Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Island

From the New York Times:

Given the vitriolic opposition now to the proposal to build a Muslim community center two blocks from ground zero, one might say something else has been destroyed: the realization that Muslim people and the Muslim religion were part of the life of the World Trade Center.

Opponents of the Park51 project say the presence of a Muslim center dishonors the victims of the Islamic extremists who flew two jets into the towers. Yet not only were Muslims peacefully worshiping in the twin towers long before the attacks, but even after the 1993 bombing of one tower by a Muslim radical, Ramzi Yousef, their religious observance generated no opposition

“We weren’t aliens,” Mr. Abdus-Salaam, 60, said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he moved in retirement. “We had a foothold there. You’d walk into the elevator in the morning and say, ‘Salaam aleikum,’ to one construction worker and five more guys in suits would answer, ‘Aleikum salaam.’ ”

One of those men in suits could have been Zafar Sareshwala, a financial executive for the Parsoli Corporation, who went to the prayer room while on business trips from his London office. He was introduced to it, he recently recalled, by a Manhattan investment banker who happened to be Jewish.

“It was so freeing and so calm,” Mr. Sareshwala, 47, said in a phone conversation from Mumbai, where he is now based. “It had the feel of a real mosque. And the best part is that you are in the epicenter of capitalism — New York City, the World Trade Center — and you had this island of spiritualism. I don’t think you could have that combination anywhere in the world.”

Such memories have been overtaken, though, by others. Mr. Siby’s cousin and roommate, a chef named Abdoul-Karim TraorĂ©, died at Windows on the World on Sept. 11, as did at least one other Muslim staff member, a banquet server named Shabir Ahmed from Bangladesh.

Fekkak Mamdouh, an immigrant from Morocco who was head waiter, attended a worship service just weeks after the attacks that honored the estimated 60 Muslims who died. Far from being viewed as objectionable, the service was conducted with formal support from city, state and federal authorities, who arranged for buses to transport imams and mourners to Warren Street.

There, within sight of the ruins, they chanted salat al-Ghaib, the funeral prayer when there is not an intact corpse.

“It is a shame, shame, shame,” Mr. Mamdouh, 49, said of the Park51 dispute. “Sometimes I wake up and think, this is not what I came to America for. I came here to build this country together. People are using this issue for their own agenda. It’s designed to keep the hate going.”

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Emerson for the Day

"In the long run men hit only what they aim at."
photo: Mars surface from orbit

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Time to Get to Work

President Obama's Labor Day speech in Milwaukee made news and ignited the progressive blogosphere, first for his delivery of its fighting rhetoric and spirited defense, and second for the proposal he unveiled, to spend $50 billion this year on jobs for infrastructure projects--roads, railways and runways. In about forty minutes he revived Democratic hopes for 2010--and pledged to continue making his case all across the country.

Two quick observations: The infrastructure proposal caught the media and everybody else by surprise. Nothing about it had leaked, so analysts scrambled to evaluate it. That surprise also helped inspire immediate praise on the progressive blogs, with few if any complaints that it wasn't enough.

Second, there were some new rhetorical flourishes in the speech. Obama's inserted line about special interests ( "They talk about me like a dog") got the most immediate attention, but dubbing the Republicans as the party of "No We Can't" is likely to have more lasting utility. But it's clear that some commentators simply haven't been listening all that closely to what he's been saying in the past weeks and months, noting turns of phrase he's field-tested before. Did President Obama suddenly find his speech-making genius again? Or did commentators just pay attention for once? Probably a little of both. But if the name of the game this year is voter enthusiasm, the Democrats just took a big step towards getting some.

Vacation's Over...

Click collage to enlarge...

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The real business of the War is buying and selling. The murdering and the violence are self-policing, and can be entrusted to non-professionals...The true war is a celebration of markets."
Thomas Pynchon
Gravity's Rainbow

Labor Daze

So it's Labor Day, a national holiday since 1894. So what will I be doing? Working, of course.

I'll be working partly because others will be. I can't interview unless somebody agrees to be interviewed--in this case, because she's too busy during the official work week. I have a meeting because others will be there, and the grant proposal is due soon.

