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They let it happen

8 Feb

Donald Trump is our President. It seems incredible, surreal, like a bad joke the cosmos are playing on us. Is the reality show guy, the guy from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, actually sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office occupied by Barack Obama just 18 days ago? Life in America right now is so maddening that I, someone who lives firmly outside of the right-wing bubble, have to ask, how on Earth did we get here?

I keep going back to Reince Priebus. Spineless little worm Reince Priebus. He was the nominal leader of the Republican Party. Reince Priebus never discouraged Donald Trump from running for the Republican nomination. Once he began winning elections, Reince Priebus didn’t pull Trump aside and ask him to drop out for the good of the party. He didn’t ask Trump to tone it down once his rallies became ugly and violent. Throughout the long primary and then general election campaigns, the man in charge of the Republicans let Trump highjack the party, foregoing the good of the country for political gain.

And Paul Ryan? He felt empowered enough to criticize candidate Trump, but now? He is lockstep behind his party’s President. Hard to recall that just four years ago he was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate. I suspect that neither Ryan nor Priebus is driven by right-wing talk radio-driven hate and xenophobia. Priebus’ RNC produced the infamous 2012 autopsy that recommended that Republicans expand outreach to minority communities if they were to thrive in an increasingly diverse America. Ryan’s GOP pays lip service to vague concepts like liberty and opportunity, but when these ideas are made concrete and put on the chopping block by President Trump (I still shudder to type those words), like badmouthing federal judges and not divesting from his businesses, the Republican Speaker stays silent. There is no room for principle when there is a seat at the table and one is thirsty for power.

The ascension of erstwhile Ted Cruz supporter Kellyanne Conway, former RNC hack Sean Spicer, and the aforementioned Ryan and Priebus all show how tempting it is to succumb to access to power. I also suspect that there is an element of fear at play here- these people feared that if they couldn’t beat him, they’d have to join him. And so they joined him. So how did we get here, with a cruel ignoramus as President, with his slender fingers just one push away from the nuclear button? It happened because, one by one, people with scruples fell all over themselves to accommodate him and aid his ascension. They let it happen. Don’t ever forget it.

Jamás Será Vencido

25 Jan
Women's March

Women’s March

Tengo ganas de expresarme pero no sé qué decir. Durante el día de hoy, he sentido rabia, ira, tristeza, y un profundo sentimiento de impotencia. Ya siento que han pasado días desde el Women’s March que asistí en San Francsico el sábado, donde salí sonriendo y con mucha esperanza. Pero hoy, Trump promete construir el muro fronterizo. Pero la noticia no termina ahí.

Según una copia de los planes iniciales de Trump sobre qué hacer con las ciudades santuarias que darán refugio a los inmigrantes indocumentados, se publicará una lista semanal de delitos cometidos por los indocumentados en dichas ciudades. Cuando lo leí en Twitter, mi primer pensamiento fue, “esto provocará una ola de odio”. Cometerán delitos inspirados por esta campaña de odio que viene desde el hombre más poderoso del mundo. Creo que esta lista odiosa es el aspecto mas fea de todo lo que he leído hoy, además del bloqueo de refugiados de países asolados por la guerra, el 35% arancel sobre importaciones mexicanas, y la mentira que votaron miles de millones de “ilegales” que le costaron al pobrecito Trump su voto popular. El término ilegales- un adjetivo para referirse a seres humanos- es ofensivo. Pero suponer que todo voto latino era un voto ilegítimo es sumamente racista. Me molesta que los medios masivos no habla del aspecto racista de esta mentira; lo critican como falso e impreciso, pero no lo ven como parte de la vasta campaña en contra de la comunidad mexicana de Estados Unidos.

Quiero que la esperanza de la marcha femenina se traduce en acciones concretas en las semanas y los meses venideros. Quiero que toda persona decente se declare en contra de este odio. Más que nada, espero que nuestros líderes tanto en California como en Washington reflejen la decencia de su gente. Los latinos están bajo amenaza. Es hora de parar, organizarnos, y manifestarnos. De nuevo.

A Moral 9/11

16 Nov
Awful Trump

Awful Trump

Thomas Friedman articulated my feelings after last Tuesday so well: the election of Donald Trump is a moral 9/11. Except the only difference is that the damage from 9/11 was inflicted from outside, whereas we did this to ourselves.

Sometimes it takes a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist to articulate what we are feeling. The fact that Trump’s victory represents a self-inflicted wound. It means that rather than looking at the Obama years as a shining moment in American history, we will look at it as just a period of calm between the W years and the Donald years. It is proof that Americans learned nothing from the Bush years. We watched as a thoroughly unprepared man tiptoed into the White House and proceeded to surround himself with Batman villains that toppled the economy and started two simultaneous ground wars in the Muslim world and thought, how can we go lower?

