28 January 2007

Roots of peace and justice: a response to events at Guilford

Seeing the sign pictured above was absolutely the highlight of my day. It was a quiet discovery. I was marching along today with some friends in the peace march around the Capitol today, and I saw a man wearing a Guilford College hat. I asked him if he had gone to school there. He replied that no, he hadn't, but his daughter was there now. "They're all up there," he said, and pointed to a group of kids behind a huge white sign. Now of course I wasn't surprised to see Guilford students at a major protest. Indeed, I had been seeking them out all morning, almost in search of some sort of affirmation. I didn't know anyone in the group. Things change quickly, I guess. But I said something stupid, like "welcome to DC," marched in their vicinity for awhile, ran up front to snap the photo, and continued on my way, smiling like a fool the whole time.

Like many alumni, I am gravely concerned about the events that transpired at Guilford College in the early hours of last weekend. Based upon what I have read in the media and on the College website, it is known that at least five students violently assaulted three Palestinian students in Bryan Hall. Clearly these acts are egregious and need to be dealt with in a serious manner. Yet sadly I have been disappointed in some of the student and alumni discourse that has surrounded these events.

Based upon the information I have available, I believe that the Guilford administration has handled the response professionally and in a timely manner. As in any situation like this, some things may not be handled as well as they could be, but on the whole I believe the response has been as it should be. This is a marked improvement from years not so long ago when campus life staff were less responsive, less competent, and considerably more out of touch with the student population.

What concerns me most is some of the discussion I'm seeing about the events. As usual, there has been a rush by some to blame the administration for everything imaginable. Such quick judgment is neither wise nor informed, and should be avoided. Yet more distressing is some undertones of loathing expressed toward student-athletes. Yes, the attackers in this case were football players. Yes, there were many other football players present at the incident. No, this does not mean that all football players, or all athletes, are bad for Guilford, against what it stands for, and only being propped up by a greedy administration.

As one former Guilford football player pointed out in an online discussion board on this issue, members of team sports have different schedules and spend significant amounts of time together, sometimes seven days a week during their season. This problem of scheduling inherently limits intergroup interaction outside the classroom. However, we should point out that the same distinctions are true for other segments of the student body. Theater students spend a significant amount of time with one another, for instance. Speaking from experience, those active in student government tend to spend several days a week in each other's company, often to the detriment of other interactions. Demonizing a particular group of students because they operate within their own comfort zones and chosen social networks seems foolish at best. Justifying such demonization with unfounded rumors regarding financial aid and administrative preferences is even worse. In this same vein, we should remember to critically interrogate the media coverage this event has received. Some reports are clearly inflammatory, and portray both the events and the response in a negative light that demonstrates a lack of understanding of the community and its tradition of open, sometimes painful, discourse around all manner of sorrows and joys.

We still do not know the full details of this hate incident, and likely will not for some time. What we do know is that the Guilford community is in need of healing after this dark event. I have seen it mentioned repeatedly, in many divergent contexts over the past week, that Guilford is a community rooted in ideals of peace and justice. This is true, and it is laudable. Yet what has not been mentioned enough in what I have seen is that these very principles are rooted in love, compassion and understanding. No, things are not perfect at Guilford. Indeed, they never have been. That is why things like the Anti-Racism Initiative exist to deal with some of Guilford's historic injustices in a proactive way. That is why we have a Bias Incidents Response Group. Sadly, we live in a society wherein Muslims and persons of Arab descent are facing vicious rising discrimination from various fronts. Some have said that the Guilford bubble has been broken by last week's events, but I think that such events should remind us that Guilford is not, in fact, a bubble. It exists in an unjust and unpeaceful society that exudes a pantheon of negativity. Guilford cannot be immune from that, but it can live true to its principles by demonstrating that a peaceful and just community can be built and nurtured, in spite of the negativity swirling around it, and sometimes within it. This is Guilford's promise and its challenge, and I am confident that it can live up to the task.

I know that in the coming weeks, Guilford will engage in dialog and discussion in numerous forums and events. Indeed, this process has already begun. The community will gradually heal and reconcile. Justice will be seen, and the truth will be known. But all involved should be engaged in a process of deeper healing, including crossing the lines of these false social dichotomies we construct. If, in this process, Guilford students can come to a sense of common identity and understanding, free from unnecessary stigmatization, then the community can truly be healed, and that will be the greatest step that can be taken towards preventing other acts of this nature in the future.

