Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Responding to Bigotry

One day at school last week, I failed to respond to two separate instances of gay-bashing. A custodian cleaning my classroom made a comment, upon learning that a certain celebrity had died of AIDS, that the man "must have been a freak." Stunning. I was so surprised by this I didn't say anything.

Nor later, in a crowded teacher lounge, when a staff member referred to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as "Tony Homo." It was an awkward moment, as I had not been part of that conversation and was on my way out. Mostly, though, my failure to respond was out of surprise and not being prepared to answer.

I did slightly better on a different day, during a phone call with someone from the Fraternal Order of Police who called to raise money. Again, it was an awkward moment, as I was heading out the door. For some reason, I mentioned my wife, and he made some sexist joke about wives. This time, I said something at least, pointing out that of the two of us, my wife is far more competent when it comes to handling money.

On reflection, one of the things that bothered me -- besides the open prejudice itself (and in a school, no less) -- was the assumption that I would share their sentiment. Thus, they felt it was socially acceptable to air these remarks. By saying nothing, I accommodated. In other words, I made it socially acceptable, too.

Today, an email arrived. It was one of those things that gets forwarded all over the internet. The email complained about the post office's first-class postal stamp commemorating a muslim festival day. It aired a bunch of anti-Islamic claptrap about how we should not honor anything related to Islam because of various acts of terrorism in which muslims were implicated. It gets better at the end, when the email accuses President Obama of ORDERING the post office to issue this stamp. It recommends that "patriotic Americans" go into the post office and loudly proclaim that they do not want "a muslim stamp" on their mail. It also works in a little bit of disgruntled Christian persecutionism in there -- post office honors muslims but we can't have a creche in the courthouse, that sort of thing.

The stamp, by the way, was issued in 2001, long before most of us had even heard of Barack Obama. It is pictured above -- notice the old postage rate.


Sometimes it is easier for my typing fingers to be eloquent. Also, I had been feeling some embarrassment about my failure to say something, or even make a face, in the face of unconsidered bigotry. I copied every address I could find on this forwarded email, and wrote a message. While rejecting the email and its sentiments in strong terms, I attempted to write something positive, speaking to what is best in my fellow citizens, and attempt to re-appropriate the patriotism theme.

Below, my response to the "Muslim Stamp" email:


As a patriotic citizen of the United States of America, a man who appreciates and values the rich diversity of our nation's people, I think everyone who received this email has been deeply insulted by whoever wrote this Muslim-bashing trash and thought they would appreciate it. Those who forward this email are participating in the spread of vicious, ignorant, and malicious hate speech against other Americans.

While there is no accurate count of American citizens who belong to the Islamic faith, a conservative estimate accepted by many (and cited in the World Almanac) is five million.
If an entire religious people is to blame for the actions of a few, I wonder if those of you forwarding this garbage consider Christians collectively guilty for the terrorism, murder, and assaults committed at medical clinics that provide abortion services. After all, this is violence committed in the name of religion, is it not?

Of course, that would not be fair. Neither is it fair to scapegoat the entire religion of Islam, and its faithful adherents in the United States, for the actions of a few people who, come to think of it, were not even American citizens.

Whether you want to accept reality or not, millions of your own countrymen are muslim and for the most part you do not even notice them because, like you, they are living normal lives, earning a living and taking care of their families, praying to God in the manner appropriate for them.

The post office issued a rather pretty stamp several years ago observing Eid with a design that featured some Arabic calligraphy. This stamp predates the election of President Obama, and in any case the President of the United States does not issue orders to the post office. The statement that Obama is directing the post office to put Islamic figures on its stamps is utterly false and ridiculous.

An email encouraging fellow citizens to make false and defamatory statements about their legitimately elected President, and to insult their fellow citizens on the basis of religion, is about as unpatriotic and shameful a thing as I can imagine. Please delete this rubbish. Do not pass it along. It diminishes you, it diminishes those to whom you send it, and it diminishes this great, beautiful nation of ours.

