Tuesday, July 20, 2010

To Buenos Aires

Leaving tomorrow for Montevideo and Buenos Aires, my first time back to Argentina since I visited with my brother in 2005. I’m really excited to be going back, as a lot has changed in the years since.

Clearly it will be significant to get to see all of my friends again in one of the great cities of the world, and my Spanish is light years above and beyond where it was the last time I went. But more than anything, the added perspective five years has given me, during which I’ve had a considerable amount of additional experience travelling and living abroad, graduated from university, more fully developed my own political worldview, and have gained a much deeper and richer understanding and knowledge of Latin American history and society, in particular with its relationship with the United States, ensures that this trip will be much different than the last.

Argentina was the first country outside the United States and Canada that I ever visited, and going there for a month after my high school graduation left a mark on me. Certainly, though I wasn’t completely aware of it at the time, the trip itself and the relationships forged with my friends down there had an impact on me insofar as stoking my interest in Latin America today. It was also one of my first real experiences truly seeing not just stark poverty up close, but also the severe gap between the haves and have-nots that is so endemic in Latin America and the global south. Witnessing not merely the meager material conditions that so many Argentineans endure, but also the contrast of their experience against that of the wealthier class, who often even share the same neighborhood block, was truly a jarring experience for this rather naïve 18-year-old at the time.

I wasn’t fully able to appreciate it at the time, but that experience had a lasting effect on me. And now that I will be going back amidst all of the changes going on not just in my own life but indeed in the world, I am at once looking backwards towards how Argentina became what it is today--towards the role that powerful economic and political forces from my own nation have played in Argentina’s demise, from support for the violent right-wing military dictatorship during the 70s to the economic devastation wrought by neoliberal economic institutions at the turn of the 21st Century--as well as looking forward to what the United States may well become (if it is not already there in many ways)—a powerful and proud nation weakened by its own arrogance and wrought with deleterious social and economic inequality and turbulence.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Don't get me started...

So in an ironic twist of fate, in a glitch that I'm blaming on this absurd Google Blogger system, I lost the post that I've been working on all night... Which, for the record, just confirms for me that I'm switching over to the open-source platform Wordpress ASAP... And serves as yet another reminder to ALWAYS back up what you write, and type it into Word before posting it!

So, considering that I've got my first class at the Congress tomorrow (yes, tomorrow I start teaching English at the Chilean Congress here in Valpo) in about 5 hours, I'm gonna try my best to be Zen about it and just close with the quote I came across tonight that I based my original post off of:
I get to look at things from the Midwesterner’s perspective. We’re stubborn, we’re loyal and we take our time making decisions and forming opinions. We like to have all the facts and plenty of time for study and contemplation. We don’t worry much about whether our decisions or opinions will be popular and we will defend them tenaciously.
(via that's how kids die, via Invisible Oranges on twitter)

And on that note, I'm out! (Still working on the piece that I've been working on for way too long though lol...)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July

Well yes, it's been a while... And while I'm finishing up the post that I've working on, essentially a reflection on my time away from writing regularly, I thought it'd be appropriate to go ahead and write something... And leave some "fireworks" of my own, the first being a sunrise in Valpo a few weeks ago, and the second being a sunset there as well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wednesday Night/Thursday Morning Links and Briefs

1.) With Obama signing his health care reform bill into law yesterday, having passed the House of Representatives this weekend (without the support of a single Republican in either chamber), much attention has accordingly been devoted to covering this matter. The New York Times has an interesting interactive piece that helps explain how the bill will affect "you," and Democratic Congressman John Larson outlines the ten immediate benefits of the health care bill that will come before the bill goes fully into effect in 2014.

Regarding the more "political" aspects of the bill and its process:

-Talking Points Memo discusses the next "step" to polish the bill via reconciliation in the Senate

-Nate Silver breaks down how and why the Democrats voted for the bill

-Ari Melber, whose previous interview with Marshall Ganz expressed a justifiably critical view of OFA and the administration, highlights the important role that the organizing program played throughout this process

-Political scientist Steven Taylor (in between his excellent reporting on the recent Colombian midterm elections where he was an electoral observer) has some interesting predictions and observations

-NPR has a great piece analyzing popular support for health care reform (and summing up in so many words why one should always be suspicous of polls, especially as they are trumpeted by a party whose leaders don't give a damn about public opinion)

-David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy takes a look at what the bill might mean for the USA's changing role in the world

-And finally, for those on both sides of the spectrum who still harbor suspicion for the health care reform bill, Ezra Klein reminds conservatives to recall the Right's fear-mongering amidst the passage of Medicare a generation ago, while left-wing critics of the health care reform can take at least some comfort in knowing that even Noam Chomsky, arguably the most important leftist intellectual of our time, would prefer to "hold his nose and vote for" the bill versus the consequences otherwise if given a chance.

