Thursday, July 31, 2008

Media Misses Distinction Between Correlation and Causation...

The New York Times reported on a new study by the Center for Immigration Studies saying that 1.3 million "illegal" immigrants have left the United States in the past year. The group attributes the drop to tough new enforcement measures.

Unfortunately, readers don't find out that the group is a "policy advocacy group that favors reduced immigration and opposes legislation to give legal status to illegal immigrants" until the 7th paragraph. CIS is in fact a far right, anti-immigrant group that opposes almost all immigration, legal or otherwise.

CIS director Mark Krikorian once said that "immigrant communities ... serve as the sea, as Mao might have put it, within which the terrorists swim as fish" and that "immigration is incompatible with modern society." According to the Progressive Research Associates, CIS was "founded in 1985 as a think tank to support the more activist work of the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)." Through their academic and non-fanatical style they, in contrast to FAIR, have successfully insinuated themselves into the think tank world.

Independent analysts and immigrant rights activists, surprise surprise,  attribute the drop in undocumented immigration to the contracting economy. Other analysts have also questioned CIS' methodology and say that the 1.3 million number is way too high. CIS measured the "likely illegal population" which it defines as less-educated, foreign-born Hispanics age 18 to 40. CIS seems so enthralled with cowboy theatrics that changing "push and pull" factors like, you know, the global economy, don't get much credit.

And The Times appears to be too concerned about potential charges of "liberal bias" to accurately report who these groups are. The Times and many newspapers have a troubled history with citing industry sources--or worse, publishing their op eds--and not revealing them as such. (If anyone can find an article on that, send it my way. I can't remember where I was reading about that...)

And of course, representatives of La Migra were quick to endorse CIS' fuzzy math: “It reinforces what we always thought, that comprehensive enforcement is a critical part of the reduction,” said Kelly A. Nantel, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Why Do Conservatives Hate Cool Shit?

In a recent conversation with my girlfriend's dad, the topic of verbing--or verbification--came up. This describes a nice linguistic function, or a coversion to be precise, when you make a noun into a verb. It just so happens that English is very good at this.

Eye, access, email are obvious examples. But there are thousands upon thousands, and it is often difficult to figure out what formof a word came first.

It also just so happens that the conservatives of the language world, prescriptivists, are wary of verbing. They think that it leads to unhealthy neologisms of the sort that appear on For example, I might use the word "dorkify" to describe a process of uncooling that a friend of mine had undergone. I'm not sure if I've ever heard that word before but, in English, I can be nearly certain that it's being used by someone. Most importantly, I can be sure that any interlocutor will understand what I'm saying, regardless of whether he or she has ever heard the word before. And a quick google search proves me right.

There are so many things to be upset about in the United States. It is a shame that conservatives hate on the good things we do have. Along with verbification, I would add immigrants, teenage rebellion and hip hop music.

NOTE: The above image should in no way be interpreted as critical of recreational drug use. It was chosen solely for its pro-taco message.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Knoxville Shooting and the Danger of Demonizing the Other

I just read the horrible news about a man opening fire at a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, killing two and wounding six.

This may be an extreme case. But it is clear that there is a dangerous far right in America, political currents of an increasingly fascist nature.

It has long been clear that the anti-immigrant movement of the past few years, often exhuding deeply racist messages and imagery, had the potential to provoke violence. The demonization of difference and the satanization of "the other" creates a public culture permissive of violence against homosexuals, Mexicans, Muslims or whatever segment of the population is blamed for "all of our problems."

This is, sadly, not the first instance of such violence. We can also look to the beating death of a Mexican immigrant in Pennsylvania by white high school students.

Or to the case of of Ali Al-Mari, arrested 8 years ago for credit card fraud in Florida and now sitting in military custody as an "enemy combatant" without charges. Waiting for the War on Terror to wrap up, I suppose.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

McCain Makes Historic Obama-Castro Introduction

This wasn't long in the coming! According to the Huffington Post, McCain has released an ad "connecting" Obama to Cuban leader Fidel Castro. "A Democrat in south Florida alerted the Huffington Post to the image, which shows Obama and Castro, profiled side-by-side, above a quote from the Cuban leader praising the Illinois Democrat as 'the most advanced candidate.'" Given that John McCain is his opponent, I wouldn't exactly call that a ringing endorsement. In fact, Castro has been very critical of Obama's Cuba policy.

In other election news, 12 Pennsylvania Democratic state representatives and their aides were
for illegally receiving public funds to keep "were given taxpayer-funded bonuses to keep 2004 presidential candidate Ralph Nader (Ind.) and 2006 US Senate candidate Carl Romanelli (Green) off the state ballot." Low blow to democracy from the ? Party.