May God bless America and shine a light of wisdom into the dark hearts of those who dwell in bigotry.

Most Sincerely, and proudly signing my name,


Monday, September 28, 2009

Zen and Democracy

The practice of Zen and the practice of democracy come together around certain points.

For one thing, they both deal with the individual's confrontation with intimacy. The meaning of Zen practice to the individual is waking up from the illusion of a particular self, and realizing the wholeness of life. Drop the idea of self and larger self appears; then you drop that, too. It is not, however, an experience or an idea -- it is not anything this paragraph can put into words, which is why words about Zen are always stupid and I always feel embarrassed writing about Zen experience on this blog.

Awakening is the best impetus for social action.

The practice of democracy requires feeling intimate with one's community, and taking personal responsibility for it. Starting small is good: your neighborhood, your workplace, maybe your union local. Expand outward from there to larger communities -- your church, your city -- eventually to one's country and outward to our entire world. Start small, though. Start with your own neighbors -- do you ever talk to them? Have you ever asked your neighbor to turn down his stereo? Have you ever exchanged food or information about goings on in the neighborhood? For some, that all comes naturally; for others, it is unthinkable. Some us write letters to politicians in Washington but don't even know the name of the woman in the apartment next door.

Zen and democracy can be sticky.

Zen, like any spiritual practice, can become a costume, an identity, something to reinforce egotistical pride and divide us from our intrinsic unity with all of life.

Democracy can be a catastrophe of human conflict, attachment to opinions and ideologies, and too much democratic argument can bog down government by preventing timely action. One can fall into a hungry ghost realm of angry activism, or frustrated apathy. This, too, divides us from our intrinsic unity with all of life.

With both, it becomes necessary to return to basics. Sit, breathe, leave thoughts alone. After sitting, do some work without going back into thinking. Then, maybe try reading -- but keeping don't-know mind even while reading. Return frequently to these tiny steps with formal practice, so you stop believing there is any barrier between "practice" and "life."

It is possible, then, to treat democracy like work period at a Zen Center. After awakening, clean the toilet. Scrub scrub scrub: work period and Zen are the same. Treat democracy the same way. Read a story or research a topic, for the purpose of making an intelligent choice. Voting time, go and vote, then walk away. Go to a union meeting, if you belong to one, and practice mindful breathing and deep listening. If you have time and your karma inclines you to be interested, go to a town hall, spend a day in court, or a political demonstration, and stick with the mindful breathing and deep listening. If you are called upon to speak at any of these events, speak truthfully in the manner of a bodhisattva, as best as you are able.

With a little practice and some useful technique, mindful citizenship and Zen are the same.

And if you will forgive my opinion -- I think we could really use a lot more mindful citizenship.

If these words help in any way to bring these two concerns together, it will have been worth the effort. Thank you for reading.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My Kenyan Birth Certificate

Here's mine. Click on it to see it better.

Get yours here.

Something In The Road

From the G-20 Summit protests in Pittsburgh.
Click for larger view.

Obama Will Not Welcome H.H. The Dalai Lama [UPDATED]

The candidate Barack Obama was eager to engage with the exiled Tibetan leader.

President Obama, not so much.


My email to the President's office:

Today we received the appalling news that the Obama Administration will not receive a visit from His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his visit to the United States. I call on the President to reverse this decision.

The American people are not naive about the politics behind this decision; but we must reject the politics when they are wrong. These handshake photo-ops with the Dalai Lama are, as the entire establishment knows, not going to set free a single Tibetan. We will not see a serious diplomatic effort to restore Tibet's independence and this has much to do with China's status in the world.

While I understand the wisdom of engaging with China, that relationship cannot blind us to the simple and inarguable injustice that is demonstrated in the long-term exile of the Dalai Lama. He is a globally respected spiritual leader, a moral force of our time, as well as the exiled ruler of a country that was brutally conquered and eliminated. And my President will not meet this man and shake his hand? I feel shamed by this decision.

