Saturday, May 22, 2004

"This was like a Bomb Going Off in the Environmental Community" - Labor Union's Prevailing Wage Law in California Now Threatens Environmentalists
Most people have never heard of the strange pork barrel animal that helps keep state construction costs astronomically high - othewise known as "prevailing wage law." That could be about to change. Under a recent ruling by California's Department of Industrial Relations, the environmental group Heal the Bay will now have to pay all its volunteers the prevailing wage because under amendments to the California Labor Code pushed during the Gray Davis administration, receiving governmental assistance turns construction (defined loosely) into a "public works project."

As one activist said recently:
"This was like a bomb going off in the environmental community," said Shelly Luce, director of science and policy at Heal the Bay, which was forced to halt a volunteer weed-removal project along Malibu Creek. "Our creek monitoring and restoration is 80 percent volunteer ... We were sure it meant we had to shut everything down."

So what exactly is a prevailing wage for anyway? Well, many states enacted laws during headier union times that were designed "to protect" the workers in the labor market from distortions that would be wrought through cheap government labor. To do so, many states and the federal government (the latter for its own projects) mandate that workers be paid the "prevailing market wage". However, there are several problems with this that I have listed in a separate post today, but I've summarized them below:
(1) the prevailing wage is likely and often is significantly higher than the actual market wage
(2) workers on government projects might not be as deserving of even the market wage
(3) it could increase not only the cost, but the number of governmental projects.

So the environmentalists (and many other non-profits that rely on volunteers) in California now have a few options.

First, they can try to have their projects supported by California Chartered Cities as opposed to the state government, under the guise that these cities are entitled under the state constitution to run their own "municipal affairs" and that prevailing wage law is not a "matter of statewide concern" that can trump this right to "home rule". While there is solid precedent (a dated California Supreme Court case called Pasadena holding that prevailing wage law is not a matter of statewide concern), a recent appellant level case known as Long Beach departed from it by holding the opposite. This case is now pending before the California Supreme Court.

Second, they can refuse governmental assistance or pay their workers. Both here would be very difficult for such groups.

Third, they can try to apply for a difficult exception

Finally, they can get an exemption built into the state law exempting volunteers, which I believe the federal and quite a few state governments have. Trouble is, the labor unions aren't willing to budge, as Daniel Weintraub points out

You would think lawmakers would just repeal whatever law is blocking volunteerism, or pass a new law that explicitly allows it. That shouldn't be very difficult if everyone wants it, right? Wrong.......
The easiest fix would be the simplest: a new law that says people who want to volunteer their time can do so. And if they are getting paid, they get paid the prevailing wage.
But not in the Capitol.
Hans Hemann, an aide to Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, the Berkeley Democrat who has taken over the issue in the Legislature, says his boss so far hasn't been able to get labor leaders and environmentalists to agree on a fix.

However, there might be a glimmer of hope for environmentalists. A later dated publication claims that "regulators have stopped enforcing" pending action by the legislature.

Would it be a good thing for the legislature to act? Sure, environmentalists and other non-profits would get out of the high costs associated with this law, but many government contractors would remain stuck with it leaving taxpayers to pony up the higher costs. Leaving the law in place might be just what is needed to draw attention to the problems of prevailing wage law that I point out in the post below.
The Problems of Prevailing Wage Law
Never heard of Prevailing Wage Law? If you are a concerned citizen, you maybe should research it. It is a major reason why public projects cost so much. In times of yesteryear, many states enacted laws designed "to protect" the workers in the labor market from distortions that would be wrought through cheap government labor. To do so, many states and the federal government (the latter for its own projects) mandate that workers be paid the "prevailing market wage". Sounds great, right? The government has a lot of bargaining power, and this is just a law to ensure that workers are just being paid what they are worth, eh? Perhaps not -

1) A joke I once heard is that to find the legal prevailing wage, you take the real market wage and multiply it three or four times. Since the setting of the wage is a finding of fact by an agency, my understanding is that it will usually receive a large amount of deference if challenged in court (I'll have to email my prof, Tino Cuellar on this question), leaving it ripe for corruption. Give the high government official a small donation, have her appoint "understanding and sympathetic to the needs of labor" men to the board that sets the prevailing wage, and your Union stands to profit enormously from wages that were many times greater than were paid. If you are a union official and want to make the scam even more legit, arrange for a very small project with astronomical wages that your union will be willing to take a loss on. Point to the inflated wages of that project as the real prevailing wage. Get the agency to agree. Get all your workers overpaid.

