Monday, December 21, 2009

The Fury of the Left

What a difference a year makes. It seemed last time this season, Obama-mania was at fever pitch. Progressives felt they finally had a person in the White House they could rely on--or at least push in their preferred direction. Both houses of Congress were in the hands of the Democrats. The GOP was in defeat; President George W. Bush was a lameduck; by January, Vice President Dick Cheney would be in a wheelchair. Dissent or criticism of President Obama was not tolerated, even as some looked on nervously at the team of advisors he was selecting--who seemed much more conservative than expected. Still, all was well. Everyone settled into a "wait and see," expecting great things. After a tumultous 12 months however, Obama's starpower has been reduced to a glimmer. And even some of his most avid supporters are voicing dissent. From the Congressional Black Caucus to Joe Conason, to even members of the Democratic Senate, there are critical words for the Obama administration as it wraps up its first year. Unlike the inane teabaggers, who in their frothing racial animus cheer on failure, this dissent is borne of frustration and disappointment--from a base that feels neglected and demoralized. And it doesn't help when the president sends out his attack dogs to bite those very people--the ones who worked hardest to get him elected. Of course, there's still time to turn this around. I don't think it's necessarily that supporters are "abandoning" they president, as one article puts it. Rather, Obama's critics on the left are just looking for a fighter and a leader, the kind they thought they elected. They'd rather see him succeed than fail, realizing the alternative to having him in the White House is simply too terrible to contemplate.

Below are a few articles on this very topic. I hope somehow, they reach the eyes of the one guy who needs to read them most.

Leadership, Obama Style, and the Looming Losses in 2010: Pretty Speeches, Compromised Values, and the Quest for the Lowest Common Denominator
By Drew Western- 12-21-09
Somehow the president has managed to turn a base of new and progressive voters he himself energized like no one else could in 2008 into the likely stay-at-home voters of 2010, souring an entire generation of young people to the political process. It isn't hard for them to see that the winners seem to be the same no matter who the voters select (Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the insurance industry).

Black Caucus tells Obama you've done too little for African-Americans
By Silla Brush - 12/02/09
Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members on Wednesday criticized the Obama administration for not doing enough to help African-Americans through the bleak economy.

Feingold: Obama Responsible For Loss Of Public Option
Sam Stein 12-20-09
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) formally announced on Sunday that he would support the Senate's final version of health care reform. But in doing so he cast blame for the loss of a public option for insurance coverage partially on the president's shoulders and urged House and Senate negotiators to re-insert the government-run plan back into the legislation during conference committee.

Are Blacks Abandoning Obama?
By Lloyd Grove- 12/15/09
Danny Glover, Jesse Jackson, and other activists talk to Lloyd Grove about disappointment in the African-American community with the president’s first year.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Free Market Famines

One of the problems that occurs during discussions of global poverty (on the rare occassion they take place at all), is the seeming cognitive dissonance between the way our global economy works and the direct result it has on the crisis of developing countries. Nothing speaks to this as well as malnutrition, where market liberalization and forced structural adjustments have wreaked havoc with food availability throughout the poor nations of the global south. Whether it's Haiti, who 30 years ago grew its own rice but has been today forced to beg for food aid, or the very man-made 2005 famine in Niger, the pattern remains constant. Then, as now, the stewards of the global economy are willfully blind to their hands in these crises, and often--fantasically--actually insist on even more of the free market's hand to fix the disasters: as if trying to douse a fire by pouring more gasoline.

Laurent Pinsolle at the french magazine Marriane2 tackles this circular logic, deconstructing a recent article in the conservative magazine The Economist that attempts to tout how market liberalization can save the starving masses of the world it helped to create. Read it all here.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

They Lost Keith

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Never mind that support for the Senate's healthcare bill has dropped to a dismal 32%. Never mind that most progressives and former supporters, including Howard Dean, have called for scrapping it. Never mind that it leaves the Democratic base demoralized and makes a mockery of a key progressive goal for the past 40+ years. Never mind that it could inflame public sentiment to include a public mandate to buy insurance from an industry they loathe. What is so glaring is that this healthcare bill, as it stands, is so offensive and odious that it lost Keith Olbermann. And in a special comment this week on his show, he took the Democratic Senate to task, Democrats in general, and even President Obama for what is increasingly becoming something between a nightmare and a joke.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Climate Debt & Copenhagen

The growing divide between the rich nations and those of the developing world over climate change erupted into full view this week, as poor nations staged a walkout at the Copenhagen Climate Summit. Citing the failure of rich nations to agree to a committment to continuing the Kyoto Protocols, the bloc of mostly African nations dubbed the G-77, staged a walkout, throwing the conference into chaos.

But in reality, the rift over Kyoto is only a symbol of a much larger issue. Poor nations, who stand to be the most affected by climate change, understand quite well that they are being punished by a global crisis they did not create. And they are standing up defiantly to the industrialized nations, who share the overwhelming responsibility for the dumping of pollutants into the atmosphere, to not only do more to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and reduce their gigantic carbon footprint, but to shoulder the financial burden that the poor nations now face in trying to react to climate change. Unlike the industrialized world, where denying man-made climate is a luxury, in many poor nations the all-too real effects are already being felt--threatening to bring famines to some, and to drown others in rising sea-levels. This "climate debt" has pushed itself to the front of the Copenhagen talks, as the smaller poorer denizens of the world now take their larger industrialized neighbors to task.

On Nov. 23rd award-winning journalist Naomi Klein sat down with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! to discuss the climate debt, and the growing call by many poor nations for reparations.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The "Liberal Media" & Other Mythical Beasts

The "liberal media" is one of the most enduring myths in political Americana. Despite all evidence to the contrary, which actually shows a mainstream media that constantly tilts right of center, conservatives have managed to say this disinformation enough times that some mistake it for truth. Taking an advantage of mock outrage from Bill O' Reilly and Glen Beck over a Law & Order SVU episode, Keith Olbermann manages to destroy the fabrication of the "liberal media" so utterly, we should never hear mention of it again.


Monday, December 14, 2009


This past summer, after two conservative operatives revealed potentially damaging (and potentially doctored) videos of ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now) members allegedly soliciting tax advice to a faux pimp and prostitute, the political universe was thrown into bedlam. Republicans and right-wing extremists, who had long painted the group as a threat to democracy--because it registers poor and minority voters--salivated at the chance to destroy it once and for all. Democrats, with the exception of a rare courageous few, tripped over their own feet running in fear to distance themselves from ACORN. The result was a rushed Congressional vote to strip ACORN of all federal funding. Turns out however, ACORN has lawyers. Those lawyers took Congress to court, and were met with success.

