Op-ed Submission: Ignoring Race & Trayvon Martin

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an op-ed piece I submitted. I discuss the importance of acknowledging the role race continues to play in American society in light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. It is the last article on the page.

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Justice for Trayvon Martin: Yes, Race Still Matters

For some Americans, especially conservatives, the election of Barack Obama was proof that race no longer mattered. Sure, these same conservatives often conspired that Obama was not legally the president because he was not a real American, and his birth certificate was fake. They questioned if he was actually born in Kenya, which was such an absurd topic, yet one that Obama was required to address on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, the race problem was solved as evidenced by the election of a black president, according to many conservative pundits.

For those of us who realized the absurdity of white Republicans celebrating the end of racism, the murder and lack of immediate charges against George Zimmerman prove that racism continues to exist. Racism changes, as society does, and so racism is not the same today as it was in the 1960s, and advances have been made, but that does not mean the race problem is solved.

If Trayvon Martin was white, would George Zimmerman have been arrested? Certainly he would have. The police would not have believed that an unarmed white child attacked an armed man who was much larger than him, causing Zimmerman to shoot him out of “self-defense.” Zimmerman’s family has defended him saying that he is Hispanic and not racist. The fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic does not disprove the accusations that he is racist; Hispanics can be racist. Zimmerman saw a black kid in his upper teens in a hooded sweatshirt in his neighborhood and immediately reported him as “suspicious” and “up to no good.”  What was so suspicious about the kid? Would a white kid have had the police called on him for acting suspicious? I am white, and I have never had the police called on me for acting suspicious.

Zimmerman is not the Ku Klux Klan type of racist that burns crosses in black people’s yards if they enter their neighborhood. But Zimmerman craves authority and power and believes that he needs to police the neighborhood for himself, and he also believes it is suspicious if young black males are in the neighborhood. Race still matters in that Zimmerman’s reaction to seeing a young black male in his neighborhood is different than his reaction would have been if it was a young white male. Race still matters in the police’s reaction to seeing a dead black male on the ground was different than if it was a dead white male. The police would not have immediately believed Zimmerman’s account if the races were different, and Zimmerman would not have been immediately suspicious of Martin if he was not black.

The other unsettling aspect of the murder of Trayvon Martin is the legal challenge that the “Stand Your Guard” law poses in Florida. The law was first passed in Florida in 2005, and has since been passed in 16 other states. This law is what Zimmerman will cling to as his defense, and it allows one to use force if they feel threatened in a public situation without needing to flee. Unless there are key eyewitnesses to the murder to contradict the murderer’s account, the murderer can easily say they acted in self-defense, and then how do you convict the person? In 2010, the Tampa Bay Tribune found how often this law has been used as a defense in murder charges, and justifiable homicides were definitely up. If an unarmed kid can be chased and then shot and killed, and yet the child is considered the provocateur by the police since they had nothing to contradict the murderer’s story, it shows how flawed the law is. It becomes extremely difficult to prosecute a murderer without key eyewitnesses because how can the jury be convinced that the killer was not acting out of self-defense if no one saw it? It opens a slippery slope of how one defines self-defense then. Hypothetically, one could harass someone at a park, follow them around, spit on them, push them, and refuse to leave them alone, then once the person has had enough of the harassment and fights back, the provocateur could shoot and kill the person and then simply claim self-defense to the police. People need to be required to attempt to flee what they perceive as a threatening scene instead of provoking them if they are going to claim self-defense. But the “Stand Your Ground” law does not require this and it sets up the potential for these violent incidents. Clearly Florida needs to revise their gun laws, as well as the other 16 states to have since passed them.

The tragic murder of Trayvon Martin is so unfortunate that one has to feel horrible for him and his poor family and friends. The only way that any good can come out of this killing is if it sparks a much needed renewed conversation about race in the United States and it also makes states reconsider these “Stand Your Ground” laws. Both of these issues need to be addressed, and hopefully this tragedy can make Americans reconsider these topics. In addition, Watch Groups need to have careful guidelines of what they follow. Watch Groups are not meant to be police officers without a badge or training. They should not be trying to enforce the laws themselves, but to watch for laws being broken, and then call the police to take action without getting involved themselves. Trayvon Martin will never get his life back, but we can at least learn something from his unfortunate murder by taking action and learning lessons from it.

Is the War Drum Beating “Bomb Iran”?

