Browsing the blog archives for January, 2009.

Testify. (Miliband and the “War on Terror”)

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

David Miliband, British Foreign Secretary and mini-Blair, is a bit of a twat. But today he published an op-ed in the Guardian (via Kevin Drum), which is eloquent in staking out long-lost grounds of sanity and humanity when it comes to the “War on Terror”.

It’s called, simply: ‘War on terror’ was wrong.

Testify:

The idea of a “war on terror” gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate. Lashkar-e-Taiba has roots in Pakistan and says its cause is Kashmir. Hezbollah says it stands for resistance to occupation of the Golan Heights. The Shia and Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq have myriad demands. They are as diverse as the 1970s European movements of the IRA, Baader-Meinhof, and Eta. All used terrorism and sometimes they supported each other, but their causes were not unified and their cooperation was opportunistic. So it is today.

The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common. [..]

The “war on terror” also implied that the correct response was primarily military. But as General Petraeus said to me and others in Iraq, the coalition there could not kill its way out of the problems of insurgency and civil strife. [..]

We must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society. We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad. That is surely the lesson of Guantánamo and it is why we welcome President-elect Obama’s commitment to close it.

Bold words, even now. Yeah, if he and his New Labour peers had spoken up sooner, it would have saved lives. But it’s still a message that deserves to be repeated over and again, because there are still far too many people who will not hear.

It also suggests the Brits are really, really glad to see Bush and his administration go…

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Is it that the media pundits are simply too rich to understand?

Media / journalism, Politics, US Politics

Ken Grant slammed NBC News’ Mark Whitaker the other day for displaying particularly pronounced vacuity after Obama’s speech on the economy and his stimulus package.* Apparently, the new Senior Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News took to the screen to evaluate Obama’s speech. What did he say “in response to this serious and important speech on the direction that [Obama] plans to take regarding said economic turmoil”?

Did he comment on the substance? Perhaps quibble with the details?  Offer a trenchant critique on the merits of the plan?

Please.  [..] No, Mr. Whitaker decided to flog Obama for his speaking style.

He blathered on for a bit on how he was surprised that Mr. Obama’s speech pattern did not sound like the soaring uplift as heard on the campaign trail.  He wondered why Mr. Obama sounded more like a con-law professor.

Grant’s pissed and goes on the same rant all of us have indulged in at some point in the election season: “This is the problem with our news today, as they are far more concerned with the ‘optics’ or the ‘tone’ or any number of other completely superfluous bits of fluff and ephemera.” Right. As for why though, he offers one straightforward explanation to go in the mix:

You see, he has a job that pays him an extraordinary amount of money, and thus he really doesn’t seem to see that there is a problem.  ”Yes, yes, the ‘help’ is feeling a bit pinched, these days [..] Ah, well, hopefully that nice Mr. Obama can do something, if only he would do exactly what we want him to do, and in the manner in which we have become accustomed.”

I think people like Whitaker are more concerned with the manner in which things are done being what they are accustomed to than Obama doing what they want him to do – I don’t think they necessarily have much in the way of specifics on that anyway, other than that he shouldn’t rock the boat too much. But regarding the money thing, is at least part of it really that simple?

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Yeah, But We Have a Black President So Nanny Nanny Boo Boo

Culture, International Politics, Politics, Presidential Elections, Uncategorized, US culture, US Politics

T-shirt made by a bar in Georgia

I’m starting to see Obama being held up as an indication of how advanced America is compared to other countries when it comes to race relations. On the one hand that’s so awesome! Yay us! I do still get this little shock every time I realize that it’s actually true, and what it means.

On the other hand, it’s a bit too easy and pat. The fact that Obama was elected doesn’t mean that America no longer has any problems with race.

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Aww, look – the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has a catcam!

Funny, Politics, US Politics

No, seriously – how cute is this? Nancy Pelosi has a cat-cam video on her YouTube channel (and yes, it’s really her). But – do watch it till the end though! (Via Donkeylicious.)

