Current Affairs

Another Reason Why I Left the Midwest

Do I even need to explain? I can't stand the racism, the bigotry, the narrow-mindedness, the willful ignorance. It's so pervasive and so full of knee-jerk fear. [from Blogger Interrupted, via Shakesville.

(Sorry I've been such a bad blogger. Just had an unexpected guest for an unexpected amount of time, and I'm way behind on on my classwork. Can't let my students down. More next week, when I hope to be caught up again.)


The Police State and the Embedded Media

RadicalmoiHistory repeats itself, rather drearily. Four years ago, at the Republican National Convention in New York City, hundreds of protesters exercising their right to peaceful assembly, were rounded up and tossed into cages on one of the piers. Many of them were held there overnight in foul conditions, many of them were held for more than 24 hours without being charged. New York City is still digging itself out from under the reprehensible conduct of its police in this matter. And yet . . . did anybody learn anything from this? Apparently not.

Well, besides how to round up protesters exercising their right to free assembly and put them in cages. And how to keep those actions out of the public eye.

By arresting the media covering it.

Despite clear identification of themselves as authorized members of the Fourth Estate, Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke, and three members of the independent TV & radio show "Democracy Now!" were also busted for filming the protesters. Amy Goodman, host of the show had her credentials ripped from her neck and, on video, was roughed up merely for protesting their arrest. She was later charged with a misdemeanor of resisting arrest. Two of them, the show's producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were charged with "suspicion of rioting," a felony. (Think their last names might have had anything to do with that?) In the following video of Salazar's arrest, you can clearly hear her identifying herself as press while the cops beat her down. I find the video terrifying and shameful.

Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild, is quoted as saying of this statute, "its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested." Handy to have that thing on the books though for those pesky dissenters, like vegans, and people from Food Not Bombs, whose slogan is "cook for peace." Now that's threatening.

You might have noticed the dearth of coverage about this in the mainstream media. I've looked in vain for New York Times or Washington Post coverage. You'd think this would be a national issue, the muzzling and arrest of reporters. It impinges directly on freedom of the press. And yet, the only groups to cover it have been the independent press like Salon, HuffPo and Alternet.

Where the press has responded, as the hometown Star Tribune did, it was with nonsensical, xenophobic vitriol:

It’s worth scrolling through the list of Monday bookings from the Ramsey County jail now posted on the Star Tribune’s online InfoCenter (startribune.com/infocenter). Many of those arrested in St. Paul weren’t carrying IDs or wouldn’t give their names. Those who were identified came from Lexington, Ky.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Portland, Ore., and dozens of other U.S. cities. These weren’t the sons and daughters of Highland Park and south Minneapolis.

Those fucking New Yorkers. How dare they come out here and report our news! And you know, this wasn't a local convention. This was the National Republican Convention. Where did they think everyone else was coming from?

To be fair, the Dems had their share of pre-emptive arrests too, but nothing so egregious as these were. The local cops had been recruiting informants for months against groups that were known to be peaceful.

One of the most frightening responses to this episode was of St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington, when asked by Amy Goodman "how reporters are to operate in this atmosphere": “By embedding reporters in our mobile field force.”

Sound familiar? That's right. Just like reporters are embedded with military units in Iraq, where their reporting is carefully censored, supposedly to protect the lives of soldiers. The reason for that tactic was the lesson learned with the Vietnam War, which was openly reported by the press, live from the battlefields, on television, with nightly body counts. That made it an extremely unpopular war for Lyndon Johnson and when the US went to war again, the Pentagon cited issues of national security to restrict the press's access and ability to report.

Regardless of whether you think there's some reason for restricting press access (and I don't), last I looked, the Twin Cities were not a war zone, there were no issues of national security at stake, and the police are not the army.

Maybe that's changing. If so, be afraid.


Rites of Citizenship

Radicalmoi Now that I've decided I'm no longer bound by the strictures of my religion, there are some new choices presenting themselves. One of these is whether I should register to vote.

Needless to say, many of my attitudes toward citizenship have been shaped not only by my former religion's doctrine, but by the household I grew up in, where Dad was die-hard Democrat and my mother, though ostensibly neutral, enjoyed a good political argument as much as anybody who actually voted. We were an ultra-liberal household in many ways, if a morally conservative one. But only Dad voted. Even so, nobody in my house trusted a politician of any stripe farther than they could be thrown, and even Dad was more radical libertarian than left-wing liberal.

The religion I left prides itself on being neutral to political issues, though I've come to realize it isn't entirely so. They don't vote, they won't join the military. They do pay their taxes, scrupulously, and it's left up to the individual as to whether to serve on a jury or not, whether to join a union or cross a picket line. I have cousins who worked as hospital orderlies stateside as conscientious objectors during the Vietnam war rather than join the military and I know people who went to jail rather than fight in WWII. They're happy to use the courts, to appeal to Caesar when they feel their rights have been violated. I've written a number of letters to government officials all over the world asking them to stop persecuting and imprisoning my brothers and sisters because of their religion and their political neutrality. I think that's one of the things that got me interested in human rights issues to begin with.

