Monday, April 03, 2006

Mexico, Immigration and Oil

I haven't posted in quite a while, having taken to trying to get what I consider important information out in the media via message boards, letters to the editors, that sort of thing. To no avail, unsurprisingly, so back to talking to myself in Upper Blogaria.

There's been an uproar over immigration, specifically illegal (a/k/a undocumented, guest workers, your pick). Now, there are thousands upon thousands of people from all over the world without papers, expired visas, working and living in the U.S. Eastern Europeans, Asians, Afrikaners, Africans--literally from virtually every country in the world. Yet the debate is focused on Mexicans, partly because Mexico is right next door. Yet, however difficult their journey here may be, it is no more difficult than a Haitian arriving on our shores in a raft, or Chinese packed into a container in a tanker--both of whom, by the way, the U.S. sends right back without hesitation, in spite of the fact that both could legitimately ask politcal asylum.

So, leaving aside proximity, I am suspicious of our government's motives, which have nothing to do with humanitarianism. If you want to understand U.S. policy, elucidate the motives, then follow the money. True or False?

Here we go:
When Clinton signed NAFTA into law, it was purportedly to help bring the Third World into the age of modernity through trade. In particular, Mexico. Yet in Mexico poor are poorer than ever. But Mexico's elite--that class that cavorts in the Yucatan during the season with the rest of the world--is richer than ever. In other words, there is no trickle down of money for poor Mexico, whose children pick through the smoking rags of the garbage heaps, unless they are fortunate enough to pick up work in the resorts.

In addition, there is the problem of internal racism in Mexico, despite the efforts of the Hispanic Immigration lobby to disguise this fact. It's not coincidental that her economic refugees who come to the U.S. for a better life are usually dark, usually of more Indian descent more than Spanish, those colonizers from whom the ahem, Brahmins of the Mexican elite descend. So the criticism leveled at the Mexican government is well placed, in spite of the rhetoric of the Hispanic lobby to the contrary in organizing the protests.

But even this is not really point. My point is U.S. motives, why the U.S. has been unable (unwilling) to take hold of this issue. And that motive is: Oil.


Did you know that the U.S. imports more oil from Mexico than from the Saudis? Than from the Iraqis? Than from Nigeria? Yet this point has been conspicuously absent from the media, both Left and Right, because they more concerned with stoking the emotionalism on all sides than with hard facts. Not to mention inflating their ratings.

We are in Iraq for oil, to stablise the supply. We have left the border open, and it will remain open, to protect our oil supply from Mexico. It's as simple as that. In fact, it would not surprise me to learn in coming years that was a deal between our two governments: You give us oil, and we'll turn a blind eye to the border.

Consider also that Venezuela, another importer to the U.S., has taken a communist turn and is even now nationalising their oil fields, either by buying back (Exxon) or throwing out (France and Italy, which just happened today).

Consider also that just as Chavez's anti-American rhetoric is heating up, Vladimir Putin has sidled up to him to whisper sweet nothings in his ear about establishing a Latin American bourse. Putin has kindly offered to help. Yes. I wonder how Chavez will convince the other Latin countries to join with him?

So there is a larger issue involved in the Mexican immigration/borders debate: 1. We rely on their oil and 2. Mexico may be needed as a bulwark between the U.S. and Venezuela, et al. should there be a re-emergence (as I believe there will be) of the Cold War.

By the way, the link is to the Department of Energy's 15 top importers to the U.S.:

