Saturday, February 26, 2011

Welcome to the new authoritarianism, Egypt

Well, that didn't last long, did it? I mean the hope that Egypt, sans Mubarak, would transition peacefully, and quickly, to some sort of sustainable liberal democracy. There may indeed be meaningful change, but it seems that the military is firmly in command:

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of protesters returned Friday to Tahrir Square, the site of demonstrations that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak two weeks ago, to keep up the pressure on Egypt's military-led transitional government.

But by early Saturday, the military made it clear there would be limits to further dissent as soldiers and plainclothes security officers moved into the square, beating protesters and tearing down their tents, witnesses said.

In a day that had begun with equal parts carnival and anti-government demonstration, protesters' called for the quick cancellation of the Emergency Law, which for three decades has allowed detentions without trial, and the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general appointed by Mr. Mubarak days before he stepped down.

But after night fell, the protest transformed into a tense standoff between protesters and the military, whose neutrality during the uprising, and unwillingness to fire on the protesters, had turned them into popular heroes. 

The military may have been "popular heroes," for a short time (and perhaps understandably so), but it's not like it's really an engine of change, let alone to a new chapter in Egyptian history that would see its power (and economic status) reduced. The military was the one significant institution that Mubarak allowed to remain in place during his rule, and it used its position to acquire enormous power within the structure of Mubarak's authoritarianism, or perhaps despite of it, with an enormous stake in Egypt's economy. (For more on this, see Fred Kaplan's recent piece at Slate on the Egyptian military.)

And, indeed, it may not have fired on the protesters -- and been willing to appear to side with them, giving it enormous credibility in terms of public opinion both at home and abroad (and most importantly with the U.S., where many top Egyptian military officials were trained) -- not because it agreed with them but because it was quietly encouraging the end of Mubarak's regime so that it could take over. As Ellis Goldberg wrote at Foreign Affairs a couple of weeks ago:

Earlier that day, the Supreme Military Council released a statement -- labeled its "first" communiqué -- that stated that the military would ensure a peaceful transition of Mubarak out of office. In practice, it appears that power has passed into the hands of the armed forces. This act was the latest in the military's creep from applauded bystander to steering force in this month's protests in Egypt. Since the protest movement first took shape on January 25, the military has, with infinite patience, extended and deepened its physical control of the area around Tahrir Square (the focal point of the protests) with concrete barriers, large steel plates, and rolls of razor wire. In itself, the military's growing footprint was the next act in a slow-motion coup -- a return of the army from indirect to direct control -- the groundwork for which was laid in 1952.

And so the threat to a democratic future for Egypt isn't Islamism but military rule:

The West may be worried that the crisis will bring democracy too quickly to Egypt and empower the Muslim Brotherhood. But the real concern is that the regime will only shed its corrupt civilians, leaving its military component as the only player left standing. Indeed, when General Omar Suleiman, the recently appointed vice president to whom Mubarak entrusted presidential powers last night, threatened on February 9 that the Egyptian people must choose between either the current regime or a military coup, he only increased the sense that the country was being held hostage.

It's no longer being held hostage. The military has taken over.

In the past, the U.S. and others have forged alliances with military dictators all around the world, mostly as a supposed bulwark against communism but also because of a general distrust, if not outright opposition to, democratic movements whose outcomes are unclear. The same has happened more recently, with the U.S. backing dictators as a bulwark against Islamism (or, rather, the threat of jihadism), including in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Given what happened in Egypt this month, with the world's attention focused on the courageous protesters in Tahrir Square and with all the celebrations and talk of democracy that accompanied Mubarak's resignation, it remains to be seen whether the revived military authoritarianism in Egypt will be welcomed by the U.S. -- and whether it will be allowed to get away with this coup -- or whether there will be continued pressure for lasting change beyond this supposed "transition."

I'm not optimistic.

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Ignorance stands between Romney and the White House

The 2012 presidential campaign is off to a lackluster and lackadaisical start, and the Republican Party's hopes of finding a legitimate challenger to face off against Barack Obama are just as lacking.

The prospective presidential candidates who continue to top poll after poll are the same faces we saw in 2008, and they're just as polarizing, just as unpopular among the Republican leadership, and just as unelectable now as they were then. Of the top three, two are as loathed as they are loved – and that's on the right, excluding half of the electorate – while the other, though qualified, is as welcomed from within the conservative ranks as a Starbucks convention inside Provo, Utah city limits.

The Palin Factor
Taking third, just as she did in 2008 (behind Barack Obama and Joe Biden, but far ahead of John McCain) there's Sarah Palin, whose current popularity (measured separately from her "attractiveness") has fallen to bottom-feeder levels since she was chosen as vice presidential candidate in the last presidential election. Faced with lawsuits and ethics investigations during and following her entrance onto the national stage, Palin eventually abandoned her governorship in Alaska halfway through her first term in order to pursue a career as a political celebrity, signing on first with Fox News, then launching a reality TV series with TLC.

The formerly unknown "Mama Grizzly" traded in state stewardship to become a Facebook and Twitter icon – amassing 10 times more followers than real Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner combined. She gave up public service to become a millionaire and a celebrity, effectively erasing whatever fantastical images America may have had of her as being a rogue reformer of the Wild Wild West.