2.) One also can't discuss the health care reform bill without mentioning all of the vitriol that it brought about from the reactionary right, not just from irate tea baggers but even Congresspeople themselves. Extremism from the right isn't by any means a new phenomenon in American politics, but this particular strand does need to be taken seriously as it not only continues to escalate its rhetoric and actions, but actually gain even greater influence within the contemporary conservative movement, poisoning the broader political discourse. And with progressive activists pressing Obama to make immigration reform the next domestic priority, as several hundred thousand demonstrators did this weekend in Washington even as a far smaller number of right-wing activists stole the show, one can be certain that things are only going to get a lot uglier...

3.) Wednesday marked the 30th anniversary of the slaying of Catholic arch-bishop and tireless human rights advocate Oscar Romero. Romero, a liberation theologian who spoke out on behalf of the poor and oppressed against the brutal El Salvadoran regime of the 70s and 80s that shared close ties to the United States, was murdered by a government-sponsored death squad as he delivered mass. In an unprecedented show of support, the current El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes commemorated the occasion and asked for forgiveness on behalf of his state. Both Tim's El Salvador Blog and the Central American Politics blog have more on this event and the life and work of Oscar Romero and what he meant to the El Salvadoran people.

4.) Former Chilean Cabinet member José Miguel Insulza was elected to a second term as head of the Organization of American States. Running unopposed Insulza won easily, though he faces criticism from those on the right who seek harder stance towards Venezuela and Cuba, as well as a broader contigent of regional actors who seek greater independence from the US's overwhelming dominance in regional affairs. This comes on the heels of the recent Rio Summit where a new regional organization was proposed that would leave out both the United States and Canada in an attempt to better ensure autonomy amongst Latin American and Caribbean nations.

5.) Via "affirmative atheist" PZ Myers, philosopher Daniel Dennett has coauthored a fascinating new article about nonbelieving members of the clergy that is worth a read no matter your faith (or lack thereof).

6.) And of course, I've got to mention that my both my beloved Butler Bulldogs and Purdue Boilermakers are going on to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. #5 seed Butler takes on #1 seed Syracuse tomorrow, while #4 seed Purdue takes on (the loathesome) #1 seed Duke on Friday. Meanwhile, Pat Forde at ESPN points out, this has gotta hurt extra for IU fans who watch not only as their in-state rivals advance but also a number of former players and recruits for other teams.

Regarding the tournament's off-the-court news, much ado has been made about Education Secretary Arne Duncan's (very problematic) proposal that schools with low graduation rates be barred from the tournament. However, an arguably more important story continues to be overlooked in college sports: many schools continue to use official apparel merchandisers who don't ensure that their uniforms and products are sweatshop-free. As a Butler grad I'm ashamed that my school is on that list, but I am encouraged that more and more schools, Purdue included (due to the remarkable efforts of students who went on a hunger strike to pressure the administration), are taking strides to ensure that the workers who create the clothing that represents their image are given a living wage and decent conditions.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Look to the North: US Health Care Reform and Seven Years of War in Iraq

There is much excitement back in the United States as the Democrats make the final push towards passing health care reform legislation in the House of Representatives. In just the past few days, several Democrats who previously voted against the original House bill have been persuaded to change their upcoming vote, solidifying the odds of a successful passage expected in the next few days. Included in this bloc of Democrats who will be voting for the bill are Ohio's Dennis Kucinich, a progressive champion and staunch proponent of universal care, and Indiana representative Brad Ellsworth, a conservative Democrat who will be running for Evan Bayh's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

This is certainly a remarkable milestone in a legislative battle that has been waged for months for what has been the centerpiece of Obama's political agenda for the first half of his term. President Obama has expended significant political capital on this piece of legislation, and indeed it seems that he has staked his political fortune on its passage. Republicans, who ironically often represent lower-income districts (especially in the South) that will benefit most from the legislation, have been in lockstep in their voracious opposition to the bill, with the knowledge that its defeat would deal a massive blow not only to the Obama administration, but to possibility of further progressive reform in the United States. Their greatest contentions with the bill regard its cost, an estimated $940 billion over 10 years, and the fact that it runs contrary to their ideology of "free markets" and a minimal Federal government.

