Tuesday, June 30, 2009


No excuses now, Democrats. Al Franken is the 60th Democratic Senator, providing a supermajority that only recidivist Dems like Nebraska's Ben Nelson can thwart. Now is the time to do what the people have voted. If they don't like it, there's always the next election.

Here's Norm, finally conceding:

Good luck with the investigation.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Competition Lie

The next time anyone tries to tell you, on TV, on the radio, in print or in person, that a public option health insurance plan will somehow stifle competition and hurt the consumer, tell them this:

The report, released by Health Care for America Now (HCAN), uses data compiled by the American Medical Association to show that 94 percent of the country's insurance markets are defined as "highly concentrated," according to Justice Department guidelines. Predictably, that's led to skyrocketing costs for patients, and monster profits for the big health insurers. Premiums have gone up over the past six years by more than 87 percent, on average, while profits at ten of the largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007.

Far from healthy market competition, HCAN describes the situation as "a market failure where a small number of large companies use their concentrated power to control premium levels, benefit packages, and provider payments in the markets they dominate."

So extreme is the level of consolidation, in fact, that one former top Federal Trade Commission official working with HCAN has sent a letter to the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, asking for an investigation into the health insurance marketplace.

The showdown between the American public and the ridiculously rich health insurance companies draws nigh. Make your call:

Please CALL Senator Max Baucus at (202) 224-2651
Please CALL Senator Olympia Snowe at (202) 224-5344
Please CALL Senator Charles Schumer at 202-224-6542
Please CALL Senator Edward Kennedy at (202) 224-4543
Please CALL Senator John Rockefeller at (202) 224-6472
Please CALL Senator Ron Wyden at (202) 224-5244
Please CALL Senator Kent Conrad at (202) 224-2043
Please CALL Senator Jeff Bingaman at (202) 224-5521
Please CALL Senator John Kerry at (202) 224-2742
Please CALL Senator Blanche Lincoln at 202-224-4843
Please CALL Senator Debbie Stabenow at (202) 224-4822
Please CALL Senator Maria Cantwell at 202-224-3441
Please CALL Senator Bill Nelson at 202-224-5274
Please CALL Senator Robert Menendez at 202-224-4744
Please CALL Senator Thomas Carper at (202) 224-2441
Please CALL Kay Hagan (202) 224-3121

If it doesn't happen, we only have ourselves to blame.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Smart Talk

As readers of this blog will guess, I'm not a fan of Hoover Institute economist John B. Taylor, but I'm a big fan of Nobel Prize economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. While I'm not in lockstep with Krugman, particularly on his criticism of the Administration not going far enough with the stimulus (he doesn't have to deal with Congress, just his editor), I believe he's at his strongest on the public health care option here in debate with Taylor on Fareed Zakaria -- the health care stuff starts @ 13:30:

As I said, I may not agree with Taylor, but this type of discussion is a helluva lot better than most cable news soundbyte debate between so-called professional pundits.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


So was Michael Jackson calling for help or just giving us a clue as to what would happen?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cautionary Tales

Sure, there's the cautionary tale of Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) from yesterday, but it doesn't compare to the three celebrities that made this week's fated troika. I'm referring, of course, to Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.

I had the pleasure to meet McMahon on the tail end of a flight to Vegas several years ago. Very affable, total gentleman. However, his dream career in Hollywood, the massive job security of sitting next to Johnny Carson on the couch year after year, had a dark ending turn well, when he suddenly found himself in big financial debt very late in life, after the good earning years (and they lasted longer than for most folks) were up. The moral: live modestly enough that you don't get nailed when the high-flying plane to Vegas comes down.

Ms. Fawcett had another path to caution. Blessed with a contemporary beauty and the sparkle to go with it, she sold 12 million posters and was a TV sensation...for a single year. After she sprang herself prematurely from her Charlie's Angels contract she admirably sought bigger, smarter, tougher roles and got a few of them, but it was struggle from thereon out, culminating with a late career lunge and sex symbol reprise and embarrassing drunken or pilled-out moments on Letterman and elsewhere. Whereas McMahon seemed to coast along the mega-capitalist entertainment system, Fawcett was more or less treated like a bauble, albeit one who gamely strove for better. So the moral might be to have a contingency plan when the system no longer needs you.

Which brings us to the Prince of Pop, or King, or gravy train for all those music and television executives who got their piece of Michael Jackson's never-to-be-duplicated package of talent. In Michael Kinsley's prescient 1984 piece on the cost of Jackson's success and it's place within the Hollywood system, he recaps the debilitating nature of Jackson's showbiz childhood -- rarely if ever in school -- and how those benefiting most from the system needed to keep him in Neverland to keep earning big:
What's happened to Michael Jackson isn't too different from what they used to do to young male singers in Europe a few centuries ago, to keep their voices sweet. In another way, it resembles the exploitation of child stars like Judy Garland in the heyday of the Hollywood studios. In fact, what American capitalism has done to Michael Jackson is even a bit like what the Soviets do to their women athletes.


Yes, I know, it's hard to feel sorry for Michael Jackson. Millions of dollars and zillions of adoring fans, a huge party in New York at which, says Rolling Stone, "a procession of CBS executives" rises to declare fealty. If he wants a duplicate of the Disneyland "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride built in his house (and he does), he can have it. But how many CBS executives or editors of Time would want their own child, at age 25, to want such a thing, to be babbling about misunderstood snakes, to be "like a fawn in a burning forest"?

So a contemporary of my generation and just a few years older than our President, who's just hitting his stride, burns out nearly twenty years after his heyday in what is sounding like a Heath Ledger prescription drug abuse tragedy. Of all the cautionary tales, Jackson's is the one that indicts others the most: his hard-driving stage dad, his enablers hired and percentage earners, maybe even the fans who love his music. The moral: grow up or die young. And mutilated.

It's all a bit reminiscent, particularly in Jackson's case, of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon, the originally underground classic compendium of celebrity horror stories stretching from the Fatty Arbuckle silent era scandals to Jayne Mansfield's grotesque auto accident decapitation. Anger gave us the extreme version of those "the rich are unhappy" parables meant to keep the rest of us content with our lot, but one has to wonder if the three who just died would have been any happier without the fame. Didn't they need it to survive, like oxygen? McMahon laughing at the boss' jokes down at the local bar? Farrah as a small town mom? Jackson as a grade school teacher without the protection of wealth?

Okay, next three?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Compart Mental

My brother-in-law has a theory that men don't think they're being watched, i.e. when they're doing things they don't want people to know about. Checking the fly, picking the booger, cheating on the wife with Maria in Argentina. They think they're getting away with it.

