Archive for the ‘National Politics’ Category

Sotomayor and Impartiality

July 13, 2009
Black man: 50% impartial.  Latina: 0% impartial.  White man (not pictured): 100% impartial.

Black man: 50% impartial. Latina: 0% impartial. White man (not pictured): 100% impartial.

Sonia Sotomayor begins her confirmation hearings today, and I’m particularly interested in the way that Republicans are framing their critique of her:

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the fairness issue was “the core of the American system” and was central to Republicans’ qualms.

“Every judge must be committed every day to not let their personal politics, their ethnic background, their biases, sympathies influence the nature of their decision-making process,” Mr. Sessions said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

This is bogus, of course.  To begin with, judges are people and personal or political biases are part of the deal.  Putting on a robe isn’t some magical process that removes someones humanity.  And this is acknowledged by everyone already, which is why each side is very careful to pick a judge whose politics and biases match their own.

What’s more interesting is the notion that Sotomayor has a unique inability to be fair or impartial as a woman of color.  Much has been made of her judicial support for affirmative action, which is supposedly evidence of her inability to set aside her personal identity politics when ruling from the bench.  But there were no similar concerns expressed (that I can remember) when Buffalo’s own John Roberts was nominated as Chief Justice back in 2005, despite the fact that Roberts had a long history of opposing affirmative action programs and had worked in the Reagan White House.

This post isn’t to argue the merits of affirmative action.  That’s not the point.  The point is that when a woman of color supports affirmative action, many people assume that she’s being partial, while a white man can oppose affirmative action without any such assumptions.  Why?

Because whiteness and maleness are considered the norm.  Someone who defends the prerogatives of white men — like Roberts — is operating within the recognized boundaries of normalcy, while someone who challenges those prerogatives is seen as partisan.  Yet both are partisan stances, even though only one is recognized as such.  The ability to make “impartial” decisions that just so happen to uphold the privileges of race and gender is one of the hallmarks of the history of racism and sexism in America.

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Hearing Honduran Voices

June 30, 2009
AP caption: A soldier shoots at supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya

AP caption: A soldier shoots at supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya

It seems that the faux government in Honduras is attempting to limit free media coverage in much the same way that the Iranian government has:

Yesterday in the afternoon journalists from the radio station Globo, which objectively reported what was happening in the country, were attacked. These journalists were wounded, with broken bones and cuts on their body. In addition, their equipment was destroyed. Cable service from the International Spanish Television (TSI) has been cut and so this station is now transmitting on broadband. Honduran journalists critical of the de facto government are being arrested and menaced with death. The same way, the journalists of Telesur and AP were arrested by the military, although later freed in response to international pressure.

The world needs to start hearing Honduran voices.  My aunt Rosemary is an archaeologist who has lived on-and-off in Honduras for some 30 years.  She’s started a blog to air her views — and more importantly, those of her friends and colleagues in Honduras — on the crisis there:

Today finally I am receiving email from colleagues in the country, many sending on passionate statements by educated members of the younger generation decrying the return to conditions most never knew, having been born after the end of the last military government with the Constitution of 1982. It is important to underline that, contrary to some emerging reporting, support for President Zelaya is not limited to the poor and poorly educated in the country whose material conditions his action in raising the minimum wage did indeed improve. Zelaya is not Huey Long. Support for the legal government of the country and a return to rule of law, freedom of speech and press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to circulate comes as well from the most promising members of the future generation of leaders that Honduras can ill-afford to lose.

Honduras, Iran and Us

June 29, 2009
Zalaya -- maybe he should start wearing green?

Zelaya -- maybe he should start wearing green?

You may have seen the news about the military coup in Honduras that removed a democratically-elected leftist from power.  Or maybe not, as this story is bound to receive about 1% of the attention granted to the crisis in Iran.  But I’m getting ahead of myself:

Roberto Micheletti was sworn in as provisional president to the applause of members of Congress, who chanted, “Honduras! Honduras!” Outside the building, supporters of ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya protested, but their numbers were limited, and the streets remained mostly peaceful. Micheletti told CNN en Español Sunday evening that he has imposed an “indefinite” curfew.

Micheletti, the head of Congress, became president after lawmakers voted by a show of hands to strip Zelaya of his powers, with a resolution stating that Zelaya “provoked confrontations and divisions,” within the country. A letter of resignation purported to be from Zelaya was read to members before the vote.

But the deposed president, Zelaya, emphatically denied in an interview with CNN en Español that he wrote the letter. Speaking from Costa Rica, where he was taken after the coup, he said he plans to continue exercising his presidential duties with a trip to Managua, Nicaragua, to attend a summit of Central American heads-of-state.

