Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

jueves, diciembre 31, 2009

Please Say "Twenty Ten"

Not something else. Please. Here's why.


miércoles, diciembre 30, 2009

What's In The Brown Paper Bag

(This is a short story by Luis Ramirez, who was executed in Texas on 10/20/05. My thanks to Abe Bonowitz for this story. The story doesn't require any commentary. It's a gift to all of you for the Holidays, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, Solstice, whatever holiday, if any, you celebrate.)

By Luis Ramirez #999309

I'm about the share with you a story who's telling is long past due. It's a familiar story to most of you reading this from death row. And now it's one that all of you in "free world " may benefit from. This is the story of my first day on the row.

I came here in May of 1999. The exact date is something that I can't recall. I do remember arriving in the afternoon. I was placed in a cell on H-20 wing over at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, TX. A tsunami of emotions and thoughts were going through my mind at the time. I remember the only things in the cell were a mattress, pillow, a couple of sheets, a pillow case, a roll of toilet paper, and a blanket. I remember sitting there, utterly lost.

The first person I met there was Napolean Beasley. Back then, death row prisoners still worked. His job at the time was to clean up the wing and help serve during meal times. He was walking around sweeping the pod in these ridiculous looking rubber boots. He came up to the bars on my cell and asked me if I was new. I told him that I had just arrived on death row. He asked what my name is. I told him, not seeing any harm in it. He then stepped back where he could see all three tiers. He hollered at everyone, "There's a new man here. He just drove up. His name is Luis Ramirez." When he did that, I didn't know what to make of it at first. I thought I had made some kind of mistake. You see, like most of you, I was of the impression that everyone on death row was evil. I thought I would find hundreds of "Hannibal Lecters" in here. And now, they all knew my name. I thought "Oh well," that's strike one. I was sure that they would soon begin harassing me. This is what happens in the movies after all.

Well, that's not what happened . After supper was served, Napolean was once again sweeping the floors. As he passed my cell, he swept a brown paper bag into it. I asked him "What's this?" He said for me to look inside and continued on his way. Man, I didn't know what to expect. I was certain it was something bad. Curiosity did get the best of me though. I carefully opened the bag. What I found was the last thing I ever expected to find on death row, and everything I needed. The bag contained some stamps, envelopes, notepad, pen, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, tooth brush, a pastry, a soda, and a couple of Ramen noodles. I remember asking Napolean where this came from.

He told me that everyone had pitched in. That they knew that I didn't have anything and that it may be a while before I could get them. I asked him to find out who had contributed. I wanted to pay them back. He said, "It's not like that. Just remember the next time you see someone come here like you. You pitch in something."

I sat there on my bunk with my brown paper bag of goodies, and thought about what had just happened to me. The last things I expected to find on death row was kindness and generosity. They knew what I needed and they took it upon themselves to meet those needs. They did this without any expectation of reimbursement or compensation. They did this for a stranger, not a known friend. I don't know what they felt when they committed this act of incredible kindness. I only know that like them, twelve "good people" had deemed me beyond redemption. The only remedy that these "good people" could offer us is death. Somehow what these "good people" saw and what I was seeing didn't add up. How could these men, who just showed me so much humanity, be considered the "worst of the worst."

Ever since Napolean was executed, for a crime he committed as a teen, I've wanted to share this story with his family. I would like for them to know that their son was a good man. One who I will never forget. I want for them to know how sorry I am that we as a society failed them and him. I still find it ridiculous that we as a people feel that we cannot teach or love our young properly. I'm appalled at the idea that a teen is beyond redemption, that the only solution that we can offer is death. It's tragic that this is being pointed out to the "good people" by one of the "worst of the worst". God help us all.

What's in the brown paper bag? I found caring, kindness, love, humanity, and compassion of a scale that I've never seen the "good people" in the free world show towards one another.

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miércoles, diciembre 23, 2009

Happy Holidays To All From The Dream Antilles!

Felices Fiestas! Queremos tomar esta tiempo para ofrecerle nuestros mejores deseos a usted y sus seres queridos. Esperamos que su hogar este lleno de gozo, cordialidad y buena voluntad durante esta temporada de fiestas. Que usted y su familia gozen de paz, felicidad y buena salud durante el nuevo ano.