The "realist" argument is wrong. How weak is our moral leadership in the world if we cannot even muster the moral courage for a photo-op with the Dalai Lama, one of the world's most respected and respectable individuals?

It is a mistake, and it must be reversed quickly. I call on the President to meet with the Dalai Lama in October. Failing to do so is an abdication of moral courage and would stand as a glaring contradiction of the kind of leadership the President spoke of as a candidate.

Swigging Robitussin on the Pirate Ship

Our school district considers the county fair a local holiday, and so today there is no school. Many of the teachers and students will see each other on the fair grounds today, but I will be home with my bottle of Robitussin, finishing this memoir by Howard Zinn and chasing each chapter with some tea.

My plan a week ago had been to attend a meeting in Los Lunas, up near Albuquerque, of the New Mexico Advisory Council on Arts Education, to which I am being appointed thanks to some anonymous recommendation. Instead, I'm having a little R&R: Robitussin and Rest.

How oddly right that I would be home sick on the very day the Senate Finance Committee is having a showdown and vote over the "public option," the creation of a non-profit insurance company to compete in a regulated marketplace with private insurance companies. This is something I fully support, only because my country does not appear to be emotionally or intellectually capable of endorsing a national health care system.

A friend of mine from my fanzine days, long ago, is an American living in Britain. Her name is Avedon Carol and her blog is almost every bit as good as her articles and letters in those archaic fanzines of a bygone era. She recently needed a very serious operation, and she has described in detail the care she received up to the procedure and during her recuperation. There was never a bill.

One of the saddest things about the state of my country is that the very people who very much need and deserve a well-funded and managed national health care system, something we really can achieve if we would only summon the will, are vulnerable to the most ridiculous and easily-debunked lies about health care and the alleged evils of a single-payer, nationalized system. Politicians and professional political organizers simply put on the Wagner music and start talking about the Soviet Union and Americans balk. Over and over again, enough people fall for this that health reform dies.

Consider how long it took just to get Medicare, and remember there are still politicians who boost their popularity by talking it down. There are politicians who would, today, vote to get rid of Medicare and leave retirees out in the cold. They believe, quite honestly, that if you cannot afford something you need with your own cash, you don't deserve it -- even if you'll die without it. Beneath the surface, that is a persuasive view here in our country.

And even now, with people denying themselves care because of money, with people dying because their for-profit insurance companies refuse to cover them when they get sick, with insurance executives almost forced to allow people to die because of Wall Street's expectations, all too many of "the people" are willing to believe that getting medical service from their own government is a slide into Stalinism.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Single-payer is not only off the table, it's not even in the house. For a while we have had this notion of a non-profit entity that would sell insurance premiums in competition with the profiteers, as a civilizing influence on the pirates. Weak, but we'll take it. Except maybe we won't. The insurance companies, their lobbyists, and the politicians whose tenure has been underwritten by the for-profit medical industry, have managed to scare off Congressional support for that as well.

And so today the public option might not make it out of the Finance Committee; and yet the individual mandate, the legal requirement that people buy insurance, is very much on. The pirates have won. We always let them win.

Have a swig of yer Robitussin, me hearties, and get back to those oars! If we be content to stay on this ship, we deserve what we get. Now get back to yer seats and row, ye miserable slaves. Row! Where's me lash? ROW!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hugga Wugga

Today's lesson for many of my kids focused on a vignette from the Muppet Show. No, really. No no, seriously.

We watched the following three minutes of splendid genius. You might enjoy it as well. It still makes me giggle with sheer wicked delight.

Before screening this, I prepared the students by telling them they would be seeing a little story that is not told using words. I asked them to think about what elements are used to tell them the story.

After watching it once, I tried to get them to explain the story in their own words. Since the three monsters don't even have names, the kids had to figure out how to name which character they were talking about, and to describe the story from beginning to end.

I also asked each grade level to explain to me how they knew what was going on, since the characters were not speaking verbally or explaining their actions. There were excellent observations at each grade level about how the puppetry conveyed the actions and feelings, and how music is used in the piece, switching back and forth between very different styles based on who had the upper hand.