Living in Mediated Times

Do you sometimes feel like the media says something as a surefire fact about the opinions of the American people that you hadn’t heard before and then you start thinking, “wait, am I weird for not having even thought of that? Or did the media make that up.”

One to put in “the media made that up” category include the sudden negative reporting at the tail end of Obama’s World Tour 2008. All week it was, Obama Wows Such and Such Foreign Leader, etc. But, as Bob Cesca pointed out in a recent post, the corporate media feel that any positive coverage of liberals (the Left, of course, just aren’t covered) with positive coverage of conservatives or negative coverage of liberals, even if they have to make it up.

So goes the sudden suggestion that Obama has to make sure not to appear “presumptuous” by appearing to be all like “I already won this shit” on his travels. Never mind that McCain took a similar tour in March, or that Republicans in part bullied Obama into doing it with their whole “McCain has spent a lot of time over seas killing people” argument.

It hadn’t occurred to me that there was something “presumptuous” about a presidential candidate and Senator going on a foreign tour. But if the AP, CNN, Fox and the New York Times say so, then maybe I’m wrong.

Anyways, what I find most presumptuous about Obama is his penchant for assuming that he deserves your vote whether or not you agree with his Wall Street friendly, anti-civil liberties, pro-Israel, Venezuela bashing, war in Afghanistan supporting, post-race politics...(Check out Adolph Reed's article on what's really going on with Obama. I do think he's wrong to say that it might be worse for the Left and the world if he wins...I think McCain, unfortunately, has to be stopped. So I'm holding my nose and...)

And really, each outlet used the same word—“presumptuous”—as if it was referring to some sort of external social fact. How does that happen? Having spent my first few days in a “press room” at the Ecuadorian National Constituent Assembly, I got a taste of how naturally group think sets in among journalists. Like any sub-culture, journalists naturally develop their own taboos (covering the Left) and totems (“balance” and “objectivity”).

Following up on Karadzic, two interesting articles. One from The Nation by Slavenka Drakulic that details how Karadzic the poet and Karadzic the killer were one and the same: "War criminals come from all social strata, from all kind of backgrounds. They are academics, writers or mechanics; waiters, bank clerks, peasants." Another article which argues that although the man is a true scum bag, the US and Europe are not exactly being judicious and evenhanded in supporting his prosecution at the Hague. Paul D'Amato argues that NATO and Bosnian leaders are also guilty of war crimes.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

At the Mercy of the Amazon

Newsweek just published an informative but condescending account of the legal efforts of residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon to bring Texaco to justice for dumping oil all over their land, making a lot of people really sick, degrading biodiversity and ruining their farms.

Two choice totally asshole comments:

"The plaintiffs—some suffering from cancer and physical
deformities—have showed up in court in native garb, with painted faces
and half naked." How exotic! How wild! The readers can just close their eyes and imagine the backwardness!

"Waiting until next year could leave the oil giant at the mercy of a
judge in the Amazon jungle." I wonder if the judge even speaks English! And you know what the intemperate climate does to these people´s judgement...

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Assembly´s Last Day, the Media is Pathetic, Secular Millenarianism and Other Topics

President Correa spoke today at the Assembly's closing ceremony. There was just a somewhat cheesy ceremony involving a bunch of kids getting big pencils to "write Ecuador's future." Correa then went on to criticize neoliberalism (yey!) to attack "infantile environmentalism" and "infantile indiginism" (ugh). I just finished a piece on Correa and the Ecuadorian Left.

A very smart professor that I had the pleasure of corresponding with the other day brought up the subject of Christian millenarianism, folks who believe the end times are coming soon.

It got me thinking that we're witnessing a form of secular millenarianism with Obama (who I do plan to reluctantly vote for) and Correa right now. When people live through a really tough period or are led by a really bad government for a while, then a conjuncture opens where people want something transformative--in the case of Ecuador and the US, a committed social justice and peace advocate--and can be less than thorough in choosing their champion. For example, the 2004 "anybody but Bush" phenomenon.

In other news...

Here's an interesting article by Glenn Greenwald on how, given the elitism and cowardice of the Democratic Party and mainstream media, groups like the ACLU have taken up holding the Bush Administration accountable, particularly in getting the torture memos released.

And here's my article about the Assembly and, more generally, Correa' s conflicts with the Ecuadorian Left. Although he gets a reputation as a Lefty in the US, things down here are a lot more complicated.

