Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, January 16, 2004  

Politics: Bush booers tell the truth

Thursday, the current occupant of the White House got a less than stellar welcome while visiting the grave of a civil rights martyr to commemorate the nation's holiday in honor of the slain leader.

ATLANTA (AP) - Looking for election-year support from black voters in the South, President Bush was greeted at Martin Luther King, [Jr.]'s grave here Thursday by noisy demonstrators who chanted "Go home, Bush!" after receiving a warmer reception at a shabby church in New Orleans.

As Bush placed a wreath on King's crypt, a low chorus of boos could be heard from across the street where 700 protesters beat drums and waved signs bearing slogans such as "War is not the answer" and "It's not a photo-op, George."

Bush's four-stop swing through Georgia and Louisiana allowed him face time with two important constituencies - religious conservatives, who make up his base of support, and black voters, only 9 percent of whom supported him in 2000. Events in both states were paired with fund-raisers, which raised $2.3 million for his campaign account, already brimming with more than $130 million.

In this year's presidential race, Bush probably will garner only slighly more of the black vote, predicts David Bositis, a political analyst in Washington who focuses on black issues.

"Nine percent is the lowest for a Republican candidate since Barry Goldwater, he said. "When you get a zero on a test and you take it a second time, the odds are that you're going to do a little better."

Just hours before learning of this incident, I was in a discussion with a blogosphere Neandertal about African-American voters. Well, not exactly a discussion. He was haranguing me in a comments section at a popular blog. In all caps, without paragraphs, the man blasted forth claims that most black Americans aren't really opposed to Right Wing politicians. He said, in dazzlingly long sentences, that people of color are duped into acting as if they don't like the Right by liberal Democrats and what he considers shyster leaders, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Having heard it all before, and being in a laid back mood, I chose to ignore the fellow, except for some light-hearted teasing. Events such as Shrub's unpleasant reception in Atlanta make me wonder how people such as my heckler manage to deceive themselves about the relationship between the GOP and minority voters.

The president, standing silently, his head slightly bowed, appeared unfazed by the protesters at King's tomb, where he laid a wreath of red, white and blue flowers to mark what would have been the civil rights leader's 75th birthday.

King Center officials said they extended no formal invitation to Bush but accepted his offer to come.

The president's critics dismissed his visit to the grave as a symbolic gesture that only underscored shortcomings in the administration's relationship with blacks.

Back in Washington, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said not one policy decision made by the Bush administration - from the war in Iraq to the economy, from education to the environment - has mirrored King's dream. "The president needs to be more embracing of elected African American officials and the entire African American community every day of the year, not just on January 15th," he said.

Cummings' analysis seems accurate to me. The administration has a sorry record in regard to programs that benefit disfavored Americans, ranging from tax cuts, to opposition to affirmative action in education and employment to possible plans to abolish Head Start. The invasion of Iraq is disproportionately penalizing African-Americans, Hispanics and Indians, who make up a large share of persons in the armed forces.

Bush didn't speak publicly at the grave, but earlier at the black church in Louisiana, Bush said King understood that "faith is power greater than all others," and that it was important for America to "honor his life and what he stood for."

Bush was at Union Bethel A.M.E. Church, in a high-crime area of downtown New Orleans, to push his faith-based initiative. He typically uses black churches for faith-based events, but Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank in Washington, said Thursday's events were tailored to winning white voters too.

"They're aimed at white Christian conservative supporters," he said. "Appearing in black churches makes him look like he's doing all these things for black people. It makes him look less conservative, and that's a potential plus for white, suburban swing voters."

I find it telling that Bush made his remarks praising King to a predominantly black audience. Those aren't the people who need to hear it most. However, the message might not be as acceptable to the white conservatives he and the vice-president raised millions from this week. Nor do I believe the faith-based initiative will win the accolades from minority voters the GOP is hoping for. But for the administration's policies, there would be less need for additional funding for soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

I won't raise the topic of Bush's embarassing reception at the King memorial with the reactionary who tried to hound me or other people like him. I know I would be wasting my breath. They have managed to ignore the reality that minority Americans aren't on the Right Wing bandwagon because they have good reasons not to be for years, often decades. Nothing I say is going to make a dent in that degree of denial.

posted by J. | 2:20 PM

Thursday, January 15, 2004  

Law: Oregon inmate tests limits of speech

It can't be easy being on ice. Prisoners rarely, if ever, get to go anywhere. Dates? Forget it. An all-nighter watching trash TV? Only if you are in the honor block. Most prisons don't even allow inmates to smoke anymore. So, shouldn't a fellow, consigned to years of ennui, be allowed the reading material he chooses? That was the issue before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A convicted Oregon sex offender might be able to subscribe to the Green Lantern comic book, but he has no federal constitutional right to buy magazines containing sexually explicit materials and fantasy role-playing games, a federal appeals panel ruled Tuesday.

