Catching them being honest

One of the pieces of political language that drives me absolutely nuts is the term ‘illegal immigrants’. The system of immigration in both Canada and the United States disincentivizes documented immigration by making it nearly impossible and subject to interference by the capricious whims of the party in power. Looking at it cynically, one could make the argument that there is a huge economic benefit to the elite class, who can exploit undocumented immigrants for what is essentially slave labour, secure in the knowledge that threats of deportation are usually enough to quell any resistance to the illegal working conditions. The system punishes the exploited, not the exploiters.

Of course, there are few places in the USA that are more openly and notoriously malevolent to undocumented immigrants than the state of Arizona. Despite the blatant racism inherent in their newly-minted anti-Mexican law that they try to pass off as a way of handling “illegals”, they are still legally allowed to detain and deport anyone who looks ‘foreign’ and can’t prove their non-foreign-ness to the satisfaction of the towering legal intellect of folks like Joe Arpaio.

And, apparently, this lady: [Read more...]

Kiva Project: Doing something different with our money

It’s the beginning of the month, which means I have a blog paycheque burning a hole in my online pocket. I thought, in light of this morning’s story, that it might be worthwhile to do something a little different this month:

Pe’ Sla is an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota (just west of Rapid City) that is considered by the Lakota people to be the Center and heart of everything that is. It is part of our creation story. It is a sacred place. We perform certain ceremonies at Pe’ Sla which sustain the Lakota way of life and keep the universe in harmony. This area is partly owned by the Reynolds family. They plan to auction off almost 2,000 acres on August 25, 2012 to the highest bidder. It is likely that the state of South Dakota will put a road directly through Pe’ Sla and open up this sacred place for development.

(snip)

We are hoping to buy as much of the sacred sites as possible. Currently for sale is 1,942.66 acres which is in 5 tracts (300 – 440 acres each).  It is diffcult to say how much this land would be sold for as developers may increase the true western “value”.

As much as the idea of ‘sacred land’ irks me, I think the goal of reclaiming ancestrally-held lands is a good one. The more economic power these communities have, the harder it is to ignore their needs and ‘otherize’ them. This campaign is closing in 5 days, so I thought it might be cool to kick this month’s pay to this cause. I will wait to see if there are any major complaints or concerns. Unlike Kiva, this is a donation and not a loan, meaning that when this money is gone, it’s gone for good.

We also got a bunch of repayments in our Kiva account, so go check out any campaigns there that you might like and I’ll pick a couple of those as well.

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One Million Bottlebags

The first album I ever bought was Public Enemy’s Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black. I don’t remember how old I was, but I couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9. This album is a classic and sparked a wave of ‘conscious’ political hip-hop that would be nearly drowned out by the explosion of the gangsta genre and the rise of the west coast some years later. At an age that young, I didn’t really understand most of what was being said – after all, I was growing up in the mountains of British Columbia. I’d never even seen a ‘hood, let alone understood the suffering of the people who lived there. It would, therefore, take me several years to understand the track “1 million bottlebags”:

Malt liquor bull
What it is, is bullshit
Colt
45 another gun to the brain
Who’s sellin’ us pain
In the hood another up to no good
Plan that’s designed by the other man

But who drink it like water
On an’ on, till the stores reorder it
Brothers cry broke but they still affordin’ it
Sippin’ it lick drink it down, oh, no
Drinkin’ poison but they don’t know

How could I connect, at that age, under those circumstances, to the helpless rage Churck D was trying to articulate at seeing his friends literally drink themselves to death? And in true Chuck style he pulled no punches in laying the blame (and the bodies) at the feet of predatory liquor companies who flooded black neighbourhoods with advertisements, targeting young black men with their substandard and unsafe product. Combine that with the widespread poverty and accompanying ambivalence toward the suffering of black people by the American government, and it’s no wonder that Chuck was so furious. Good thing those days are over, eh? [Read more...]

A Framework for Social Justice

[This is, as the title says, a framework for social justice, not the only one. There is more than one way to go about framing social justice. This is just one of more effective ones, in my opinion.

Also, I'm talking about 'touching' and 'conventions' here, so consider this a trigger warning, if relevant]

Talking about social justice is all well and good, but when it comes to the particulars, how do we decide how to move forward? Or (possibly more importantly) how do we recognise the wrong thing to do? In order to fix problems, we must first correctly identify the problem, then identify a solution. False negatives and false positives are always a concern. So how should we proceed?

We could, of course, bring in some basic heuristics. “Women and children first”. “Protect the underprivileged”. “Favour people of colour”. These policies all have their own issues, of course, and can easily come into conflict. They are all also highly contextually dependent.

Enter John Rawls. John Rawls brought forward two principles that allow us to move away from simple (and overly-simplistic) axioms to better conceive of the just choice to make. Of course, this is not a ‘perfect’ solution, but it’s certainly far better than many others that have been advanced in our history. The first is The Original Position. The second is known as The Difference Principle. I’ll explain these below, but I’m using them in a slightly different context to Rawls, so any Rawls purists out there will have to have some patience.

[Read more...]