2) Even if the exact market wage would be set as the prevailing wage, city/state/and federal government projects might still be overpaying for their workers. Its possible that the workers who work on a governmental contract may not be as good as the workers who work on a private contract. This could be true overall (they are just lower quality workers who got the job based not on skill but on political appointment) or narrowly (the worker is usually industry average, but since it is a government project with lower standards, he works at with less effort).

3) Since workers are being overpaid, they have every incentive to push for more construction than is needed in the government sector. Since the politicians get bribery from the workers, they have added incentives to engage in an increase in government projects. The result is that prevailing wage law not only astronomically increases the cost of government projects, but it might also increase substantially the actual number of these projects!

Clearly, there quite a few potential problems with these laws. Hopefully, the states that have them will rethink their implementation in the future.

Update: Here is another post on the subject (where it was briefly illegal to volunteer in California)

Update: Here is another post on the subject, explaining how prevailing wages can get set so high.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Grumblings that the Nick Berg Video was Fake
I recently received this email, but don't have time to research the issues it raises. My gut says that there is an explanation for all of this, but in the interest of being open minded, here it is:

Alex, Elliot, others- what do folks make of this? i've seen several of these things pass through my inbox (and it's not always immediately easy to sort fact from fiction on the net/web); but this is the most detailed one yet (was actually bounced from p-d), just wondering if any of this seems like potentially substantial evidence to anyone..? -M

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 19 May 2004 06:02:00 +0900
From: ***********************
To: headwaters-owner@lists.Stanford.EDU
Subject: Berg video exposed as a fraud

Terrorist mastermind Zarqawi has announced his name but hidden his face. The CIA has said it is indeed Zarqawi, but he appears to be reading his own speech from a paper.

The person holding the knife -- allegedly Zarqawi -- has a Black hood at the video's beginning, but there is an edit (the camera time signatures change) and the knifeholder is then wearing a WHITE hood (and no bulletproof vest).

You'll also find the following oddities in the heavily edited video, which was heavily edited, presumably in a lab or on a pc:

WM-----|-----Video Clock-----|-----Screen Shot
0:00 ---|--- nothing ---|-------Arabic letters
0:05 ---|--- 13:26:24 ---|--- Nick Berg speaking
0:09 ---|---- 2:18:33 ---|--- Nick Berg sitting
0:20 ---|---- 2:40:33 ---|--- Speech in Arabic
4:36 ---|---- 2:44:56 ---|--- Speaker pushes Berg over
4:38 ---|--- 13:45:48 ---|--- Decapitation begins
4:43 ---|--- 13:45:52 ---|--- Picture lost
4:44 ---|--- 13:45:59 ---|--- Picture returns, decapitation continues

So, if we are to assume the timestamps of the two (?) cameras are accurate, this means Berg was beheaded at 13:47:49 (1:47) but at 2:44, nearly an hour later, he is sitting with his head intact.

Zarqawi has also been reported to have an artificial leg; this is definitely not apparent in the video. Nor is his Jordanian accent, according to experts. Also note the gold ring on the "sinister" (toilet-using) hand -- a definite no-no for muslims.

Then there's US consulate Beth A. Payne's emails to Berg's family saying their son was in "US military custody" for 13 days:

April 1, 1:26 a.m. (To Michael Berg, Berg's father)
I have confirmed that your son, Nick, is being detained by the U.S. military in Mosul. He is safe. He was picked up approximately one week ago. We will try to obtain additional information regarding his detention and a contact person you can communicate with directly.

