is a surprise only to the willingly blind. The accounts in today's NYT, including this one and this one, help to show why. This latest from CNN, though, also shows that Chen refuses to go quietly, and he is determined to put Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the American government on the spot just when they thought they had sidestepped this inconvenient problem.
It is clear that the U.S. wanted to squirm out of the Chen situation as quickly as possible so as to protect its shaky relationship with its creditor and cheap-labor-supplier China. In America's China policy, human rights rank well below the needs of the corporate and financial players who underwrite and steer our foreign policy. We all know this, although polite corporate media will not explicitly say it. Moreover, this has been true for many years, despite current Republican rants about the Obama administration's cowardly rush for an excuse to ditch dissident Chen. You can bet that a Republican administration would have been equally or more eager to find a quick way to dump Chen in the interest of business and finance, since both the Dems and the G.O.P work for the same employers.
Only an American policy team desperate to avoid a business-unfriendly fight would have believed (or pretended to believe) China's lame assurances that Chen and his family would not suffer further retaliation after his release back into Chinese hands. Chen himself seems to have panicked into accepting the deal, and now that reality is setting in he is, rightly, afraid and angry. Yes, he reportedly went along with it at first. But his current claim that Americans pressured him and failed to tell him all the facts appears to have some veracity. And in any case, when a panicked, injured, persecuted dissident shows up at an American embassy after a car chase, cooler heads have an obligation to assess the situation in the interest of justice.
To give you an idea of just how bad things had gotten for Chen by the time he reached the U.S. embassy, here is a short excerpt from one of the NYT pieces:
Although there were no legal charges pending against the couple, local officials had decided to turn their home into a makeshift prison with high walls, well-paid guards and sheets of metal to cover their windows. The local government’s goal was twofold: to prevent Mr. Chen from engaging in his legal work against coercive family-planning policies and to keep the couple cut off from the outside world. When the Chens broke the rules — by trying to sneak out messages or secretly detailing their mistreatment in a homemade video — they were viciously beaten.
For the U.S. to then turn around and concoct a flimsy deal to drop Chen like a hot potato is, tragically, business as usual. In the aftermath of the dirty deal, we see handily-choreographed stances on both sides: China demands an American apology for its temporary sheltering of Chen. And the U.S. grandly refuses to say it is sorry. Everybody gets to protect their own flank. Except Chen, that is, whose ability to generate international outrage and pressure may determine his fate.
Meanwhile, the bloody economic gears keep turning.
This is National Poetry Month, a time when – like Black History Month and Earth Day – corporate culture blinks for a moment at realities it generally ignores. Still, a glimpse can reveal plenty. This month, in one of the main windows of the downtown public library in my town of Baltimore, the poem on display is "If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God" by Joseph Ross, which won the local Pratt Library system's 2012 poetry prize. The poem has to do with the 1955 torture and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman. If you're sketchy on the details, here is Ross's explanation of how Emmett's mother, Mamie, electrified the world by displaying her son in an open casket:
Mamie Till’s decision to bury her son in a casket with a glass top was a momentous one. In her words, she wanted the world “to see what they did to my boy.” In 1955, Mamie Till sent her son Emmett to live with relatives in Mississippi for the summer. One night, he was dragged from his uncle’s house, beaten to death and dumped in the Tallahatchie River, with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was found downriver some days later. The image of her son’s beaten and distorted body were broadcast around the world. In the view of some, this murder was seen as the beginning of the civil rights movement.
Emmett Till, as I've mentioned, was not only brutally beaten but tortured, including having one of his eyes gouged out. As it happens, a few years ago I met and interviewed Emmett Till's cousin, who was in the same bedroom with Till the night that white men burst into the house and took him away to murder him. I will never, ever forget it.
Here is a photo of how you'd see Joseph Ross's poem if you walked past the Baltimore downtown library this month:
Photo: Robert Waxman
At a time when today's American brown shirts want for government's sole job to be the killing of infidels and the punishing of scapegoats, it's good to see a public library acting like a public library. My thanks to my friend Rachel for pointing this out.