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Confederacy of Chiselers

The Feds have decided not to grant funding for the rebuilding of New Orleans' Ninth Ward for residential use, citing the neighborhoods chronic vulnerability to hurricane and flooding destruction, a decision that at first glance makes sense. In a rational world people would not choose to live in areas that are unstable--floods, earth quakes, tornados, etc. But of course the Feds have also chosen to overlook their yearly bailing out of devastation-prone areas located across the flood plains, earth quake, mudslide, fire and tornado alleys across the nation. Consider, for example, the near continual rebuilding of the coasts of Florida and California. Also, it begs to be noted that until Hurricane Katrina the levees in New Orleans worked surprisingly well until the natural barrier that helped slow previous hurricanes diminished to the point that by the time Katrina hit in 2005 there wasn't much swamp and forestation to cushion it's impact. They could both strengthen that barrier and rebuild the levees to new, better levels of protectiveness, so why not allow the residents to move back, hmmmm? Is it rude of me to observe that the miraculous removal of nearly all of a poor and crime-prone class of people is a poor city's chamber of commerce bonanza? Let the land grab begin! So when sentimental readers of John Kennedy Toole make a pilgrimage to New Orleans to sample the locales and colorful characters he wrote about so engagingly they will discover instead a near life-like simulation created by some Disney-esque corporate giant.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Genetics II

Great article by Eric Cohen in The New Atlantis that not only lays out the issues of a highly charged subject but also explains the current state of the science, i.e., don't expect -- or fear -- a live reenactment of The Island any time soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Death Penalty, II

There's an essay regarding the death penalty on a buddhist website called Fraught With Peril. Written by Rev. Ryuei, a Nichiren buddhist, the essay expresses more eloquently than I can a buddhist perspective on the death penalty. By the way, not all buddhists agree about the merits of the state-sponsored executions, but since I agree with Ryuei's viewpoint, I offer some selective, if rather lengthy, quotes:

From the Buddhist point of view all of us have the seeds of hell within us, and but for the grace of causes and conditions those seeds may come into fruition in our own actions and our own comeuppance in the course of innumerable eons of rebirth. From the traditional Buddhist point of view we have all been hell-dwellers and barring our liberation we will again become hell-dwellers. As Christians say, "there are none who are without sin" and "their hearts have been evil from the very beginning." The Buddhist teaching of the three poisons and the mutual possession of the ten worlds (whereby even those in the human realm have a bit of hell within them - but also heaven and buddhahood) is making the same point as the Christian doctrine of "original sin" - that all of us from the unfathomable beginning have been enmeshed in unwholesome attitudes, conduct, and the suffering that entails. It does not even matter if there are literal hells to fall into, or heavens to fall away from. It is an existential truth that if we are honest we feel within the depths of our lives.

The Buddha did not believe that people were intrinsically good or intrinsically evil. In fact he did not talk in terms of good and evil so much as in terms of wholesome and unwholesome causes and conditions. Causes and conditions encompass all things, but in terms of our human lives we are able to awaken to and take responsibility for the wholesomeness or lack thereof of the causes set in motion by our intention, speech, and actions. Sometimes we will water and cultivate hellish seeds, sometimes hungry ghost seeds, sometimes the seeds of humane consideration and rationality, sometimes seeds of compassion or even perfect and complete awakening. But no one is intrinsically good or evil, but all are able to change the complex of causes and conditions that compose our lives.

The Buddha believed that this human life was the most precious state of all - because it was as a human being that one was not overwhelmed by the suffering we have undergone in the hells and other realms, nor are we lulled by the false security we have undergone in the heavenly realms. So it is here and now as rational, self-reflective human beings that we can acknowledge, account for, take responsibility for, and change the complex of our causes and conditions. We do not have the right to take this precious opportunity away from anyone, nor do we even have the right to take it away from those who take it away from others.

…Piling unwholesomeness atop unwholesomeness does not create a wholesome situation. Rather the seeds of vengeance, bitterness, hatred, and anguish are simply cultivated all the more by unnecessarily killing those who kill. Furthermore, from the point of view of Buddhism we are not dispatching people to a final just judgement because in Buddhism the judgement happens in each moment of karmic unfolding - that means right here and now. So killing a murderer is in a sense the just fruition of their karma, but they simply go on to another life where they simply continue their ignorant, selfish, and destructive patterns; whereas we have now watered our own hellish seeds in order to strike back at them. So they go on as they were and we become worse.