Israeli and American rhetoric condemning Iran’s nuclear ambitions is rising. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will not discount preemptively striking Iran, and he is currently seeking American support for an attack. With the exception of Ron Paul, who has no shot to win the Party’s nomination, the Republican presidential candidates are all competing to use the most hostile rhetoric possible against Iran, which is reminiscent of 2008 Republican candidate John McCain’s “Bomb Iran” Beach Boys song. But an attack seems much more likely this time around. Since the Republican candidates are too busy competing to be the least rational of the candidates, it’s difficult to imagine any of them gaining the support of more moderate Americans, and likely Obama will get reelected in the fall. Would Obama support an attack on Iran? I do not believe Obama would want to strike Iran, but the pressure of Israeli and Zionist lobbies may be overwhelming. Hopefully Obama and Americans can resist the drum beat for a war before it leads us into another disastrous foreign invasion of a Muslim nation.

If Iran did not feel the only way to protect itself from an American and / or Israeli invasion is by possessing nuclear weapons, perhaps it would not feel the need to acquire nuclear weapons. The rhetoric needs to be cooled down or else Israel and Iran will be staring into a new Cold War in the Middle East.

Osama bin Laden was a wrathful terrorist, but he understood politics

Due to the despicable acts of cruelty that Osama bin Laden organized, people dismiss everything he said. Performing such malicious acts on a grand scale makes someone a terrible person, but it does not mean his or her opinions or motives should be ignored and fully dismissed. Josef Stalin was undoubtedly an evil person who killed millions of innocent people, but he also was sometimes right. For example, during World War II, he also accurately perceived that the U.S. and Great Britain stalled their invasion of Nazi-Germany’s control of western Europe in order to allow Germany and the Soviet Union fight each other on the eastern front and significantly reduce the power of both countries. The U.S. and Great Britain hoped that, by a long war between Germany and the Soviet Union, both countries’ power would be diminished in a post-war world, which motivated them to delay the invasion of the western front, which Stalin suspected and was right about. In another example, though a much less terrible person than Stalin, consider George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. These people, while many Americans will continue to defend them and their actions, are seen by the rest of the world as terrible leaders who acted recklessly, tortured people, and invaded Iraq unjustly and unprepared for the consequences of the invasion. However, Bush and Cheney were not 100% wrong about everything they did; for example, I applaud Bush for not bombing Syria like Cheney advised, and as far as Cheney, well, he probably said or did something right at some point in his life. Again, this is not to say that Bush or Cheney are as bad of people as Stalin or Osama bin Laden were, but just because people perform evil acts does not discount every thought they have ever had. One final example: the students who shot up Columbine High School did horrible deeds, but the motive of why they did it (in response to bullying) needed to be discovered instead of dismissed to prevent it from happening again.

Nothing is as simple as black or white. People can be mostly evil, but make good points; and people can be mostly good, and still make some horrible points. Someone can do something that is a crime against humanity, but that does not mean they do not have motives for doing it or have some sort of insight that people should learn from.

During the Republican / Tea Party debate recently, Ron Paul was attacked by other candidates and booed by the audience for saying that Muslims did not attack us because they hate our way of life, and then mentioning that Al-Qaeda’s attack on the U.S. on 9/11 was a result of the U.S.’s foreign policy and their support for Israel’s treatment towards Palestine. Ron Paul, who I do not support, was not suggesting that 9/11 was an acceptable response to the U.S.’s foreign policy, but he merely mentioned the motive for it; it was not America’s “freedom” that bin Laden targeted, but its interaction in the Middle-East and opposition of Palestine. Unfortunately, many Americans think that it is blasphemy to question why bin Laden may have wanted to target the United States. Simplifying 9/11 into a narrative of “Muslims hate our freedom” prevents the U.S. government and American citizens from coming to terms with reality and accepting what is taking place in international politics. Yet, politicians take advantage of Americans’ ignorance by using this narrative, and slamming the politicians who question it. I condemn the attacks against the U.S. on 9/11 while still realizing that the terrorists who were responsible for it had motives for it, which do not justify it, but Americans need to be aware of international politics in order to understand why some people hate the U.S., and Americans can learn from the critics of the U.S. (just as Iranians can learn from critics of Iran, and this can go for any country). Even though any terrorist actions against the U.S. is completely unacceptable, it does not mean that Americans should not try to understand the mentality and beliefs of Osama bin Laden that inspired 9/11.

Osama bin Laden had evil and cruel intentions, but he also had a good, but warped, understanding of history, international politics,  and political affairs. According to Osama’s fourth son, Omar bin Laden — who rejected his father’s violence and courageously fled Afghanistan prior to 9/11 — Osama attacked the U.S. hoping that he’d be able to draw them into a long war in Afghanistan that would bleed the U.S. empire dry, due to Afghanistan’s reputation as the land that kills empires (Osama and the mujahideen fought against and defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; and prior to that, Great Britain’s empire struggled to control Afghanistan). According to Omar, by the U.S. getting involved in a long war and occupation of Afghanistan, Osama already achieved his goal. He hoped that the U.S., like the other foreign powers, would try to install its own government in Afghanistan — ignoring the tribal allegiances and other cultural differences — and then find itself in a stuck there because of the fragility of the government set up by the occupiers. A decade after 9/11, it seems Osama’s strategy has been a success; the U.S. is still in its longest war in history in Afghanistan while also trying to stabilize another foreign government in occupied Iraq; in addition, the American economy is at one of its weakest points ever, and politicians are playing political games that threaten the legitimacy of the American democracy. (If you want to read an amusing, satirical article about the U.S. now compared to the U.S. on 9/11, read this.)