Amidst this context however, it's essential to note that today, March 19, marks the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, a conflict that we are still deeply engaged in today. This war of aggression by the United States, predicated on lies and whose legality is questionable at best, has so far claimed the lives of more than 4300 American soldiers, hundreds of coalition fighters, an unknown number of private mercenaries, and, perhaps most appallingly, affected the entire population of Iraq, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civillians killed, injured, traumatized, and displaced.

As Representative Kucinich said in yesterday's interview on Democracy Now! on the health care legislation and its relationship to the Iraq War,

War has become ordinary. War has become like part of our daily lives. That’s a serious problem, because it means that we’ve accepted war. And we have to reject it. We have to reject it in all of its manifestations, which includes, you know, the spending to keep the war going, the support for the military contractors, the assassination policies that are involved, the unmanned aerial vehicles that are used to strike at people without anyone taking any real responsibility for the results of dead civilians.

Thus as the health care reform bill moves into its final stages, and especially as conservatives balk at the size of the bill, remember this key point: the United States, whose military budget accounts for more than 40% of the world total and is greater than the next 46 countries combined, will spend nearly the same amount in only one year of defense expenditures as the cost of this health care reform bill over 10 years.

Accordingly, the objections that this health care bill will worsen the deficit (even in the face of all evidence to the contrary), voiced by the same by the same people who have consistently supported the unabashed bloating of military expenditures abroad and opposed deficit-reducing tax increases on the wealthiest 0.28% of Americans, are nothing more than a red herring.

The health care reform bill currently on the table is, of course, not without fault. But contrary to the claims of conservatives and right-wing interests, the problem with the health care reform bill is that it doesn't go nearly far enough. Instead, the bill is in fact largely a capitulation to the corporate interests that back both the Republicans and Democrats. It doesn't even ensure health insurance for all of the roughly 45 million of Americans who lack it, let alone universal health care, threatens women's access to reproductive care, and doesn't provide a real alternative to a health care system dominated by corporate interests. Accordingly, there is a great amount of concern that this reform bill will merely perpetuate the status quo of a failed free market system, creating blowback in the form of outrage stemming from the bill's shortcomings and a strengthening the hand of the health care corporations that stymie real reform in the interest of the American people.

With that being said, this health care reform bill does mark the most significant domestic policy reform in the United States in a generation (which unfortunately speaks more about the failure of our political institutions than the strength of this bill...). It's strengths are significant, including legal protections against the worst exploitation by the health insurance industry, the expansion of community health clinics, and most importantly, health insurance for millions of Americans who currently lack it. As such, I stand with many of the most important advocacy organizations in the United States, including the American Medical Association and the AARP, the majority of the progressive community, and the millions of Americans who support this legislation.

But I also agree with The Nation magazine that "genuine reform begins, not ends, with passage of the current legislation." We cannot allow our political leaders to rest on the passage of this bill alone, which the majority will undoubtedly seek to do. Instead, the legislation must be seen as a step towards making this country work for all Americans, not just those of a certain socio-economic status. This includes not only reforming our health care system, but radically changing the values and actions of our political institutions from callously investing trillions of dollars to our military-industrial complex to satisfy imperial ambitions to investing in social and economic justice at home and abroad.

So, when you contact your representative to support the health care reform proposal, be sure to also tell them to put an end to our bloated defense spending, stop our military occupations abroad, and invest the money saved here at home.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday Night/Thursday Morning Links

In the spirit of maintaining a regular posting routine, here are some interesting links I've come across the past few days. I was originally planning to write a more extensive bit on the recent Colombian Senate election/preview of May's Presidential election (and its troubling characteristics...), but I'll try to save that for this weekend.

...That is, assuming of course I can pull myself away from the myriad college basketball games this weekend for the onset of March Madness, arguably my favorite time of year according to the sports calender.

