Monday, June 30, 2008

"Futures" Conference Audio

Its been several months now, since the Postcolonial Futures in a Not Yet Postcolonial World: Locating the Intersections of Ethnic, Indigenous and Postcolonial Studies conference, but at long last the audio for the conference has been uploaded and is ready to be downloaded. For those of you unfamiliar with the conference, here is the mission statement below:

As scholars engaged in critical social justice work, we are constantly engaged in conversations about how to push
the limits of the Ethnic Studies project so that it may be used more productively in addressing the wide and varied number of student and faculty interests within the department. Although the growing interest in postcolonial and indigenous studies is exciting and holds great potential, we feel that there is an urgent need to learn beyond the caricatured and narrow perceptions that have cast these emerging disciplines as specialized fields of knowledge.

It is our contention that in addressing issues of violence, oppression and justice - whether they be local, global or transnational - ethnic studies, indigenous studies and postcolonial studies have a lot to offer each other. While the historical subjects of these disciplines might appear varied and distinct, the central issues at hand in all cases include issues of power, violence, imperialism and sovereignty. Moreover, we believe that by talking in disciplinary conjunction we may be able to think through identities and issues that yet lie at the margins of ethnic, postcolonial and indigenous studies - such as those related to statelessness and refugees.

In organizing this conference, it is our hope to bring together faculty, students and activists involved in critical political-intellectual work to think through new and radical strategies that address contemporary issues of justice in less isolated, more collaborative, ways.

You can also check out the call for papers by clicking here. And to see the schedule of papers and presenters just click here. We had a great turnout for the conference, and some very good feedback and alot of exciting dialogue amongst the presenters and those who came to listen. If you'd like to see photos of the lucky people who came to the conference and participated, just click here. Ai atan i manmatto gi i dinana'-mami, ai mammalate' yan mamgefpa'go lokkue'!

Due to technical problems and limitations, we were unable to record the audio for all the plenary panels. But pasted below are the four which we were able to archive and make available. There is a slight chance of there being a special journal issue/volume for selected papers and dialogues from the conference, so please keep in touch if you'd like to know more.

Conference Audio #1:

"Global Histories/Local Designs: Contemplating San Diego as a Glocal City," was the opening plenary for the conference, "Postcolonial Futures in a Not Yet Postcolonial World: Locating the Intersections of Ethnic, Indigenous and Postcolonial Studies," which took place March 5-7, 2008 at the Ethnic Studies Department at University of California, San Diego. This panel was billed as "A panel of activists from different local organizations who will discuss the ways in which San Diego through issues of militarization, borders, Native American tribes fits into the theme of the conference, or how these issues position San Diego as a site where different ethnic, postcolonial and indigenous world intersect, conflict or disappear." The panelists were Andrea Guerrero, San Diego ACLU and Mshinda Nyofu, UJIMA Institute for Civic Responsibility. This panel took place at the Duetz Room in the Institute of the Americas on March 5th.

Please click here to listen to or download the audio from this panel.

Conference Audio #2:

"Intersections: A Conversation with UCSD Faculty" was a plenary panel for the conference, "Postcolonial Futures in a Not Yet Postcolonial World: Locating the Intersections of Ethnic, Indigenous and Postcolonial Studies," which took place March 5-7, 2008 at the Ethnic Studies Department at University of California, San Diego. This panel consisted of UCSD faculty who discussed their work, their ideas or the work of their departments in the context of the conference theme. The panel discussed in relation to the conference theme, what sort of work is or isnât being done here at UCSD, and what the panel members or other faculty, grad students or departments are doing to make this campus a more receptive place for doing cutting edge ethnic, indigenous and postcolonial studies, or work which straddles these intellectual disciplines. The panel took place on March 6, 2008 and its participants were Rosemary George (Literature), Ross Frank (Ethnic Studies) and Roberto Tejada (Visual Arts).

Click here to listen to the audio.

Conference Audio #3:

"Beyond the Fourth World Wall: The Global Practicing of Indigeneity," was a plenary panel for the conference, "Postcolonial Futures in a Not Yet Postcolonial World: Locating the Intersections of Ethnic, Indigenous and Postcolonial Studies," which took place March 5-7, 2008 at the Ethnic Studies Department at University of California, San Diego. This panel hoped to put into conversation different notions of indigeneity as articulated within European settler/colonial societies and within postcolonial worlds. More specifically this panel was interested in discussing indigenous movements across the globe, in order to highlight the multiple and complex ways in which indigeneity is understood, positioned and practiced globally. This panel took place March 6th 2008 and consisted of speakers Denise Da Silva (Ethnic Studies UCSD), Vince Diaz (U Michigan) and Robert Perez (UC Riverside). Robert Perez by personal request, has been edited out of the audio.

Click here to listen to the audio.
Conference Audio #4:

"The Audacity of Hope: Contemplating the Futures of Stateless and Refugee Peoples" was the closing plenary for the was the opening plenary for the conference, "Postcolonial Futures in a Not Yet Postcolonial World: Locating the Intersections of Ethnic, Indigenous and Postcolonial Studies," which took place March 5-7, 2008 at the Ethnic Studies Department at University of California, San Diego. This panel hoped to highlight the political "in-between-ness" shared by indigenous, stateless and refugee peoples. While the panel was interested in considering the productivity of âstatelessnessâ as a category for resistance and transformation, we would also like to discuss the different historic-political conditions that confront indigenous populations in settler and postcolonial societies, refugee populations formed through violent displacements and other global formations of statelessness. The panel took place on March 7, 2008 and consisted of Renya Ramirez (UCSC), Chandan Reddy (UW) and Jesse Mills (USD).

Click here for the audio.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Olbermann: Then and Now

Keith Olbermann: Then and Now
by Glenn Greenwald

On January 31 of this year, Keith Olbermann donned his most serious face and most indignant voice tone to rail against George Bush for supporting telecom immunity and revisions to FISA. In a 10-minute “Special Comment,” the MSNBC star condemned Bush for wanting to “retroactively immunize corporate criminals,” and said that telecom immnity is “an ex post facto law, which would clear the phone giants from responsibility for their systematic, aggressive and blatant collaboration with [Bush’s] illegal and unjustified spying on Americans under this flimsy guise of looking for any terrorists who are stupid enough to make a collect call or send a mass email.”

Olbermann added that telecom amnesty was a “shameless, breathless, literally textbook example of Fascism — the merged efforts of government and corporations that answer to no government.” Noting the numerous telecom lobbyists connected to the Bush administration, Olbermann said:

This is no longer just a farce in which protecting telecoms is dressed up as protecting us from terrorists conference cells. Now it begins to look like the bureaucrats of the Third Reich, trying to protect the Krupp family, the industrial giants, re-writing the laws of Germany for their benefit.

Olbermann closed by scoffing at the idea that telecom amnesty or revisions to FISA were necessary to help National Security:

There is not a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution or protecting the people from terrorism, Sir. This is a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution or pretending to protect the people from terrorists. Sorry, Mr. Bush, the eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat the thwarting of which could hinge on an email or phone call that is going through Room 641 of AT&T in San Francisco.

Strong and righteous words indeed. But that was five whole months ago, when George Bush was urging enactment of a law with retroactive immunity and a lessening of FISA protections. Now that Barack Obama supports a law that does the same thing — and now that Obama justifies that support by claiming that this bill is necessary to keep us Safe from the Terrorists — everything has changed.

Last night, Olbermann invited Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter onto his show to discuss Obama’s support for the FISA and telecom amnesty bill (video of the segment is here). There wasn’t a syllable uttered about “immunizing corporate criminals” or “textbook examples of Fascism” or the Third Reich. There wasn’t a word of rational criticism of the bill either. Instead, the two media stars jointly hailed Obama’s bravery and strength — as evidenced by his “standing up to the left” in order to support this important centrist FISA compromise:

OLBERMANN: Asked by “Rolling Stone” publisher, Jann Wenner, about how Democrats have cowered in the wake of past Republican attacks, Senator Obama responding, quote, “Yeah, I don’t do cowering.” That’s evident today in at least three issues . . .

Senator Obama also refusing to cower even to the left on the subject of warrantless wiretapping. He’s planning to vote for the FISA compromise legislation, putting him at odds with members of his own party . . . But first, it’s time to bring in our own Jonathan Alter, also, of course, senior editor of “Newsweek” magazine.
Good evening, Jon.


OLBERMANN: “Yeah, I don’t do cowering.” This is not just the man, but the campaign?

ALTER: Yes. This is part of the message that is consistent across the last couple weeks and it comes down to one word — strength. The United States is not going to elect a president that perceives to be as weak. You look weak if you’re flip-flopping. You look weak if you’re not taking actions that seem to be securing the United States against terrorists. And you look weak if you don’t fight back against your political adversaries.

