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.