The continuous publicity, needless to say, hasn't quelled any of the skepticism surrounding Palin when McCain introduced her as his presidential running mate. She's still an amateur when it comes to domestic and international policy, she still refuses to grant interviews to anyone in the press who isn't a host at Fox, and she still looks like a dunce in the eyes of any crowd that isn't handpicked from the Tea Party pool of like-minded fanatics. She is extremely popular among the Birthers – those who believe President Obama is a Manchurian Candidate who wasn't born in the United States, and therefore isn't legally entitled to be president – but conspiracy theorist fringe groups don't decide the outcome of national elections, a reality to which the Republican Party is privy.

A "Palin for President" campaign, of course, assumes she would even run. More likely, she's milking a potential White House campaign as a publicity stunt to boost her image, sell some books, and earn a few high-paying speaking tours throughout the Bible Belt. Palin has as much chance at beating Obama in the general election as Fox News has of earning a Nobel Prize for ethics. She knows this as well as anyone. Even if Palin managed to pull off a few primary victories in 2012, conservatives wouldn't dare hand her the country. The Republican Party may be stuffed full of power-hungry demagogues, but they're not politically suicidal.

Nobody Hearts Huckabee
Then there's Mike Huckabee, the Southern Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas, who is utterly incapable of attracting more than a few thousand viewers to his Fox News show, let alone to a campaign rally. Though he may top Rupert Murdoch's list of  presidential hopefuls, Huckabee couldn't rile a pack of wolves with a truckload of filet mignon, which makes him about as plausible a candidate for the 2012 Republican nomination as House of the Dead is of being inducted into the cinema hall of fame.

The Fringe Revolutionary
The Republican Party's wild card, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), continually fails to reach double-digit ratings in national polls, but his supporters show up en masse every year to give him strong presence at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. He is popular among the young and overzealous libertarians but is largely ignored by the media, mainly because his staunchly held ideological beliefs make him incapable of striking a balance between idealism and pragmatism.

After Paul's failed presidential bid in 2008, his status was reduced to author of revolutionary manifestos ("The Revolution: A Manifesto"), and it fell even further when his son Rand ran successfully for Congress in 2010 as a representative of the Tea Party.

The... Mormon
That leaves Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Romney may be the only potential candidate capable of overcoming the triple-dose of fiscal retardation under Reagan and the two Bushes, but he'll fail to make the cut nonetheless, and for the same reasons he was overlooked as a running mate for McCain in 2008: he's Mormon.

Romney is a successful businessman, he's rich, he's more than adept at pulling in campaign donors, he's on point with the core beliefs of conservatism, and he's chock-full of family values – even without having multiple wives.

But therein lies the problem.

No matter how good he looks on paper, no matter how good he looks in the paper – what with his chiseled, "rugged jawline" and his thick Massachusetts mop, which has "gone gray in just the right places" – Romney can't ditch his faith.

Much like the closeted discrimination surrounding Obama's race, Romney's religion, whether admitted to or not, is a drawback that many voters – particularly those within the Republican Party's base – will not be able to overlook. It may be a pock mark on the face of a country that prides itself in diversity and freedom of religion, but his faith nonetheless disqualifies him from office.

In the minds of the American masses, Mormonism is not synonymous with Christianity, and no resemblances between the two will convince conservative voters otherwise. Islam and Christianity share the same God, their followers believe in many of the same prophets, and their leaders preach many of the same sermons, but that doesn't stop the majority of Christians from viewing Islam as the religion of extremist terrorists who hate American freedom and live only to die as martyrs for the anti-American cause. The same rationale, however misguided, will be applied to Mormonism, and to Romney.

To the uninformed, Mormonism is nothing more than a polygamist cult full of pedophiles who marry their teenage cousins, live in isolated desert compounds, and panhandle on street corners in order to fund their way of life.

If not for Romney's established reputation as a successful business man and a respected (though not loved) Republican governor, and if not for fellow Mormon Glenn Beck's popularity among radical fringe groups, the Tea Party already would have lumped Mormonism in with socialism, Communism, fascism, and every other allegedly occult and arguably unconstitutional movement they claim is trying to unravel the patriotic thread that's keeping America tied together.

With an albatross as weighty as Mormonism hanging from his neck, Romney won't be an easy candidate to support, particularly among the ever-more staunchly conservative Christian base of the Republican Party.

If Romney is nominated, he couldn't win the election without dedicating the majority of his year-long campaign to self-defense, explaining to the American people exactly what Mormonism represents and allaying the media-induced fears about incest, polygamy, and the 18th-century roles of women within the church. Such an education lesson would assuage many fears and elevate many voters from the troughs of ignorance, but it wouldn't do a thing to boot Obama out of the White House.

As the primaries approach, the GOP will sit back and hope (and pray, of course) that Romney eventually drops out. After he starts winning primary races in key states, which he will, the GOP will stand up and demand that he drop out.

America showed it was ready to make history by electing a black president in 2008, but the voters who put Barack Obama in the White House were predominantly Democrats.

To expect conservative Christians to elevate the country's first Mormon to such a powerful position will take an act of God, and not even the Republican Party believes America is ready to make such a historic stride on Election Day 2012.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Matt Mays & El Torpedo: "Cocaine Cowgirl"

For some music tonight, let's head back to 2005, and to one of the finest Canadian rock songs of the decade, "Cocaine Cowgirl" by Matt Mays & El Torpedo, off their self-titled album.

Mays was born in Hamilton, just down the QEW from Toronto, but grew up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, home also to a certain hockey player named Sidney Crosby.

El Torpedo is no more, but Mays -- official site, Wikipedia entry -- continues on, and, in addition to the album mentioned above, I recommend his low-key iTunes Session, released just last month, stripped-down versions of some of his best songs, including this one.