Last Friday a judge ruled in favor of the community organization, issuing an injunction preventing the implementation of the congressional funding ban. Judge Nina Gershon concluded what numerous rational thinking people had brought up at that the time--that the ban amounted to a "bill of attainder" that unfairly singled out ACORN, which is unconstitutional.

So it turns out the Democrats in their timidity and fear of the GOP right-wing noise machine, ran out and violated the Constitution they're supposed to uphold.

Below, Bill Quigley at Common Dreams discusses why ACORN won its suit, for the dim-witted. Timid Congressional Democrats, I'm looking in your direction.


by Bill Quigley

Published on Sunday, December 13, 2009 by

On December 11, 2009, a federal judge ruled that Congress had unconstitutionally cut off all federal funds to ACORN. The judge issued an injunction stopping federal authorities from continuing to cut off past, present and future federal funds to the community organization.

ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and its allies in 75 cities will again have access to millions of federal dollars to counsel people facing foreclosure, seeking IRS tax refunds, and looking for affordable low cost housing. ACORN, which has received about $54 million in government grants since 1994, will be able to apply for new federal programs just like any other organization.

The court ruled that Congress violated the U.S. Constitution by singling out ACORN and its affiliates for severe sweeping restrictions and that such action constitutes illegal punishment or a bill of attainder.

Read full article here.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Obama's 9 Surges

At Westpoint last week, President Barack Obama announced a much awaited troop surge in the Afghan war he has inherited, and now expanded. Some 30,000 troops, and an untold number of contractors/support staff, would be sent to Afghanistan in the hopes of stabilizing the shattered country. What was lost to the many media pundits who discussed the speech later, is that this is hardly the first "surge" President Obama has implemented. A previous unremarked surge happened in March, when 21,000 U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan. There have been previous increases in intelligence members and private contractors steadily since November 2008.

In the following article Tom Engelhardt recounts what he calls the "9 Surges of Barack Obama." Time will tell if we'll see a 10th....

The Nine Surges of Obama’s War

How to Escalate in Afghanistan

By Tom Engelhardt

In his Afghan “surge” speech at West Point last week, President Obama offered Americans some specifics to back up his new “way forward in Afghanistan.” He spoke of the “additional 30,000 U.S. troops” he was sending into that country over the next six months. He brought up the “roughly $30 billion” it would cost us to get them there and support them for a year. And finally, he spoke of beginning to bring them home by July 2011. Those were striking enough numbers, even if larger and, in terms of time, longer than many in the Democratic Party would have cared for. Nonetheless, they don’t faintly cover just how fully the president has committed us to an expanding war and just how wide it is likely to become.

Despite the seeming specificity of the speech, it gave little sense of just how big and how expensive this surge will be. In fact, what is being portrayed in the media as the surge of November 2009 is but a modest part of an ongoing expansion of the U.S. war effort in many areas. Looked at another way, the media's focus on the president’s speech as the crucial moment of decision, and on those 30,000 new troops as the crucial piece of information, has distorted what’s actually underway.

In reality, the U.S. military, along with its civilian and intelligence counterparts, has been in an almost constant state of surge since the last days of the Bush administration. Unfortunately, while information on this is available, and often well reported, it’s scattered in innumerable news stories on specific aspects of the war. You have to be a media jockey to catch it all, no less put it together.

What follows, then, is my own attempt to make sense of the nine fronts on which the U.S. has been surging, and continues to do so, as 2009 ends. Think of this as an effort to widen our view of Obama’s widening war.

Full article here.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Non-Violent in Palestine

I remember watching a news report once and being struck by the glaring contradiction of images displayed by media of Israelis and Palestinians. When Israeli citizens or even troops were shown, they were depicted as either victims of a terrible suicide attack or soldiers at alert facing an unknown enemy. When Palestinians were shown, it was of stone-throwing youths, threatening men in Gaza with wrapped faces shouting angry words or of West Bank police firing machine guns into the air to disperse unruly crowds. While the role of Israeli peace-groups is rarely covered, Palestinian peace groups are thought of as near-mythical. Think resistance and Palestinians, and suicide bombers and terrorists easily come to mind--part of what the media readily covers and displays. Yet there has been a long movement of non-violent resistance on the part of Palestinians. Boston-based journalist Ellen Cantarow looks at a particular act of passive resistance, by Palestinians protesting the debilitating wall being built by the Israeli government.

Read the article here. Excerpts below.


Before the wall’s advent, Qalqilya’s merchants and Israelis did regular business on either side of the border, while Jayyous’ farmers worked their land all the way up to the Green Line. Now, the monstrous, concrete version of the wall surrounds Qalqilya entirely, bringing to mind high-security prisons or ghettoes from other eras. Jayyous is segregated from most of its former land by the wall in what one could call its "barrier" form – a system of steel fences, razor wire, and patrol roads manned by Israeli soldiers.

Four thousand of the village’s olive and citrus trees were uprooted to make way for the wall. All the village’s wells and over 75 percent of the land are now sequestered behind the wall, isolated on its west – that is, "Israeli" – side. A small Israeli settler colony called Zufim sits amid Jayyous’ former wealth. Israeli plans are on the books to build up to 1,500 new housing units on the bounty confiscated from the village. The new units will destroy the only road over which Jayyous’ farmers can now travel to and from their land: there used to be six of these roads. Israel has already blocked five of them.

Sixty-five-year-old Sharif Omar Khalid, known more familiarly as Abu Azzam, has spent half his life struggling to preserve Jayyous’ land. In 1980, with other farmers representing villages throughout the West Bank, he founded the Land Defense Committee, one of 18 organizations that now make up the Stop the Wall campaign. Gifted with stubborn optimism, he counts as victory an Israeli Supreme Court decision in April 2006, which pushed the path of the wall back from the south side of the village. The decision returned 11 percent of Jayyous’ former land – 750 dunams of the 8,600 blocked by the barrier. (A dunam is a little over a quarter of an acre.)

The wall remains, as does one of its most essential parts: the "agricultural gate." There are two of these on Jayyous’ land – one to the north; another to the south. Almost all of the village’s farmers are forced to use the north gate. Opened by Israeli soldiers for two 45-minute intervals at dawn and dusk, the gate blocks a patrol road manned by the Israelis.

