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Weekend Journal: June 22-24, 2007

open thread... | permalink
yesterday's open thread:

From Cheney to Chennai
Sunday Paper Roundup

Border Slaughter: And they think a wall along the border is going to improve matters? From the Arizona Daily Star: “More than 1,000 bodies have been recovered since 2000 in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector. The deadly toll has topped 130 bodies a year since 2002. Officials found nine bodies in the past 10 days, bringing this year's total to 105 so far. Worse yet, there are likely more out there yet to be found.” That’s just the “ Tucson sector.” The tallies for the entire border are grimmer still: 441 last year, 473 the year before, 330 in 2004. Why are those bodies (like those of American soldiers returning from futility) being hidden from public view? Because we’re too busy paying attention to reactionaries. Irony of the Day: The bald eagle is coming off the endangered species list just as the country it represents put the rest of the globe on it. That’s what America calls fair trade.

When Chinese were the illegal immigrants: The Oklahoman has a fascinating, oif confusedly written story, on Chinese immigrants from the turn of the last century: “Unwelcome, illegal and unable to bring their families from China to America, many Chinese left the West Coast, beginning a decades-long migration inland to try to escape racial violence and persecution. […] White families warned unruly children to behave lest the Chinese took them into their subterranean lair, never to be seen again. One account claimed the Chinese fled the basements after a man committed suicide there. The extent of the tunnels grew with each person who told the story.”

Dick Cheney, Angler: The Washington Post today begins a four-part series on Dick Cheney, “the most influential and powerful man ever to hold the office of vice president. This series examines Cheney's largely hidden and little-understood role in crafting policies for the War on Terror, the economy and the environment.” The Boston Globe begins a seven-part series on Mitt Romney.

Brazilian racism: “Visiting Brazil,” Leonard Pitts writes in the Miami Herald, “where race has a way of seeming both hauntingly familiar and exotically strange, the experience is like looking into a fun-house mirror.” Defenders or Pretenders? The controversial Guardian Angers are patrolling the streets of New Orleans.

Revisiting the Land of “Midnight Express”: “In 1970, [Billy] Hayes, then a 23-year-old U.S. college student hanging out in Istanbul, was caught trying to smuggle hashish out of the country. His six-year ordeal – imprisonment, harsh treatment and finally a desperate escape from the Bosporus island prison where he was serving a life sentence – was immortalized in a 1977 book and 1978 film called Midnight Express. His story effectively turned Turkey into an international byword for human rights abuse. Now a gaunt, slightly sheepish 60-year-old, Hayes was back for the first time since his escape, thanks to an extraordinary suspension of a Turkish order banning him from the country. (An Interpol arrest warrant for Hayes had long since been wiped out.) The reason for the Turks' change of heart: Hayes wanted to apologize and "make amends" – not for the book he wrote, but for the movie, scripted by Oliver Stone, on which it was based. "The film wasn't what Turkish people deserved," Hayes told reporters at a jammed June 15 press conference, explaining that it painted an unfairly bleak portrait of the country.”

Lastly, if anyone gives a frimp about Shaun Pollock, the cricketer, he was spotted at Chenai Airport by the equally famous Sandeep Kulkarni.

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Raising obsequiousness

Flack Day
Half-Mast Patriotism

They’re dying by the droves in Iraq. They’re being ignored when they come home. They could use a few more gestures than the symbolic kind right about now, if it’s support we’re talking about. But this is what they’re arguing about in Michigan: “The Stars and Stripes in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars lodge here flies at half-staff because Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm issued a statewide order to lower the flag for 24 hours to honor a Michigan soldier killed in Iraq. Just blocks away, however, at the veterans’ hospital run by federal officials who say they do not answer to the governor the flag flutters at full staff. […T]he differing response to Ms. Granholm’s order is part of a broader and, perhaps, more universal wrangle over how to commemorate tragedy when there is so much of it and whether lowering the flag each time a soldier is killed cheapens the tribute by doing it too often. […] Opponents of lowering the flag see it as a subtle antiwar gesture that may run counter to federal guidelines, which reserve the action for ‘officials,’ not soldiers.”

An anti-war gesture? A rather lame one, as anti-war gestures go: it amounts to even less than the expense of a $2 “Support Our Troops” sticker while raising to full staff not a community’s grief, but a community showing off its grief. What difference does it make to the day’s casualties? And what hypocrisy: isn’t this the flag in whose name these men were sent to die? Rituals are the head of foam on draughts of the irrational, but there’s at least a hint of logic in the old habit of lowering the flag only for the unlikely, untimely or regretful death of a president, current or former, not because the president himself represents so much, but because the presidency he would have occupied for however many years did, does. That’s not to say that it isn’t supremely distasteful to assume that lowering the flag is good for “officials” but not good for “soldiers.” Between the two, soldiers are obviously the more deserving. But it’s just as distasteful of Michigan to lower its flag for a dead soldier from Michigan and not for a dead one from Nebraska or Iowa or the Marshal Islands, or Iraq for that matter.