I assume that many of you have never heard of him, given that the readership of this blog is predominantly American and that he isn't well-known down there, but he's well worth getting to know.


Oh, let's do another one. Here's "City of Lakes" from his 2002 solo debut. It's so very Canadian.


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Friday, February 25, 2011

Hawaii legalizes same-sex civil unions

Well done, Hawaii, well done:

Less than a year after seeing the push for civil unions vetoed, gay rights advocates cheered as Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law a bill legalizing civil unions and making Hawaii the seventh state to grant such privileges to same-sex couples.

Abercrombie signed the legislation at a ceremony [yesterday] at historic Washington Place.

"E Komo Mai: It means all are welcome," Abercrombie said in remarks before signing the bill into law. "This signing today of this measure says to all of the world that they are welcome. That everyone is a brother or sister here in paradise."

"The legalization of civil unions in Hawaii represents in my mind equal rights for all people," he said.

Well, yes, sort of. To me, there will not be equal rights in this area until there is full marriage equality, and that also means equal terminology as well. They shouldn't be "civil unions," they should be "marriages." Either that or, perhaps preferably, all state-sanctioned partnerships that we currently call "marriages" should be called "civil unions," including heterosexual ones.

It's not an insignificant point, as homosexual couples should be able to be married, if that is what heterosexual couple are allowed to be, though I understand that the bill the governor signed into law "allows all couples — same-sex and heterosexual — to enter into a civil union, a legal status with all the rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities as traditional marriage."

Yes, I'd be happy if every state allowed such civil unions, but there needs to be complete marriage equality.

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Go ahead and be a martyr, Qaddafi

Qaddafi vows to keep fighting (for his tyranny) and says he will "die as a martyr at the end."

Sounds good to me. Over to you, Libyan people.


Qaddafi also claims that he "not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired... when I do, everything will burn."



According to CNN, citing a senior U.S. military official, "the Pentagon is looking at 'all options' it can offer President Barack Obama in dealing with the Libyan crisis."

"Our job is to give options from the military side, and that is what we are thinking about now," the official said. "We will provide the president with options should he need them."

It makes sense for the military to provide the president with military options, even if they're not at all desirable, but it would be a terrible idea for the U.S. to intervene militarily in Libya. At most, it could provide humanitarian and other support in the event the Qaddafi regime falls.

Still, what to do if Qaddafi unleashes even greater force and crushes the protest movement in the streets and wherever else he can find it? At what point does U.S. military intervention of some kind -- say, as part of a broad international force that includes even some Middle Eastern states -- become defensible?

The pro-democracy movements in the region -- in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Bahrain -- have met with some internal resistance but not with the sort of force Qaddafi has already unleashed. This situation in Libya is much different than the situation in Egypt. Mubarak basically faded away after a brief period of intransigence, while Qaddafi is clinging to power with all his might. And so the U.S. and others must respond differently. But how?

Needless to say, there are no easy answers.

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Mitt Romney is toast

According to a spokesman, "Mitt Romney is proud of what he accomplished for Massachusetts in getting everyone covered."

According to that spokesman, "Romneycare" isn't like the Affordable Care Act (i.e., "Obamacare," according to Republican propaganda) because it's a single-state system, not a national one, and because "[a] one-size-fits-all plan for the entire nation just doesn't work." States, he asserted, should have "the power to determine their own healthcare solutions."

There is much to recommend Romneycare, once the sort of thing Republicans supported, but the argument that states should all have their own individual systems is silly. Moreover, the two systems are "essentially the same," as Yglesias noted last year -- Romneycare even includes a dreaded individual mandate, now the main target of opponents of the Affordable Care Act -- and Romney has been all over the place distancing himself from the Affordable Care Act. He's obviously landed now on the federal/state distinction, but that won't get him anywhere in today's GOP. Indeed, Karl Rove said last month that Romney basically needs to admit that his heath-care reform in Massachusetts was wrong and that he should apologize for it. Apparently that's not about to happen, not with Romney adamantly defending the Obama-like system that bears his name.

Prediction: Mitt Romney will not be the Republican nominee for president in 2012. He's toast. And, try as he might to protest his sufficiently right-wing cred, he's just making it worse for himself. He did a very good thing in Massachusetts, something he should be very proud of. Don't expect Republicans, and particularly the base, to give him the benefit of anything. They'll destroy him, and that will be that.

(Yes, that's the easiest prediction I've made in a long time, maybe since I picked Christine O'Donnell to lose the Delaware Senate race in a landslide. I don't claim to be a crystal ball. Some things are just obvious.)

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Did the U.S. military use "psy-ops" against senators and other officials?

Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings has a stunning -- but, when you think about it, not all that surprising, given what we know the military is capable of -- report on the use of so-called "psy-ops" against high-ranking American and foreign targets:

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as "information operations" at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.


The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war.

Yes, and it's an indication of just what the U.S. military -- or parts of it, anyway -- think of the civilian leadership under which it supposedly serves.

It seems a bit like science fiction, but of course it's not. Psychological warfare -- "operations" against human targets -- is very real, even if poorly understood, not least by the public, and Steve Clemons, a commentator whom I respect a great deal, thinks it might even have worked, at least on Sen. Carl Levin. As Steve adds:

Caldwell should be fired. What he did, if Hastings has his details is right, is really outrageous and a further testament to the wobbliness of civilian control over the military in today's world.