Full article here.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Uganda's Victorian Age

One of the missed teachable moments during the recent global outcry against Uganda's draconian anti-homosexual bill, has been the convoluted logic of colonialism and African pride injected into the discourse. While many have fittingly pointed to the role of recent U.S. conservative right-wing evangelicals--some of them elected officials--in the recent bill, not many have chosen to tackle why Uganda, and many other parts of Africa, have such seemingly retrogade policies towards the gay community. Advocates of the bill in Uganda claim homosexuality is traditionally "un-African," stating they don't want European norms being enforced on them. And they have invoked a new breed of anti-colonialism to fend off the criticism and threatened sanctions directed their way from Europe and the West--the very industrialized nations that keep the global poor impoverished. But wonder of wonders, Uganda's anti-homosexual laws don't have their origins in the traditional African past or the neo-colonial present. They arrived in Uganda just slightly over a century ago--under the banner of the white man's burden and British colonialism.

The tragic irony is that Uganda's anti-homosexual laws are not part of African culture--at least nothing indigenous. African cultures have long showed a diverse approach to sexuality, with gender sometimes extending far beyond the limited Western imagining of "male vs female." In fact, anti-homosexual laws in much of Africa--and elsewhere--were first instituted by European colonizers. In the case of Uganda it was the British, as a means to regulate what they saw as either deviant or gender-ambigious modes of sexuality that conflicted with their Victorian derived notions of morality and civilization. So we are left today with a bizarre situation, where Africans tout the values of their former colonial rulers as a valiant example of African pride and anti-colonialism.

Of course, there are other factors involved in Uganda's homophobia--a misdirected fear of HIV/AIDS which has decimated the country, disrupted families, increased poverty and left many searching for a reason for their troubles. Too long ignored by Uganda's rulers and much of the world, this desperation has opened the path for blame and hysteria. In the 1990s, some 100,000 Ugandans were dying of AIDS each year, with millions more infected. If 9/11 drove Americans just a little bit crazy and ruined their better judgment, imagine a prolonged 9/11 that happens everyday, doesn't seem to have an end, comes with an ostracizing stigma and which much of the world mostly just stands by and watches. Still, this is no excuse for the types of laws that have become so popular in places like Uganda. And most vexing are when so many, either willfully neglectful of the past or attempting to rewrite history, make erroneous claims that their actions are actually done in the name of "African pride" or "anti-colonial defiance."

As Chinua Achebe warned us when looking at the nexus of politics, culture and the colonial past--Things Fall Apart.

More about Uganda's proposed law here, the role of U.S. evangelicals here, and the diversity of traditional African sexuality here.


Monday, December 7, 2009

The New McCarthyism

On December 2, 1954, the U.S. Senate voted to censure Sen. Joseph McCarthy, bringing to an end four years of political intimidation and character assassination so ferocious that McCarthy’s name is still synonymous with a particularly destructive form of demagoguery....Today, Joseph McCarthy’s ideological heirs in the Republican Party and right-wing media are using the language and tactics of McCarthy to stir fears that the nation is being destroyed by enemies from within.

So begins a report by the People for the American Way titled Rise of the New McCarthyism: How Right Wing Extremists Try to Paralyze Government Through Ideological Smears and Baseless Attacks. The report not only documents the similarities in tactics used by today's demagogues, but those media outlets and elected officials that either aid or remain silent in the face of their extremism, which only serves to poison the political discourse.

You can read the report here. Excerpts below.

Excerpt from report:

McCarthy tactics then and now

From 1953 to 1955, McCarthy held 117 hearings and even more closed-door interrogations, witch hunts for subversives that thrived on guilt by association: someone had worked for a union, dates a communist, been in a book club that read a book by Marx. Author Johnson writes that reviewing the transcripts of those sessions made it clear that McCarthy, in addition to guilt by association and character assassination, was engaged in an “obsessive hunt for homosexuals,” hounded writers, artists, and composers, attacked the reputations of military leaders.

Today’s McCarthyism has many faces and voices, including the household names of right-wing cable television, a plethora of radio hosts, Religious Right leaders, right-wing organizations and the bogus “grassroots” campaigns they generate – and Members of Congress and other Republican Party officials. Together they engage in character assassination and challenge the loyalty and patriotism of their targets.

Fox's Glenn Beck, who reaches millions of Americans with his televised tirades, has become an almost cartoonish McCarthy clone, with his guilt-by-association charts supposedly detailing the communist connections of White House officials.

Dangerous “elites” subverting the national interest

McCarthy inflamed fears that the nation was being destroyed by enemies from within:

The reason we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because the enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer – the finest homes, the finest college educations, and the finest jobs in Government (and the private sector) we can give.

Sound familiar? The attack on sinister Ivy League-educated elites is one of the essential rhetorical tools of far-right pundits and Republican politicians like Sarah Palin. The most surreal example was Ivy-educated, investment banker, millionaire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney railing against “eastern elites” at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Republican smear campaigns often make use of this “elites vs. real Americans” theme. Here’s Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice, speaking to senators about then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court:

Remember the values of the regular folks who sent you to Washington. Don’t vote for a Supreme Court nominee whose values are closer to those of the intellectual elite than to those of your constituents.

McCarthy routinely accused his opponents of subverting the national interest. Typical was his characterization of Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson as someone “who steadfastly serves the interests of nations other than his own.”

That’s a staple of right-wing rhetoric today.

Read more here.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Swiss Un-hospitality

Last Sunday the Swiss held a referendum on whether to ban the construction of Muslim minarets, a startling move in a country best known for its unwavering neutrality, fine chocolate and yodeling milk maids. Switzerland's decision, which was passed by some 57% of the vote, joins a sweeping wave of European xenophobia facing recent immigrants from the Muslim world, often masked as everything from cultural preservation to secular liberty. Some of the posters used to favor the referendum, like the one above, barely concealed their bigotry and fearmongering.

Leave it however to Jon Stewart, by means of a deadpan John Oliver, to add some well-needed humor to this troubling event. Watch below.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Forgotten "Greatest Generation"

For Africa, WW2 didn't begin in 1939. It began in 1935, as Italian forces under fascist Benito Mussolini invaded the only fully independent African nation--Ethiopia. Over much of the coming decade, the entire continent would be thrown into the tumult of the war between mostly European powers. With nearly every region colonized by the warring Europeans, Africans found themselves conscripts in battles that (with the exception of Ethiopia) weren't really their own. Over 1.3 million continental Africans would end up participating in the conflict. Yet, other than the exploits of German generals like Rommel in North Africa, the continent doesn't make it into many histories of the war.