Mark Sanford may preserve his political career, but I think there are already too many state officials of his own party in South Carolina who think that his disappearing without any contact for five days is dereliction of duty. If not batshit crazy. Which his press conference most definitely was -- like what's the craziness at the beginning about his love of the Appalachian Trail...and adventure trips:

Did accepting the federal stimulus money drive him to Argentina? He apologizes long before revealing what everyone is expecting with sickening banality, like a well-known segueway between songs on an overplayed CD. He even brings up the Appalachian Trail canard like he planted it with his staff as a red herring, Sherlock still holding out on the final reveal. He goes off on "God's Laws" whatever that is as to protect us from ourselves, "The biggest self of self is indeed self."

At 7:42 he admits his infidelity with "a dear, dear friend in Argentina." At 14:12 he goes into how this friendship developed not in spite of but because of what Obama calls the bubble of big-office political life. Mind-melding over their separate problems, counsel for each other. Then a year ago there began three trysts. Just three. And now he's been crying in Argentina breaking it off, and as on the next stage of his journey "to get his heart right."

Heart/head: this is a man who got himself way too compartmentalized and is finding the walls dissolved. If he isn't lying about this Argentinean woman, then he's brought this all on himself in a way he never had to, unless she was a threat of blackmail. He's doing his public philosophizing about his own shortcomings, and the shortcircuits are showing.

Look, it's an easy mark (which is not to say cheap) that those most sanctimonious about such matters, those who derive a significant percentage of their voter support from such sanctimony as opposition to marriage equality, should prove themselves more worthy of being whacked with the first stone rather than casting it.

But I also think all guys live a double life at some level, or have at some point in their lives, the life they don't think others see. Sanford's press conference is like watching a newbie relate his own jejune personal experience, his own wonder, even, at the world he has both created and found himself in.

He should have learned from the best.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

WTF Sanford

One wonders what shoe is going to drop -- if Gov. Mark Sanford's wife had no idea where he was on Father's Day and his staff is claiming he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, was he hiking...in the raw?:

We’re not suggesting that the formerly missing Governor of South Carolina specifically ditched his family and security detail to go hiking on Naked Hiking Day. It’s just that one of the days he hit the trail also happened to be the aforementioned holiday...

...Then it took a Farrelly brothers screenplay type of twist. Sanford had not disappeared. According to his spokesman, he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Coincidentally, on Naked Hiking Day.

It’s a big tradition. Many hikers celebrate the summer solstice by hiking au naturel. It just so happened the solstice occurred on Fathers Day — one of the days Sanford was hiking.

If he was hiking. Or is there something else at play? A reported sighting gives the lie to the "official" story:

Local news channel WYFF4 reports:

On Tuesday, sources told News 4's Nigel Robertson that a state vehicle is missing and was tracked down, not to the Appalachian Trail, but to the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta.

Sources told Robertson that a federal agent spotted Sanford in the airport boarding a plane. Robertson was told that the governor was not accompanied by security detail.


News 4 called the governor's office, and was told again by staffers that they stand by their original statement that the governor is hiking the Appalachian Trail. They did not want to comment on this story.

It had previously been reported that the governor's cell phone had been tracked to the Atlanta area.

Sanford's staff put out the word late last night that he's hiking the Appalachian. Of course, it would be possible for Sanford to have driven from Columbia to Atlanta, boarded a flight to somewhere else on the trail, got off the plane, and embarked on his hike. But it doesn't seem like the most logical way to do it.

So is/was Sanford hiking? Writing? Exorcising? Tripping 'shrooms? Freaking out?

Or is it possible that there's some tie, even by inspiration, with the recently revealed Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) scandal?:
It's almost a given that a guy who wastes time on the Senate floor blustering about the sanctity of marriage would have an affair with a married woman. So when news broke earlier this week that Sen. John Ensign would be coming clean about his infidelity, we weren't all that surprised.

We did figure he'd step down though, if only because he loves the word "resign." He called on Sen. Larry Craig to resign after his wide-stance problem was revealed. He also called on Bill Clinton to resign when the president's cigar issue became known. Ensign even said that if he was in the same -- ahem -- "position" as Craig, that he would resign. Ensign has also said that he thinks that "we need people who are in office who will hold themselves to a little higher standard."

Well, apparently he wasn't talking about his own higher standards. Ensign merely gave up his leadership position in the Senate, which makes some sense. After all, how can you have seniority when you're such a big baby? Anyway, it would be kind of bizarre if Ensign got all upset and called on himself to resign.

Ensign is also a member of the Christian group the Promise Keepers, begging the question of what promises he's kept.
Another Republican so-called Presidential contender down the tubes. So who knows what's up with Sanford -- and if his wife is out of the loop, what reasons spring to mind?

Maybe John Ensign can join Mark Stanford on that Appalachian Trail.

Outfitted the way God created them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Screw Loose

If Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) is really going to be a Presidential contender in the next election, he'd better show up soon:
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has been hiking the Appalachian Trail, a spokesman said Monday, explaining a dayslong absence that perplexed fellow state leaders.

Sanford hadn't been at work for several days and his office hadn't been in touch with him. Lawmakers and his wife said Monday they didn't know where he was, leading critics to question who was in charge of South Carolina.

"I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one, including his own family, knows his whereabouts," said Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

I don't know about any other married gentlemen who may be reading this, those on reasonably good terms with their spouses, but while I may travel extensively for business, my wife always has a decent idea where I am, and can reach me by cellphone.

More importantly, would we want a President who just checks out whenever he gets the urge?

Oh, wait.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Health Break

There's more crucial political activity going on that just the citizen's protest in Iran, although that's the doozy on the world stage. So while this isn't an entire break from that history-in-the-making (see below), I wanted to bring attention back to the fight for a public health option in the U.S., being fought tooth-and-nail by Republicans and the health insurance companies that love them.

This is assuming that single payer national healthcare -- the kind where you walk into any hospital without an insurance card, where there's no cash register let alone huge computerized bill to go with it, as in Canada, France, England, Germany, Sweden, and every other industrialized Western country -- is not going to happen here. And a basic public option, a check against the rapacity of the private insurance companies, won't happen if powerful people like this guy have their way:

The South Carolina Republican, appearing on ABC's "This Week," set a firm line in the sand when discussing the creation of a public option for insurance, insisting that such a proposal would not pass the United States Senate.

"The reason you are not going to have a government-run health care pass the Senate is because it will be devastating for this country," he said. "The last thing in the world I think that Democrats and Republicans will do at the end of the day is create a government-run health care system."