Seasons Greetings! We'd like to take this time to extend our very best wishes to you and your loved ones. We hope your home will be filled with joy, warmth and goodwill during this holiday season. May you and your family enjoy peace, happiness, and good health throughout the coming year.

Your blogger will return in 2010. Tu bloguero volvera' en 2010.

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viernes, diciembre 18, 2009

SAAB: I Loved You, RIP

This obituary in the NY Times says it all:

Saab, whose stylish yet idiosyncratic cars drew a fiercely loyal customer base over the last six decades, is set to close after last-minute negotiations by General Motors to sell the beleaguered brand collapsed Friday.

The news of Saab’s closure caps a calamitous year for the global auto industry, with G.M. and Chrysler both filing for bankruptcy while foreign carmakers racked up billions in losses.

Saab, with a narrow following focused in Sweden, Britain and the United States Northeast, proved too small to lure the world’s big automakers, many of which are seeking tie-ups to increase economies of scale.

Saab’s last hope proved to be Spyker Cars, a tiny Dutch maker of high-end sports cars, but problems that could not be overcome cropped up as G.M. examined whether Spyker would be a viable partner.

This is really sad. Before 1994, before GM took over a fantastic brand with loyal, if not fanatical customers and turned it into a shadow of itself, Saab was a wonderful car. I drove a 1984 900, a 1990 900S, a 1992 900T Convertible. I loved them. I also drove a 2000 9-3. It had problems, problems I attribute to GM and plastic and cheapness and mostly to GM's never understanding what a Saab was supposed to be like. I didn't buy another Saab. They seemed too expensive, too error prone for what they should have been. And now, they're going to disappear. GM should be given full credit for its stupidity in mismanaging and then killing off this icon.

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Dying Bats: More Bad, Frightening News

When I first moved to Columbia County, New York, about 25 miles southeast of Albany, in the foothills of the Berkshires, evening sunsets were spectacular. And there were dozens of bats zooming through the dim light feasting on insects. There were two primary kinds of bats: big brown bats ones and little brown bats. I considered putting up a bat house, but never did. The bats seemed to be thriving quite well without one, thank you. But in the summer of 2007 I began to notice that there were fewer bats. And in summer, 2008 even fewer. And this past summer hardly any. What I was witnessing was the bat population dying out. It was being ravaged by disease.

Today, the Times Union brought the details of this bad news about the bats:

Since the appearance of a mysterious malady more than two years ago in Albany County caves, bat populations have been reduced by more than 90 percent in caves across three states, according to counts released Wednesday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The decline has been linked to a fungal condition called white nose syndrome, named for the white, fuzzy fungus found on the faces of afflicted bats. So far, there is no way to stop the spread of the illness, which leaves bats with too little body fat to survive winter hibernation.

In 23 caves surveyed -- four in Vermont and Massachusetts, the rest in Albany and Schoharie counties -- about 4,800 bats were found last winter. That is down from more than 55,000 bats in those same caves before the disease outbreak.

The figures include little brown bats, big brown bats and Indiana bats -- the last an endangered species.

According to Al Hicks, a Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife biologist, "These numbers are about as bad as anyone could imagine. It injects a sense of urgency to the matter. We don't have a lot of years to figure this out. If things continue at this rate, we will be in trouble."

Nobody, it seems, knows what is causing the problem. There are theories, of course:

"Right now, this fungus looks like an invasive (species) that was introduced. It was not found previously anywhere in North America, and was somehow introduced here from another location. It is something that our bats never had to deal with before."

And it's killing them. Almost all of them.

I wrote about this pandemic about 2 years ago. In February, 2008, I wrote:

Bloomberg reported yesterday that bats in New York and Vermont are dying:
Thousands of bats are dying from an unknown illness in the northeastern U.S. at a rate that could cause extinction, New York state wildlife officials said.

At eight caves in New York and one in Vermont, scientists have seen bat populations plummet over two years. Most bats hibernate in the same cave every winter, keeping annual counts consistent. A cave that had 1,300 bats in January 2006 had 470 bats last year. It recently sheltered just 38.