One reason that November 8th, 2016 feels like 9/11 is that we will all recall where we were when we realized that Donald Trump would succeed Barack Obama as President. When we realized that the campaign of Yes We Can was replaced with America First. When those of us who are not rural, white men realized that millions and millions of our fellow citizens had no problem affirming a campaign of white nationalism and wanton cruelty. Speaking of wanton cruelty, contemplate the picture that accompanies this post. Donald Trump is mocking a disabled journalist. Why was that not a thoroughly disqualifying moment? The fact that it was treated as a non-issue by the media- just another gaffe by wacky Trump- should have been the first sign that  nothing would stick to him. The Republican party saw what an incompetent hateful sociopath they were dealing with…and yet they chose to step aside and let him take over their party. Why? Because they thought he was an empty vessel that they could control. They decided they were okay with a candidate who would rip apart the social fabric of America and make our country’s diversity an issue to be contested rather than a simple fact of our society. And it turned out to be a winning strategy.

I’m sad and angry. Feelings of resignation alternate with feelings of rage. I’m angry that there have been at least 400 documented incidents of hate and intimidation in the last WEEK alone. That is only incidents that have been reported to date. I try to overcome my fear by speaking out, but I admit, I’m scared. I’m glad I tweet under a pseudonym. Although I look pretty white for someone of my background (call me an undercover minority), I still am fearful for myself and others, like my family and my friends who stand out more than I do. I am angry as hell that widespread fear for our safety is the result of a presidential election. It bears repeating over and over and over again: this is not normal.

This is a moral 9/11. We did it to ourselves.

Fear and Loathing in 2016

16 Oct


In 2008 Barack Obama emerged to be elected President of the United States. Now, in 2016, a truly vile man seeks to succeed him as leader of this nation.

The hope and optimism of 2008 seem more and more like a distant dream. Optimism? Sarah Palin (remember her?) spoke derisively of ‘hopey-changey’ stuff. She was the asterisk to the hope of the Obama campaign, the one sour note of that joyful year in politics. But the rancor of the 2016 presidential campaign shows that she was not a bug of the Republican party. She was a feature.

I was an American who was inspired by candidate Obama’s call for unity, his rhetoric of not a red America, or a blue America, but a United States of America. Bill Maher once said he was tired of politicians hailing the heartland, wondering why people from the rural center of the country were considered more American than those of us from cities and suburbs from other parts of the country. Obama’s campaign gathered those of us who didn’t come from the amber waves of grain and reminded us that we too are America. His effort at inclusion wasn’t just geographic, uniting all regions of the country (minus the Southeast), but also racial, making those of us who are not of WASP-descent feel like an equally vital part of this nation. If the biracial candidate with African and white roots, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, and had a last name as uncommon as mine, could unite the country and reach the highest office in the land, anything truly seemed possible. We had always learned that anyone could grow up to become President of the United States. He represented the best in us, and he gave me, and many others, immense hope.

So it is important to remember the good feeling that prevailed eight years ago in order to appreciate how horrid things are now. All of the optimism is gone. I, a descendant  of immigrants, have been made to feel in the current political climate that I am less than some of my fellow citizens. Rather than inspire the better angels of our nature, the presidential candidate of the opposition party fuels hate. The election is rigged, he warns, not because sinister forces conspire to steal the election, but because some citizens, his followers believe, are less legitimate than others. They- Arabs, Mexicans, women, Asians, African-Americans- aren’t “real” Americans like we are, so their votes don’t count as much as ours do, their thinking goes. We have to watch the polls to make sure they don’t do anything fishy, they protest. It is terrifying for all citizens of good conscience to watch half of our country descend into the fever swamps of hate. 2008 was a season of unity and hope. 2016 is a season of division and anxiety. It has clarified for me, like no history lesson ever did, an understanding of 1930’s Italy and Germany. I just hope that the hate sown by Donald Trump doesn’t give way to violence. I hope.

Goodbye to all of that: for Andrew Sullivan

28 Jan
My Dissent of the Day

My Dissent of the Day

I was saddened today when I read on The Dish that Andrew Sullivan will be retiring from the blogosphere to focus on his health and his family. Some have suggested that these are just more histrionics from a writer famous for his freakouts (Buzzfeed collected his reactions to Obama’s first debate performance. In Andrew’s mind Obama had all but lost the election there). I began reading The Dish on a very consistent basis about six years ago- I remember when because not long after I began reading the site, the Green Movement happened in Iran. I was recently unemployed and so had both the time and the inclination to follow The Dish’s liveblog of the protests in real time. It felt like this blog was doing great work, and I had to keep up. It soon became a daily habit.

