Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Stephen Colbert bitchslaps Bush and makes him LIKE it

to his face, while Bush is sitting 10 feet away! Or fake it, no that's not correct either...this is the most amazing and priceless video I have ever watched. It involves Corbert of Comedy Central's Colbert Report at the White House Correspondent Association's annual dinner getting in zinger after zinger about corruption, retired Generals' criticisms, the White House press corps' spineslessness, and every important issue of the day. Only he's not throwing out zingers so much as he's pitching deadly perfect curveballs.

People in the audience were so shocked that some had to cover their slack-jawed mouths. They could not believe the hard-hitting truth that Colbert was ladling out.

Let's review why his speech was so shocking and amazingly beautiful - the WHCA dinner is normally a very upscale, black tie social affair where the VIPs of corporate media go to hobnob. It's held at the Capitol Hilton which is a posh space just 2 blocks away from the White House lawn. It's a very genteel insider's event and Bush and his wife routinely come and are feted, plus the Association gives out awards to their own. While it's expected that some jolly good natured roasting goes on, it is NOT the place for hardhitting sociopolitical commentary with a wicked wicked crack of the whip.

The entire atmosphere there was uneasy, as the press knew that Colbert was shitting on them at their gala, professing his disdain for them, and they had INVITED him there. Also key: he makes rude gestures at Scalia, parodying the angry justice, and Scalia has a rollicking good time. So does Joe Wilson and *gasp* Valerie Plame!

Every which way Colbert spoke, he was skewering someone in that room with his razorsharp wit - corporate media, the media whore lackeys, the current Generals, President Bush, Tony "Snow Job", oh bless me I have died and gone to heaven. Colbert got everything in, and all these VIPs were forced to listen, the beauty and the ecstasy of it all. I wish I had been present, but you can watch it here.

Choice quotes:

UPDATE: Sorry, I fell asleep while blogging in my bed last night, that's never happened before. Anyway, here's the transcript of Colbert banging away at Bush. But you should really watch it, it's THAT good.

Colbert addressing the press:

"But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!"

Way to speak truth to hard-headed power. Now back to your regularly scheduled pablum, courtesy of Disney-NBC-Coca-Cola-FOX-Starbucks-WalMart-Sears-

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Anatomy of a Revolt

Via angryasianman I saw this Newsweek article about former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki's take on the current rising up of retired Army Generals who are criticizing Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the (seemingly interminable) Iraq War and in particular, his blatant disregard for Shinseki's advice that the US needed more troops on the ground, and what Shinseki has said in the aftermath.

The reporters Evan Thomas and John Barry posit his behavior as a tension between the military code of ethics and reporting civilian masters, but it doesn't seem as if Shinseki has totally been keeping quiet This op-ed from a Pomona professor who was at a Shinseki speech on foreign policy quotes some excerpts that sure sound like fairly scathing indictments:

Military occupation: "If your forces are in Baghdad, you own it. And that means you own the water, the electricity, the public buildings — and public order. If the task is to create a secure environment, troops on the ground are needed."
There's an excerpt from an interview with Daniel Ellsberg, who ultimately leaked the Pentagon Papers which led to the end of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg was a former Marine officer and Pentagon analyst whose factfinding mission in Vietnam in 1965 led him to see that the war was all lies, that enemy casualty rates had been inflated. He has some things to say about what Shinseki should do, especially bringing documents to light on why the US needs several hundred thousand troops in Iraq versus the 130,000 that Rumsfeld felt were sufficient.

More than that, he talks about why more people in the Bush administration need to leak necessary information, that sometimes altough it goes against one's conscience, it is one's higher duty to one's countrymen and the Constitution to be a whistleblower. Apart from being wise words that complicate your thinking, they are beautifully written and well-balanced. He bemoans the belatedness of exposes like Richard Clarke's book "Against all Enemies" which he feels could have prevented the Iraq War from happening had the book and documents come out before the war:

I had information in my safe in the Pentagon from the weeks I started in August of 1964. I had information that we were being lied into a war. Although I was not against the war at that point, I was very much against the way I saw it was going to be prosecuted by heavy bombing. From the very beginning, I was against the bombing of the north. Again, I didn't object as I might have, because the president was facing a candidate, Goldwater, who in all sincerity was calling on us to enlarge the war. So I thought it was important that Johnson beat him, and it wouldn't have occurred to me to undercut the president at that time by exposing him as a liar. That's the way I felt.