The video was produced by an assemblage of groups who want to shake things up in Mexico's public discourse. From the stormy response to the vid, they appear to be succeeding.
In its final scene, a young girl faces the camera and, speaking to candidates in Mexico's upcoming presidential election, says: "If this is the future that awaits me, I don't want it. Enough of working for your political parties instead of for us. Enough of cosmetic changes."
Thanks to Tina at The Agonist.
So Dave Eggers wins the $53,000 Gunter Grass Award for his book about American abuse of a Syrian-American humanitarian. And just before the scheduled award ceremony, Grass – who has admitted to having been in the SS in Nazi Germany – publishes a scathing poem about Israeli nuclear proliferation and aggression. Uproar ensues. Israel bans Grass from entering the country. And then Eggers announces he'll refuse to go to Germany to accept the award. He'll accept the money, though.
Here is a link to the Grass poem, titled "What Must Be Said."
And here is what must be said about this whole conflagration:
1.) Kudos to Grass. His poem is truthful, and more intellectuals of his celebrated stature need to rise up and declare in public – against the waiting accusations of anti-Semitism – that the contemporary Israeli regime has in some ways become the wickedness against which it claims to stand.
2.) It is horribly ironic but not shocking that the Israeli regime, over its lifetime, has plunged into such a long moral fall. Any psychologist who specializes in developmental trauma will tell you that awful suffering often later translates into exaggerated, delusional, or even sociopathic aggression.
3.) Grass's SS involvement as a young man hardly disqualifies him from condemning Israeli behavior. Grass has owned and rightly been culpable for his actions. One can argue, in fact, that Grass's first-hand knowledge of obedient or self-justifying groupthink informs his outrage at what he now sees in some Israeli trends. Not long ago I had a conversation with an Aryan German, who came of age during the Holocaust, who now recognizes much of what he saw in late-1930s Germany in early 21st-century America.
4.) Grass's poem is lousy as a poem. It's barely a poem, actually; it's more like a proclamation with lots of line breaks. But that's not the point anyway. Nobody cares about it as a poem. We care about what it says. Presenting it as a poem in a publication, actually, was a good move on Grass's part: it assured that his message would be disseminated intact, in its entirety. Had Grass simply called a press conference and issued the message as a statement, it would have been sound-bited and paraphrased beyond recognition.
5.) Eggers's refusing the personal tribute while accepting the money stinks to high heaven. His excuse in published reports that the controversy had become too much about Germany and Israel and Iran just doesn't hold water. A response of integrity would be to either be okay with the moral context of the award and to accept the prize and the money, or to not be okay with it and to reject the prize and the money. You can't have both. Good luck washing those dirty little hands of yours, Dave.
The Tulsa shootings have "hate crime" written all over them. This has yet to be established legally, but circumstantially it is generally agreed, for obvious reasons, that it's likely.
Two suspects are in custody and are expected to be indicted for murder and shooting with intent to kill. Local authorities, and black citizens, have so far been notably restrained in their public statements about two white men going on a murder rampage in a black community, which is interesting when you consider the likely public explosion if two black men were to drive through a white community and shoot five white strangers within a matter of minutes on Easter weekend.
Showing restraint under brutality, of course, is a learned trait in black communities that goes back to slavery and Jim Crow.
Tulsa, in fact, has a spectacularly bloody history when it comes to white attacks on black communities. Neither the CNN story nor the NYT account mentions this -- which is interesting in itself -- but Tulsa was the scene of one of the deadliest white-on-black racial mob massacres in American history in 1921. From Wiki:
The Tulsa Race Riot was a large-scale racially motivated conflict, May 31 - June 1, 1921, between the white and black communities of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which the wealthiest African-American community in the United States, the Greenwood District also known as 'The Negro Wall St'  was burned to the ground. Aerial fire bombing of black residential neighborhoods was reported. During the 16 hours of the assault, over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, more than 6,000 Greenwood residents were arrested and detained at three local facilities. An estimated 10,000 were left homeless, and 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire. The official count of the dead by the Oklahoma Department of Vital Statistics was 36, but other estimates of black fatalities have been up to about 300.