And later, in favor in a supposed "compromise" that would still provide no public option and still leave your health insurance fate and choices in the hands of the for profit industry that has been denying coverage and dictating both doctors and treatments for over thirty years:
"I think this idea needs to go away," Graham said of a public plan, "and replace it with something maybe like [Senator] Kent Conrad's proposal."
The audicity of nope: "I think this idea needs to go away." You can't ban an idea, Senator, and you can't ban it as a major policy consideration if nearly 3/4 of all Americans favor it:

The national telephone survey, which was conducted from June 12 to 16, found that 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed.

Republicans in Congress have fiercely criticized the proposal as an unneeded expansion of government that might evolve into a system of nationalized health coverage and lead to the rationing of care.

But in the poll, the proposal received broad bipartisan backing, with half of those who call themselves Republicans saying they would support a public plan, along with nearly three-fourths of independents and almost nine in 10 Democrats.
So if you want it, drop a quick line with some of the folks on this list at the bottom of this post.

Meanwhile, in extremist news, Operation Rescue has the gall (beyond chuzpah) to hold a memorial service for unborn children at the site of Dr. George Tiller's closed clinic, closed because of the assassination of Dr. Tiller that they at least indirectly encouraged in their rhetoric, and in some sort of communication with the killer.

And in lethal fascist extremism on the other side of the globe, the situation in Iran is anybody's guess, with rounds of arrests, dozens if not more killings of civilians, and a suddenly empowered population that may not be stoppable. Like in this movie-like clip from a standoff Saturday, the only tonic after watching Neda die the same day -- definitely play to the end:

Keep the faith.

Death to Tyrants

Blood for blood. Unless he's able to secure some sort of reclusive retirement or expatriation, Supreme Leader Khamenei signed his own death warrent on Saturday. Perhaps Achmedinejad's as well. It won't be tomorrow and maybe not this week, but by unleashing the fascist thug class on the peacefully demonstrating masses and committing murders now committed to YouTube, the genie is out of the bottle. The people have no reason to back down. The regime is beyond corrupt -- it is actively against them, like a Tsar or the Shah.

A young woman killed on camera in an extremely disturbing video (link in http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/13/iran-demonstrations-viole_n_215189.html somewhere -- am blogging by Blackberry tonight) and her supposed name, Neda, has become the rallying cry of the martyr. The video is horrifying, the Twitter hash tag is bourne, #neda.

The protesters are shouting "Kill the dictator" now.


Friday, June 19, 2009

The Courageous and the Showdown

At 4:00pm Saturday Tehran Time, which is 7:30am New York Time, there will likely be the largest protest rally yet against the corrupt fascist leadership of Iran. The government has turned on SMS messaging again, which may mean disinformation to try and squelch nationwide protests, and the Supreme Leader Khamenei used hardline rhetoric on Friday when he led mass prayers:

There will be blood. And the average citizen protesters, the courageous, know it:
“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”
Here's what's happening for two hours a night with participants chanting "allahu akbar" and one or two other key phrases, protesting in the dark:

Four potential endgame scenarios here. No telling if one of these will actually be the result, or what the cost in human suffering and repression might be.

In the meantime, photos: look courage in the face.

History in Action

Your daily dose:

I know that, if they achieve it, Iranian freedom will not be exactly the same as for the U.S. It doesn't matter in the long run -- more democratic freedoms minimize other chances of War.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran: It's On

It was on today, Wednesday, as the streets filled to new record numbers. Check out these mindblowing photos. Want to watch a new media star being born? Check out Nico Pitney's running updates from inside Iran via Twitter and YouTube, also in communication with Iranian Americans who have family in Iran.

And Andrew Sullivan, continuing to outdo himself covering action on the ground, in the U.S. foreign policy intellectual sphere (if that's how one can refer to some die-hard Neocons) and questions of what's happening on the inside. Like whether the powers-that-be are already testing out scapegoating Ahmadinejad by using his current trip to Moscow against him. Seems that Russian influence is a bugaboo in Iran, not entirely dissimilar to how American influence is viewed -- traitorous.

Much hinges on the highly influential cleric class, if the Revolutionary Guard doesn't arrest all the more democracy-minded ones first. But the streets have a life of their own, with information about the next rally passed person-to-person at each mass demonstration, and potentially the biggest one of all coming up on Thursday -- the first rally of mourning.

Moussavi called it to honor those killed this past week in the struggle, and everyone is being asked to wear mourning clothes. It will be a sea of black and, I'm expecting, a sea of silence as has been typical so far, the most scathing indictment of the regime of all. Silence not only reinforces the decency of the protesters, it makes any provocation by the fascist forces stand out, hence minimizing the chance of them happening. You can't heat to violence if you aren't raising your voice.
This is a brilliant move because this is exactly how the Islamic Revolution was won back in 1979, per Reza Aslan on Rachel Maddow:
What's really fascinating about what's happening right now in 2009 is that it looks a lot like what was happening in 1979. And there's a very simple reason for that. The same people are in charge -- I mean, Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Khatami, Medhi Karroubi, the other reformist candidate -- these were all the original revolutionaries who brought down the Shah to begin with, so they know how to do this right.

And so what you're going to see tomorrow is something that was pulled exactly out of the playbook of 1979, which is that you have these massive mourning rallies, where you mourn the deaths of those who were martyred in the cause of freedom. And these things tend to get a little bit out of control, they often result in even more violence by the security forces and even more deaths, which then requires another mourning rally which is even larger, which then requires more violence from the government, and this just becomes an ongoing snowball that can't be stopped.

That's how the Shah was removed from power, was these mourning ceremonies. And so Mousavi very smartly calling for an official -- not a rally -- but an official day of mourning tomorrow. I think we're going to see crowds that we haven't even begun to see yet, and then follow that, on Friday, which is sort of the Muslim sabbath, the day of prayer, which is a traditionally a day of gathering anyway. This is just beginning, Rachel, this is just the beginning.

Good. Because, in the name of all that's decent, a regime that can do this must fall:
One medical student said he and his roommate blocked their door with furniture and hid in the closet when they heard the militia's motorcycles approaching. He heard the militia breaking down doors, and then screams of anguish as students were dragged from their beds and beaten violently.

When he came out after the militia had left, friends and classmates lay unconscious in dorm rooms and hallways, many with chest wounds from being stabbed or bloody faces from blows to their heads, he said. The staff of the hospital where the wounded students were taken, Hazrat Rasoul Hospital, was so shocked that they went on strike for two hours, standing silently outside the gate in their white medical uniforms.

You know what happens to tinpot dictators when the people they've been oppressing get their hands on them.