With the third grade, a surprise bonus discussion ensued as these kids took an interest in the power dynamic between "Hugga Wugga" and "Sunshine." I polled the room on who they felt was more powerful. Many kids, despite seeing the tables get turned on him, felt that "Hugga Wugga," the aggressor, was more powerful. One of the reasons they associated him with strength is that he has a weapon and uses it frequently. Some of the kids disagreed and observed that Sunshine not only had a weapon as well, but knew how to out-smart the bully. This class filled me with joy.

All but one class got the best reward I could think of for their insight: getting to watch it again. Hugga Wugga!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Democracy and Conversation

We're back on the editorial page of the Deming Headlight today, addressing "Obama Derangement Syndrome" and the art of conversation.

Have a look here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Singing Suzanne at 75

Leonard Cohen is about to pass his 75th birthday -- on tour.

He had to come out of retirement because his retirement fund got looted, or it was pissed away (mismanaged, I should say), or something. Anyway, the man is about hit 75 years old, and he recently passed out on stage in Spain. He should not have to do this.

Hot Air Blowing From Texas

"Wind is God's way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it's hotter to areas where it's cooler. That's what wind is. Wouldn't it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I'm not saying that's going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can't transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It's just something to think about."

Congressman Joe Barton, from our neighboring state of Texas.

We have elected officials, people who determine our energy policy, who believe some very strange things. Some believe the earth is only a few thousand years old. Some believe we don't have to be stewards because, in the words of an Illinois Congressman, "The earth will only end when God declares its time is over." Barton, the gentleman quoted above, has also said that as global warmer raises temperatures, human beings will simply "get shade."

Mind you, it is a free country, and anyone has a right to believe what they believe and say so. While I would never deny a man his right to believe the moon is made of green cheese, that does not mean he has a right to be head of N.A.S.A.

Likewise, I have my doubts that quasi-religious nihilists should be in a position to influence American policy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Korean Chanting

For some reason, who knows?, I've been feeling tender-hearted about Korean Buddhist chanting lately. Reminds me of a tradition that has helped me personally, good friends, and an ancient history connecting people who are using every human means, including the voice, to search un-cynically for what lies at the heart of the human being.

You can make Korean chanting sound pretty by adding synthesizers or flute on top of it, as here:

That's the heart sutra, chanted at Zen Centers all over the world and even here in my own garage on a regular basis. (I also chant it silently when I lay down to sleep every night.)

In its own element, however, Korean chanting sounds more like this:

or this:

This sounds a little more like the chanting we do in the Kwan Um School of Zen, where we treat repetitive chanting as a meditation form:

Here is my old friend, Kwan Sahn Sunim, currently in residence at the Empty Gate Zen Center in Berkeley, California. He is chanting the evening bell chant as it is performed in all of our Zen centers. The translation is below the video box:

Hearing the sound of the bell, all thinking is cut off.
Wisdom grows, enlightenment appears; hell is left behind.
The three worlds are transcended.
Vowing to become Buddha
and save all people.

The mantra of shattering hell:
om ga-ra ji-ya sa-ba-ha
om ga-ra ji-ya sa-ba-ha
om ga-ra ji-ya sa-ba-ha

I hope we can all shatter hell together. Go in peace.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Don't Blame The Dynamite

I can't stop making up my own lyrics for this song...and my wife is beginning to hate me for it...

Theatre Class Mission

It's easier to read if you click on it for a larger view.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Reagan, Lenin, and U.F.O.'s

Long-time friend Gary Farber wrote one of my favorite blogs ever, bringing Ronald Reagan together with H.G. Wells and Vladimir Lenin.

Meet Gary, and enjoy.

An Even More Astonishing "Pre-Existing Condition"

When my wife's pap smear was denied because, we can only assume, her uterus is a "pre-existing condition," we didn't realize how ridiculous things could be.

Apparently, a number of women have been denied coverage for domestic abuse on the same grounds. You married a violent jerk? Hey, that's a pre-existing condition!