Though Labor Day--like a lot of holidays--now has very little to do with its origins (more about them in a sec), this year it's the occasion for opining on the economy. Which in case you haven't heard is pretty bad. President Obama (backed by some recent numbers) says it's improving, though not fast enough, and he will announce several proposals this week. The Republicans will be against them, progressive Democrats will be disappointed they don't go far enough. Paul Krugman's column of a few days ago seems the best summary of where we've been and where we are, and it points out the basic ironies. First, that Obama's Recovery Act is looking to have been too small, although it was the biggest he could get through Congress, and arguably what is needed now is another infusion of job stimulus money, although Congress will never pass it, partly if not wholly because Republican opposition is guaranteed. As Krugman writes," if he[Obama] came out for motherhood, the G.O.P. would declare motherhood un-American."

Krugman thinks President Obama's proposals should be bold anyway, just to force the GOPers to own up to opposing them. That's one political theory of how it might play out, but it's not the only one.

Anyway, everybody's got advice. Robert Reich, for example. President Obama keeps repeating that this is a long term process but people do eat--and vote--in the short term. Nevertheless, as TIME noted, the Recovery Act is going to transform the American economy--just not right away. Its investment in a green future is paying dividends in the present and will pay even more in the next several years, but the report that caught my eye suggests that green jobs of a certain kind can do even more to revive the economy. This Center for American Progress study finds that: retrofitting just 40 percent of the residential and commercial building stock in the United States would create 625,000 sustained full-time jobs over a decade, spark $500 billion in new investments to upgrade 50 million homes and office buildings, and generate as much as $64 billion a year in cost savings for U.S. ratepayers.

Labor Day is also the traditional start of the election season, though that's now 24/7/365. The economy may be the excuse, but this campaign (if not the election itself) is shaping up to be a kind of climax of psychosis--the stoking and organizing of fear, pretty blatantly using the forbidden and hence more powerful undercurrent of fears focused on our first black President--in support of ignorance and lies, otherwise known as the GOP agenda. That's another irony of the Krugman column-- the GOPers who opposed the Recovery Act because it would spark inflation and kill the stock market were proven utterly wrong. So far, polls and those who interpret them claim this doesn't matter. People aren't mad at them just because they were dead wrong.

Will GOPers win back Congress with the same promises that, enacted during the Shrub years, ruined the economy? That's this year's bet, and it has a chance of winning, enhanced if not totally created by the very wealthy who profited the most in the Shrub years and have the most to lose from fairer taxes and a green economy with prosperity for more than just them. Newscorpse and its Fox in the henhouse of supposed news media don't bother hiding their manipulations anymore, and revelations of the billionaires behind the Tea Party movement are merely the most recent.

Which leads us back to the origin of Labor Day. It was a response to the slaughter of American workers by the U.S. military and U.S, marshals during labor union strikes against one of the most powerful economic interests of the day, the railroads. To avert something like a class war, Congress rushed through the Labor Day proclamation by unanimous vote. There were still plenty of bloody battles ahead for labor unions until they achieved better pay and working conditions...for a few decades anyway. Now it's a bloodless class war, in which workers are all but defenseless. The rich are getting immensely richer, and everyone else is getting poorer, with no shots fired except for the ones fired usually by members of the American underclass chiefly at members of foreign underclasses, who fire back. And the rich find ways to get richer still. A lot of people are unemployed, and GOPers want to let them starve. Nearly everyone else is working more hours and more days and more years, for less payment. But hey, there's this extra day off. Sort of.

This is also the traditional end of summer, and once again, it doesn't quite work--at least where I am. We had our warmest day of the year last week--almost 80-- and we look forward to what is often the warmest, sunniest time of the year here, in September. So: no farewell to summer cookout, no day off anyway, in a country apparently no wiser about falling for demagogues and fearmongers, or TV happy faces and push-your-buttons commercials obscuring the continuing rapacity of the ruling class, and their media/political pets. And happy Labor Day to you, too.