Enjoy history in the making:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Revolutions Update

The power of nonviolent protest is that, when the world is watching it makes the violence of the oppressors a self-indictment. Dignity vs. the cowardice of state brutality, in the streets, where everyone can see. Gandhi invented it, Dr. King imported it, the Palestinians have yet to learn it, and the Iranian citizens peacefully, even silently protesting their government's blatant fascism, have somehow organized without normal electronic media enough to be using it:
What I saw today was the most elegant scene I had ever witnessed in my life. The huge number of people were marching hand in hand in full peace. Silence. Silence was everywhere. There was no slogan. No violence. Hands were up in victory sign with green ribbons. People carried placards which read: Silence. Old and young, man and woman of all social groups were marching cheerfully. This was a magnificent show of solidarity. Enghelab Street which is the widest avenue in Tehran was full of people. I was told that the march has begun in Ferdowsi Sq. and the end of the march was now in Imam Hossein Sq. to the further east of Tehran while on the other end people had already gathered in Azadi Sq.

The length of this street is about 6 kilometers. The estimate is about 2 million people [Cole: Western press reporting was up to 500,000 people]. On the way, we passed a police department and a militia (Baseej) base. In both places, the doors were closed and we could see fully-armed riot police and militia watching the people from behind the fences. Near Sharif University of Technology where the students had chased away Ahmadinejad a few days ago, Mirhossein Mousavi (the reformist elect president) and Karrubi (the other reformist candidate spoke to people for a few minutes which was received by cries of praise and applause.

I felt proud to find myself among such a huge number of passionate people who were showing the most reasonable act of protest.
Protesting like this:

There's beatings and killings and round ups and purges happening all over -- on campuses, with human rights groups, even singers. The Revolutionary Guard and Basij irregular thugs -- all the 1979 Revolution paramilitary groups -- are the fascist forces, whereas some police are having their guns taken by the government and the army is supposedly neutral. But there's also internal rifts emerging at the highest levels.

The two big stories thus far are the society rising up en mass and across many different demographic lines in nonviolent protest, and how new social media technology has both publicized and organized the civil movement. Per NYU Professor Clay Shirky, this is the tipping point:

What do you make of what's going on in Iran right now.
I'm always a little reticent to draw lessons from things still unfolding, but it seems pretty clear that ... this is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. I've been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted "the whole world is watching." Really, that wasn't true then. But this time it's true ... and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They're engaging with individual participants, they're passing on their messages to their friends, and they're even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can't immediately censor. That kind of participation is reallly extraordinary.

Which services have caused the greatest impact? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?
It's Twitter. One thing that Evan (Williams) and Biz (Stone) did absolutely right is that they made Twitter so simple and so open that it's easier to integrate and harder to control than any other tool. At the time, I'm sure it wasn't conceived as anything other than a smart engineering choice. But it's had global consequences. Twitter is shareable and open and participatory in a way that Facebook's model prevents. So far, despite a massive effort, the authorities have found no way to shut it down, and now there are literally thousands of people aorund the world who've made it their business to help keep it open.

And on the news media of yore:

There was fury on Twitter against CNN for not adequately covering the situation. Was that justified?
In a way it wasn't. I'm sure that for the majority of the country, events in Iran are not of grave interest, even if those desperate for CNN's Iran info couldn't get access to it. That push model of one message for all is an incredibly crappy way of linking supply and demand.

CNN has the same problem this decade that Time magazine had last decade. They simultaneously want to appeal to middle America and leading influencers. Reaching multiple audiences is increasingly difficult. The people who are hungry for info on events of global significance are used to instinctively switching on CNN. But they are realizing that that reflex doesn't serve them very well anymore, and that can't be good for CNN.

Lose the influentials, watch the rest erode away.

Just ask MySpace.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fascists vs. The People

Praise Allah for our futuristic technology that allows regular people with cellphones to trump CNN during times of democratic revolution:

That's right, the people standing strong together event as bullets continually pop off all around them. The Revolutionary Guard regime of which Ahmadinejad is either evil puppet or enabler, who reportedly control 30% of Iran's economy, attempting to grab power even from the corrupt mullahs, are now targets for having committed murder. Just one case:
Gunfire from a pro-government militia killed one man and wounded several others Monday after hundreds of thousands of chanting opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marched in central Tehran to support their pro-reform leader in his first public appearance since disputed elections. The outpouring in Azadi, or Freedom, Square for reformist leader Mir Hossein Mousavi followed a decision by Iran's most powerful figure for an investigation into the vote-rigging allegations.
As my parents always taught me, exercising your right to vote is an honor in a world where people die for the right to participate the best of all imperfect systems, democracy. Take a look at these photos for a look at courage.

Andrew Sullivan is doing great public service with his blog, now turned green in solidarity with the protesters. His collection of Tweets alone is worth the visit. Nico Pitney in Huffington Post is another great source, with some understandable overlap. I don't know how else to say it, but this is history in the making, win or lose, and feels similar to the Corizon Aquino democratic revolution in the Philippines against dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-hoarding wife, Imelda, that had us glued to the television 23 years ago.

And how about this: Pat Buchanan praising President Obama for his contribution, virtually calling it The Obama Effect:

Nevertheless, Obama, with his outstretched hand, his message to Iran on its national day, his admission that the United States had a hand in the 1953 coup in Tehran, his assurances that we recognize Iran's right to nuclear power, succeeded. He stripped the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad of their clinching argument—that America is out to destroy Iran and they are indispensable to Iran's defense.

With the mask of patriotism and the legacy of true revolution lost through this election fraud, Iran's regime stands exposed as just another dictatorship covering up a refusal to yield power and privilege with a pack of lies about protecting the nation.

Take that, Mitt Romney and your fellow midgets. Here's how a real President reacts -- in measured, but no-uncertain fashion:

My favorite quote:

"I am deeply troubled by the violence that I've been seeing on television," the president said. "I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent - all those are universal values that need to be respected."

When Americans see violence used to quell peaceful demonstrations "they are rightfully troubled," Obama said. To the protesters, he added, "I would say the world is watching and inspired by the participation."

Damn straight, I'm troubled by it. That's why we fought a Revolution. Americans left and right ought to be following this news -- we tend to paint everyone in the Iran with the same brush, and now it's time to acknowledge that those who fight for democracy are fighting for the ideals we hold most dear.

Death to fascists. Everywhere.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Now the Blood

Foreign journalists are being asked to leave Iran because they clearly don't want any witnesses. Per the news being faithfully logged by Andrew Sullivan, the regime has brought in foreign Hezbollah troops to attack the protesters, block the hospitals, storm the dormitories. I'm betting that once the dust clears, if there's ever an honest accounting, there will be more casualties than imagined. Big if.

Here's the latest from the candidate who seems to have been robbed:

Message From Mousavi

Via my contacts at the Farsi-speaking BBC, a telephone plea:


His wife has called for a peaceful protest Monday, but we'll see if the physical repression has scared everyone off by then, and if the cutting of communications has squelched organization.

