When you attack immigrants, you’re attacking America

Fullsizeoutput 770aThese are my daughters. If you attack Middle Easterners fleeing persecution, you attack them. Their mother came here from Iran after the revolution, looking for a safer life. America let her in despite our conflict with Iran, because American principles are more important than our fears and disputes. If you don’t believe our principles always come first, then you don’t believe in America.

Make no mistake. When you attack immigrants, you’re attacking America. We’re a nation of immigrants. Of all races. Of all creeds. Anyone who doesn’t believe that, is welcome to leave and find another country. Because if you turn your back on immigrants in need, if you turn your back on freedom of religion, you understand less about what it means to be an American than every immigrant who ever stepped onto our soil.

Being born an American is nothing to be proud of. Being born an American is easy; any idiot can get born here. Immigrants and refugees earned the right to come here. Nobody is more American than the person who came here fleeing repression and seeking freedom.

If you want to be proud of being an American, then you have to support American ideals. Speak out against those who seek to limit speech, limit religion, or turn away people in need. Don’t mute what they say. Don’t let it go for the sake of friendship or family. Speak out.

Silence isn’t just death. Silence is blood on our hands. The blood of those we turned away. And the blood of a country that fell, not because of war or terrorism, but because we were afraid to trust the very principles that made it strong

Police raids in Minneapolis — What happened to checks and balances?

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than “fire code violations,” and early this morning, the Sheriff’s department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.

This isn’t the first of these this week. It really bothers me that the police can arrest people, confiscate their goods, never press charges, and release them all later with no explanation and no consequences. This makes intimidation far too easy. The magic words “homeland security” keep getting invoked.

If the police now have a simple way to hold people without charges, then the people need a simple way to make the police suffer consequences when the power is misused.

Elections and Erections: A One-Queen Play at the A.R.T.

“Don’t ask me about racism. As a white racist it didn’t affect me. But if you ask me about fear, I can tell you about that.”

Pieter-Dirk Uys, in “Elections and Erections”

That line ends a serious interlude in the show, one of several that provide counterpoint to the satire and humor he so deftly uses to highlight the flaws of South African society, both before and after apartheid. He has just told us how he came to be a democrat, and he has told us of sharing the garden-shed home of a yard-boy at a rich South African home. Of the fear of being discovered. The fear of being black with white, white with black. A fear so powerful that it overwhelms the fear of being man with man. Even now, when I relate the story to my friends, that final line sends a shiver down my spine.

Pieter-Dirk Uys’ alter-ego is Evita Bezuidenhout, a household name in South Africa, famous for over thirty years of satire against the apartheid government. But she hasn’t stopped there. “Elections and Erections” makes it clear that Uys’ true enemy is that which makes people afraid. Whether it’s corruption in the apartheid government or in the ANC; politicians denying the existence of AIDS; friendships with dictators based on a common race; ignorance; false pretenses; or just the everyday fears of trying to survive in a country stuck in a downward spiral. Uys wants to expose the things that make us afraid, shine the bright light of humor on them, and bring hope and laughter to the people he loves: the people of South Africa.

I’m hearing only bad news
From Radio Africa,
I’m hearing only sad news
From Radio Africa

“Radio Africa” by Latin Quarter.

If Evita Bezuidenhout has a counter-part in the the U.S., it might be Stephen Colbert, with his pseudo-conservative satire. But Evita is much more biting and relevant, and Uys has many more roles to don beyond Evita. He plays the ANC politicians contemplating whether the next president will get the position before, or after, he is thrown in jail for corruption. He lampoons (gently, but none-the-less) Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He describes the trials of a Jewish African Princess, her relatives self-exiled to Canada, trying desperately to be the liberal she knows she ought to be. He takes on Winnie Mandela, including relating the time he played her character (complete with rubber tire jewelry) with the real Winnie in the audience. He talks to the asian storekeeper whose husband used to be too black for jobs, but now is turned down because he is too white. He does a chilling rendition of Grace Mugabe as an evil child-like woman, losing her mind to AIDS. And he doesn’t save all his barbs for Africa; his characterization of Mother Theresa, filling in for Marilyn Monroe as God’s secretary, is priceless. The angels are on strike, suicide bombers keep showing up in pieces looking for their virgins, and the son of the managing director is refusing to return to Earth. He even does a great Hillary (and Bill!) impersonation.