At another cave, more than 90 percent of about 15,500 bats have died since 2005, and two-thirds that remain now sleep near the cave's entrance, where conditions are less hospitable. Scientists don't know what's causing the deaths, and biologists wearing sanitary clothing and respirators to prevent the spread of disease are collecting the dead for testing as part of a state and U.S. effort.

Apparently, nobody knows what's killing the bats.
Some bats in the die-off have a white fungus encircling their noses. Most living bats now are underweight, too thin to make it through the winter, Hicks said. They choose their hibernating spots based on weight. Colder resting spots, like the ones near the entrance help energy reserves last longer.

``These guys are hibernating in places you never see healthy bats hibernating,'' Hicks said.

When they're not hibernating, healthy bats eat about half their weight in bugs every night, including mosquitoes, grasshoppers, locusts and moths that can spread disease among humans and devastate crops.

Bat populations are vulnerable to disease during hibernation as they congregate in large numbers in caves, sometimes packed so densely that it's difficult to see the cavern wall behind them. In warmer months, bats migrate hundreds of miles to their summer homes, so a new disease could rapidly spread across the region, Hicks said.

Whatever it is that is killing these bats, it hasn't been remedied. And the loss of these bats is devastating not only for the bats themselves but also for the rest of the ecological fabric that depends on the bats. This is indeed frightening news. One can only hope that a solution is found before much longer.

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martes, diciembre 15, 2009

My Head Asplode!!

It's almost funny. Here comes a bus. Soon my fellow progressives and I will be thrown unceremoniously under it. The last ten days it's almost as if the purpose of going to a bus stop is to be run over by oncoming omnibuses: climate change, health care, Afghanistan. You name it. Name a progressive cause and it's been squished in the past two weeks. And if it hasn't, if you can think of one that is not now looking like a beer can reconfigured by an oncoming locomotive, just wait tell next week.

I could react with anger to these developments. Certainly not with surprise. For example, I almost reacted in anger just a few moments ago when I read this in the New York Times:

Independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman says he expects to support the Democrats' health care legislation as long as any government-run insurance plan stays out of the bill.

Lieberman has been a question mark on the health care legislation for months. To win him over, Senate leaders said late Monday they were backing away from a Medicare expansion Lieberman opposed. They already had dropped a full-blown government insurance program.

Lieberman told reporters Tuesday that if the Medicare expansion and government insurance plan are gone, ''I'm going to be in a position where I can say what I've wanted to say all along: that I'm ready to vote for health care reform.''

Senate leaders need Lieberman's support to secure 60 votes necessary to advance the legislation in the 100-member Senate.

Isn't that great? We somehow went from single payer universal health care (that could never pass, they said) to a robust public option (that could never pass, they said) to a weak tea public option for the select few all of whom live down the block (that could never pass, they said) to a medicare buy-in (that could never pass, they said), to nothing (which evidently Uncle Joe approves and which can easily pass because, well, because it's nothing and nothing is what we have now so it's easy to pass).

Remind me if you can why I voted in 2006 and 2008 for Democrats? Remind me, if you're really creative, why 70% of the population wants health care and they're just not gonna get it. Maybe I'm forgetful. As I said, I almost got angry about this.

I also almost got angry last night when I heard two Democratic Senators on Maddow and Keith explain how much progressives had helped with the HCR bill and how even if it didn't have a public option or a medicare buy in or anything else of any value to people who actually need health care and insurance, it was still an enormous victory because, get this, it will provide a foundation for the future. And in the future we can build upon the foundation (if you like this metaphor). And soon on this foundation there will be a 1700' tall, glistening sky scraper, a beacon to the nation if not the world, called Universal Health Care and you, my dear friends, can even go in an visit the lobby of this edifice. Soon, of course, is a term of art. It means a time between now and the next, distant ice age. You can visit the magnificent structure for which you have provided the foundation if you can live to be 200 years old without adequate health insurance. I personally am not taking this as a bet. Are you kidding me? This is truly a case in which legislative nothing is claimed to be governmental something. So I was almost getting angry. And thinking of things I could do to get even (I'm like that. I don't apologize for being like that). I'm a Buddhist, but revenge did cross my mind and perch on my eyebrows like a carrion vulture.