Recently however, as part of the 70th anniversary of WW2, the BBC covered these forgotten members of the "Greatest Generation." Better late I suppose than never...

The Africans who fought in WWII

By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

The 70th anniversary of World War II is being commemorated around the world, but the contribution of one group of soldiers is almost universally ignored. How many now recall the role of more than one million African troops?

Yet they fought in the deserts of North Africa, the jungles of Burma and over the skies of Germany. A shrinking band of veterans, many now living in poverty, bitterly resent being written out of history.

For Africa, World War II began not in 1939, but in 1935.

Read full article here.


Monday, November 30, 2009

That "Bitch of a War"

As President Obama prepares to announce what will most likely be an increase in troops in Afghanistan Tuesday night in the midst of a troubling economy, high unemployment and other domestic issues, I could not help but be reminded of the regretful lament of a previous leader, whose blind loyalty to a war ruined his more lofty ideals...

"I knew from the start that I was bound to be crucifed either way I moved. If I left the woman I really loved-the Great Society-in order to get involved in that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home. All my programs…. But if I left that war and let the Communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation would be seen as an appeaser and we would both find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere on the entire globe."--LBJ on Vietnam

Tragic. Michael Moore has more to say...

An Open Letter to President Obama From Michael Moore

Dear President Obama,

Do you really want to be the new "war president"? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8pm) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do -- destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they've always heard is true -- that all politicians are alike. I simply can't believe you're about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn't so.

Full letter here.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Disgruntled in Obamaland

All is not well in Obamaland. Nevermind the tea-baggers, FOX News and the continuing sad comedy that is the GOP, there is dissatisfaction growing in the base. Just over a year ago, it seemed that Obama and the forces he had marshalled were on top of the world. There was energy. There was hope. There was relief that the last 8 years had finally come to and end. But today, for many who worked hardest towards that goal, there's a growing apathy. As the base watches a watered-down health care bill wind its way slowly through Congress; as they watch many of the architects of the current financial crisis give away billions to bankers; as they watch a rise in unemployment; as they watch a President seemingly intent on continuing an unpopular war in Afghanistan, there is a feeling of discontent. There is still hope. Those who voted for this president are still happy with the ballot they cast. Many of these same people however, just aren't inspired. Of course, it's only been a year in--and most are waiting to see what comes next.

For many, Robert Scheer's question hits home: "Who Are You and What Have You Done With the Community Organizer We Elected President?"

Read more after the jump.

Who Are You and What Have You Done With the Community Organizer We Elected President?

Posted on Nov 18, 2009

By Robert Scheer

What’s up with Barack Obama? The candidate for change once promised to take on the powerful banking interests but is now doing their bidding. Finally, a leading Democrat, in this case Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, has a good idea for monitoring the Wall Street fat cats who all but destroyed the American economy, and the Obama administration condemns it.

Dodd wants to take supervisory power from the Federal Reserve, which is controlled by the banks it pretends to monitor, and put it in the hands of a new independent agency. That makes sense given the Fed’s abject failure to properly monitor the financial sector over the past decade as that industry got drunk on greed. As Dodd’s spokeswoman Kirstin Brost put it: “The Federal Reserve flat out failed at supervising the largest, most complex firms.” But White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee frets that taking power from the Fed would cause financial industry “nervousness.” Isn’t that the whole point of government regulation—to make the bandits look over their shoulders before they launch their next destructive scam?

Not so in the view of Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, who blithely insists that the Fed “is the best agency equipped for the task of supervising the largest, most complex firms,” despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. There is some irony in the fact that the largest of those complex firms got to be “too big to fail” because of the radical deregulatory legislation that Wolin drafted during his previous incarnation as the Treasury Department’s general counsel in the Clinton administration. Wolin is now deputy to Timothy Geithner, who as head of the New York Fed in the five years preceding the banking meltdown looked the other way as the disaster began to unfold.

Why is Barack Obama allowing these retreads from the Clinton era who went on to great riches on Wall Street to set economic policy for his administration?

Read more here.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hunger in the Land of Plenty

Something to think about this Thanksgiving- Over 49 million Americans, one in seven, struggled to find enough to eat last year, according to a report released by the US Department of Agriculture last week. It seems mind-boggling, that in a country where obesity is a crisis, and so much food is wasted daily, the US faces a problem of hunger. How is it possible? Is it because fifty per cent of all food ready for harvest in the United States never gets eaten? Is it the rise of food prices, which only show a capacity to grow? Is it because we spend so much money on weapons and wars, we can't spend what is needed to ensure our citizens don't go to bed hungry at night? Whatever the case, if this dismal trend continues, it may not be too long before the US sees itself wracked by the same food riots much of the poorer world saw in 2008.

Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System, discusses the matter on Democracy Now!:


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Regreening Africa

No matter what happens at Copenhagen or beyond, the world is locked in to decades of temperature rise and the associated climate impacts: deeper droughts, fiercer floods, more pests. How populations in the global South adapt to these changes will help decide whether millions of people live or die.

The tragic irony about global climate change, is that it will affect the poorest nations of the global south the hardest. This, despite the fact that these nations have contributed very little to the crisis. No wonder earlier this month African delegates threatened to upset climate talks in Barcelona if the US and rich countries don't live up to their committments and accept responsibility for global climate change. Activist Naomi Klein has even gone as far to declare that rich nations owe a debt to the poor nations of the world for the global climate crisis. In the midst of these developments, Mark Hertsgaard examines how many who live on the continent are sowing the seeds--literally--towards countering the damaging environmental effects of this looming man-made disaster.

Regreening Africa

By Mark Hertsgaard

November 19, 2009

The sun is setting on another scorching hot day in the western African nation of Burkina Faso. But here on the farm of Yacouba Sawadogo, the air is noticeably cooler. A hatchet slung over his shoulder, the gray-bearded farmer strides through his woods and fields with the easy grace of a much younger man. "Climate change is a subject I feel I have something to say about," he says in his tribal language, Moré, which he delivers in a deep, unhurried rumble. Though he cannot read or write, Sawadogo is a pioneer of a tree-based approach to farming that has transformed the western Sahel in recent years, while providing one of the most hopeful examples on earth of how even very poor people can adapt to the ravages of climate change.