Let's give props to the State of Arkansas for making this bullshit illegal.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What Makes A Protest Newsworthy?

The Burning House has often wondered why Tea Party protesters are so much more newsworthy and "important" than, say, the anti-war movement. We're pleased that Steve Benen and other bloggers have picked up on this double-standard: October 2002, when more than 100,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to oppose the war, The Washington Post put the story not on the front page, but in the Metro section with, as the paper's ombudsman later lamented, "a couple of ho-hum photographs that captured the protest's fringe elements."

Not that crowd size is the be-all, end-all of an event's significance, but it's worth remembering that no credible count of yesterday's right-wing protest puts it in the 100,000 range. (And the anti-war protestors didn't have the advantage of a highly-rated cable network promoting their event every day for months.)

So, 70,000 far-right activists protesting a general sense of anger with progressive government are a major story, 100,000 liberal activists protesting a specific war policy are an afterthought.

And They Call Him A Socialist?

Next time someone calls the President a "socialist" or refers to his "socialist" programs, you really need to laugh in that person's face.

Socialism? As if...!

The President has called for a mandate: everyone must buy health insurance. At the same time, the President and his majority party are walking away from the concept of a non-profit plan, which means we will all be required to buy private insurance.

The Administration wants a political victory, and they will settle for a bill that permits them to impose some regulations on private insurance. A small victory, that would be.

And in no way socialist, when we are forced to purchase insurance from private corporations that will not even have to compete alongside a public plan.

I'm not impressed by soaring speeches. This is weak leadership in support of weak reform, and a victory for a desperate minority party that has contributed literally nothing to this important cause.

Socialism? As if....!


One of the distressing features of our politics is the concept of "discipline" as it is applied to politicians in media and government.

If you stick to your message, no matter what, even when persuasive arguments or even verified facts contradict that message, without revising or varying to any degree in light of good information, this is considered "discipline." It means you are staying "on message" and showing "conviction."

What a perverse concept. Lying well is considered "discipline" and no one stands up to contradict that notion. What's wrong with us?

What about telling the truth to the best of one's ability, no matter what? Isn't that discipline? What about the hard work of discerning what will serve the public best, and then trying to make that happen? What about choosing public service again and again, resisting other temptations?

That idea is not celebrated. You can't write an op-ed suggesting such a thing without being laughed out of the editorial office.

And we don't even find that remarkable.


What are we?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Is It Still 9/11?

On this fearful anniversary in years past, I have suggested that the event of 11 September 2001 is something that is still unfolding.

In 2009, I still believe this to be true. It is 9/11. As a nation, we are still there.

No matter how much individual healing has taken place among some, our argument about what happened that day, what it means, what we should do, suggest to me that we are have not yet come out from under the politics of siege.

It turns my stomach to see the event continue to be politicized this week, by people who are themselves using it for political advantage.

I won't. No further commentary on public affairs today, in this space.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Pre-Existing Condition

Today we learned that the health insurance I have been paying for to cover my family will not pay for my wife's recent examination at the gynecologist's. The reason stated was that she had a "pre-existing condition."

Thus, another memorable quote from my wife, when she called Presbyterian and demanded an explanation:

"I was born with a uterus. Is that my 'pre-existing condition?'"

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Papoose On Labor Day

Rockhound State Park, Deming

Public thanks to Hal for the papoose! It worked out just fine. The boy was asleep on my shoulder by the time we got back.

Don't Forget Labor Day

We're on the editorial page of the Deming Headlight today, with our reminder about Labor Day.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

God Doesn't Hold Patents

As a writer, I am naturally sympathetic to the concept of "intellectual property." If a magazine publishes my story for sale, or a theatre puts on one of my plays, I wish to be paid for my work. In lieu of payment, give me credit for my work and say thanks -- that's how it goes in the non-profit cultural sector. But if you're making money off my work, I'm looking for payment for my labor.

Creativity, thus, is my labor.

