Friday, February 29, 2008

ACLU Sues DHS and Others for "Deportation" of Pedro/Peter Guzman

The ACLU complaint on behalf of Peter Guzman filed on February 27, 2008 provides the first clear statement of the activities leading to what the ACLU calls Guzman's "illegal deportation," but might be better viewed as plain and simple criminal kidnapping. What else to call an organized effort to remove someone from the state without their consent? According to the complaint, Guzman was delusional part of the time in custody. Before this occurred and Guzman gave information on his birthplace, the Sheriff's Department correctly recorded this as California.

The complaint provides the first detailed narrative of the U.S. government's failure to obtain Guzman's consent before putting him on a bus on May 11, 2007, without his wallet or California driver's license, and dropping him off in Tijuana, where he knew no one.

Based on the details of this document I am further convinced that the ACLU is being too easy on the government. An "illegal deportation" is an oxymoron, as is the much more common violation of the "illegal arrest." Both of these weight the intentions of state actors in a manner law does not afford private individuals. The actions associated with the "illegal arrest" and even more so for an "illegal deportation" are indistinguishable from kidnapping, which really is the crime (and not just civil claim) that the government should be charging Chertoff et al. with committing. (For an explanation of why Guzman's forcible removal against his will from the USA meets the criteria of kidnapping, read this posting, based on the initial habeas complaint.)

If the state is acting against the law then the putative purpose claimed as the motive for that behavior, i.e., executing the law, is not relevant to defining the state's actions. If a law is not executed lawfully then these actions are not furthering the execution of the law and should be assessed on their own merits.

If I am trying to feed my family and steal food to accomplish that, I am not charged with "illegal caregiving," but theft. If I am unable to accomplish my benign purpose of assisting Mexicans excluded from the U.S. and I drive them into the USA, I am not charged with "illegal job support" but human trafficking.

In other words, state actors should be held accountable for the egregious actions that it commits against people in violation of all of the laws. When a failed execution of a law occurs, then the actions done on its behalf should receive no special protections because they were done by state actors. Indeed, if anything, the scrutiny and punishment of these illegal actions should be much more severe than that directed against private individuals, precisely because of the power these people wield.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Steroids and the Decade of Decline

In a few hundred years, students will learn about The Decade of Decline, the ten years when the United States lost its honor, wars, and money, and any hope of regaining these. It might go something like this:
The long descent began after an ancient Republican clan, Silverfootinmouth, instructed its minions to make sure that the youngest male Silverfootinmouth would ascend to the throne.

The public had voted for a rival clan's more gifted son, but advisers in the kingdom's court were loyal to the Silverfootinmouth family. Also, though they did not speak of this to Silverfootinmouth the Elder, many longtime court officials knew the youngest son to be a fool and were eager to install him as cover for their own nefarious ends. So it came to pass that four men (and one sad woman) loyal to Silverfootinmouth the Elder lied and said Gore, the rival, had not received votes in the province run by the eldest son of Silverfootinmouth, and that therefore the Silverfootinmouth family once more would rule the kingdom.

Gore knew of Silverfootinmouth's trickery, but was worried about civil war and conceded to avoid faction. Gore was a good, if somewhat naive, man and even in defeat tried to help his country. In a short period of time he was able to persuade the citizenry of their folly with fossil fuels, the source of energy that in time killed the civilization. Gore even won an important world prize for this. Alas, by then it was too late. Gore's country was already being consumed by the rising seas. The magic Prius and other advanced vehicles from the East arrived too late to save them. During one of the most tragic weeks, Hurricane Katrina washed out the levies, homes, and people from a once vibrant city called New Orleans, the underwater ruins about 20 miles southeast from the shores of Baton Rouge.

Soon after young Silverfootinmouth became King -- they called it President then, though the county tended to be run by people from a few families-- the country was attacked by men who were from a land where the Silverfootinmouth clan had old friends. It would be unthinkable for young Silverfootinmouth--also known as Shrub, the name given him by a wise woman from his village--to attack those people, but he would look weak if he did nothing.

Shrub's advisers, who had enemies in a different country that was near the country of the attackers, persuaded Shrub to invade that other country instead, even though they knew it had no role in the assault on their people. These advisers were better at pretending to be smart than young Silverfootinmouth, but in fact they also were very silly men. According to one story, which is very comical but still may be true, the main adviser to the King was trying to shoot a duck and instead shot his friend in the face.

The war against the people who never attacked the United States went very badly, costing the country its vast fortune and thousands of its people's lives. And yet the citizens still were afraid because the people who attacked them were not caught. Four years after Shrub first seized power, the people voted by a slim margin for him to continue as their leader.
The country's decline would become permanent. Shrub let the people who worked for him give away the kingdom's gold to their rich friends who ran the banks. The bankers then lent the money to poor people and charged them high rates of interest. It was really fun for while because the bankers were able to make money from lending the government's money and the poor people were able to spend the money, but eventually the bankers ran out of gold and the poor people couldn't repay the loans.

