Wednesday, April 20, 2011

against the death penalty

Dear Representative Kokoruda, April 20, 2011

I am writing to urge you to vote ‘Yes’ to repeal the Death Penalty. Several decades ago, the Supreme Court ended the ban on capital punishment, with the proviso that it be carried out fairly. The death penalty is not fairly carried out: it is clear that sentencing often depends on factors (race, poverty, etc) having nothing to do with the objective facts of the crime.
The number of people who have been exonerated while on death row is also testimony to the fact that mistakes are made. I am anguished at the thought that innocent people have been sentenced – and in some cases put – to death.
Moral reasoning aside, the argument that the death penalty deters criminals is patently false. One need only glance at major crime statistics by state to see that the states which carry out capital punishment the most also feature some of the worst crime rates. The death penalty does not deter people like Stephen Hayes from committing crime. I consider killing carried out by the state a sign of the failure of government – a caving-in to mob instincts.
The real reason the death penalty exists is the wish for revenge. While not exactly a praiseworthy reason to kill, revenge might be acceptable – if the system were fair and failsafe, and if it in fact deterred crime. Neither of these conditions is met, which means we have a mode of punishment pandering to vengeance, faulty in application, and useless in effecting its stated aim. It is expensive to boot.
I know you are politically moderate, and focused particularly on economic issues. You and all other citizen-representatives are the bedrock on which our republic rests. The death penalty is an extreme measure and a cop-out from the hard work of making society better. Connecticut should not be in the company of states like Texas, not to mention countries like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Please vote to repeal the death penalty in Connecticut.

Friday, February 18, 2011

bahrain, bahrain

The situation in Bahrain is worse than it was in Egypt. 1, The military is killing unarmed demonstrators. 2, Bahrain is situated on the Persian Gulf, across from Iran, which means that the Obama government -- no doubt with patriotic support from the Right -- has decided that democracy can wait for them. Oh, and worst of all, the trump card -- most Bahrainis are Shiite. Think, 'boogie man' (one of several). After seeing Iraq, our violent little fantasy, slip into closer relations with Iran, we are not about to let the same thing happen with another majority-Shiite ally.

I'll be furious if Obama does not speak out forcefully. The Arabs have been sacrificed for our high-living lifestyles (or for Israeli brutality) for too many decades!

Friday, February 4, 2011

(mis)logic of autocracy

i hope now that the old 'logic' (read: delusion) that autocratic stability is our best hope against Islamist power is thrown in the dumpster of history.

for one, political Islam was always overrated, both as a threat to the US, and as a political force. it grew gigantic in people's paranoid imaginations. and one reason people had to rely on their imaginations to conceive of it was because of the autocracies within which it first flourished: without free press, or democracy, no one really knew how strong they were. and so -- enter the paranoid imagination of our national 'security' apparatus. our very expensive Keystone Kops.

secondly, political Islam was not eradicated by autocracy -- on the contrary, it flourished in its fertile soil of stagnation, humiliation, and corruption! after all this time, maybe our national 'security' fools will recognize this elementary fact: that freedom is like sunlight, working to scour away dark things like appeals to violence. let freedom ring in Egypt, and in all of our autocratic 'allies' -- and see the 'threat' of Islam collapse as the hallucination it was all along.

silver trees

yesterday driving down the Merritt Parkway i was amazed at trees glittering, blazing in the sun. i realized that every branch and twig was plated in ice which caught the light. it was a cruel beauty -- trees and saplings and reeds bowed, armored in silver. when not viewed against the sun, the trees were like an old photograph, black frosted with feathery grey. but i kept craning my head high up the windshield, eager for a glimpse of that silver and gold glory flickering amongst the spidery branches.

at a less direct angle of light, the treetops sparkled with diamonds nestled here and there.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

patriotic Islamophobia

It is incredible listening to the patriotic paranoia echoing through the US media. Mixed in with joy at the (possible) coming of democracy to Egypt are unmistakeable tremors of fear that an 'Islamic' or 'Islamist' or 'al-Qaeda' government will come to power there. A caller to an NPR news show today demanded to know why 'President Obama insisted, insisted, that the Muslim Brotherhood attend his Cairo speech??'

The word 'Muslim' has really become a catch-all boogeyman in US politics. As usual, paranoia -- whether real or simply a cover for bigotry -- is a product of ignorance. Are we to deny the rights of people in other countries the right to form religiously-oriented parties? And so what if they do? Muslim does not equal 'terrorist.'

