Archive for August, 2008
While driving today, I caught a conservative talk radio show on a local channel in Upstate South Carolina. I didn’t catch the name of the host, but he was in the vein of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, but with a better sense of humor. A black guy named Vern called in and was questioning a statement the host made about blacks only voting for Obama because he was black and for no other reason. Vern took offense to that, saying that the black political conscience is more complicated than that. Vern said many black people were voting for Obama because they thought he was the best man for the job. And then, in obligatory form, the host rambled on about how Obama’s lack of experience makes him blatantly unfit to the lead the country.
Vern then counterattacked. He began his thought by, I think, beginning to point out that Republicans talk about Obama’s lack of experience ad nauseum, erstwhile, seemingly ignoring the fact that those who are leading, the Cheney’s and the Bush’s (throw McCain’s three decades of service into the mix), and still with all that experience, the country’s economy is in a wreck and we are thought of as chickenfeed overseas. That’s a paraphrase of course, but just as Vern was beginning to make his point, said host interrupted and cut to a commercial.
After the break, Vern had shifted gears and was reiterating the point he made earlier about the black political conscience being more complicated and learned than many may think. Since Vern never got to fully make his point, allow me. Republicans talk a lot about how we need experienced leaders to be able to handle the complex issues of our day. But Bush is supremely experienced, as a second-term president, and before that, years as the head man in Texas. Cheney? Decades of experience as a public servant? McCain? Decades.
Yet, with all that experience, the economy’s a boondoggle and Afghanistan and Iraq are boondoggles. Experience does not always equal competency. Experience does not always imply genuineness. Experience does not always mean someone has the nation’s best interests at heart. Last, experience does not always equal trustworthiness.
Now, I’m not going to argue that Obama or anyone else is anymore trustworthy than folks in the Republican camp. Bottom line: they are all politicians. But, there is something to be said for fresh voices and fresh ideas. Republicans have droned on about Reagan’s trickle-down economics for decades, meanwhile, ignoring their own professed Christian beliefs, specifically, tucked away in Matthew 19:24:
“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus said.
Rich and wealthy people aren’t blessed. Poor people are. Rich and wealthy people (and even middle class) aren’t the ones we should seek to help (through tax cuts and incentives). Poor people are. So, following their own set of beliefs, Republicans, particularly evangelicals who sign on to the trickle-down economics mantra, have it all wrong, and this economic theory has floated around for decades with little in the way of fresh ideas from the Republican camp about economics.
If those on the right truly put the spiritual muster to their politics, they would find complication after complication with their way of reasoning when held up to the light of the Bible. (By the way, this is assuming that Christianity has any place whatsoever in the realm of politics. I would argue that is does not, since Christ seemingly stood above and beyond the political and governmental machinations in his time on this earth. Should Christians also be neutral and/or aloof when it comes to political workings as was Christ? I suppose that would be for another, very large and complicated, discussion.)
When I first heard that John McCain had picked Sarah Palin for the VP spot, I, like many, thought, “Who??”
When the initial shock wore off, I figure it’s probably the smartest thing politically that he could have done. I think it’s wily and down-right ruthless, but smart nonetheless. For all McCain’s talk about Obama’s lack of experience, and for him to up and pick a veep that is , not only decades his junior, but three year’s Obama’s junior and with less experience than Obama … well that’s plain hypocritical.
But it’s blatantly clear why McCain made the choice. A) Palin has a stronger conservative track record on the social issues that the evangelical base can rally around, while McCain slides more toward the center on certain issues and has, to some extent, made evangelicals a bit wary of throwing their vote into his hat. B) Palin is a woman and an attractive one at that (I didn’t know McCain was looking to one-up Cindy.) Regardless, Palin, for sure, will sway some women toward a McCain vote simply because of her gender. Since many were hanging their hopes on Hillary Clinton, McCain, at the least, gives woman who may not be too keep on Obama, an alternative.
Now, a word about Joe Biden. In many ways, Obama’s pick was for much the same reasons. Obama needed an experienced, white guy for counterbalance.
To say the McCain’s own VP pick was “brilliant,” however, as some have posited might be taking it too far. It was a smart move, no doubt, but not brilliant. I’m sure it has some staunch Republicans wondering about McCain’s decision-making and pure desire to do what is best for the party and the country. In my mind, the choice has nothing to do with who might be best suited for the job — even though that’s obviously the message McCain will tout. It has everything to do with simply trying to sway enough people his way. This decision was about votes, and if that’s not painfully clear to everyone keeping track of this election, including Palin herself, pull your head out of the sand.
l apologize in advance for adding yet another opinion piece to the already over-loaded annuls of writing on the Olympics. But I’m egged on, however, by the sheer colossal nature in which the Games rocketed into our living rooms.