Read full article here.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Blackwater - Karachi Bureau

What could be worse than covert US directed drone missile attacks that kill civilians in aggressive acts against a sovereign nation? How about if those attacks are not just being carried out by the US military, but private mercenary contractors--the same ones whose operatives massacred Iraqis and is run by a right-wing Christian fundamentalist. According to independent journalist Jeremy Scahill:

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help run a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

If this is accurate (Scahill admits to having only one anonymous source), it's rather chilling.

Read the full story here.

Rachel Maddow interviewing Jeremy Scahill on Nov 12, 2009 about some of Blackwater's more unsavory acts.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Palin 2012. We Were Warned...


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Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Trolling for Assassins"

How crazy does crazy have to get before it all gets dangerous?

Rachel Maddow talks to former Evangelist Frank Schaeffer about the growing anti-Obama extremism and the violent tendencies of Christian fundamentalists.

Earlier interviews with Frank Schaeffer:

Sept. 2009

Aug. 2009

Jun. 2009


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

American Zombie

Monsters of disaster are special kinds of divine warning. They are harbingers of things we do not want to face, of catastrophes, and we fear they will bring such events upon us by coming to us.--Jane Anna Gordon and Lewis R. Gordon

Nothing I love more than any attempt to weave speculative fiction into politics. In this case, Henry Giroux ponders on the relationship between our love affair for vampires, zombies and the often dismal state of our political atmosphere.

At present, Americans are fascinated by a particular kind of monstrosity, by vampires and zombies condemned to live an eternity by feeding off the souls of the living. The preoccupation with such parasitic relations speaks uncannily to the threat most Americans perceive from the shameless blood lust of contemporary captains of industry, which Matt Taibbi, a writer for Rolling Stone, has aptly described as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." [3] Media culture, as the enormous popularity of the Twilight franchise and HBO's True Blood reveal, is nonetheless enchanted by this seductive force of such omnipotent beings. More frightening, however, than the danger posed by these creatures is the coming revolution enacted by the hordes of the unthinking, caught in the spell of voodoo economics and compelled to acts of obscene violence and mayhem. They are the living dead, whose contagion threatens the very life force of the nation.

Ooooh! Doesn't it make your hair stand on end? Read the rest of Giroux's article at Truthout here.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed aka Voldemort

Listen to much of the fearmongering from the GOP and the usual right-wing suspects, and you might think the Attorney General of the US had decided to hold the trial of Voldemort, Dr. Doom or Magneto in NYC. Any moment hordes of Deatheaters, giant robots or the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants might descend on the city and do untold damage. The likes of Rudy Guiliani went onto FOX and bemoaned the decision, claiming President Obama had conceded to terrorists. A GOP Congressman even warned NYC's mayor might have his children kidnapped! Look closer however, and you realize it's none of those otherworldly supervillains. Rather it's the accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad--the same guy in that unflattering photo above who was waterboarded a stunning 183 times, in one month! So the question is, are the GOP and right-wing just shamelessly using this event to sow political discord, or are they really in the end just frightened children jumping at their own shadows?

John Stewart has some ideas. See below...

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Morpheus Returns...

Young Billy wished me away to the cornfield sometime back in June...

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Imperial Presidency

...let's not forget reality. Barack Obama did not win an election to be president of Goodwill Industries, or the YMCA, or the Ford Foundation. He may be remarkable in many ways, but he is also president of the United States which means that he is head honcho for the globe's single great garrison state which now, to a significant extent, lives off war and the preparations for future war.

So writes Tom Engelhardt over at You would think this would go without saying, that the election of Barack Obama while an achievement does not dismantle the American Empire. But at times, it seems that as long as the guy crossing the Rubicon is a charming, charasmatic and good-natured person, many lose sight of this perspective.

Certainly those who hold the reins of power now aren't some neoconservative cabal with dreams of a Pax Americana. Yet neither are they willing to confront America's imperial ambitions. In fact, most Americans seem to believe in the notion of an "exceptional America"--that is fated, or destined, to run the world. Either that, or the rest of the world is supposed to work the way we want them to.

Sure you can elect who you want in your foreign country, but if we don't like him or her, we will levy sanctions, frame them as global pariahs and support (openly or covertly) their opposition.

Sure you're free to trade your own resources, but make sure we get it at a price that's beneficial to us--not your own people. And if you don't, democratically elected or not, you may get on our bad side.

It's wrong to kill innocent men and women to achieve your objectives--unless its one of our drones or airstrikes, which is just collateral damage.

And yeah, we have a right to spend more on military might than the rest of the world combined, with bases ringing the globe, but that's because the other people with far less weaponry is the real "threat."

That's the America Barack Obama inherited. Like the "one ring" the imperial presidency is filled with power and potential; but it's yet to be seen whether anyone can wield it for good rather than for ill.

Tom Engelhardt's full article here.


Monday, June 15, 2009

A New Iranian Revolution ?

Protests. Riots. Unrest. Iran 2009 is today looking a lot like Iran 1979. But this time the former revolutionaries are holding the reins of power, and new voices are calling for reform. The election between Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his main rival Mir-Hosein Mousavi have unleashed tensions that have simmered beneath the surface of the seemingly orderly society run by the country's religious orthodoxy. How far it will go is anyone's guess.

For more, read below...

Last week a contentious election was held in Iran, pitting incumbent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad against his main rival and pro-reformist Mir-Hosein Mousavi. An Ahmadinejad win seemed certain, until later polls began showing Mousavi running neck-and-neck--a definitely bad sign for any incumbent. When results came in, Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in what was reported to be a landslide.

But Mousavi and his supporters--mostly young and urban--have decried the elections as a sham. Unrest throughout the country has flared up to levels unprecedented since the turbulent 1970s which brought down the Western-backed Shah. Anger and frustration has boiled over into mass protests, riots and clashes with the police. Scenes of cars on fire and young Iranians smashing building windows in fury while fighting with authorities have now traveled the globe. And, in a defiance of a ban on protests, hundreds of thousands showed up in the streets of Tehran today to voice their anger and give their support to Mousavi.

Today in a surprise move that appears to be a reaction to the unrest, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the state's most powerful figure, though previously sanctioning the election results, has called for an official probe to root out any possible fraud. In 10 days the findings of this probe are to be delivered.

In the West there doesn't seem to be much need for a probe to determine what's going on. The dominant news cycle has been focused on the rioting and protests. And given Ahmadinejad's global "pariah" status, not surprisingly there is a definite tilt towards the election being "stolen." France, Britain and the U.S. have voiced their own doubts over what they see as "irregularities" in the elections--and have refused to recognize them. This is the height of irony, as these same Western critics regularly legitimize the ruling powers in countries like Egypt where elections are rigged by the suppression of any reasonable opposition, and in others like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait where monarchies do not even hold elections.