What makes Uys’ work really stand out, particularly as compared to American satirists like Colbert, is its compassion; even his enemies are human. The apartheid-era security chief he lampoons still had a sense of humor. Winnie Mandala may have “necklaced” informants, but she now tours AIDS facilities and pushes AIDS education. This, in a country where the government Health Minister promotes a cure of beet juice, and claims that HIV drugs are poisonous. His barbs are as pointed as they are funny, but he sees the humanity in everyone. In his heart, his true goal is to make his people happy and unafraid. You can see it in his eyes as he relates the story of a little black boy who wanders into his theatre as he is building the stage. From a simple “do you like to sing” and a few shaky songs, you see Uys’ pride as he relates how that same child made it all the way to top awards at Trinity College. Uys’ South Africa has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with the pride of being a good human being.

Told today that they release you
That you had paid your debt
Nomzamo in her own damn country
How much more boorish can these people get?
But you refuse to get the message
Of waving whips, in bloody semaphore
Where only gunfire’s indiscriminate – as always
One People! One Cause!
One People! One Cause!
Nomzamo! Nomzamo…
“Nomzamo” by Latin Quarter.

South Africa has not been on the forefront of American minds for some time. As Uys says, if Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela hadn’t had an easy-to-pronounce first name, Americans may not have been aware of the country’s plight at all. In “Elections and Erections,” Uys entertains, and more importantly, educates. Throughout the show, he relays tidbits of history and culture which later become the punch lines of his comedy, ensuring the audience understands the satirical context of his work. Yet the pace never suffers. The flow of comedy and pathos, serious and profane, never falters. This is not a show you want to miss. I only wish we could import Pieter-Dirk Uys to provide a similar look at ourselves.

“Elections and Erections: A Chronicle of Fear and Fun” is written and performed by Pieter-Dirk Uys. It is playing at the American Repertory Theatre’s “Zero Arrow Theatre” playhouse (a wonderful dinner-theatre style space just off Harvard Square, with tables, a bar, and wonderful ambience). It will be showing through May 4th, 2008. For more information on this show and other performances, see the A.R.T. site.

The A.R.T. graciously provided free tickets to myself and other Boston-area bloggers in exchange for an honest review (good or bad). I’d like to thank them for initiating this experiment in new media.

Many thanks to @devyl for the editing assistance.
Any errors are due to my not following her advice.

U.S. Soldier’s Guide to Iraq—Circa 1943

U.S. Soldier’s Guide to Iraq—“Circa 1943

You aren’t going to Iraq to change the Iraqis. Just the opposite. We are fighting this war to preserve the principle of ‘live and let live.’ Maybe that sounded like a lot of words to you at home. Now you have a chance to prove it to yourself and others. If you can, it’s going to be a better world to live in for all of us.”…

It is a good idea in any foreign country to avoid any religious or political discussions. This is even truer in Iraq than most countries, because it happens that here the Moslems themselves are divided into two factions something like our division into Catholic and Protestant denominations—so don’t put in your two cents worth when Iraqis argue about religion. There are also political differences in Iraq that have puzzled diplomats and statesmen.”

Seventy years ago, and we understood the issues better than we do now.

On Protest – A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court – Chapter XIII by Mark Twain

You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death. To be loyal to rags, to shout for rags, to worship rags, to die for rags–that is a loyalty of unreason, it is pure animal; it belongs to monarchy, was invented by monarchy; let monarchy keep it. I was from Connecticut, whose Constitution declares “that all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and that they have at all times an undeniable and indefeasible right to alter their form of government in such a manner as they may think expedient.”

Under that gospel, the citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth’s political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him; it is his duty to agitate anyway, and it is the duty of the others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.

Need I say more?

Politics at Funerals

Here CNN discusses President Carter’s introduction of politics into his funeral speech for Corretta Scott King. Apparently this has been raising a fuss among some conservatives. As CNN says: “After the funeral yesterday, Kate O’Beirne, a prominent conservative writer, said liberals don’t know how to keep politics out of their funerals.”

Personally I find the fuss strange. Funerals are frequently a rallying point for the ideals of the deceased. When else do you have the attention of the country focused and thinking about a single set of values and issues? Nobody is claiming that President Carter said anything that would have gone contrary to the wishes of Correta King. On the contrary, she probably would have been very pleased at the attention those words have received.

Here is the portion President Carter’s speech which raised the fuss: “It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance.” The video is here. Anyone who thinks that wiretaps without court supervision will always be used correctly, for the right purposes, and not to discredit legitimate causes, should think long and hard about our history.

Google and the China Syndrome

Here is my letter to Newsweek on the subject of Google censorship in China.

[Note from 2017: Google eventually gave up and pulled out of China rather than be censored and constrained. But American companies continue to work around restrictions and sell censorship tools to oppressive regimes.]