…The Buddha did teach that we could go mad trying to guess another person's karma, in other words what they do or do not deserve, but that it is always in accord to pay respects to the Buddha-nature of all beings. In the case of dangerous criminals (and dictators) they do need to be incarcerated and prevented from doing any harm, but once rendered harmless if we are not to sink to their level we should not be seeking vengeance nor should we seek to torment or harm them but rather to find a way to awaken their humanity if not a more complete awakening. In fact, to harm, torment, or kill just confirms them in their own brutal way of relating to the world …

In the life of Shakyamuni Buddha it is said that he encountered a serial killer named Angulimala. In fact, Angulimala had killed 999 people in order to present a gift of a 1,000 finger-bone necklace to an evil guru. So Angulimala was actually a religious terrorist and no mere gangster or thug. He was even going to kill his own mother because he could not find the 1,000th victim. But then the Buddha came along and Angulimala tried to catch him. But Angulimala could not reach the Buddha no matter how fast he ran, and regardless of the Buddha's dignified steady pace. Finally Angulimala yelled "Stop! Stop!" The Buddha turned to face the killer and said, "I stopped long ago. When will you stop?" Faced by the fearless dignity and composure of the Buddha, Angulimala stopped stunned. Realizing the Buddha was a spiritual teacher he then realized that "stopping" the Buddha referred to was the cycle of unwholesome deeds, suffering, and anguish leading to more unwholesome deeds. Right then, it is said, Angulimala realized that he had found a true friend and a true teacher. He renounced himself and not just his murderous deeds and ideology. He became a monk, and on the Buddha's testimony was given a reprieve from King Bimbisara. The people, however, lynched him all the same, but he died realizing that he had transformed the seeds of hell inside himself and that being lynched was actually getting off easy compared to his misdeeds. He died a liberated man, but those who committed the lynching had unknowingly killed an arhat (an awakened saint) - one of the five heinous deeds which leads directly to the Avichi (Uninterrupted) Hell in the next life, whereas if they had let go of their bitterness and vengefulness and aroused patience and compassion instead they would have entered the path of bodhisattvas and attained the Pure Land in their hearts right there and then.

To read the entire essay, go to Rev. Ryuei's section of the website (note to self: must figure out how to link!)

Death Penalty, I

Years ago, my stepfather was murdered. Words are inadequate to describe what that period of our lives was like, so I won't try. I mention it as a preface to what follows because I understand what it is like to lose someone violently, senselessly, inexplicably. And, obviously, losing a child or spouse is that much worse.

So, I’ve gone back and forth over years about the merits of the death penalty, but ultimately came to realize that abuser and abused tend to inhabit the same world, i.e., animality, the law of the jungle, kill or be killed, etc. When the state uses its power to execute, aren't we as a society simply expressing the mutual belief held both by "us" and killers that violence – and, insidiously, the righteousness of violence--is the way to solve your problems, as well as a facile disregard for value of life in general? From this buddhist’s perspective, this situation reflects the mutual karmic relationship between predator and prey. It is a state of life and a worldview that saturates our culture as thoroughly as a leaky pen can color everything in a washing machine. How many times do we hear about the death toll of some war or disaster and not really think too much of it, or chalk it up to an acceptable level of violence to achieve some end or other? 2,000 soldiers here, 30,000 Iraqis there. We shrug and say War is hell. The reason I mention this aspect is that there is a through-line, in my opinion, of attitude toward life/death. I think that if our goal is to achieve a peaceful existence, it is of the utmost importance that the state demonstrate mercy. To me, society is like a family, with the state in the role of head of household, right? If that parent says, killing is wrong--except when I say it's right, is it really surprising if the kids also think that way?

By the way, for all the many executions carried about during my lifetime, I've never yet heard of any U.S. state granting clemency. Have you?

Morning coffee

Like many people, I started this blog as a way to vent. Maybe it's the season, but I want to focus more on the dynamic relationship between my practice of buddhism and "the world" since in truth they are one and the same.