April 1, 5:23 a.m. (To Suzanne Berg, Berg's mother) I have been able to confirm that your son is being detained by the U.S. military. I am
attempting to identify a person with the U.S. military or FBI here in Iraq who you can contact directly with your questions.

And, according to CNN, Berg himself had contacted a friend -- Chilean
reporter Hugo Infante -- saying he was in US custody

The US Administration denies this, saying he was in Mosul Iraqi police
custody, BUT "...police chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair al-Barhawi in Mosul insisted his department had never arrested Berg and said he had no knowledge of the case. ''The Iraqi police never arrested the slain American,'' al-Barhawi told reporters. ''Take it from me ... that such reports are baseless.''

And of course there are the American orange prisoner jumpsuit and white plastic chair and yellow walls which appear in the video -- exactly as they do at Abu Ghraib, the now-notorious site of the American torture of Iraqi POWs:

[Images - Berg Chair]
[Images - Babe Chair]
[Images - Prison]
[Images - Orange Garb]

Next, the hosting website was reported to be in Malaysia, but was
discovered to actually located in London:

Says, which ran a trace: " and have apparently been disabled by 'authorities.' ...the publishers for these sites are located in London, England and Nurnberg, Denmark.

"The addresses began to disappear from the internet listings as we
reported this development on The Power Hour Radio Show. Apparently, "Big Brother"; had been listening to the show and didn't like the news at all. The location of the publishers for appears to be at an Arab Press Building, which appears to be shared by different Arab newspublications. The name of the organization is the Arab Press House. The building is apparently the headquarters for news magazines such as, AlJamilla, Sayidaty, and Al Majallah among others.

The London address is the following:
Arab Press House
Abdel Rahman al-Rashed
184 High Holborn, WCIV78P, London
tel. 020 78318181

The other address is located in Nurnberg, Denmark. It apparently belongs to a man named Omar AbuOmar. His email address
is: .

The complete mailing address is the following:
Omar AbuOmarNew Dream St. 33
Nurnberg, Denmark, 42114
Phone: +965.15441211

....these same websites ( and were the ones that posted the latest Bin Laden audio recording, weeks ago. Despite knowing the website addresses, and potentially the addresses of their respective publishers, the CIA, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security did not make any apparent efforts to monitor the websites for uploaded files or internet traffic. Therefore, no arrests were made."

Next, the AK-47 carried by one of the men is a "Gilal" -- an Israeli
weapon that improves on the AK- 47. Feyadeen and other insurgents almost universally use AK-47s. The man in the left of the video is standing in the American military stance known as "parade rest", and several of the apparent terrorists are wearing white tennis shoes ad bulletproof vests.

At frame 13:46:27, there is an edit and a person with a white ear and a green cap is seen entering from the right. Then the video is re-edited.

Matt Drudge reports that "The statement in the video was signed off with Zarqawi's name and dated 11 May" , but Berg's body was reported found on May 10th -- the day before the video was apparently made!

Pay attention. This one is definitely a setup.

More details here:

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

More on the Timken Plant Closing and its Effect on Elections
The San Jose Mercury has a piece on how the closing could affect the election. I am doubtful. The argument basically is this - that Canton, Ohio is the ultimate political bell weather, and the closing will make it more likely to lean Kerry, implying that Kerry will be significantly more likely to win the election

If that was the intended argument, then I disagree. A plant closing may make my hometown more likely to vote Kerry, but this only means that it becomes less of a bell weather unless their is a corresponding shift in the vote of the nation as a whole. Given how hard hit Canton is by the closing compared with the overall economic gains of the country, I find this argument more difficult to believe.

A more dangerous possibility however, is that Bush may be losing so much ground in Northeastern Ohio, that he will be unable to carry the state. Since this is one of the two or three states where the election will be decided (Ohio still has about 20 electoral votes, and is more up for grabs than Pennsylvania), this is a worry development indeed for Republicans.
A Sign That Happy Times are Here Again
Investment Bankers are beginning to waste money again on new ridiculously priced meals. I've had the chance to be taken out to very expensive meals at a few jobs I've worked. One job even let us expense $40 (but you could expense more occasionally) a day for lunch. A lot of people told me I was an idiot (and it became difficult to get others to go to lunch with me), but I often prefered to get a good old-fashioned Chipotle Burrito for $5 over a fancy $45 steak and dessert combo.