I actually caught some pundit on CNN talk about the possibility of a 'pro-Al-Qaeda government' in Egypt. Are you insane? I thought. The number of people in all of Egpypt who might be considered 'pro-al-Qaeda' probably numbers in the hundreds. Out of 80 million people. This comment is akin to worrying that a 'pro-KKK government' might form in the US.

There ought to be a literacy test for appearing on TV news shows! As in, basic cultural/historical/political literacy.

By the way, the Muslim Brotherhood is an utterly cautious, even timid organization. They have foresworn violence since the 60s. If they want to contest elections -- let them! And anyway, what right do we the US have to tell Egypt how to run their democracy?

This last point reminds me of the assertion I read recently that "Carter had lost Iran, and Obama is losing Egypt." Has the writer considered the crazy paternalism in this statement? As if our presidents were somehow kings ruling over some piddly little province somewhere.

Aside from the dumb arrogance, let me point out a very elementary historical fact: what 'lost' Iran to us in 79 was not Carter, but the CIA in 1953 overthrowing Iran's budding democracy because back then they were terrified of nationalists (much like moderate religious parties morph in their paranoia into al-Qaeda, nationalists then morphed into Stalin), and what is 'losing' Egypt to us now is our 3 decade-long support for a dictator! Nothing big happens overnight.

There ought to be a commitment to democratic principles test as well for talking heads! And in America of all places . . . Should we rename it 'The Land of the Free (for us only -- the rest of the world be damned!)'?

Egypt, I salute your courage.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nap Time

This really happened
– every bit of it.
I saw signs, sure, outraged cries
that I would not help
you walk. Real anguish. Screams meant
to get me to my feet and
hands under your arms
to march through the house. I drew
the line. You wouldn’t eat, either. The sight
of the food twisted
your head aside -- my ‘yum yum
yum’ trick flopped. I hypothesized –
and brought you up to bed. Oh you wailed,
squirmed -- out of my arms,
but -- brought down again you
quietened, quiescent --

– eyes on the
sky branches fluttering their last
leaves livid and then your fingers
dug absently at my face like play-doh,
picking at my buttons,
toying my teeth that nibbled a
finger or two (it was back
to the shimmering window once or
twice though before your eyes closed
and feet kicked and
hand pressed still against my neck
resisting it and me
even after sleep had fallen
-- or, not really accepting an end).


Friday, January 14, 2011

having it both ways

Sarah Palin claims that criminal acts must 'stand on their own.' and yet she also claims that America's greatness is due to something shared, something collective among all the people. she cannot logically assert that bad american things belong to individuals but good american things belong to, and come from, everybody.

a cursory look at the events of last saturday show that, while loughner as a deranged individual was ultimately and most fully responsible, his acts were certainly enabled and shaped by the society in which they took place. for one obvious example, the community college's self-protecting action of expelling Loughner but thinking nothing of his possible danger to the wider society is typical of a not-so-great feature of modern american life. the college properly worried about the safety of its own people. but it went no further: as long as my butt is covered, no problem!

another example is the prevalent gun culture in places like arizona. gun evangelists who insist that everyone embrace guns as they do believe that there are two gun cultures -- a good one and a bad one. like Palin with american culture, they would like to pretend that gun culture only includes the good, while the bad is just random bad people doing their own thing. the fact that loughner lived in arizona meant his gun obsession was totally acceptable and even legal. it raised no eyebrows. his madness was fully camouflaged within the mainstream arizona gun culture. it is not likely his obsession would have gotten so far in a place with stricter gun laws and less fascination with guns. so, no, arizona's gun culture did not cause the killings to happen. but the gun culture made it much easier to happen.