Over the course of four years, Guilford facilitated a remarkable change in my worldview. In some instances I know that fellow students, faculty and staff had to pry my eyes open, but I am grateful for the perspectives I gained. Learning for trauma is a tremendous chore. Sometimes, especially in early stages, healing and reconciliation feel like obscene concepts. Some have expressed that they feel hopeless, and that the essential Guilford is lost. Yet seeing a sign that reads "Guilford students against all hatred" reminds me that the core of Guilford's community is intact. In spite of whatever publicity out there right now, Guilford is a positive force for the world. Even as I sat to write this tonight, I heard a piece by Guilford's Adam Hurt come on the radio. The strength of Guilford's community and its fierce commitment to peace and justice will ensure its recovery and continued growth.

24 January 2007

State of the Hangover 2007

Madam Speaker, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, fellow citizens,

I begin this address they way it should always begin, with these words:

The state of our hangover is strong!

That said, there is a need to offer some critique as to the state of our Union. After watching the president last night, I must say that I remain unconvinced about basically everything he proposed. The health insurance scheme just came across as confusing and even bizarre, with even the vice president looking uncertain. The talk of balancing the budget should not be taken at only face value. The real source of U.S. growing debt is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which thus far have been financed in non-budget supplemental bills. Thus while there is a deficit in the regular budget, the far greater problem is these security funds which aren't even included in the budget. Yes, we should control earmarks. But we also need to realize that tax cuts to the wealthy probably wasn't the best idea.

Take a moment to worry over immigration. Them Mexicans are coming over faster than the Minute Men can shoot 'em. That's why we're gonna build a big fence to keep them out. The illegals, obviously. And of course terrorists. Terrorists are everywhere. The other domestic issues mentioned I have largely forgotten, as I was drinking pretty fast.

With regard to national security, I cannot reiterate enough the heart of the president's message: Be afraid, be very afraid. Them terr'ists is comin' to get you, your little cute babies with the plump cheeks, and your puppies. In fact, they're going to destroy all the puppies. Kitties too. Be afraid. They're after us. They'll attack us as we sleep, as we refill our SUVs with the shit-tons of fuel that fund their operations, and as we gorge ourselves on massive volumes of corn-product-based fast food items. Be afraid, dammit. That FDR guy, and his little snippit about "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" was obviously, gravely, tragically mistaken.

As for our current military ventures abroad, the president wants you to trust that by continuing to do the exact same thing we've been doing, we will see success. Someday. Hopefully soon. Those sovereign Iraqis need to do what we tell them to. Also, at least there has been some realization that the country is too stretched to blow up Iran or DPRK right now, but that will certainly not stop us from lobbing a few bombs into Somalia every now and again.

In last bits of substance, lets talk about malaria and saving African babies. Look at that tall dude from the big country of Africa who does something decent back in his village. Remember that of course there are no cities in that big country. Just quaint villages. And mosquitos. Basically I'm saying this to get Bill Gates and those Darfur bitches off my back.

And hey, look at all those other brave people who do good things.

And freedom, liberty, and et cetera.

God bless... _____?

The less than loyal opposition responds

Friends, the president is a shit head. He's done a whole lot of wrong. In fact, Senator Webb's not even gonna bother to rebut him. Just send out a friendly reminder that the Senator's son is in Iraq while Jenna and Barbara are terrorizing Latin America. Also, remember George, if you don't lead, we will (and you won't like it).

22 January 2007

Briefly on Darfur

I'm concerned that things still appear to be getting worse in Darfur, and that the international community is still ham-strung over what to do. While New Mexico Governor (and now presidential candidate worth looking at) Bill Richardson managed to get the Khartoum government to accept a ceasefire (of uncertain date or timing) acting only as a representative of U.S. NGOs, official diplomacy seems to be going nowhere, while the military and humanitarian situation continues to decline, to put it mildly.

In his most recent post to his controversial blog, Jan Pronk, who served as UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan until the end of the year, provided rather disturbing information regarding the state of UN-Sudan relations, the recalcitrance of the UN Security Council and Secretariat, as well as an update on the lack of diplomatic initiatives by great power nations. It's worth a read, but it is far from uplifting.

It seems that now more than ever, there needs to be greater activism and advocacy for effective and determined engagement to end this now three year old crisis. Otherwise, the cries of "never again" that followed Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda are proving themselves to be hollow promises. For information on what you can do, I recommend visiting the Save Darfur Coalition.

Blog for choice day

Today is the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and as such is also Blog for Choice day. Our rubric is quite simple: why am I pro-choice?

My answer is pretty simple too. I'm biologically male, and will never be in the position to make such a choice. Thus who am I to say that it is right or wrong to choose to continue a pregnancy or abort it? Because it's a decision I'll never have to make, I think that I should respect the rights of female-bodied persons to make whatever decision they feel is appropriate to their needs and circumstances. Given that most of our judges and lawmakers are also male, I feel that they too should step back because they have way of ever fully understanding the gravity of such a decision. And that's why I'm pro-choice. Not my body, not my decision, and I'll never be able to relate anyhow.