OLBERMANN: But this cuts, I mean, this terminology cuts in more than one direction here. Not cowering to Republicans is one thing in the Democratic, recent Democratic history, it’s a thing that I think anybody who has a “D” near their name cheers, but not cowering to the left, not going along with the conventional, the new conventional thinking on the FISA bill, that’s something altogether different, isn’t it?

ALTER: Yes. I don’t really think it is. It was only a matter of time before the left was disappointed in Barack Obama, at least in a limited way. No politician is ever going to do everything that somebody likes.

And I think some folks in the netroots in particular on this FISA bill who are, you know, pulling their hair out over this, they have to realize, he’s always been a politician, he’ll always be a politician, and politics is the art of the possible. And he’s a legislator. He knows that you can’t always get everything that you want in a bill, even if he personally believes that the immunity for Telcoms is a bad idea. The larger idea of the bill was important.

And I actually think one of the big points, Keith, that hasn’t been made about this bill is that currently, as of last August, since last August, we’ve been operating in an unconstitutional environment, clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

So, there was tremendous urgency to get the FISA court back into the game. And does this bill do it imperfectly? Yes. But it does do it and it restores the Constitution, which is a point that’s not getting made very much.

Leave aside the fact that Jonathan Alter, desperate to defend Obama, doesn’t have the slightest idea of what he’s talking about. How can a bill which increases the President’s authority to eavesdrop with no warrants over the current FISA law possibly be described as a restoration of the Fourth Amendment? That would be like describing a new law banning anti-war speech as a restoration of the First Amendment.

As Jim Dempsey and Marty Lederman both note, not even the nation’s most foremost FISA experts really know the full extent to which this bill allows new warrantless spying. Obviously, Jonathan Alter has no idea what he’s saying, but nonetheless decrees that this bill — now that Obama supports it — restores the Fourth Amendment. Those are the Orwellian lengths to which people like Olbermann and Alter are apparently willing to go in order to offer their blind devotion to Barack Obama.

Moreover, Alter’s own explanation is self-contradictory. In the course of praising Obama’s FISA stance, he says that a politician looks “weak if you’re flip-flopping” and “you look weak if you don’t fight back against your political adversaries.” But that’s exactly what Obama is doing here — completely reversing himself on telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping, all in order to give the right-wing of the GOP everything it wants on national security issues in order to avoid a fight. By Alter’s own reasoning, what Obama’s doing is “weak” in the extreme, yet Alter bizarrely praises Obama for showing “strength.”

All of the decades-old, conventional Beltway mythologies are trotted out here to praise Obama. Democrats move to the “center” by embracing hard-core right-wing policies. Democrats will look “weak” unless they turn themselves into Republican clones on national security. A President becomes “strong” when he tramples on the Constitution and the rule of law in the name of keeping us safe. Democrats must embrace the Right and repudiate the base of their own party, and they must support Dick Cheney’s policies while “standing up to the ACLU.”

That’s just the garden-variety New Republic Syndrome I wrote about earlier this week. That’s the mentality that led large numbers of Democrats to vote for the attack on Iraq, and then ignore and/or enable the whole stable of Bush’s lawlessness and other radical policies (”that’s how we’ll avoid looking weak and liberal”). Those Move-to-the-Center cliches just tumble reflexively out of the mouths of every standard Beltway establishment pundit.

What’s much more notable is Olbermann’s full-scale reversal on how he talks about these measures now that Obama — rather than George Bush — supports them. On an almost nightly basis, Olbermann mocks Congressional Democrats as being weak and complicit for failing to stand up to Bush lawbreaking; now that Obama does it, it’s proof that Obama won’t “cower.” Grave warning on Olbermann’s show that telecom amnesty and FISA revisions were hallmarks of Bush Fascism instantaneously transformed into a celebration that Obama, by supporting the same things, was leading a courageous, centrist crusade in defense of our Constitution.

Is that really what anyone wants — transferring blind devotion from George Bush to Barack Obama? Are we hoping for a Fox News for Obama, that glorifies everything he says and whitewashes everything he does? Compare what Russ Feingold said in an interview yesterday about the Democrats’ support for the FISA bill to Olbermann’s absurd effort to depict Obama as courageous for supporting it:

It’s the latest chapter of running for cover when the Administration tries to intimidate Democrats on national security issues. It’s the most embarrassing failure of the Democrats I’ve seen since 2006, other than the failure to vote to end the Iraq War. . . . It’s letting George Bush and Dick Cheney have their way even though they’re that unpopular and on their way out. It’s really incredible.

It isn’t that difficult to keep the following two thoughts in one’s head at the same time — though it seems to be for many people:

(1) What Barack Obama is doing on Issue X is wrong, indefensible and worthy of extreme criticism;
(2) I support Barack Obama for President because he’s a better choice than John McCain.

As but one example, John Cole was a vehement supporter of Barack Obama throughout the primary. He viciously criticized Hillary Clinton on a regular basis and raised tens of thousands of dollars for Obama’s campaign through his blog. But this week alone, Cole lambasted Obama for what he called Obama’s “total collapse and a rapid abandonment of principle” regarding FISA and pronounced as a “pathetic performance” Obama’s refusal to be photographed anywhere near Muslims or to meet with Muslim leaders. Despite that, just yesterday, Cole said:

No, I don’t have buyers remorse. Yes, he still is better than Hillary or McCain. No, I am not disillusioned (I never thought he was a flaming liberal in the first place). I am, however, disgusted, and I will caution the Obama campaign that “better than McCain” is not much of a rallying cry. We all remember how “anything is better than Bush” turned out in 2004.

That’s called being a rational adult who refuses to relinquish one’s intellectual honesty, integrity, and political principles in order to march lockstep behind a political leader. Those who think that Barack Obama should not be criticized no matter how wrong he is — or those who justify anything that he does no matter how craven and unjustifiable, including things that they viciously criticized when done by Dick Cheney or Harry Reid — are no different, and no better, than those who treated George Bush with similar uncritical reverence in 2003 and 2004.

The real danger is that those who defend Obama the Candidate no matter what he does are likely to defend Obama the President no matter what he does, too. If we learn in 2009 that Obama has invoked his claimed Article II powers to spy on Americans outside of even the new FISA law, are we going to hear from certain factions that he was justified in doing so to protect us; how it’s a good, shrewd move to show he’s a centrist and keep his approval ratings high so he can do all the Good things he wants to do for us; how it’s different when Obama does it because we can trust him? It certainly looks that way. Those who spent the last five years mauling Bush for “shredding the Constitution” and approving of lawbreaking — only to then praise Obama for supporting a bill that endorses and protects all of that — are displaying exactly the type of blind reverence that is more dangerous than any one political leader could ever be.

* * * * *

Today’s Wall St. Journal has an article on the new Strange Bedfellows coalition and the campaign to punish and remove from office selected members of Congress who support civil-liberties-destroying measures such as the current FISA bill (a campaign I first announced here). The abstract of the WSJ article is here, and the full text can be read by clicking on the link on this page [link fixed]. The details for the “money bomb” the article describes will be disclosed very shortly. Yesterday, Jane Hamsher recorded a Bloggingheads session with former Rep. and current third-party presidential candidate Bob Barr (who Republicans are petrified will destroy McCain’s chances) and discussed with him the ideologically diverse efforts to battle against the political establishment’s assault on core constitutional liberties. For now, contributions to the campaign — which now has more than $320,000 — can be made here.

UPDATE: Comedy Central’s Indecision 2008 blog discusses Obama’s FISA stance here.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.


Thursday, June 26, 2008


During the 2004 Presidential election I received the following email from a Chamorro in the states. As you can tell from its tone and content, she was most definitely a Republican, and most likely someone who ga'umegga' Fox News. Her basic argument is that Chamorros and other non-white groups are foolish to follow the Democrats instead of Republicans.

Michael, you have the correct idea of involving the Chamorro people in politics to become a “voice of the island”. I, myself am working on getting the Chamorro people to register to vote and get involved.

However, Michael, it is my believe that as a former resident of Los Angeles, you are influenced by the Liberals out there.

The fact of the matter is that Chamorro people resemble the Republican Party more as they are devout Roman Catholics (i.e. pro-lifers, anti gay lifestyle, etc. etc.).

If you would do your research you will find that the Democrats have been lying about the Republican Party for ages! The Democrats are the wealthier people (ask Bill Gates, Donald Trump and Ophra), AND … they are NOT there for the MINORITES! The fact of the matter is that the Republican Party originated under Abraham Lincoln to FREE THE SLAVES and ALLOW WOMEN TO VOTE!

As for President Bush … he’s the first President to put minorities in high power! Ask the Attorney General, Secretary of State, United States Treasurer and the whole bunch in office now!