Of course, I did make an exception twice for sushi.
Funny Political Movie Link
Click here.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Palestine Month Continues at Stanford
Their PR guys are on the ball.
A Night in Celebration of the Palestinian Spirit
When: Saturday, May 29th @ 7:00pm
Where: Manzanita Dining Lounge
Spend an evening celebrating the culture, essence, and spirit of Palestine
Events include:
> Delicious authentic Palestinian dinner
> Debkah (Palestinian traditional dance)
> Live Palestinian music
> Fashion show of traditional Palestinian costumes
> A talk by guest speaker Dr. Jess Ghannam
“Reflections on the Health Consequences of War and Occupation in Palestine & Iraq”
– A talk by Dr. Jess Ghannam
Dr. Jess Ghannam is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco, President of the San Francisco American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine right to return coalition.
Dinner cost ~ $5.00 per person
Dress code ~ Business casual
RSVP now at:
Sponsored by: Coalition for Justice (CFJ), Muslim Student Awareness Network (MSAN), and the Organization of Arab-American Students in Stanford (OASIS)

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Timken Plant Closing. Hometown Crushed.
Timken is finally closing its three ball bearings in Canton, OH. My hometown expects to lose over $40 million a year in payroll and 1,300 jobs. The outrage is already brewing. Some blame the Democrats for creating a regulatory state. Others blame the free traders for creating a climate where it is cheaper to do work oversees.

Why blame anybody? This is nobody's fault, this is just the company responding to the realities of a competive market. If workers demand more than the company feels they are worth in salary, enforced by a union, they may get their way in the short run. However, in the long run, somebody is going to come along who is willing to do the job cheaper and/or better than they can. And the consumers who buy their prodcuts are going to end up better off.

Excuses such as distributing the CEO's salary sheet for the luxury of overpaying Steel Local 1123 miss the point. Shareholders pay or agree to pay the CEO the salary he makes because they feel they are getting a good deal (whether they are correct is another question, but as it is their money, they have the right to squander their assets in being wrong). They no longer feel the same way about their Ohio employees. To the workers of Local 1123 If you think they are wrong, prove it to them by putting your money where your mouth is. Mortgage houses, plunk in savings, sell cars to get collateral, and take out a loan from a bank to start up your own company with the assets of Timken for sale on the cheap. If I had passed the bar, I'd even do the pro-forma corporate startup papers for you for free. If Local 1123 truly makes a worthwhile product for the best possible price, than I am sure you will see this as the best possible option.
Everquest - What Economists Can Learn From a Virtual World
Cardinal Collective has an interesting piece about how players (or avatars?) trade online currency for online products, and are even willing to sell both for real world currency on ebay.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Nick Berg's Death Was Not Fully Shown
Some portions of the video were edited out. Read this exchange at Free Republic......(warning, there are graphic photos attached)
The Lawyer's Version of the Apprentice
Fox is looking for newly-minted JDs to be in a lawyer version of the apprentice. It will be Ivy Leaguers vs. Less Prestigious Schools in this version. One problem - since half of the top 6 are schools that aren't in the Ivy League, does that mean that grads from Stanford, UChicago, and NYU are going to be excluded? Our alumni didn't get their JDs from the Ivy League, so we are knocked out of one team, but we don't fit with the unprestigious schools either. Dude - we've been disenfranchised!

Harris is picking me (in red) up from the Airport here. I had just gotten in from Spain
Posted by Elliot
Prisoner Photos - My View
I am putting up an email that I wrote to Mandeep Gill, a good friend and one of the leaders of the progressives on campus, regarding the prisoner abuse scandal. At the time I wrote this, I was unaware (and still am unaware) of any photos regarding forced sodomy or rape. If those photos exist, my opinion will be different on the issue of whether this is no big deal.

I haven't been web searching as of late because I've been swamped with exams.