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Al-Qaeda released (what was likely) Osama bin Laden’s final video, but the message did not contain threats of terrorism and violence against the U.S. like many people would have expected; instead he warned Americans of the dangers of capitalism because corporations and lobbies were controlling our government. Bin Laden did not blame Obama for American policies, but essentially said forces pressure Obama to take the positions he does. Bin Laden’s last message is not much different than arguments I have made on this blog before. I have never threatened “Jihad,” I am not a Muslim, I am not anti-American, and I reject the killing of anyone. However, I have often argued (for instance, it is a significant part of my argument found toward the end of this post) that the current stage of capitalism provides Americans, and the politicians who are meant to represent them , with little choice over major issues that affect the world today. As I have pointed out, and as other political critics have expressed, and what bin Laden has recently stated, is the U.S. is handcuffed in regards to its Israeli / Palestinian policy. The U.S.’s unwillingness to oppose Israel, in any significant sense, while continuing to provide several billions of dollars in aid every year, allows Israel to refuse to negotiate with Palestine or provide any rights to those living in the occupied territories of Palestine. What provides Israel with this unquestionable support by the world’s most powerful empire is the significant lobby influence of some pro-Israeli groups, such as AIPAC. When they provide enormous amounts of money to all political candidates in both parties to support Israel, politicians depend on these pro-Israeli lobbies, and face serious consequences if they do not support Israel.

Even, hypothetically, let us assume that Obama, after already in Office, wanted to take a firm stance against Israel, he would see an enormous of backlash against him in the House of Representatives and the Senate because everyone in those two chambers still depends on the lobbies’ support to further their political career. Both chambers would immediately denounce Obama and his plan would go no where.  Just look at the harsh criticism that Obama received when he suggested that Israel should make peace negotiations with Palestine based on the 1967 borders with adjustments. Members of both parties denounced him for it, and Netanyahu scorned him, despite the fact that Israel depends on the U.S. Also, consider the point I brought up earlier: what happened in the debate when Ron Paul said that 9/11 occurred because of the U.S.’s foreign policy and its unjust policy towards Palestine? He was booed and attacked by the other Republicans in the debate. You can also be sure that Ron Paul will not win the Republican’s nomination after making statements like that.

The point is not to slam Israel or single out the pro-Israeli lobbies because there are other lobbies and corporations who are just as influential and powerful, but the pro-Israeli lobbies and the U.S.’s unbinding support for Israel provides the most obvious example. Oil and gas corporations are also extremely powerful in American politics, and there are numerous of other examples. The U.S.’s imperialist foreign policy is directly influenced by the power of corporations and lobbies,  Again, I suggest you read my Beyond Tradition page — if you have not yet already — to my analysis of the basic evolution of American governance, and how we ended up where we are today. The government we have in power today — the world’s oldest democracy — was not created to handle this form of capitalism. Major changes need to be made to adjust the government for the stage of capitalism that we have reached because the government is no longer a true democracy that represents the people, but it now represents corporations and lobbies.

As terrible of acts as Osama bin Laden instructed, not just on 9/11 but also the terrorist activities he organized prior to then, he deserves to be condemned as a cruel person without respect for human life. Nevertheless, Osama bin Laden understood history and politics, and he knew what his actions would inflict long-term damage on the U.S. Now Americans are in a critical moment of American history, and yet politicians are more divisive than ever. As an American, I want to see our country succeed and continue to thrive, but change is needed. Bin Laden’s last warning about the dangers of capitalism was right, and we should not dismiss his warnings just because of the acts he committed. Of course, Bin Laden was not the first or only one to bring up these criticisms (bin Laden references well respected American author and journalist Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars). I have brought up similar criticisms of the current state of the U.S. government, and there are plenty of other intellectuals who realize what is going on. When Ron Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, gets booed and verbally attacked during a debate for bringing up the motives for 9/11 because it includes a criticism of Israel, we need to seriously reconsider the state of our nation.

Americans, wake up! It’s time for us to refuse the status quo and demand change.