The Hispanics and a lot of Blacks are coming to support the Republican Party like never before! The proof is in the pudding.

The Democrats want Minorities to remain in a poverty position. It is them who put the Gays and Lesbians in high positions and give them the status of “minorities” like you and me.

I hope you wake up the truth Che’lu.

Si Yuus Maase!

The basis for her email is first the correct assumption that non-white groups in the United States tend to vote Democratic. Non-white groups are not uniform in this support or even in its levels, but nonetheless taken as an abstract whole this is true. The second assumption is the Republican talking point which contends that non-white groups are duped by Democrats into believing that they are the party for them, when in reality history and philosophy say the Republicans are a better choice.

Obviously this point is very stupid, the Republicans are not just implicitly but explicitly the party that believes that a particular type of heterosexual white male should be in charge of everything, but nonetheless we can find a few faint traces of possible truth here. For instance, the lure of shared "conservative" values is something that does draw some African American, Latino and Asian American votes. There is also a sort of silent assumption amongst many Democrats that since the Republican party can be so "anti-minority" there is no other place for those minority votes to go, and so they can be taken for granted. Although I've just said that Republicans are the explicit party of heterosexual white males, I shouldn't let the Democrats off the hook, they are still very much, implicitly a party of white people.

(More on this later, but to get your started, check out my friend Jose's post on it "Race Baiting and White Entitlement Tantrums")

One point which can be very much illustrated through the Chamorro experience is the sort of affinity that non-white groups make with the Republican party because of that illusion that Republicans are bigger supporters of the US military and the Democrats are just a bunch of anti-war mamfloritas. In almost all minority and indigenous groups in the United States, the military has and continues to play a central role in their social and economic upward mobility. It has become an integral part of how they tell their story of where they came from, and how they achieved a measure of success in America, how they became "model Americans." And therefore, since the idea that the Republicans are more strident and determined supporters of the military and the troops is pretty much hegemonic (despite not being true), many non-white groups are drawn to vote for or support Republicans.

Returning to the email itself, there are plenty of problems with it. It is, like most political talking points (Democratic or Republican) based on very simplistic understandings of history. This particular talking point is built from the distillation of the complex and uneven multitude of events in the past two centuries of American history, into a handfull of points, which in the grand scheme of things mean very little, but when compiled into a list and a caricature of history in support of a particular political point, gain an aura of relevance.

For instance, so what if President Bush chose "minorities" to be in his cabinet? He wasn't the first to do so, and even so, does the simple fact that someone is the first "minority" in an office really mean anything? Perhaps, but far more important than the minority chosen or the person/party who is doing the choosing, is what is the political and social climate like at the time of the nomination? For instance, to propose an African American man for a cabinet position today, or even an Asian American woman is not a testament to the minority loving leadership of the Republican or the Democratic party. The United States has changed, and its come to a point where that sort of choice would not be controversial, and would not necessarily meet any resistance.

What would show true leadership is if a President 150 years ago selected an "Asian-American" to be in his cabinet. At that time, such a choice would have INCREDIBLE resistance and been fiercely opposed. That choice would require a very real commitment to non-white people or to "minorities." So this sort of argument about which party takes seriously the plights of those who are downtrodden, marginalized or disenfranchised, must be brought into the contemporary context. If the Chamorro in the email above wants to make a case for any party being for marginalized or subordinated groups, and wants to use that sort of act of inclusion as an example, then she would have to look beyond the typical American ethnic/racial food groups, and show off the party who chose a Muslim American for a high level cabinet position, or even better, an undocumented immigrant!

But, this sort of analysis then might seem to prop up the argument that Republicans are the party for minorities because Republicans freed the slaves and gave women the right to vote. Because at those times, these sorts of acts met some resistance and could be considered politically risky. But this is why these sorts of caricatures of history are so dangerous, because history does not move like a list of bullet points, nor like a well paved freeway moving always progressively moving forward and getting better. Just as it may have been a Republican who "freed the slaves," it was also a Republican who just a few years ago infered that if we still had a segregated society, America wouldn't have so many problems.

If any political party wants to make a case such as this, then it requires more than one or two events over the course of two centuries. It requires a sustained sort of commitment, and in the case of Republicans they have way too much evidence and events working against them.

(Despensa sinora (ni' tumuge' i email), lao mampos fina'baba hao ni' i fino' Republicans. Ai adai, hu diseseha mohon na u matulaika i hinasso-mu, ya pinacha' hao ni' i minagahet)


I came across the above email because I was going through my research over the years about Chamorros and political attitudes in the diaspora, in hopes of better understanding what their opinions and feelings might be about the current election between Obama and McCain. Hayi i gayu-niha? Hayi ma abobona? Hayi ma sapopotte? I still haven't come up with a detailed analysis, but I've already got some leads based on my time spent at the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club in San Diego over the past few months.

In preparation for the Guma'famoksaiyan conference last month, I placed some flyers and information on the board in the Guam club, since one day of the conference was taking place in their club house. Interestingly enough, each week when I would come back to the Guam club I would find my flyers gone, obviously taken down and probably thrown away. On more than one occasion, they were replaced with some of the notorious/racist/inaccurate emails that have been floating around about Barack Obama purporting to speak the "truth" about the candidate.

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show said recently of these racist emails which claim things such as, Obama is truly a radical Muslim whose wife hates whitey, that this was probably first email that your grandmother ever successfully sent. It was interesting, because amongst the members of the Guam club, the majority of whom are old enough to be grandparents and great grandparents, the "smears" or the fache' found in these emails were basically truth and had become their own talking points. Elderly Chamorros who probably had never met a Muslim before and had never heard of a madrassa before, were speaking very forcefully and with Fox News-like conviction about both of these things.

I think that most people would assume that Chamorros, being brown as they are, like Obama, would therefore feel an affinity with his experiences and with some of his ideas. I have found some of this (definitely from younger Chamorros), but from the older generation no. Instead I have found the sort of Republican fantasies that the above email is built around being the political foundation for Chamorros, or the basis through which what they see ideologically as true or false, and thus accepting (ai mantaitiningo' este siha) the Republican attack points as God's word.

The result is that Chamorros begin to parrot off "facts" that they really know little about, and haven't bothered to check whether they are true or not, but nonetheless communicate them with an air of being obviously true. Obama is supported by Hamas and Bin Laden. Obama's middle name is Mohammed. Obama was sworn in as a Senator in Washington D.C. on a copy of the Koran. In recent months, Chamorros that fit this mold, end up sounding like the voters of West Virginia, featured in this Daily Show clip below.

Barack Obama and his campaign have started a new website Fight the Smears in order to combat the ways in which his skin color and his roots in Africa, Hawai'i and Indonesia have made him an easy target for almost any smear that marks him as foreign, different or Muslim. You can go to this website and sign up to help Obama spread the truth about himself, his wife and his campaign, by flooding the internet and people's inboxes with accurate information. Its very much needed and I'm glad he's taking an aggressive and grassroots approach to it (as well as his well financed media deluges). Because these sorts of othering shots don't stay simple or small, but they find ways of ballooning out of control.

I should note here, that I don't have a problem if Obama was a Muslim or if his middle name was Osama Bin Laden. I do have a problem though with the approach that Democrats and Obama's campaign take, that make it feel implicitly like there is something wrong with him or anyone else being a Muslim. But nonetheless, from the perspective of the campaign, these sorts of taints, where Obama is permanently associated with some "transcendent" evil fad, are just the beginning of a more dire process whereby the candidate then becomes associated not just with that particular characteristic or idea, but instead a whole host of negative concepts, images and possibilities, the intersections of which form the source of the problems in the world and the ruining of America's future. Once Obama is intimately associated with that "evil" then he becomes the catalyst which will pave the way for America's doom. Once he is part of that evil, even in a banal way, then his election represents, losing the Iraq War, more terrorist attacks, more racial problems, more handouts to lazy minorities, the opening of the borders and the dilluting of America.

In the spirit of mocking this sort of sentiment, I've compiled a list of Guam/Chamorro specific problems which Barack Obama can be blamed for. I wouldn't be surprised if in a few weeks I find this list in my inbox forwarded to me by someone's grandmother, as the minagahet of Senator Barack Obama. For those with no sense of humor, or who just don't think the stuff below is funny, sorry, its all meant to be a joke.



(not that this matters since we can't vote anyways)

Barack Obama is responsible for the whole COLA scandal.

Barack Obama is responsible for both the poor infrastructure planning in Tumon and Tamuning, as well as the current moratorium on any more water and wastewater hookups

Barack Obama is making the gas prices go up

Barack Obama is the reason that the military closed NAS

Barack Obama is the reason that Chamorro musicians today just translate their songs directly from English, instead of being creative with them.

