Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Confederate Flag is not the Canadian Flag

An AP story of 8/13/08 details the efforts by Tennessee teen Tommy Defoe to be allowed to wear his confederate belt buckle and other confederate memorabilia to school, which would be currently a violuation of the school's written dress code. Naturally, the plaintiff alleges that it is a straightforward matter of freedom of speech. According to the AP article,

"DeFoe's lawsuit questions why other symbols aren't banned, including the Mexican flag, the Canadian flag, political campaign buttons and images of Martin Luther King Jr."

This is the sort of sophistry that, it seems to me, is an insult to freedom of speech and its preservation. In what context is there any reasonable juxtaposition of the Confederate and the Canadian or Mexican flags? Does the plaintiff really want to contend that the Confederate flag was just the flag of a country and not, in fact, the symbol of an arrogance and a way of life that arguably have left a legacy of poisonous relations between blacks and whites in this country to this day?

And the comparison to images of Dr. King?! Dr. King stood for non-violent resistance to racism, for the right to peaceful assembly to redress grievances, for the individual rights of the disenfranchised. Can anyone with a functioning conscience dare to stand up and say "the Confederacy and Dr. King -- it's really the same thing"?

A part of me agrees with what the hate speech apologists say: freedom of speech is freedom of speech; you can't pick and choose. And yet is there not a type of symbol and a kind of speech that is so dedicated purely to hate that we as a society can and should ban its use? Nazism and the Swastika come immediately to mind: both are banned in Germany. Does anyone doubt that freedom of expression is alive and well in Germany? Is the quality of German life diminished by the ban of something that seems to most of us to be emblematic of pure hatred?

Similarly, does the Conferderate flag not represent a most shameful past -- a time when white human beings could and did own black human beings and a time, after the emancipation proclamation, when white human beings could and did terrorize black human beings (activities which continue today in some parts of the south, no doubt by people who would love to see the Conferederate flag on every belt buckle in America)? And, more to the point, does it not represent racism today?

Perhaps that is the crux of the matter: both the Swastika and the Conferederate flag are of more than just historical significance; they both represent unfinished business in our societies: just as there are neo-nazis today who venerate and would like to see the return of nazi policies, there are confederacy worshippers here and now who yearn for the good ole days of the old south, when whites were in charge and darkies knew their place.

This is why it seems to me that these symbols belong in history books and museums, but not as part of anyone's personal adornment, nor flying above anyone's statehouse. In books and museums, they can enlighten and inform us about some of our less savory past, a past which deserves not to be swept under the rug, but not to be celebrated either. On someone's belt buckle -- or on a T-shirt or an armband, or a poster, or as graffitti -- the symbol is not "educational;" rather it is a proclamation of intent to keep alive the evil of racism and race hatred.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Punishing the Russians

The suggestion this week, after Russia's thuggish smackdown of the Republic of Georgia, that "we" (meaning the other imperialist powers, incl the USA and Britain) should punish the Russians is laughable.

First, from a practical standpoint, just what does Bush, Brown, et al think they can do that is meaningful, short of starting WWIII?

More to the point, especially as regards the USA and Great Britain, is the lack of moral authority we have to condemn anyone these days. Is Russia's behavior more thuggish than that of our ally Israel when she bombed the crap out of Lebanon over the kidnapping of a soldier? Is Russia more of a scoflaw than the USA, which started a war in Iraq over nothing, resulting in the deaths of of least 10s of thousands of Iraquis?

At least the Russians can claim a couple of facts (whether these facts are justifications is a matter of opinion): first, Georgia was part of the Russian/Soviet empire for 2 centuries. Second, Georgia is on Russia's doorstep and in a very critical and strategic location, made more so by US military presence in the region and by our inflammatory invitiation for Georgia to join NATO. Last (although this is as yet unproven) Georgia started it by invading South Ossetia.

What amazes me is how rank-and-file Americans can work themselves into a righteous frenzy over Russia's bad behavior, while ignoring our own indiscretions as well as the larger context of our involvement in their back yard. Why is our imperialism OK, but theirs isn't? If you are an imperialist, stepping on other people is part of your job description. If you want to condemn imperialism, you need to quit your job as the world's chief imperialist first.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

How Free-market capitalists clean up their disaster

In a Washington Post article of today's date entitled Credit crisis triggers unprecedented response, the paper discusses the supposed conflict that free-market capitalists such as Treasury Secy Paulson are feeling as they are "forced" by circumstances to take "unprecedented" action to shore up the ailing credit system.

But the article misses the point entirely, as do the free-market capitalists who got us into this mess in the first place. What Secy. Paulson and Ben Bernake are doing to "fix" the crisis is simply strong-arming the taxpayer into underwriting all the bad debt floating around the economy so that the large, sleazy institutions whose rapacious lending practices caused the problems will be protected from the conequences of their actions.

Nowhere in the article nor in the actions and speeches of the people involved do we hear plans to seriously re-regulate and/or enforce regulation of the institutions and the practices that have arguably led to the great depression of 2008, 2009, 2010, who knows how long!

The approach by the Fed and Treasury is completely consistent with the behavior of free-market capitalism: de-regulate everything so that cowboy capitalists can get rich and then, when the imbalances that result are too large to ignore, get the poor taxpayer -- the majority of whom are middle class and who, I point out, have already suffered financially from the scams of these cowboys -- to pay the bill.

It would be hilarious if it weren't so sad.