In a country where we hold ideals of self-determination and individual freedom so dear, it seems incredibly inappropriate anytime government officials attempt to curtail individual rights. These rights have been upheld in the Constitution, and our lawmakers have a duty to protect those rights, even if they find their exercise to be unpalatable or even immoral. This is one of the very basic founding principles of the nation.

I would also like to take this brief moment to give a shout to Tennessee Guerrilla Women, who are bravely keeping up the good work back in my home state.

20 January 2007

Lookit all them people goin' presidentin'

BREAKING: As of today, 600,052 people are running for president in 2008, and they all want your attention RIGHT NOW.

You, the idiot voter (and let's face it, you're pretty dumb), need to be aware that the future of America is at stake. Furthermore, you need to be reminded of this approximately 8.2 trillion times before 4 November 2008.

In order for me to spare you some of the impending agony, allow me to summarize the next two years for you.

Democrats, once done bashing each other as they either race to the middle, the left, or some obscure point in between, will basically be chanting "George W. Bush is a sonofabitch and I, Hillabama, can do a helluva lot better, along with my trusty sidekick [insert name of person I beat to a pulp in most primaries but adds geographic or even *gasp* racial or gender diversity to my ticket here]. After all, I didn't fuck up a war or sell the country to Chinese creditors. And don't forget the children!!! Oh, the precious children!"

Republicans, on the other hand, will be mildly more subdued, at least once their field of candidates figures out just how right of center they should be. Their message for the general election campaign will be as follows: "Hi, I'm John McCain, and you should know that I was against George W. Bush before I was for him, and then against him, and then for him, and then against him, again. Anyway, that doesn't matter. I'm here to WIN! Plus, me and Rudy got enough guns between us to take care of whatever terrorists threaten our oil or our money. Who wouldn't want a rootin'-tootin' maverick cowboy and a badass I-talian running the country, together?"

There you have it friends. Do yourselves a favor and cut your cable lines, remove the antennae from your radios, and block all news websites on your computer. Get yourself an iPod and a Netflix account, because we have now, finally, entered...

The Era of the Perpetual Campaign (TEPC).

Don't forget to vote on Tuesday, 4 November 2008.

18 January 2007

Are you ready to rumble?

This will just be a brief one. As you probably already know, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) will be delivering the Democratic response to the State of the Union next week. Between watching Speaker Pelosi roll her eyes repeatedly, a whole series of non-ovations, and then a reaction by the guy who basically told Shrub to fuck himself, this oughta take the annual SOTU drinking games to a whole new level of "where the hell is my apartment."

Personally, I think it's good for the country. Yay for democracy in action! And double-yay for that little Constitutional provision that forces the President to do stand-up for Congress once a year!

11 January 2007

Why the Bush Iraq plan will fail

I realize the title sounds presumptuous, but hear me out. The President's plan for Iraq won't work primarily because it relies on a military solution, though even its economic elements are shaky. The main problem here is that the United States lacks legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis, and thus cannot be an honest broker in whatever peace process may exist.

The most problematic element is the U.S. military presence in Iraq. These forces made fast work of overthrowing the admittedly nasty regime of Saddam Hussein, and then became an occupying force backed up by what was essentially a colonial government in the form of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). While many Iraqis undoubtedly had no lost love for Hussein (as evidenced by the circumstances around his execution), it is incredibly unlikely that they wanted a foreign force to come in and essentially replace him. Think of the American Revolution led not by the colonists, but by the French, who then installed their own regime while we got our act together. It wouldn't be so popular, would it?

President Bush wants more troops in order to stabilize the country, particularly Baghdad and its environs. Yet because our forces lack legitimacy (meaning no Iraqis in theater ever invited them in), they cannot possibly fulfill the role of a stabilization force. Such forces require some degree of impartiality, which an invader turned occupier force simply cannot truly exercise. This is why a phased withdrawal combined with a robust capacity building program is essential to American strategy in Iraq. American forces are, and always will be, targets of insurgents bent on driving the Americans out of Iraq.