Zelaya awoke to the sound of gunfire in his residence and was still in his pajamas when the military forced him to leave the country Sunday morning, he told reporters. He was flown to Costa Rica, where he has not requested political asylum.

“This was a brutal kidnapping of me with no justification,” Zelaya said.

He called the coup an attack on Honduran democracy.

To my mind, the coup in Honduras is at least as bad as the apparent election fraud in Iran, and probably a lot worse.  While the fraud in Iran is bad, fraud is an acknowledged part of electoral systems all over the world, even here in the good ol’ USA.  The difference between what happened in Iran and what happened in Mayor Daley’s Chicago in 1960 (or Florida in 2000, or Ohio in 2004) is a difference of scale, not of kind.  A military coup, on the other hand, is simply beyond the pale.  Further, while the Iranian fraud was bad, it didn’t involve violence (although the repression of subsequent protests has been quite violent).  The coup in Honduras is a blatantly violent act committed against President Zelaya but also against Honduran voters and their democracy.

So I’m pretty interested to see how Americans will respond to the coup.  I’m betting that it won’t raise too many eyebrows, despite being (arguably) worse then the apparent electoral theft in Iran.  And I think this will happen because the Honduran coup doesn’t work as a vehicle for the kind of stories that Americans want to tell.

I’ve written before about how the American fascination with the Iranian crisis has to do with our need to make the situation all about ourselves, and to use the events in Iran to further our own narratives about ourselves and the Islamic world.  But Honduras is a part of no such American narratives.  Hondurans don’t work as freedom fighters inspired by Bush’s war against “Islamo-fascism,” or as the face of moderation and modernity in a culture that’s supposedly implacably radical and backward-looking.  We don’t read stories in the newspaper about Hondurans who enjoy Western music and smile to ourselves, our cultural superiority reaffirmed.  The only ongoing American narrative that involves Hondurans is about “illegal immigration,” and that’s not likely to win much sympathy from the Glenn Beck crowd.

And, of course, the crimes against democracy in the two countries have two very different political outcomes for our government.  The reformers in Iran would be more amenable to US goals in the region, while President Zelaya is part of a bloc of democratically-elected leftists who are making traditional US dominance of the region more difficult.

So when you add it all up, it seems clear that Americans aren’t going to be as outraged at what happened in Honduras as what happened in Iran, despite the fact that the former was (arguably) worse.  You can see that at Pundit’s site, where the news in Honduras is lumped into a weekend wrap up piece that includes Michael Jackson and Billy Mays.  This isn’t a critique of Pundit — at least he mentioned it, and a blogger isn’t required to talk about everything.  But I think it indicates the level of attention that we’re going to give to Honduras vs. the level of attention that we’ve given Iran.  And I think that indicates something about us.

Iran, Americans and Roadside Memorials

June 21, 2009

iran+protestLike most folks, I’ve been thinking a lot about Iran lately, but I haven’t written about it because so much of what has been written and said by Americans is so stupid, so ahistorical, and so self-serving.  The best thing I’ve seen was written by Peggy Noonan, of all people:

America so often gets Iran wrong. We didn’t know when the shah was going to fall, didn’t foresee the massive wave that would topple him, didn’t know the 1979 revolution would move violently against American citizens, didn’t know how to handle the hostage-taking. Last week we didn’t know a mass rebellion was coming, and this week we don’t know who will emerge the full or partial victor. So modesty and humility seem appropriate stances from which to observe and comment.

Now Noonan’s piece isn’t great.  It’s full of all the typically stupid American bluster, like describing ourselves as “lovers of political freedom who are always and irresistibly on the side of the student standing in front of the tank.”  I’ve been attacked by the forces of the American state often enough to realize that we aren’t always on the side of those exercising their democratic rights.  But no matter how deluded Noonan is,  at least she argues in favor of modesty and humility before setting out to make the Iranian crisis all about us.

And that’s why Americans are so fascinated by what’s happening in Iran, isn’t it?  It gives some of us an opportunity to hold ourselves up as the beacon of democracy and freedom, and others of us the chance to vicariously play out our anxieties about the sad state of American democracy.

jennifer-hudson-memorial-10308-2_mediumIn that sense, our interest in the Iranian protests reminds me of the phenomenon of creating spontaneous memorials at the scene of a murder or a car accident.  A terrible and dramatic thing happens, and suddenly people with no real connection to what happened start leaving flowers and cards by the side of the road.  Why?  Because so many of us lead lives that are devoid of real drama or meaning, for one.  But also in order to reaffirm that we are alive, and to deal with our anxiety at the fact that that won’t always be the case.