The question of whether to work within an oppressive regime, or hope that a boycott will force change, is always a hard one; and I’m not going to judge Google on their decision.  Keep in mind that such censorship requests don’t just come from China–even France and Germany wish to censor external web sites.  Nonetheless, there is no question in my mind that Yahoo overstepped the bounds when they turned over identifying information on a blogger.

However, in all this fuss we are missing an even more important example of censorship complicity by American companies.  At the same time that the United States is encouraging the people of countries like Iran to exercise their right to disagree with their government, American technology is being used to prevent freedom of speech in those countries. Iran, and other countries in the Middle East, use software from companies like Secure Computing to block their citizens from accessing everything from Iranian bloggers to the BBC Persian News Service.  While Secure Computing denies having sold the software to Iran, there is no question that they didn’t provide sufficient safeguards to prevent the dissemination of the software to such countries.  In a age when word processors get shipped with restrictions which require them to validate their license with a remote server, it seems to me that software which can be used to limit the liberties of people around the world should be locked down quite a bit tighter.  At least Google has the excuse that they are expanding access to some information.  This software is designed solely to provide censorship. It is a weapon against freedom of speech, and it should be regulated like any other weapon.

For more details on the use of American censorship software in other countries, see the OpenNet Initiative at http://www.opennetinitiative.net/.

“Iran’s Internet filtering system is one of the world’s most substantial censorship regimes. Iran has adopted this extensive filtering regime at a time of extraordinary growth in Internet usage among its citizens, as well as a tremendous increase in the number of its citizens who write online in Farsi…. The Internet has become an important information resource in Iran. Polls show that people trust the Internet more than any other media outlet, including domestic television and radio broadcasts. Beginning in 2000, Iranians began to create internal news sites to circumvent the state’s controls over traditional media sources. Blogs, both Iranian and from elsewhere, are increasingly popular, and Iranian servers host thousands of blogs.” – http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/iran/

Law Schools Against Free Speech – The Supreme Court considers military recruitment on campus. By Dahlia Lithwick

Law Schools Against Free Speech – The Supreme Court considers military recruitment on campus.Slate – Dahlia Lithwick

Chief Justice John Roberts instantly shuts him down, saying the Solomon Amendment “doesn’t insist that you do anything. … It says that if you want our money, you have to let our recruiters on campus.” Moreover, for Roberts, this is not about speech. “This is conduct.” Rosenkranz disagrees. “This is a refusal to send e-mail. This is conduct only in that they are moving molecules. … This is speech.”

There is a certain irony here that both the liberals and conservatives have fallen into the same trap. Fundamentally the federal government has very little control of our lives. However, once you start accepting money from it–you are caught in a dependency trap. For religious conservatives, this means the eradication of support for any particular religion in schools. For anti-discrimination liberals, it means allowing military recruiters into the schools. I confess that I have little sympathy for either side. If you want to be free of federal restrictions–stay clear of federal money.

Interior Dept. Defends Its Keeping of Indian Books

Interior Dept. Defends Its Keeping of Indian Books

The Interior Department says its audits of accounts it manages for thousands of Native Americans have found few errors and little evidence that anyone tampered with the records.

The agency’s position, in a report sent to Congress on Monday, runs contrary to that of Native Americans who filed a 1996 class-action lawsuit saying that they were cheated out of more than $100 billion because of mismanagement of oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties from their lands.

The Post goes on to say that the Interior Department documented this in a “glossy 24-page brochure”. They weren’t kidding. Whatever the truth of the claims, there’s no question that someone blew a bunch of money on a significant bit of form over content. You can see for yourself at http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust/iimaccounting.pdf. Pure PR.

If You Can’t Fix It – Change the Judge

https://openclipart.org/detail/11125/judge-hammerSince a Blackfeet tribe leader named Eloise Cobell filed this lawsuit in 1996, several independent investigations found much evidence for Lamberth’s concerns. Although, the government initially said its existing Indian trust fund records were in good shape, Lamberth hired a hacker who found they could easily be accessed and altered from outside. Other reviews found that the Interior Department had never kept complete records, used unknown amounts of money to help balance the federal budget, and let the oil and gas industry use Indian lands at bargain rates. They also concluded that the Clinton and Bush administrations have repeatedly sidestepped initiating the required accounting because of the likely cost.

When they stand before a different bench tomorrow, government lawyers are expected to try to shift the discussion from the acknowledged failure of Interior to properly account for money held in trust and due 50,000 Indians, to the often assaulting words and actions of a powerful Reagan appointee who has made no secret of his disgust. Only three times before has this appeals court disqualified a trial judge from a case.

This case has been going on for years. Everyone agrees that the judge has been particularly pithy in his criticism of the government’s behavior. But fundamentally the problem is that the Interior Department has repeatedly been unable to clean up its act.