Then I recalled some recent pacifying remarks by Pinche Tejano. His remarks were to the effect that it was all just a computer game and should be treated as such (his analysis was far more eloquent and intelligible than this very basic boil down of his very subtle and correct idea). So I began to think about all of this electoral politics as just a game. I couldn't get mad about a game that was obviously rigged so that I couldn't get to the next level, so that I would have an EPIC FAIL. What's to get mad about that? It happens all the time. Especially to people like me with no game skillz. No game cred. In a word, losers. Suckers. I'm used to being pwned by games. I don't like losing, but I don't get mad about it. It beat the hell out of being almost angry about politics. Yeah. All of a sudden all of this electoral politics and senate politics and astroturf movements and Joe Lieberman made sense. It was all just like son of Pac Man. It was finally sensible. Even to me.

And that's when my head asploded.

It's just like this:

How did I know that Strongbad was so prescient? How did I know that Home Star Runner was really equipping me for the future of politics? My head asploded.

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Ooops. It's Ramon Ayala

In what hearkens back to parties given decades ago by Colombian cocaine traffickers, the New York Times reports that Ramon Ayala was at a party of alleged narcotraffickers when, ut oh, the policia arrived:

When soldiers raided a drug cartel's Christmas party south of Mexico City, they found 16 automatic rifles, $280,000 in cash -- and a Latin Grammy winner.

The presence of the Texas-based norteno singer Ramon Ayala at the gathering in a wealthy, gated-community and the lavish festivities showed the audacity of Mexico's drug cartels amid a government crackdown that has sent thousands of soldiers and police to track them down.

A spokesman for the federal Attorney General's Office said Monday that Ayala was released after being questioned because authorities found no grounds for charging him with a crime.

Mexican norteno bands often sing about drug trafficking and violence and many have been rumored to perform at drug traffickers' weddings and other parties, but few have been caught.

Ayala and his norteno band, Los Bravos del Norte, were performing in a gated community of mansions outside the mountain town of Tepoztlan when sailors raided the house and a shootout ensued before dawn Friday, said the official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name.

If I had the kind of money and power the traffickers had, I'd have Ramon at my Christmas Party, too. That would be really cool. And that's an idea that obviously didn't escape the alleged syndicate members at this gathering.

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lunes, diciembre 14, 2009

Death Penalty: The Times Speaks Up

It's a reason for optimism in the long battle to end State Killing. The New York Times editorial today called for the abolition of the death penalty. I applaud. The abolition of state killing should be a mainstream, American idea.

The Times is angry and points out the obvious about the change in Ohio from 3-drug state killing to 1-drug state killing:

This is what passes for progress in the application of the death penalty: Kenneth Biros, a convicted murderer, was put to death in Ohio last week with one drug, instead of the more common three-drug cocktail. It took executioners 30 minutes to find a vein for the needle, compared with the two hours spent hunting for a vein on the last prisoner Ohio tried to kill, Romell Broom. Technicians tried about 18 times to get the needle into Mr. Broom’s arms and legs before they gave up trying to kill him. Mr. Biros was jabbed only a few times in each arm.
The Times gets quickly from the barbarism of the Biro and Broom executions to the main point:

The larger problem, however, is that changing a lethal-injection method is simply an attempt, as Justice Harry Blackmun put it, to “tinker with the machinery of death.” No matter how it is done, for the state to put someone to death is inherently barbaric.

It has also become clear — particularly since DNA evidence has become more common — how unreliable the system is. Since 1973, 139 people have been released from death row because of evidence that they were innocent, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

An untold number of innocent people have also, quite likely, been put to death. Earlier this year, a fire expert hired by the state of Texas issued a report that cast tremendous doubt on whether a fatal fire — for which Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 — was arson at all. Until his execution, Mr. Willingham protested his innocence.

Most states still have capital punishment, and the Obama administration has so far shown a troubling commitment to it, pursuing federal capital cases even in states that do not themselves have the death penalty.
The Times conclusion:
Earlier this year, New Mexico repealed its death penalty, joining 14 other states — and the District of Columbia — that do not allow it. That is the way to eliminate the inevitable problems with executions.

Put another way, abolition is the answer to the lingering horror of state killing. Abolition just cannot happen soon enough.