Barack Obama caused World War II and is also the one preventing Chamorros from getting War Reparations.

Barack Obama is the reason that the Chamorro Village sells so few “Chamorro” things

Barack Obama is behind the whole “Chamorro” and “Chamoru” debate. He is also the reason that King’s spells the word like this, “Chamorru.”

Barack Obama directed Max Havoc, and worse yet is the reason that Carmen Electra is only in the movie for about twenty seconds

Barack Obama is the one who used to put all those brown tree snakes on the power wires

Put Si Barack Obama, tåya’ nai ma fa’tinas i mina’dos na album Chamorro.

Barack Obama is the one who made Howard Hemsing’s “Yankee Go Home!” sign

Barack Obama is the reason that Dave Davis is so frightened, angry and bitter

Barack Obama is behind all the bronze plaques and copper wiring thefts on the island

Barack Obama is the reason that people say the word “Chamorran”

Barack Obama is the reason that even though you pay for DSL from GTA, the internet gets disconnected every time the phone rings

Barack Obama killed Cedric Diggory, Sirius Black, Mad Eye Moody, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks and Dumbledore

Barack Obama is spearheading a movement to rename “Marine Corps Drive” “Marine Drive Magazine Drive.”

Barack Obama is the white lady in Mai'ina

Barack Obama was really the one who grabbed the gavel from Judi Won Pat

Barack Obama closed down Gameworks

Barack Obama is the reason that it always rains on Liberation Day

Barack Obama is the one who keeps putting casino gambling on the election ballots and who also keeps organizing the Lina’la’ Sin Casino movements

Barack Obama is the one who wrote all the terrible Guam jokes for Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Jon Stewart

When the Marines and their dependents get to Guam and the roads get worse, the infrastructure becomes even more strained and the cost of living shoots up even more, it will all be Barack Obama’s fault

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In Memory of Wing Commander Basil Morningwood

Kada na puenge, desde Monday asta Thursday, ya-hu umegga' The Daily Show.

Annai manstrike i Inetnon Titige' gi i ma'pos na sakkan, ai adai, sumen triste yu', sa' todu i shows, manmata'pang (Todudu fuera di The Late Show with David Letterman sa' manmama'kontrata para i titige'-na siha). Ya desde ayu na yinaoyao, dumidide' dumidide' manlamaolek i shows. Lao The Daily Show i mas ya-hu, sa' mampos na'chalek lao guaha impottante na ma i'ina put i estao pulitikat Amerikanu.

Guaha nai hu e'egga' gui', ya chumalek yu' a'gang, pinilakes! Yanggen manochocho mientres hu e'egga' siempre mabohbo i na-hu.

Antes di manstrike i titige', ma fa'nuebu i website The Daily Show, ya ma rikohi guihi todu i episodes ginen todu i sakkan ni' mambinalakuyi as Jon Stewart. Lao i dinimalas, na desde ma na'huyong este na website, ma laknos todu i videon Daily Show ginnen Youtube.

Pues humalom yu' gi este nuebu na site pa'go, ya hu aligao i mas ya-hu na clip. Ya suette suette yu', sa' hu sodda' gui', ya bai hu siniyi hao ni' Guiya gi este na post.

Ai Yu'us, gi este na video, ma sangani hit ni' i na'an-niha i manmapuno' na sindalun British gi duranten i Mina'dos na Geran Mundo. Lao, ti este na na'an i manmagahet na na'an-niha. Ma fa'tinas este na "chatna'an" ginnen diferentes na palabras na'chalek, kinichi yan kinemmon. Oh ai adai, kada nai hu hasso este, esta kumekechalek yu'.

Monday, June 23, 2008


The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate has set the stage for a spectacular cave in to the demands of the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans. One looming question remains however, and that is how much or how forcefully will Barack Obama challenge the Democratic folding to Bush on the FISA and telecom immunity issue.

This issue, while not big amongst pundits as one of those issues polling data says Americans care about, represents two crucial tests for Obama and his campaign. First, there is the idea that Obama's campaign has promoted, that their candidate will break with the long-standing Democratic party tradition of backing down from any fight over national security issues with Republicans. Instead Obama is proposing to stand up to Republicans and not let them control the terms of the debate. Given his position on the FISA issue so far, its seems however that he's already given up the terms to Bush on this one. Secondly, will Obama continue another Democratic tradition and screw over or ignore its activist base? Since this issue isn't a big one and taking a tough aggressive stand on it doesn't seem to promise much fruitful rewards with those "hard-working" voters that Obama needs, will Obama then conserve his political capital for a fight which might be for a smaller principle, but offer far more profit? I'm sure Obama's campaign has already calculated this and decided that its not a fight which is worth it, and has already planned for their candidate to take a symbolic stand against this bill, and then vote for it.

Sigh...the general election has definitely begun, and so Obama has begun the process of selecting those segments of his coalition of supporters who can be crossed and dismissed, while still be counted on for their votes and money.


From the Daily Kos:

Why Do We Care About FISA?
by Hunter
Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 06:45:10 PM PDT

So, why have activists spent so much effort opposing retroactive corporate immunity as part of new FISA legislation, when there are so many other things in the world to be outraged about? Why do so many people care so much about a mere technical issue such as whether such-and-such is legal or illegal?

I can count three reasons.

1. It goes to the heart of illegal actions by this administration. The Bush administration has broken law after law, and been enmeshed in scandal after scandal, and been met with no substantive actions. There are investigations that never end; there are stern letters that are never answered; there are subpoenas that are simply ignored. So to respond to a clearly illegal act by, of all possible things, writing legislation that offers retroactive immunity for those acts, maintains the secrecy of those acts, and declares that the Bush administration itself will be responsible for the future integrity of those acts -- it is patently asinine. It is an insult. It demonstrates a complete lack of regard for the law, and for the very responsibilities of each branch of government. In this, it is symbolic of the entire current Congress, which has proved itself all but nonfunctional when it comes to checking abuses by the executive branch -- or even by their own branch.

2. It is a Constitutional question, and of a sort that the administration has fought long and hard to cripple. Among the more basic premises of the Bill of Rights is the notion of probable cause; your government may not conduct searches or seizures without a warrant, and the judicial branch shall judge the merit of those warrants. But the Bush administration wishes simply nullify that entire concept, if those searches are electronic in nature. It takes no imagination at all to observe that once one type of widespread, warrantless, causeless electronic search is deemed to be outside of 4th Amendment protections, an entire series of other electronic searches will follow. That is, after all, the entire reason the Bush administration pursued these searches illegally, rather than attempting to change FISA law in advance; they have every intention of creating a precedent for future searches, and they now have been given exactly that.
3. It was easy. I mean, Jesus H. Christmas, it has been the easiest thing in the world -- all they had to do was not do it. It's not freakin' rocket science -- but thanks to the efforts of a number of Democrats, not just Rockefeller and Hoyer but people like Reid and Pelosi, they just couldn't not put immunity in. We were never told why it was so all-fired important -- they would never grace us with any non-childish, non-condescending, non-flagrantly-insulting explanation. But instead of just not passing bills granting immunity, we had Reid treating Dodd more shabbily than he ever treated any Republican, and Hoyer apparently going around Pelosi, and all manner of prodding and dealing by Democrats to get immunity for these acts. It is baffling, and the only rationale available seems to be the most cynical one -- it is merely doing the bidding of companies that provide substantive campaign contributions. No other explanation would seem to suffice.

So those are the reasons. Because of all the issues we've faced, in the last few years, this one was an absolute no-brainer, the one thing that the Democrats, no matter how stunningly incompetent, humiliatingly ineffective or bafflingly capitulating they may be, could manage to win simply by sitting on their damn hands. But no; it took serious work to lose on this one. Serious, burning-the-midnight-oil work to manage to quite so cravenly negate their own oversight duties.

And that is why this will not be forgotten anytime soon. A caucus willing to go to these lengths to satisfy the illegalities of the Bush administration is not one that can easily be defended. It is understandable that it would take a great deal of courage to enforce Congressional subpoenas. We can understand that voting against funding for the war could be risky, if we were to presume that Bush would simply keep the troops in the Iraqi desert to rot regardless of funding.
But this one? This petty, stinking issue of granting retroactive immunity to companies that violated the law, such that they need not even say how they violated the law, or when they violated the law, or how often, or against who, and the whole thing started before 9/11 so it is clear that terrorism wasn't even a prime factor for doing it -- that whole mess is now absolved, no lawsuits, no discovery, no evidence allowed to be presented?

No, that one is indefensible. It is indefensible because it requires not just passive acceptance of a corrupt administration performing illegal acts, but legislators actively condoning those acts with the stroke of a pen. The Democrats are determined to set themselves as partners in committing crimes, then absolving them; there should be nothing but contempt for such acts.


