Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP Howard Zinn

Frankly I haven't read much by Zinn outside of a few articles and book excerpts, but he is certainly a luminary of the American left. He taught thousands of Americans our history from the perspective of the working classes and oppressed elements of our society. I hope to be one of them soon (once I finish my simultaneous projects of Marx's Capital and Dante's Divine Comedy and the next 10 books in my queue, ha).

Normally I wouldn't post about a person who I know little about, but I read a moving eulogy to Zinn by the leftist sports writer Dave Zirin on The Nation's website here that I think people will enjoy. To the end, Zinn promoted independent organizing to move our country in a more progressive direction regardless of who currently holds the reins of power. Here's Zinn on the Age of Obama:
At our event in Madison, Wisconsin, Howard issued a challenge to the audience. He said, "Our job as citizens is to honestly assess what Obama is doing. Not measured just against Bush, because against Bush, everybody looks good. But look honestly at what Obama's doing and act as engaged and vigorous citizens."
Finally, here's a Zinn quote from the article on what he sees as the need to revive the concept of democratic socialism in our country, of which, as he would know more than almost anyone, we have a beautiful tradition:
"Let's talk about socialism. … I think it's very important to bring back the idea of socialism into the national discussion to where it was at the turn of the [last] century before the Soviet Union gave it a bad name. Socialism had a good name in this country. Socialism had Eugene Debs. It had Clarence Darrow. It had Mother Jones. It had Emma Goldman. It had several million people reading socialist newspapers around the country… Socialism basically said, hey, let's have a kinder, gentler society. Let's share things. Let's have an economic system that produces things not because they're profitable for some corporation, but produces things that people need. People should not be retreating from the word socialism because you have to go beyond capitalism."
PS. Dave Zirin writes some great stuff on the intersection of sports and politics. If you are a left sports fan like myself, look for his stuff in The Nation and The Progressive among other publications.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Amy Goodman from Haiti

I know, I know, I go on streaks where I love one journalist. But Amy is at it again, on the ground in Haiti going where the mainstream media will not and raising issues that they deliberately do not.

Here's the thing about the Haiti crisis. Every mainstream media outlet talks about "instability" and potential for violence, which is supposed to justify the massive presence of more than 10,000 US soldiers. This is eerily reminiscent of the media's racist description of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath in New Orleans. The MSM always concludes that people of color who go through a natural disaster resort to looting and violence. Even so-called liberal commentators like Keith Olbermann have expressed fear that aid workers will be at risk in Haiti.

In Haiti, this racist misperception has convinced the US and the UN that soldiers must precede aid workers to ensure their "security." Of course this delays the arrival and scaling up of aid to 3 million people who desperately need it.

Pretty much everybody that Amy speaks with, from a doctor with Partners in Health, to a journalist who's worked in the country for years, to Haitians themselves, describes a rather non-violent scene. In fact, there's some fears there among Haitians and aid workers that the soldiers will provoke violence rather than quell it. All the effort that went into building up a military presence was basically unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the American military, so intent on building up its presence to create the "protection" supposedly required for aid delivery, is turning away aid coming in through the Port-au-Prince airport that it controls. Doctors Without Borders reported having a plane diverted to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, from which it will take a very long time to get to Port-au-Prince over land. A representative of one Haitian aid group has stated that the US military is directly "blocking aid."

The result of militarization of the aid process in Haiti has been delays in the arrival of aid. It has directly cost Haitian lives. Unfortunately it's too late to scale back the military's presence there. Still, at this late hour our military can stop sending away aid planes in favor of continually building up the security presence.

For Haitians, the militarization of aid is even more ominous than the thousands of lives it is costing. They remember the long history of US imperialism in their country and the disastrous consequences. This includes a Marine occupation from 1915 to 1934, support for brutal rightist military dictatorships from the 1950's to the 1980's, CIA-backed coup against elected President Aristide in 1991, the re-installation of Aristide by President Clinton with the condition that he liberalize Haiti's economy, and the CIA-backed coup #2 against Aristide in 2004. These interventions have crushed resurgent democracy and impoverished the country while shunting wealth to the upper classes. Amy interview with journalist Kim Ives excellently delves into this history here, particularly the privatization of the crucial flour, cement, and telecom industries. I also highly suggest the interview with Robert Fatton that I linked to in my last post on Haiti.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Picks for the NFL Divisional Round

I didn't have any portentous dreams last night regarding football, perhaps fortunately so. I'm left with mere logic and intuition.

Cardinals v. Saints: Cardinals

My sole upset pick. This is going to be a shootout with two of the best offenses in the league and two mediocre defenses. The Saints were so lackluster the last couple games, and I think that will carry over to this one, while old man Kurt Warner and the Cards are flying high after last week's thrilling win over the Packers (that I got wrong).

Ravens v. Colts: Colts

I'm rooting for the Ravens, but Peyton Manning is so good.

Cowboys v. Vikings: Vikings

Everybody's loving the Cowboys now, but I'm betting on the genius of Brett Favre and Jared Allen getting in Tony Romo's face a few times.