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domingo, diciembre 13, 2009

Paul Samuelson, RIP

The New York Times reports:

Paul A. Samuelson, the first American Nobel laureate in economics and the foremost academic economist of the 20th century, died Sunday at his home in Belmont, Mass. He was 94.

His death was announced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which Mr. Samuelson helped build into one of the world’s great centers of graduate education in economics.

In receiving the Nobel Prize in 1970, Mr. Samuelson was credited with transforming his discipline from one that ruminates about economic issues to one that solves problems, answering questions about cause and effect with mathematical rigor and clarity.

When economists “sit down with a piece of paper to calculate or analyze something, you would have to say that no one was more important in providing the tools they use and the ideas that they employ than Paul Samuelson,” said Robert M. Solow, a fellow Nobel laureate and colleague.of Mr. Samuelson’s at M.I.T.

It's hard to imagine anyone more influential in his field. He'll be missed not only by his colleagues but by the millions of people who learned Econ 101 from his textbook.

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TONIGHT: Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminids

Tonight is the Geminid meteor shower. And it could be a remarkable event.

National Geographic reports:

Late tonight is the peak of the year's most prolific annual cosmic fireworks show—the Geminid meteor shower.

The meteor shower has been growing in intensity in recent decades and should be an even better holiday treat than usual this year, since it's falling in a nearly moonless week. snip...

the Geminid show should feature as many as 140 shooting stars per hour between Sunday evening and Monday morning.

The Geminids are slow meteors that create beautiful long arcs across the sky—many lasting a second or two.

Favoring observers in the Northern Hemisphere, the Geminids are expected to be most frequent within two hours of 1:10 a.m. ET in the wee hours of Monday.

The shower's radiant—the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate—is the constellation Gemini, which rises above the eastern horizon after 9 p.m. local time.

Astronomers recommend observers head outside between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. local time.

To make this work, you need eteors and a clear sky. Here's the weather map for 1 am in the US (ET):

This doesn't look great for New England and Eastern New York. But it's also not bad enough to give up the ghost. Not yet. Maybe things will clear. And you'll notice that there are large areas of the US where viewing should be perfect, a cold, clear night.


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lunes, diciembre 07, 2009

Bright Lights, Big City

I've been thinking about disappointments. And how to deal with them. How to handle that bitter taste. And the sadness.

You must know what I mean. Relationships that wither. Expectations that dessicate. Hopes that die. Plans that collapse. Love that fades away. Friends who pass on. Children who move away. Parents who die. Machines that rust and fall apart. Treasures that rot. Fabric eaten by moths. Politicians who don't deliver. The list is long. And it's inexhaustible. It's about what we want but cannot have. It's about what we want to get rid of but cannot shed. The Buddha was right. Our clinging makes us suffer. And we cling. Oh how we suffer.

Disappointment is just a particular form of sorrow, of suffering. It's everywhere and as common as dust. It begins in expectations and ends in rubble.

I could get angry about this. Many people do. But that doesn't do any good. I could yell about how unjust, unfair, improper, illegal, brutal and stupid it is. I could want to fight and look for a brawl. But that doesn't matter. The hurt remains. It persists despite how I distract myself.

I could catalog my disappointments for you. Disappointments in love. And in politics, which might be the same thing. Disappointments about health. Disappointments about wealth, fame, esteem. And in all of the other human areas in which I didn't get what I wanted or expected or desired. Or what I deserved. I could give you, if I haven't already done it in installments over the past few years, a long list of my many, many grievances. But that's not why I'm writing now. No. I'm writing now because I want ever so slightly to shift our attention, to shift how we deal with our inevitable and pervasive and continual disappointments.

Which brings me to the blues.

Here's the cardinal blues idea: things are disappointing and they hurt us in our hearts and souls. We all have these profound hurts. But, and this is the biggest but in the blues, if we're going to keep our souls and our hearts and our passion and our humanity alive, we need to release these hurts and pound them out and scream them out and see them for the rich, beautiful, human feelings they are. We want to embrace them in all their humanity. We want to embrace that we love deeply and that, sadly, we're disappointed. It doesn't matter whether it's a lover, or a friend, or a country, or a political party, or a group, or an idea. None of that matters.