But I don't admire my actions in retrospect. My conscience and prudence about my career told me to keep my mouth shut. But I was wrong. What I am saying is that conscience is so much socially constructed that even your own conscience should be looked at skeptically in situations of life and death. If you find you've been wrong, change the decision you made there. Change direction.

In reading his words, I think about the compromises I've made in my life, and whom I've harmed and owe a responsibility to tell the truth to. I work for nonprofit social justice groups, and to be honest, I've seen some maltreatment of employees like you wouldn't believe by some of the biggest names in the nonprofit arena. But I won't name names publicly because I know that the rightwing would simply use my criticisms as fuel to tear apart the larger movement. It doesn't mean that I don't wish the internal dissidents who want to increase democracy and improve the movement well, just that I've made partial peace with the fact that not all our leaders are good people. I don't like it, I don't want to directly work under them, and I hope never to act like them. But part of me can live with their cruddy treatment of employees as long as they are ACTUALLY making improvements in people's daily lives. This isn't to say that I don't hope or long for better from our progressive leaders, just that I've become accustomed to it, that my standards are being driven down. Also not to say that their employees aren't people since they obviously are as well, just that sometimes there's a broader good that these leaders who are crappy managers achieve. That being said, I want to stay the fuck away from them - as friends, coworkers, and bosses. So why do I cry when I read Ellsberg? Because on so many counts, he's right:

As I get older, I realize that people act according to their conscience most of the time. And it isn't always the right way to act. One's conscience is very much shaped by society. Very often people put obedience at the height of their conscience and values. Obeying the president as a matter of conscience. Keeping a promise, even when that promise turns out to involve you in participating in great social evils and war. Promises to keep secrets -- which of course are made many times in the government, and which I ultimately broke.

I have done a lot of lecturing -- for thirty years -- but for a long time, I didn't speak about whistle-blowing specifically because it seemed as though I was blowing my own horn. I was being defensive about what I did, or in effect, saying, "Do what I did." Most people in my audience were not in a position to be a whistle-blower ready to go to jail. But then I realized it is one of the most important actions a person can be called on to make. I now like to complicate the lives of people who hear me speak by encouraging them that they should not regard promises or expectations of obedience or silence as absolutely obligatory. The meaning of whistle-blowing is to warn people. Policemen were equipped with whistles. If there was a wrongdoer in the neighborhood, the policeman would shout, "Help me get him! Stop this man! Don't let him get away! Watch out! You're in danger!"

The thing that keeps people in line is very much like what they used to say to us in the Marine Corps: "You volunteered. You stepped over the line. Now you have to stay. That is the price of signing up in the Marines." I did observe combat enough. I was with the State Department in Vietnam using my Marine training. I walked with troops under fire in combat. And you see great courage all around you. Routinely. And that's taken for granted. A very small percentage of people get medals for it. Civilians somehow seem to think it is almost not right for them to risk their careers. Or to risk their family's livelihood and security.

To a large extent that silence is dictated by conscience. It's wrongful silence. But people say, "I signed an agreement." People really feel they are doing the right thing when they keep their mouths shut even when they see these things going on. They think that it would be bad for their company, or the president, if they exposed any of that. They are not lying with a guilty conscience to protect these people. They are doing it because they feel it is the right thing to do. So conscience isn't a totally reliable guide either. Where do you turn then? For example, Bush said, "God told me to strike the Taliban. And I did. God told me to attack Iraq and I did." My opinion on that is, "That wasn't God. It was a wrong connection." When you hear the voice of God telling you to do something -- in Bush's case, an unprovoked attack on another country -- get a second opinion. Look skeptically. Paradoxical as it may seem, even your conscience is not the last word, especially when it tells you to be obedient to leadership that is leading you astray or to keep their secrets.

So General Shinseki, consider making whatever documents you own public. Keep speaking up and speaking out and make our community proud. Don't be the silent modelminority who endures disrespect and abuse for the sake of it, or abide by some hidden code of honor. It's one thing to not want to be seen as a partisan critic (so don't campaign for Kerry or the next Democratic nominee if you don't want to) but you have a broader and greater obligation - to the American people, and to your former troops, to the Constitution - to NOT hold your peace. Because it's braver and more courageous to speak out. It doesn't make you a martyr, and it doesn't make you a publicity hound or media whore.