I’ve always found those sorts of displays distasteful, and an intrusion on the tragedy and grief of those who are actually affected.  Similarly, I think statements like the Congressional resolution in support of Iranian dissidents passed on Friday are out of line, and an attempt to insert ourselves into another nation’s drama  for our own purposes.  Instead of these self-serving shows of solidarity, perhaps Americans could actually learn something from the Iranians, take a real look in the mirror and start hitting the streets themselves in a push for greater democracy at home?

The Left Still Opposes the Wars

June 16, 2009

ufpjOne of my least favorite memes lately is the idea that progressive opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has disappeared with Obama’s election.  These excerpts from the Ostrowski asylum are typical enough:

has the WNY peace center been protesting Obama’s escalation of the Afghanistan war and/or his widening of the conflict into Pakistan? You know, the conflicts which are claiming massive civilian casualties on a weekly basis? . . .

It’s a good progressive war now.  So as it’s for a larger purpose, you can blast away.

That’s bullshit, of course.  Apart from the standard marches and rallies against the two wars, groups like United for Peace and Justice are calling on their members to pressure Congress into voting against Obama’s supplemental request to fund the wars.  You know, just as they did when Bush was in office.

Terrorist vs. Militant

June 11, 2009
This is what I was talking about, folks . . .

This is what I was talking about, folks . . .

Is there any doubt that this guy would be called a terrorist rather than a militant had he killed civilians for some other cause?

Anti-Castro Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles won’t stand trial on immigration fraud and perjury charges until next year.

A federal judge in El Paso agreed Thursday to delay the trial until Feb. 1 so Posada’s lawyers can have more time to prepare their case.

Posada, an aging and ailing former CIA operative and U.S. Army soldier, is accused of lying about his involvement in the planning of a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997 and lying to immigration authorities.

Oh yeah, he also helped blow up a civilian airliner in the 70s.  That’s pretty militant.

The Holocaust Museum and Right-Wing Violence

June 10, 2009
Fuck this asshole . . .

Fuck this asshole . . .

The idea of shooting up the Holocaust Museum is too disgusting for words, really, but some things must be said.  I think Pundit is exactly right when he writes:

It really does feel like 1993 all over again, with the radical fringe right wingers coming out of the woodwork to spark the RaHoWa and otherwise declare war on ZOG or whatever.

The United States will survive the lunatic violence from the fringe. But there will be more of this.

On the way home today, thinking about the Holocaust Museum shooting, I put CNN on the radio. I was curious as to what Fox News might have to say, so I tuned in to hear Glenn Beck and his guests yell about how the free enterprise system is dead because the feds bailed out GM and helped steer Chrysler towards Fiat. I especially liked the part about how the government has declared war against the people and our society.

I got into a debate on Pundit’s site a few month back on fringe violence on the left vs. the right.  My claim was that the left simply never engaged in the kinds of violence that we’ve seen from the right over the last few decades.  Sure, radical environmentalists might torch an SUV dealership now and then, and anarchists might engage in a little ritualistic window smashing once a year.  But that’s property — the right attacks people.  The right has a body count.

And as much as this will be seen as the act of one crazy man, it’s pretty clear that right-wing violence is all of a piece.  It’s one logical result of half the country basing its political life on stoking the resentments of white men.  If you take the most powerful group of people in world history and convince them that they are actually the victims of women, racial minorities or some other conservative bogeyman, you’re sowing some very dangerous seeds.  And every now and then, you’re gonna reap the whirlwind.

Kid Rock, Dale Earnhardt and Army Recruiting

June 10, 2009

Rebecca and I almost never go out.  In fact, I think the last time we had dinner out — just the two of us — was at Off the Wall.  So it’s no surprise that we don’t see very many first-run movies, either.  Hey, we’re frugal.

But every now and then someone gives us a gift card, and I remember the last time we went they played this absurd Kid Rock video/army recruiting video beforehand.  It accomplishes the neat trick of offending anyone who really bothers to pay attention.  Of course, it’s a nightmare of militarism and jingo.  Mr. Rock isn’t interested in any of your pansy-ass reasons for going to war — “don’t tell me who’s wrong or right” — he just wants to see people die — “if you ain’t gonna fight, get outta the way.”

