Last night I finally got to see the Academy Award winning film, Tsotsi. Don’t worry. I won’t be turning my blog site into a movie review site. That said, I was absolutely amazed by the film and felt compelled to write about it. The acting, writing, and gritty visuals it provided was extraordinary and hard to watch at times. But the overarching theme of a personal journey into humanity balances it’s harshness.
Tsotsi is a political film in the sense that it takes place in the slums of Johannesburg and shows the horrific legacy of apartheid. The conditions that Black South Africans continue to live in today are deplorable: lack of healthcare, education, nutrition, and clean water, the blight of HIV/AIDS, poverty, and violence in the townships. Tsotsi, the main character, is a thug trying to get by and deeply haunted by his upbringing, which was violent, poverty-stricken, and compounded by the loss of his mother. More importantly, Tsotsi is an intimate portrayal of loss, redemption and the end of violence. It proffers many questions: When do we end the violence? When do we make a personal choice to not respond violently? How do we reconcile anger and open up to compassion? When do we feel accountable to our own behavior and responsible to each other?
As we look around us and see all of the suffering, it’s hard not to ask, when do we end the violence? Did getting Saddam Hussein and killing thousands of innocent Iraqi’s and soldiers end the violence of the Taliban? Will invading Iran and killing more people really end oppression in that country and stabilize the region? It seems impossible to not answer violence with violence. Yet, Tsotsi shows that it is possible. Many activists show this is possible.
Well, this has been a rather contemplative posting. I’ll end it with a poem by Zen Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. And remember to please enjoy this beautiful day.
Please Call Me By My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Don't say that I will depart tomorrow-
even today I am still arriving.Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.I am a mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin a bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk in the Zen tradition, who worked tirelessly for peace during the Vietnam War, rebuilding villages destroyed by the hostilities. Following an anti-war lecture tour in the United States, he was not allowed back in his country and settled in France. In 1967, he was nominated by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is now internationally known for his teaching and writing on mindfulness, and for his work related to "socially engaged Buddhism," a call to social action based on Buddhist principles.
After seven months of inquiry and testimony (on our watch and dime), the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs recommend that FEMA be dissolved. This seems even too ridiculous to respond to. Have they all gone off the deep end? Seven months to decide that an agency that has been around since the 1970s (that had a pretty good track record until recent years under this administration) should simply be demolished and replaced by a new one is insane. According to the recommendation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would become the National Preparedness and Response Authority. Huh?
I have spent many years in emergency management and have colleagues who have spent many more in the industry. We are all standing around scratching our heads on this one.
I hate to get too academic, but I’d like to share a few thoughts and some background.
Prior to FEMA, Civil Defense had the responsibility of coordinating disasters, but disaster recovery and emergency management was still fragmented. FEMA was formed under President Jimmy Carter in 1979 with the purpose of better coordinating disaster response and planning. In 1993, President Clinton appointed James Lee Witt as Director of FEMA. Witt was the first director to have experience in emergency management; he served as the head of the Arkansas state emergency management office. Witt was known as an innovative leader and essentially transformed FEMA and emergency management during his nearly eight year tenure successfully shifting a cold war civil defense mentality to disaster planning, response and recovery.
In 2002, under the Bush administration, Joe Allbaugh was appointed director of FEMA. Allbaugh was not regarded highly within the emergency management field primarily because he had no prior background in emergency management. The next phase of change within FEMA and emergency management in general occurred as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Michael Brown then succeeded Allbaugh.
One of the most significant changes that occurred after 9/11 was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (FEMA), which has 22 federal agencies under it including FEMA. Focus from natural and technological disasters shifted to terrorism. So far, FEMA has not fared well under the new DHS structure, as it is now a part of one of the largest bureaucratic systems in government. This has made it less efficient and FEMA higher-ups have had significantly less access to the President. These grave changes were laid bare in last year’s Gulf region disaster.
Changes that occur on the federal level often effect local emergency management as well. Although billions of dollars have been spent on DHS, most of the money has gone towards security, and it is unclear how well the money is being spent. With all US states having state emergency management offices and a majority of cities, counties and municipalities having local emergency management offices in place, dissolving FEMA means dissolving emergency management down the line.
Most certainly, changes must be made to FEMA in light of what happened. But, as Rep. Nancy Pelosi stated, we are one month away from hurricane season. Is this the best time for the dissolution of FEMA?
To quote DHS Press Secretary, Russ Knocke, “It is time to stop rearranging organization charts and start focusing on how governments at all levels are preparing for the fast-approaching storm season.”
Senator Joe Lieberman, who is a member on the Senate Committee for Homeland Security, felt that some changes should be made, but it falls on the administration. Lieberman stated, “In national catastrophes, the nation looks to the president. … In Katrina, he failed," So then why did he go along with this absurd recommendation instead of holding the administration accountable?