Andrew Sullivan is, like me, someone with iconoclastic views, who supports gay marriage (he is the intellectual architect of it), marijuana decriminalization who vocally supports the Obama presidency and denounces the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I don’t always agree with him, and am sometimes infuriated with his opinions. I find that he is quite insensitive to women and women’s issues, and his insistence on a connection between race and IQ is abhorrent. Nevertheless, his blog was always an excellent source of not only smartly written opinions, but curation of the best links around the web. From poetry to economic analysis to theology to those gorgeous window views, the site is thoroughly original. Also, Andrew’s commitment to not accepting an ad dollar, and his condemnation of sponsored content are further reasons that his blog will be sorely missed in this media environment.

I, for one, will always remember the feeling I got when I saw that my email to him was the dissent of the day. And I hope Andrew reconsiders. I hope that his underbloggers take up his mantle and keep dishiness alive. And if not, I am thankful that Andrew has contributed so much to my own intellectual development. I hope he enjoys his semi-retirement.

I’ve Got the San Francisco Blues

25 Sep

I have been spending some time in the East Bay recently, and spending time there, soaking up the sun, walking among families along tranquil, tree-lined sidewalks, I have begun to undertand the area’s siren song for fed-up San Franciscans. What do San Franciscans have to be fed up about? Plenty.

We are tired of the last San Franciscans being evicted from their homes for the building of condominiums. This is happening within blocks of where I live. And in the Lower Haight, studio apartments are being rented for $4,000. A commenter on SFist notes: They say that you shouldn’t spend more than 25% of your income on rent. At 4000K a month’s rent is going to cost you $48000 a year. That means you need to earn 192K a year to live within your means. Of course what this commenter misses is that we San Franciscans don’t spend a quarter of our income on rent. For me it’s more like 51%/ Just over half of my monthly paycheck goes towards rent so that I can live in this city. And for what?

To watch as the mom and pop restaurants get replaced by crudo small plate gluten-free gastropubs, so that every last bar with character can be turned into a cocktail bar that serves libations in mason jars, where you can’t get a drink for under $12. Rather than be a city of young kids, recent college grads, families, and senior citizens, we are just a city of recent college grads. Mostly white, some Asian, but overall not too diverse. In a city known for being freewheeling and creative, I find myself more and more preoccupied with keeping up with the Joneses. This city’s vibrant residents have always made it unique, and yet I see a lot more sameness. My favorite bar, Bigfoot Lodge, once a dimly lit dive with kitschy decor and friendly if a bit rough around the edges bartenders, is being revamped. And I just read that Red Devil Lounge, just a stone’s throw away, is being turned into, you guessed it, a craft cocktial bar. Everything in this city now caters to the super rich, starting with housing.

And of course, a toast of champagne to Larry Ellison and his Oracle Team USA, who have won the America’s Cup. Huzzah!

Who Gets to be an American?

16 Sep
Miss America

Miss America

Today is sandwiched between Sunday September 15th, when Nina Davaluri was crowned Miss America, and Tuesday September 17th, when PBS airs its three part series, “Latino Americans”. So the PBS special will illustrate the long-standing, vital contributions of Latinos in the United States, but on Sunday, a handful of pig-headed racists unleashed their vitriol on Twitter and voiced their displeasure at Miss America being non-white. These knuckle-draggers clearly equate American-ness with whiteness. The PBS series will show us Latinos the history of our involvement in the Unites States and its evolution, but perhaps this is a documentary that should be viewed by all Americans, latino and non-Latino. There are many people out there who still hold a very narrow view of who is and isn’t American.

I am always surprised at the way that certain white folks view America- they see it as the land where they can trace the history of their family for generations. The sense of ownership in the land gives them a view of America as unchanging, a palce where one can draw a straight line from white colonist to white suburban homeowner. Yet for those of us who see America through the eyes of relative newcomers- my Mom came as a kid- we see this country as a place of opportunity, where our families got to start over. We don’t freak out at the prospect of a multiracial America, because we are multiracial America. This country is great precisely because it is based on an idea- that you can pursue happiness and remake yourself. It is a dream open to all, from the descendents of slaves to Cuban emigrés to the parents of beautiful Nina Davaluri.

This country is so great that Indians have noted that a dark-skinned beauty such as Davaluri would never be given this platform on the Indian subcontinent. In Huffington Post, Riddhi Shah writes, “the world’s most influential country is showing my people that a deep velvet brown complexion is nothing to be ashamed of.” So yes, a few racists have found a very loud mouthpiece, but at the end of the day, Nina Davaluri’s selection as Miss America is something to be proud of.  America is made up of much more than a few blowhards with Twitter accounts.