And it doesn't matter how much it hurts. Sometimes it really stings. I just want to sing and dance the song of life one more day. I want to celebrate that I'm alive, I'm human, and I feel it deeply, deeply in my heart. Here's what I mean:

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domingo, diciembre 06, 2009

A Little Help For My Friend

Buhdydharma, the founder and chief bottlewasher of my favorite group blog, docuDharma,has reluctantly asked those who write there and those who read the blog for some financial help. To hold him over. To keep the wolf away from his door. Here's his request. It's self explanatory.

If you have a few dollars to spare, you might want to help him out. Don't give him so much that you feel it. This is the internet so a few dollars from many people can amount to a significant amount of money.

Before you do give, you might want to give yourself a treat and read some of the posts on docuDharma. That will help you understand why I bring his request to your attention and why I hope you can spare a few dollars.

Thanks for your consideration.

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My Luck: The Jury Isn't Called

Earlier this year I received a notice that I would going to be called for jury duty. Columbia County wanted me to serve on a jury. Again. I wanted to serve, too. How else, I thought, will I ever find out what goes on behind the locked, guarded doors when a jury deliberates? Maybe, I thought, if I could be selected for a jury, I'd gain some insight that might help me when I talk to juries in behalf of my clients. I could be fair and impartial, I thought. As fair and impartial as anybody else. And yes, I'd leave my legal expertise at the courtroom door. I wanted to be on a jury.

Last time I was summoned, about 6 years ago, I wasn't selected to serve. I waited around for two days before being questioned. It was unbelievably boring. Incredibly mind numbing. I ran out of reading material after about 4 hours of sitting in the big courtroom. What a disaster. My ultimately being struck for cause by the prosecution resulted in the reversal of a murder conviction by the Appellate Division (pdf). It turns out I was improperly struck. This time I again wanted to serve. But let's face it: after the last time it was clear that almost anything could happen to mess up my chances for serving.

I got my dated juror summons about a month ago. I was to be juror 196 on December 7, 2009. It struck me that there was something odd about the date. I wasn't sure what it was at first. Then I figured it out.

Because of my part time Public Defender position, there was a felony DWI case I was supposed to try beginning on, wait for it, December 7, 2009. I realized last week that I had been summoned to serve on my own jury. How, I wanted to know, was I going to be able to voir dire myself, argue to myself. What rotten luck. I was going to be discharged. I had to be. It was obvious. I was disappointed. But there was still hope. Maybe somebody else would have a case to try on Monday, December 7, 2009, and if the stars aligned correctly I could be on that jury.

On Friday the stars did their part. My client received a favorable plea bargain. He pleaded guilty. There would be no trial in his case on Monday. So, amazingly, I was free to serve on somebody else's jury on December 7. I knew there weren't any other criminal cases set to be tried on that day, but maybe there was something else. A fender bender, or a breach of contract, or a medical malpractice case. Some kind of case, any kind of case, so I could be a juror and listen to testimony and deliberate. That's what I wanted.

The jury summons instructed me to call during the weekend and find out whether I was supposed to appear tomorrow. I crossed my fingers. I called. Bad news. I'm not supposed to show up. There are no trials. None at all. Nothing. And this is the worst part of it: I won't get another summons for another 6 years.

This is great news because I'll be free of sitting at the courthouse for a few days this week. But it's also terrible news because I cannot be re-called for jury duty for another six years and I'm not going to get a chance to be on a jury until that time expires. And, of course, there's no assurance that I'll be called again in 6 years.

I don't think I'm ever going to be on a jury.

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sábado, diciembre 05, 2009

Honduras: Where's The Unity Government And The Truth Commission?

An election has been held in Honduras. The new, conservative, pro-golpista President will be sworn in in January. Manual Zelaya, the rightfully elected president remains stuck in asylum in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. His term ends in January. Roberto Micheletti, the golpista usurper, remains ensconced in the presidency. The Honduran Congress and Supreme Court, two golpe supporting institutions, have to no one's surprise refused to re-instate Manual Zelaya in his elected presidency. The US, Costa Rica, and a few other countries have recognized the results of the election. Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina won't. The OAS won't.