Palin and other figures on the Right claim that they are accused of full and direct responsibility for the violence. a 'blood libel,' if you will. that claim is false. what critics assert is something more nuanced, a nuance that Palin is willfully incapable of understanding: that crimes come ultimately from individuals but are nonetheless deeply influenced by society. no one is accusing Palin of killing those people in Tucson.

but all the bad things about modern American culture -- the cover-my-own-rear mentality, the belief that (good) individual violence can stamp out 'bad' violence, the notion that certain ethnic groups are responsible for all social evils, the selfish focus on me and only me (which used to be linked to the hippie left, but now seems more typical of much of the right), the dismantling of social safety nets such as health care, including mental health care (technically there was a system in place, but the fact that the community college didn't know about it doesn't say much for it's effectiveness), the irrational hatred of government (as if we could have a country without a government) -- played a part in loughner's life and actions. and even Palin -- especially Palin -- who pretends to be such a worshiper of America -- has plenty of critical anger regarding America. i just think her anger makes no sense logically.

she is angry chiefly at class discrimination. she is looked down on by elites -- such as me, i presume. but, incoherently, her answer to this situation is not to deal head on and courageously with the economic and political causes (unfettered capitalism with no government regulation) that brought about our high levels of inequality. no, her answer is to menace elites -- presumably, only left-leaning elites, not conservative elites -- with patriotism. and to continue those free market policies which gave the elites such power. go figure.

Palin cannot have her cake and eat it, too. she cannot deliberately invoke gun violence in her political speech and expect people to accept that she is at the same time pure as the driven snow. her repeated use of the word 'reload,' for example, is a clear flirtation with violence. my criticism here is not the oft-repeated call for 'civility.' what does that even mean? holding the door for old ladies? i don't think civility is very important in politics. politics is a tough business. but flirtation with violent, clearly eliminationalist rhetoric -- any metaphors which refer to killing political opponents -- has no place in democratic politics.

Palin's defenders make absurd parodies of the criticism levelled against her, 'wondering' aloud if they can even say things like 'up in arms' anymore. these tactics are too cute by half. plenty of political language derives from physical acts (lash out) or military language (outflank, defeat, trench warfare). but most of these terms have been in long use in politics and are no longer used for their original meaning. we rarely use 'up in arms' anymore to mean people have picked up guns to fight. it is used almost exclusively to refer to widespread anger and condemnation.

'reload' is not one of those widely used metaphorical terms. it is used specifically to refer to putting more ammunition in one's gun. this is precisely why Palin used it so often and so insistently. she liked flirting with the angry crowd, giving them a little of what they wanted. that is certainly her right. but she cannot have it both ways, flirting with violence and avoiding criticism for it. time for her to man up. she said it. she owns it. she used the word for its explicit linkage to violence. and now she denies it, like a dancer who shows her leg and then angrily denies that she was using sex to titillate her audience.

the titillation of violence. it excites extremists on the Right. unfortunately, this titillation with violent speech has percolated upwards, and been appropriated by some leaders on the Right.

and yes, the violent language she and other leaders on the Right have used since Obama came into office did play a part -- however small, however diffuse -- in the political culture within which Loughner decided to act. crazy people are aware, even hyper aware, of the culture around them. to think they are just trapped in their heads without any awareness of what is going on around them is disingenuous and is, as usual with many of the Right's arguments, little linked to reality and how it happens. we are all in society. we are all in our predicament together. we share the good and we share the bad. one can't pretend that we share all good things but bad things are totally and absolutely individual.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Juan Cole on Gaza

The Norwegian newspaper Aftenpost has released a March, 2008, US embassy cable describing the Israeli blockade and siege of Occupied Gaza as an attempt to reduce the society to the lowest possible level of functioning without provoking a “humanitarian crisis” (presumably mass starvation).

“Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis.”

And, with regard to taking money out of circulation in Gaza, a deflationary policy used as a tool of oppression:

‘ As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to econoffs on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge ‘

It seems to me the Israeli right-wingers missed their mark, since 55% of Palestinians in Gaza are food-insecure and 10% of children show signs of stunting from malnutrition. I’d call that a humanitarian crisis. What the despicable Israeli officials meant by their phrase, of course, is that a mass die-off should be avoided that would bring to bear world pressure to abandon this criminal policy. The Israeli blockade of Gaza is illegal in international law and violates explicit United Nations Security Council resolutions. (Wasn’t defying UNSC resolutions given as a reason by the American Right for invading and overthrowing the Iraqi government?)

Although the MSM is putting the blockade in the past tense (“Israel intended”), it is still very much being pursued. Virtually no Palestinian made goods are allowed to be exported. A very slight easing of imports has been permitted, and Egypt is letting in some volunteer aid, as with the recent Asian flotilla. You wouldn’t want your own child to live as Palestinian children are mostly living in today’s Gaza.

This Israeli policy also violates the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of populations in Occupied Territories (yes, Israel still occupies Gaza even though it is not actively colonizing it any more):