It rounds you out and makes you whole, and I know that the unfortunate reality of what's happenening in Iraq is bearing out your judgement better than any "I told you so." And I'm sure that you are far too classy to ever say those exact words to Rumsfeld but now that our esteemed leader who lacks judgement is considering taking on Iran -- well there's only so far anyone can push before nuclear war starts happening. And no one wants to forget the victims of Hiroshima, but no one on the world stage is currently better at destroying fragile tranquility than our dear Bushie. So I wouldn't be surprised if one of his off the cuff remarks precipitated the next global/nuclear war.

So General Shinseki and others, I beg of you - open the floodgates of whatever documents you have. It doesn't have to trace back to you, the American people can't handle another war. Join your fellow retired Generals who are voicing their thoughts openly.

One of these days I hope to put my opinions down in some non-anonymous fashion, maybe in a letter to the editor or in my resignation. At least I have the small comfort of knowing that not doing so isn't killing anyone, just maintaining the cover for those who parade around highminded ideals in a macro fashion but actually don't practice them in their micro personal spheres. I provide cover for hypocrites. Jeez, I hope that's not my epitaph.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Looking for good book suggestions

I'm going on vacation soon and need something for the plane. Anything goes - fiction (historical or otherwise), poetry, nonfiction, science fiction, graphic novels, mysteries, you name it, I'll give it a shot as long as it's quality. I'm looking for entertaining books, change-your-life books, and books that challenge your thinking.

I can swim through pages like a fish through water so length is not a barrier (although I'd rather not bring Infinite Jest in my carryon.)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Immigration dodgeball

Immigration is in the national spotlight again as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, formerly the INS) busted IFCO, the nation's largest pallet company and filed criminal charges not just against the undocumented workers, but also against the chief officers. It's all a part of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's (yeah, the guy who fucked up Katrina relief) new strategy to curb undocumented immigration:

"Employers and workers alike should be on notice that the status quo has changed," Chertoff said. "These enforcement actions demonstrate that this department has no patience for employers who tolerate or perpetuate a shadow economy."

The Soto case is the first criminal prosecution of an employer on immigration charges in the Western District of Texas, which includes El Paso, in seven or eight years, said officials with the U.S. attorney's office.

Chertoff said Thursday that criminal convictions of employers rose from 46 in 2004 to 127 last year, and he credited his new strategy for the increase. In the past year, immigration enforcement agents have brought up criminal charges against employers of undocumented immigrants and seized their assets, instead of assessing administrative fines. - El Paso Times

Although it's rare for ICE to go after employers themselves (they usually try to penalize the undocumented workers), I can't say that this is a huge improvement.

Yes, I think that the employers should be faulted for creating repressive worksite conditions that include intimidation and loss of pay as well as respect.

But it's hard to see what is clearly Chertoff's return shot at the massive immigration protests that happened in 140 cities as an improvement or overall good for la causa. The way I see it, Chertoff is engaged in a up-the-ante, call-your-bluff game with immigrants and their advocates - you show your nationwide power through demonstrations, I bust nationwide companies for hiring undocumenteds the week after next.

After all, part of the difficulty in mobilizing for these events is the legitimate fear that standing up for your beliefs by attending a rally instead of showing up for work will cost you your job. As we saw with April 10th and other rallies, this has already happened.

So the message it sends to symnpathetic employers who did allow their workers leave time to attend rallies is "Don't fuck with the ICE, if we catch your employees quoted in an article, we'll come for you." And the message it sends to undocumented immigrants is: "Come into the light so we can hunt you down. We're even going after employers, you think you can hide from us?"

This kind of enforcement is pretty much guaranteed to send honest, hardworking people even deeper into the shadows, where they will not be able to seek medical care (hard enough as it is already without recent Medicaid changes)

Furthermore, May 1st has been designated as a followup action to April 10th. It's supposed to be a national boycott day - against school, work, and buying anything. It's great except. . .

It's splitting the immigration coalitions - sorry, we're too loosely affiliated to be called that, how about "networks" - apart. Some more mainstream and entrenched immigrant rights groups worry (understandably) that a nationwide boycott sends the wrong message, that immigrants don't want to work, send their kids to school, or buy American products.

I support the right of the grassroots to pick your tactics, and to run with them. In this case though, I wish we could speak with some kind of united voice. Either everybody do it, or nobody do it. We look frail and fragmented this way. And we might be slightly fragmented, but we're far from frail.