1.) I found this report on Brazilian President Lula da Silva's alleged remarks on maintaining ties with his Iranian and Venezuelan counterparts Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez utterly fascinating, and I find it rather unfortunate it hasn't recieved more attention in the political press.- though not at all surprising considering the lazy (at best, "propagandistic" at worst) political "analysis" we find in the mainstream press. Is there any doubt whatsoever that Lula is, for better or worse, one of the most brilliant and interesting politicians on the international stage of our time? (Of course, the fact that he let this leak out might indicate otherwise, but I'm confident he knew what he was doing. Plus, he's at the end of his term anyway!) Seriously, what better example of international relations theory combined with sheer human drama could one ask for?

2.) Here's something else that's getting very little pub for as important as it is: serious indications that the US may be drastically curtailing its nuclear weapons programs, or at least the acknowledgement from people with influence in the Defense Department that it should. Yes, the facts we've been saying this for years (40 to be exact) and that we're still here 20 years after the end of the Cold War means I won't be holding my breath on this one. And a 90% reduction is still 10% short of what we should be striving for (not to mention the rest of the world's nuclear material and weapons, accounted for and not). But as a critical observer of US foreign policy and its role in the world, this seems like something for which to give credit where credit is due- but I also demand to see results.

3.) Finally, via Pitchfork, legendary British trip-hop group Massive Attack have a new music video that is a must-see, whether you like electronic music or not. More than just a standard music video for their new song "Saturday Come Slow," the 8 minute clip highlights the use of sound torture, like that employed by American interrogators at Guantánamo Prison and elsewhere, and its effects on human beings such as Ruhal Ahmed. Ahmed is a British citizen who was detained without trial or charges brought against him for over two years by the United States government while he was on his way to a wedding in Pakistan. A powerful counter to another certain video regarding torture and detainees in the "War on Terror..."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Blackout in Chile, and The Quake's Lesser-Publicized Victims

Last night, Chile was hit with a rolling blackout that affected nearly the entire country. From about 9 to 11:30 pm, most of the country, all the way from Region III in the north to Region XIV in the far south, was without electricity.

Though it was reported to have been unrelated to last month's powerful earthquake and the series of tremors that have followed in its wake, it was nevertheless a powerful reminder of the serious geographic and infrastructural challenges that Chile faces. Though the same can be said for Latin America as a whole, Chile's position straddling the thin peripice between the massive Andes mountain range and the Pacific Ocean for 2700 miles (4300km) with an average width of 109 miles (or 175 km, making it slimmer on average than my home state of Indiana) only amplify these problems. With only a handful of major electrical arteries to send energy up and down the country, problems in one part of the chain can affect the entire country, as was the case last night.

While having such extensive access to the ocean does have its upsides for international trade, the limits on what kind of internal infrastructure can be built has a serious effect hampering development within the country. Accordingly, it will be important to watch how the serious damage done to the nation's highways, railways, bridges and otherwise will affect the country's economic and social prosperity in the years to come.

Another interesting side note to last night's blackout: after power was restored in Santiago, we were able to listen to Radio Bio Bio in the car, which reported that President Piñera had quickly mobilized the police to take to the streets to prevent looting and other such activity. Clearly Piñera seeks to distinguish himself from former President Bachelet's slow response to mobilize the armed forces in the wake of the earthquake, but nevertheless I don't find an eagerness to use such force as a positive characteristic in a political leader. And with further blackouts to be expected, along with the other challenges of rebuilding to be faced, it will be important to see how this continues to play out...

One final important note tonight: I found this article from the BBC focusing on the plight of the indigenous Mapuche and other overlooked segments of society in the wake of the earthquake to be especially interesting and important. Just as we tend to focus on socio-economic challenges such as poverty and drug abuse in urban communities at the expense of attention paid to these same problems in rural areas, even though they are often even more serious considering the lack of available resources to assist, we must be sure not to overlook rural communities in the wake of disasters like the recent quake. This particular issue is also all the more relevent considering the recent heightening of tensions between the Mapuche community, which has long struggled for autonomy and self-determination, and the Chilean government. Just one more important storyline in the ongoing events here in Chile...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Out With The Old, In With The New (But The Tremors Haven´t Gone Anywhere!)