Once there was no more money, Shrub and the politicians for the poor people were very sad and worried, until they realized that money DOES grow on trees and they could just print more of it. The people were all very happy when they learned that the government was going to be sending money to them.

Most narratives of the Ten Year Decline might stop at this point, because the ending might appear self-evident. But just as today, there may be an inquiring student, needing a bit more detail to understand the era's follies. Why didn't the other politicians, called Democrats, do something?

Seated under tents by the dozens because earlier generations decided to privatize education and because the drought in North America had killed all the trees, the students might listen to a wise teacher's chestnut anecdote:

U.S. soldiers were killing themselves in foreign lands, families were being thrown out of their homes, and government agents had kidnapped men in orange suits and were suffocating them with wet towels on an island that disappeared after the 23 Year Rain.

The Senators were in despair. Overwhelmed by the country's actual problems, they agreed amongst themselves to focus on the difficulties faced by their professional athletes.

This was one activity that seemed to make everybody happy. Senator Arlen Spector started this when he learned that a football team called The Patriots had cheated when they played the team from his state called The Eagles. (A worker for the Patriots had videotaped the secret code from The Eagles' coach to the quarterback.) Senator Spector was upset when he learned that the videotapes had been destroyed. He said this was as bad as the government destroying videotapes of shoving wet towels in people's mouths.

Some people complained and said that U.S. agents shoving wet towels in peoples mouths to suffocate them was torture and destroying evidence of this was worse than what the National Football League did, but no one listened to them.

Instead, encouraged by the example of Senator Spector's football investigation, Senate fans of baseball decided they could cheer up their constituents by holding hearings about whether a very famous baseball player had lied about taking drugs that would make his pitches harder for players to hit. The same day of the hearing King Shrub announced that the citizens would be receiving between $300 to $800.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Tragedy of Kosovar Independence

While Bush hopscotches his way through Africa, trying to avoid the many war zones, it should be clear that the last thing the world needs is another border.

The borders in Africa and everywhere else are superstitious creations meant to ward off an imaginary evil other. Whether created by tribal chiefs, post-WWI mapmakers, or modern kings and bureaucrats, these demonized others are flesh and blood people whose lives have never been constrained by strange lines in the sand.

Indeed, the hybridity and movement of populations explains the presence of Orthodox Greek Serbians in the ruins of the Muslim Ottoman Empire that had conquered them; Albanians in Serbia; and the presence of Serbians in the Kosovo, who were ethnically cleansed by the Albanians following the Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA) attacks on Serbian police in 1998.

The recent unhappy history of the former Yugoslavia's disintegration began in 1991, when Germany decided to flex its newly found diplomatic muscles following reunification and chart a foreign policy distinct from the U.S. by recognizing Croatia as an independent state, thus transforming minor skirmishes between small militias into a full-blown regional war with foreign invasions by Britain, the U.S., and NATO.

Seven years later, and three years after the Dayton Accords established recognized governments of independent Croatia, Republic Macedonia, and the Federated Bosnia-Herzegovina, in addition to Slovenia, the nationalist Albanians who were citizens of Serbia decided that the only way they could achieve their dream was through violence.

The KLA decided that the only way to gain the respect and attention of the international community was to kill Serbian police and then expose their fellow Albanian-Serbians to the collective punishment they knew would follow, and lead in turn to the international intervention that would elevate them to nationhood. Just the way it worked for the Croatians.

Here's what a journalist sympathic to the KLA wrote in 1998:
They organized their own parallel Albanian-language schools, their own medical services, and even their own informal tax collectors to pay for it all. They held unauthorized, Kosovo-wide elections that made Ibrahim Rugova, an almost Gandhian advocate of nonviolence, the unofficial "president of Kosovo." And since they weren't killing people, the world ignored their plight. In the last two years, a few frustrated Kosovars formed a "Kosovo Liberation Army" that carried out a few attacks on Serbian police. But the province was still almost entirely peaceful until February when Milosevic sent in his police to massacre several villages where individuals linked to the KLA were thought to live.
(Source: Gwen Dwyer, "Serbia the Ultimate Loser of Carnage in Kosovo," Post and Courrier, Charleston, August 8, 1998:A11.)

In 1998 Albanians living in Kosovo, Serbia, had been suffering the indignities of not being able to use Albanian for official purposes and employment discrimination. These actions by Serbia are unjust but they are no more unjust than the official policy of most other countries.

How different is this from the U.S. requiring English and not Spanish be used in Texan hospitals and schools? Imagine if the United States government were asked to endure Mexican-Americans in the Southwest establishing a separate government and collecting taxes? Would the systematic discrimination against Mexican-Americans today--the official denial of their ability to speak their language and run their own schools--be sufficient to trigger sympathy for large Mexican-American cities in the U.S. becoming independent states? And what if some Mexican-American terrorists, equivalent to the Albanian-Serbian KLA, started to attack the Anglo police who were working in the Southwest, precipitating violent retribution against the population and the occupation of forces from Russia, Canada, and other Latin American countries, which is roughly analogous to the occupation of Serbia's Kosovar region by the U.S., Britain, and other European troops?

