Friday, February 29, 2008


UC Democratize the Regents
Demonstrators protest in favor of democratizing the UC Regents, against the Berkeley-BP research deal, in favor of leaving the Memorial Oak Grove uncut, against the UC refusing to turn over Native American remains held for "research." And also against nuclear weapons.
Ah, Berkeley...

Protecting the Boys

I haven’t felt in the mood for blogging lately but after reading about the release of a US Marine charged with raping a 14-year old Okinawan girl, I’m reminded of this piece on a similar case in the Philippines, which I wrote a for a class a few months ago and never did anything with:

On December 4, 2006, Philippine courts sentenced U.S. marine Daniel Smith to 40 years in prison for raping a Filipina. The verdict was a dramatic victory for people seeking to hold American servicemen accountable for their crimes against civilian populations.

On December 29, 2006, the hopes raised by Smith’s conviction were shattered when the US Embassy removed him from Philippine custody.

Smith remains in the custody of the US Embassy in Manila while he appeals the verdict, causing widespread public outrage in the Philippines. The impulse to prevent Smith from languishing in an overcrowded, under-serviced prison while his case is resolved is understandable. But the “protect our boys” ethic that underlies it, which dictates that U.S. personnel abroad should invariably be shielded from local accountability, needs to be seriously reexamined.

In the Philippines, this case was clearly tied to US-Philippine military relations from the moment it hit the front pages. It was precisely this kind of crime -- and the lack of accountability that accompanied it -- that led to the expulsion of US Military bases from the Philippines in 1992.

After years of lobbying, the US military was allowed to return in 1999 under a new Visiting Forces Agreement. Among the key features of this agreement are provisions guaranteeing the Philippines greater power to try and punish American soldiers for serious crimes.

Smith’s trial was the first major test of the renegotiated agreement, and the guilty verdict gave Filipinos reason to believe that the era of American impunity had ended. Instead, within weeks of Smith’s conviction, the United States pressured the Philippine government to transfer Smith to American custody by threatening to cut aid and cancel joint military exercises.

Using the power of the state to shield Smith transformed his crime from an isolated incident into a statement of U.S. foreign policy. While asking the Philippines to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the war on terror, the United States effectively refused to acknowledge the Philippines’ equal right to protect its citizens, and undermined the very democratic institutions the war on terror is purported to protect.

America’s insistence on protecting a convicted rapist at the expense of Philippine sovereignty underscores an unequal partnership the Philippines, one of America’s staunchest allies in the war on terror, has every right to resent. On the anniversary of Smith’s conviction, protesters stormed the US Embassy in Manila calling for Smith’s return to local authorities and demanding the repeal of the Visiting Forces Agreement. As this call goes unheeded, resentment builds.

Filipinos are understandably upset by an ethos that "protects our boys" above all else. Shouldn't we be too?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy VD!

This is my all-time favorite Valentine, sent to me last year by Britta. It may be old, but I thought about it today, it still makes me laugh, and I figured I should spread the love.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Demonstrations in Berkeley

Since last night, demonstrators have been gathered outside of Berkeley City Hall, waiting to see whether the City Council will repeal a letter it issued last month informing the US Marines that they were “uninvited and unwelcome” intruders in the city.
After attracting international attention, and prompting republican lawmakers to call for federal funding to be withdrawn from the city, the council is meeting again tonight to reconsider their statement.
I wasn’t able to stay until the meeting was finished, but I stopped by in the afternoon and the evening to check out the scene.
People from Code Pink have been camping out in front of city hall, and a crowd of anti-war demonstrators has gathered around them.
Separated by a police line, a large crowd of counter-demonstrators is blasting patriotic music and waving flags. In the afternoon, the crowd of counter-demonstrators seemed the bigger of the two, but by the time the meeting started it appeared to have evened out.
To make things even more chaotic, a delegation of workers from Pacific Steel is also demonstrating at City Hall, in relation to another item on the agenda – a proposal to declare the Pacific Steel plant a public nuisance.
The proposal stems from noise and pollution complaints, but workers are afraid regulation will endanger their jobs. Unfortunately, because they arrived in the midst of a standoff between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, their anti-City council stance effectively put them on the side of the pro-war demonstrators. There was a bit of commotion as people tried to find a camp to put them in, especially after one of the leaders of the workers delegation began making patriotic, pro-military statements. A few people from Code Pink tried to talk tie the loss of jobs to war policies, and one very unpleasant guy (who, judging from his orange bandana, was from an anti-war group) yelled at the (mostly Latino) workers for being “illegal Mexicans.”
I was able to talk to a few of the workers later, and it was clear they were there only about the Pacific Steel resolution, and had no intentions of making a statement for or against the Marines.
I have more photos up on flickr, and I'm still waiting to see how it all turns out.

UPDATE: The Berkeley City Council elected to retract the statement, but refused to apologize to the Marines. Republican lawmakers are continuing to push the "Semper Fi" act, which cuts off federal funding for the City of Berkeley.

Friday, February 08, 2008


These past few weeks have been incredibly busy. On top of all the usual nonsense, I have to get ready for my trip to Southeast Asia, I'm going to be presenting a paper at a grad student conference at Cornell in March, and I'm spending a lot of time trying to persuade people to let me take their pictures.

As part of my preparations for going to Thailand and Burma, I decided to be sensible for a change and take adequate health precautions, so I went to the clinic yesterday to get all of my shots. I feel poked full of holes, have a lingering soreness in my left arm (Hep A) and can barely lift my right arm (tetanus and polio). I also have live typhoid (in therapeutic quantities) sitting in my fridge. Irritatingly, it has to be kept refrigerated, and has to be taken two hours after and one hour before eating -- so it will sit there until I can get organized enough to come home to my refrigerator before I'm so hungry I'm about to pass out. Could be a while.

I'm working on two new photo projects as well. One is a multimedia piece about flamenco in the Bay Area, and the other a photo essay on gender and gender politics. I've always been pretty comfortable with asking strangers if I can photograph them, but working on more in-depth projects requires a much higher level of access to people's lives, so it's an interesting challenge. It's good for me, though, to have work to do that requires going out and interacting with people, instead of just holing up in the library or my room.

I'm also revisiting my paper on the Rizal Morga to present at Cornell. There are a few things that should be improved, but mostly I'm just trying to condense it.

This has really turned into a list here, but I wanted to put up something. I think this will be my first "apologizing for not posting more" post in a while.