It's now official: Sebastián Piñera is the new President of the Republic of Chile. I was able to make my way down near the Congreso here in Valpo, where the inauguration ceremony took place and snap these photos of both outgoing President Michelle Bachelet and the new President Piñera. There was a good turnout of supporters for both Bachelet ("¡Gracias Presidenta! ¡La única!") and Piñera ("Piñera, amigo, El pueblo está contigo!").
The inauguration wasn't the only excitement going on either. While I was out and about (and amidst the inauguration), another earthquake, 6.9 on the richter scale, shook the earth about 3 hours south of here. A tsunami warning has been issued, and Piñera has already taken quick action to declare an emergency alert for Region VI where the epicenter was located. He will also be making his way down to Region VII later this afternoon to visit the hardest-hit parts of the country. And so begins the Sebastián Piñera chapter in modern Chilean history...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday Night Links

1.) Tomorrow's a big day down here in Chile, as President-elect Sebastián Piñera will be assuming office. Numerous heads of state from all over the continent (and even the Prince of Spain) arrived today and Valpo will be abuzz mañana as they will all be coming to the Congreso Nacional for the inauguration ceremony, despite the fact that parts of the city and neighboring Viña are without water. Earlier this afternoon I watched on tv as Colombian President Álvaro Uribe's jet landed, while Piñera and Bolivian president Evo Morales had a friendly soccer match. Only in Latin America, right?

2.) Despite leaving office on the dour note of the earthquake and the widely criticized governmental response, outgoing President Michelle Bachelet's popularity numbers are as high as ever, with an utterly astonishing 84% approval rating. Of course, as Greg Weeks points out, keep in mind the fact that the hardest-hit areas could not be reached by telephone...

3.) While the Chilean economy will certainly continue to suffer the social and economic effects of the earthquake (One of the headlines I saw the other day read "TURISMO EN EL SUELO"- Tourism [industry] on the floor), Piñera himself is sure to be pretty comfortable. In the latest rankings of the richest people in the world, the Chilean magnate jumped 260 spots up to number 437 on the list. Latin American tycoons were well represented this year, as Mexican Carlos Slim claimed the top spot by knocking off Bill Gates, and Brazilian mining head Eike Batista made the biggest financial gains.

4.) Regarding the other serious earthquake in this hemisphere in the past year, the indomitable Noam Chomsky on Haiti in Counterpunch.

4.) Back in the United States, Glenn Greenwald lays open the brutality employed by the US government while torturing suspected terrorists. The chilling facts of what our "democratic" government did and continues to defend calls to mind the title of a previous article Greenwald wrote on this subject: "What Every American Should Be Made to Know [About the IG Torture Report]."

5.) Johann Hari has an excellent article in The Nation regarding the "selling out" of major American environmental organizations to corporate interests, and especially some of the most dangerous pollutors in the world. He also appeared with Christine MacDonald, a former member of one of the most widely-criticized such organizations Conservation International, on Democracy Now! I found this to be particularly interesting as I spent several summers canvassing for a grassroots environment organization in Indiana called the Hoosier Environmental Council. The last summer I worked there our canvass and several policy people was cut in what was a very peculiar cost-cutting move for a members-based advocacy organization. Many of my colleagues and I believed that there were shadier motives at heart, and was a result of pressure from the more moderate aka "business-friendly" members of the board of directors...

6.) And back home in the Hoosier State, Indiana Governor (and 2012 Presidential hopeful? Ha!) Mitch "The Blade" Daniels and his private sector goon squad have come under intense criticism for inflating Indiana's job creation numbers by 40%. (The statistics look so much better when you make them up!) I guess cutting the jobs of social workers and replacing them with private call centers isn't merely cruel and legally objectionable, but a bad economic policy as well!

7.) Finally, I encourage you to check out "Exiled in the Land of the Free," a benefit album for Native American activist and US political prisoner Leonard Peltier that was originally supposed to be released in 1995, but was instead shelved. 15 years later, a sympathetic recording assistant came across the tracks and has put them on the internet for free. Even better than the music is the cause, which you can become familiarized with and take action upon on the link above, and which I was first introduced to while reading the liner notes in Rage Against the Machine cds in high school and doing my own personal research on COINTELPRO. And yes, even the United States is guilty of holding political prisoners and sheltering terrorists.