Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Better Days

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days
Cuz I don't need boxes wrapped in strings
And desire and love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again

And it's someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And thats faith and trust and peace while we're alive
And the one poor child that saved this world
And there's 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again

Race matters: "Let's go save our boys"

Last Friday, I was at the state conference of the PA NAACP. I stayed long enough to have lunch and attend the afternoon workshop on criminal justice. Listening to the speakers, it was clear that the point I made in last week's post that whites can never truly understand what minorities go through was right on target. The workshop opened with a viewing of the Frontline report "Snitch," which documents the case of Clarence Aaron, who received three life sentences for driving some friends to buy drugs. Clarence was convicted solely on the testimony of the other conspirators. There was no other evidence for conviction. Thanks to mandatory minimums, Clarence got life.

The moderator of the workshop noted that in 1954, just before the Brown v. Board of Education decision, there were 87,000 blacks in prison. Today there are 1.2 million. What is wrong with this picture?

I couldn't help but think of some other statistics. (I hope I'm remembering this correctly) 1 in 3 young adults black males (18-35, I think) are in the care of the Department of Corrections, either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation.

The government claims that this is the result of the war on drugs, but that policy has been so ineffective that the drug supply on the street hasn't changed. Meanwhile, an entire generation of black men is being lost, which prompted the moderator to say, "Let's go save our boys."

And another statistic that popped to mind, although it is history: In the early 1900s, as lynchings dropped, state executions rose.

Is it just a coincidence that state policy seems to encourage the ongoing oppression of black males?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Race matters

Through my work in civil rights, which I'll keep anonymous for the purpose of staying relatively anonymous, and through graduate studies in Community Psychology and Social Change, I've had the opportunity to confront and deal with issues around race, in a variety of ways, in the last two years and especially in the last year. Because of these experiences, here a few thoughts on the issue I'd like to share.

White people can listen mindfully and express empathy but can never truly understand the plight of America's racial minorities. Last year in one of my classes, we watched the documentary The Color of Fear. In the film, a group of men gather at a retreat center in suburban California and discuss issues of race. There is a middle-aged white man in the film who reminds me of so many white people I know. This man fails to comprehend the experiences of the minorities in the group, and in one example, he does not understand why a black man is uncomfortable coming to the area of Cali where the retreat is being held. The area is nearly all-white.

I hear many white people say things like, "All racism is wrong." Certainly that is true, but it is way too simplistic. There are issues of power here that must be explored. When whites engage in racism, it is for the centuries-old purpose of pushing down minorities and for keeping power over minorities. When minorities engage in racism, it is an attempt to grab some power back. This explanation does not make either one right, but it certainly helps us to further understand. From a Buddhist perspective, I would want to find compassion for both because they are the result of their conditioning, but it is much easier to have compassion for the powerless than the powerful.

Central Pennsylvania is not a racist hell in the midst of a racial paradise. This region takes a pretty good beating from outsiders, and there can be no denying that we have issues here. But let's stop acting like in the rest of the country whites and minorities are walking arm-in-arm singing "Ebony and Ivory" while in central PA there is a cross-burning on every corner. Our issues here are not any different from the rest of the country.

As one example, I have only heard of one potential anti-immigrant ordinance proposed in central PA, but a flurry of them have been proposed in southeast PA. Yet it's central PA that gets tagged with the racist label while I have yet to hear anyone (other than myself) talk about how racist the Philly region is.

This issue can be carried to a state level, too. Another example: The PA House of Reps tried to suppress the minority vote with a voter photo ID bill earlier this year. That bill was watered down by the Senate and then vetoed by the governor.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, legislation like the original PA House bill passed and was signed by the governor. It's already been struck down at the district court level, but the state is appealing. (Background: 1 in 8 Pennsylvanians do not have photo identification, and they are disproportionately minorities, elderly, the poor, and the disabled.)

Let kids be kids. In the eyes of many, including both whites and other minorities, minority kids don't have the freedom to just be kids. A family member once told me that he has driven by a local elementary school with a significant minority population at dismissal and that it's out of control. Hmmm, an elementary school at dismissal time is going to be a bit wild, whether the kids are white, black, or otherwise.

A friend who is half Latina who grew up in an urban setting told me recently that if she sees Puerto Rican teens hanging out, she assumes they're up to trouble.

It's my contention that white kids and minority kids can exhibit the exact same behavior but will be viewed differently by adults, particularly whites.

These are a few thoughts on these issues. I'm probably going to randomly post thoughts about race as they come to me.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Audacity of Hope

Not to pimp for Borders, but their weekly ad came across the inbox this morning with a coupon for Barack Obama's new book The Audacity of Hope. It included a link to his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. It is a must-watch, even if you've seen it before.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

"A faith unshaken"

This is important enough to cross-post with Nasty Little Man and The Central Pennsylvania Abolitionist.

Here's a commentary from Wisconsin on the Amish school shooting tragedy that I found particularly inspiring:
But the Amish will not respond with anger or hatred. This tragedy will strengthen their faith and their resolve in maintaining their way of life. It may make them more wary of the "English" world, but that caution will not manifest itself in resentment or revenge. Those words are not even in their vocabulary.

The Amish are people who put their faith into action, even in the most horrific of circumstances. The very foundation of their church (and mine) is pacifism and withstanding persecution for their beliefs. There is no doubt in my mind that if the gunman had lived, the families of his Amish victims would have asked the court to spare him the death penalty.

