Letter to the New York Times

June 18, 2007

In Chicago every third-grade teacher is unhappy with every second
grade teacher because, they report, “The kids aren’t ready!” Ditto
every high school teacher in relation to every elementary and middle
school teacher. And now, according to Karen Arenson (May 15, 2007),
we can add college professors to the steady and tiresome whine: the
students are unprepared.
It certainly would be convenient if young people arrived with
everything, save some content we want to impart, already in place,
but perhaps it’s more realistic for teachers at every level to step
back, take a deep breath, and teach the diverse, uneven, complex and
wiggly students who actually show up in their classrooms.

The White Man’s Burden

June 14, 2007

Tough being an imperialist— you give and give, sacrifice and sacrifice, and the little colored natives never seem to get it right. This attitude is the screaming subtext in the ongoing discussion among the idiots who pass for political leaders in the US, perfectly captured in a headline in the  liberal pro-imperialist New York Times on June 13, 2007—“Iraqis Are Failing to Meet Benchmarks Set by US.” It’s all their fault! The US did what it could for those people, but the Benchmarks for god’s sake, they can’t meet them!

IRAQ SURGE: A Predictable Colonial Catastrophe

June 11, 2007

The direction of events and outcomes is tragically predictable, and the comparisons of May 2003 and May 2007 tell a story:

US troops in Iraq: 150,000 / 150,000.

Other “Coalition” troops: 23,000 / 12,000 (Albania is hanging in there!)

US troop deaths: 37 / 123 ( “troops” does not include the massive mercenary army called “contractors”)

Iraqi civilian deaths (est) : 500 / 2,750

New Iraqi civilians displaced by violence: 10,000 / 80,000

Iraqis who say the country is moving in the right direction: 70% / 36%

So much for all the empty rhetoric and rationalization— the despised “foreign fighters” in  Iraq R Us.

ELF Terrorists

June 5, 2007

Earth Liberation Front members convicted of arson in Oregon have had their sentences “enhanced” because the government decided to charge them under the overbroad terrorism laws. According to the government, any activity that attempts to influence the conduct of government through “force or violence” is an act of terrorism.  Imagine10 people burning their draft cards in the public square as a protest to war, or five priests and nuns illegally entering a missile base and pouring blood on a nuclear warhead, or a small group of militants tearing up the railroad tracks leading from a munitions factory.  Each group committed a crime, each destroyed property,and if arrested, every member would be charged, tried, and punished.  But calling any of that terrorism distorts the meaning of the word and is a slippery slope towards authoritarian rule.

A useful definition of terrorism might be something like this: terrorism is warfare deliberately waged against noncombatants — or innocents or civilians — for the purpose of intimidation or provocation in a political struggle.  Terrorists intend to effect change through violence and bullying, and in that way, to undermine policies they oppose.

Acts of terrorism can be inflicted on people by an individual or group, a party or faction or religious order, a gathering of insurgents, or an established state. No one — individual, group, sect, or state — has a monopoly on terror as a form of combat. Even a casual nod at history reveals just how pervasive a tool it has been: the Roman legions, the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks all used massacres, pillaging, burning of homes and farms, and mass rape in the service of empire, as did the Incas and the Aztecs, and later the  Spanish who overwhelmed them both.  In modern times, the founders of Israel used terrorism against the British and the Palestinians; the Palestinians use terrorism against Israel; and Israel currently employs terror in the service of settlement and occupation.  In our own national story, terror is a defining signature of the Indian wars, Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” and the bloody war in Vietnam. If we use a stable and consistent definition, then it is a fact that the overwhelming number of terrorist events in the world today are caused by established governments, notably our own.

Members of the Earth Liberation Front were convicted of arson, a serious crime.  If what they did was terrorism, then terrorism has come to mean any act in opposition to the rulers.


June 3, 2007

Xenophobic Raillery


Friday, June 1, 2007

One way to get clarity on foreign policy issues is to turn the dynamic around. Pretend you are a citizen of the other country; what would you think and what would you do?

If you were an Iraqi, four years after you were invaded by a foreign power because it had been attacked by people who shared your religion and general geographic area but not much else (sort of like the United States retaliating for Pearl Harbor by attacking Korea), and you had seen your cities destroyed and your friends either dead or displaced, what would you do? Better yet: What would most members of the current administration suggest that you do? What would be the patriotic thing to do?

Put like that, it’s pretty easy: You should resist. You should join the heroic underground. You should take back Cleveland by force, and lay waste the enemy’s headquarters in Miami. You should hum “America the Beautiful” while harassing enemy soldiers marching from Stockton to San Rafael. So we should not be surprised when residents of other nations do what we would do in similar circumstances.

Now suppose you’re an illegal immigrant. Why did you become an illegal immigrant? It wasn’t a childhood ambition; it’s not fun working in a strange nation far from friends and family. Economic necessity brought you here. It’s the market economy in action; people go where the jobs are. Border, schmorder — I want to feed my family.

So now there’s this complicated plan. If the current bill passes as written (and the odds are that it won’t, but the new bill won’t be any better), you have several choices. If you’re here because you overstayed your visa, too bad; the bill doesn’t apply to you, you’re still illegal. If you crossed the border illegally, you can apply for a guest worker visa and stay for two years, then go back to your country of origin and wait one year, then come back here for two more years, and then go home, plus you pay money, plus you have essentially no workplace rights. That sound like a plan to you? Didn’t think so.

Or you can apply for a “Z visa,” which will cost a lot of money with no guarantee that you’ll get citizenship. If you do get citizenship, you won’t be able to bring your parents over, or your grandchildren, plus you’ll have to tell the government exactly where you are. Meantime, you can immerse yourself in the wonders of the brand-new points system, which allows you to earn points for advanced degrees, special skills, although … I’ve lost you, haven’t I? You’re not buying. Of course you’re not.

Understand: The new immigration bill isn’t designed to solve anything. It’s designed to give the appearance of solving something. This bill has sections that provide members of Congress with talking points no matter what their political beliefs. It’s a political document. It’s not meant to be an instrument of policy.

Then why craft a bill at all? Because companies large and small need the workers. Because companies large and small need a fig leaf to cover their practices, which will go on no matter what happens in Washington. Are people who hire illegal aliens in favor of “amnesty?” Not the right question, because it’s a political question. People who hire guest workers are in favor of profits. They’re in favor of low wages. Once again, it’s the wonders of a market-based economy. All questions are economic questions.

So here we have an unworkable scheme that almost everyone will ignore anyway. In one way, that’s a good thing, because we need the workers. Agribusiness needs the workers, so there’s the guest worker program. Silicon Valley needs the workers, so there’s the points program. I have heard various estimates about how many jobs illegal immigrants take away from American citizens; I’m not sure anyone knows for sure what the real data are. I do know that not many citizens are willing to become migrant laborers or busboys or stone masons or janitors or nannies or maids, at least not for the wages that are being paid.

So complaints about immigrants are essentially xenophobic raillery. Are the illegal immigrants a burden on our welfare system? Yup. But, passing a law that makes you feel good, or makes someone feel good, is dangerous fun. We have lots and lots of laws against illegal drugs, and what have they gotten us? A gigantic prison system that stresses the public budget far more than illegal immigrants do, plus — we still have drugs!

Immigrants are not drugs; they are human beings. They offer services and they spend money. They raise families and create communities. Heck, if the Native Americans had had border guards, we’d all be illegal immigrants. We’re all in this together; maybe we should start acting like it.