Rarely do I keep track of all the heart-tugging stories surrounding the athletes and their families. We’ve heard them all before: How Gustavo trained for the javelin throw by launching carved Brazil nut tree branches heavenward on some sun-soaked South American coast. How Ludwig worked on endurance by carrying his trusty Bavarian mountain scenthound backpack-style high into the Swedish mountains. How John from San Diego biked into the Nevada desert only to be greeted by a pack of unsympathetic wolves. How he slew them with a miniature pocketknife, carved out a souvenir from one of the beasts and appeared at the Games sporting a wolf fang necklace. How folks have sold off their own parents to afford the plane ride to the far reaches of the earth to compete.
I jest, but rarely do I get so enthralled that I pay much attention to stories like these. This year was no different. I was terribly unenthralled. I did, however, catch the occasional swim meet, volleyball match and track event. Michael Phelps? He made the case as the greatest Olympian ever, and the split-second win against Serbia’s Milorad Cavic was a site to behold. Usain Bolt? He crushed the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
But as this is not the sports section, I’ll move on.
Most of the opening and closing ceremonies, for me, were spent with my bottom lip somewhere between my mouth and the floor, which presented a problem as snacks were often present. ”They are going to blow up the Bird’s Nest,” I thought to myself, as a seemingly endless train of snaps, crackles and pops enveloped the TV screen. During portions of the ceremony, we saw a giant, unfurling screen depicting various aspects of Chinese fine arts; a living representation of the movable type press and various performances geared toward presenting glimpses into traditional Chinese culture.
Forward 17 days. The closing ceremony, which was a depiction of where Chinese culture might be headed in the future, was equally as explosive. Hundreds proceeded to beat drums in perfect synchronization; ride glowing circular, bicycle-looking things; flip; dance; sing; and form symbolically poignant circles. There were more drummers dangling from the ceiling, glowing people, unearthly gadgets being wheeled all about, and of course, that eternally catchy song, “Beijing Beijing, I Love Beijing.”
Was it just me, or did anyone else think the Death Star was going to touch down at any minute during this wild, phantasmic hullabaloo? Given the enormity of the scenes and imagery presented, the Death Star would have fit right in. Darth Vader would have beamed down, choked out the overhead announcer with his mind, breathed heavily into the microphone and said, “Yao Ming, come join … (labored breathing) … the Dark Side.” Then, Luke Skywalker, Master Yoda, Mace Windu and the gang would envelope the Bird’s Nest, save the basketball star from certain peril and strike up another round of ”Beijing Beijing, I Love Beijing,” as the whole galaxy celebrated, just like at the end of “Return of the Jedi.”
Or at least that’s how I imagined it. In all seriousness, the competition part was good, but “spellbinding” doesn’t quite describe the beginning and end. Was China trying too hard to impress during its galactic, $100 million show? To some degree, yes. Case in point: The country actually tried to manipulate the atmosphere to prevent rainfall during the ceremonies, firmly pushing weather patterns, God or what have you out of the way. Will merry ol’ London attempt to top it? Not a chance. If it does, the land venerated land of Shakespeare and Milton would have to go truly intergalactic. I’m thinking: London/Moon 2012: A Space Odyssey. But I don’t see tea-sipping, bookish gents summoning the cosmos any time soon.
Regardless, NBC currently has DVDs of the opening ceremonies available, and my wife and I are actually considering coughing up the $30 in the near future. That way, we can visit Ming, Phelps, Usain, Gustavo, Lugwig, Luke, Yoda and the gang any time I like.
We don’t know much about Armando Ojeda-Jimenez.
We know he was a 32-year-old illegal immigrant probably working in Oconee County, South Carolina in some capacity. According to his sister-in-law, he “drank a lot” and had been arrested numerous times on disorderly conduct and open container charges. We know he had a heart condition and died in jail recently after a period of nausea and vomiting. Most important of all, we know he had a family and was loved.
“He is a person, and he does belong to a family,” his sister-in-law said. “He’s been here for 10 years.”