But the thing is also totally offensive to soldiers, as well.  Scenes of US soldiers in some unnamed and dusky country are interspersed with clips of Mr. Rock on stage (ok, it’s a music video) and . . . Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving around in a circle (?!).  The implication is that the NASCAR driver is also one of the “Warriors” that Mr. Rock is singing about.

Of course, Dale Jr. is there because his car is sponsored by the Army, and he has the huge decal to prove it.  It’s sort of like the world’s biggest “Support the Troops” ribbon.  And like the ribbon phenomenon, his participation in the video is an empty gesture, a badge of pride and politics rather than a show of real concern for the soldiers put in harm’s way by those politics.  Gross.

Obama, Islam, and the Truth

June 4, 2009
He can't handle the truth . . .

He can't handle the truth . . .

In Egypt today, Obama gave what was billed as a “truth-telling speech.”  Like most aspects of his presidency, it was unusually good for an American president, and yet bad in some very typical American ways.  You can read the text of the speech here.

For instance, Obama said “more recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims and a Cold War in which Muslim majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”   It’s unusual — and refreshing — to have a president who acknowledges the fact that the past exists, who is able to speak the word “colonialism,” and who treats the Cold War as something less than a sacrosanct battle of good vs. evil.  Yet even though he recognizes the truth that anti-Western sentiment was created by the way that the West interacts with the world, he insists that “the first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all its forms.”  In other words, the cause of the violence is of less concern than the violence itself.  That’s a typically short-sighted American reaction.

Later, Obama quotes  the Quranic injunction against the killing of innocents — “The Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as if has killed all mankind” — in decrying the violence of Al Qaida and other violent extremists.   This is an important truth, and Obama is able to deliver it with a personal authenticity that past presidents have lacked.  Yet, if he were telling the whole truth, he would be forced to admit that his own government fails to meet that standard just as Al Qaida has.  The wars in Afghanistan (which he seeks to widen) and in Iraq (which he will continue for another two years) have taken more innocent lives than a lunatic like Bin Laden could imagine.  Real truth telling would at least acknowledge that fact.

Whether it’s refusing to investigate the actions of the Bush administration in the run up to the Iraq War, or refusing to release photos of torture in US military prisons in Iraq, Obama has demonstrated that he has a weak stomach when it comes to the unvarnished truth of the American empire.  Today’s speech — while in some ways unusual — once again demonstrates that fact.

Buy American?

May 21, 2009
A progressive message?

A progressive message?

On Wednesday I attended what was billed as a “Save America” rally organized by the United Auto Workers.  It was an odd experience, and it illuminated the ways that labor “gets it” and the ways that they don’t.

To the degree that it focused on trade policy, I think events like yesterday’s rally are helpful and positive.  I have a history of putting my ass on the line when it comes to trade policy, so it’s good to see more mainstream voices pick up that message.  And these policy arguments can be effective — the Obama administration is apparently backing away from a NAFTA-style agreement with Panama in the face of labor opposition.

Unfortunately, most of the message coming from yesterday’s rally wasn’t about trade policies.  Instead, it was an appeal to “Buy American” based largely on naked nationalism.  I didn’t hear concerns that shipping jobs overseas sets in motion a race to the bottom that’s bad for workers everywhere.  Or concerns that outsourcing leads to more work being done in countries without environmental or worker safety standards.  Or that solidarity with workers in Mexico and China is what’s needed in the face of policies that are explicitly aimed at pitting worker against worker.  Instead of attempting to meet globalized capital with globalized solidarity, yesterday’s message was local, parochial, and nationalistic:

“Enough is enough,” said Robin Maloney, who was laid off last December from her assembly job at Delphi’s Rochester plant. “Build it here, buy it here . . .”

“Every time someone in our community loses a manufacturing job, we are all hurt in some way,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown . . .

Joe Ashton, regional director of UAW Region 9, gave an impassioned defense of the benefits that union retirees receive, saying the retirees “built this country and fought the wars.”

He also lashed out at U. S. companies that move their manufacturing to ever-lower-cost countries, saying “if they could get it cheaper on Mars” that is where production would go.

America -- fuck yeah!

America -- fuck yeah!

I can understand the frustration felt by workers who fear that their jobs will be sent overseas, but Mexicans and Chinese aren’t Martians.  Their labor is cheaper because of a whole set of policies championed by the government of the country symbolized by the red, white and blue flags that were out in force yesterday.  Rather than trying to shame companies into keeping jobs in the country, or consumers into buying US-made products — strategies that have failed for decades — maybe those concerned with keeping manufacturing jobs should stop resenting foreign workers, ditch their flags and go after the star spangled culprit.