About the prisoner issue. I think it is a non-issue and has been vastly oversimplified, which I have been saying for a week. Nor have I found the photos that surprising. The military has long said that they had effective methods of breaking the will of prisoners that didn't rely on physical torture. This fits with past statements (though that does not mean it was in line with actual military protocol). Either way, I still view this as overblown. Why?

1) I view this as potentially us betraying ourselves rather than any so called global moral community.

2) It is impossible for me to tell if the use of these tactics were in truth a betrayl of the American people without further information (what were the soldiers trying to achieve with the methods, what kind of information [through breaking them first psychologically] were they expecting to get, was there an expectation that was sufficient to justify the risk of sullying our reputation

3) I have little faith that this will severly enrage anybody in the middle east to dampen our war efforts. Ohy, there might be posturing. But in reality, those that are mad at us over this were already pretty fucking pissed beforehand. Others of them are going to be less likely to want to fight us. Islamic terrorists/freedom fighters/holy warriors aka mujhadeen (sp?) (take your pick, I'm not passing judgment here) may not fear death, but they are likely to fear being dog piled by a dominatrix in S & M gear while she laughs at the size of their manhood.

4) That being said, now that this issue is at the forefront, we have to ask ourselves if we as a country want to be a part of such actions. Just because they might make us safer does not mean that we should do them. The idea of breaking the spirit of a person is always repugnant, to break it so graphically is quite beyond the pale. I like having the moral ground, even if the rest of the world does not acknowledge it, which these actions clearly undermine.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Video of the Beheading
Makes death by having your heart cut out by a spoon seem almost preferable. Disgusting. From what I read, Nick Berg seems to have been a hybrid - republican, yet peace-corp like in the desire to help third world countries get built up. I hope we get the bastards who did this sent to Abu Gharib.
Here come the Palestinians........
"What Happened to Palestine?
Thursday May 13, 2004 @ noon in White Plaza
Guest Speakers: Prof. Joel Beinin, Prof. Khalil Barhoum.
Enjoy: Music, Photo Display, Palestinian Desserts, T-shirts

What Is Al-Nakba?
"Nakba" means "catastrophe" in Arabic ("al-nakba" means "the catastrophe"). Throughout the Arab world, the word is used to refer to the devastation of Palestinian society and the dispossession of the Palestinian people resulting from the ethnic cleansing conducted by Zionist forces in '47-'48.

What Is Nakba Day?
The most important date on the Palestinian calendar, Nakba Day is observed throughout the world on May 15. This is a time to learn about the history of Palestine and of Palestinians, and to remember the tragedy inflicted on the Palestinian people in 1947-48, which has yet to be rectified.

Nakba Day is also an occasion to celebrate the continued vitality of Palestinian culture in the face of continuing hardships, and to reaffirm Palestinian aspirations for peace and self-determination.

Learn more [here]"

Monday, May 10, 2004

Corporate Tax Down, Bankruptcy Tomorrow
I have three finals in four days, which is why I haven't been posting. If anybody is curious about the basic tax rules of statutory mergers, stock-for-stock swaps, asset sales, redemptions, divisive reorganizations, or contributions to a controlled company of property with a nonrecourse mortgage, you are free to ask me next week.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Another Stanford 2L Blogging...
Check it out

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Q and O
Has some thoughts on my Rachel Corrie experiences. Take a look.
Oops, More Rachel Corrie Wrapup. Plus Palestine Photo Display!
The Stanford Daily Ran an Article on it here. It seems there will also be a photo display as well for Palestine Awareness Month, called "Mind, Body, and Soul of Palestine". The Stanford Daily had this to say about the Possible Photo Show:

Haj-Hassan added that MSAN [Muslim Student Awareness Network] does not intend for the pictures to generate any sort of controversy. “The photos are designed to show the truth,” he said. “It’s hard to talk to about the Palestinian people and ignore what they are going through.” MSAN member Omar Shakir, a freshman, predicted that the Stanford community would react positively to the exhibition. “It should open people’s eyes and show them the human side of this conflict,” he said.

