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Monday, June 29, 2009

The New Haven Fire Fighters & The Supremacist Court

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

The Decision was 5-4, with the usual alignment. Justice Ginsberg's dissent is especially powerful, smacking the Right-Wingers with her comment that it is "understandable" why the White firefighters would appeal to "this Court".

The "Supremacist" Wing of The Court has deftly severed the principles of "intentional discrimination" from "disparate impact" meaning that it is now not enough to demonstrate the second, one also has to prove the first. Now a nod and a wink will suffice among a clique and if that clique carefully monitors the overt behavior of their group and take no documentable action, they can exclude others on the basis of race, sex, national origin or religion. The Bush Supreme Court Rules.

Here is my personal take on this case.

I was an emergency forest firefighter (so-called EFF) in my youth. Because I am Native American, I was sometimes placed with the Native Alaskan crews. The best firefighters I ever worked with was a hot shot crew from the Yukon Village of Stevens Village brought in to make fire breaks during the "Big Denver" fire in Manley Hot Springs in 1968. The Stevens crew was tough, smart, well-organized and had excellent leadership. The fire was so named because the leadership came out of Denver. This fire was of historic proportions and BLM brought their best and their brightest to Alaska to manage the command and control. It so happened that there was a group of professional firefighters out of Boise Idaho who rapidly assumed a lead role in fire management on the ground.

After the initial few days, I was transferred to another crew to deal with maintaining fire breaks. This crew was called the "Hippy" crew and was much more laid back and to my liking. Nevertheless, I was in a good position to observe what was going on. The blond, blue-eyed college guys from Denver and the blond, blue-eyed college guys from Boise shared a culture that excluded the Native Alaskans--and the "hippies" for that matter, but less so. The White Guys from Boise and Denver got the best rations, the best equipment, rode around in the chopper, and got radios. The "Indian Crew" got the crappiest details, the worst equipment and C-Rations instead of the fresh-paks of food that was flown in.

Now suppose there was an opening for a "pro-Crew" to travel with the Denver Chiefs. From every practical standpoint, the Stevens Village crew would be the best choice. But the Denver guys and the Boise guys are so tight...and the Indians are so....different. What could they do?

Well, one thing they could do is have a test. The test would be about BLM regulations and the DOI org chart and the physics of fire and the chemistry of fire retardant. It's all relevant.

Guess what? Most Stevens Village EFF went to a lousy village school and barely know the times table. Guess what? The tanned and groovy blue-eyed blonds would ride off to the Denver sunset together.

The point: don't tell me that all those high-fives among the White Fire Fighters wasn't (in part) a celebration of their cultural dominion.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

President Cool Plays It Right

President Cool Plays It Right

By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Washington Post

The foreign policy sins of the United States fall into two categories: commission and omission. The commission ones include the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and a one-time Latin American policy tailored to the needs of United Fruit Co. The sins of omission are less well-known. They include the failure to redeem the hollow promises to various subjugated peoples -- the Hungarians of 1956, the Shiites of 1991 -- that America would come to their aid. In Iran, the Obama administration is intent on not adding to this list.

The current policy, much criticized by prominent Republicans, vindicated Barack Obama's boast in his Cairo speech that he is a "student of history." The student in him knows that the worst thing the United States could do at the moment is provide the supreme leader and the less supreme leaders with the words to paint the opposition as American stooges -- or, even worse, suggest to the protesters that some sort of help is on its way from Washington.

Some of Obama's critics have faulted him for not doing what Ronald Reagan (belatedly) did following the fraudulent election in the Philippines in 1986. After some dithering, Reagan virtually forced President Ferdinand Marcos into exile. How neat. How not a precedent for Iran.

Marcos was, to exhume a dandy Cold War phrase, an "American lackey." The Philippines itself was a former American colony. We knew the country. Hell, at one time, we virtually owned it.

In contrast, not a lot is known about how Iran is actually governed. If, for instance, the White House asked the State Department to send over someone with on-the-ground experience in contemporary Iran, the car would arrive empty. The last American diplomats left Iran in 1979. The United States has to rely on foreign diplomats and journalists for its information.