From Talking Points Memo:

Why Obama's Support For FISA Cave-In Is Such A Downer
By Greg Sargent - June 20, 2008, 4:32PM

Here's what's so dispiriting about it. One of the riveting things about Barack Obama's candidacy is that since the outset of the campaign he's seemed absolutely dead serious about changing the way foreign policy is discussed and argued about in this country.

Time and again, in his debates with Hillary, and now with John McCain, his whole debate posture on national security issues was centered on the idea that he could challenge and change what it means to talk "tough." His candidacy has long seemed to embody a conviction that Democrats can win arguments with Republicans about national security -- that if Dems stick to a set of core principles, and forcefully argue for them without blinking, they can and will persuade people that, simply put, they are right and Republicans are wrong.

Obama has done this already in this general election -- repeatedly. And no doubt he will do it again and again and again in the months ahead. Not this time.

To be clear, I'm not even talking about whether opposing this would or wouldn't have carried political peril. It really doesn't matter. Because if there were ever anything that would have tested his operating premise throughout this campaign -- that you can win arguments with Republicans about national security -- it was this legislation. If ever there were anything that deserved to test this premise, it was this legislation.

And this time, he abandoned that premise.

Late Update: Glenn Greenwald, a leading critic of Obama on this, sends me his skeptical take on why he thinks Obama's promise to work on the bill in the Senate doesn't change anything:

"I think we do a grave disservice if we try to convince people that Obama is really going to work to get amnesty out of the bill. Reid is already saying it's just theater -- they know it's going to fail -- it's just a way, Reid said, to let people "express themselves." It's all designed to let Obama say, once he votes for this bill: "Well, I tried to get amnesty out." He's going to vote for amnesty -- and his statement today seals the fate of this bill. Why sugar coat that?"


From Salon:

Obama's support for the FISA "compromise"
By Glen Greenwald
(updated below)

In the past 24 hours, specifically beginning with the moment Barack Obama announced that he now supports the Cheney/Rockefeller/Hoyer House bill, there have magically arisen -- in places where one would never have expected to find them -- all sorts of claims about why this FISA "compromise" isn't really so bad after all. People who spent the week railing against Steny Hoyer as an evil, craven enabler of the Bush administration -- or who spent the last several months identically railing against Jay Rockefeller -- suddenly changed their minds completely when Barack Obama announced that he would do the same thing as they did. What had been a vicious assault on our Constitution, and corrupt complicity to conceal Bush lawbreaking, magically and instantaneously transformed into a perfectly understandable position, even a shrewd and commendable decision, that we should not only accept, but be grateful for as undertaken by Obama for our Own Good.

Accompanying those claims are a whole array of factually false statements about the bill, deployed in service of defending Obama's indefensible -- and deeply unprincipled -- support for this "compromise." Numerous individuals stepped forward to assure us that there was only one small bad part of this bill -- the part which immunizes lawbreaking telecoms -- and since Obama says that he opposes that part, there is no basis for criticizing him for what he did. Besides, even if Obama decided to support an imperfect bill, it's our duty to refrain from voicing any criticism of him, because the Only Thing That Matters is that Barack Obama be put in the Oval Office, and we must do anything and everything -- including remain silent when he embraces a full-scale assault on the Fourth Amendment and the rule of law -- because every goal is now subordinate to electing Barack Obama our new Leader.

It is absolutely false that the only unconstitutional and destructive provision of this "compromise" bill is the telecom amnesty part. It's true that most people working to defeat the Cheney/Rockefeller bill viewed opposition to telecom amnesty as the most politically potent way to defeat the bill, but the bill's expansion of warrantless eavesdropping powers vested in the President, and its evisceration of safeguards against abuses of those powers, is at least as long-lasting and destructive as the telecom amnesty provisions. The bill legalizes many of the warrantless eavesdropping activities George Bush secretly and illegally ordered in 2001. Those warrantless eavesdropping powers violate core Fourth Amendment protections. And Barack Obama now supports all of it, and will vote it into law. Those are just facts.

The ACLU specifically identifies the ways in which this bill destroys meaningful limits on the President's power to spy on our international calls and emails. Sen. Russ Feingold condemned the bill on the ground that it "fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home" because "the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power." Rep. Rush Holt -- who was actually denied time to speak by bill-supporter Silvestre Reyes only to be given time by bill-opponent John Conyers -- condemned the bill because it vests the power to decide who are the "bad guys" in the very people who do the spying.

This bill doesn't legalize every part of Bush's illegal warrantless eavesdropping program but it takes a large step beyond FISA towards what Bush did. There was absolutely no reason to destroy the FISA framework, which is already an extraordinarily pro-Executive instrument that vests vast eavesdropping powers in the President, in order to empower the President to spy on large parts of our international communications with no warrants at all. This was all done by invoking the scary spectre of Terrorism -- "you must give up your privacy and constitutional rights to us if you want us to keep you safe" -- and it is Obama's willingness to embrace that rancid framework, the defining mindset of the Bush years, that is most deserving of intense criticism here.

* * * * *
Last night, Greg Sargent wrote that the most infuriating aspect of what Obama did here "is that since the outset of the campaign he's seemed absolutely dead serious about changing the way foreign policy is discussed and argued about in this country"; that Obama's "candidacy has long seemed to embody a conviction that Democrats can win arguments with Republicans about national security -- that if Dems stick to a set of core principles, and forcefully argue for them without blinking, they can and will persuade people that, simply put, they are right and Republicans are wrong"; and that "this time, he abandoned that premise," even though:

if there were ever anything that would have tested his operating premise throughout this campaign -- that you can win arguments with Republicans about national security -- it was this legislation. If ever there were anything that deserved to test this premise, it was this legislation.

This superb piece from The Technology Liberation Front makes the same argument:

We are, in other words, right back to the narrative where being "strong" on national security means trashing the constitution. . . . . This is doubly disappointing because until now Obama has been a master at re-framing national security debates to get out of this box. Unlike John Kerry, he has refused to shy away from a confrontational posture on foreign policy issues. He's shown a willingness to say he has a better foreign policy vision, rather than simply insisting he can be just as tough on the terrorists as the Republicans are. He could and should have done the same with FISA, taking the opportunity to explain why warrantless surveillance isn't necessary to protect us from the terrorists. But it seems he, along with Steny Hoyer and Harry Reid, chickened out. So it's back to Republicans being tough on national security and Democrats defensively insisting that they, too, hate terrorists more than they love the constitution.

It's either that he "chickened out" or -- as Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin asserts and Digby wonders -- Obama believes he will be President and wants these extreme powers for himself, no doubt, he believes, because he'll exercise them magnanimously, for our Own Good. Whatever the motives -- and I don't know (or much care) what they are -- Obama has embraced a bill that is not only redolent of many of the excesses of Bush's executive power theories and surveillance state expansions, but worse, has done so by embracing the underlying rationale of "Be-scared-and-give-up-your-rights." Note that the very first line of Obama's statement warns us that we face what he calls "grave threats," and that therefore, we must accept that our Leader needs more unlimited power, and the best we can do is trust that he will use it for our Good.
Making matters worse still, what Obama did yesterday is in clear tension with an emphatic promise that he made just months ago. As the extremely pro-Obama notes today, Obama's spokesman, Bill Burton, back in in September, vowed that Obama would "support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies." MoveOn believes Obama should be held to his word and is thus conducting a campaign urging Obama to do what he promised -- support a filibuster to stop the enactment of telecom amnesty. You can email Burton here to demand that Obama comply with his commitment not just to vote against, but to filibuster, telecom amnesty:

Incidentally, Chris Dodd made an identical promise when he was running for President, prompting the support of hundreds of thousands of new contributors, and he ought to be held to his promise as well.

* * * * *

The excuse that Obama's support for this bill is politically shrewd is -- even if accurate -- neither a defense of what he did nor a reason to refrain from loudly criticizing him for it. Actually, it's the opposite. It's precisely because Obama is calculating that he can -- without real consequence -- trample upon the political values of those who believe in the Constitution and the rule of law that it's necessary to do what one can to change that calculus. Telling Obama that you'll cheer for him no matter what he does, that you'll vest in him Blind Faith that anything he does is done with the purest of motives, ensures that he will continue to ignore you and your political interests.
Beyond that, this attitude that we should uncritically support Obama in everything he does and refrain from criticizing him is unhealthy in the extreme. No political leader merits uncritical devotion -- neither when they are running for office nor when they occupy it -- and there are few things more dangerous than announcing that you so deeply believe in the Core Goodness of a political leader, or that we face such extreme political crises that you trust and support whatever your Leader does, even when you don't understand it or think that it's wrong. That's precisely the warped authoritarian mindset that defined the Bush Movement and led to the insanity of the post-9/11 Era, and that uncritical reverence is no more attractive or healthy when it's shifted to a new Leader.