The new, self-declared Prime Minister of Kosovo is the man who led the KLA attacks on Serbian police ten yers ago, Hashim Thaci. Although at present only Kosovar Albanians see Thaci as their leader, he is poised to receive receive recognition from the United States, Germany, Britain, and France shortly. Russia and of course Serbia will not recognize Kosovo as a state and have asked the United Nations not to do so either. Several countries in the European Union also do not want to recognize Kosovo, as they have their own secessionist movements with which to contend. According to the New York Times today, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania oppose Kosovar independence.

Kosovo's ability to split the EU on foreign policy is itself another symptom of how new borders create new divisions. If it is to be a unifying regional political body, the EU needs a single foreign policy. Kosovar autonomy and any other question that provokes debates on sovereignty will undermine this. In the end, the debate shows that despite the best intentions, the nation-state cannot accommodate peace. The answer is not the proliferation of more nation-states but their demise altogether.

Instead of recognizing Kosovo, the world would be better off depriving all states of the ability to control movement and membership by the use of ancestry, language, or any other criterion other than the desire to establish residence.

Kosovo is poised to be independent because of a temper-tantrum that elicited brutal corporal punishment and brought in the child protection service, and this produced another bully that has already been smacking around its own peers. Kosovo's situation is morally no worse than any other country, but it is no better, either.

For a look at how the Kosovar's Orthodox Greek Serbians have documented the bombing of their churches and arson to their homes in recent years by Kosovar's Muslim Serbians, look here, the source of the image above of a man in 2004 peeing at a destroyed 19th century Orthodox church in Prizren.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Race and the California Primary

Race Politics Are Everywhere and Nowhere
The race question in this presidential election seems to be everywhere and nowhere. It's the first time an African American has a credible chance of becoming President, but neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has made race a point of contention.

The brief ruckus when Clinton suggested Lyndon Johnson was more important than Martin Luther King Jr. in passing the Civil Rights Bill was about different views of how power works, not race, and has been largely forgotten. Both Obama and Clinton credibly avow commitments to people of color, and their social and economic policies will have roughly the same effects.

The White House Must Stay White

Nonetheless the media have played up the possibility that the electorate will remain fixated on race. The angle has been that people of color are worried that the White majority will not countenance a Black president (unless he's in a television show starring Kiefer Sutherland). A journalist for Politico posted an article just before the South Carolina election claiming "Black Voters Fear DC Unready for Black President," and then Obama went on to win all but three counties in that state. But that same night Latino voters in Nevada went for Clinton.

Si Se Puede?
Race has been a factor, but not in the way the pundits predicted. In the topsy turvy racial politics of the U.S., Obama, the "si se puede" candidate, the only one who supports drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, is losing among Mexican-Americans and winning among White men. Exit polls showed that White men supported Obama by 18 points over Clinton. Meanwhile, Black voters have refuted anecdotal accounts of their anxieties. He's receiving around 85% of the African-American vote.

Why Clinton's Brown Appeal?
In last night's California primary, Latinos voted 2 to 1 for Clinton and Asian Americans voted for her 3 to 1. Why were African Americans and White men in an alliance that did not include Latinos and Asian Americans? There probably is no single explanation but one clear result is that the voters who may keep Obama out of the White House are more likely to be from the barrios than Beverly Hills. (Image is from appearance at National Council of Law Raza.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

"Caramel" Opens Tonight

"Caramel" was written by and stars the director, Nadine Labaki. It is the Lebanese submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film and screened at Cannes.

Labaki hews closely to the advice "write what you know." The film is set in a Beirut beauty parlor in a Christian neighborhood and is based on people Nadine observed. Most of the cast are non-actors, though you'd never know.

"Caramel" has received terrific reviews, including analogies to Pedro Almodovar's work. I've been telling my friends it's like "Sex in the City" set in Beirut. It's a subtle and humorous exploration of the friendship and challenges faced by an intergenerational group of women. There is a great range of characters, from a crazy old lady who collects traffic citations from windshields to the butch lesbian who fixes the generator and washes hair, and develops a simmering relationship with one of the clients.

Labaki is an accomplished actress and music video director whose work is widely admired in the Middle East. Over drinks after the screening a Palestinian filmmaker told Nadine that his mother in Nazareth was a huge fan and that if Nadine came to their city the whole town would come to a stop.

Nadine smiled and then looked sad. Because of her citizenship, Israel and Lebanon both make such a visit impossible.

If you want to support its wider release, and have a great evening, go see "Caramel" this weekend.
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