I suppose it's inevitable that there are internal disagreements within movements, and that sectarianism comes into play. After all, the civil rights movement had various rallying figures including Dr. King, Jr., Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, and Malcolm X (and their associated organizations.) I suspect in the end all the players in the immigrant rights movement will plot out separate-ish strategies. I just wish the dissolution wasn't so soon, although past experience should harden me to expect less and have quicker splits. My question is: how do you return a sharp, fast blow and win when half your team is sitting out and the other side ups their numbers?



Now that it's spring, I look back on my posts from the winter and the cave I was hiding in and thank circumstance and the medical profession, as well as a strong constitution, for where I am now. It's a far cry from not being able to eat, sleep, or smile.

And I think I'm damned lucky not just to enjoy those pasttimes or the taste of fresh mangoes but also the simple act of being alive and embracing the world. I'm trying to uphold a number of promises I've made to people both living and deceased, as well as promises to myself. In some sense I believe I've been given another chance not in a particularly Christian resurrection sense but in a "cherry trees flower every spring" way.

I'm happier, sharper-witted, and much healthier than the me of 2 months ago. I laugh now, and for longer peals, and at the silliest things. I'm even more the me that I was when I was a kid. More open, kind, forgiving and patient.

Illness and death remind me to always strive to be a better person and to make things right in this world since it's the only one we have. Not simply to seek to do good, but also to be good. I know that if we had spoken again, we would have found plenty in common, not the least of which is a desire to change the world, as cloyed and naive as it sounds. (You can tell I'm a little drunk on books of poetry.)

To make things right not just for people, but to them.

Always I remember Gandhi's exhortation to be the change, not with a will of iron but by giving endlessly. And that's a lesson that I owe to someone younger and smarter than me who's still living who for some reason looks up to me. I'm off to thank her for her actions and words.

Friday, April 14, 2006

What of the $385 Halliburton contract for American internment camps?

It's a question that's been on my mind recently, given a spate of articles suggesting that China will indeed allow 38,000 undocumented immigrants who've been denied US citizenship to return to China.

"US, China close to deal on repatriating 39,000 illegal immigrants - UPDATE"

"Growing expectations for Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States":
Illegal immigrants. “We've reached a meeting of the minds and a common approach on the issue of repatriation of illegal migrants with China,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. There currently are some illegal 39,000 Chinese immigrants in the United States.
While this comes as a relief of sorts, that Chinese won't be held in US internment camps with their families, Peter Dale Scott over at New American Media says that the camps could be used to detain not just immigrants but also dissenting American citizens:

The contract -- announced Jan. 24 by the engineering and construction firm KBR -- calls for preparing for "an emergency influx of immigrants, or to support the rapid development of new programs" in the event of other emergencies, such as "a natural disaster." The release offered no details about where Halliburton was to build these facilities, or when. . . . . .

"Almost certainly this is preparation for a roundup after the next 9/11 for Mid-Easterners, Muslims and possibly dissenters," says Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers, the U.S. military's account of its activities in Vietnam. "They've already done this on a smaller scale, with the 'special registration' detentions of immigrant men from Muslim countries, and with Guantanamo."
I think that this is entirely possible if Bush declares martial law. This contract has 2 upsides for Bush and his cronies:

1) it makes his nearsighted hunting buddy Dick Cheney and his former company Halliburton a nice bundle of cash, since you have to have a continuous war either domestically or abroad (think a variation of Orwell and the constant war with Eurasia, I mean Eastasia, no, Eurasia) to keep folks distracted from slumping economy, impending housing bubble burst, high unemployment and underemployment, distrust of Republican cronism and corruption, etc. and

2) you can get your ass sent straight to jail/internment if you don't like how things are. God forbid you actually have an informed opinion about what's going on. Between so-called "special reigstration" and Chinese internment camps in the US it's a stellar time to be an Asian American social justice activist.

Steve Gilliard has a different idea of what they might be used for: as a holding place for our Iraqi allies once they get kicked out of their homes. After all, you need to be able to distinguish between the "friendly" boat people and those who wish to do us harm:
This will be the new home for our Iraqi allies when they are forced from their homes. It's not code, it's what it says, preparing for the second wave of "boat people". If the US wat in raw ends ugly, Iraqis who worked with anyone connected with the West will have to leave with us. Because if they don't, they will be murdered in a way close to what happened in Rwanda.

Bush is unlikely to be planning to detain citizens, but instead, sorting through the thousands of new American citizens from Iraq, sorting out who's a spy, who isn't. You need camps for that. Also time to sort out who will sponsor these people. And to keep the nutters away from them.