Jets v. Chargers: Chargers

The Jets have the potential to go far with their excellent running game and defense, but they've been pretty inconsistent over the season while the Chargers have been rocksteady running up to the playoffs.

Janet Napolitano Reads Arob's View

Actually probably not, but she did grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitian immigrants yesterday as I called for a few days ago. Now we'll have to see how long that lasts. As I wrote earlier this week, they should've been granted TPS after the 4 hurricanes the country suffered last year but both Bush and Obama rejected the pleas of the Haitian government. It will take years for Haiti to recover from this earthquake much less to recover to its still-desperate situation prior to the hurricanes and food crisis of 2008. In addition, the remittances that Haitian immigrants send home account for more than 25% of the country's GDP and will be crucial for recovery. The deportation of any Haitian would be injurious to the future of that country. TPS must not be rescinded for Haitian immigrants for at least several years. We who support immigrant rights and just Global South development need to be vigilant and watch out for the anti-immigrant Department of Homeland Security rescinding TPS status for Haitians too soon.

So Haitian immigrants are secure from deportation, but there's another hitch. TransAfrica Forum has called out DHS for requiring Haitians to pay $340 for a work permit, which will hamper the ability of immigrants to get a permit and start working to send money back him. Join their call to President Obama to waive that stiff fee here as well as to thank him for granting TPS.

In other Haiti news, the International Monetary Fund has offered a loan of $100 million to Haiti, a move decried by development justice groups like Jubilee USA. How the hell does the IMF expect a country as poor as Haiti to pay that money back when 30-40% of its budget is comprised of foreign aid? Any disaster aid should come in the form of grants not loans. The IMF doesn't do grants, but, fresh from its resurrection in wake of the global financial crisis, it would love to stick its ugly head in every crisis.

Haiti still has $641 million in outstanding debt to foreign nations and international financial institutions like the IMF. Every dollar that goes to servicing the debt is a dollar that could go to education, police, health care, infrastructure, etc. Instead of adding to that debt, these institutions should be canceling it so that the Haitian government can get back on its feet. Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy has noted that President Obama can push for that through his prestige as well as the US's voting seats on the IMF's Board of Directors. As he writes, the IMF mostly defers to the US Treasury, so Obama can manhandle them into canceling Haiti's debt if he so chooses.

Naomi Klein has been warning that the Haiti earthquake crisis is going to be an example of "disaster capitalism" a la the title of her recent book. I think this is somewhat overblown. True, much of the disaster aid will benefit non-profit and for-profit entities even as it goes to help the Haitian people. But that's unavoidable because Haiti's government is so weak and privatized already. Scant basic services were already performed mostly by aid groups before the disaster, so there is very little left to privatize. Professor Robert Fatton, an expert on Haiti at the University of Virginia, characterized Haiti back in 2004 as "probably the most open economy in the world" after US intervention and austerity programs forced by the IMF (check out the whole interview with him, great recent history of Haiti, including events running up to the CIA removing President Aristide in 2004). So even if the IMF convinces Haiti to take its loan, there's not many economic changes it can force on Haiti. I think the biggest thing to worry about is more debt getting in the way of Haiti re-building its government institutions and economy.

There are a couple things we need to watch out for in the coming months. Aid needs to take the form of grants and direct help and not loans. Initially these grants need to go to basics like food, shelter, emergency medical care, etc. Over time the focus must shift to building up the Haitian government. Also aid needs to go to agriculture or the country will persist in a permanent food crisis. As Haiti's markets were forcibly opened up by US and IMF mandate, subsidized US rice put most of Haiti's ag sector out of business. For the past two decades, US policy towards Haiti has been aimed at making it a home for multinational corporation export factories and little else. This is an opportunity to change that policy and help Haiti work for a more balanced and sustainable economy that benefits the broader populace instead of just the elite factory owners and landholders.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Haitian Tragedy and US Immigration Policy

The disaster in Haiti is having a big impact in our country as well as Haiti, as we are home to a large population of Haitian immigrants with friends and family back home. Many have been pushed here by other natural disasters, including 4 devastating hurricanes last year, a food security crisis, extreme poverty, and political instability (brought about in part by the US and European countries) in addition to the pull factor of better economic opportunities here and the well-entrenched and supportive Haitian communities in NYC and Florida. My heart goes out to them as they desperately seek word from loved ones in Haiti.

A large number of Haitians have been caught up in the inhumanely aggressive Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sweeps of undocumented immigrants (Just Foreign Policy says 30,000, not sure where they got that number). These immigrants deserved to remain here even before the earthquake because of the dire situation in their country after the hurricanes. In addition, as the NY Times noted this past May, remittances from Haitian immigrants in the US sent to families back home are crucial to recovery from the hurricanes, providing $1.87 billion in support.

In 2008, Haiti asked the Bush administration to grant what's known as Temporary Protected Status to Haitian immigrants after the hurricanes. This status allows immigrants who can't return to their country because of instability or natural disasters to remain in the US however they arrived here and work legally. In December of 2008, Bush rejected Haiti's request, and the Obama administration continued the Bush policy of deporting undocumented Haitians, despite the fact that the country was still reeling from natural disaster and ensuing food shortage (see above NY Times article).