A Cranky Moment with Dwayne Kennedy

15 Sep

Lowe’s Pulls Ads from All-American Muslim, Backlash Results

13 Dec
All American Muslim

All American Muslim

Newt Gingrich, much to my dismay, is in the running for the Republican nomination, and is currently pandering his way through the Iowa cornfields. One notable recent pander was his claim that the Palestinians are an invented people. What saddened me about the claim was realizing that, while it was offensive to me, it confirms the beliefs of people who believe that all Palestinians are, as Newt later put it, terrorists with no claim to nationhood. The idea that you could make such a statement with no expectation of blowback. Who could object? Well, it turns out, actual Palestinians. The Guardian reports that Palestinian leaders, from lead negotiator Saeb Erekat to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have condemned Gingrich’s remarks. Even a former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. admitted that “Their aspiration to a national unity and self-governance is the fact we should be dealing with.”

In other Fear and Loathing of Arabs in the News, TLC, which began by airing programs that allowed the home viewer to learn something but has since devolved into midget and sextuplet reality programming, has returned to its educational roots with a new reality show, “All-American Muslim”. I haven’t yet seen the program, but my parents watch and said it is quite interesting. The show follows five Arab Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the National Arab American Museum as well as the biggest concentration of Arab Americans in the U.S. My paternal great grandparents immigrated to Western Pennsylvania; somehow our people decided to leave the cool climate of the Mediterranean for more frozen landscapes. In any case, the bad news is that Lowe’s, the home supply big box store, decided to pull its advertising from the show after receiving pressure from the previously little known Florida Family Association. The good news is that Lowe’s has suffered bad publicity since pulling ads from the show. The even better news is that CNN reports that ad time on All-American Muslim is all sold out. 

I take an optimist’s view of the two recent news items. A pessimistic view is that there is a sizable portion of Americans that only sees Arabs as crazed, wild-eyed savages, who don’t like having that view challenged. Yet what I see in both of these cases is that the tide is turning. A small “family” organization objected to the reality show on TLC, but their petition may have drawn more viewers to the show than ever, and more importantly, the negative reaction to Lowe’s decision to pull from the show may cause other advertisers to think twice before heeding the petitions of small-minded organizations with an agenda that favors hate more than family. And with regards to Newt Gingrich’s comments, yes, they do resonate with people who don’t know much about history in the region. But how will Newt and his incendiary, to-hell-with-diplomacy style fare in the Republican primaries, or perhaps the general election? My gut says Newt and his shit-eating grin will be fading away soon.


How Protesters Alienate Potential Supporters

28 Aug
BART protests

BART protests

From Santiago to San Francisco, protests are all the rage this summer (and winter in Chile), with discontent simmering to a boiling point. As I observe these protests, I notice that my traditional sympathy towards the man on the street has shifted- I no longer reflexively support protesters just for the sake of it. Perhaps it comes from being a city dweller, but I want there to be some order to protests, and respect for those of us who live and work near the city center. Let me explain how the recent BART protests have alienated many in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On July 3rd, BART police shot and killed transient Charles Hill on the Civic Center platform as he threatened them with a broken bottle.  If these facts of the case are indeed true, then the response was very disproportionate, period. Tasers were invented to subdue suspects momentarily while not inflicting permanent damage. Nevertheless, I also understand that the police need to react within seconds, deciding on the best course of action to protect themselves and those around them.

And when those who were outraged against the police action decided on the best form of protest, well, you can see the results in the image above. Climbing on top of BART trains to keep them from moving forward didn’t endear BART commuters to protesters. Thousands of people use the system to get from home to work and back every day; messing with their commute and leaving them stranded for now THREE WEEKS IN A ROW does little to bring people to seeing your side of things. As a matter of fact, the BART protesters have engendered quite a bit of animosity among the commuter crowd.

Now let’s look to the Southern Hemisphere and take a look at the student protests rocking Chile. I didn’t realize until a Chilean colleague told me that all universities in Chile are private- there are no publicly funded universities in the country. The students have very legitimate grievances with the government, and have been taking to the streets to protest peacefully. That is, until some protesters began setting fire to historic churches and department stores. Much has been said before by people better-versed in protest movements than me, but it seems to me that veering from a non-violent path alienates supporters. And a large part of protesting is to create awareness of a certain cause.  It is always sad when a minority of violent anarchists turn public support against an otherwise worthy cause.  March, hold signs, sing songs, join hands, but refrain from getting violent. And people will listen.