But bigger question is whether any psy-ops operations were directed at the President of the United States and/or his direct team.

Someone needs to ask that in the White House press briefing.

Agreed on all points. If the allegations are true, the civilian leadership must assert its lawful authority and get rid of Caldwell and anyone else involved, just as it must assert its authority generally -- what else is the U.S. military doing that it shouldn't be, what else is it getting away with?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, as it's not clear what exactly happened, or even whether it happened. But questions do need to be asked, including of Obama and top military brass, and a serious investigation needs to be launched.

Because if it happened in any way like the way Hastings reports it did, even if happened just a little bit, with "psy-ops" used against U.S. and foreign officials, nothing less than American democracy itself was, and may still be, threatened.

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Question of the Day

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there are now over 1,000 active hate groups in the U.S.

-- How many of them support the Republican Party, lean Republican, or are actively involved with the GOP?

As Mark Potok, the editor of the SPLC's Intelligence Report, explains:

Far-right extremists remain highly energized, even as politicians across the country co-opt many of the radical ideas and issues that are important to them. This success in having their voices heard in the political arena, where they have long occupied the fringe of conservative thought, might eventually take the wind out of their sails, but so far we're not seeing any sign of that.

Hardly surprising, what with the GOP moving further and further to the right and turning the radical right into its new mainstream as it descends deeper and deeper into extremism and madness.

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Running against history, Rick Santorum defends the Crusades

Rick Santorum is insane. And he doesn't know anything about history either:

Rick Santorum launched into a scathing attack on the left, charging during an appearance in South Carolina that the history of the Crusades has been corrupted by "the American left who hates Christendom."

"The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical," Santorum said in Spartanburg on Tuesday. "And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom."

He added, "They hate Western civilization at the core. That's the problem."

After asserting that Christianity had not shown any "aggression" to the Muslim world, the former Pennsylvania senator — who is considering a 2012 run for the White House — argued that American intervention in the Middle East helps promote "core American values."

So he's defending the Crusades and directly linking them, a bloodthirsty, rapacious, avaricious assault on the "Holy Land" and on Islam generally, to the Iraq War and other warmongering interventions (i.e., invasions) in the Middle East?

It's like he's trying to out-Palin Palin. Which of course he is. He's dropping hints about running, he's making high-profile appearances in early-primary states like South Carolina, and he's evidently trying to capture the right-wing Republican base that loves Palin in order to succeed against the likes of Romney and Pawlenty -- the former who has yet to win over conservatives (and who never will) and who will only win moderates and perhaps business-oriented conservatives, the latter who is trying desperately to come across as a hardcore social conservative but who is a dull midwestern governor who may only win establishment Republicans, if anyone at all. Should Palin not run, there will be room in the race for a far-righter. It may not be Huckabee, who's a bit of a renegade anyway, and it won't be Pence, and it's not Rubio's time yet, and no doubt most of the smarter Republicans realize it's a long shot to beat Obama in any event, so maybe it'll be Santorum who fills the void.

Makes sense, even if Santorum himself does not.

I would just note, getting back to the Crusades, that it's not really a "scathing" attack if it's completely crazy and utterly ill-founded.

And it doesn't mean you hate Christianity, and certainly not "Western Civilization," when you point out that the Crusades were pretty bloody violent and that the Christians who went on them were not entirely motivated by those noble and supposedly "Christian" ideals of peace, love, and understanding. They were about conquering the Holy Land, yes, but also about raping and plundering and making off with as much booty as possible, and the targets were not just Muslims but Jews and others as well, including other, non-Roman Catholic Christians (Santorum, by the way, is Roman Catholic), and of course domestic politics played into them as well. (It was all quite complicated, much more complicated than Santorum's ignorantly superficial revisionism suggests.)

To anyone who actually cares about, and seeks to understand, history, Santorum's claim is simply ridiculous. But of course he's appealing not to those who care about history, nor to those who live in reality and seek to deal with reality as is, but to the Republican base, to those who live deeply embedded in ignorance, delusion, and deception, willfully or otherwise.

It's too early to say how well he's doing, but he's sure going for it.


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Their revolution, our game-changer

Guest post by Ali Ezzatyar 

Ali Ezzatyar is a journalist and American attorney practising in Paris, France.

(Ed. note: This is Ali's third guest post at The Reaction. Earlier this month, he wrote a post on dictatorship in Tunisia and Egypt. In January 2010, he co-wrote a post on Iran with Bryan Tollin. -- MJWS)

Started with the match of a Tunisian who aspired for more, a revolutionary wildfire burns near and far from his resting place. We have already witnessed one of most incredible and unlikely geopolitical shuffles in modern history; still, as this post goes out, Libya's people stand potentially days away from deposing yet another of the world's dictators against all odds. In addition to these being revolutionary times, these are also perception-changing times. Perceptions of peoples and their aptitude for modernity, surely. But most importantly for America, perceptions of the role the rest of the world is going to play in facilitating that modernity.

With the benefit of hindsight, U.S. foreign policy has sometimes been good and sometimes bad. With respect to the Middle East and North Africa, it is probably not controversial to say it has been almost certainly bad. Leaving aside the reality that the majority of the world sees the U.S. as being totally self-interested, we have also managed to sacrifice the stability of those same interests we are thought to be hoarding so maliciously. In every country, we get a D either in terms of the humanity of our policies or the protection of our interests; in many cases, we get a D in both.

