Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reflections on MLK day and the Inauguration

It seems that many people have focused on the historic nature of the next 2 days. I appreciate the importance of this, but think fatherhood has made it much easier for me to understand. I was not alive during the 1960s, but growing up in New Orleans in the 1970s and 80s gave me a good understanding of racism from the perspective of a young white boy/man.
I got a sense of the inequality that ran through the South due to my upbringing even if the force of it was not clearly aimed at me. I came to understand that certain people were denied equality at least in a subtle way based on their ethnicity. Has that changed much in 40 years? Is there still a problem with racism in our society?
I can very assuredly say that the generation I am part of still feels racism. I'm also of the belief that racism for people my age is not nearly as obvious or state sponsored as it was for my parents generation. I grew up as a teenager, when David Duke was at the height of his power. While I was growing up, there was still a significant social stigma to inter-racial friendships, not to mention dating. There was still at least a small color barrier to be overcome.
This however, was an improvement over my parents' generation. During their youth, segregation was the law of the land, and blacks had very few practical rights. Remember that as recently as 40 years ago there were still lynchings in the South, and White sympathizers got beaten or killed if they fought for Civil Rights.
And I would say that my daughter, Cassie's, generation is even more tolerant. I do not know when society imprints intolerance on children, but her best friend at school is African-American, and that seems not to be a problem for anyone, or even an anomaly. I hope that this ignorance of color remains the norm for her generation.
For a bit of historic context, in the early days of colonial America, the wealthy elite was having trouble controlling the poor white farmers. These farmers were agitating for more rights and privileges. Very often they would join forces with runaway black slaves and revolt against the colonial government. In an attempt to keep these rebellions from spreading, the colonial government gave the poor whites a few privileges based on their color that, blacks freedmen or otherwise did not have. In this way, racism was created as a governing control in the early days of British colonial America.
While there is still racism in this country, most of the inequities in America appear to be reverting to those of the early 1600's based more on class than race. I think discrimination is a terrible thing, but it appears this country is making some progress. I've got hope that we can continue in the right direction.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Would You Open Your Door If People Were Shooting at Your House?