Given these apparently intractable circumstances and the desire to restore democracy in Honduras, The New York Times in an editorial has proposed what I consider to be a reasonable solution, one that both Honduras and the US should adopt.

Let's look carefully at the Times editorial.

First the Times correctly examines the present circumstances:

There is wide agreement that last week’s presidential election in Honduras, won by the conservative leader Porfirio Lobo, was clean and fair. But it doesn’t settle the country’s political crisis, nor the question of how the world should treat Honduras.

The military ousted President Manuel Zelaya in June. At the time of the vote, Mr. Zelaya was hiding in the Brazilian Embassy. He still is.

The Obama administration started off strong. It resisted the importunings of some Congressional Republicans who considered democracy far less important than Mr. Zelaya’s cozy ties to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

Then Washington faltered. Its effort to broker a deal to return Mr. Zelaya to power, if only briefly, was filled with mixed messages (at one point the top American negotiator said Washington would accept the vote with or without Mr. Zelaya’s return). Over all, it betrayed a disturbing lack of diplomatic skill.

I would go further. I'd argue that Washington betrayed democracy in Honduras by brokering a deal that was flawed and pro-golpista from the outset, by sending mixed signals that were interpreted by the golpistas as tacit support, and by shifting position throughout the talks. The greatest US failing in my view was the delay in determining that there had been a coup, one that required the permanent cut off of all non-humanitarian aid. How, I would like to understand, does the arrest at gun point by the military of the elected president, his removal in his pajamas to an aircraft at gunpoint, and his being flown out of his country not qualify as a coup? And what has to be studied about these events to understand that, in fact, it's a coup? Footdragging on this point gave aid and comfort to the golpistas. So did the US's failures to denounce the suppression of civil liberties in the country by the golpe, including but not limited to warrantless arrests, kidnappings, shootings, the suppression of assemblies and the closing of media. These are events that need to be exposed and for which punishment must be imposed.

The Times recognizes, as so many others have, that ostracizing Honduras, a very poor country, is no solution: it will only hurt the poorest people in Honduras and will not strike any serious blow against the oligarchy. Honduras's poor people have already lost their elected president, one who professed support for them. It is doubly unjust because of the coup to make their lot more difficult.

The Times proposal?

Two aspects of the proposed deal, which have also been ignored so far, could help heal some of the wounds and restore some legitimacy. It called for the establishment of a unity government until the January inauguration and the creation of a truth commission to investigate events around the coup. The de facto government of Roberto Micheletti and other coup supporters must step down and be replaced by a unity government that includes high-level appointees from Mr. Zelaya. That unity government should create the truth commission. Civil liberties must be restored, including freedom of the press. And when the Lobo government takes office, it must clearly demonstrate its commitment to democracy.

In the meanwhile, the Times properly urges the US not to restore aid to Honduras and the OAS not to restore Honduras to membership.

These are in my view entirely proper steps. The Obama Administration should adopt them. Failure to do so lets democracy in Honduras slide away, and it undermines the stability of every elected democratic country in this hemisphere by stating that the US will countenance coups when they appear to be in the US's short term interest. That's a view that should have been discarded a century ago.

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viernes, diciembre 04, 2009

James Joyce: One Paragraph From Ulysses

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare & Co.

From page 674 of Ulysses:

What advantages attended shaving by night?
A softer beard: a softer brush if intentionally allowed to remain from shave to shave in its agglutinated lather: a softer skin if unexpectedly encountering female acquaintances in remote places at incustomary hours: quiet reflections upon the course of the day: a cleaner sensation when awaking after a fresher sleep since matutinal noises, premonitions and perturbations, a clattered milkcan, a postman's double knock, a paper read, reread while lathering, relathering the same spot, a shock, a shoot, with thought of aught he sought thought fraught with nought might cause a faster rate of shaving and a nick on which incision plaster with precision cut and humected and applied adhered which was to be done.

Maybe this blog after meandering so far and wide is returning to its lit blog self? No. Maybe it's just with thought of aught he sought thought fraught with nought? Maybe not.