But the panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left unresolved the question of whether Afshin Bahrampour has a right to receive Muscle Elegance and White Dwarf magazines under the Oregon Constitution, which provides greater free-speech protections than its federal counterpart.

Bahrampour, 36, was convicted in 1998 of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in 1995 when he briefly worked as an assistant coach at a Beaverton gymnastics academy. He was sentenced to eight years and three months in prison.

While an inmate at Snake River Correctional Institution, Bahrampour subscribed to the Green Lantern comic books and purchased copies of White Dwarf and Muscle Elegance.

. . . Prison officials rejected issues of Muscle Elegance because of sexual content and White Dwarf because of role-playing.

Magazines with sexual conduct, according to a corrections expert, "may result in prohibited sexual activity or unwanted sexual behavior, including rape."

Role-playing games are prohibited, prison officials said, "to prevent inmates from placing themselves in fantasy roles that reduce accountability and substitute raw power for legitimate authority," according to the 9th Circuit ruling.

Under normal circumstances, the access to such content by the general public, it would be outrageous to claim people don't have a right to read any of these publications. After all, despite speculation, there is not sufficient research to firmly establish a relationship between violent and sexually explicit pictures or games and pathological behavior. However, Bahrampour's situation is not normal. The Court was not convinced a prisoner can decide for himself what to read.

"We are persuaded that White Dwarf magazine fits the definition of role-playing materials prohibited by (prison rules) because it simulates violent battles in an imaginary fantasy world in which the roll of dice determines which leaders have the power to crush their enemies," Judge Arthur Alarcon wrote for the panel.

After reviewing a copy of Muscle Elegance, the court said the magazine clearly had sexual content, including an advertisement for a video in which a bikini-clad woman applies "brutal scissors domination" to a man.

The court noted that prisoners do not lose all constitutional rights while incarcerated, but they must be balanced against legitimate prison management interests of corrections officials.

The ban on sexually explicit and role-playing materials, although restricting Bahrampour's First Amendment rights, was reasonable, the court ruled.

The plaintiff's status as an inmate with a history of sexual violence was perceived as reason enough to curtail his choice of periodicals. This type of issue more often arises in the context of public schools. There, the rights of students to freedom of expression can be restricted to prevent disruption and foster an environment of learning.

Oregon's constitution is thought to be the most liberal in regard to freedom of speech of all the states.' The right to observe sexually explicit conduct, such as nude dancing, is taken for granted here. However, will the Oregon Supreme Court extend liberal application of the principle to include people who have forfeited the rights of free men and women? Bahrampour's may be the test case that determines the outer limits of the right to read. But, for now, he doesn't have much to smile about.

posted by J. | 2:14 AM

Tuesday, January 13, 2004  

News and analysis: Sam Francis misses the point

Sam Francis holds an unusual distinction. He is the only person deemed racist enough to be fired from the Washington Times, a redoubt, along with its sister site, United Press International, for bigots, including neo-Confederate leader Robert Stacy McCain and Gene Expression, VDare and American Renaissance henchman Steve Sailer. He has a different perspective on the controversy in North Carolina about a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rocky Mount is a small city that is 55 percent white and 45 percent black, and for years the whites who have historically run the place have tried to show the blacks how progressive they are on racial issues. In 1997, the white-run city decided to build a public park that honored King, who actually invited himself to Rocky Mount back in 1962 and delivered his usual oration about having a dream, etc. To honor King even more, the city fathers commissioned a statue of him to adorn the park and inspire everybody.

They gave the contract to a sculptor in Chicago, and he built a model that was put on display in the City Hall and arts center and stood there for more than a year. A black-majority commission approved the design, and the statue was built and installed last summer. The blacks didn't like it.

. . .The sculptor is Eric Blome, who has made sculptures of such black icons as Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and King himself for various public memorials. There's a big trade in black statues these days, you see, what with all these white bigwigs promoting racial harmony all the time. But the problem is you can't have harmony when the sculptor's a white guy. "We need an artist who can relate," says a local black resident, who with others is demanding the city junk the statue and spring for a new one.

What Rocky Mount really needs is probably to forget the whole thing and name the park after Andy Griffiths (sic) or Jesse Helms or somebody who actually had something to do with the state. What the white guys who run the town accomplished with their phony little adventure in racial harmony was to plow the divisions deeper than ever. As the Times also notes:

. . .Last month, blacks took over a majority on the city council for the first time in the city's history, "marking," as the Times reports, "a shift of power that has worked its way through many Southern cities as white residents flock to the suburbs." Now we'll see whose statue the city puts up and who it looks like.