It’s always seemed to be obsequious to the core for little communities to use their flags as yo-yos to public emotions. Not long ago here in this exurb of mine the mayor’s wife died. They lowered the flags for her. They haven’t yet had the verve to lower the flag for the death of a councilman’s dog or mistress or Father Confessor. Here’s what I’d like to do: fly the Iraqi flag half-mast every single day for the hundred and twenty Iraqis we’re helping to clobber every day. Compared to that, American losses are a half-mast misfortune.

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A Few Rhythms Eluding Obama's Faith

A little less MLK, please. A little more Malcolm X, if 2Pac is too far underground.

We gotta make a change...
It's time for us as a people to start makin' some changes.
Let's change the way we eat, let's change the way we live
and let's change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn't working so it's on us to do
what we gotta do, to survive.

[Hear it all...]

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Americans Love Martial Law

Asked about their highest confidence in the nation’s institutions, 69 percent of Americans said the military was it—tops on a list of a dozen-odd institutions. Small business is next at 59 percent, followed by—what else—the police, at 54 percent. As Yakov Smirnoff would say, what a country: We’re growing more Soviet every day.

None of this should be surprising considering Americans’ love of uniforms and their addictive dependence on force. The 1990s’ conservatives worried about Americans’ dependence on welfare and its alleged effects on the family. But what of Americans’ dependence on authority, force, power? Fourth on the list of high confidence, at 46 percent, is “church/organized religion,” itself a close corollary of the military. Welfare for the soul. Banks are next at 41 percent, then come the dismal disciplines. The Supreme Court gets a pitiful 34 percent, public schools 33, the medical system an amazing 31 percent, when it should be getting a negative rating. The presidency still manages to eke out 25 percent confidence. Television news and newspapers can only be glad to rank a shade above Congress, which clocks in at an all-time low of 14 percent. Have a look, from the latest Gallup Poll:

I received a couple of emails from the sort of local reactionaries who regularly remind me of conservativism's arrested development and proud imbecility: Look, they said, where "your" Democrats have landed you. They miss the point, of course. The message is rather clear. Americans have next-to-no respect or confidence for democratic institutions, whether it’s the three branches of government, the Fourth Estate, the criminal justice system (19 percent), the educational system. Had respondents been asked about the nation’s college and university system, the anti-intellectual strain that seems as strong these days as it was in the 1950s and in the days of William Jennings Bryan would have probably ranked it lower than Congress. That democratic play-acting carries on the surface—the campaigning, the half-hearted voting, participation in the life of the polity—begins to take the aspect of a world disconnected from the one it’s designed to reflect and represent. The “disuniting of America” historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote about in the 1990s, in the context of multiculturalism, here seems more severely pronounced, and more ominously so. Democracy isn’t politics. It isn’t the campaigns and the elections. That’s the work of one day a year. Democracy is what happens the other 364 days throughout the nation’s institutions, and how much a nation’s people feel connected to those institutions.

That the only institutions Americans feel truly connected to, or at least respectful of, are primarily non-democratic, authoritarian, force-driven and designed in large part to kill, repress, punish or, in religions case, evoke submission, should make us wonder: are we truly a free people? In words only. In reality, we run around chanting about freedom but everywhere we beg for chains—for ourselves, and more to the point, for our neighbors.

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CIA to Air Decades of Its Dirty Laundry

This should be fun: "The CIA will declassify hundreds of pages of long-secret records detailing some of the intelligence agency's worst illegal abuses -- the so-called "family jewels" documenting a quarter-century of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying, kidnapping and infiltration of leftist groups from the 1950s to the 1970s, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday. The documents, to be publicly released next week, also include accounts of break-ins and theft, the agency's opening of private mail to and from China and the Soviet Union, wiretaps and surveillance of journalists, and a series of "unwitting" tests on U.S. civilians, including the use of drugs." Just don't ask the CIA about its "global war on terror" trove, which should make this batch look like Harriet the Spy stuff. But juicy revelations all around. Robert Kennedy personally orchestrating the assassination of Fidel Castro? Seymour Hersh, a government nemesis older than the sweat on Nixon's brow? Kissinger, the criminal master of cover-ups? Then again, none of this is new. This is all about confirming what journalism, back when it was worth its ink, had already revealed: "Most of the major incidents and operations in the reports to be released next week were revealed in varying detail during congressional investigations that led to widespread intelligence reforms and increased oversight. But the treasure-trove of CIA documents, generated as the Vietnam War wound down and agency involvement in Nixon's "dirty tricks" political campaign began to be revealed, is expected to provide far more comprehensive accounts, written by the agency itself." Again, the question to keep in mind is: To what extent has the agency changed? The full story...

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