What's also disturbing is the Western governments, specifically the European Union, which have accepted Ahmadinejad's victory as it legit. This is either uninformed or willfully blind due to trade deals with Iran. Germany and Spain are being the most cautious and may come out right on this, but the biggest problem will be for President Obama, who argued for dialogue with Iran. Now that the legitimacy of the regime is completely in question (moreso than with their heavily "guided" elections of the past, since this seems like an outright steal), how does he negotiate with them without alienating the those fighting for their democratic rights in Iran who are being imprisoned, beaten and killed?

This means a greater likelihood of an Israeli strike (which will certainly strengthen the regime -- just what they need to divert attention from their bald-faced illegitimacy) and happiness for the neocons.

I'm hoping the nighttime protests of citizens getting on their roofs to cry out, "Allah-u Akbar" continue, but that could lead to imprisonment as well, as houses where the cries are coming from are being marked by the military. My guess is more blood tomorrow, perhaps a squelching of the movement Pol Pot-style, if must be, but unless some major armed wing of the government sides with democracy, there's more repression ahead.

Then there's the optimistic side of me that believes with their actions today, Faux-President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei have signed their death warrants.

Like this.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Coup & Rebellion

Iran is the epicenter of political immediacy at this very moment. The corrupt religious power masters appear to have stolen the election in particularly blatant fashion. Juan Cole lays out the facts, classic features of stolen elections on display. Gary Sick has the timeline:

On the basis of what we know so far, here is the sequence of events starting on the afternoon of election day, Friday, June 12.

  • Near closing time of the polls, mobile text messaging was turned off nationwide
  • Security forces poured out into the streets in large numbers
  • The Ministry of Interior (election headquarters) was surrounded by concrete barriers and armed men
  • National television began broadcasting pre-recorded messages calling for everyone to unite behind the winner
  • The Mousavi campaign was informed officially that they had won the election, which perhaps served to temporarily lull them into complacency
  • But then the Ministry of Interior announced a landslide victory for Ahmadinejad
  • Unlike previous elections, there was no breakdown of the vote by province, which would have provided a way of judging its credibility
  • The voting patterns announced by the government were identical in all parts of the country, an impossibility (also see the comments of Juan Cole at the title link)
  • Less than 24 hours later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene`i publicly announced his congratulations to the winner, apparently confirming that the process was complete and irrevocable, contrary to constitutional requirements
  • Shortly thereafter, all mobile phones, Facebook, and other social networks were blocked, as well as major foreign news sources.

All of this had the appearance of a well orchestrated strike intended to take its opponents by surprise – the classic definition of a coup. Curiously, this was not a coup of an outside group against the ruling elite; it was a coup of the ruling elite against its own people.

There were riots in Tehran Saturday from people like you and me, fed up not just with the repressive bullshit but with the thwarting of democracy. Riots like were seen back thirty years ago in the revolution.

Here's citizen video from the middle of a police attack today.

With the government preemptively silencing text messaging and even Facebook (can one even make an ironic crack here anymore?) it is actually Twitter where information is being shared, although possibly silenced late tonight. Following IranRiggedElect, a whole list here of great Web sources to keep up with the rapidly unfolding events.

This is the big test for the ruling class -- can they crack down again -- and the democracy-hungry members of the populace -- can they sustain their energy and efforts in such an environment.

Change or not?

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Good Son

He didn't deserve James von Brunn either.

Hate Kings

Here's Paul Krugman calling out the discourse for what it is:

There is, however, one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn’t say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.

Now, for the most part, the likes of Fox News and the R.N.C. haven’t directly incited violence, despite Bill O’Reilly’s declarations that “some” called Dr. Tiller “Tiller the Baby Killer,” that he had “blood on his hands,” and that he was a “guy operating a death mill.” But they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.

And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.
His examples feature devil Glenn Beck, who lied his ass off for hate violence again today, per Crooks and Liars:

Glenn Beck and his fellow wingnuts -- the ones who have been whipping up hysteria among their right-wing populist followers since Obama's election and before -- essentially announced they have no intention of reflecting on their roles in today's horrifying shooting at the Holocaust Museum in D.C.

They did this by doing what they always do whenever these situations arise: First call it all an "isolated incident" committed by a "lone nutcase" who just happens to be acting out beliefs emanating from their own quadrant. Then, when that fails, blame it on the Left.

Beck offered the following rationale on his Fox News show tonight:

Beck: What they're missing is: The pot in America is boiling. And this is just yet another warning to all Americans of things to come.

And this devil, also not intended to reflect:
Not to be outdone, Rush Limbaugh too declared Von Brunn "has more in common with the marchers and protesters we see at left-wing rallies," according to video just aired on MSNBC.
Then there's this response from the devil apologist for last week's terrorist -- blame Obama for the right-wing killers:
This afternoon, anti-abortion activist and former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry went ahead with his second press conference in as many weeks at the National Press Club, the first of which was held in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas. As promised, there were hot wings and Guinness. But there was also an ominous warning that the Obama administration may be making more violent attacks "inevitable."
Joining the discourse more prominently than usual, this self-described right-wing extremist devil is on the record:
Former Drudge alter ego Andrew Breitbart thinks James von Brunn was a "multiculturalist just like the black studies and the lesbian studies majors on college campuses." How do we know? He left us an enraged voicemail! Go ahead, listen. Breitbart is angry that anyone would call a neo-Nazi a "right-wing extremist."

"It's such a fucking slander on people like me. This guy's political philosophy is more akin to the drivel that you hear on a college campuses that delineates us by group and not by individuality.... It's deeply offensive that you would use this for political gain."
Nothing like a proud, card-carrying right-wing extremist -- especially if your card comes from Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell:

The same "Liberty" University that has a problem with non-Republican free speech.

Funny how that works.

Say hello to out-in-the-open, over-the-airwaves, American homegrown fascism. If you disagree, it's on you to speak up.

Before it metastasizes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


In December I wrote about my visit to the Holocaust Museum in our nation's capital. Now, the week after cold-blooded murderer Scott Roeder killed mercy abortion provider George Tiller in front of his wife in church, another member of the violent rightwing anti-government hate movement visits the Holocaust Museum and starts shooting, ultimately killed an African-American guard named Stephen T. Johns.

Add James Von Brunn to the infamous list of political assassins -- America's homegrown terrorists:

Von Brunn has a racist, anti-Semitic Web site and wrote a book titled "Kill the Best Gentiles."

In 1983, he was convicted of attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board and served more than six years in prison. He was arrested two years earlier outside the room where the board was meeting, carrying a revolver, knife and sawed-off shotgun. At the time, police said Von Brunn wanted to take the members hostage because of high interest rates and the nation's economic difficulties.