But information is not experience. It cannot substitute for the feel of the country -- a sense of what happens next. This sort of knowledge was precisely what the United States did not have about Iraq, and we have learned the hard way that satellites, intercepts and the like are no substitute for human intelligence. The Obama White House is showing commendable respect for what it does not know.

For instance, right now a crucial question is: What is the role of the former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani? As far as Washington is concerned, this powerful figure has dropped from sight. He presumably is in the opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, like other supposed reformers, had opposed the increasing power and influence of the military. But, as with many of the others, to call this deeply conservative and -- at least in the past -- virulently anti-American figure a "reformer" gives the word a whole new meaning.

Few of these nuances have made much of an impression on certain Republicans. As in the Cold War, they yearn for liberation rhetoric -- strong statements with a Jeffersonian flourish. Sens. John McCainand Lindsey Graham are two of the more notable proponents of this line of criticism, wondering why Obama did not initially condemn the crackdown in much more forceful terms, as did Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Angela Merkel of Germany. "The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it," Graham said.

Good point, usually. But not this time. Neither Germany nor France has America's history in Iran. It was America that staged the 1953 coup that ousted Mohammed Mossadegh and returned the shah to the Peacock Throne. Neither France nor Germany has been the object of Iranian vituperation since the 1979 revolution -- all that Great Satan nonsense -- and neither of these countries felt obliged to respond in kind: the axis of evil formulation of the Bush years. Pow! How brilliant.

Still, if McCain, Graham and others have a valid complaint, it is not with Obama's words but with his music. The President of Cool seems emotionally disconnected from events in Tehran -- not unconcerned but not particularly upset, either. This is a quality that will cost Obama plenty in coming years. He can acknowledge your pain, but he cannot feel it.

Iran, the first foreign policy "crisis," alerts us to what to expect in the future: a tightly controlled message from the White House (Anyone heard from Hillary Clinton lately?), a deliberate consideration of the options and no shoot-from-the-hip remarks. This is how Obama ran his campaign. This is how he'll run his foreign policy. As McCain should know, it works.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Right-Thinking Realism

>Note. A former Bush State Department Official says that President Obama is striking the right tone on Iran and would be advised to ignore critics on the Right.

Right-Thinking Realism
By Paul J. Saunders
Monday, June 22, 2009
The Washington Post

Attacks are mounting against President Obama for failing to offer sufficient support to backers of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran, with claims that Obama is "siding with the regime" against the Iranian people. This approach to the crisis is derided as "realist" -- typically with quotation marks -- as well as cold-blooded and insufficiently committed to American values. But the president has struck the right tone in his public statements, calling on Iran's government to stop "all violent and unjust actions" and making clear that Washington and the world are watching. And he is right to avoid becoming more deeply involved in Iran's post-election political crisis, both practically and morally.

Many politicians and commentators seem to suffer from the illusion that the United States can have a decisive influence on Iran's political evolution. They appear to believe this despite the fact that engineering Iraqi democracy -- which a number of them also urged -- has been far more difficult and costly than was advertised at the outset. Moreover, Iran's political system is no less complex and is probably less well understood in America than Iraq's was before March 2003. How many American experts, officials or members of Congress have been to Iran in the past 30 years? It is Iran's 66 million citizens, not tough rhetoric or token assistance, who will determine how events in the country unfold.
Recognizing this, it is not only unproductive but dangerous for the United States to play too visible a role in Iran's domestic disturbances.

The question goes far beyond how actively supporting what amounts to a potential revolution in Iran could impact efforts at engagement or a "grand bargain." We must also ask ourselves how the Iranian people would react to U.S. involvement in a country where strong nationalist sentiment buttresses the political position of the country's conservatives and Washington is already regularly blamed for supporting a 1953 coup. Can the United States really help?

As British scholar Anatol Lieven has written for the Nixon Center's journal, the National Interest, one of the main reasons that Russia's democratic reform has failed while similar efforts succeeded in Central Europe is that democracy movements in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and elsewhere were fueled by powerful anti-Russian nationalism -- a mobilization strategy that Russian democrats could not effectively employ against their own government.