Yes, he was probably not a saint, but viewing his disheveled countenance in the newspaper, one can’t help but feel a certain level of sympathy for the man. Let’s outline briefly the exceedingly steep ascent folks like him — immigrants seeking a better life in this country — face to get a small peek at the opportunities afforded legal Americans.
Born into poverty and into a country whose government fails to sustain its own people, there are often only two options. No. 1: Work your bones off to afford your children perhaps one toy per year for Christmas. Scratch and claw, live and die, with dirt under your fingernails, with little to show for it and little to pass on to your family. No. 2: Risk death and risk having your children grow up fatherless for the chance to create something better for them.
For those who choose the second option, jail, deportation and death aren’t the only risks involved. Couple those with challenges everyday Americans face, like a sour economy and high gas prices, and the mountain becomes nearly insurmountable. There’s no question immigrants know the risks involved. So, why do they take their chances? Because, despite the attempts of some politicians and talking heads to dehumanize them and present a purely legal, ”Deport, deport, deport” stance, their humanness inescapably drives them. Human nature seeks betterment, and our government can’t build a high or thick enough wall to keep them from attempting to clamber from their dire situation.
Thus, when hard-liners — failed solicitor candidate Sarah Drawdy’s recent and ridiculous “Deport Illegals” campaign comes to mind — treat the mass of illegals as some faceless monolith void of individual feelings, it’s both offensive and repugnant. One can’t deny that, yes, undocumented workers are here illegally, and they are breaking the law. But while laws help keep society civil, they are not handed down from God. They are often imperfect, and one only has to look at our own sundry history of Jim Crow, school segregation and slavery to confirm as much.
The Associated Press this weekend (Aug. 24) ran a story about numerous deported individuals, prisoners, women and children who not only face uncertainty on the other side, but separation from their families and acute danger once back across. Women are routinely released at night in dangerous locations with no one to call. Family men take final calls from their sons and daughters in California and elsewhere, and once in Mexico, have no recourse, their entire lives having been built on this side of the river.
And what if Mexicans and others do attempt to come here legally? The process of obtaining a legal entrance into the country is like walking a high-wire act, much more so for someone in Mexico with little resources to learn how. For instance, with an able Internet connection and a decent grasp of the English language, I searched the U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Services Web site for an hour and found cumbersome language, legal-speak and awkwardly placed links. Three levels deep into the site did I finally come across a naturalization guide. Once applicants have filed with the office, some, like one illegal I have spoken with, wait years while governmental wranglings take place. Others have to hire translators to attend office visits with them and are forced to forego a day’s pay just to undergo shotty customer service and terse government workers.
Thus, immigrants’ entire existence becomes a catch-22, and the deck is heavily stacked against them. They can’t stay in Mexico, and while they can come here legally, we might as well ask them to turn cartwheels while riding a unicycle. The story of Ojeda-Jimenez, like so many, was a tragic one. His sister-in-law reminded us, however, that he wasn’t just another number. Hard-liners want us to strip these people of their individuality and humanity so that when deportation time comes, we will shrug our shoulders and pride ourselves on our own blue-blooded Americanism. But I can’t take pride in destroyed lives. Ojeda-Jimenez was clearly troubled and had some demons to slay. But staring down the odds of millions like him, I can’t say that I would be in any better shape.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office recently announced an offer to all illegals living in America. They could turn themselves in and be deported in exchange for no jail time and no punishment. The offer is good in Charlotte, San Diego, Chicago and three other cities. Needless to say, the results have been predictable: No one showed up in Charlotte on the first day. Something like six in another city. One person in Phoenix took the offer as of early this week. This out of the 100,000s that could have come.
I suspect millions of other Hispanics would say exactly the same thing this fellow did:
“You would have to be crazy — who would want to turn themselves in?” said Angel Martinez, a construction worker who waited Tuesday outside ICE’s Charlotte, North Carolina, office while his son visited a friend detained on immigration violations.
“Nobody wants to go back,” said Martinez, who came to the U.S. illegally 15 years ago from Mexico City. “We risked everything to get here for a reason.”
In short, they know the risk. The ICE says people can leave “on their own terms,” as one official said, and avoid the trauma of being ripped from their families by an early morning raid on their homes. But I would argue that Mexicans and other Hispanics came here on their own terms and put their families through much more trauma crossing the border and, in some cases, being separated for extended periods of time, than any police raid could supply. So they aren’t ignorant of what they’re up against. The results of this plan, which is in some sort of beta testing, as the Customs may make the offer available in all states if it works, confirms this.