Just a Few Thoughts on Obama’s Job Plan

Last night U.S. President Obama announced his plan to spend $447 billion to improve the nation’s economy and create jobs. It’s still too early for me to make a judgement of whether it is a good bill or not; I need to read more about it and some different perspectives about it. It seems like he was reaching out to gain Republican support for the bill by including tax cuts for small businesses in it. I am not opposed to these tax cuts, but it appears to be another effort by Obama to compromise with the Republicans to get a bill passed. Unfortunately, the Republicans refuse to work with Obama or pass any of his bills. Therefore, after a long drawn out debate, the bill will likely turn into just tax cuts, which the Republicans will be fine with, but the actual government spending part of it to increase jobs will be cut from the bill. This will be just another victory for the Republicans, who are determined to defeat Obama at every opportunity, but this will be a loss for our country. I believe Obama should have announced a more radical plan at first, then when the Republicans vehemently reject it, start making compromises that include the tax cuts. By positioning the initial bill in the center, Obama set the bill up for a swing to the right; if he had positioned the bill further to the left, he may have been able to end up with a more moderate bill that would please both parties. Either way, even though I need to continue reading more about the bill before I make a final decision, at this point I want the bill to pass. I believe the government needs to invest money into the country to create jobs, which will lead to consumption, which will lead to demand, which will lead to more jobs and more money for the government. Everyone has heard the saying “it takes money to make money” before. That applies to the government too. But they just need to make sure this stimulus bill, if passed, distributes money to the right people. It should not be another one just given to corporations, and then expect the corporations to create jobs with it. Corporations do what is best for their interests, not what is best for the interests of the American people. This time, Obama needs to make sure the bill helps the American people by using the money directly to create jobs instead of relying on corporations to do it.

Republicans Blast Obama’s Job Speech… Before He Even Gives It

President Obama, realizing the economy is weak and many Americans need jobs, will be giving a speech on Thursday announcing his plans to create more jobs. The present-day Republicans — who are under the impression that their job is not to improve the country, but to make life difficult for Obama and reject everything he does –have already criticized his speech before he has given it. Reports are that Obama is seeking to spend $300 billion in federal money to improve American infrastructure such as roads and schools in order to create jobs. While the specific details of the speech are not yet known, that has not stopped Republicans from criticizing it: Jefferson Sessions, a Republican Senator from Alabama, said “At some point this county gets to a position where you cannot continue to borrow without damaging the economy,” and said the Republicans will oppose any plan to increase spending without additional spending cuts.

The current Republican ideology is completely illogical and flawed. They insist on reducing the government debt, so they demand cuts to spending, but refuse to raise taxes. If a person is in serious debt, common advice for that person would be to take another job to raise more revenue. When the government is in serious debt, and the Republicans demand to cut it, they refuse to raise more revenues through taxes. It is beyond irrational. The government needs to collect more revenue if it wants to reduce its deficit.

Beyond the government refusing to collect more revenue, they continue to demand more spending cuts and refuse any new government spending. The Republicans have no solution for the jobs problem except to further reduce corporate taxes! That’s honestly the Republicans’ solution to the jobs problem. Instead of raising taxes to offset the deficit problem, the Republicans want to reduce taxes to create jobs? As if the reduction of corporate taxes will inspire any corporations to hire any more employees; the goal of businesses is to make as much money as possible while spending as little as possible. They will not hire employees they do not need simply because of they are paying lower taxes.

The economy is stagnant: consumers are not spending because they are afraid for their jobs and lack of money, so this lack of consumption has diminished the demand for commodities, and the lack of demand has reduced the need for production, which thereby reduces the need for businesses to hire any more. It’s cyclical: as consumption reduces, so does the demand, and then so does production, which causes more reduction in jobs, returning to the starting place, where consumption is increasingly reduced, and the cycle repeats itself. This is the exact same cycle that took place during the Great Depression.

For the government to fix this economic problem, they need to spend publicly to create jobs. Businesses alone are not going to fix this — they are part of the problem. In an ideal world, we would not need government involvement to fix the economy, but — as I laid out in my last post –capitalism needs to be regulated because capitalists are only looking out for how to make the most money, which does not benefit the country as a whole. Yes, more government spending will increase the national debt in the short term, but it will create jobs, which will lead to more consumption, which will then increase demand, allowing businesses to increase production and hire more people, leading to more consumption, and raising more revenue for the government.

The problem with government spending is not from spending in public sectors. When the United States spends $700 billion every year on the military, occupies two foreign nations for close to a decade, spends billions every year on a failed War on Drugs, continually builds new prisons and imprisons millions of non-violent offenders,, and donates billions every year to disloyal allies, that is where the excessive spending comes from. Those do not create jobs. Spending money on schools, streets, libraries, museums, public transportation, etc. creates jobs, improves the economy, and improves our nation’s infrastructure and culture.

At some point, I expect some Republican to stand up and renounce what is happening in the current Party; in the past, I have often disagreed with them, but currently, it goes beyond that — they are simply irrational, and some Republican needs to stand up against it.