Bush may be talking up Iraq, but someone else is planning for a collapse.
Neither option provides me with much hope or confidence. I think the best thing to do is to just try to gut this contract, since it's a "contingency contract." Best way to do this is before they start building.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Immigrant Justice

So April 10th has come and gone, and there's still a lot of passion and excitement, evident by the mass turnout. Numbers like 500,000 in LA (keeping in mind that these are police estimates, so multiply by 2 or 3 for actual figures) are pretty amazing, it's the 500,000 in DALLAS that turns my head.

You may now be asking, what next?

May 1st is International Workers' Day. A day to celebrate the laborers, the janitors, the assembly-line workers, mechanics, pilots, bus drivers, nurses, etc. of America. It's a day to celebrate immigrant labor. There's a nationwide boycott being planned for the day if that strikes your fancy.

Also, more articles on why people are considered undocumented versus "illegal":
"Illegal" label denies people their dignity

Saturday, April 08, 2006


For what do we repent?
Hasty words, a hasty heart.

How do we compensate for these things?
A little love, a little time. More patience.

By what are we known?
A lingering smile, kind words. A joie de vivre. Impulsivity, bleeding and open heart, big watchful eyes.

Where do we seek purity?
In moonlight filtering through a crystalline leaf. In sleep.

Whom do we expect to attend?
About 30, maybe 40 who knew me best. This is an academic question.

To what do we drink?
Love and life, the laughter of angels and inopportune moments. The spun gold of your lies.

Friday, April 07, 2006

April 10- National Day of Immigrant Justice

It's been a busy, hectic week but I wanna make sure that poeple know about the national day of action for immigrant rights and justice on Monday. Check out April 10 for more information about local activities - there's stuff going on all over the country, so try to come out and support wherever you are.

Asian Americans need to make our voices and presence felt in a big way - immigration is not just a Latino issue, and the press and public need to know that.

***UPDATE: NYTimes has an article about the Chinese immigrants who survived the infamous "Golden Voyage" ship that carried many undocumented workers, only a few of whom were allowed asylee status. It includes the story of Y.C. Dong, who was turned down for asylee status in '93 only to be deported to China where he was forcibly sterilized under the one child policy. He then scraped together enough money to return to the US, where his appeals were rejected again.

These peoples' stories and lives are why immigration reform matters to our community. These men could be your friends, your brother, your neighbor or lover. They are Chinese American the way that my friend at Harvard Medical School is. Recognize them as your brothers, their fight is our fight.

Just because the Senate immigration bill has come to a temporary standstill doesn't mean that we don't keep fighting for good and fair legislation, and it sure doesn't mean that the Republicans won't try to ram through xenophobic divisionary laws. The struggle remains the same.


Monday, April 03, 2006

public private confession eulogy

I received news of someone's death today, an acquaintance who I had a spat with years ago. I hadn't thought of her in the years since we parted ways, without speaking, and then I found out that she had died in a freak accident. I was going to send something to postsecret, but I've already told some people about this.

We had a stupid disagreement which we never resolved. And for all the world I wish that I had been more willing to take that first step to resolve our differences. I am sure that I have matured and that she has (had?) grown and that had we time in this world, had our paths not divurged, that we could sit down and agree that it was a petty argument, that we should have a fresh start.

I recognize that there is no way to make this situation whole again. You were young, talented and bright, I mourn your passing, and I hope that you are resting in peace wherever you are. Days like these when the rain pelts down from a bleak sky and my heart is heavy with sorrow, I wish I had a faith that would easily absolve me of my guilt. Something that would lead me to believe that you are in a better place, except that I don't believe in an afterlife. (I wish that I did.)

Many people have died and I have grieved over their passing but never did we part on poor terms, so all I can do is to take steps in the present and future. This I resolve: to be a better, kinder, more forgiving person. To be more sparing with criticism and more careful with my rash words. To contact the people on this earth who I need to make amends to, and ask for their forgiveness. To get back in touch with old acquaintances and friends, and to share in the fire and beauty of life. I hope in someone that this will partially pay respects to who you are, were.

I know that you died doing what you love, that you were full of the rush of life, and I miss your courage and vitality. Some people only dream of dying this way, while others just pine away withering under the burdens of too many mortgages, loans, liens. You shone and you should have had more time to show us your light. I am sorry that we cannot repair or undo the past, but the future is always possible.

I found a poem you would have liked:

Lines For Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself --
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Mark Strand