I know a bit about Iran, so let's take that example: We went from organizing a coup d'état that ousted a democratically-elected leader in the '50s to supporting Iraq in an invasion against its new popularly-chosen (but in-flux) government in the '80s. This served to bring in and harden the influence of the most extreme elements in Tehran, who still rule that country today, with the price tag of 1.5 million lives. Less than two decades later, we went in and got rid of the two largest threats to Iran's border while it watched and picked off young American soldiers like fish in a barrel, establishing its influence. In the end, we secured neither its respect nor its oil, nor that of its neighbor, while the whole region watched. Henry Kissinger's famous quote on the Iran-Iraq war was that its too bad "they both can't lose". The reality is, they did both lose -- but so did we, in terms of interests and reputation, perhaps the only two factors that matter in international affairs.

In an era of mass transformation, where the world and the region are once again watching, the U.S. has an unprecedented platform to show that it will, at the very least, stand by its ideals. Undoubtedly, perceptions are being formed today about America's propensity to be a constructive player that will follow the U.S. for decades. America may never have this opportunity again.

Now, President Obama's change moniker is without doubt composed partially of hot air. Whether by chance or design, though, the last month has been very kind to the view that some of what he said in his June 2009 Cairo speech was genuine. During the course of revolutionary, albeit unfinished, change in Egypt and Tunisia, the U.S. has walked the tightrope of Middle East policy exceptionally well. That tightrope requires the U.S. to consider its reputation in the region on a case-by-case basis and decide the extent of its action based on any inevitable perception of its involvement, while at the same time being unwilling to sacrifice the ideals of democratic change for peoples who are taking destiny into their own hands.

Whether or not President Obama agrees that the stakes are as outlined above, his policies and his reaction to events suggest he does. Our influence and rhetoric have so far placed the U.S. in a unique position of having encouraged positive change in a region where it is desperate for legitimacy and good-standing (bearing in mind that we not decide how uprisings began or how they will end, but still have a special role to play, for our sake and our reputation). The president explained his choices, confirming that America would place itself on the right side of history while never imitating that it could dictate the outcome of popular will.

So while perceptions are important and good, and affect our interests, what about the interests themselves? The peaceful toppling of these entrenched despots also gives America the opportunity to align those interests with the values it cherishes for its own people. In addition to begetting a positive circle of goodwill that is more likely to serve our physical interests than the shortsighted policy of yesteryears, it also sets the alternative of extremism on its head. No burning U.S. flags in Cairo or Tunis, only cautious thanks for America among a valiant population happy to have friends in high places.

The U.S. has never been a strong ally of Libya, and that among other factors makes its treatment of Libya necessarily different. With the handwriting on the wall in Tripoli, and the work almost done, the U.S. needs to exercise all of its influence to ensure Qaddafi's departure. This means proposing sanctions (largely symbolic) and publicly considering the idea of no-fly zones to prevent the incursion of foreign mercenaries. President Obama needs to speak up and act with intent -- not least because Libya, the region, and the world are watching.

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Fox hates the facts

The right-wing anti-union thugs in Wisconsin are losing, with public opinion solidly against Gov. Scott Walker's efforts, but that isn't stopping Fox News from pressing its ideological case with reckless abandon -- indeed, it's only encouraging the network of Beck and Hannity and O'Reilly to distort the facts in a way that makes "fair and balanced" even more of a bullshit slogan. Actually, this isn't just distortion, it's out-and-out disregard, turning the facts on their head so as to advance the network's cause:

[On Tuesday], USA Today and Gallup released a new poll that found that a whopping 61 percent of Americans oppose efforts like those of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) to strip public sector unions of collective bargaining rights. The poll also found that only a third of Americans support such a policy, indicating that Walker is pandering to the far-right of the American electorate and is hardly representative of mainstream political thought in this country.

This morning, during a debate about the situation in Wisconsin and collective bargaining rights in general, the Fox News show Fox & Friends referenced the USA Today/Gallup poll. With incredible brazenness, the Fox hosts actually reversed the results of the poll in order to claim that two-thirds of Americans supported Wisconsin-style laws rather than opposed them.

A simple mistake, one that anyone could make? More like wishful thinking, but certainly much worse than that, because what we have here is Fox making a "mistake" that oh-so-conveniently backs up its partisan, ideological agenda. It may not have been the dimwitted hosts of that dimwitted show, but it was someone there, and it makes you wonder just how things work at this unabashed organ of Republican propaganda.

As Colbert noted last night, Brian Kilmeade, one of the dimwitted hosts, corrected himself, which was the responsible thing to do, but the damage had been done, embarrassment was at hand, and Fox News had proven once again that its priorities lie not with reporting the facts, or reporting and commenting on the news in any genuinely fair and balanced way, but in lying to advance its own political agenda.

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Major DOMA

By Carl
As you know, yesterday Eric Holder all but admitted that the Defense of Marriage Act, rammed down the throats of Americans during the 1990s, was Constitutionally unsustainable.
People on the left, especially people with an interest in seeing gay marriage legalized, were all aflutter about it. They shouldn't have been. This was not Obama's coming to Rome moment.
Operative words there are "all but". This was an incremental move on a long and arduous road to equality.

All that said, I am aware that this is a sort of side-door way for Obama to come out in support of gay marriage. But apparently the department's hand was forced by two lawsuits coming up on which it had to deliver opinions by March 11. From today's NYT story:

For technical reasons, it would have been far more difficult — both legally and politically — for the administration to keep arguing that the marriage law is constitutional in these new lawsuits. To assert that gay people do not qualify for extra legal protection against official discrimination, legal specialists say, the Justice Department would most likely have had to conclude that they have not been historically stigmatized and can change their orientation.