Some have made the case that, even if just a few people show up, that’s a few less dollars the government would have to spend to round these people up. That may be true, but the ridiculousness of the idea almost eclipses the few dollars that might be saved. As someone who has spoken at length with Hispanics who have illegally crossed the border — some who later received citizenship and some who are were illegal when I spoke with them — the government doesn’t make it straight forward for these folks to attain citizenship in the first place. Government offices are bureaucratic nightmare. At Social Security and health department offices, one has to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop to get anything done, and then, just maybe if you walk the tightrope the right, you’ll get help. There’s disgruntled, underpaid workers who could use lessons in customer service. And that’s just Americans seeking assistance.
Add a language barrier to the mix, attempting to find a translator — some Hispanics have to hire a translator to travel to the naturalization office with them — and the entanglement takes on a new dimension. Opponents drone on about why Hispanics can’t just do it the legal way. Why can’t they apply for a green card or guest worker program? I searched for at least an hour on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site and the Internet, am still not clear how one goes about doing this legally. All the more: how can one find information in Mexico? These are poor families who do well to put food on the table, much less have resources to find Internet access or other means to contact a government office in Texas or elsewhere.
The ideas of some are preposterous. This recent ICE proposal being one of them. In one aspect, allowing illegals to make proper arrangements without causing more trauma to their families, the ICE is offering at least a civil way to return to legalized existence. But these folks have already measured the costs and the opportunities here are so great that they are willing to take the chance. And I don’t blame them. I don’t condone them breaking the law, certainly, but we have to remember: these are human beings with real families who love them, whether they be in America or still back in Mexico or elsewhere. And it’s quite offensive to me to witness the ignorance, intolerance and sheer bigotry of many today over Hispanics. In a country who’s leadership clearly cares nothing for its own people and here in this country, where they are denigrated and dehumanized daily on talk radio and television, humanity has been lost on all sides.
If football season gives me the opportunity to watch something on TV other than The History Channel and Comedy Central, that can’t be a bad thing. I got bored with sitcoms about 10 years ago and don’t have the patience, nor want to expend the time, to watch dramas like Cold Case Files and CSI: (name your city). Though I do enjoy those shows, when and if I take the time to watch them.
But with football, both college and professional, I will take the time to sit there and watch an entire game, that is, if it’s one of my two favorite teams: the Denver Broncos or the Clemson Tigers. Other games I like to have on the TV while working on other things. My wife doesn’t like watching football, to my utter dismay and disbelief, so I may be forced this fall to by a cheap 19-inch and hunker down in the bedroom for about six hours on Sundays. Such is life.
A few words on Denver, since I follow the Broncos more closely than I do the Tigers. After last year’s disappointing display, Denver will, of course, be expected to make the playoffs this year. Fans expect Denver to be a playoff contender every single year, and anything less is disappointing. This is probably true of most every team that’s not in the midst of a rebuilding year, but this is especially true of Denver. After Elway’s retirement, the team has been up and down, but never all-that “up.” This year will hopefully be Cutler’s year to shine. Shanahan has taken some rather large steps to beef up talent on the offensive and defensive line, and I think that will pay off. I expect Selvin Young to do well in the backfield.
As for the Tigers, expectations are high there too … as they are every year. If Bowden doesn’t make a big splash nationally in the next year or two, he could be in trouble. The Tigers are again positioned in the top 10 via preseason polls, but the season hasn’t started yet, and the team seemed to falter when it counted. Let’s hope the team can actually match the hype this year.
This cat’s a piece of work. It wasn’t enough to lead his country into years and years and years of oppression, poverty and dictatorship. When he was handily beaten by Morgan Tsvangirai a couple months ago via vote, he refused to accept it and refused to relinquish power. Tsvangirai then withdrew from a run-off — the idea of which was ridiculous in itself since Mugabe was already defeated.
Britain and other foreign donors have said they will not unlock a £1bn aid package until Mugabe relinquishes power to Tsvangirai who won the first round of presidential elections in March but withdrew from a run-off contest three months later amid a state-sponsored campaign of murder, beatings and abductions against his supporters. — The Guardian, UK
Now, Mugabe reportedly has offered Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway group from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, a post in the government to form some sort of coalition regime. As reported by the UK’s The Guardian:
Mugabe also rejected significant constitutional reform and insisted that a new coalition administration under his authority serve a full five-year term. Tsvangirai wanted an interim government of about two years before new elections.