As for the sculptor, he has his own thoughts about the episode. "That's what's so frustrating about this whole thing. This is a statue of Martin Luther King. Wasn't King about transcending race?" Well, not really.

What King was about was the same thing the statue episode is about -- the awakening of one race and its gradual displacement of another. It just took a few years for that to become clear. For the sculptor and the white guys who hired him and a lot of other people, it still isn't.

Though reliably racist, this is the most reasonable reaction to African-Americans I have ever read by Francis. He did not even get around to demanding separate states or sterilization for a race he believes to be genetically inferior. His followers will be disappointed. I can't say much for the logic of his conclusion, though. Despite their squabbling, both whites and blacks in Rocky Mount agree there should be a statue of King.

posted by J. | 3:56 PM

Monday, January 12, 2004  

Analysis: Thai Muslims feel the heat

An entry describing raids on police stations in Thailand by Muslims there appeared today at Mac-a-ro-nies.

PATTANI, Thailand - Suspected Muslim rebels launched a grenade attack on a police station in southern Thailand on Wednesday, the latest in a series of raids since Sunday in which six police officers and soldiers have been killed.

There were no casualties in the latest attack, said police Maj. Thani Twibsi. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said three people suspected of involvement in the raid were arrested, but Defense Minister Thammarak Issarangkura na Ayudhaya later said they were only questioned.

The prime minister said insurgents with Thai-Malaysian citizenship were responsible for the attacks, in which 21 schools have been razed.

The reportage, from the Washington Post, is accurate. But, it is a risk to report, or blog, any news about Muslims these days. There is a chance such material will be used to further dehumanize Muslims because of the 'war on terrorism.'

This conflict is rooted in resentment of Thais, who are usually Budhists and the majority, by the Malaysian derived, and Muslim, ethnic minority. Muslim Population Worldwide, an Islamic news site, has reported on the controversy.

. . .the struggle continues for an obscure group of young Thai Muslims, angered by the 'colonialization' of the land of their ancestors by the Thais continues, a Thai businessman on a visit to Malaysia told IOL.

Since the disbanding of the Pattani United Liberation Front (PULO) and tight security in the southern provinces, Muslims in the region has attempted to revert to cooperation with the authorities in order to safeguard their culture and history.

"Yet some of us are not happy with the imposition of Thai culture and language and all the tight security around us, they react and they formed a group called the Mujahideen to show their anger," said the businessman, who wanted to remain incognito.

He added that the Mujahideen were young Muslim elements of 20 to 35 of age, ready to fight the authorities in armed resistance due to the level of crime committed by police and army officials against Muslims in the south.

. . .The Mujahideen are mostly engaged in low-level violence against the government, attacking soft targets and killing police and military officers and their agents as a means of retaliation.

They use automatic weapons in most cases and at times plants bomb devices at police stations or near police cars, a source in south Thailand told IOL.

"We Muslims can't condemn the Mujahideen altogether. In the south, the Thais (Buddhists in general) want to gradually impose their ways of living, allowing discos and other entertainment centers to be opened near to Muslim areas," he added.

The Southern region is now under martial law and resentment is mounting, Reuters reports.

PATTANI, Thailand, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Leaning over a metal desk in his busy shop, rice trader Waenahmad Wankecik summed up the feelings of many Muslims now living under martial law after a wave of violence in southern Thailand.

"We often become the scapegoats," Waenahmad, wearing a sarong and cap, told Reuters as customers picked up 50-kg bags of rice.

A week after a bloody raid on an army base and the torching of 21 state schools, officials say the imposition of martial law in three mainly-Muslim provinces near the Malaysian border has not been heavy handed.

Top security officials pin the attacks on Islamic separatists possibly connected to Jemaah Islamiah, the Southeast Asian network believed to be linked to al Qaeda and responsible for nightclub bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002.

Regional security analysts have played down such links, saying the violence is part of an insurgency that has simmered for decades.

The roadblocks, 24-hour army patrols and round up of some Islamic teachers has revived centuries-old feelings of alienation and religious discrimination in a region that has never fully integrated into the mainly-Buddhist country.

Muslim Thais make up about ten percent of the country's population - 6,000,000 in a nation of 60 million. Their resistance to a dominating majority with different traditions is reminiscent of the struggles of indigenous peoples throughout the world. However, in the present atmosphere, the insurgency risks being perceived as part of an international terrorist Muslim movement, whether it is or not. Muslim Thais may be targeted by the United States and its allies. We do live in interesting times.

posted by J. | 4:51 PM