What Barack Obama did here was wrong and destructive. He's supporting a bill that is a full-scale assault on our Constitution and an endorsement of the premise that our laws can be broken by the political and corporate elite whenever the scary specter of The Terrorists can be invoked to justify it. What's more, as a Constitutional Law Professor, he knows full well what a radical perversion of our Constitution this bill is, and yet he's supporting it anyway. Anyone who sugarcoats or justifies that is doing a real disservice to their claimed political values and to the truth.

The excuse that we must sit by quietly and allow him to do these things with no opposition so that he can win is itself a corrupted and self-destructive mentality. That mindset has no end. Once he's elected, it will transform into: "It's vital that Obama keeps his majority in Congress so you have to keep quiet until after the 2010 midterms," after which it will be: "It's vital that Obama is re-elected so you have to keep quiet until after 2012," at which point the process will repeat itself from the first step. Quite plainly, those are excuses to justify mindless devotion, not genuine political strategies.

Having said all of that, the other extreme -- declaring that Obama is now Evil Incarnate, no better than John McCain, etc. etc. -- is no better. Obama is a politician running for political office, driven by all the standard, pedestrian impulses of most other people who seek and crave political power. It's nothing more or less than that, and it is just as imperative today as it was yesterday that the sickly right-wing faction be permanently removed from power and that there is never any such thing as the John McCain Administration (as one commenter ironically noted yesterday, at the very least, Obama is far more likely to appoint Supreme Court Justices who will rule that the bill Obama supports is patently unconstitutional). The commenter sysprog described perfectly the irrational excesses of both extremes the other day:


Why are so many four-year-olds and fourteen-year-olds making comments on blogs?
Four-year-olds see their preferred politicians as god-like fathers (or mothers) whose virtuous character will guarantee good judgment. If a judgment looks questionable to you, then it's because you don't know all the facts that mommy and daddy know, or it's because you aren't as wise as them.

Fourteen-year-olds have had their illusions shattered about those devilish politicians so now they perceive the TRUTH - - that mommy and daddy make bad judgments because mommy and daddy are utterly corrupt.

Personally, I can empathize with the impulses behind the latter far more than the former, even while recognizing that they both must be diligently avoided. It's understandable that there is a substantial sense of anger and betrayal towards Obama as a result of what he did yesterday, particularly among those who previously viewed him as something transcendent and "different." Quoting Shakespeare is always slightly pompous (at least) but -- with apologies in advance -- his observation in Sonnet 94 is too apropos here to refrain:

For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

If there is one good thing that can come from this week's horrific embrace by Obama and our bipartisan political establishment of warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, perhaps it will be that the illusions of "lily-ness" about Barack Obama can finally fade away and be replaced by a more realistic perception of what he is, what his limits are, and the reasons why he merits real scrutiny, criticism and checks -- like everyone else pursuing political power does. Recall that the very first thing that he did upon securing the nomination was run to AIPAC to prostrate himself before them and swear undying fealty to their militant pieties. There will be plenty more of these sorts of ugly rituals to come. Whether you think he is engaging in them out of justifiable political calculation or some barren quest for power doesn't much matter.

Either way, no good comes from lending uncritical support to a political leader, or cheering them on when they do bad and destructive things, or using twisted rationalizations to justify their full-scale assault on your core political values. The overriding lesson of the last seven years is that political figures, more than they need anything else, need checks and limits. That is just as important to keep in mind -- probably more so -- when you love or revere a political leader as it is when you detest one.

* * * * *

The campaign against politicians who are enabling this assault on our Constitutional framework, core civil liberties and the rule of law has now raised close to $300,000. My explanation about the current plans for these funds, in response to a commenter's inquiries, can be read here. Contributions to that campaign can be made here.UPDATE:

In comments, Hume's Ghost wrote:

What really rubbed me the wrong way was how Obama in his statement says essentially trust me with these powers, I'll use them responsibly.


"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." - John Adams [1772].

In 1799, Thomas Jefferson echoed that: "Free government is founded in jealousy, not confidence . . . . Let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitutions." Between (a) relying on the limitations imposed by the Constitution or (b) placing faith in the promises of a political leader not to abuse his unchecked power, it isn't really a difficult choice -- at least it ought not to be, no matter who the political leader in question happens to be.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chamorro Public Service Post #11: An Gumupu Si Paluma

At the Guma'famoksaiyan conference last month, I organized a session on Learning Chamorro Language Through Songs, which went very well. Songs is one of the most fun ways through which you can learn a language, and so while most Chamorros who don't speak the language, might have some knowledge about Chamorro music and songs and may even enjoy listening to it, its unfortunate that there isn't more effort being put into using music as a medium through which we can revitalize the language.

For this session all those present divided into three groups, and each group had a song leader who would teach one Chamorro song to those in their group over about forty minutes. When time was up, all the groups would gather together and present the the rest of the conference their song. It was decided during the session that there should be judges too in order to select which group was the best. The session went very well and people incorporated different performaces and dancing into their presentations which made it mampos na'chalek. Bai hu tuge' mas put este gi otro biahi.

For my song, for my group, I chose An Gumupu Si Paluma, or "When the Bird Flies." This song has always occupied a special place in my heart. When I first started learning Chamorro at the University of Guam, one of the classes that I took involved translating into English Chamorro song lyrics and then presenting them to the class. Someone had given my grandparents a CD copy of Johnny Sablan's Chamorro Yu', and so I picked two songs (An Gumupu Si Palum yan Ai Ki Yanto) from that and enlisted my grandmother to help me translate the lyrics.

The version on Johnny Sablan's album is a beautiful one. But as my grandmother told me while we were translating, it is just one version. Prior to World War II on Guam, there were many different versions of An Gumupu Si Paluma, just as there were with most Chamorro songs. An Gumupu Si Paluma belonged to a style of Chamorro music which dominated the lifestyle and mirth-making of Chamorros for centuries, known as Chamoritta or today known as Kantan Chamoritta.

Kantan Chamorrita is an improvisational style of singing and song making, where participants share prior knowledge of a basic set of tunes and proceed to ayute' or threw verses at each other. It may begin with a single person or a couple or a group, but as the song is sung and different people may leave the group or join in. It was common in pre-war Guam and even in some villages in post-war Guam, for the mornings to begin early with a song started by someone grnding corn or washing clothes, and then over time have people from all across the village join in the singing and verse-making in different ways.

If you head to the Guampedia website, they have short description and definition of Kantan Chamoritta, with some quick examples for you to see what sorts of songs were made and what sorts of subject matter they dealt with. These songs were work songs, party songs, but they could also be sung in ways to challenge the manhood, sexuality prowess or morality of an opponent or a potential love interest. These songs were ideals ways of teasing someone, but also introducing through metaphors and everyday imagery, taboo subjects such as sexuality and promiscuity, which could not be discussed publicly, but could be mentioned through these "banal" ways. Kantan Chamoritta both in public but also in more private discussions was an indispensable way of courting and being able to communicate with one's maguaiya.

In her definition of Kantan Chamoritta Judy Flores recounts three basic ways in which the style was used, courting, sexual mimcry and an unexpected one, response to a Chamorro joining the military:

Ti gumadi yu’ put ti’ao
I’m not fishing for small fish
Na gumadi yu’ put hagu
I’m casting my net for you
An’ chumefla yu’ tres biahi
When I whistle three times
Yute’ gadi ya’un falagu.
Throw your net and run.

Sexual mimicry
Antes gi annai tiempo-mu
A while ago when it was your time
Kalan makina hao ni’ bibu
You were like a fast machine
Annai esta ti tiempo-mu
Now that time is no longer yours
Kalan puyitos manok hao ni’ figo.
You are like a shivering chick.

Joining the miliary
Basta nana de tumanges
Stop crying, my mother
Saosao todu i lago’-mu
Wipe away your tears
Sa’ ti u apmam na tiempo
Because it won’t be long
Siempre u fatto i lahi-mu
Before your son will return.

The inclusion of the third sample, the song about the pain of having a son join the military is an important one, because it widens what are generally considered to be the limits of how Chamorros (and others) perceive themselves and how they (re)produce culture. All fun, partying, socialness, generosity, hospitality, these are all the things which tend to dominate how Chamorros see themselves, the way they are and the way they are supposed to be, what their natural state is.

There isn't really any place in those sorts of sometimes very oppressive stereotypes, for a Chamorro who wants to really comment on what is wrong with the world, or wants to change that world. Therein lies the most difficult obstacle, what could be wrong with that sort of ga'mumagof na attitude? What is wrong with this sort of enjoyment of the less serious side of life? Isn't this what islanders and what Chamorros do best?