Writings attributed to Von Brunn on the Internet say the Holocaust was a hoax and decry a Jewish conspiracy to "destroy the white gene pool."

"At Auschwitz the 'Holocaust' myth became Reality, and Germany, cultural gem of the West, became a pariah among world nations," it says.
This is a not-so-lone gunman -- he's got supporters of his brand of hatred. Some of his writings:

Remember, the Federal Reserve Act (1913) gave JEWS control of America's MONEY. Followed by control of America's main sources of information.

Interestingly enough, he's an arguably failed painter, much like the Fuhrer he admires so much. And, less and less of a surprise, he's a "birther":

Among the myriad of disturbing qualities of James Von Brunn, the 88-year-old man who shot and killed a security officer inside the Holocaust Museum on Wednesday, is his apparent belief that Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States and therefore has no right to the presidency.

The reason it sticks out is that, even among Von Brunn's other characteristics -- including heavy streaks of anti-Semitism, disdain for the federal government, and threads of white supremacy -- being a "birther" has a modicum of political credibility.

Lots of these birthers showed up at the teabagger rallies, which seems more and more like a Fox News-licensed collection of insane people.

To Fox News' credit, their Shep Smith is allowed to speak the truth about how this movement of reactionary hatred is ginning itself up to the point of violence:

What happened when a Department of Homeland Security report on rightwing violence, commissioned by the Bush Administration but completed and released with the new Obama Administration, was released?:

When the 10-page DHS memorandum was made public, however, warnings like these largely took the back seat to charges that the department had been politically motivated in its assessments and writings. Indeed, a wide swath of voices in the conservative movement -- from Rush Limbaugh to RNC Chairman Michael Steele -- lashed out at DHS Secretary Napolitano over what they deemed an anti-Republican report.

"This is the height of insult here," Steele told Fox News. "I mean to segment out Americans who dissent from this administration, to segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration, and labeling them as terrorists and then to call into question the service of the men and women who are right now standing on that wall defending our freedom and linking them to terrorism while you refuse to call the terrorists -- the real terrorists -- terrorists, to me it's the height of insult."

Apology due, Rush, Newt, Michael et al?

Oh, and in case you're thinking I'm letting anyone off the hook, anti-Semitism isn't just for those on the right:
Asked if he had spoken to the president, Wright said: "Them Jews aren't going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter, that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office."
God-daaamned you, too, Reverend Wright.

It's time to address the rhetoric of hate, especially in its wink-wink mainstream form, head on. Or should we start expecting one of these a week.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Hey, Big Spender

Anytime anyone tells you that we can't cut our military budget and still keep our nation safe, just refer them here:

At $607 billion per year we're 41.5% of the world's total military expenditure. At #2: China, with 5.8%.

No wonder we're the world's policeman. We're paying for it.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Healthy Choice

This is the moment. America has a chance to reform its broken health care system, the one that drives ordinary people to bankruptcy while capitating doctors and enriching health care moguls beyond all sense of decency. The one run for profit, as if that would be the best way to run the fire department or the police department. While a single payer model might be the one most desired by progressives, it's unlikely to happen here, and instead the battle line is being drawn at a real public option, one that the health care companies fear more than anything...because it would not be run for profit:
Because Democratic Leaders (such as they are) too often tend to be idiots when it comes to developing narratives and memes (we're talking "marketing" here), they too often overlook or don't understand GOP "gifts" when they're given. Case in point: on May 17 Mitch McConnell admitted to Chris Wallace on the May 17 FNSunday:

"The private insurance people would not be able to compete with a government option."

It's funny, but I thought in America competition was supposed to make things cheaper and more efficient. So if that would put the hateful, coverage-denying private insurance companies out of business or, more likely, force them to actually compete without de facto collusion, why would that be a bad thing for average Americans?

Per Ezra Klein in the Washington Post, the public option is the exact opposite of what the insurance industry-fed Republican party characterizes it as. It provides choice:
The private insurance market is a mess. It's supposed to cover the sick and instead competes to insure the well. It employs platoons of adjusters whose sole job is to get out of paying for needed health care services that members thought were covered.

Moreover, public insurance is simply more efficient. Medicare holds costs down better than private health insurance. The substantially public systems employed by every other industrialized nation cost less and cover more than the American model. So the question became how to marry the policy need for public insurance with the political need to preserve the status quo.

Enter the public insurance option. It doesn't replace the insurance individuals already rely on. But it provides an alternative. It lets them make the decision.
Powerful health insurance industry interests are working hard to stop this. Kaiser News, for instance, covers the Republican letter to Obama decrying a public plan and threatening that it would not be "bipartisan" should it pass. Which seems like a smaller problem every day as their party shrinks to it's angry, entrenched 25% core. As in regional party. (So maybe the public plan can exclude the South?)

The bigger problem are conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats folding due to their own campaign contributions from health insurance companies:

The Blue Dog Coalition issued a statement that said it would only support the public health care option as a fallback measure that would be triggered sometime down the road if private insurers don't meet a particular set of goals.

The backsliding took advocates of reform by surprise because 20 members of the coalition had previously signed a pledge expressing their support for a public option without a trigger. The statement was written and organized by the reform coalition Health Care for America Now (HCAN), which strongly opposes a trigger and sees it as an industry plot to strangle a public option in the crib.

The only answer is for Obama to do what Bill Clinton did not back in 1993: put himself into the mix, whereas Clinton left it all for his unelected wife, Hillary. She became the meme -- "Hillarycare" -- and Bill never stuck his neck out. As for Obama, Robert Reich asks:
Without strong White House leadership, individual members of Congress are particularly susceptible to the threats and promises of powerful lobbies. A statement of White House goals that leaves the details to Congress will likely result in legislation that superficially meets those goals but whose details undermine them. That's the biggest danger now with the inchoate healthcare legislation.

Fortunately, the White House now intends to get more involved in the emerging healthcare bill. Following are the three biggest issues where powerful lobbies on the other side are working the details to their advantage. The question is how hard the Obama White House will push back.
There seems to be one other individual who can potentially carry the public option over the goal line, but he's an injured player:
“He is the only guy who can bring us together, temper the demands of liberal advocacy groups and steer people toward a pragmatic solution,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, who is a member of both the health committee and the Finance Committee and is a longtime collaborator with Mr. Kennedy on health legislation.
If he can get his old friend from the other side of the aisle, Orrin Hatch, to come aboard and carry with him enough votes to take America out of the health insurance dark ages, then Senator Edward Kennedy would go out with the biggest success of his storied Senate career.

The stakes could not be higher.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Obama/Cairo Effect

Is this the first fruit of Obama's Cairo speech recasting the role of the U.S. in the Middle East as well as the responsibilities of all conflicting parties?:
BEIRUT (Reuters) - A surprise victory in Lebanon by an anti-Syrian coalition against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies should be confirmed on Monday with the release of official results of the country's parliamentary election...