Aren’t the next two years going to be fun? :-)

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Palestinians need a Gandhi

International Politics

Maybe it’s because of MLK day approaching, but I’ve had this persistent thought (surely I am not the first to think it) since the latest violence in Gaza that what the Palestinians need is a Ghandi, a Martin, or a Tutu.  I am very sympathetic with their plight, and I don’t think that the violence of the many jihadist groups justify the kind of massacre that is going on now in Gaza and has gone on periodically over as many years as I can remember.  But do they seriously believe that lobbing rockets into Sderot, or blowing up a cafe is going to accomplish anything but more massacres?  Israel has and always has had the upper hand.  They have a military second (or maybe first) only to that of the US, more financial support, are an actual sovereign nation, and have the US vote at the UN.  Palestinians will never, ever, win a physical battle with Israel.  And whatever they might believe, they will also never win enough international sympathy to pressure the Israeli government into credible peace negotiations.

There are very few instances in history when a weaker party has bested their goliath opponent, and only three that I can think of off the top of my head: India’s independence, South Africa’s abolition of apartheid, and the Civil Rights Act in the US.  These three have one thing in common — the employment of non-violent resistance.  That doesn’t mean, of course, that all resistance was non-violent.  In each case there was violence.  But a just resolution did not come from violent uprisings but through non-violent protest and resistance.  Hopefully there is a young man or woman in Palestine right now studying the lives and teachings of the great non-violent resisters throughout history.  Hopefully they will not be killed before they have a chance to lead a movement for peace.

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Politics Detox

Presidential Elections, US culture, US Elections, US Politics
I took this photo of an voting information flier on the ground on election day.

I took this photo of a voting information flier on the ground on election day.

I’ve been interested in politics forever but this election year was one for the ages. And all of that excitement wasn’t even crammed into a single election year — candidates announced that they were running for president about two years before election day (of the major candidates, John Edwards was first in December of 2006, and Barack Obama was last in February of 2007), and there was speculation and buzz well before anyone announced anything.

All told, this election cycle took up about three years of my life, with the intensity ratcheting up and up and staying at fever pitch from about the Iowa primaries (January 2008) through election day.

So perhaps it’s unsurprising that after the initial euphoria of election night, I’ve settled into a period of politics detox. I no longer obsessively click on the acronymed sites crowding my bookmarks toolbar (TPM, FR, DD, WM, 538) — several of them haven’t been touched since November 4th. I still read my daily New York Times but I glide over the politics and intrigue and pay more attention to the arts section and special sections like Science Times. The TV stays away from CNN and MSNBC and C-Span.

I believe this has been better for my mental health — but man, that was sure a fascinating election cycle.

I can sense that things are starting to change already. For one thing, I am so watching the inauguration. My daughter has the day off of school (hooray!) and we’re gonna make a day of it. That’ll invite CNN back into my living room, and I’ll want to see what Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan and Matt Yglesias and Hilzoy and everyone are saying about it. And I’ll disagree with some of it, probably, and write them emails and write stuff here and then see the counterarguments and that’ll probably be that. Detox completed, politics part of my brain re-engaged.

But for now, I’m still really enjoying ignoring politics in favor of things like the Science Times. Did you know that it’s been proven that lack of sleep is closely related to catching a cold? I thought so…

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Recognizing When You’re Wrong

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

Yesterday, President Elect Obama pulled off what I think is one of the hardest political acts to perform; he admitted he was wrong.  From back in the campaign, Obama suggested that part of his stimulus package would be a tax credit to businesses who create jobs.  In 2007, Obama was one of the senators pushing the “Patriot Employer Act”.  That bill would try to designate businesses who hire more US workers and reward them with tax credits.  Last week, that policy started to take the form of a $3,000 tax credit for each job in Obama’s stimulus package.  But the cry against this came from all quarters.  Republicans, economists, business writers and members of his own party brought up their concerns that this plan won’t work.  It’s like eliminating the tax on gasoline when prices are high: lots of politics, no benefit. 

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The wry that came in from the cold

Economy, European Politics, Funny, Politics

The Russian-Ukrainian dispute over gas is a mess of economical, political and geostrategical dilemmas. It tears at conflicts both open and latent between the two countries, between both countries and the EU, and between large and small countries inside the EU.

But in the meantime, ordinary people in Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Bosnia are left in the cold – literally. The AP report telling the story has the quote of the day:

“People are fed up with thinking globally but freezing locally,” said Valeri Naidenov, a newspaper columnist.

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“Doing the minutes” as artifact of democracy

Culture, Funny, History

A rather offbeat, but lovely observation from Shivaji Das in Singapore. One to file and read again the next time it’s your turn.