Just out of curiosity, will they be showing the dead pregnant woman living in Palestine who was killed this week just because she was Jewish? Isn't that part of the "human side" of this conflict as well? Oops, guess that woman was just a pig or a monkey to some of these fanactics for justice in palestine, so her death probably wasn't part of the equation anyway.

Anyway, I received an email from another person who attended the Rachel Corrie Beatification, which is a very good description of how the event went. I'm posting an excerpt of it below.

I just returned from the Stanford program presenting Craig and Cindy Corrie, parents of Rachel Corrie, the American from Evergreen University and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who was accidently killed by Israeli bulldozer as she stood in front of Palestinian home of suspected terror bombers. As you probably know she has become a rallying point of the anti-Israel propaganda forces, both Muslim and radical left. By the way, this lecture was kick-off of Palestine Awareness Month at Stanford. There will be several other lectures, one by Allison Weir, a photo display entitled "Nakba Day" (This memorializes the the tragedy to Palestinians of Israel's birth and existence) There will be (according to flyer I picked up) dinners, fashion shows, music, and every Sunday a movie about Palestine. The program was sponsored by Coalition for Justice and the Muslim Student Awareness Network.

I want to tell you how dangerously effective this husband and wife team are in demonizing Israel. But first a little about attendees. There were about 100 folks there. About half were students, it seemed equally divided between Middle Eastern types and peace and justice white boys and girls. The other half seemed older Palestinian community people and a lot of sweet little old lady types, retired librarians, doing their thing for the oppressed of the planet. There were also about 4 or 5 ISM volunteers in the audience. (They received a big ovation when asked to identify themselves) Professor Joel Beinin was there also. There was also a young kid about 13, wearing a "Palestine Rocks" tee shirt. Nathan Mintz, a Stanford pro- Israel activist was there with about 5 other pro-Israel students. My friend and inveterate champion of Israel , Ralph Bernstein, joined me there.

A little about the Corries. They come across as tremendously believable. Of course as parents who have lost a child, they merit and garner instant sympathy. Both are white haired, distinguished, gentle looking people. Although they've both been long time activists in the radical left wing, pacifist, (except when a Democrat makes war) movement, the husband added to a "mainstream" credibility by mentioning repeatedly he was a Vietnam Vet. Here's something I suspect you will find depressing. (And by the way, if one were to try to accuse their daughter or them of anti-semitism, the Corries would likely make the accuser look foolish...however true the accusation would be.) They spoke warmly of many Jews and Israelis they know personally. They said Rachel initially was introduced into her Palestinian activism by an Olympia, Washington neighbor.. a former Israeli citizen and Holocaust survivor. They told us they had warm friendships with two co-founders of ISM, both Jewish. In fact, about 20 to 30 per cent of ISM volunteers, they claimed, were Jewish. In addition, Rachel died in the arms of fellow ISM worker, Alice, who was Jewish. They told moving stories about their friend and Palestinian activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman. At least 10 to 15 times they both warmly and specifcally lauded their Jewish friends and colleagues in the movement.

Now about the presentation. I am not going into much detail of the horrid propaganda they so smoothly propounded. Suffice it to say that Israel was portrayed as the oppressor, the vicious occupier, the vile bully. (Yet this was sprinkled as I mentioned above, with comments about their warm feelings toward so many Jewish folks and their nebulous calls for peace for everyone.) They talked of Israelis destroying olive groves, mosques, houses of the Palestinians without provocation. They claimed,(and used quotes from Israeli Human Rights Organizations,) that most home demolitions were not done because of terror tunnels or weapons caches but because "Israel needed to teach Palestinians a lesson." Throughout the whole anti-Israel propaganda fest, there was a contuous slide show showing larger than life pictures of Rachel, as a beautiful blond child swinging on a swing or laughing in a swimming pool. They also showed a home video of Rachel, at age 10, giving a class speech about ending world hunger. The pictures served as a continual backdrop to the oral presentation. My friends, sad to say, the medium gave a powerful message. And while they twisted facts and told vile lies, it didn't seem to matter.