The events of the riot were omitted from local and state history; "The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place."  In 1996, the state legislature commissioned a report, completed in 2001, to establish the historical record. It has approved some compensatory actions, such as scholarships for descendants of survivors, economic development of Greenwood, and a memorial park, dedicated in 2010, to the victims in Tulsa.
But don't make the mistake of thinking that today's horrible news about the shootings is just about Tulsa. The Tulsa murders draw together things that are going on at multiple levels in neighborhoods nationwide: White-panic Florida gun laws and the killings and hatred they let loose (see the armed neo-Nazis from Detroit who recently decided to patrol Sanford, Florida in proclaimed defense of white citizens); a corporate monarchy and its recession pummeling the brains of many whites into a paste of blind rage; a reactionary and fascist white "restore the homeland" movement (aka the Tea Party), with theocracy and vicious racism just beneath its surface, now being treated as a mainstream political force.
and after having listened, in its entirety, to the March 19 talk he gave at Georgetown University about the scandal; and having listened, also in their entirety, to the original show he did on This American Life and the later TAL retraction show on which he was doggedly questioned about his looseness with facts, a few things appear clear to me:
1.) Mike Daisey is a mess. I think he'd be more than willing to admit this. In fact he pretty much does admit it, especially in the Georgetown talk and on the TAL retraction show. I think most of us, in his situation, would be a mess. He has been all over the place in his responses to the scandal: he was shell-shocked and in denial in the TAL grilling on the rules governing his art; he was defiant and disingenuous in his March 19 blog post about how it was "art," not lies, that moved his audiences (I have only heard the monologue portion that aired on TAL, but the parts I found most emotionally moving – such as the anecdote about the man with the ruined hand and Daisey's story about his personally having met 12-year-old workers – now appear to have been fabricated or exaggerated); he is earnest, repentantly self-effacing, and politically passionate about the untold stories of Chinese workers in his Georgetown talk; and now, in his March 25 blog post – faced with a quote from one of his past interviews in which Daisey clearly lays out the rules for theatrical truth-telling – he openly admits how he broke them in his Apple monologue and he seems to have let go of the need to artistically defend the license he took. His trajectory seems to be toward acknowledgement of what he did and calling even more insistently for addressing the much greater cause of justice and media attention for Chinese workers. He clearly got in way over his head with TAL, and I'd advise pundits to take care in trashing him. You know what they say about glass houses.
2.) Daisey didn't need to lie or misrepresent his experience in order to succeed with his monologue. That's the awful irony of all this. Between the things he actually experienced on his trip and the known facts about incidents and outrages in Chinese manufacturing for Apple, Daisey could have constructed and performed a monologue that was riveting, devastating, and, as TAL asked of him, bulletproof against the predictable attacks and questions from Apple and corporate media. In his Georgetown talk, Daisey says about his panicked deception of TAL's producers, "I should have been wiser. There must have been a path that would have worked [in being able to air the monologue without misrepresentation]. I don't know what it would have been, though." I could be all wrong, but I have a suggestion: had Daisey been honest with TAL, they might have instead constructed a show about how a gifted writer and actor with a compelling story found himself getting carried away with the telling of the story, and how he finally came clean about this under the pressure of doing a national radio broadcast. And Daisey could have performed a monologue, on TAL, about what he truly saw in China and what he didn't see, and how and why he had gotten carried away in some of his monologue lines, and what is actually documented as happening in Chinese factories, and how as an apolitical privileged American techno-geek he found himself devastated, disoriented, and evangelicized by the raw power of what he witnessed and what he learned from others about where his iPhone comes from. Sure, maybe that idea wouldn't have flown. All I can say is, as a TAL listener I'd certainly tune in to a show like that. But in any case it's water under the bridge. What is clear, and what Daisey clearly knows, is that his monologue doesn't (and won't) need misrepresentations in order to work as theater.
