American Taliban 1, USA 0

Having dark skin makes one a Muslim in tea-bagger land.

A new poll shows that 1 in 5 Americans think that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. A Puerto Rican man cannot walk through a crowd of anti-mosque protesters without people questioning his religion and place in society. Much like the President of the United States, he is also automatically castigated as a foreigner due to the color of his skin.

The “mosque” on “Ground Zero” controversy is another round of theatrics from the tea-baggers, and like all their theatrics, this one is also full of exaggerations. Simply put, they are protesting a proposal that aims to build a cultural center designed to promote interfaith relations a few minutes away from the site of the 9-11 tragedy. But from the loud bellowing of protesters, one would think that a gigantic mosque the size of the Empire State building is being built on the graves of 9-11 victims from taxpayer money. No, the issue is rather dull and blown out of proportion.

Critics say that the debate over the building of a mosque is a distraction from the more important 9-11 First Responders health care bill that was killed by the GOP. But the issue is not a distraction. The hatred displayed by the anti-Muslim protesters stems from the same conditions that allow a majority of Americans to support racial profiling in Arizona and compels the GOP to use the issue of birthright citizenship as an electoral device: a fear of the Other.

America is undergoing a period of great recession and present unstable conditions allow demagogues to exploit socially divisive issues for political means. African-Americans, Latinos and Muslims are some of the chosen bogeymen “Others” during this era of hate. In the “Ground Zero mosque” narrative, the mosque represents a provocation much like the hijab: it stands for “global Islamic terrorism” and it need not make any sense. On one hand, bigotry on full display in broad daylight is both painful and scary for many people. On the other hand, it tells us that a post-racial America is a fictional entity and we have a long way to go when it comes to matters of race.

For the sake of argument, if the perpetrators of 9-11 did indeed hate us for our freedoms as has been purported time and again, then we are losing a war supposedly waged to preserve those very freedoms? We are losing the freedoms enshrined in the United States constitution and the winner is not a foreign enemy combatant. The winner is the American Taliban.

New Crack-Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Slightly Less Racist Than Before

Between hullabaloo over attempts to repeal birthright citizenship and the latest marriage equality victory over Proposition 8, one important story got left out of the news this week. Obama signed a law enacting the most significant criminal justice reform he’s enacted while in office.

By putting his signature on S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act, Obama addressed one of the biggest racial injustices of America’s drug war. The bill dramatically reduces the disparity in sentences for drug possession of powder and crack cocaine and repeals mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession of crack.

For almost three decades, those arrested for crack cocaine offenses — mostly young, African-American men — have faced far harsher penalties than the white and Hispanic users of powder cocaine, despite the fact that the two drugs are essentially the same. Crack offenders faced a 10-year mandatory minimum for carrying only 10 grams of the drug, while a power-cocaine user would have to be caught with 1,000 grams to trigger the same penalty.

What created this disparity? In the 1980s, when the crack epidemic swept through inner-city communities, white voters panicked. As a result, thousands of low-level crack dealers and users — mostly African Americans — were suddenly targeted in a wave of harsh new sentencing laws. Not surprisingly, today, over 80% of those serving time for a crack cocaine offense are African-American, despite the fact that two-thirds of users are white or Hispanic. The crackdown and subsequent incarcerations of thousands of young African-American men has devastated the community in unimaginable ways.

The legislation signed by President Obama reduces the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity to a fairer 18-1, meaning a crack cocaine offender would need to carry 28 grams to trigger a five-year conviction. The remaining disparity is due to the fact that crack cocaine is associated with more violent crimes and allegedly has a higher addictive effect than power cocaine.

While Congress should have gotten rid of the disparity altogether, the new sentencing law is still a step away from the tough-on-crime mentality that has paralyzed this country for decades.

Meanwhile, the fight for fair sentencing is only half-won. President Obama must commute existing unfair sentences, while Congress needs to decide whether the new law’s provisions are applicable retroactively. If so, up to 20,000 people serving unjust crack sentences in prison could get released, pending judicial review of their cases.

One small step for Congress, one giant leap for criminal justice and racial equality in this country.

House Passes BailOut of Insurance Companies Bill

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 3962 (Affordable Health Care for America Act) known here as a bailout for private insurance companies, in what is lauded as a victory for Obama and health care in America.

I’ll be damned. The only worthwhile compromise is that the bill requires insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and does not include a 5-year bar for legal immigrants.

Here’s my problem with the bill:

  • Mandates that all Americans, including undocumented immigrants, buy health insurance from predatory for-profit insurance companies, given them an additional $70 billion in new annual revenue.
  • Starting 2013, penalizes us if we don’t want to give money to health insurance companies or obtain health care under a public option that might have higher premium rates since it might draw less healthier patients, depending on how strongly the government can battle with private insurers on reimbursement rates.
  • A watered-down public option plan after the loss of a ‘robust public option’ tied to Medicare rates.
  • Provides no coverage for transgender health care
  • Final bill stripped an amendment, according to One Sure Insurance, that would have allowed states to have their own single payer health care (and quite possibly killed private health insurance companies)
  • Prohibits federal funding for women’s reproductive health except in dire circumstances and blocks insurance companies from providing any abortion coverage.

Congratulations, America, the wingnuts would like you to believe that you are ‘socializing medicine’ when you are actually doing ‘defensive healthcare’ and stepping towards more privatized health care on the backs of taxpayers. With a weak public option plan, we will be back here within a decade to argue why the United States needs to catch up with the rest of the industrialised world in providing single payer health care, medicare for all.

Next up is the Senate and then a tough Conference convening to hammer out a compromise that will further weaken the bill.

Identifying MacroStructual Trends in Asian Economies

This post recognizes the error in assuming that all Asian countries are undergoing similar socio-cultural-economic processes and placing diverse Asian countries on the same trajectory of development.

That said, when identifying and ranking important macro-structural trends in Asia, one must keep in mind the larger context of modernity within which these trends exist. The Asian nation-states are facing the structural, economic and socio-cultural trends so particular to modernity, namely globalization, contradictions of nationalism, and security problems that originate from the wrestling with conceptions of identity.

Asian nation-states are wrestling with neo-liberal globalization in this era of deterritorialized production and virtual capital, and trying to gain more economic security through inter-economic cooperation and alliances such as ASEAN and APEC. One example of inter-economic cooperation is the call for a Euro-style common currency. Yet, a trend particular to capitalist modernity is the creation of hierarchies of race, class and gender, and uneven development that tends to alienate and marginalize internal populations. Coupled with this is the fact that the core powers of the U.S., Western Europe and Russia have a vested interest in keeping Asia as semi-peripheral and prevent it from initiating a common currency, which would pose a definite threat to the current economic order of things. Therefore, they encourage foreign direct investment and neo-liberal development, and the U.S. specifically depends on China and Japan to finance its trade deficit. However, with Asian states slowly coming out of their financial crisis and looking for security in this era of increasing globalization, the trend is definitely towards more economic cooperation and integration.

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