I have no other analysis than to say this is simply absurd.
What really needs to be dismantled are Congress, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, and the Administration. Yes, the midterm elections are around the corner. Let’s hope the public chooses wisely.
If this is where my tax dollars went, I want my money back. This is the epitome of poor, poor government.
Chocolate is a great energy source and can lift your spirits much in the same way love can (but perhaps without all the heartache?). And, 10% of the USDA recommended daily allowance of iron is found in one ounce of chocolate. So if the news is depressing you and you need some additional nutrients, eat some chocolate.
- Americans are angry with Congress
- Belief that the current Congress has accomplished less than its predecessors
- Republicans are seen as being at fault for the lack of accomplishment
- Voters are more likely to vote for Democrats (51%) than Republicans (41%)
- A majority of voters would like to see their incumbent unseated (53%) and nearly half of independent voters favor Democrats for the midterm election
- Twice as many voters view their midterm vote as a vote against Bush
- Democrats are seen as better able to handle the immigration issue
- A majority of respondents (53%) believe there should be a third party
What I want to know is if the public is disillusioned, the president’s ratings at an all time low (32%), and the fact that Bush admitted to breaking the law (NSA scandal), how is it that we can’t muster the energy and know-how to impeach him? Let’s see what happens in November.
I’ve been reading too many blogs and online publications this evening. Here are some interesting pieces on some hot topics I found.
The Christian Science Monitor reported on a survey conducted by Purdue University regarding attitudes towards illegal immigration. Some findings includes a higher acceptance of multiculturalism and a sense that behavior is a more important characteristic than background in “defining who is an American.” The survey seems to point to the idea that Americans may not necessarily be as divided on this issue as is purported in the media or among politicians.
Steve Clemons’ The Washington Note quoted an excerpt from a series of articles by Lawrence Wilkerson published in the Baltimore Sun. Very powerful stuff regarding the state of our nation and most definitely worth reading.
PBS’s Religion & Ethics News Program has a feature story on the blight and persecution on the Burmese (Myanmar) people – a story often neglected admits the headlines. Rape, religious persecution, a brutal dictatorship, poverty, and isolation are what the people of Myanmar face. Check out Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Boarders and International Red Cross to learn about humanitarian and emergency work for the people of Myanmar.
And, Kenneth Lay is doing what corrupt CEO’s do best, blame the chief financial officer.
Just some news items I’ve been mulling over. I thought I should end this highlights section on a happier note. In order to do that, I consulted the online happy news portal, HappyNews.com. HappyNews reported today that Iran has decided to let women attend soccer games. Woo Hoo!
My fellow classmate, Harlan, has also picked up on the Casey situation (see yesterday’s post below). Harlan asks, “Why does abortion have to be a primary issue in every election?” I agree Harlan, why? It’s ridiculous. Unfortunately, because the conservative forces continue to chip away at our rights, it is an issue. And as long as conservatives continue to set the political agenda, it will continue to be an issue.
Harlan correctly points out that the Republicans have a “dismal” track record on issues of poverty, healthcare, and employment – he forgot to mention the mess in the Middle East, the NSA scandal, and the billions of dollars of debt the country is in and oh so much more.
The idea of regulating social behavior is hardly new in this country, whether it’s a move to ban same sex marriage or abortion. I agree with Harlan in that it can distract from other issues we currently face. But, because it does affect people’s lives, we have to continue to fight for our “inalienable” rights including a woman’s right to choose (and everybody’s right to marry!). With major cuts to welfare over the past several years, little if any access to childcare and healthcare, single women living in poverty tend to be hardest hit by socially regulating policies, like restricting a right to choose and closing reproductive health clinics.
Our government is a mess: from Abramov to the war in Iraq. These issues, and others like poverty and healthcare, must be addressed, but we cannot loose sight of other issues like a woman’s right to choose. I wish everyone felt the way Harlan does about abortion, “Yes, it's an important threshold in keeping the government out of personal affairs. Yes it's a fundamental right that everyone should maintain”
As abortion politics continue to flare-up and women’s rights continually stripped away, women are yet again asked to compromise in the name of politics and power. Recently, there has been national coverage on the Pennsylvania senatorial race. The revered by conservatives and reviled by liberals, Senator Rick Santorum is up for re-election. The Democrats are looking to knock Santorum out of the senate with Democratic candidate Bob Casey, a liberal on most social issues except abortion. Casey is pro-family planning (which is great), but not pro-choice (which is not great). According to recent articles, Democrats and pro-choice organizations are lining up in support of Casey because he has a lead over Santorum. Strategically, and despite Casey’s stand on abortion, Democrats have to back Casey as they are in a desperate race to take back the Senate. But, it is at the expense of women’s rights.
