; interfering in an arrest; comic, downright comic: As if _I_, a short, stout, peace-loving middle-aged woman, would have the nerve or the inclination to assault the meanest deputy in the department—my 5’4” vs. his 6’4”. As if.

The jury arrived at a verdict in record time: I was acquitted of all charges. They gathered around me after the trial to tell me that they could tell that the deputy sheriff was a liar. Of course, in accordance with the judicial practice in Los Angeles, no perjury charges were brought against the deputy. In fact, he was honored with an award by the sheriff’s department for his “work with the homeless.” Even though I continued to suffer for several years from the physical and psychological effects of the beating, I had won the moral victory.

I was thinking about this incident because it has been six years since the first prisoners were taken in orange jump suits, chains, and disorienting hoods pulled over their faces to our prison for enemy combatants at our naval air station in Guantanamo, Cuba. Having had that slim sliver of experience of being unjustly jailed, I have a tiny glimmer of understanding of what those prisoners must be experiencing.

Even so, I cannot imagine the mental condition of a prisoner like Jose Padilla, the American citizen and Chicago gang member imprisoned there. After having been kept in isolation for 3-1/2 years and subjected to “harsh interrogation tactics,” I.E., torture, how can he function? He was not allowed to have a lawyer or to hear charges against him until court rulings turned against the administration. The court came to a verdict against him and two others last August in an amazingly short time. Yet I don’t know how they could have brought him to trial. A prisoner must be competent to stand trial. How could Jose Padilla been sane after that ordeal and isolation? What if he had been found innocent and released? How could he live a productive life after all that has been done to him? Is he sane? Will he ever be able to sleep without night terrors after what our government has done to him?

Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky, was a Russian dissident and Soviet Jew who was imprisoned by the Soviets. In his autobiography, Fear No Evil he describes his survival through the isolation and torture by the Soviets in part by falling back on his training as a mathematician, working equations in his head, and playing chess mentally, against himself; his self-discipline enabled him to survive the horror. He must have an extraordinary intellect and self-discipline to have been able to live to tell the tale with his sanity intact. After his release, he emigrated to Israel and even served in the Knesset, the Israeli legislature. I doubt that Padilla, a barely-educated gang member could do the same; I know I could not have done so. When I left the jail that afternoon, my life was utterly changed; I realized I did not have the grit to face imprisonment as my heroes Cesar Chavez and the Rev. Martin Luther King had. The experience was so traumatic that I could never bring myself to do that kind of work again.

Those of us who oppose the detention center in Guantanamo consider it to be a disgrace; a blight on the character of the country. But honestly, I think it’s too late for that. We lost our innocence long ago, if we ever had it. The fact is that our country does what it wants; it does not answer to international courts or accept the jurisdiction of a world court or similar body. The power that we have in the world allows us to behave with impunity and we do.

The only way we can right this shameful situation is to repudiate, not only with words but by our actions and policies, our country’s invasions and war-mongering, and the disregard of our own values as they are in our Constitution and its amendments. Some of us have consciences. It’s time for the United States government to act is if it had one.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Therefore, Be It Resolved

Therefore, Be It Resolved

As the New Year looms before us, we look forward with excitement
and trepidation, resolving to reform our lives.

There are different types of resolutions. There are the ones we must
carry out lest punishment ensue, like paying overdue parking tickets.
There are the ones we should do and resolve to do every year: losing
weight, keeping a budget, exercising thrice a week, or grading our
students’ papers in a timely manner.

There are the ones that would, if kept, remind us to live in the
moment so that the sweetness of life is not wasted on our
inattention: to listen to the crunch of our boots on new snow; to
listen for the lark and the nightingale; to eat cherries and persimmons
in season, and pick cherry tomatoes right off the vine; to breathe in
deeply the aroma of spring’s first daffodils and late summer
grasses, essentially, to stop to appreciate the gift of life.

Finally, there are the fanciful ones and those representing our
deepest desires like learning to play the guitar; spending less
time working and more time with our loved ones; or working
for a favorite political candidate. And though I have completed
57 years of life, and have resolved to learn to play the guitar for
many of those years, I am no closer to strumming my first chord
than I am to electing a leader who is not, in some way, a

Perhaps we expect too much of political candidates. We want them
to win cleanly and fairly but we do want them to win no matter what.
Only in sports are fouls and violations of the rules punished
immediately; this transparency may account for the popularity of
sports in general. Cheating in even the smallest way can cost you
the game or even the career—take runner Marian Jones or baseball’s
Pete Rose or Barry Bonds. Jones was stripped of her Olympic medals
while Rose andBonds may never see their careers crowned by
admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Early this season, when a member of the New England Patriots’
coach Bill Belichick’s video staff, was caught taping the signals
of the opposing football team, he sullied the sport and may have
earned an asterisk in the record books for his team. It was a
phenomenal season, I’m told, but at least this football non-fan
will always associate it with “Spygate.”

Politics are muddier than football in January, sweatier and
grimier than baseball in August, and the stakes are much
higher than all sports put together but we treat them like
sports. We root for our candidates, wear their campaign’s
logos, sing their party’s songs, and deify our candidate
while demonizing theirs.

We want them to win yet are disgusted by their “foul plays,”
their “selling out,” or their failure to meet our expectations.
Obama is an inspiration, then he’s not black enough. Sez who?
Clinton is polarizing? What woman wouldn't be? Clinton is a b----.
Why is she a b-----? Because some nervous men are afraid of a
woman at the helm of THE MOST POWERFUL COUNTRY IN

The late Molly Ivins, a progressive political writer from Texas, used
to say, "Politics is the cheapest form of free entertainment ever
invented." But the fun has gone out of it since “the Shrub” (her name
for George W. Bush) came to power. In his almost seven years in office,
his wars have killed almost 4000 American soldiers and demolished
our treasury, replacing it with a black hole into which we toss our taxes
and IOUs, never expecting to reap the benefits of those taxes—not
health care for the poor or the middle classes; not funds to replace our
crumbling bridges; not computers or books for our schools. Our cities
teem with the homeless who live under freeway on-ramps, and spend
their days in public libraries or any other warm public facility that will
not throw them out.

The wealthiest country in the world is cutting back on early childhood
education. We have ceased to fund art and music programs in most of
our public schools. By mandating “teaching to the test,” teachers are
forced to curtail their teaching of literature so that we are turning out
a generation of worker bees who are unfamiliar with our high culture,
as well as our folk and ethnic heritage.

As the baby boomers become the largest generation of old people this
country has ever known, the government claims that the social security
fund is in crisis; that there will not be enough money to keep us from
dying in penury.

Yet stockholders and CEOs need not worry; their profits and bonuses
will not be infringed upon.

Now is the time for us to carry out those resolutions to work for a better
political candidate and bring about a better world. The next president will
not be perfect; s/he will certainly be forced to make compromises—it is
politics, after all but we must strive to find the best one and work to elect
her/him, and to keep him/her accountable to the people.

There is so much at stake.