Iran's reformers face a similar dilemma. The theocratic regime is losing legitimacy in part because of its economic failure. But as religious and economic legitimacy weaken, what else is left? Iranian nationalism could be decisive, and it is reckless to toy with something that we do not adequately understand.

Another reason for the Obama administration to let Iranians work out their politics on their own is that it is far from clear that there is a substantial difference for U.S. interests between the two competitors. While Mr. Mousavi has distanced himself from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's offensive rhetoric about the Holocaust, there is little to suggest that his policies would vary markedly from Ahmadinejad's on Iran's nuclear program or its ties to Hamas and Hezbollah. Ironically, as my Nixon Center colleague Geoffrey Kemp has suggested, a Mousavi victory could well lead to weakening international pressure on Iran on these issues as a result of European reluctance to undermine someone who, many would hope, could emerge as a moderate and a reformer. (This is not a call to "side" with Ahmadinejad.)

The final argument against a stronger public American position on Iran's protests as they now stand is a powerful moral one. The United States encouraged Hungarians in an uprising against their communist leaders in 1956, only to watch as the brave individuals who chose to stand against their regime were killed mercilessly by their own government because they lacked sufficient internal or external support to succeed. If the American people are not prepared to offer real help to the protesters in Tehran's streets -- up to and including military force to ensure that they win -- it is profoundly immoral to urge Iranians to action from the sidelines. Some of the American commentators and politicians now critical of the president gave the same rhetorical "support" to Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili last year, emboldening Saakashvili and contributing to a war that was disastrous for Georgians.

No one advocating support for Mousavi seems prepared to accept responsibility for the outcome. But without doing so, fighting Ahmadinejad to the last Mousavi voter would be far more cold-blooded than anything the Obama administration has done -- especially knowing what we know about the Iranian regime.

Mousavi's backers will prevail in Iran if they have sufficient public and political support, including inside the country's military and security services. If they don't, we can hope that they survive and draw useful lessons to try again another day. U.S. efforts to force the issue are more likely to set back Iran's political evolution than to advance it, and President Obama has done the right thing with his measured comments. If the crisis escalates, it may be necessary to do more, something the administration itself has said. Otherwise, those who truly want to see political reform in Iran would do well to stay out of the way.
Paul J. Saunders is executive director of the Nixon Center and served in the State Department during the second Bush administration.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Can You Say Irony?

This post from a Facebook Friend:

"Can You Say Irony...I knew You Could:

Andree McLoed has posted this on the ADN in regards to the story about Rep Bob Lynn wanting ethics complaints to be kept secret…….

Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Chairwoman Sarah Palin said Friday she is resigning amid frustration that she is being forced to keep silent about ethics allegations against Republican Party of Alaska chairman Randy Ruedrich.

“I’m forced to withhold information from Alaskans, and that goes against what I believe in as a public servant,” Palin said in a Friday interview."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

This Stuff Drives The Republicans Nuts!

President Obama demonstrates a quality that drives the Right crazy--his ability to be spontaneous and maintain his zen-like cool. If George Bush did something like this, Fox would have been gushing all kibnds of sticky stuff through your cable box. Instead, they sneer at O helping a "kid skip school

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Irony of Right Wing Attacks on Judge Sotomayor

“To Thine Own Self Be True”, the advice of the Oracle of Delphi; true then, absolutely true now. Sotomayor is being damned by Right for speaking openly about the affects of her background...gender, race AND class. When she discussed the differences her perspectives bring to the bench than a “White Male” (quickly grabbed and echoed by the Right-Wing White Males gassing up the airwaves) she WENT ON to conclude that she had a special responsibility to be aware of those perspectives and balance them in her judicial role. This LAST part of her now famous “White Male” speech is conveniently left out by her critics. In essence Judge Sotomayor was saying “To Mine Own Self, Be True”.