There are states looking to make abortion illegal, highly restricted, or all together inaccessible. We have two newly appointed Justices who are conservative (although it is not clear that Justice Roberts would actually vote to overturn Roe v. Wade) and a president who has tried to either ban or severely restrict a woman’s right to choose by attempting to pass four different pieces of legislation. Is now really the right time for Democrats to be wavering on the abortion issue?
I absolutely would love to see Santorum get beat. Not just because he is anti-family planning and anti-choice, but because he has blurred the line between separation of church and state, continually supports measures that hurt the poor, and is downright dangerous. Choice advocates reason that if Casey can take Santorum’s place, that is a win for women. Logically, I can see that this makes sense. However, I am still burning over the fact that women are losing their rights and yet we still must make compromises. I guess we have to take what we can get…..yikes.
I tend to think of President Jimmy Carter because although based on his religious beliefs he is personally opposed to abortion, in terms of the public sphere he respects a woman’s right to choose. After all, it is HER body not the state’s body, an organization’s body, a religions institution’s body, and well, you get the point.
I dream of a day when women can receive appropriate and good reproductive healthcare; when all women have free and equal access to comprehensive reproductive education that includes how to use contraception, abstinence, childrearing, adoption, abortion, and empowerment. I dream of a day when society does not question a woman’s own personal moral judgment – that we can make these decisions for ourselves with our own best interest at heart given proper support and options. I dream of a day when a woman can choose whether to keep her pregnancy, give her child for adoption or choose to have an abortion and have access to comprehensive services that will support her no matter what her decision is; when a woman can safely and without harassment enter a woman’s health clinic and that clinics are available in every state to every woman. I dream of a day when a woman’s right to choose and access to reproductive health is not an open political debate where the individual woman and her rights seem to fade into the distance. That day is not today, not here in the United States, not yet.
I came across this amazing poem by Kipling recently and given all that is going on in the nation, IF only our leaders could have the intergrity this poem lays bare. More, later….enjoy the poem.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hate,
And yet don’t look too good or talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make your dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make your thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap by fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings;
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force our heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!
Rove and McClellen have stepped down, but Iraq is a mess and tensions are building with Iran. Will these changes really make that much of a difference in terms of US foreign policy? We are still stuck with Rumy and several other administration cronies.
I have little faith in the Bush administration and the president’s ability to make necessary changes during this crucial time even with McClellen stepping down and Rove focusing on mid-term elections. A few changes in faces do not overhaul and set straight an administration gone awry. Until real change is made, it’s just more of the same.
On another note, Steve Clemons (New America Foundation) has written some interesting things on his blogsite, The Washington Note. Clemons feels that with John Bellinger, Legal Advisor to Secretary of State Rice, there is a ray of hope in the administration. Bellinger seems to be one of the few within the administration who is at least reportedly trying to do the right thing. Clemons states:
"I give [Bellinger] credit for being willing to walk into a room of top tier public policy intellectuals and journalists and have a genuinely candid discussion about the administration's views on rendition, torture, detainee legal rights, the International Criminal Court, and other hot-button legal issues."
It’s worth reading Clemon’s analysis.
Book Description: “For every woman who pays taxes and uses public services, and every man who cares about an effective and fair tax system, Taxes Are a Women's Issue reveals the U.S. as a welfare nation, whether you are rich, poor, a corporation or an individual, and a tax structure that penalizes over half of tax payers. Authors Abramovitz and Morgen, in a work produced by the National Council for Research on Women, dispel myths about the current welfare system and expose how the IRS-supported tax system was created in and caters to a time before women entered the work force.”
With an extensive background in women’s issues and a welfare expert, Abramovitz is one of the most noted authorities on social policy and gender analysis. She also happens to be my advisor – lucky me!
Other books by Mimi Abramovitz:
- Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present
- The Dynamics of Social Welfare Policy
- Under Attack, Fighting Back
- Five Years Later….And There’s Hope
- Ready.gov Not Quite Ready
- DMI, Salman Ahmed (if Rumi were a musician), and What’s Happening in DC
- An Observation of Responsibility and Accountability in the Military
- NARAL Meeting July 12
- Junoon Front Man Salman Ahmed to Play at Joe’s Pub
- Drum Major Institute to Honor Kos, Marsalis, Burger, Heuvel
- Slowly Surfacing
- I May Disappear For A Few Days
- Saving FEMA
- Could There Be Common Sense in Our Government?
- Wake Up Part II
- Micah Sifry
- The Washington Note
- Bush v. Choice
- Taqrir – US -Muslim Weekly News
- EAD & Associates
- The Sunlight Foundation
- National Organization on Disability
- Cyber Chocolate
- David Kos
- Ridor Live
- MS Friends
- Feminist Bloghers Network
- Culture Kitchen
- Homeland Security Watch
- Drum Major Institute Blog
- Capitol Hill Blog
- Non-profit/DC Watch
- The Agonist
- Huffington Post