Rick Perry announces Texas A&M campus in Nazareth.

TexasAMLogo1Former-and-current U.S. Presidential hopeful Rick Perry went to Israel this week to burnish his pro-Israel bona fides in advance of the 2016 campaign, and also to announce plans for Israel’s first non-Israeli institution of higher education. As The Texas Tribune reported ahead of the announcement:

On Wednesday in Jerusalem, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp are expected to announce plans to establish a Texas A&M campus in Nazareth. It will be called Texas A&M Peace University.

… “Our side of the equation is to locate and make available land, which is a scarce resource in Israel,” said [Manuel Trajtenberg, chair of Israel’s Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education].

Trajtenberg said he anticipates significant student interest. “Of course, we would appeal to potential students in the area, but also Jewish Israelis of all sorts…” he said. “I suspect there will be a strong demand for this institution from students who would prefer to study in English and are comfortable in a multicultural environment.”

Though a first for Israel, Texas A&M has maintained a presence beyond American borders since 2003, with a branch campus in Qatar. The primary difference between the Qatar and Israel campuses is funding: The Qatar institution is supported entirely by the Qatar Foundation; the Israeli branch will depend on international donors. Fundraising help will come from (among others) Chancellor John Sharp, who is Catholic and told The New York Times that he’s wanted to take this step since taking his position in 2011: “I wanted a presence in Israel… I have felt a kinship with Israel.”

Also instrumental to the plan is the Texas-based evangelical power-pastor John Hagee:

When Mr. Sharp began exploring the idea, he sought the help of John C. Hagee… who has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for projects in Israel and for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In March 2012, Pastor Hagee told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel about Mr. Sharp’s plans and helped connect Mr. Sharp and other Texas A&M officials with Israeli leaders.

…“The things we have in common with Israel are much greater than anything that would be separating us,” [Hagee said].

You remember John Hagee—he’s the guy who thinks Hitler was sent by God to “chase the Jewish people back to the land.” I don’t know if he’s listed that idea on the “things in common” or the “things that separate us” side of his ledger, but neither that opinion nor Hagee’s theology have ever kept right-wing Jews in Israel or America from using his fundraising prowess for their own ends.

All of which leads me to instinctively wrinkle my nose. The tendency among Christian Zionists (and not a few Jewish Zionists) to treat the modern nation-state of Israel as a sort of Disney version of The Promised Land is not, to put it mildly, my favorite thing. It’s a real place, with a real culture, real joys and sorrows, and not some pie-in-the-sky fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

But on the other hand, there’s this:

As many as 5,000 students will study there, officials said, with most coming from the Arab communities in and around Nazareth. Arabs make up more than 20 percent of the population of Israel, but only 11 percent of the student body in the country’s higher-education system.

…“There’s no significant academic presence in Arab towns and cities in Israel,” Mr. Trajtenberg said. “It will have a symbolic impact beyond the academic impact.”

Now, it could be argued that if Israel’s Council for Higher Education is worried about the lack of academic opportunity in Arab-Israeli municipalities, it could use some of the national budget (into which the citizens who live in those places pay their taxes)to address the issue. Waiting for foreigners to solve the problem isn’t necessarily the most responsible option.

Yet the fact is that the State of Israel has not chosen to invest in higher education in Arab-Israeli (more properly: Palestinian-Israeli) locales, and along comes Texas A&M—hardly a slouch in the higher education department. English-language instruction is a frankly deft way around the political stink that would no doubt arise if Israel dared establish an Arabic-language university, and should also provide anyone graduating with a leg up in the global marketplace. In short: Who am I to begrudge the good people of Nazareth a world-class institution?

Of course, all of this remains in the wait-and-see stage—not only have planners not yet broken ground, they haven’t even bought land; the Times reports that fundraising should begin “within weeks.” Many a grand idea has come and gone without leaving so much as a ripple.

But ultimately, I think I can only wish this project well. Given that Israel’s government has typically treated its Palestinian-Israeli citizens as little but a demographic burden (at best), Texas A&M represents the possibility of genuine improvement. Here’s to hoping it works.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Good stuff: The singer-songwriter wrote a song for me!

On Saturday night I posted the now-timeless ditty “No the Civil War Really Was About Slavery,” penned, sung and recorded on Friday by fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates commenter HappySurge (aka Sergi Avteniev), and I urged you to go to listen to the rest of his work on Youtube.

Much excitement abounded about the song in yesterday’s Open Thread, so he wrote another, this one in response to the Rick Perry/Herman Cain/Niggerhead brou-ha-ha, called appropriately enough There Are No Racists Here.

Much excitement abounded about that, so he wrote another one — this one a thank you to me! O_O It’s about the death penalty! (You know you’re loved when your friends write songs about capital punishment with you in mind). And it’s really, really, really good. Really.