Can you imagine a Democratic president's lawyers arguing that?

Yup. This was not Obama slyly winking at his one-time "base," saying "Now, let's work on what we want." This was Obama cruelly calculating that, in order to shepherd his re-election, he could not afford to piss off a large number of wealthy and connected donors. This was Obama deciding that, to defend these two suits he would have to shift far to the right and claim homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, and that gays have never been oppressed like other minorities, Matthew Shepard aside.

This was not Barack Obama suddenly embracing gay marriage, this was not his "In Hoc Signo Vinces". Let's put away those bottles of champagne and fireworks and realize this was a very narrow decision made in the cold light of re-election mathematics. You'll note that Holder did not go so far as to say that the DOMA is wrong or unfair or wrongly exclusive and should be overturned on merit.

No, he said that he could not justify on two separate Constitutional tests, making a fight over it. That's capitulation, not cause for congratulation.

This takes nothing away from the fact that even in this small and near-insignificant gesture of surrender, he has not taken a stance that will be derided and reviled by the forces of bigotry, intolerance and hatred on the right. Indeed, because he took a clever little page out of the book of George Bush the Elder (who used a similar strategy in taking a stand against minority set-asides in broadcasting, as Tomasky points out), it will likely enrage those who were looking for the bigger fight on gay rights.

A smart President would have done what Obama did: make a small gesture and let the other side do what it does best: blow it up out of proportion, then inflame both sides into activism.

A courageous President would have taken the heat himself.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Obama condemns Libyan violence but doesn't go far enough

As reported by ABC News:

The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable, so are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters. These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop.

Yes, fine, but he couldn't even mention Qaddafi by name? And couldn't he at least be a bit more aggressive rhetorically, and couldn't he at least be a bit more direct in terms of what must be done and what the U.S. will do to support the pro-democracy movement and encourage Qaddafi's ouster, instead of relying on same old tired platitudes

How about some passion? How about some leadership? (I realize he may be operating effectively behind the scenes, but it's important for him to show that leadership, and influence public opinion both here and there, in public.)

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Indiana official who called for "live ammunition" to be used in Wisconsin is fired

So... did you hear about the conservative Indiana deputy attorney general who tweeted over the weekend that the police should "[u]se live ammunition" against the protesters in Egypt Bahrain Libya Wisconsin?

His name is Jeff Cox. And he's deservedly been fired.

As frightening as this is, it's somewhat refreshing when conservatives are this truly open about what they really believe and what they're really all about.

Like comparing environmentalists to Nazis and Osama bin Laden, referring to union members as "brownshirts," defending Indianapolis police for beating up a black kid, calling for killing and annihilation in Afghanistan as the only "sensible policy," etc.

Thanks, Jeff, you bloodthirsty fascist! 

Mother Jones has more.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Daddy State

By Carl 

The latest news out of Wisconsin is pretty good for progressives and unions, although it could certainly reverse at any point.

Governor Scott Walker's attempt to bully unions and public sector workers into falling on the sword of fiscal responsibility for the mishaps of the rich and powerful has drawn some very intense scrutiny and to be frank, Gov. Walker has done a pretty horrendous job of justifying things. To claim that government sector pensions are out of proportion to the budget, then to exempt the largest pensions in the basket (the police and firefighter unions, many of whom can collect after only 20 years on the job... imagine retiring at full benefits at the age of 41), is one of the single most transparently ludicrous claims ever made by a public official.

See? The Teabaggers are just like any other politicians, only stupider and louder! This is good news for America. 

George Lakoff has it about right when he says, "Budget deficits are convenient ruses for destroying American democracy and replacing it with conservative rule in all areas of life."

Fascinating article, and I suggest you read it. Go on. I'll wait.

*Examining nails. Making fresh pot of coffee. Whistling "Wind Beneath My--*

Oh? You're back? Good. Let me go on...

The slow erosion, which is happening faster and faster as it gathers momentum, of what President Obama has called an ethic of excellence has been the underlying goal of Republicans since at least the days of Lee Atwater (who later renounced his assault on liberals and the liberal principles that created the greatest nation on earth) and likely since Ronald Reagan's inauguration as I highlighted yesterday.

Lakoff's suggestion that the conservative national image, of a patriarchy, is pretty valid and obviously wrong-headed, as any parent of any teen or anyone who studies the newspaper on a regular basis can tell you. You cannot change behaviour by diktat. You can enforce laws, true, but that's not a change in behaviour and if any behaviour does get changed, it's the behaviour that allowed the person to get caught in the first place (i.e. being too trusting of friends who rat one out).

Issue an edict (e.g., "You cannot smoke in here") and someone will start to probe it for loopholes if they want to smoke in there. Maybe they'll do it after hours, or use a can of Lysol to cover the scent. If they get caught, they'll just find other, more subtle ways to justify continuing the behavior you find offensive.

In other words, the claim that by some miracle, personal responsibility is enforceable is childish and fantastical. It simply will not happen. If we could trust people to act in the best interests of themselves while somehow not harming their neighbors flies in the face of millions of years of theft, greed, jealousy, anger, rage, fear, aggression, and passion.