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In which the great Vladimir Putin solves yet another nettlesome international issue

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, Funny, Politics

Pirates(and)Diplomats at Eternal Remont has a point about the dilemmas involved in Serbs burning Russian flags. (They’re doing so because they’re freezing, due to the gas shut-off). “If a Russian flag were to, say, accidentally flip during the messy burning process, wouldn’t the Serbs in fact, be burning their own flag?”

However, another article they’re linking to today suggests a simple answer. The ten men and women whom Kommersant Vlast Journal selected for its annual list of Russia’s biggest yes-men and -women (#10. Svetlana Semenova: “The people have become kinder – this is an attribute of Putin’s policies”) would certainly agree. Just put Putin’s face on the Russian flag, and no Serb need worry about tipping his burning flag the wrong way anymore.

Russian flag with Putin profile

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Always a frown with golden brown

European Politics, Politics

Good God. If there was one thing at least that was good about the Brown government, it was that he finally threw out those execrable Blairite beasts of spin and deceit, Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell. And now they’re both to return? And Alan Milburn too – for a healthy injection of free market idolization, right now the crisis is exposing its folly?

Throw in the floated return of Blunkett and Clarke and the authoritarian wing of New Labour would be back in full force too, for a fully-fledged restoration of late Blairism. Great – cause that was proving to end so well a couple of years ago.

Image used under CC license from the World Economic Forum

Image used under CC license from the World Economic Forum

What Brown is lacking is a spine and a consistent vision. His problem is not that he veered away from Blairite policies; it’s not that he supposedly turned all Old Labour. It’s certainly not his assertive response to the financial crisis, which was praised internationally. It’s his opportunism.

After staunchly pushing through New Labour economic policies for a decade, he missed the credibility to stir traditional Labour constituencies from their slumber again, when he finally appeared to want to correct Blairite excess. And before you could say “maybe he really means it,” he’s already turning on his heels again, in desperation at Labour’s turgid recovery in the polls.

His profile has simply been incoherent. In an otherwise rather silly take on Milburn’s return, the Telegraph’s Janet Daley does put her finger on it when she reviews Brown’s erstwhile snubs of Blair’s ultras: “Did he block them back then because he was opposed in principle or simply as part of his great sulk over Tony Blair’s ascendancy?”

Right, that’s the question he never delivered a persuasive answer to. So now he’s ended up with the worst of both worlds, trusted by neither the left nor the Blairites; by neither the disaffected working class voters who have come to prefer staying home or even voting BNP, nor the business types and middle class suburbanites who see a new and improved Blair in David Cameron.

Half a year ago, Jon Cruddas, after coming in third in the race for Labour’s deputy chairman post, laid out a sound and sensible analysis of the problem Labour faces and how the current time offers it an opportunity to reinvent itself:

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The casual sadism of the US criminal justice system: exhibit 397.

Culture, Politics, US culture, US Politics

In the category “horrifying yet somehow unsurprising,” the NYT had this on Thursday:

As His Inmates Grew Thinner, a Sheriff’s Wallet Grew Fatter

Alabama has an unusual statute on the books that “allows the state’s sheriffs to keep for themselves whatever money is left over after they feed their prisoners. The money allotted by the state is little enough — $1.75 a day per prisoner — but the incentive to skimp is obvious.”

Indeed, and skimp he did. While “the prisoners in the Morgan County jail here were always hungry,” sheriff Greg Bartlett pocketed $212,000 over the last three years. A Redditter does the math:

If he profited $212,000 over three years, as the story claims, he profited about $194 a day. Morgan County has a bed capacity of 212. Meaning the Sheriff profited $0.90 per bed. Meaning the Sheriff was spending $0.85 per bed. That’s harsh.

‘Tis. The judge called the Alabama law “almost an invitation to criminality,” and sent the sherrif to jail – “until he indicated a willingness to comply.” Meaning just for one night, because as Sir Charles at Cogitamus put it: “In a startling display of the rehabilitative powers of incarceration, after only one night in jail Bartlett came up with the creative idea of not skimming any of the food money going forward, and the judge released him.”

As Charles concluded: “One is struck once again with the casual sadism that we seem to find appropriate in our criminal justice system.”

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