Belonging to an apocalyptic religion fosters a deep sense of pessimism in its followers, as well as a kind of political paralysis. If it's all going to hell in a hand basket anyway, why get involved? You're powerless to change anything and God will sort it out eventually. But even as a kid, I itched to get involved in protests against things I felt were wrong, for ideals I felt were right: against the Vietnam War, against nuclear arms, for the Civil Rights movement. As I got older, it seem less and less tenable that I should be writing letters only to free people of my own faith. Why not everyone who was being persecuted, discriminated against, jailed for things they said? Why not, say, Nelson Mandela, too? Racial discrimination hurts everyone as much as religious persecution does. It was feminism that finally got me fired up enough, if not to vote, then to speak out, to talk back, to identify with something more than just my religion, with the radical notion that women are people.

And there I was, suddenly: on the slippery slope, sliding.

Continue reading "Rites of Citizenship" »


Boning Up: Better Late Than Never

Badgirl_moiSo you're not the only one with a summer reading list. The FBI has one too. Seems a number of the are attending summer school and boning up on their Arabic Studies. I shouldn't make fun of this, but I'm a little cranky from waking up from a dream this morning that I was on the FBI watch list just for wearing a Question Authority button on my jacket. Don't know what they'd think about my "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" button. And aren't they supposed to hire experts in these areas? I mean, I know about professional development and all that, but this reading list makes me a little nervous about general competence.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation requires the following items, Exact Match Only, to the following: 
GHOST WARS , 150, EA;
TERROR IN THE NAME OF GOD, 180, EA;
LOOMING TOWER, 370, EA;
HEZBOLLAH, 150, EA;
UNDERSTANDING TERROR NETWORKS, 150, EA;
2008 FEDERAL CRIMINAL CODE RULES BOOK, 100, EA;
HOLY WAR INC, 30, EA;
SOLDIERS OF GOD; WITH ISLAMIC WARRIORS, 30, EA;
INSIDE ALQUAEDA; GLOBAL NETWORK, 30, EA;
UNDERSTANDING ARABS : A GUIDE, 30, EA;
FRANKLIN COREY STYLE GUIDE, 4, EA;
AMERICAN JIHAD : THE TERRORIST, 30, EA;
MAKERS OF CONTEMPORARY ISLAM, 20, EA;
LINE BY LINE : HOW TO EDIT YOUR WRITING, 4, EA;
THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, 4, EA;
THE TRUE BELIEVER, 385, EA;
A FURY FOR GOD: THE ISLAMIST ATTACK, 30, EA;
ISLAMIA : A SHORT STORY, 30, EA;
WHAT WENT WRING [sic]: THE CLASH OF BET ISLAM, 30, EA; [which I suspect is really "The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East"]
MICROSOFT OFFICE 2003 FOR DUMMIES, 4, EA;
EXCEL 2003 BIBLE BY JOHN WALKENBACH, 2, EA;
POWERPOINT 2003 FOR DUMMIES, 3, EA;
MICROSOFT OFFICE POWERPOINT 2003 STEP BY STEP, 3, EA;
MICROSOFT OFFICE PROJECT STEP BY STEP, 1, EA;
THE KORAN (PENGUIN CLASSICS), 130, EA;

Apparently there's some computer training on the curriculum and a writing class or two. Nice to see a little literature thrown in there, too. And that refresher course on the Criminal Code and Federal rules. I hope all these are just for the Newbies.

[Tip o the hat to Book Patrol and Resource Shelf]


Your Call May be Monitored . . .

RadicalmoiWhat else could you call this post? What else would you title a protest against the newly passed right to spy on its citizens that Bush's cronies and the chickenshit Dems in the Senate just handed the Imperial arm of the government?  What else could you title a post about the sudden dismissal of more than 40 pending lawsuits against the telecom companies for aiding and abetting said then-illegal spying by our own government? Nothing like breaking the law first, then rewriting it to retroactively cover your ass, which is exactly what this is.

Not only may your call be monitored, but your Internet transactions as well, though these are more difficult to trace. And if you think the Government won't actually misuse this new power, then you need to take a look at why the original law requiring search warrants for wiretapping was put in place in the late 1970s. As Julian Sanchez points out in his recent Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times,

The original FISA law was passed in 1978 after a thorough congressional investigation headed by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) revealed that for decades, intelligence analysts -- and the presidents they served -- had spied on the letters and phone conversations of union chiefs, civil rights leaders, journalists, antiwar activists, lobbyists, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices -- even Eleanor Roosevelt and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Church Committee reports painstakingly documented how the information obtained was often "collected and disseminated in order to serve the purely political interests of an intelligence agency or the administration, and to influence social policy and political action."

I don't know about you, but I would consider myself, if not an activist, at least anti-war and pro-civil rights. If blogging counts as activism, then yeah, I guess I am one. The revision of FISA leaves the likes of me, ordinary, innocent if sometimes rabble rousing citizens vulnerable to the abuses of an overly nosy government. Prior to FISA, the FBI and other intelligence agencies, including the New York City Police Department were spying on an ex-president's wife and duly appointed Supreme Court justices, as well as civil rights activists. They've gone right back to it under this regime. Now they can do it legally.

Worried yet? You should be.

Why did Obama vote in support of this? (Sen. Clinton voted against it.) More importantly, if he's elected, will he urge Congress to revisit it and reinstate the already workable guidelines previously in place to protect citizens' right to privacy? McCain sure won't.


It's That Simple

Radicalmoi It's only grown-ups who complicate things so much that they can't see the forest for the trees.  Share. Play nice. Don't hit. Care for each other. It's not that hard. We just make it complicated with our theories of economics, our artificial borders and insistence on national identity, our short-sightedness, our greed. The simple truth is that we create our own suffering. And here's the child telling emperors they have no clothes. Be ashamed.