Yet when we look back to the nomination of Sam Alito, we read the same sort of speech...his ethnicity, his culture his parent’s class...all asserted to be a VIRTUE so as to TEMPER and MODERATE his judgment on the bench. Clarence Thomas, the most transparent beneficiary of a racial quota in American History was lauded by the Right for his race and class while the Right asserted that attacks on his record and questions of his character constituted a “High-Tech Lynching”. No race card played there! And who can forget the lachrymose bleating of the Right Wing when Liberals dared to question the competence of Alberto Gonzales; Karl Rove chuckled to Newsweek’s Robert J. Samuelson that his Latino heritage made him “untouchable”.

Shall we ignore the fact that Judge Sotomayor has the most judicial experience of any Supreme Court nominee in a century? The fact that she HAS a record of decision allows the opposition to twist and spin a body of work to mean whatever serves their cause.

Will Sotomayor be “objective” in her rulings? She is brilliant and experienced and I will trust her to be fair. No one comes to the bench as a tabula rasa, unetched and pure. The Republican opponents of William Frankfurter’s nomination by President Roosevelt whispered that Frankfurter’s experiences with anti-Antisemitism in Austria where he was born might make him too “pro-Jewish”, whatever that meant.

Had Rush Limbaugh been alive in the 1930s he would be shrieking that poison for his Republican colleagues, just as he is today.

Friday, May 08, 2009

When Life Is Only Sacred In The Womb: The Folly of Life as a Political Abstraction

Harriet and I attended a dinner for Planned Parenthood at the Hilton this evening. It was an uplifting event in which individuals were honored for their hard work supporting the lives of families and children in our community. Planned Parenthood is one of the most important "pro-life" groups I know. They work with "life" in the lower case "l", the gritty, real and difficult life that constitutes our imperfect human estate.

Outside the Hotel there were about a dozen folks holding up pictures of bloody chicken-like fetuses. As I walked through the protesters I realized that to them life is an abstraction, with a capital "L". The fetus does not really represent life; "Life" is embodied in the fetus. There is an important difference here. After all, If life is sacred, and here I mean the web of life on Earth, the public policy agenda of so-called 'Pro-Life' activists would look FAR different.

But when life is only sacred in the womb, it is possible to tolerate corporate behavior that steals from families, exposes life to environmental risk and causes illness and death through accident or calculation to thousands around the world.

When life is only sacred in the womb, illegitimate wars that cause the deaths of 100s of thousands go unchallenged by "Pro-Lifers".

When life is only sacred in the womb, so-called "Pro-Life" politicians can pander to the Health Insurance Lobby and prevent Universal Health Care from becoming a reality.

The so-called "Pro-Life" side is silent on the imprisonment of 7% of our population in a penal system designed to warehouse bodies rather than care, reform, or redeem human life. They insist on a "law and order" agenda that criminalizes behavior in a bid to legislate morality. They support the prosecution of children as adults, they oppose funding a justice system for the poor, then they support the mandatory sentencing of those who are convicted.

With global warming, the extinction of species, and the explosion of urban and suburban sprawl throughout the globe-- the predicament of ALL life warrants our prayerful attention.

Yet, one of the (many) contradictions of the Sacred Wombsters is this: They believe that the Fate of the World is in God's Hands. I remember Nixon's "Born Again" Interior Secretary Kleppe testifying before Congress. Here is how the Secretary explained his reluctance to enforce environmental regulations (I paraphrase): God is the steward of the earth and this world will end. When the appointed time for the end comes, there will be little that any of us can do. So why bother?

So if environmental public policy designed to protect life is unnecessary because God will destroy this sinful earth anyway, then, when it comes to salvaging fetuses, why bother?

This is the point when the Wombsters start all the happy talk about "The Elect" and the "Rapture" when all the bloody chicken-fetuses take wing and soar to heaven. But unless you are Sarah Palin and believe that humans palled around with dinosaurs 6,000 years ago, it's kind of hard to believe that what began with calamity can possibly end any other way.

When the globe finally tilts as ice mass is redistributed in the form of water and the angle of rotation of the planet shifts just slightly, eliciting a movement of continental plates, the Evangelical will feel the Earth move and he/she shall seek protection from the calamity. The Evangelical will be praying not for everlasting life but simply for life; not for the glory of Heaven, but for survival on this earth.

Life is not abstract at all. Life is just life; isn't that enough?