3.) Daisey is a great talker. He is a brilliant talker. He is such a good talker, in fact, that, given the glibly convincing way in which he represented untruths as real events in his monologue, I am not sure I believe much at all of what he now says. I'm not sure I believe his explanations for things he still insists he saw in China that his translator says didn't happen. I am not sure I believe his tortured account of why he did what he did and how he now feels about it. I am not sure, actually, that I believe anything Mike Daisey says. This is a real problem for me; there is much of what he now says that I want to believe. But I'm having a lot of trouble doing so. I don't know what to do with this. But I needed to say it.
4.) When Daisey says that he should not be the big story – that Apple and China should be the big story – he is absolutely right. I do think he understands that his dishonesty in the telling of such a heart-rending, high-stakes human story has become a hugely emotional public event partly because his story itself so deeply rocked our world as spoiled American gizmo-users, and partly because a lot of us, including me, feel an angry sense of his having betrayed and manipulated both us and the issue of workers and Apple. But Daisey is correct when he says it's an atrocity that the news cycle is dominated by his scandal rather than by the human suffering embedded in electronics built for us by people in China who we will never see.
That is why, as Daisey suggests, you need to read the New York Times series on Apple's suppliers, and listen to the NPR story about an explosion at an iPad plant that workers say happened just hours after Apple inspected the plant, and look at the research by NGOs regarding cruel working conditions and worker suicides at Apple supplier plants in China.
And that is why, unless there is something of huge public importance related to him in the future, I will not blog about Mike Daisey again.
CNN reports that George Zimmerman's attorney has now declared that the Florida stand your ground law doesn't figure in the case, and that his client will argue straight-up self-defense. The stand your ground law, the lawyer says, applies primarily to people being threatened in their homes, while Zimmerman, he claims, has a broader case for self-defense.
This seems a curious stance, since all the readings of the law I have seen, such as this one, clearly describe it as applying anywhere a person has a right to be, whether a public or private place. As such, stand your ground appears to offer Zimmerman's best chance at avoiding or beating prosecution. If a burly adult who actively chases a slender unarmed 17-year-old and then shoots him can't claim self-defense under the Swiss-cheese stand your ground law, how in the world is he going to make that claim under the traditionally more stringent standards of conventional self-defense?
It may be that Zimmerman's lawyer is retreating from the sheer public odiousness of a stand-your-ground defense, now that even the two Republican sponsors of the infamous Florida law are saying that the law doesn't protect Zimmerman and are calling for his arrest.
So, just as the law's authors are distancing themselves from him, perhaps Zimmerman's attorney is trying to distance his client from this now globally-detested law. Especially since Zimmerman is already a widely reviled figure, with public outrage spreading and unfavorable media coverage everywhere.
You could think of it as a lawyer in a rickety house hustling his client into the next room as the ceiling collapses.
At any rate, it looks like a desperate move by the attorney, and it may not be his last.
Not that there isn't a feasible chance that Zimmerman will get off, with or without a trial. But if he does, it may make the Rodney King riots look like a Sunday parade.
BTW, here is an interesting piece detailing a variety of cases in which Florida's stand your ground law has been used to fend off criminal charges for homicides in which the killers would otherwise likely have been indicted.
And here is a fact you personally need to know: although Florida was the first to enact a stand your ground law, similar laws have since been adopted by at least 25 states – that's half of America – including Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. Think about that the next time some stranger pushes a confrontation with you.