Perhaps, but what is lost in this network of stereotypes? These stereotypes don't just indicate that the Chamorro is fun-loving, but also lead us into the Malafunkshun style stereotypes about Chamorro incompetence, laziness, being on welfare and food stamps, pathological sexual infidelity. Where in this sisonyan of fun-lovingness and bad social characteristics is there room for anything serious? Where in all this mess is the idea that the Chamorro can run an island, run a government, save a language or a culture?

I often tell this anecdote to people, because it had a huge impact in my life and on the shaping of my ideas. Several years ago while giving a presenting to some elementary school age kids on Guam, I asked them to list a number of stereotypes about Chamorros. They mentioned several dozen, most of them perceived as being negative, such as lazy, takes lots of breaks from work, works for the Government and is corrupt, lives off of welfare, eats ghetto food or unhealthy food such as Spam. Some positive attributes were mentioned, such as family closeness and military service.

When I listed these stereotypes on the board, I asked the class what type of person had we created in this conversation? Would the accumulation of all these characteristics create what we would identify as human? Would this person be capable of what we consider everyday life? Then at last I asked, would this person, this Chamorro be able to survive on their own, to run their own island to determine their own future? The kids who did respond seemed to think no, it couldn't.

The moral of this story is that the things we say about ourselves as a people, the way we articulate our natural state of being goes very far in establishing the limits of ourselves, where our belief in ourselves begins and ends, what is possible for the Chamorro to do and accomplish and what is impossible, what can they simply not do. Possibility and impossibility are decided in the most everyday, normal, banal moments. It is a very easy stretch for you to move from making jokes about Chamorros, promoting negative stereotypes one moment, and then later on denying agency to a Chamorro, attacking those who argue that the Chamorro has a positive and active existence, and bring it into practice through activism or social change.

The majority of the Kantan Chamoritta verses of An Gumupu Si Paluma are in the vein of courting. "An Gumupu Si Paluma" was a very popular and beautiful phrase to begin songs with, because of the multiple sorts of images and metaphors that it could refer it. It could reference the beauty of a bird in flight. It could reference a beautiful girl. It could reference even the male sexual organ. Depending upon the mood, the singer could sing successive verses, or they could trade them back and forth. Here are the lyrics for one pre-war version of the song.


An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumohge’ gi trongkon donne’
Ya ha tago’ yu’ Si nana
Na i bunita bai hu konne’

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ti ha tungo’ manu chi-ña
Ya tumoghe’ gi trongkon håyu
Ya ha konsuela i piniti-hu

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumoghe’ gi trongkon paipai
Ya an un li’e magi i likao
Dimu pappa’ ya un fanaitai

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumohge gi hilo’ nunu
Ya hu fahåni hao lipesmu
Ni’ kambadsa benti unu

The sort of elegant beauty of the bird flying through the sengsong and the halom tano', in the first two lines of each verse which is then tied to something else, something which is much more specific, but also very vague and potentially benign creates an interesting abstract but nonetheless vibrant world.

But the real reason that I chose this song to teach in my session, and also that I love the Johnny Sablan version most, is the ways his version trends lightly but still convincingly into that realm of making comments about the world around it, and calling for us to recognize something lost or being lost, and perhaps hoping that we will make a stand and force a change.

Part of what makes this version different is when it is written, decades after World War II in a time where the island's native birds were disappearing. The brown tree snake, i na'malamana na kulepbla, had been brought to the island and it was slowly wiping out Guam's birds. The jungles of Guam which prior to the war would be filled with the calls of so many birds, were slowly starting to quiet, and the calls of the sali, sihek, chichirika, kakkak and so on were being replaced by the humming of car engines and the roar of construction equipment. The birds of Guam, which were a constant fixture in daily life on Guam were slowly dying out.

(Despensa yanggen lumachi yu' gi i tinige'-hu)

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumohge trongkon donne’
Ha sangåni yu’ Paluma
Na i bunita para bei konne’

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumoghe tanantångan
Hu hahasso i tano’-hu
I tano’-hu Guahan

An kumåte Si Paluma
Pues triste Si nene
Ai Paluma månu guatu
Ya bei toktok Si Nene

An kumanta Si Paluma
Lalalam i atdao
Ya mamflores halom tano’
Na manmagof i taotao

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumoghe trongkon chotda’
Ha tågo’ yu’ na bai espiha
I Chamorro siha na paluma

Ai paluma
Na’i yu’ un påppa’
Ya ta hihita gumupu
Ya ta hihita kumanta


When The Bird Flies
(Pinala' as Guahu)

When the bird flies
And stands on the pepper tree
She tells me
That the beautiful one I will get

When the bird flies
And stands on the tangantangan
I think of my land
My land Guam

When the bird cries
Then my baby is sad
Oh bird where is there?
And I will hug my baby

When the bird sings
The sun shines
The jungles blooms
And the people are happy

When the bird flies
And lands on the banana tree
He orders me to go and find
The Chamorro birds

Oh bird,
Give me a wing
And we will all fly together
And we will all sing together

In the fifth verse, the flying bird leaves behind the romance and the kuentos guinaya and instead moves into the world of social commentary and political metaphor. The bird who flies on lands on the banana tree does not speak of love, but instead gives the singer an order, a command. Tinago' i kakanta ni' i paluma para u fanaligao i paluman Chamoru. The bird in the song then begins to symbolize something else, no longer a figure of full of love and romance, but instead a signifier of loss, something that no longer flies freely within the jungle, but instead haunts it, as a tragic reminder of what has been lost and is being lost.

The bird isn't a vehicle for enabling romance anymore, but exists now to spur a discussion perhaps on cultural change, on development, on progress, on environmental damage and sustainability. The bird is now charged with political meaning, when it lands in this verse it isn't a chulegugua' anymore for Si Balentino, but a ghost who is not just commanding the singer, but also taunting the listener, bringing the reality of life into the emotional content of this song, infusing the vibrant romantic world of this jungle with the difficult realities of the "real world."

But there is more than this commentary on the loss of Guam's native birds. In the final verse of Sablan's version, there is a sort of Chamorro nationalist or indigenous call to action. The bird is shifted from a simple symbol of the loss of Guam's bird population, and becomes a symbol for contact between Chamorros of today and Chamorros of old. The bird isn't just a symbol of a form of Guam which is slipping away, but also Chamorros and their heritage, a key link to their past. The loss of the birds is paralelled by the loss of Chamorro culture, language and consciousness.

Thus there is another possible meaning to the fifth verse and that when the bird commands the singer to find the Chamorro birds, he could just as easily be commanding the singer to find the Chamorros, to gather them together now, as they just like the birds are starting to fade away. In the final verse the singer pleads with the bird to give him a wing, to give him something which can help him stop this loss, which can bring together all the Chamorros and push them to fly forward into the future.

Put este na rason, hu gof guaiya este na kanta.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

R.I.P. Tim Russert

Tim Russert died on Friday at the age of 58. The 24 hour news networks, in particular MSNBC have run non-stop programs in memory of and in honor of his long career in politics and journalism. For MSNBC this is of course expected since Russert has been a part of their journalistic stable for a very long time and is the mentor of their new electoral math guru Chuck Todd.

I've been watching Tim Russert for a very long time. In my pre-conscious days, prior to the rise of the internet and my development of a broader alternative network of sources for my news, Meet the Press was one of the sort of passive venues through which I would absorb some current event news. If my memory is correct, I remember watching Meet the Press on Sunday mornings, while waiting for basketball games on NBC to take place. I would usually get just info info about American politics from the interviews, to convince people my age and older that I was far more knowledgeable than I really was. (Siempre guaha ma sasangan pa'go na sigi ha' taiguini yu'.)

In the tributes to Russert there has been an incredible amount of mentions about his white board and his "Florida, Florida, Florida," comment which proved true on the eve of the Presidential election in 2000. I remember watching the election coverage with rapt attention, but I don't remember Tim Russert at all. With the recent release of the HBO movie Recount, I've learned however that my memory of that time period can't really be trusted. It was a traumatic time, watching the Republicans and their political machines and networks trample all over the Democrats and democracy. I'm one of those people who still, after eight years still qualify any sentence which involves the words "Bush" "2000" "President" and some form of the word "elected." One of my preferred forms is to say that Bush was "selected" in 2000.

Perhaps I did watch Russert in his most sublime form that year, but just blocked it out. Even watching the previews of Recount can just make my blood boil.

One of the last memories I have of Russert, was his declaration last month, that America now knows who the Democratic nominee will be. I have to admit, I did cheer for the man then, since he was very casually pounding another nail into the coffin of Hillary Clinton's Presidential hopes.