...The outcome was a blow to Syria and Iran, which support Hezbollah, and welcome news for the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which backs the "March 14" bloc, named after the date of a huge rally against Syria's military presence in 2005.
Hope vs. fear, bay-bee. And is this having an effect in Iran, on the upcoming Presidential election, as well?:
Reporting from Tehran -- Powerful reformists and conservatives within Iran's elite have joined forces to wage an unprecedented behind-the-scenes campaign to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that he is driving the country to the brink of collapse with populist economic policies and a confrontational stance toward the West.

The prominent figures have put their considerable efforts behind the candidacy of reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who they believe has the best chance of defeating the hard-line Ahmadinejad in the presidential election Friday and charting a new course for the country.

They have used the levers of government to foil attempts by Ahmadinejad to secure funds for populist giveaways and to permit freewheeling campaigning that has benefited Mousavi. State-controlled television agreed to an unheard-of series of live debates, and the powerful Council of Guardians, which thwarted the reformist wave of the late 1990s, rejected a ballot box maneuver by the president that some saw as a prelude to attempted fraud.

Some called it a realignment of Iranian domestic politics from its longtime rift between reformists and conservatives to one that pits pragmatists on both sides against radicals such as Ahmadinejad.

"Some of the supporters of Mousavi like his ideas; others don't want Ahmadinejad," said Javad Etaat, a professor of political science and a campaigner for Mousavi. "They've decided that preserving the nation is more important than preserving the government."
Even some militants in the region are responding with tentative positivity to Obama's speech.

And why not? After all, here's the first U.S. President to have personally witnessed the effects of colonialism (read his first book, both the section where he learns about his father's downward spiral in Kenyan government work as well as his stepfather's similar trajectory after initial optimism in Indonesia). Per Andrew Sullivan on the Cairo Effect:

The Middle East is addicted to its past; Obama spoke of the need to move into the future. The Middle East is fixated on conflict and identity; Obama emphasised quotidian common interests. The Middle East loves quibbles; Obama landed slap-bang in the middle of most of them and refused to budge. And driving all of it was a critical question of tone — a measured, careful and stern message of respect and realism.

The obvious critique that this was just a set of words seems to me to miss the point. An intervention begins with words because it requires the actions of others. You don’t get an addict to go into recovery by cuffing him and throwing him into an ambulance. You talk to him and his family and speak calmly about what everyone in the room knows to be true but no one will face. So, for me, the core sentence of the speech was obvious: “It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.”

Maybe everyone has been waiting for change but there's yet to be a leader who can articulate it -- until now. In Israel, post-Cairo, change no longer appears optional:
United States President Barack Obama has left Israel with no alternative but to ultimately agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state, officials in Jerusalem told Israel Radio on Saturday.

Israel will be forced to acknowledge the necessity of a future Palestinian state because there are no signs that the Obama administration will yield on this issue, a source told Israel Radio.

Government sources in Jerusalem also told Israel Radio that the quicker Israel adopts the road map for peace as the preferred diplomatic initiative, the more likely it will ward off American pressure to concede to a Palestinian state within the framework of an alternative plan that is less agreeable to Israel.
Israeli Aluf Benn, writing in the newspaper Haaretz, similarly believes rightwing Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to move quickly to get ahead of the Obama steamroller:
Benjamin Netanyahu is on the wrong side of Obama's speech, with his refusal to endorse a Palestinian state and his insistence on "natural growth" in the settlements. He might have been able to soften the blow a bit had he formed a coalition with Tzipi Livni on the basis of the two-state solution. Or if, during his White House visit, he had announced that he was embracing the road map. But that's of no importance now. Before long, Netanyahu will have to deliver a speech in response to Obama, and to declare a historic change in his ideology and policy. Until then, he'll go on hoping for a miracle that will wipe the "Cairo speech" off the agenda and make it disappear into the swirling sands of Middle East diplomacy.
Okay, let's not be Pollyanna about it. Perhaps it won't work and all good will ultimately will collapse. Just one act of violence could end it all. But if history has proven anything about progress, it is that progress requires individual vision at just the right moment, convincing leadership, and accumulative tenacity in order to succeed.

There are naysayers here and abroad. In just the comments on Sullivan's opinion piece you'll find those both internationally and from the U.S. who don't believe change in the region is possible, don't believe Obama, think it's only words and they don't matter, think the Palestinians are too commited to the destruction of Israel, think Israel is to genocidal against the Palestinians, on and on and on.

But there are also plenty of comments in support of Obama, his speech and his approach. My personal favorite:

The educated young love you Obama. We do not care what the bitter previous generation think, they will be gone soon and we will be there to continue your efforts. You are the leader we dreamt of. You inspired me to continue my career and become a barrister.

Thank you.

Kazuki, Tokyo, Japan

When is Obama's first trip to Asia?

I'm looking forward to his reception there.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Slaves to the Dumb

Is Judge Sonia Sotomayor short-circuiting conservative brains completely?

This instantly infamous National Review cover tells the tale -- the leading "intellectual" conservative publication can't seem to decide if the Supreme Court nominee is Latina or Asian:

Interesting discussion about it on BagnewsNotes, including:
The mistaken ethnicity is indeed meant only to convey "she is not one of us". The target audience could care less about its accuracy.

is she sitting in front of a large vagina? I know thats what terrifies these people.

And also:
And conservatives continue to be surprised that people think a lot of them are racists.
Ari Melber has a great piece in HuffPo that Republicans would do well to study, about how they've actually become slaves and victims of the vaunted echo chamber originally built to serve them:
There has not been a single hearing on Sotomayor's nomination, but Senate Republicans are already playing defense over the party's response to the nomination. But who speaks for the Republican Party? As every politico knows, the GOP's Supreme Court vision was hijacked by Limbaugh and Gingrich, two of the most visible pundits atop the conservative media machine. While the Republicans who wield actual power in this process -- U.S. Senators and especially judiciary committee members -- have to angle for a single TV appearance, Gingrich holds court with his paid platform on Fox. (Rush also dropped by there Wednesday)...

...Republican officials are learning that in the minority, their echo chamber still works, but it's working against them.
Not that I'm looking for them to get their game back. Not that very many of them are getting their received wisdom from Arianna Huffington's publication.