All of which lie at the very heart of humanity. The evidence is inescapable: conservatives who believe this tripe have no business running a kindergarten class, much less a state or a nation. The very act of having to hide their original intent, to destroy the progressive "nanny state" by masking it with budget deficits and subsequent cuts... the Norquist Model, let's call it... ALONE speaks to the childishness and naivete of the whole venture.

As Governor Walker is, at great pain, finding out.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lugar faces the Tea Party music

A couple of weeks ago, R.K. Barry wrote an Elephant Dung post on how the Indiana Tea Party is going after long-time and highly-respected Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, planning a 2012 challenge that could ultimately bring down one of the few remaining sensible Republicans on Capitol Hill. Well, it ain't lookin' good for Lugar:

Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock will launch his primary challenge to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) on Tuesday with the support of a majority of both the state's 92 Republican county chairmen and its state party executive committee, he told the Fix in a recent interview.

"I feel bad that he's going to be humiliated by this list," Mourdock said.

Mourdock added that he believes Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and Rep. Mike Pence (R), the party's two leading figures in the Hoosier State, are going to stay neutral in the primary -- though Daniels, who was Lugar's campaign manager three different times, has already committed to voting for the senator.

That such a large contingent of the party establishment should come out against or withhold support from an incumbent senator is highly unusual and reflects the difficult path ahead for Lugar in advance of the May 8, 2012, primary fight. It also suggests there is a clear path to victory for Mourdock.

From what I can tell, Mourdock isn't just another Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, or John Raese. While he's to the right of Lugar, he would appear to be a competent figure who could well win a general election in what is already a red-leaning state. And he's not a full-on Teabagger:

Mourdock is clear on one thing: he is not running as a tea party candidate. While he welcomes the support of tea party groups and says he expects them to coalesce around his campaign, he recognizes the limitations of being defined as a tea party candidate.

"Mr. Lugar will try to paint me that way, because he's speaking very demeaningly about the tea party right now," Mourdock said. "I think he's doing it that way to set it up and say, 'Mourdock is some wild-eyed extremist.'"

Well, an extremist he is, if well within the mainstream of today's GOP, but Lugar will likely have a hard time making his case stick, what with so much of the state party likely to line up behind Mourdock. (Although an endorsement from Daniels would help.)

What's interesting, though, as we continue to track the GOP's civil war, is that Lugar is hardly a moderate. As R.K. put it:

It seems that Lugar's sin is that he voted to confirm a couple of liberal Supreme Court justices and voted for the START treaty to reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It's not like he voted for health-care reform or the economic stimulus package, offenses that would likely have gotten him beheaded before they threw him out of office. No, just a couple of votes on the Supremes and a missile treaty seems to be enough to incur the wrath of the radical right.

Never mind that based on so many other indicators he's a fairly conservative fellow, which is born out by the fact that he's always been pro-life and pro-business, and an advocate for lower taxes and smaller government.

He's a solid conservative, in other words, and a loyal Republican -- not that either is good enough these days, not with the Tea Party demanding absolutism on a broad core of policy positions. And even compromising on a couple of issues (which pretty much everyone in Congress has to do over the course of a long career), even showing a breadth of understanding beyond narrow ideological parochialism (which Lugar, a foreign policy expert, certainly has done), can bring about one's downfall at the hands of the Republican Bolsheviks.

R.K. notes that Lugar is "just too damn strong and viewed as unbeatable by the political establishment," and hence that a Tea Party challenge would be "a colossal waste of time," but this isn't just about the Tea Party anymore. Rather, it's about a broader conservative challenge to Lugar, including from within the state party establishment. It's hard to imagine Lugar losing, but it's easier now than ever before, what with the Tea Party and the Republican establishment making nice all across the country, endangering not just Lugar but even the likes of Orrin Hatch in Utah, hardly anything other than a hardcore conservative.

This says a lot about the state of the Republican Party today as it looks ahead to 2012, a party of increasing extremism that, with the Tea Party pushing its buttons, is trying -- often successfully -- to purge its ranks of "sinners," of those who have deviated from the far-right line.

And I'm all for it, because it just makes Republicans even more unelectable. They won the House last year because of a bad economy and low voter turnout (and successful propaganda), but things will be different next year, with Obama rebounding, the economy (hopefully) improving, and enthusiasm among Democrats returning (if not quite to '08 levels). Moving further and further to the right while dismissing even the likes of Richard Lugar would just make their chances even worse.


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In union, there is strength

By Carl 

I don't think I have to tell you where I stand on the issues unraveling in Wisconsin.

I am a union man. My father was union, blue-collar, working class. I'm union, in fact, three unions. "You don't get me, I'm part of the union," as the song goes.

There's a logic here that goes beyond greed (I'll get back to that in a minute). In early American history, companies were small. Certainly, none were of the size of the conglomeratic multinational corporations that control this nation today.

In early American history, it was likely that a line worker in a factory knew his boss. He may even have socialized with him on occasion, in church or some community function. Owners were in touch with their workers. They saw first hand the abject poverty many of them lived in. Many, if not most, acted appropriately.

Some did not, of course, else how would Dickens have made a career, British or not?

As corporations agglomerated and grew disproportionately to their communities, there really was nothing to stand in their way. The "company store" of song was very real: a corporation would hire entire towns, situate them in the company's thralls, pay them next to nothing, provide next to zero benefits, and then overcharge them for buying food.

Enter unions. As unions gathered strength in numbers, they were able to force companies to deal with the plight of their workers. In union, in unity, came strength. If the union advised its members to strike, they did. Usually, they'd win concessions that genuinely improved the lot, not just of their members, but of workers across the land.

