Ben Buchwalter


Is Joe Arpaio the New George Wallace?
January 30, 2010, 2:16 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights, Crime and Justice, Mother Jones | Tags: , , , ,

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio continues to show the US government who’s boss. In October, the justice department tried, however ineffectively, to rein in the controversial law enforcer by barring his office from making immigration arrests in the field. Of course, Arpaio vowed to disobey. This reminds me of another American hooligan George Wallace, the governor who famously blocked African American students from entering a school in Alabama. Arpaio certainly seems to fit that mold:

The statute currently in question is section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which enables local officials to enforce immigration laws with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security. Jennifer Allen of the Tucson-based Border Action Network explains that either party can opt out of the agreement, as DHS did partially earlier this week. So, she said, it is now illegal for Arpaio to continue his immigration raids without the approval of DHS. “There are no state-level laws that say you can set up a check point in a predominantly low-income Latino neighborhood and start pulling people over left and right for insignificant pretenses.”

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“Pink Panties” Sheriff Joe Arpaio Targets ACORN
January 10, 2010, 9:07 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights, Mother Jones, Scandals | Tags: , , , ,

September 22, 2009

There are a number of loons in the news that I just can’t get enough of. One of those loons is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is one of the country’s leading crusaders against immigration. Arpaio is loved by some (and hated by others) for his controversial crime sweeps in mostly Hispanic neighborhoods and immigration arrests in the field, which the USDOJ has continuously opposed. One of Arpaio’s most trusted deflection techniques is blaming third parties. In September, he targetted ACORN for allegedly using federal funds to launch a PR campaign against the sheriff’s tactics. I contacted ACORN to get their reaction. Here’s what they said:

ACORN spokesman Scott Levenson says that there is no basis for these claims and welcomes Arpaio’s opposition. “Sheriff Arpaio has long been the poster child of racist and prejudiced behavior around law enforcement,” he told me. “I’m confident that Sheriff Arpaio attacking Acorn is proof that we’re heading in the right direction.”



Torture Confirmed by ICRC Report
November 16, 2009, 9:25 am
Filed under: Civil Rights, Crime and Justice, Talking Points Memo | Tags: , ,

March 16. 2009

Barely two months into Barack Obama’s presidency, there remained very few historical accounts proving that the Bush administration authorized torture for its War on Terror. In mid-March, a journalism professor and New Yorker contribute added one of the most complete historical accounts of torture to date in an article for the New York Review of Books. Danner wrote about a confidential report he obtained from the International Committee of the Red Cross that listed, in detail, the torture techniques used on three suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaydah, Walid Bin Attash, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who currently awaits his civilian trial in New York City. I summerized Danner’s piece in a post for TPMmuckraker. Read my synopsis for some of the details about the horrific torture methods used against Zubaydah, Bin Attash, and KSM. Here’s the kicker:

Danner came to a few key conclusions after reading the ICRC report: most importantly, the Bush administration approved torture in its questioning of al Qaeda suspects as early as 2002. And everyone in the administration, including President Bush, knew it was happening.

Danner says that it is unclear exactly how successful these tactics were in gathering key information about potential terrorists. But one key comment from Khaled Shaik Mohammed indicates that the information is worthless. In the worst moments of torture, Mohammed says he “gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.” This information undoubtedly “wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts.”



San Franciscans Protest Prop 8
May 26, 2009, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights

In a relatively surprising move, the California Supreme Court ruled today to uphold Proposition 8, the referendum passed by California voters last year to define marriage as between one man and one woman. I was hanging out in San Francisco when my sister texted me and said to get my ass down to the protests. So I popped over to the Civic Center and it was a pretty powerful experience. Click here for more photos.

The demonstration mostly centered on hope. Children of same-sex couples spoke about the importance of being raised by loving parents, not simply heterosexual couples. Recently married men and women spoke of how far marriage equality has come in the past few decades.

But some weren’t so comfortable. Two men with mohawks and leather jackets roamed the crowd yelling “Let’s go to the streets! You are being too nice!” A group of women stood directly behind the crowd with megaphones and harmonicas screaming “I’m not a nice gay!”


The crowd was mixed on Obama’s dedication to gay rights. Some said that his election was the best thing ever to happen to gays in America and insisted that he would eventually become a powerful champion of equality. Others responded to chants of “yes we can” with a chorus of “no he won’t.”

To me, the most powerful speech came from the couple pictured above, who were married very recently. (It also spoke to the ethos of this blog.) The man on the left explained that two steps forward and one step back is still progress. Yes, today was a giant leap back. But 2009 has already been filled with steps, leaps, and skips forward. Look at Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and Maine. The march towards marriage equality has begun and will eventually achieve fruition.

Another speaker reminded the crowd that even though the Supreme Court decided that that Prop 8 was legal, it did not mean that it was right. Prop 8 passed because a group of voters convened and orchestrated a massive get out the vote campaign. Marriage equality can be restored in 2010 or 2012 if progressives come together to do the same.

Even though I have faith that this will happen, today’s ruling troubles me.  As the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s politics blog notes, the state Supreme Court would clearly have ruled differently if the issue was interracial marriage. And before that was legal, opponents said it was unnatural, nontraditional, and would lead us down a dangerous road to same-sex marriage and unions between people and animals. In other words, they made the same arguments as anti-gay activists make today.

See more from the SFBG blog for great reporting and photos from the day.


Live long and prosper.



Pandering to Marriage Equality
May 7, 2009, 1:56 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Civil Rights | Tags: ,

I just heard an interesting point about gay marriage on MSNBC. The guest (I didn’t catch his name) said that gay marriage will quickly become more and more popular in the next few years. We’ve already seen this in recent developments in Maine and New Hampshire. It could even become so popular that presidential candidates will be pressured to support it to win the 2012 election.