And the AP is reporting that about half of the mourners at the funeral of the shooter, Charles Roberts, were Amish:
His wife, Marie, and their three small children looked on as Roberts was buried beside the pink, heart-shaped grave of the infant daughter whose death nine years ago apparently haunted him, said Bruce Porter, a fire department chaplain from Colorado who attended the service.

About half of perhaps 75 mourners on hand were Amish.

"It's the love, the forgiveness, the heartfelt forgiveness they have toward the family. I broke down and cried seeing it displayed," said Porter, who had come to Pennsylvania to offer what help he could. He said Marie Roberts was also touched.

"She was absolutely deeply moved, by just the love shown," Porter said.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Foley Affair: Intelligently Designed?

So says Glenn Greenwald:
The Foley scandal is so perfectly tailored -- one could even say artistically designed -- to expose every character flaw of this country's Republican leaders (and their followers), and it has evolved so flawlessly (like the most brilliantly coordinated symphony), that one is almost inclined to believe that it was divinely inspired. It is difficult to believe that human beings (let alone Democrats) could create something so perfect (as Billmon wrote in comments here the other day, the relentless efficiency of this scandal is proof positive that Democrats had nothing to do with it).

Greenwald goes on:
It is as though Republicans are being punished for all of their serious political sins at once, in one perfectly constructed, humiliating scandal designed to highlight their crimes and exact just retribution for them. The Foley scandal is shining a very bright light on their conduct, not just in this one incident but with regard to how they have been governing the country generally over the last five years. That is why this scandal is so important and it is why Bush followers are so desperate to proclaim the whole thing over with -- even if it means having to jump on a pathetic Matt Drudge item to do it. The one thing they don't want is for a clear, illuminating light to be shined on how they conduct themselves.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Is the GOP trying to lose?

Seriously, either the Republi-cons are trying to lose the election or they want to measure just how incompetent the Democrats are at winning elections:

Update, 11:13pm:
That's funny. Right after I posted that, I read this from David Goldstein at Huffington Post:
this is exactly the wrong time for "Leader" Frist to tell the American people that the greatest military power in the history of the world cannot defeat the ragged extremists who harbored our al-Qaeda attackers.

Unless, of course, your goal is to convince the American people that the Republican Party is simply incapable of leading: incapable of winning the war in Iraq or in Afghanistan, incapable of fighting the war on terror... even incapable of what should be the relatively routine task of protecting House pages from being groped by a congressman in a Capitol Hill restroom.

It is hard to believe that this is in fact the Republican leadership's goal... that the people who have "led" our nation for the past six years really want to lose the November election. But the alternative explanation is even more disturbing.

Update, 11:19pm:
This is getting stranger and stranger. Right after the last post, I found this article, Why some Republicans want to lose:
The array of former members of Congress and officials from Republican administrations dating to the 1970s are using opinion articles, speeches and interviews to make the surprising -- and, to many of their friends and colleagues, near-heretical -- argument that it would be better for the country if their party lost. Some say they plan to vote Democratic for the first time in their lives. The Republican rebels say the modern Republican Party has so abandoned its conservative beliefs that it deserves to be defeated by the Democrats.

Is CBS News trying to destroy Katie Couric's credibility?

Her cred was already low in my book, but CBS News seems to be doing its best to destroy any semblance of a newswoman. The CBS Evening News features a segment called "free speech". With today's school shooting in Lancaster County, CBS asked Brian Rohrbaugh, the father of a boy who was killed at Columbine, to offer his thoughts for "free speech." Mr. Rohrbaugh proceeded to tell a national television audience that today's tragedy in Bart Township was the result of teaching evolution, abortion, and "taking God out of our schools." (Never mind that this was a private, religious school.)

This is a tragic day here in Pennsylvania. Although there can be little doubt that a father who loses a son to violence suffers in a way that most of us will never understand, it is not an excuse for him to do a Jerry Falwell impersonation. Let us mourn with our Amish friends without the Regressives' agenda front and center.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Vets scoff at politicos

Like I said a few days ago, it's hard to believe we need a military coup to restore some common sense in America. Today the Patriot News featured an article on veterans who scoff at the idea of our current struggle with terrorists being classified as World War III:
"The current 'long war' is not a world war in the sense of major states committing massive military resources in clashes in far-flung theaters," said Conrad Crane, director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks.

With its lower level of military commitment and its political and ideological undertones, the terrorism battle "more closely resembles the level of commitment of the Cold War," when the main threat was communist subversion, Crane said.

There also is a vast difference in the impact on the home front, said Kim Fox, assistant professor of political science at Shippensburg University.

All Americans were affected by World War II. Food, fuel, clothing and tires were rationed, and the whole economy was geared toward winning the war.

"We're a long way from the Third World War," Fox said. "If this is World War III, why aren't we mobilizing, rationing and bringing back the draft?"

Although U.S. troops are making great sacrifices, the situation is more akin to a policing effort than to all-out war, he said.

Exactly. When some have argued for rolling back our rights and the Constitution, they do it under the cover of "we're at war." But this is more like Cold War II than it is World War III. And it barely measures up to the Cold War since the Soviets could have obliterated us at any minute, a power the terrorists do not have.