Are my stories "property" in any sense other than legal? Not exactly. They are meant to be shared. I know fully well that actors may modify the lines I wrote, and I accept that reality. It isn't completely "mine." However, as the product of my labor, I am entitled to earn money from it. In that sense alone, I accept the concept of "intellectual property" although I think the term is misleading.

Those of you still following this blog have endured a series of posts recently about food and farming. What is this kick about, anyway?

For one thing, it is an under-reported crisis. Mainstream news gave play to the food crisis back in 2008 for a little while -- you may remember stories that year about Asian countries cutting their exports of rice and some riots over food prices -- but little follow-up. It does not make for exciting reading, agriculture; yet its implications are deadly serious and they touch your life and mine at the supermarket and the kitchen table.

The politics of our century are going to deal increasingly with scarcity: scarcity of traditional energy resources, scarcity of new technology for renewable resources, scarcity of water, scarcity of soil. While we're all occupied with our arguments about health care, I am watching developments at the USDA with great concern; watching the growing pressure on the WTO from India, Africa, the Philippines, and other countries criticizing the prevailing development model and demanding reform; and with hope I watch the attempt in our own hemisphere at a different, rational development model that builds food sovereignty.

Among the stories I've shared with you is the successful monopolizing of seeds by a gigantic corporate-farming overlord. The way it works, to put it very simply, is to modify a seed's genetic makeup so as to make it "pest resistant" or "more abundant." Sounds like a good thing that will help farmers, right? The overlord, of course, patents the modified seed and has the right to control the sales of that seed. The seed requires other products manufactured by the overlord, and farmers are obligated to sign contracts guaranteeing their brand-loyalty to the overlord. Under the terms of the contact, farmers are not permitted to harvest or plant their own seeds.

This is a perversion of intellectual property. I suspect the purpose of the modification was not to benefit crops, but to control an essential market. Monsanto has found a way to exercise monopoly control over the seeds that are planted in our fields, to such an extent that it can set prices and put food producers out of business for the simple act of planting their own seeds on their land.

To use a phrase I came across recently, it is an example of "planned competitive scarcity" -- monopoly, in other words. There is an abundance of God-given creative product in any farmer's silo right now, and God has not seen fit to take out a patent on it. Increasingly, however, farmers are prevented from employing that abundance, and are forced to deal with an expensive supplier. This is false scarcity: the natural wealth is there, by grace, but a provisional scarcity is put into place just so Monsanto can make money.

It is theft. It robs farmers of the right to employ their own skills and innovation and to benefit from their own labor. On a larger scale, the offense is more obvious, as expanded notions of "intellectual property" block access to traditional (and natural) forms of real wealth.

And what is the moral dimension here? Personally, I don't hold to a notion of a "creator God" -- it would be closer to the mark to say God is a name for infinite creativity beyond human imagining -- but if there were a creator God, this would be a good time for some epic ass-whooping. "You presume to own the corn seed and to profit from it while farmers go bankrupt and people go hungry? Taste my lightning bolt, cheeky monkey."

Or something more noble sounding.

Friday, September 04, 2009

A Controversy That Touches Me To The Bone

I'm having trouble laughing off the manufactured controversy over President Barack Obama addressing children at school next week.

My own feelings are similar to Jonathan Alter's, as he comments in this interview:

Of course, regular readers know that I teach at a public school in this community. One could make the case that these virtual visits from a President of the United States, for the traditional "hey kids, stay in school and learn to read!" pep talk, might not be the best use of class time. This is an argument I can respect. What I would offer in response, with this particular president, is that more than half of the children at my school are non-white. What it means for them to see Obama's face in the Oval Office, telling them an education is worth their effort, telling them it can help them take charge of their life, is perhaps more than you considered at first.

Of course, that has not been the complaint. The complaint has been that this President is different. There is a very mean-spirited and unpatriotic campaign afoot to embarrass and de-legitimize this President in the eyes of the public. There was no controversy over the previous Presidents giving their own variations on this speech; but when Obama addresses the children, somehow this is socialist indoctrination.