Political commentators in the West of varied stripes, from astute analysts like Juan Cole to often misinformed bloviators like Thomas Friedman, seem to also conclude the elections were stolen. However there is a dissenting view, from commentators like Abbas Barzegar and some Mid-East think tanks, who have all spent the past weeks in pre-election Iran talking and surveying everyday Iranians. They posit the West perhaps underestimated Ahmadinejad's support among the poorer masses, and focused too intensely on the very vocal (but minority) urban, young internet demographic--thus taking away a skewed perspective of the actual atmosphere and mood in the country. In truth, the Western media may be reading the nature of the elections themselves through rose-colored glasses.

During the campaign, as many supporters of reform flocked to his green banner, Mousavi became (in the eyes of a Western press corps looking for an easy story) the Obama of Iran--a breath of fresh air who would bring change. How far this analogy can be taken remains to be seen. Mousavi after all is still a conservative. And those in the press who have acted as if his win would signal an Iran ready to hold hands with Israel, kow-tow to US demands and allow in Wal-Marts in a few months, misread completely where most Iranians stand on issues. While most find Ahmadinejad too restrictive, too wedded to power, too brash and even embarrassing with his seeming obsession with engaging in historical fallacies like Holocaust denial, they also are wary of a U.S. with troops next door, what often seem as bullying Western powers and a saber-rattling nuclear armed Israel whose own recent elections have made it a right-wing state. Mousavi's win would certainly open up avenues closed to (or by) a controversial figure like Ahmadinejad; but it wouldn't erase the memories of Western dealings towards Iran---from the overthrow of Mossadeq, to the backing of the repressive Shah to the military support of Saddam Hussein's aggressive war which claimed hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives. Not surprising that some Iranian policy advocates like Trita Parsi have stated that it is essential that whatever the West believes, staying out of the Iranian elections and letting the Iranians sort it out themselves is the wisest course--as any direct intervention would be seen as unwanted meddling.

“The framing that Ahmadinejad is presenting is one in which essentially the whole [opposition] is a Western media conspiracy. If the administration is saying things or doing things before Moussavi and the opposition figures out what the plan is, then that’s a real problem, because then it seems like it’s between Ahmadinejad and the west and not Ahmadinejad and the opposition. So the administration is doing exactly the right thing. They’re not rushing in and they’re not playing favorites. They might prefer the democratic process to be respected, but that’s different than [supporting a] specific faction.”

As for right-wing American neoconservatives urging the Obama administration to immediately support Mousavi and the opposition, Parsi chided their tactics.
“They’re saying ‘Support Moussavi.’ Well, did you talk to Moussavi to learn if this is helpful? A lot of people seem to have the propensity of knowing what the Iranian people want or what specific people want but [don't] contact them. And in past it’s been detrimental" [If such American politicians have] “not learned from that, it’s sad.”

read full article with Parsi quotes here.

So where are we now? Mousavi has appealed for calm, even while disputing the election results, urging that the legal process determine the truth of things. Meanwhile Ahmadinejad remains steadfast, describing the dissenters as disgruntled troublemakers with American and Western backing, holding mass rallies of his own supporters. Tonight the situation has grown even more tense, as a protester became the first casualty of the unrest--killed in a hail of gunfire during an attack on a pro-government militia.

What the actual truth is regarding these elections is hard to discern from afar. There were no independent UN observers, just as there aren't any in this country. And between the secretive Iranian government who regularly censors information, and the Western propaganda machine which regularly sends out disinformation to destabilize the regime, it's often impossible to tell which way is up, left or right. But what is not in dispute is that whatever the actual election outcome, there is a strong wave of dissent in Iran that is making its presence felt. Given the country's strategic importance and its previous revolutionary history, what happens next is anyone's guess. But the whole world is watching.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Free Trade Massacre

The notion that so-called "free trade" neo-liberal policies have led to increased poverty throughout the developing world is one that has ample evidence to back it up. It isn't so far-fetched to say that by marginalizing the world's poor through these economic policies has increased the global mortality rate. Recent occurrences in Peru however underline that the effects of free trade need not be so indirect:

During the last week, deep in the Peruvian Amazon, confrontations between nonviolent indigenous protesters and police have left up to 100 people dead. The vast majority of the casualties are civilians, who have been conducting peaceful demonstrations in defense of the Amazon rain forest. For almost two months, as many as 30,000 indigenous people have been blocking road and river traffic, demanding the repeal of presidential decrees issued last year to facilitate implementation of the US-Peru FTA.

Read rest of article below:

US-Peru FTA Sparks Indigenous Massacre

Thursday 11 June 2009

Tom Loudon, t r u t h o u t | Report

During the last week, deep in the Peruvian Amazon, confrontations between nonviolent indigenous protesters and police have left up to 100 people dead. The vast majority of the casualties are civilians, who have been conducting peaceful demonstrations in defense of the Amazon rain forest.

For almost two months, as many as 30,000 indigenous people have been blocking road and river traffic, demanding the repeal of presidential decrees issued last year to facilitate implementation of the US-Peru FTA. According to the indigenous leaders, several of these decrees directly threaten indigenous territories and rights. After having attempted several times to negotiate with the government the repeal of the most egregious of the decrees, and faced with a permanent influx of extraction equipment into the region, the people decided it was imperative to "put their bodies in front of the machines" in order to prevent this equipment from entering their territory.

On Friday, June 5, the government decided the protests needed to end and launched an aggressive assault against the people protesting on the road outside of Bagua. The dislocation was conducted from helicopters and the ground, with police and army using automatic weapons and heavy equipment against people armed with only rocks and spears. As videos, photos and testimonies from the region slowly emerge, it is clear that this was designed to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible, and deter those in other regions from continuing protests. Pictures circulating on the Internet depict snipers in uniform firing at protesters from the streets, tanks and from on top of buildings. On Saturday, in Lima, Peru's capital, a large spontaneous demonstration in support of the Amazonian indigenous was broken up by police.

Read full article here.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Angry, Right & White America

It was just eleven days ago that an anti-abortion militant with white supremacist ties gunned down reproductive rights doctor George Tiller in a Kansas church. Just this past April, three Pittsburgh police officers were killed by a teen who believed the government was going to take his guns away, and had frequented white nationalists sites like Stormfront. In the heat of the presidential campaign last June, a gunman walked into a Unitarian Church and opened fire, killing two parisoners during a children's play; the shooter would claim the church's liberal values drove him to violence. And since the election of the first African-American president, gun-sales have risen alongside the daily dosage of rhetoric from conservative right-wing media. So today, after a right-wing white supremacist walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC and opened fire, killing an African-American security guard, why is anyone even remotely surprised?