On the night of February 26, Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old walking back to the home of his father's fiancé in a gated community in Sanford, Florida after having bought Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea at a nearby convenience store, was shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who is a white Hispanic, claims self-defense, despite a 911 recording in which Zimmerman apparently chases Martin on foot against the instructions of the 911 dispatcher, and another 911 recording in which a voice later identified as that of the unarmed Martin repeatedly screams for help before being silenced by a gunshot. The Sanford Police Department has filed no charges against Zimmerman.
All hell has since broken loose. The Sanford City Commissioners passed a no-confidence vote on the local chief of police, and he has subsequently taken a temporary leave after a (white) constituent reportedly sent an email telling him he "deserve[d] to be shot down like a dog" for neglecting the killing of Martin. Activists from Al Sharpton to the NAACP's Ben Jealous have descended upon Sanford. The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into the shooting. Protest demonstrations are roaring, and growing, nationwide. More than 1.6 million people, as of this writing, have signed a Change.org petition calling for the arrest of Zimmerman. President Obama and every major Republican presidential contender have spoken about the case. Corporate media – in their single-sensational-event-driven way – are on a feeding frenzy. Outrage is approaching what a friend of mine calls a potential "Emmett Till moment" -- a possible tipping point in awareness and rage over blacks being killed with impunity.
Let's take a quick look at the two ingredients of the Trayvon Martin case: race and guns.
A central defense offered by George Zimmerman's family and his lawyer is that he is not a racist because 1.) he is a Hispanic who knows the meaning of discrimination, 2.) he has mentored black youths, and 3.) he welcomed and befriended a black female newcomer to his neighborhood. All of this, if true, tells us exactly nothing about how Zimmerman would regard an unknown young black male on the street. We do have some other clues, though: A Miami Herald reporter who reviewed Zimmerman's history of neighborhood watch 911 calls said, "What you see there is a pattern where every time George Zimmerman sees an African American who he doesn't recognize, he calls the police." Racism has a funny way of exempting some from its fears – non-threatening women and clearly needy students, for example – while leaping to fight-or-flight mode in the presence of an unknown young black male in a hoodie. Racial prejudice is also an equal-opportunity illness: today's police and vigilante cultures have plenty of participants of color – blacks, Hispanics, Asians – who are ready and eager to profile by race. Ask me, or any of millions of other law-abiding black American males, about our experiences with police of all colors.
Whether or not George Zimmerman is a conscious racist in his heart means nothing. What matters is what he did. Which leads to the second issue in the Trayvon Martin case.
Florida's so-called "stand your ground" gun laws – recently-passed legislation that allows ordinary folks to carry concealed firearms and to use them, without retreating, whenever they feel threatened -– are what made it possible for Zimmerman to feel empowered as a civilian to kill the unarmed Martin with a semi-automatic handgun. The Sanford Police Department's explanation for its lack of action on the case, in fact, has been that without a witness they have no evidence to contradict Zimmerman's claim that his killing Martin complies with the stand your ground law. Without this law, a neighborhood volunteer of questionable judgment, like Zimmerman, would not be legally carrying a handgun with which to lethally judge when he felt "threatened." Without this law, the Martin case would have been, at worst, a fistfight culminating in a lawsuit -- instead of a killing.
Even proponents of Florida's stand your ground law, though, are distancing themselves from Zimmerman. That is because, against the instructions of a telephone dispatcher, Zimmerman reportedly got out of his car and pursued and confronted Martin. His breathless chase, in fact, can be heard on one of the 911 recordings. One of the stand your ground bill's co-sponsors told CNN after the Martin shooting, "Quite frankly, anyone who steps out in a pursuit in a confrontational mode with a firearm? That's not a self-protection act. You've initiated something."
But the law is what put the gun in the hands of an amateur like Zimmerman and made him feel free to use it. Such laws are among the latest symptoms of an American firearms fetish whereby panicked citizens can suckle at the nipple of a warm gun. The United States is becoming the laughingstock of the industrialized world for its reckless embrace of access to firearms. What, after all, is some heavy-breathing neighborhood watch schlump doing with a gun in his possession while he roams the streets? Like Alabama's recent draconian anti-illegal-immigrant law, which now has many of that state's businesses in open revolt as their crops rot in the fields and their Hispanic former employees go into hiding, Florida's wild-west gun law is revealing its consequences.