4 January 2009

Happy New Year, I was going to write a piece about resolutions and the future. Most readers know this as the typical end of the year puff piece. Then reality set in. Here I am just back from Metairie and getting ready to put on the optimistic colored spectacles, the Middle East reared its ugly head. Before I start the blog, I want to wish everyone safety, health, happiness and more than likely a better 2009.
A friend of mine called me last week and asked me what caused the latest flare up between the Israelis and the Palestinians (in Gaza). I thought for a moment because I didn’t know where to start. I wondered how far back to go.
Should I mention the relationship between the Palestinians and a possible connection with the Phoenicians of ancient history books? Should I mention the connection between the Torah and the real estate in question? Rather than get into a long drawn out history discussion, I decided to go back about a month or so.
Roughly thirty days ago, the truce between the group Hamas, and the government of Israel expired. The country of Egypt had brokered this truce. The group Hamas currently rules the Gaza Strip. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. They therefore feel justified in starting rocket attacks on Israeli cities. These rocket attacks were heaviest in and around Christmas Day. A day or two later, Israel started the bombardment that led to this current ground offensive. These are the basics, but why is all of this not solved already. As everyone knows there have been innumerable efforts at diplomacy in the last 60 years, so why has there not been a “bargain”.
Most important the concept in America that all Arabs have similar interests is about as accurate as saying all Europeans have similar interests. Thankfully, this belief is beginning to disappear. Not only are there significantly different views based on the religion of Islam (Shia v. Sunni), there also nation-state goals that give different groups individuals goals. In this way Palestinians are not necessarily representative of all Arabs in the region. The Palestinians are struggling against not only the Israelis, but also the other Arabs and even themselves to gain political autonomy.
No matter how elementary it sounds it is necessary to understand the individuality of the various Arabic groups. If the Arabic peoples are viewed in a monolithic way then properly relating to them will be almost impossible. Do not expect that the goals and aims of the Kingdom of Jordan to be the same as the goals and aims of the country of Egypt, anymore than you expect Honduras and Mexico to have the same policies. For many years the American press seems to have supported this myth. The goals of the Palestinian population are separate and unique from the other groups in this way. Don’t misunderstand me. The Egyptians, for example, have an interest in the cause and plight of the Palestinians. The same can be said of most of the Arab countries in the region. But their desired resolution is very likely not synonymous with the desired goals of the Palestinians.
The moderate Arab states want to keep the Palestinian problem going. Hey wait that doesn’t make sense. They always talk about how they want a resolution for the Palestinians that helps their Arabic brethren. This issue is much more useful for them, than any positive resolution would be. To the moderate (minority) governments in places like Egypt and Jordan, it is just another political talking point, oh dear those horrible Israelis, oppressing another group of Arabs. These are just propaganda items to express to the West. For proof I look at the assassination of Anwar Sadat in Egypt.
Muhammed Anwar Al Sadat was President of Egypt from 1970-1981. Egypt was the most powerful military force in the Arab world during this time. President Sadat came to the conclusion that it was in the best interests of his country to make peace with Israel. He achieved this goal in the late 1970s, and many people think this was one of the reasons he was assassinated in 1981. (For the wikipedia article click here)
This was an example of the national leadership going against popular national opinion. Within the referenced article there are other reasons, including economic policy changes, but it is generally accepted that signing the peace treaty with Israel was a significant cause that energized some of the assassins. By the way, Omar Abdel-Rahman and Ayman al Zawhari were both implicated in the assassination plot. Both of these men have acted as agents of terror toward the United States recently.
The governments of many these countries learned lessons from the assassination of Sadat. Allow the general population to vent its anger toward Israel or the West, and that same anger is less likely to come back on the national government. Many school children have textbooks and teachers that vilify Israel, so the general public support of the rocket attacks is easy to understand. Current Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak came to power shortly after Sadat’s murder and is not a friend of the Palestinian cause. The same elements supporting the Palestinian cause within Egypt are not supportive of their own government.
The people of Gaza are stuck between Israel (to the north and east) a country that they are not willing to recognize, and Egypt (to the south), a country their sympathizers have tried to destabilize. This is not exactly the model for winning friends in world diplomacy. The Gazans keep talking about how they want a truce and yet, to this day, they’ve not agreed to dismantle the rocket launchers targeting southern Israel. Nor have they agreed that Israel has the right to exist. Why should Israel agree to leave Gaza if those conditions don’t change?
The main complaint of the Gazans, apart from the obvious, appears to be that Israel won’t open its borders for the purposes of trade, and work. If someone were shooting at you would you open the door to your house?

. For those interested in technicalities, Egypt is still the national government responsible for the Gaza based on U.N. documentation; I wonder why they aren’t eager to take the area back. I appreciate the humanitarian concerns for the people of Gaza. It is remarkably unfortunate what is going on, but rather than blame everyone else the people of Gaza should start taking the Hamas leadership to task for what is happening.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Louisiana Recovery Authority Press Release


January 6, 2008


Christina Stephens
Louisiana Recovery Authority

WEDNESDAY: Rita Task Force to Meet in Lake Charles

BATON ROUGE - The Rita Task Force of the Louisiana Recovery Authority will meet Wednesday in Lake Charles to discuss recovery from Hurricane Rita in Southwest Louisiana and challenges resulting from the 2008 hurricanes.

Task Force Chairman Randy Roach, the mayor of Lake Charles, and LRA Executive Director Paul Rainwater will provide updates on recovery efforts. Also, representatives from Cameron Parish and the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities will discuss the Digital Flood Insurance Rating Maps (DFIRMS) issued by FEMA and their effects on rebuilding in coastal communities.
Click here for a copy of the agenda.
WHAT: Rita Task Force Meeting

WHEN: Wednesday January 7, 2009 at 1:00 p.m.

WHERE: Buccaneer Room (third floor) of the Lake Charles Civic Center, 900 Lake Shore Drive in Lake Charles, La.

Meeting agendas are posted on the LRA Web site as soon as they are available. All meetings are open to the public.