You see, when you're the 800 lb gorilla in the room, people notice what you're up to. And when the 800 lb gorilla has to share more bananas to the troops of chimps who gather those bananas, other smaller gorillas realize they'll have to pony up or lose workers and therefore efficiencies and revenues.

Even if those gorillas aren't unionized.

A curious event happened in the 1980s, one that was a long time coming, but still surprising.

PATCO, the air traffic controllers union, went out on strike.

They struck the single biggest silverback in the world: the U.S. government. Of course, they broke a law doing it (most unions give up the right to strike with regards to public service employees.)

Ironically, they did this because they felt they would have the support of the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, a) whom they endorsed and b) who was himself a former union president (the Screen Actors Guild).

Not so lucky: he promptly decertified them, effectively disbanding the union and firing the strikers.

That was the death knell for unions in America. Nevermind that our manufacturing base had been eroding steadily if slowly (and was about to accelerate rapidly ni the wake of the mergers and acquisition bubble of the 80s). Never mind that unions themselves had become pockets of corruption in many cases, greedy criminals running them, like Jimmy Hoffa.

The ill-advised PATCO strike probably was the single body blow that brought unions to their knees. If the government could fire them, then anyone would give it a try. And they did. And they succeeded, if only by filing bankruptcy (which is where the merger craze comes in) and dissolving the collective bargaining agreements as contracts null and void in the bankruptcy. Workers became mere creditors of the company, in effect.

But today, this week, this month, this year, we're starting to see the backlash of unions and union-minded people. The budget cuts that municipalities and states have been placing in effect has caused workers to shout "Basta!" and take to the streets. In Wisconsin, even the unions exempt from Governor Walker's edicts have stood shoulder to shoulder with their union peers.

In union comes strength. The firefighters remember the words of Pastor Reinhold Niebuhr: "Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love." 

Or to put it more prosaic terms, if they can screw with you, they can screw with me, so I stand with you now. 

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Monday, February 21, 2011

On Wisconsin

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Plunge right through that line!
Run the ball clear down the field,
A touchdown sure this time.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Fight on for her fame
Fight! Fellows! - fight, fight, fight!
We'll win this game.

Finally, some people in America -- notably in Wisconsin -- are waking up to the fact that the Republicans are just a bunch of bullies who have absolutely NO idea how to govern. They sure know how to scare, intimidate, and stir the pot, but when it comes to governing, they're clueless. When people voted in these teabaggers and their Koch-bought slaves, they voted mostly out of frustration and anger. Now they are beginning to see the fruits of the votes: Scott Walker, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Rick Scott, and a whole slew of others who want nothing else but to bust unions and give MORE tax cuts to the wealthy.

It is class warfare to the Aynrand degree.

It is one thing to want to fix the financial mess (almost entirely created by the mass giveaway to corporations and the rich), but it is another thing to blatantly want to dismantle the workers and middle class of America as payback for the financing of electoral victories. That is the MO of Scott Walker. Any giveback from the wealthy, not so much in the MO.

I will say it here: Scott Walker is nothing short of a fascist. His no-negotiation stance leaves little choice for the opposition. Walker is also a greedy bastard on top of being a fascist. He wants to continue to cut taxes for the rich, his position against collective bargaining singles out the unions that did not support him, and he wants to allow the state to sell its assets under no-bid rules (to the Koch boys, of course). If any teabagger could actually read. I would think even they would be appalled by that one.

The populist selling of puritanical Ayn Randism and Milton Friedmanism as a political philosophy is continue to creep into the governance of America. One only has to look to Chile in the late 1970s and Argentina in 2001 as examples of what happens when free markets and self-sufficiency at the expense of the common interest runs amok. Since 1981, we have altered our economic system to make the corporate elite even more elite. With the Rand/Friedman/Reagan theory that it would trickle down, all that has happened 30 years later is that people like the Koch boys have kept that accumulated wealth and the rest are fighting for the scraps.

Wisconsin is finally showing America (and the media, which has portrayed the working class as a bunch of lemmings doing only as they are told) that peaceful protest can be effective and important (even if they don't win in the end). I can only hope that this type of "virus" does spread and does show up in 2012 at the ballot box OR in recall votes before then.

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Will the truth set us free from Sarah Palin?

Oh Sarah, poor Sarah:

A leaked manuscript by one of Sarah Palin's closest aides from her time as governor charges that Palin broke state election law in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign and was consumed by petty grievances up until she resigned.

The unpublished book by Frank Bailey was leaked to the media and widely circulated on Friday.

The manuscript opens with an account of Palin sending Bailey a message saying "I hate this damn job" shortly before she resigned as Alaska's governor in July 2009, less than three years into her four-year term. The manuscript goes on for nearly 500 pages, a mixture of analysis, gossip and allegation. 

Palin, or those speaking for her, as well as her admirers on the right, will no doubt attack the book as the work of a disgruntled ex-staffer with an ax to grind and no credibility, and as a work of unbridled partisanship (given that anti-Palin Mudflats blogger Jeanne Devon is a co-author), but of course the last thing Palin wants is for the truth to come out, and certainly this book is likely to contain more than just gossip and allegation. What we've learned about Palin and those who form her little bubble of delusion is that they strike back with venom whenever they're threatened, whenever the bubble threatens to burst, spilling the lies out into public view, and we can expect that here.

Because if there's one thing Palin, and more specifically the Palin myth, can't abide, it's the truth, even a speck of it.

Which reminds me:


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