Iowa is a great example of this. The state’s Supreme Court ruled on April 3 that refusing to allow gay marriage amounted to discrimination against same-sex couples. And as one of the very early primary states, Iowa carries a lot of weight in determining which candidates will reach the general election.

So if Iowans become as proud of their marriage equality as they are of their farms, then we could see lawmakers falling all over themselves to pander to gay marriage supporters.

For extra credit, check out TPM’s slideshow showing the march toward marriage equality in 14 states.



On its Birthday, the NAACP Becomes Inclusive
February 12, 2009, 10:45 am
Filed under: Civil Rights, Race | Tags: , , , ,

As the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, celebrates its 100th birthday today, the organization’s leader signals an interesting change that speaks loudly to the shifting tone of race relations in today’s society. The NAACP will move away from addressing African American issues exclusively and focus on improving equality among all people across the world.

According to the 36-year old President Benjamin Todd Jealous,

“The No. 1 challenge we face is the lack of outrage in this country about how everyday people are treated, and so that is what I’m focused on now,” Jealous said. “We’ve practiced one formula with great success and need to continue to transform this country, not just for black people, but all people.”

In the near future, the NAACP plans to focus on health care, Darfur’s genocide, and climate change.

This is an interesting evolution, and I think a really good one. Many successful nonprofit organizations and political action committees expand once they are successful with their original mission. The NAACP has had incredible success desegregating the United States and making society safer for African Americans. Applying this organization to other American minorities and internationally oppressed populations could be extremely powerful.

But there are two major risks associated with the NAACP’s expansion.

  • The NAACP should not spread itself too thin. One of the reasons it has been so successful in the past is that it has had one mission: to advocate for racial equality using the legal system and democratic modes of opposition. If the NAACP expands its programs without expanding its base of support (financially and socially), then it risks squandering its incredible potential.
  • Also, the NAACP should not send the message that racial issues are fixed in the United States. Yes, things are much better than they were 50 years ago, even 20 years ago. But a much subtler racism remains in American cities, towns and rural communities that often manifests itself in housing discrimination, workplace inequality, and delicate daily interactions.

The NAACP’s growth touches on a reader diary I noticed on the Daily Kos yesterday. The author suggested that we should do away with Black History month because 1) it is condescending to African Americans, and 2) It is not necessary to elevate this minority over other American minorities.

Doing away with black history month is unrealistic, unnecessary, and unproductive. But it does raise questions about why we visibly honor African Americans in February, but barely notice the months dedicated to Hispanic Americans (September 15-October 15), Asian Americans (May), and most notably, Native Americans (November). Is it anything more than collective national guilt for our history of slavery and government sponsored racism? If so, why aren’t we as repentant about our involvement in the Native American genocide?

This speaks to one major issue that lurks behind racial dialogue in the United States. Do we elevate African American history and the history of American oppression to the detriment of other major American minorities (which have not exactly had a free ride)?

Jealous’ vision for the future of the NAACP indicates that this should not be the case. And I hope that the neo-NAACP will be equally as successful as it has been in the past 100 years to help increase equality between Americans of all backgrounds.



Blue Patriotism Finally Arrives

We liberals have known for some time the unmistakable power of progressive patriotism. We love the United States becasue of its promise but we do not blindly follow mistaken policies and bombastic foreign policy simply because those ideals are espoused by red-blooded-hot-headed-cold-hearted Americans. No, I love this country mostly becasue it is imperfect. That means the best is yet to come. And we are the generation to bring the American promise to fruition.

This Tuesday, Jefferson Morely of The Washington Independent discussed the difference between red and blue patriotism. Both sides love America and want to protect it as the world’s greatest nation. But they have inherently opposed ideas about what the American promise is and when it will be accomplished. Morely clarifies the difference:

Red patriotism […] continues to embody the view that America has achieved its greatness–and must be defended from those who would undermine it. Blue patriotism has all along insisted that America’s greatness depended on living up to its ideals–and has to be defended from those who do not take those ideals seriously.

This is a culture war that has raged since the United States’ adolescent years and the battle between slave owners and abolitionists. During this period, red patriotism declared that white supremacy was working just fine for the United States, and it should not be abandoned because of changing international opinion to slavery or the perceived equality among whites and blacks. Blue patriots, on the other hand, claimed that this was no America at all, at least not according to the words of the Constitution.

Blue patriotism was then, as it is now, based on the principle that the United States would be the greatest nation in the world if it lived up to its promise to provide  a stable government based on the equality of its citizens. But the battle between red and blue patriotism is not over simply because we have elected our first African American President. It’s more like the fourth quarter of a long drawn out game in which the blue team just pulled ahead.

The battle lines are different now, and less racial. For the past eight years, the debate between red and blue patriots centered on foreign policy and the ways to best defend our boarders. Red patriots have shunned the international community, represented by the United Nations. Blue patriots have been largely silenced due to the unquenchable drive for revenge after September 11 and a distorted opinion of what constitutes patriotism. In this period of red patriot dominance, the United States has devolved into our most afraid and lonely state probably since World War II.

This week, Barack Obama has sent a clear signal that Blue patriotism will be the cornerstone of his presidency. He has vowed to close Gitmo, increase transparency in government, and bring our troops home from Iraq in 16 months. Yes, there is a lot more to do and it seems nearly impossible that Barack Obama will able to accomplish everything he hopes to. But at least we know that blue patriotism is back.

And its not weak. It is based on “honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism,” says Obama.

“These things are old. These things are true.”