I have no doubt that Tim Russert has played a huge role in making American journalism what it is today, but my own uneven memory of him is far from flattering. I recall a This Modern World Comic, where Tom Tomorrow used Russert as the straw man in illustrating the pre and post 9/11 passes that Bush would get from the media in terms of his all around lack of intelligence. Where the media through Russert asks John Kerry whether "light is a wave or a particle" and to Bush asks "Mr. President - can you spell the word 'cat?'" This both was and wasn't supposed to be directly commenting on Russert, but more so used the figure of Russert to make light of the media's supposed toughness (in speaking truth to power) which often melted away for fear of being painted as unpatriotic if they questioned the President, or worse yet, mean for picking on that poor President, who obviously has no idea where he is, or what's going on in the world around him.

I know that when public figures pass on there is supposed to be a period of embelished reflection, where the recently deceased is painted up brightly in only positive tones. I remember even Gary Trudeau in Doonesbury gave Ronald Reagan such an honor when he promised safe passage to the former president as he "left town."

On the one hand, I feel that I should follow suit and simply honor someone who has been a pillar in the American fourth estate for decades. On the other however, my most significant memory of Russert compels me to nonetheless speak critically, no necessarily about him or his choices, but rather what he represented in journalism, his position within a system which has been failing in its responsibilities in particular since 2001.

In one of his tributes to Russert, Keith Olbermann noted that the deceased was one who set the standards in American journalism, as he represented a key piece of its foundation. This made me fully understand, an interview that Russert gave with Bill Moyers which frankly always left me confused.

Russert did have a reputation for being a sort of "bulldogish" personality in his interviews. Especially as a teenager, I remember him being very direct and forward with his guests and often witnessing his style of learning everything about his guests and then taking the counter position. I remember watching snippets of his infamous interview with David Duke, where he revealed him to be a figure of almost pure empty ideology with little substance since he obviously knew very little about the state he was planning to govern. He was also known as a "straight shooter," an authentic American, who never strayed far from the populist, no nonsense wisdom of his father. He would speak plainly and was only interested in finding and speaking the truth.

But in his interview with Bill Moyers, for the 2007 PBS documentary Buying the War, where he was asked about the manipulation of intelligence by the Bush administration to sell the Iraq War to the American people, Russert was anything but direct. In fact he looked more evasive and very uncomfortable. Part of this might be due to the climate of uncertainty amongst journalists about the Valerie Plame leak scandal, and so people such as Russert were being very tight lipped about their sources and what exactly they knew and where they learned it from.

After hearing Olbermann talk about Russert as "the standard" for American journalists, I began to think about his discomfort and unwillingness to engage with Moyers as derivative of something else. Here is the transcript from the documentary below:

BILL MOYERS: Was it just a coincidence in your mind that Cheney came on your show and others went on the other Sunday shows, the very morning that that story appeared?

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know. The NEW YORK TIMES is a better judge of that than I am.

BILL MOYERS: No one tipped you that it was going to happen?

TIM RUSSERT: No, no. I mean-

BILL MOYERS: The Cheney office didn't leak to you that there's gonna be a big story?

TIM RUSSERT: No. No. I mean, I don't have the-- This is, you know-- on MEET THE PRESS, people come on and there are no ground rules. We can ask any question we want. I did not know about the aluminum tubes story until I read it in the NEW YORK TIMES.

BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September eight, 2002 and to your show in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable. Someone in the Administration plants a dramatic story in the NEW YORK TIMES And then the Vice President comes on your show and points to the NEW YORK TIMES. It's a circular, self-confirming leak.

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.
My concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.


TIM RUSSERT: Look, I'm a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work 'em very hard. It's the mid-level people that tell you the truth.

BILL MOYERS: They're the ones who know the story?

TIM RUSSERT: Well, they're working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and political officials.

BILL MOYERS: But they don't get on the Sunday talk shows.

TIM RUSSERT: No. I mean, they don't want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out sometimes their bosses and other public officials.

BILL MOYERS: What do you make of the fact that of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department?

TIM RUSSERT: It's important that you have an opposition party. That's our system of government.

BILL MOYERS: So, it's not news unless there's somebody…

TIM RUSSERT: No, no, no. I didn't say that. But it's important to have an opposition party, your opposing views.

What has stuck with me about this interview, after watching it several times, is the resistance of Russert to engaging with the ideas of Moyers. Throughout most of the interviews in the documentary, regardless of whether they are liberal or conservative, each finds a place for themselves in the narrative of the war or the critique that Moyers is proposing about how the Bush administration manipulated the intelligence or that there is a dangerous intimacy between the media and the Government. Conservatives such as Richard Pearle or Bill Kristol simply trotted out their usual lines, or just clung to whatever castle of fancifully neo-conservative illusions that they thrive in. Those who were more liberal or critical each made statements that made them fit in with Moyer's critique, either providing evidence of Bush crimes, or providing ammo for his arguments.

Russert stuck out, in that he resisted the entire narrative. He refused to be swept away by ideology the way Pearle and Kristol were. He refused to join in with others in their condemnations of the Bush Administration. But he also refused to speak to or even join in considering the analytical rethinking that Moyers was offering.

When Moyers mentions the propaganda tactics that Cheney used with the New York Times story on aluminum tubes, and also the fact that almost all mainstream news media sources for information on the Iraq came from the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House, he is pushing for Russert to respond outside of the typical media box. He is trying to move beyond the simple truth or falsity of statements and the game of "gotcha," and get Russert to respond to the system that surrounds the media and creates the natural and ovbious assumptions that structure it. He is trying to get Russert to assess that system which infuses certain statements and certain voices with incredible discursive power and weight, in order to get at how the Bush Administration so masterfully used that system to their advantage.

Russert dodges these issues. At one point retreating into the persona of that hard-nosed, no nonsense, undifferentiated journalist who knows what is what and who his sources are. At another point he displaces the questions of Moyers onto the Democrats, speaking nothing of the need of journalists to oppose the falsehoods of Government.

I know that Russert's behavior in this interview can partially be attributed to his neutrality, and his well known efforts to stay impartial to these sorts of debates. So for some, Russert here is providing an example of objectivity in journalism, by not joining in with the Bush bashing of some of Moyer's other guests, or the Bush praising of the others.

But for me, what Russert represents in this interview is one of the biggest problems I find in the American media today, and that is an unwillingness to go outside of the given assumptions for what constitutes news, what makes something newsworthy, or what sorts of voices should be elevated to create truth, and what voices can be dismissed as being mindless rants. For Russert the possibility that the media and the government might be too intimately connected and that the government might be manipulating the media and therefore the people, is something, even when the space is specifically about that, and evidence has been brought forth to discuss it, it is something which he can't admit to or even consider.

Reporters who are truly speaking truth to power cannot simply settle for a tough exterior or a facade of antagonism when dealing with the government or those they cover and research. They also have to be prepared to engage with the system they operate in. In the case of someone like Tim Russert, during the run up to the Iraq War, he worked in the mainstream, corporate media, and was the host of one of the longest running and most popular Sunday morning news shows. He therefore occupied a key launch site in terms of the government making its case for war and disseminating its desired ideas and information for its propaganda campaign. I am singling Russert out now, but he was and is just one of so many who failed to take into account their place not just in a system of media outlets, journalists and sources, but in a wider system that includes the American people, the media and the government.

This sort of double work is something we all go through. I struggle with it all the time as an activist and as an academic. One must perform well, excell and therefore help maintain the system you are a part of, by heeding its rules and integrating yourself and your actions into its metrics for appropriate and acceptable behavior and achievement. Yet at the same time, one must also be vigilante and see a wider view of that same system and also help shape it and in some cases save it, or fight for a particular vision or future of that system.

This post has not been an attack on Tim Russert's life or body of work. As I noted I've learned alot from him over the years and there are trace tears of nostalgia and appreciation when I think back on all my memories of him. But at the same time I feel the need to stay true to my most haunting and most visceral memory of Russert, even if its not a glowingly positive one. That impulse to whitewash a person's life when they pass on is great, but it is also a comforting amnesia which can be incredibly counterproductive, and enable you to lose so much. In the state of morning, we tend to only grab and only acknowledge publicly that which speaks highly and glowingly of the deceased. The mixed life of every person who passes on is filled with good and bad and a multitude of lessons we should take with us, times when they were their strongest and most vital and other times when they were their weakest and most useless. I think we do more justice and honor to those that have passed on by taking real stock of their lives.

So in that spirit, adios Sinot Russert, Si Yu'us i ga'chong-mu gi i hinanao-mu. Gi este na tinige'-hu bai hu onra hao gi i minagahet i lina'la'-mu. Ti bai hu kefa'perfetko hao, ti bai hu kefunas pat kepuni i linachi-mu. Bai hu kuentos put i chi-mu gi lina'la'-mu kosaki sina ta komprende mas yan eyak mas.


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