More after the fold...

It feels like de ja vu, after just covering these themes in the Tiller death. But I find it necessary to again point out that it was just this past April that the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security released a memo warning of homegrown right-wing radical groups and their propensity for violence. Conservatives--both pundits and politicians--had a meltdown, claiming the government was outlawing opposing opinions and claiming they were being lumped in with racist hate groups. The American Legion soon jumped in, taking issue with the report's warnings of violent right-wing extremists recruiting disaffected one-time members of the armed forced. It was all utter nonsense of course, as the brief on domestic terrorism made no links to conservatism--the conservatives made that link themselves. And the concern of ex-military joining white supremacist groups is based on very recent facts, and in no way tarnishes all veterans. What should have been seen as a tempest in a teapot gained steam however as the media played in, allowing conservatives and right-wing ideologues--backed up by conservative leaning veterans groups--to cast themselves as victims of a liberal witch hunt. In days Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was making an apology for the "language" in the report.

But in the conservative and right-wing cries of foul over this memo, perhaps the lady doth protest too much.

While conservative pundits applaud and sensationalize FBI stings on terrorist fantasies of would-be "jihadists" (often suspiciously funded and aided by government informants), real-life acts of mayhem and murder by domestic right-wing terrorists go on right under our noses. Worse still, many of the most rabid conspiracy theories spouted by the likes of Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck, serve as "intellectual" fodder for these gunmen. Yet no one in conservative television and radio noise machine is willing to take any responsibility or at the least tone down their rhetoric. In fact, they tend to lash out verbally at any insinuation places even a bit of blame on them. In the wake of George Tiller's death FOX host Bill O'Reilly, who had repeatedly called the doctor a "baby killer," claimed he himself in fact was a victim of the far-left.

Eric Boehlert at Media Matters is having none of it however:

If Fox News is going to continue to traffic in hateful, vigilante-style rhetoric, then folks at Fox News, as well as their apologists in the GOP Noise Machine, are going to have to come up with better talking points to spin away the consequences of the right-wing madness they're so eager to incite....The Fox News crew is going to need better talking points because I fear the violence - the bouts of right-wing domestic terrorism - is likely to continue. As long as Fox News and the Noise Machine refuse to back off the incendiary language that they're actively mainstreaming, the political violence, visible just months into Obama's historic first term, may have only begun.

The reality is however that FOX News, while certainly wallowing in the cesspit of xenophobia, racism and intolerance to whip up the more fanatical of its base, did not invent any of this. They've certainly tapped into this angry sentiment and see it as a ratings bonanza, backing up faux-populist hate-rallies like the April "Tea Parties." Looks like Janane Garafalo was RIGHT.

But this type of racism and violence is unfortunately as American as apple pie and baseball, and follows a predictable pattern. When the economy falters and whites, usually disaffected angry males, feel under assault they find easy scapegoats they believe is behind their oppression. Fed along by media demagogues, a militarist gun-obsessed society, heroic vigilantism and an over-inflated patriarchal racial imaginings of their self-worth, they last out---often violently.

Back in 2006 during the emerging twilight of the Bush regime, retired veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces Stan Goff wrote of this as a hypernormal state of Americana, which he asserts is normally racist, right-leaning and patriarchal if only on an institutional level:
These explicitly white supremacist groups, contrasted with the implicitly white supremacist Republican Party, for example, openly embrace a vision of fascism, and openly admire fascist leaders....We need to first see for how long white supremacy has been considered ab-normal in the United States; then we can see how ab-normal it is right now....What is seldom examined in public discourse outside the universities and a handful of anti-racist political formations, is the question of what it means to be “white.” Thinkers from Toni Morrison to Noel Ignatiev to bell hooks to Theodore Allen to Mab Segrest to David Roediger have studied whiteness extensively, in its economic, cultural and political dimensions, and conclude unanimously that there is no “objective” measure for what it means; but that it is a social construction linked absolutely to social power. The insistence on existence of a white race, by racists and non-racists alike, is symptomatic of a form of mystification that conceals the concrete relations of power behind a set of widely accepted abstractions. White supremacy as a beliefhas evolved out of the practice of people in power, who defined themselves as white as a way of differentiating themselves from those over whom they wielded that power. Some very well-known American presidents who made openly white supremacist pronouncements were Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon. Of course, until the dismantling of Jim Crow in the South, white supremacy was a norm, and before the Civil War, slavery was a norm. White supremacy was so normal in 1964 that after the defeat of Goldwater, the Republican Party adopted thinly veiled racist appeals to attract white voters who felt betrayed by the reluctant Democratic Party support for civil rights legislation. Openly racist public officials like Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott, even after their affiliations with white supremacist organizations were publicized, continued to be elected. The Republican appeals to white supremacy were cloaked as opposition to welfare, as “states rights,” and as concern about “crime.” As late as 1999 the Republican-controlled House of Representatives blocked a vote to condemn the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization with whom then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had close ties. How normed does something have to be before we can say it is normal?

And this brings us to a problem with the media, and in part even this blog. The coverage of these specific acts of violence, or even the focus on the hate spewed by FOX News acolytes and others, perhaps obscures a larger more unsettling truth that speaks to the pervasive nature of racism and whiteness in this country. We usually paint these individuals as lone bizarre gunmen driven by senseless hate---bad apples in our otherwise rational and tolerant "post-racial" society. The larger problem however is that there are throngs of these disaffected Americans--mostly white males--prone to believe conspiracy theories that blame Jews, immigrants, blacks and others for their plight. They don't fall out of the sky or come from some strange and mysterious place. They are borne and raised right here, in a society that seems to easily create such individuals and provide them the proper atmosphere for their hatred, xenophobia and violent tendencies to flourish. Tackling that "hard truth" may provide us some greater insight, that is if we dare.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Conservatives, the Radical Right and White Extremism

Last week an anti-choice militant named Scott Roeder walked into a Kansas church and gunned down reproductive doctor George Tiller. Roeder is part of a growing extremist segment of the American populace, often fed by right-wing media ideologues like Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck who while not outright calling for violence create an atmosphere of hate and paranoia. So it should come as little surprise that Scott Roeder in fact once belonged a white nationalist organization that preached the inferiority of other races, anti-Semitism and other Aryan-based fantasies.