Nor should they.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Extraordinary Week...Again

Maybe more than usual:

Bottom lines. Calls to action:
Obama's speech was not a collection of empty rhetoric. Before the entire world, he put his signature to a bunch of checks that have deadlines for being cashed. In his talks with his aides in recent weeks, a consensus has emerged that November 2010 - the date of the next congressional elections - should be the target date for realizing the two-state solution. By then, we will know how much of an impression Obama's speech made on Iran's president. Who knows: Perhaps Iranian voters will be convinced that they have before them a U.S. president who is genuinely interested in reconciliation with Islam, and will use their upcoming election to replace their current president with a more conciliatory one. By then, we will also know whom Benjamin Netanyahu is more afraid of - the U.S. president or the chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, Benny Begin or Tzipi Livni.
Checks to be cashed.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Brave One

I can't think of a more courageous politician in my lifetime than President Barack Obama. If the assassination of a doctor by a rightwing extremist goaded on by Bill O'Reilly and Operation Rescue wasn't warning enough, and this guy in Utah arrested for being on a mission to do ultimate harm to our President, there's the speech in Cairo today that speaks dangerous truths we've never heard before from an American President, truths that are common knowledge but that neocons would rather never be admitted to, Kabuki-style, truths that are not well-received by either al Qaida or the Israeli settler movement.

The whole hour:

He called for all kinds of responsibility -- for Palestinians to accept Israel, for Israel to stop with the West Bank settlements, for corrupt regional governments to reform, for women to get equal education on the region, for understanding by America of the Muslim world and an end to stereotyping of American by Islamic peoples. Enough truth to offend a lot of partisans.

A sampling of those against it:
Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, John Bolton, Hugh Hewitt, the Republican Jewish Coalition, and John Boehner all disliked the President's speech.
Okay, with enemies like that, we know he's doing something right.

As Al Giordano points out, Obama is the Anti-Politician:

Politicians, in general, are a reactive caste. They look at things as they are, and opportunistically seek out and study the cracks and weaknesses in society in order to put themselves at its helm. Most believe (and those that don’t believe, pretend) they are doing this in service of a higher ideal: right or left, liberal or conservative, progressive or religious, whatever, but because the great majority of them are essentially reacting to the same set of seemingly inexorable current events, the sum of their actions is that of constructing individual fiefdoms that look much the same no matter what ideology or flag flies over them.

And then there are the rare historical figures that appear now and then in human events to disregard those base reactive impulses with enough discipline to first develop their own idea of how things ought to be. And only after developing a detailed yet clear vision for society do they then enter the political fray. Probably the best example in the last century of such an anti-politician was Mohandas K. Gandhi, who returned home to India at the age of 46, after winning civil rights for immigrants in South Africa. He found a homeland thirsting for independence from the British Empire and its impositions. A media hero and cause cel├ębre upon his return to Indian shores, the pro-independence advocates and parties sought Gandhi out to lead a revolution against the Crown.

Gandhi – conscious that after being away for 27 years in London and South Africa he did not know his native country well enough to lead it – instead imposed upon himself a moratorium against speaking to the press, and embarked upon a listening tour through the forgotten and impoverished regions of India in order to first understand what the real yearnings and realities of its people were. Only after he felt he had a comprehensive enough vision for what kind of better society was possible there did he enter the fray that, as history knows, won independence for the region, while showing the world a new way to fight for freedom.

Listening to the President’s remarks in Cairo this morning – billed as a speech to all the Muslims in the world – it is clear that in Barack Obama our moment in history has one such transcendent leader.

Here's ten key points from this, the biggest speech of his already remarkable career. A President who can finally talk to Palestinians. Speaking to the U.S. from Cairo as well. The first President to acknowledge that America, in 1953, sabotaged democracy in Iran when fairly elected Prime Minister Mossadegh had the temerity to nationalize the oil industry), starting the chain of blowback that led to radical Islamic revolution, U.S. hostages, today's nuclear threat.

Here's how Netanyahu watched the speech, Kabuki reactions. Here's the overwhelmingly favorable reaction from the world press, including the mainstream Islamic press.

Michael Scherer has the clearest sense of Obama's overriding international vision, this "Obama Doctrine", and how it played out with the powerful close of the speech:
This vision, as I have touched on before, does not elevate the United States as the protector of transcendent values, but rather lowers America into the great pool of nations and peoples, where everyone operates on the same level with a God-given set of responsibilities to understand each other and work together for collective improvement. The political leader who has spent a lifetime moving between cultures envisions a world where tribal differences are trumped by common humanity and practical necessity. In some ways, it is as idealistic a vision as the ones proposed by Bush senior and junior. Time will tell if it is more successful.

It is notable that Obama ended his speech with three quotes, one from the Koran, one from the Talmud, one from the New Testament, each describing God's instructions for all people to work together and get along. Of the three, the quote from the Koran is the most eloquent. “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” It is, in a poetic verse, an apt encapsulation of Obama's radical idea--that despite our differences we are meant to find common purpose.

So can it be done? Well, Obama is saying to the world, look at me: the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan, the Christian man with a Muslim family, the black Hawaiian teenage stoner who rose through the traditionally white Northeastern Ivy League to lead the nation's most powerful country. I've already done it. You can too.

Yes we, the world, can.

But will we?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Big One

I don't think it's going too far to say that the biggest reason Obama was elected was to repair our situation with the Muslim nations of the world, both diplomatically and militarily.

If there was no other reason to vote for this brilliant yet reasonable man starting back in the primaries when the economy wasn't the issue, it was because as someone with half his ancestry in that world and a few years logged living in an Islamic country as a child, he was going to present a different face to the world than ever in American history. Ever since the oil barons of this world fully exercised their power for the first time with gas shortages in the mid-1970's, simultaneously as Israeli-Palestinian violence reached unheard of levels, as the U.S. installed Shah fled revolutionary Iran and the religious militants took U.S. hostages, we've had to grapple with the region disproportionately more than in our nation's past. And none of it has been successful thus far.

Now you fix those problems, multi-culti college man.

As I've often written, Obama's greatest asset is his strategic capacities. If rescuing the U.S. banking and credit system wasn't difficult enough, there's all the moving parts in the Middle East. So I'm looking forward to his speech tomorrow. Of all his big speeches thus far, this is the biggest. This one is about forging a new course in World History.

Word is the speech is very candid. Which is his strategy for his whole Administration:
“We have a joke around the White House,” the president said. “We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working — and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.”
I'll be concerned if it stops working.

So far from a Fox News branded apology tour, Obama is seeking to do the job we hired him to do:
CAIRO — President Obama arrived in Egypt on Thursday aiming to repair America’s relationship with the Muslim world through a speech at Cairo University, a carefully planned address that aides said would challenge Muslim perceptions about the United States.
He's had a good first news cycle over in that part of the world. If he's setting up partnerships within the region linked out to the Western world, then this will be the Islamic World equivalent of Nixon goes to China. The history train is taking a turn through what was once called The Orient.

Watch this space.