Trayvon Martin paid for this law, and for the public paranoia and police collusion it enables, with his life. Others have as well; the number of Florida homicides ruled "justifiable" has almost tripled since the law took effect. The bodies continue to stack up.
We'll see where this goes. One thing is clear: As has happened so often before in so many places, it will take a concerted and ferocious national shove for Florida lawmakers to awaken to reality.
as reflected, for instance, in an exchange of comments (including one by yours truly) in response to Steve Hynd's post at Agonist.org about the motivation underlying European treatment of North African boat people.
Many Europeans are showing their true colors about "those people" in a manner similar to that of the many white Americans for whom a Rick Santorum's hateful preachings offer self-destructive solace.
What goes unnoticed in both Europe and the United States – in addition to the sheer distractive value of demonizing poor brown people instead of CEOs and their hired political representatives – is the actual origin of the wave of northward immigration from Africa and Mexico: the dysfunction of neocolonial economies that starve their citizens for the benefit of European- and American-based commerce. Europe likes to forget that its colonial carving up of previously stable African nations and economies is the direct precursor to their current states of disaster. And the U.S. conveniently ignores the key role of dire Mexican poverty and political chaos in enabling American banks' benefits from the American-bound drug trade and American commerce's pleasing profits from Mexican maquiladoras and cheap illegal immigrant farm and service labor.
It's the same scheme on both sides of the Atlantic: diverting the anger of the working classes by encouraging them to kick the goose that lays the golden egg for the rich.
Here is the exchange from The Agonist, in which I have substituted the word "Person" for all names except my own:
Germany When I lived in Munich in the 60s and 70s the Germans were extremely xenophobic. Munich had about a 15% Turkish population. They did all the grunt jobs the Germans wouldn't do - sound familiar? The Germans/Bavarians hated the Turks. I'm sure they would have sent them all back except they didn't want to do the shit jobs they did. Of course they could never become citizens of Germany but then neither could Americans. –Person March 14, 2012 - 7:00pm
Probably still similar. I have a friend who recently moved to Germany. She is American, of German extraction, and speaks German. Blue eyes, blonde hair. She was still treated as an outsider at her first job in the countryside. She reports it's better in Munich. –Person March 14, 2012 - 7:05pm
OK I too have blond hair and blue eyes and spoke German. I was treated very well in Munich. Of course I worked with the Bavarian State Police and many of them were friends so that might have had something to do with it. It was strange but the Bavarians had a fascination with black GIs and frequently befriended them. –Person March 14, 2012 - 7:30pm
Anecdotally... To be African-American in Europe (France / Germany) is not the same as being African-American here. –Person March 14, 2012 - 7:35pm
Damn straight. Ask Jack Johnson, Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, the Tuskegee Airmen (of whom my Dad was one), the entire generation of post-bop black jazz musicians, or virtually any black American artist who has spent time there. In my travels as an African American in France, Germany, and Italy some years ago, I found some fascination with me (one night when I walked into an arty Berlin bar an entire line of young hipster women stood and invited me to light their cigarettes for them, and it wasn't because I'm some irresistible hunk). I also found, though, that my American-ness counted (often negatively) more than my skin color. And, most tellingly, I saw an entirely different set of wickedly racist rules applying to Turks and North Africans. In Germany Turks were the niggers of the culture -- persecuted, abused, and ridiculed (it's the first place where I ever heard "Turk jokes"), and in France North Africans were widely hated and sometimes even killed by mobs. This was years ago, mind you, but if anything it appears that Europe's post-colonial race hate is showing more than ever now that the recession is slamming The Motherland. –Bruce A Jacobs March 14, 2012 - 10:01pm