I have no doubts about the ability of buddhism to emancipate the mind. Yet when I'm in a "newsy" phase, I can lose all objectivity, get swayed by the environment and, well, it's all down hill from there until my perspective broadens again. One misconception about buddhist practice is that you'll go to a happy place, which people assume means you'll never have "bad" feelings, which of course is not the case. Things change, feelings change, life is change. Sometimes you're happy, sometimes not. Sometimes things go well, then things don't. The practice of buddhism enables me (usually but not always) to roll with it all cheerfully. Practice is just that: practice, not a static, deadened life state.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sleeping with the Enemy?

Anything--anything--that just might possibly shake the 4th estate out of its decades long torpor is okay by me. Hell, I'm happy just to stick it to them a little.

The media are fat and lazy. And rich. I disagree with NYRB, though, that journalists would cover news fearlessly if they weren't under the bootheel of their nasty corporate overlords. The plain fact is journalists are drawn from the same social pool as their corporate media employers, not to mention politicians, etc. Like their politician counterparts, contemporary journalists are simply too insulated by class and income to relate to the concerns of Americans who scuffle from paycheck to paycheck. Or lose everything they have because of a hurricane. If anything, they view the trials and tribulations of working people with palpable condescension. So the notion of the plucky independent reporter breaking a big story against the will of villainous oligarchs is a romantic and self-serving fiction because in fact they are the same class. What's also changed is how thoroughly marginalized the voice of "the little guy" has become-- you know, the real little guy, the ones who fought for unions, for minimum wage, the used-to-be-Democrats. The ones the Democrats lost through hubris and the rad right bamboozled into thinking they give a crap about.

But I digress. Link here:

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Whither Katrina

Sadly, and predictably, Katrina-related coverage has largely been cycled out of the media. It's not sexy anymore. Not hott. Sure, our cultural addiction to emotionalism over discourse may lead to human interest stories about Katrina's victims during the holiday season, but serious discussion is SO OVAH. Especially discussion concerning some ugly realities about our society--the unlikelihood of effective state or federal protection of U.S. citizens in the wake of large scale disasters--of either natural or human agency. Already the limits of relying on individual charitable donations over federal aid is blazingly apparent a mere 3 months later, despite the sincere and generous efforts of citizens country-wide. This largest of natural disasters in living memory is the first major reality test, to my recollection, of the theory that private citizens can shoulder the financial burden on a large scale of "taking care of each other," rather than relying on federal aid. One thing that is happening is that donations to other charitable causes have dropped precipitously. More ominous is that the media turned, briefly, to a dissection of its coverage and biases, which while interesting also seems to have had a chilling effect on examining the event itself. While the media engaged in a bit of navel gazing, a crucial opportunity for the U.S. to take a serious look at domestic emergency procedures and what could be improved (ahem) has also been massaged out of the news cycle. Back to Paris!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Genetic Find Stirs Debate on Race-Based Medicine

From this morning's NY Times. Am I crazy, or are the simmering arguments regarding genetics and race weirdly out of touch with the fact of America's mixed racial heritages?

For one thing, those commenting on this issue are collapsing the distinction between the science of genetics with skin color, always a favored tactic among U.S. bigots. Although it is obvious that genetics influence appearance, it is equally the case that skin color is the least stable racial characteristic, so basing any medical approach merely on the color of a patient's (or range of patients) skin color is not particularly revealing. This is particularly true in America, where the melding of races has been occuring for quite a long time--I remember one statistic years ago that both black and white Americans who'd been in the southern US since the 19th Century shared 10% of each other's "race." (This was part of a piece on 60 Minutes about a white woman in Louisiana whose racial designation on her official papers the State changed from "white" to "black" when it was revealed she had a black ancester. Yes, the old "one drop" rule--and this was only in the last 25 or so years!) The preliminary findings of the Genographic Project are also revealing common genetic traits underlying disparate appearances. Yet the fetishization of appearance persists.

I digress.

Social anxiety about the reappearance of eugenics is a valid concern. On the other hand, the potential of genetics-based medicine to save lives should not be suppressed. The rational approach, I think, is running a standardized genetic test as a regular part of taking a patient's medical history would be more helpful. In other words, rely on the test to reveal a patient's genetic makeup, rather than possibly biased visual observations.