And Steve Clemons wrote an interesting note arguing that Obama's speech in Germany, where he said "...the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another," should have been given in Israel. But that would take political courage and independence from violent and monied interests, which might be the greatest danger to American politics...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Genocidal Alternative Health Practitioners

The mainstream media has once again skimmed over something fascinating.

Doesn't anyone else want to know why Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader charged with the genocide of over 8,000 muslims and the siege of Sarajevo, was for the past decade posing as an alternative health practitioner?

I mean, of all the possible covers to choose...what is going on here? Were all of the jobs teaching Hatha Yoga taken?

Racism in Ecuador

Ecuador's Constituent Assembly will vote to approve a new constitution in about 2 hours, sending the text to a popular vote this September.

There have been a lot of conflicts in Ecuador over indigenous rights, leading to conflict between the Left and sometimes Left President Rafael Correa.

The most recent flare up was over a proposal making Kichwa, a language spoken by over 2 million Ecuadorians, an official language beside Spanish in the new constitution.

Correa and his allies initially opposed it, setting of an uproar. Last night they settled on a compromise and made Spanish the “official language of Ecuador, while Spanish, Kichwa and Shuar are official languages of intercultural relation." No one even knows what that means! I've asked around. The indigenous movement lives to fight another day...

Anyways, the super-wealthy, decadent and out of touch right wing opposition here have fervently agreed with Correa, the first time that they seem to have agreed with him on everything. Just sitting here in the Constituent Assembly news room, I'm hearing some of the most blatantly racist statements from agents of the supposedly objective mainstream press.

These "journalists" near unanimous and clear approval for these Hummer driving nut bags is gross!

"Kichwa isn't a real language." 

"Kichwa can't be an official language because it doesn't have a grammar."

"It's a ridiculous proposal. Only 2% of Ecuadorians speak Kichwa." 

All of these statements, of course, are demonstrably false according to any linguist or basic demographic data...

Another day at the Constituent Assembly, Slacking Off

Ok, so the article on the Constituent Assembly, etc will be out tomorrow. I'm holding off until they vote to approve the text tonight.

The Constituent Assembly is located on the top of a tall hill. I got a ride up the hill on a police bus. It got me thinking about how police all over the world seem to have a tendency towards violence and repression. I wondered about to what degree these things can be reformed and to what degree they're intrinsic to what happens when the government gives people guns to enforce laws. Just now, getting to my computer, I noticed this article looking at years of severe abuse and torture, largely of black folks, at the hands of the Chicago police. I myself was once arrested in that city. Not fun.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blogging from the Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly About Something Else

So, first blog post. No one will be probably be reading this yet, but I'll try to do a good job just for practice's sake. I'm writing from Montecristi, where I'm observing the last two days of Ecuador's Constituent Assembly. I'll have an article on that out tomorrow.

As I'm zoning out from the specifics of the proposed Electricity Law, I've been reading up on Obama's recent world tour.

He's in Israel and the Occupied Territories today. While he met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, he took pains to emphasize that he would in no way break with the US's longstanding support for Israel, hell or high water. Obama was quoted in The New York Times saying, “The most important idea for me to reaffirm is the historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel. One that cannot be broken. One that I have affirmed throughout my career and one that I will intend to not only continue but actually strengthen in an Obama administration.”

In other news, Robert Dreyfuss has a good piece in The Nation on Obama's foreign policy, pointing out that while less dangerous than Bush, there are no plans to downsize our bloated military budget or move away from maintaining the Pax Americana. There's also a good interview with him on Counterspin

I also wanted to draw folks' attention to a particularly obnoxious article from last week's New York Times. Most of the time, the Left is just invisible in the corporate media. And when we do show up, the entire article is always musing over how marginal we are. Let's see, opposing the Iraq War, supporting universal healthcare, a high minimum wage and a clean environment, backing abortion and gay rights...Oh, wait, a majority of Americans support these things!

And how about the Civil Rights Movement, Women's Suffrage, the eight hour work day and the weekend? Just marginal events undertaken by marginal characters. 

They also quote Kari Chisholm, a centrist Democratic computer nerd and strategist in Oregon who represents just about everything wrong with the Party: "They believe their ideology is the only idealism and Obama’s is very mainstream. I’m not surprised they’re getting a little cranky. They’ve always been kind of cranky. A mainstream Democrat has always been too mainstream for them.” 

Kari, at least we believe in something. I have never known you to stand for anything aside from fervently enmeshing yourself within establishment circles. What is it, exactly, that drew you to politics? To win? But to win what, exactly? Write to the Times here and ask them to stop being such jerks...