Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (2-26-08)
On February 13, Imad Moughniyeh, a senior commander of Hizbollah, was assassinated in Damascus."The world is a better place without this man in it," State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said:"one way or the other he was brought to justice." Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that Moughniyeh has been"responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden."
Joy was unconstrained in Israel too, as"one of the U.S. and Israel's most wanted men" was brought to justice, the London Financial Times reported. Under the heading,"A militant wanted the world over," an accompanying story reported that he was"superseded on the most-wanted list by Osama bin Laden" after 9/11 and so ranked only second among"the most wanted militants in the world."
The terminology is accurate enough, according to the rules of Anglo-American discourse, which defines"the world" as the political class in Washington and London (and whoever happens to agree with them on specific matters). It is common, for example, to read that"the world" fully supported George Bush when he ordered the bombing of Afghanistan. That may be true of"the world," but hardly of the world, as revealed in an international Gallup Poll after the bombing was announced. Global support was slight. In Latin America, which has some experience with U.S. behavior, support ranged from 2% in Mexico to 16% in Panama, and that support was conditional upon the culprits being identified (they still weren't eight months later, the FBI reported), and civilian targets being spared (they were attacked at once). There was an overwhelming preference in the world for diplomatic/judicial measures, rejected out of hand by"the world."
Following the Terror Trail
In the present case, if"the world" were extended to the world, we might find some other candidates for the honor of most hated arch-criminal. It is instructive to ask why this might be true.
The Financial Times reports that most of the charges against Moughniyeh are unsubstantiated, but"one of the very few times when his involvement can be ascertained with certainty [is in] the hijacking of a TWA plane in 1985 in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed." This was one of two terrorist atrocities that led a poll of newspaper editors to select terrorism in the Middle East as the top story of 1985; the other was the hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro, in which a crippled American, Leon Klinghoffer, was brutally murdered. That reflects the judgment of"the world." It may be that the world saw matters somewhat differently.
The Achille Lauro hijacking was a retaliation for the bombing of Tunis ordered a week earlier by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. His air force killed 75 Tunisians and Palestinians with smart bombs that tore them to shreds, among other atrocities, as vividly reported from the scene by the prominent Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk. Washington cooperated by failing to warn its ally Tunisia that the bombers were on the way, though the Sixth Fleet and U.S. intelligence could not have been unaware of the impending attack. Secretary of State George Shultz informed Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir that Washington"had considerable sympathy for the Israeli action," which he termed"a legitimate response" to"terrorist attacks," to general approbation. A few days later, the UN Security Council unanimously denounced the bombing as an"act of armed aggression" (with the U.S. abstaining)."Aggression" is, of course, a far more serious crime than international terrorism. But giving the United States and Israel the benefit of the doubt, let us keep to the lesser charge against their leadership.
A few days after, Peres went to Washington to consult with the leading international terrorist of the day, Ronald Reagan, who denounced"the evil scourge of terrorism," again with general acclaim by"the world."
The"terrorist attacks" that Shultz and Peres offered as the pretext for the bombing of Tunis were the killings of three Israelis in Larnaca, Cyprus. The killers, as Israel conceded, had nothing to do with Tunis, though they might have had Syrian connections. Tunis was a preferable target, however. It was defenseless, unlike Damascus. And there was an extra pleasure: more exiled Palestinians could be killed there.
The Larnaca killings, in turn, were regarded as retaliation by the perpetrators: They were a response to regular Israeli hijackings in international waters in which many victims were killed -- and many more kidnapped and sent to prisons in Israel, commonly to be held without charge for long periods. The most notorious of these has been the secret prison/torture chamber Facility 1391. A good deal can be learned about it from the Israeli and foreign press. Such regular Israeli crimes are, of course, known to editors of the national press in the U.S., and occasionally receive some casual mention.
Klinghoffer's murder was properly viewed with horror, and is very famous. It was the topic of an acclaimed opera and a made-for-TV movie, as well as much shocked commentary deploring the savagery of Palestinians --"two-headed beasts" (Prime Minister Menachem Begin),"drugged roaches scurrying around in a bottle" (Chief of Staff Raful Eitan),"like grasshoppers compared to us," whose heads should be"smashed against the boulders and walls" (Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir). Or more commonly just"Araboushim," the slang counterpart of"kike" or"nigger."
Thus, after a particularly depraved display of settler-military terror and purposeful humiliation in the West Bank town of Halhul in December 1982, which disgusted even Israeli hawks, the well-known military/political analyst Yoram Peri wrote in dismay that one"task of the army today [is] to demolish the rights of innocent people just because they are Araboushim living in territories that God promised to us," a task that became far more urgent, and was carried out with far more brutality, when the Araboushim began to"raise their heads" a few years later.
We can easily assess the sincerity of the sentiments expressed about the Klinghoffer murder. It is only necessary to investigate the reaction to comparable U.S.-backed Israeli crimes. Take, for example, the murder in April 2002 of two crippled Palestinians, Kemal Zughayer and Jamal Rashid, by Israeli forces rampaging through the refugee camp of Jenin in the West Bank. Zughayer's crushed body and the remains of his wheelchair were found by British reporters, along with the remains of the white flag he was holding when he was shot dead while seeking to flee the Israeli tanks which then drove over him, ripping his face in two and severing his arms and legs. Jamal Rashid was crushed in his wheelchair when one of Israel's huge U.S.-supplied Caterpillar bulldozers demolished his home in Jenin with his family inside. The differential reaction, or rather non-reaction, has become so routine and so easy to explain that no further commentary is necessary.