Now the Corries told the audience they want to continue with Rachel's message and her work. They are lobbying Congressmen. They are trying to get others involved in the work, (and from the presentation I witnessed, they are skillful and effective.) They plan to continue speaking whenever they can. Here's what's frightening to me: In this particular audience, they were speaking to the converted. No real harm done. But what happens when they bring their slide show and their home videos and their anti-Israel poison to a community Milpitas library lecture or Vallejo High School current events discussion day? How many naive folks will be persuaded?

Now there were about 5 or 6 of us good guys in the audience. Of the 8 or 9 people called on to ask questions in Q&A, we got in 4. We all spoke politely, and prefaced our comments with a condolence message to parents. But all our questions had an edge that, I believe, broke some of the spell. One of us asked about Rachel's photo in USA today burning the American flag shortly before her death. One of us asked if the parents had any misgivings that Rachel's actions protected those who explode human bombs on innocent Israeli children. One asked why ISM didn'textend their love of peace and children and nonviolence to protect those on the Israeli side. While the Corries rather slickly bridged these questions and got back to their anti-Israel tirade, it did seem to cause them some discomfort. Those in the audience also were a bit discomforted by the questions. After it was over, we overheard one young Stanford girl remark, "Yeah it was pretty good, till all those people disrupted it."

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Rachel Corrie Wrapup
Took a study break last night and went to the event that I posted about earlier. Rachel's parents were very good. Slow, hypnotic speakers, well trained to handle criticism. They spoke movingly about the need for not mere words in the quest for social justice, but rather action, which Rachel's sponsoring group, the International Solidarity Movement (or ISM) accomplishes. They spoke of the need to look at the blood on the hands of both sides in this conflict, not just the Palestinian side. They humanized those that suffer (at least on the Palestinian side). They responded to the predictible question about Rachel burning a U.S. flag by pointing out that it was an American Flag that was drapped over her mock coffin in Gaza for her mock funeral - the first time in ages that Palestinians would carry our flag with pride.

I quickly got sick of this charade posing Rachel as a non-partisan peace activist. So I decided to pin her parents down with this question.

"Mr. and Mrs. Corrie - it means a lot to me to have both of you come here tonight and speak of the need for direct social action over mere words. Too often in our generation, those that would seek to make this world a better place give themselves contentment with the pat on the back of mere words when they should be acting. With that in mind, you pointed out earlier that we should pay attention to the actions of both sides in this conflict. I wholeheartedly agree, and wanted to press you on how your late daughter or even the ISM has engaged in direct non-violent action, as opposed to mere words, to restrain the Palestinian side from its violence, since both clearly had the Israeli side covered."

Their faces went from smiling at the beginning of my question (bait to get them listening) to shock at the end of it. The wanted to say that ISM has condemned and their daughter was against suicide bombing, but I of course cut that escape route off to them with my request for examples of the direct action both have prided themselves for (besides, their daughter was actually quite in favor of suicide bombers). To prove that their late daughter and the group she stood for was truly a "peace-organization" and not just a group of partisans that were supporting one side over another, they needed an example. And they couldn't find one. The Father stuttered for a few seconds, then tried weasling his way out with an excuse that as peace activists they don't need to be fair to both sides, since the Israelie's are stronger. Of course, this means that these peace activists were partisans and not the neutral observers they claimed previously to be, a point that didn't go unnoticed in the audience. Even the Muslim Student Awareness Representative up there with them started chuckling.

I hadn't had that much fun asking questions at an event since I made former presidential candidate Gary Hart look like a dumbass...but that is another story for another time.

Oh yeah - sometimes mere words are important. Just as long as you aren't contradicting them with your actions.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Iraqi Prisoner Abuse
Many seem to think that this might trigger years of future violence by an enraged arab populace. I am skeptical. While the abuse of prisoners is undoubtably a disgusting thing, it is also the traditional mode of police behavior in that part of the world. As such, while I wish our troops would not engage in such conduct, I would be quite surprised if the "arab street" is in fact shocked/further enraged by this turn of events.