Similar arguments can be made for U.S. attempts at restoring/sparking Iraqi economic growth. Here again, American actors lack the legitimacy and impartiality needed to be seen as acting in good faith. While I am pleased that the Administration is coming around to the need for non-military measures, the tactics laid out lack the key element of legitimacy and thus cannot be sustained. On a slightly different note, the connection made between codifying a law on oil resources and promoting national reconciliation is a bit bizarre. If anything, the debate over how to divide Iraq's oil wealth among its constituent groups is the most contentious issue in the country. Only if some sort of agreement were reached that somehow managed to satisfy Shi'a, Sunnis and Kurds could there be some moves towards reconciliation. Yet given the broader political climate in the country, this outcome seems unlikely for many years.

Furthermore, the President's plan relies heavily on playing rough with Iraq's neighbors, particularly Iran and Syria. That simply will not work. You cannot seek support for rebuilding a country while simultaneously alienating two adjacent countries. Like it or not, the autocrats in Damascus and Tehran will have to be engaged in this process. As we have seen in the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, American tough talk and belligerence will only be met by the same from the other side.

I don't have a plan for Iraq myself. Obviously the President and other policymakers have tremendously more resources at their disposal than some lowly grad student. Yet I feel like there can be no success -- at least defined as anything beyond getting our forces out in mostly one piece -- without some sort of internationalization of the effort. Have the Iraqis ask some respectable third part to come in. Of course in present circumstances that will be nearly impossible, not only because Iraq is now the hot potato of the world, but also because the world's peacekeeping/peace enforcement capacity is stretched pretty thin. Additionally, the U.S. is unlikely to want to deploy troops to other places as part of other international missions, even if it totally withdraws from Iraq. While I'm reluctant to use the word quagmire, I would classify the present situation we're in vis a vis Iraq as a bit of a pickle.

If you're interested, compare and contrast the President's speech tonight with the Iraq Study Group and Joint Chiefs of Staff (if you can find it) reports that came out last month.

UPDATE: Here is a nice chart from NYT comparing different proposed plans with the Bush speech.

09 January 2007

Somalia update

Remember how just a few hours ago I wrote calling for careful engagement with Somalia?

This is not what I meant.

08 January 2007

A word on Somalia

I've been following the recent unrest in Somalia for a bit, even though I've been relatively silent on it. Honestly, I don't know whether Somalia is on the verge of a new era of stability and the gradual repair of a very broken country, or if this is just the start of another round of violence. If the former is the case, then we need a whole lot of international engagement fast. If the latter ends up being true, then increased engagement wouldn't hurt, and should probably be aimed at keeping violence to a minimum. There's talk of a new peacekeeping force, led by a sub-regional group (IGAD) with no previous experience in such missions. Who knows how that will turn out. Organizations' first ventures into peacekeeping have historically been failures. I think at this point I shall remain cautiously optimistic.

U.S. media coverage of the conflict, while surprisingly voluminous, has unfortunately been quite skewed, as was pointed out by a friend recently. The Washington Post tends to be overly focused on the supposed victory of U.S. policy against Islamist forces, while the New York Times seems just excessively optimistic. The situation on the ground, from what I can tell, is tenuous at best. Anyway, you can find my collection of these articles here, though I recommend you pursue other sources. I do, however, recommend this op-ed by a professor from the Naval War College (and its less biased towards the U.S. than you might think).

Apologies for lack of further analysis.

05 January 2007

Ban Ki-moon is gonna fire you

Newness abounds in the new year! New UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who totally lacks the warm charisma of his much fawned over by UN geeks predecessor, has asked some 30 senior officials for their resignations. Oh, the humanity of it all! But they have contracts!!! How dare an SG come in and attempt to manage the place. Maybe he's taking James Traub's advice to shake things up. Looks like even more new things in store.

New Congress, new problems

As proof of Pat Robertson's impending rain of hellfire upon the United States of Gay Communist Democrats, I just saw a completely white squirrel running around on the sidewalk across the street. No, this wasn't a cat. It totally moved like a squirrel. Unless it was a squir-cat, which would be incredibly worse.

But back to the news. Nancy Pelosi has been sworn in and since she's ruled out impeachment, is plotting the "plane crash" of Bush and Cheney so she'll usurp Hillary as first woman president. Observe this picture from the NYT first day of Congress gallery:The caption for this should totally be Charlton Heston's old line "from my cold, dead hands!"

Meanwhile in the Senate, new majority leader Harry Reid was completely ignored. Probably because Senator Clinton's husband showed up, and promptly threatened Dick Cheney with a nice, clean, "surgical" tactical bombing campaign, right in the pacemaker. Again from the NYT gallery: "Listen bitch, if you don't straighten up, my wife is gonna nail your ass to the wall. You and your little Bush dog too."

So there you have it folks. Our bi-annual Come to Jesus Meeting on how to be civil with each other. The White House is so ready for the bipartisanship, that they're already casting aside dead weight, intelligent, foreign and domestic.