Thankfully the Obama administration just decided to halt deportations in wake of the earthquake disaster. However, the Miami Herald article on the decision states that in such cases "deportations usually resume as soon as the emergencies end." The emergency in Haiti might end after several months, but it will be years before the country even recovers to the perilous situation it was in before the earthquake. No Haitian-American should be deported for several years until the situation truly improves to pre-hurricane status. Granting TPS to Haitian immigrants must be a component of our response to the tragedy if it is to be thorough and just.

The Haitian-American community and its allies in Congress are putting a ton of pressure on the Obama administration to grant TPS, as the Herald article documents. The NY Times piece from last May suggests that they were pretty close to getting TPS last spring, so there is some hope.

Just Foreign Policy is acting in solidarity with the Haitian-American and immigrant rights communities through an email action alert to President Obama and Congresspeople demanding that they grant TPS to Haitian immigrants. Please add your voice of solidarity here.

Note: I'm working on a longer piece on how US policies towards Haiti have helped cause the instability and poverty there that make the tragedy both more poignant and more difficult to recover from, so stay tuned.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Good Thing I Don't Gamble on Football

Okay so I was 2-2 for the wild card round, could've been better. The Packers were so close, what a game! Was I not right about Rodgers having poise? The guy is going to go far in the playoffs someday. I'll be back next weekend with more picks, don't you worry.

1) Misinterpreting Dream

Clearly I should have realized that the dream meant that the Bengals would win only if Chris Henry was still alive and switched his jersey number to #80 and Cedric Benson was out with an injury.

Actually don't pick games based on dreams. What I said about the Jets' defense and running game being just was a good playoff team needs, that was right.

2) Underestimating old and young QBs

Mark Sanchez proved himself as the real deal. Kurt Warner showed he's still the real deal.

3) Picking the wrong longhairs to win

I forgot that Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals also has long hair, which would've forced me to decide the Packers-Cardinals game on more rational factors.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dreams of Playoff Outcomes

Last night I dreamt that I was watching the Bengals-Jets game from a position floating above the field. My dream predicted a Bengals victory. Although it did predict that an injured Cedric Benson wouldn't be able to play for the Bengals, and he's not injured anymore in reality. I also saw Chris Henry on the field, which is clearly impossible because he died last month (and he was wearing #80, when he actually wore #15). Perhaps my dream is saying that the memory of Henry will be a presence on the field for them and help goad them to victory.

Here's my picks for the wild card games this weekend:

Jets v. Bengals: Bengals

My dream predicted it, enough said.

Actually I don't trust my dream that much, but my rational mind agrees. The Jets do have the ingredients for playoff success: a great running game and a great defense. And they did destroy the Bengals last week in the last game of the regular season, but the Bengals had nothing to play for as they had already won their division. The Jets barely squeaked into the playoffs. They lost to the Bills for God's sake. As a devoted Bills fan, I can honestly say that it took a lot to lose to them this year. Mark Sanchez could be a great quarterback someday, but right now he isn't making big plays and turns over the ball alot. The Bengals on the other hand won a lot of tough games this season and showed a lot of grit in a tough division with the Ravens and defending champion Steelers. If they can put points on the board early, the Jets are toast.

Eagles v. Cowboys: Cowboys

My dad and I have rooted for the Eagles since Donovan McNabb left Syracuse University to play for them. But I can't see them getting past the Cowboys, who beat the Eagles in both of their intra-division matchups this season. I just saw on ESPN that, in playoff games where the opponents faced off twice in the regular season and one team won both, the team that won both is 12-7 historically. The Cowboys beat up the Eagles pretty bad in the last game of the season, in which the Eagles were playing for homefield advantage and a first-round bye in the playoffs. McNabb and his favorite receiver DeSean Jackson had a great season, but the Eagles' running game is weak and their defense looks suspect. The Cowboys on the other hand built up a lot of momentum with a great December run, and they seem to be peaking on both sides of the ball.

Ravens v. Patriots: Ravens

I'm going to buck the odds and take the Ravens here, and not just because, as a Bills fan, I detest the Patriots with a vengeance. Tom Brady's favorite target, Wes Welker, is out with a knee injury sustained in the final game of the season, which will makes things difficult for him in 3rd and 5-7 yard situations where Welker was so key. The Patriots' defense has been vulnerable all year with the loss of key veterans from the Super Bowl teams. I think the dual Ray Rice/Willis McGahee Ravens ground attack will run roughshod all over them.

Green Bay v. Arizona: Green Bay

This one is a toughie, a matchup between two great teams with 2 out of the 3 NFC Pro Bowl quarterbacks between them. Kurt Warner is clutch in the playoffs, plain and simple. But the Packers' Pro Bowl QB Aaron Rodgers was really impressive this season. I caught both of their battles with the Vikings and former Packers' QB Brett Favre, and Rodgers played with such poise even though they lost both. The Packers' defense led by long-haired rookie LB Clay Matthews and veteran CB Charles Woodson is tough as hell. In the end, I have to side with the longhairs.