When the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security released a memo in April warning of homegrown right-wing radical groups, conservatives cried foul--insisting they were being unfairly lumped together with racist hate groups. This was nonsense of course, as the brief on domestic terrorism made no mention of conservatism in their warnings of right-wing extremists. But perhaps, there is more to this connection than many of us are willing to admit.

A brief article by Mother Jones traces the ideological connections that took Scott Roeder from white supremacy to religious fundamentalist militant and terrorist.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Rush & Newt Are Winning?

Rush and Newt are winning? When I first read that title by E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post, I was puzzled. Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich winning? If anything their over-the-top antics have mostly backfired. In their attempts to paint President Barack Obama as a socialist, un-American and the dangerous "black other," they have mostly managed to alienate themselves and their party. Obama's approval rating remains high and most seem pleased, or at least comfortable, with his overall performance. So I wasn't certain what Dionne could have meant. If anything, Rush and Newt appear to be losing. But after reading his article, I was left wondering if perhaps Dionne didn't have a good point.

Read more below...

Since the beginning of his presidency, we have been held hostage to acts of reckless stupidity from the GOP and its surrogates. From FOX News to Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing noise machine has been consistent with its outlandish reactionary attacks. In the face of this the GOP has been either silent or subservient, turning themselves into willing accomplices.

E.J. Dionne writes:

The power of the Limbaugh-Gingrich axis means that Obama is regularly cast as somewhere on the far left end of a truncated political spectrum. He's the guy who nominates a "racist" to the Supreme Court (though Gingrich retreated from the word yesterday), wants to weaken America's defenses against terrorism and is proposing a massive government takeover of the private economy. Steve Forbes, writing for his magazine, recently went so far as to compare Obama's economic policies to those of Juan Peron's Argentina.

The charges and accusations have been so absurd, so beyond the pale, that conservative politics and criticism has seemingly degenerated into a freak show. The problem is that where there are freaks, you can be certain our national media will follow.

Always one for sensationalism rather than substance, each and every charge hurled by the reactionary right-wing makes it into the corporate media cycle. That these criticisms are usually ludicrous and often wholly baseless doesn't seem to matter. Rush Limbaugh could claim Obama had three heads--rest assured mainstream media would trumpet his claim and have on talking heads to debate the number of heads the President has, and how this affects beltway politics.

Entertaining these claims not only reduces serious journalism to the level of the National Enquirer, as Dionne points out it stifles and obscures real substantive discussion regarding the Obama administration's policy decisions. Namely he points out that while the media is fixated on the freak show, and in turn forces Americans to gawk at the bizarre GOP circus, they ignore criticisms such as those leveled by progressives at a recent gathering:
While the right wing's rants get wall-to-wall airtime, you almost never hear from the sort of progressive members of Congress who were on an America's Future panel on Tuesday. Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado, Donna Edwards of Maryland and Raul Grijalva of Arizona....why are their voices muffled when they raise legitimate concerns, while Limbaugh's rants get amplified? Isn't Afghanistan a more important issue to debate than a single comment by Judge Sonia Sotomayor about the relative wisdom of Latinas?

There is also more at work here. By narrowing the discussion over President Obama's policies to fanatical critics like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, media outlets are giving Americans a false choice--either side with the moderate, liberal-leaning but centrist White House administration, or join the shouting chorus at the freak show. The voices of those in the progressive camp, who offer both praise and criticism of policies that range from the escalation of the Afghan war to health care, are left mute. Ironically this benefits no one more than the Obama administration, who can make their moderate centrism look progressive--especially when even the slightest move to the left is met with screams of socialism. No wonder many Democratic strategists welcome the GOP freakouts. Perhaps it's about time all of us--from the corporate media machine to the Democratic establishment to everyday progressives--stopped giving so much airtime, blog time and print space to the circus performers of the right-wing, and realize there are more legitimate voices that have yet to be heard.

E.J. Dionne's full article here.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Judge Sonia Sotomayor & The New Racism

Last week President Barack Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. What has transpired in the wake of this have been ceaseless attacks by right-wing politicians like Tom Tancredo and Newt Gingrich, along with the likes of Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and more. What are these conservative luminaries charging the Latina with?


Say what?!?

I applaud the appointment of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court. It is a historic moment for the under represented and Judge Sotomayor seems amply qualified for the position. I'm not exactly ecstatic however. At first glance Judge Sotomayor doesn't appear to shift the court in any new direction. She seems an apt replacement for Justice David Souter, although where she stands on key issues is still unknown. Judge Sotomayor isn't close to a liberal/left answer to the likes of Thomas, Scalia or Alito. At best, her past rulings have indicated she's a liberal-leaning centrist. This all makes the right-wing rabid attack on her just that much more bizarre. Issues of immigration have seeped into the criticism directed her way, even though she's of Puerto Rican descent--and hence a legal U.S. citizen. And, in yet another indication that we've officially entered the Twilight Zone, some of the most offensive and rabidly intolerant right-wing commentators and politicians have dared to call the first female Latina Supreme Court nominee racist--all for stating something that should be plain common sense. If this were say, Marjorie Cohen, a dream pick were we playing Fantasy SCOTUS, I'd certainly see why the GOP would cringe. But the attacks so far from the Republican right have been so flimsy and personal, it only serves to make their issues with race, ethnicity and gender even more glaringly transparent.

Journalist William Rivers Pitt has defined this bizarre behavior as "Sotomayor Derangement Syndrome." But English and Cultural Studies professor Henry Giroux sees it as part of something more interwoven into the American fabric--what he calls the new racism, in which those who practice intolerance attempt to wrap themselves in victimhood while crying out against "reverse" discrimination. Giroux writes:

While many liberals suggest that with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency the United States has become a post-racial society, many conservatives have now taken the opposition position, prompted by the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, that racism is alive and well in the republic.

Indeed what we are seeing with Sotomayor, as we have seen since the name Barack Obama was entered into the public discourse alongside the word "President," is American racism reinventing itself, adapting to current challenges and employing new tactics. By defining Sotomayor, or Obama, as the dangerous, irrational, unqualified "other," it is "whiteness" that is allowed to act as if it is under seige, even as it seeks to remain normalized. These new tricks by an old foe may be crude and untested, but rest assured they will continue. Because thus far, American history has shown that sooner or later they will strike the right chord.

The rest of Professor Giroux's article can be read here.