It is ridiculous and yet for this I cannot laugh. Something about this has made it past my sense of humor and my cynicism. The difference, I think, is that this political hit job is coming at the expense of children. It's coming at the expense of my kids. Does Michelle Malkin, or Jim Greer, or Tim Pawlenty, or any of the demagogues (some of them elected officials, some of them media professionals) trying to scare parents into boycotting the speech, even if it means keeping their kids home from school -- do any of these people really care about the welfare of Clarixa, Bernabe, Sophia, Salvador, Eli, Dominique, Jesus, or any of the kids I teach here in Deming?

Of course they don't. These are kids who will never matter to them, except to be used in their politics of personal destruction, to act out their sour grapes over an election that put a black man in the White House.

I'm even sadder than Jonathan Alter seems in that interview above. My school has been compelled to send out permission slips, while other districts are just canning the very idea of showing the speech. That would mean the kids are in class as usual, which is not a bad thing; the kids will be fine either way.

But what about the rest of us? How are we doing? Really, America: are we no better than this?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Checking Back On Honduras [With Updates]

Sorry for yet another politically-oriented post, but it has been several weeks since the Burning House looked at the strange situation in Honduras and something should be said about it.

What reasons might there be for the media's extensive coverage of Iran, to the point of airing cell phone videos and messages posted on Twitter -- yet so very little about Honduras, including the brutality being visited on supporters of deposed President Zelaya?

We were, and are, somewhat skeptical about President Zelaya, but nothing he has done seems to have warranted the sudden and unannounced expulsion from his country by the military. His crime appears to have been insisting on holding a referendum that the Honduran Supreme Court ruled illegal. His non-binding referendum was to ask citizens whether they wanted to hold a convention to revise the Honduran Constitution. Some felt that his motives might have included a bid to extend his own Presidency -- but that wasn't what the referendum was asking. Innocent before proven guilty, eh wot?

In any case, he went ahead with the thing even though the Supreme Court said it wasn't a legitimate poll. That's bad, but then came the chaos: the military showed up at the President's house, arrested him in his pajamas, and put him on a plane headed out of the country. According to the line of succession, a legislator by the name of Micheletti was installed as President. Although Micheletti is from Zelaya's own political party, there is now a standoff. The government does not want Zelaya back, and seems to be waiting out the rest of his term (which expires later this year).

Most of the states of Central and South America are condemning this situation and vowing not to recognize another government elected under the watch of this regime. The United States is weirdly silent. (Its silence is also suspicious.)

Amnesty International investigated and has issued a disturbing report about violent crackdowns and police brutality against Hondurans who have taken to the streets asking that their president be allowed to return so this whole thing can be sorted out in a civil manner. Beatings by police, some of whom are covering their badges and wearing cloths over their faces; arbitrary detentions; women being molested. As in Iran, these events are witnessed and recorded, and yet for some reason CNN is not taking an interest. [[Otto Reich seems to think this is Chavez and Castro's doing.]]

The U.S. has a base there and is a member of the OAS. Why the silence? Especially when the plane that carried Zelaya landed and re-fueled at our base?


[UPDATE: Or maybe it has something to do with this: the interim government wants to pull out of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.]

Unions Are No Fun

As we approach Labor Day, I have been reflecting on the history of labor movements in the States. It's not a subject I'm going to take on this morning, but leave it at this for now: Labor Day seems like a day to put alongside Veterans Day as an opportunity to honor sacrifice. People without military training or backup, facing their own employers at home, died to establish things that were later taken for granted, like the eight-hour working day.

Not all unions are perfect or even wonderful. Yet they stand for something important, something much more than simply bargaining on behalf of employees.

The owner of a dairy farm in Washington has been blocking his employees from organizing. The rationale he gave to the press was amusing: it just takes all the fun out of working for me.

Whose fun?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Pre-Paid Water Meters?

Not a good idea.

Especially when they concentrate on poor neighborhoods.

In Africa.

Especially after people die in a fire because their damned-to-hell "pre-paid water meter" runs out of credit and cuts service during an emergency.