So, without further ado, I present to you There Are No Racists Here (favorite verse: “Now, if you want to know some racists, Hitler was a racist/ Because a racist is someone who is racist all the time/ Like Henry Louis Gates who wakes up at Harvard teaching hate/ But there are no racists here”) followed by the chill-inducing Two Hundred and Thirty-Four Graves (“everybody said/ You better kill that kid/ He ain’t no good, but he’ll be damn good dead”). Lyrics after the jump.

(more…)

Today’s mood brought to you by Rage Against the Machine.

Today’s mood:

 

The reasons for my rage?

Oh my God, so many!

But we’ll go with this one for now:

Rick Perry’s Juvie Record

Why did the GOP presidential contender wait six years to clean up the culture of child rape at Texas youth detention centers?

For years, the Texas juvenile justice system was wracked by reports of rape, unsanitary conditions, and physical abuse. According to statistics submitted by the [Texas Youth Commission] in 2007, 83 percent of residents who requested counseling that year were ultimately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. At one youth facility in central Texas, the mistreatment and squalid conditions (feces on the walls and bed-sheets, steel bars blocking fire escapes) were so bad they left no choice but for the agency to shut it down entirely.

Gov. Rick Perry did not take swift action to address the problem, which his office knew about for years. Allegations of systematic mistreatment at TYC facilities first came to the Governor’s desk in 2001, when then-Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) forwarded along a complaint that his office had received. That was six years before media coverage of the conditions in juvenile detention centers launched a public scandal. And critics of Perry, who is now a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, point out that he received tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists and executives for a firm tied to some of the worst abuses.

Far from the picture initially painted by Perry, of a shocking scandal that was dealt with swiftly and emphatically, his administration had sat on the concerns for years.

The TYC’s own numbers tell the tale. The commission officially reported 535 cases of abuse at its facilities in 2002, more than double the total from just four years earlier. Likewise, the number of residents diagnosed with mental illnesses skyrocketed during that same period, from 27 percent in 1995 to nearly half in 2002. And despite his office’s initial denials, top Perry staffers had been formally briefed on abuses at juvenile justice facilities as early as 2005. In 2006, President Bush’s Department of Justice even initiated a probe of the TYC conditions, but declined to intervene because it was not able to prove that any victims sustained “bodily injury.”

Child rape as a control method. Sure. Why the fuck not.

To read the rest in Mother Jones, click here.

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And of course, also in the rage department you’ll find the Troy Davis case — please, please, if you haven’t done so yet, please act to save the life of a man who is almost certainly innocent of the crime for which he is slated to be killed next Wednesday. For details, petitions, etc click here.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Americans and the death penalty.

Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas under Gov. Rick Perry for murdering his own children, despite ample evidence of his innocence.

Very, very briefly, as I have both paying work and pro bono stuff up the wazoo today (why do these things not happen on opposite days, for instance? The fates can’t do at least that for me?):

There is much talk on my side of the internet about the fact that the audience at last night’s Republican debate cheered Rick Perry’s statements about the death penalty (clip embedded below) — much horror, much disgust, and on one level, I’m absolutely with you all on the horror and the disgust. After all, among the things that Governor/Presidential Wannabe Perry said was that he he has “never struggled with” the idea that he might have overseen the execution of an innocent man (go to the Brian Williams question, at about the 10 second mark) — and given that it appears that he did just that, the horror just grows exponentially.

But here’s the thing: Those cheering people, and God save us, Gov. Perry himself, are not strangers to us. They are not from another planet, or even another country. They are us. They are Americans. And in 2009, 65% of Americans said that they support the death penalty.

Now, I’m of the opinion that a pretty large slice of that 65% wouldn’t be cheering the idea, and would want those in power to be very, very certain about who they’ve decided to execute and why — to, in fact, struggle over it. That’s American, too, to support something without necessarily loving it. That’s how I feel about abortion, for instance, and it’s part of what is potentially great about this country: At our best (which, I will grant you, is sometimes difficult to find) we do not demand simple answers. Democracy makes room for gray areas, and we are a democracy.

But having said that, no matter how many would or would not cheer, no matter how many would or would not be thrilled that a Governor doesn’t struggle or lose sleep over putting people to death — those who cheered last night are a part of my American tribe. Or, to paraphase an American who I really rather loathe: You go to the future with the Americans you have, not the Americans you might want, or wish to have.

If we want to see less mindless cheering and more mindfulness, indeed, if we want to end the death penalty — we need to be part of making that happen. And that means engaging people in conversation, writing letters to the editor, supporting political campaigns and grassroots efforts. It means playing a part — and that part is much, much bigger than simply curling our lip and walking away.

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The famous “GOP crowd cheers death penalty” clip (I particularly can’t stand the self-satisfied smile on Perry’s face when the cheering starts):