“Mugabe wanted Tsvangirai as a ceremonial prime minister. There was never any serious intent by Mugabe to give up power,” said a source close to the negotiations. “There is no future for these talks unless the facilitator [Mbeki] is able to come forward with proposals that demonstrate a change in Mugabe’s position.”
It is well recorded how the people of Zimbabwe have suffered under Mugabe’s regime. His relentless attempts at a stanglehold over his country smacks of shocking insecurity. It’s clear he cares nothing for his own people — and for all we know, neither does Tsvangirai, who’s only trying to gain the power Mugabe fails to relinquish. While we should certainly have more faith in Tsvangirai for his attempts to try to institute change, the onus is squarely on Mugabe, and that’s where it will probably die. I once interviewed a couple who had traveled to Zimbabwe on a mission trip, and truth be told, the trip probably affected their lives as much or more than their humanitarian efforts did the local people. They returned no longer blind to the despair still gripping much of the world. Much of Africa, save for South Africa and a few others, is in the same dire situation it’s been in for centuries: a vast wilderness replete with famine, disease, despot who care nothing for their own people. This should sadden us all.
If you didn’t catch the opening ceremonies on the newsreels or on NBC’s coverage, I suggest going to YouTube and checking it out. It was — and I don’t use this word often to describe anything — phenomenal.
Those in the media have described the four-hour long spectacle as China’s “coming out party,” but I don’t know that I would quite categorize it like that. It was, without a doubt, an unmatched, supreme display of China’s seeming willingness to be a major player on the future world stage and to also bring the message of unity and good sportsmanship that the Olympics symbolize. But to say it was the country’s “coming out party” takes it a bit far, at least in my mind. First, coming out from what? China’s been a major industrial power for years, and anyone who’s paid attention to the news knows this. Second, as numerous commentators have said, China is wrapped in paradoxes, claiming to be a major superpower in the world, yet at the same time, shrouded by Communist Party and state controlled news outlets; the problem of Tibet; stifling growth amidst a huge pollution problem; seemingly opening its arms to the world, yet a tightly-wound government offering little in political freedom as enjoyed in most other industrialized nations.
China reportedly spent 1.5 percent of its annual GDP on the Olympics. The opening ceremonies, to me, were a colossal success and will probably be unmatched by any other event on any scale, in our lifetime, but does pageantry and grandiosity define a country? No. Actions, not fireworks, are the great deliverer. Is China, or will it soon become, a formidable country in the world? Most likely, yes. But a certain level of humanity that is fleeting in this country can never be replaced by any momentous level of theater … no matter the scale. The Olympics will be an awesome event for us to watch. But we must remember — it’s just an event. China’s day of reckoning will come when we learn what it’s made of policy-wise: if it’s willing to step up and take strong measures to control its mounting pollution problem, if it will address it’s humanitarian concerns (i.e. Tibet) and if it will join with the U.S., Britain and other countries to advance measures of social injustice. That remains to be seen.
First, I’m not too crazy on the media and everyone else dissecting the private lives of our public officials, celebrities, etc ad nauseum. While I’m sure John Edwards will be rung through the meat grinder for his actions, I will say this: it is commendable on some level that he confessed publically, although he had already told his wife and a portion of the story was published by the National Enquirer. Here is a portion of his statement on it:
I was and am ashamed of my conduct and choices, and I had hoped that it would never become public. With my family, I took responsibility for my actions in 2006 and today I take full responsibility publicly. … It is inadequate to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry, as it is inadequate to say to the people who love me that I am sorry. In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. If you want to beat me up – feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help.
As I was reading this, it occurred to me that we make fun of and mock the “guests” on the daytime talk shows like Maury Povich and Jerry Springer, but honestly, no one is above personal turmoil: not the president, not presidential candidates, not the Pope, not pastors … no one. I was a little surprised by the response of Edwards’ campaign manager David Benior, who said to the AP:
“Thousands of friends of the senators and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him and he’s let him down,” said Bonior. “They’ve been betrayed by his action.”
He then was quoted as saying:
“You can’t lie in politics and expect to have people’s confidence.”
Actually, you can. It happens everyday. John McCain said he wanted he and Barack Obama to conduct positive campaigns. Sure. And while President Bush’s current abysmal approval rating may say otherwise, many
flag-toting Americans here in the South still believe he will go down as a great president, despite invading a country illegally, an eerily slow response to the New Orleans disaster and overseeing a $2-plus increase on a gallon a gas on his clock. But I digress …