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jueves, diciembre 03, 2009

Turn The World Upside Down

To no one's particular surprise, the Honduran Congress voted today not to restore duly elected and deposed President Manual Zelaya to power. The vote wasn't even close. And of course, the United States immediately expressed its half-hearted disappointment at the vote. Once again, the golpistas win, democracy loses, the US goes back to its early 20th century stance in the hemisphere, and life lurches on in Honduras. Democracy is a big loser. As is the stability of elected governments in this hemisphere.

Reuters reports:

The United States is "disappointed" that the Honduran Congress voted not to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a U.S. State Department official said on Thursday.

Honduran lawmakers resisted international pressure and voted 111 to 14 on Wednesday not to allow Zelaya's return to power after he was toppled in a June coup....

The Honduran lawmakers were deciding Zelaya's fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal between the deposed leftist and the country's de facto leaders who took power after the coup....

"We're disappointed by this decision since the United States had hoped that Congress would have approved his return," Valenzuela told reporters.

Of course, the Honduran Congress voted against Zelaya. The Congress was golpista dominated and had supported the arrest of Zelaya at gun point at the end of June, his being transported in his pajamas to an airplane, and his being unceremoniously driven from the country that elected him. Anybody who thought the vote could go another way was in dreamland. And that includes the US who brokered a deal that let this golpista dominated Congress, a co-participant in the golpe de estado, have any say in the matter.

And then we have this past Sunday's election which was administered by the golpistas:

Opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo won Sunday's presidential election, which had been scheduled before the coup.

The United States quickly recognized Lobo's victory but said it was only one step toward restoring democracy. U.S. officials praised Lobo for vowing to form a government that will help reconcile issues in Honduras.

The United States has alienated itself from Latin American powerhouses like Argentina and Brazil, which refuse to recognize the election because it was organized by a de facto government.

Presumably the other steps to restoring democracy included the restoration of Manual Zelaya to his presidency. A move blocked by congress, and previously blocked by the Supreme Court. Referral to the Supreme Court was also part of the brilliant deal brokered by the US. That would be the Supreme Court that issued the arrest warrant for Manual Zelaya and presumably approved his deportation.

I've commented before about the US's willingness to accept this past week's election as a solution to the problem in Honduras. I think that this decision actually imperils elected, democratic governments throughout the hemisphere. It means that there are exceptions to the US's support of those who are democratically elected, the main exception being when the US disagrees with the policies and alliances of the elected Government. If the elected Government agrees on any issues with Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Michele Bachelet, any of the other left of center governments in the hemisphere, it had better be careful. Very careful. In that case, the US will not insist that the democratically elected government be restored in the event of a military coup.

Democracy, it seems, is for places the US agrees with. Afghanistan had a fraudulent election, but the US will support its government as if it were democratically elected with 30,000 more troops. Ditto Iraq. Honduras had a fair election when it elected Manual Zelaya. Venezuela had a fair election when it elected Hugo Chavez. The democratic selection of those government's, however, just isn't important.

This turns the world upside down. And when you look at it from the southern hemisphere, there are substantial reasons for concern.

Join me in the western hemisphere as seen from the south.

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miércoles, diciembre 02, 2009

Victory: Bank Of America Releases The Funds

Join me in a brief celebration. And please accept my gratitude for helping me find my way through this problem.

You might recall my recommended diary on Monday in which I complained about how Bank of America had frozen a $4,000 deposit until December 7 at 5 pm and that it was money my son needed for a trip. I asked in the comments for suggestions from Kossacks about how to get the money released.

Join me in the champagne room.

Well, sure enough, ElRay suggested that I send a group email to B of A executives explaining my problem and asking them please to fix it. Right now. I did that. I sent the email to more than a dozen executives. It was courteous and explained my problem and stated what I wanted done.

Long story short, I got a call from a B of A executive on Tuesday morning. I was surprised. He said he'd look into it and see whether they could release the funds, which they would do when the check reached the bank where it was written. He wasn't sure how long that might take.

And today, much to my amazement, the same B of A executive called my son to say that the hold was lifted, all of the money was available to my son right then. No hold. No waiting. Released.

In other words, whether B of A's holding the funds was or was not legal, they caved in and released the funds. My son's leaving on a trip with his money. We don't have to wait until December 7 at 5 pm to get it. Case closed. Money in hand. Hooray.

I applaud all of you for your help and suggestions.

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