Plainly, the 1985 Tunis bombing was a vastly more severe terrorist crime than the Achille Lauro hijacking, or the crime for which Moughniyeh's"involvement can be ascertained with certainty" in the same year. But even the Tunis bombing had competitors for the prize for worst terrorist atrocity in the Mideast in the peak year of 1985.
One challenger was a car-bombing in Beirut right outside a mosque, timed to go off as worshippers were leaving Friday prayers. It killed 80 people and wounded 256. Most of the dead were girls and women, who had been leaving the mosque, though the ferocity of the blast"burned babies in their beds,""killed a bride buying her trousseau," and"blew away three children as they walked home from the mosque." It also"devastated the main street of the densely populated" West Beirut suburb, reported Nora Boustany three years later in the Washington Post.
The intended target had been the Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who escaped. The bombing was carried out by Reagan's CIA and his Saudi allies, with Britain's help, and was specifically authorized by CIA Director William Casey, according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's account in his book Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. Little is known beyond the bare facts, thanks to rigorous adherence to the doctrine that we do not investigate our own crimes (unless they become too prominent to suppress, and the inquiry can be limited to some low-level"bad apples" who were naturally"out of control").
A third competitor for the 1985 Mideast terrorism prize was Prime Minister Peres'"Iron Fist" operations in southern Lebanese territories then occupied by Israel in violation of Security Council orders. The targets were what the Israeli high command called"terrorist villagers." Peres's crimes in this case sank to new depths of" calculated brutality and arbitrary murder" in the words of a Western diplomat familiar with the area, an assessment amply supported by direct coverage. They are, however, of no interest to"the world" and therefore remain uninvestigated, in accordance with the usual conventions. We might well ask whether these crimes fall under international terrorism or the far more severe crime of aggression, but let us again give the benefit of the doubt to Israel and its backers in Washington and keep to the lesser charge.
These are a few of the thoughts that might cross the minds of people elsewhere in the world, even if not those of"the world," when considering"one of the very few times" Imad Moughniyeh was clearly implicated in a terrorist crime.
The U.S. also accuses him of responsibility for devastating double suicide truck-bomb attacks on U.S. Marine and French paratrooper barracks in Lebanon in 1983, killing 241 Marines and 58 paratroopers, as well as a prior attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63, a particularly serious blow because of a meeting there of CIA officials at the time.
The Financial Times has, however, attributed the attack on the Marine barracks to Islamic Jihad, not Hizbollah. Fawaz Gerges, one of the leading scholars on the jihadi movements and on Lebanon, has written that responsibility was taken by an"unknown group called Islamic Jihad." A voice speaking in classical Arabic called for all Americans to leave Lebanon or face death. It has been claimed that Moughniyeh was the head of Islamic Jihad at the time, but to my knowledge, evidence is sparse.
The opinion of the world has not been sampled on the subject, but it is possible that there might be some hesitancy about calling an attack on a military base in a foreign country a"terrorist attack," particularly when U.S. and French forces were carrying out heavy naval bombardments and air strikes in Lebanon, and shortly after the U.S. provided decisive support for the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which killed some 20,000 people and devastated the south, while leaving much of Beirut in ruins. It was finally called off by President Reagan when international protest became too intense to ignore after the Sabra-Shatila massacres.
In the United States, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon is regularly described as a reaction to Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist attacks on northern Israel from their Lebanese bases, making our crucial contribution to these major war crimes understandable. In the real world, the Lebanese border area had been quiet for a year, apart from repeated Israeli attacks, many of them murderous, in an effort to elicit some PLO response that could be used as a pretext for the already planned invasion. Its actual purpose was not concealed at the time by Israeli commentators and leaders: to safeguard the Israeli takeover of the occupied West Bank. It is of some interest that the sole serious error in Jimmy Carter's book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid is the repetition of this propaganda concoction about PLO attacks from Lebanon being the motive for the Israeli invasion. The book was bitterly attacked, and desperate efforts were made to find some phrase that could be misinterpreted, but this glaring error -- the only one -- was ignored. Reasonably, since it satisfies the criterion of adhering to useful doctrinal fabrications.
Killing without Intent
Another allegation is that Moughniyeh"masterminded" the bombing of Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires on March 17, 1992, killing 29 people, in response, as the Financial Times put it, to Israel's"assassination of former Hizbollah leader Abbas Al-Mussawi in an air attack in southern Lebanon." About the assassination, there is no need for evidence: Israel proudly took credit for it. The world might have some interest in the rest of the story. Al-Mussawi was murdered with a U.S.-supplied helicopter, well north of Israel's illegal"security zone" in southern Lebanon. He was on his way to Sidon from the village of Jibshit, where he had spoken at the memorial for another Imam murdered by Israeli forces. The helicopter attack also killed his wife and five-year old child. Israel then employed U.S.-supplied helicopters to attack a car bringing survivors of the first attack to a hospital.
After the murder of the family, Hezbollah" changed the rules of the game," Prime Minister Rabin informed the Israeli Knesset. Previously, no rockets had been launched at Israel. Until then, the rules of the game had been that Israel could launch murderous attacks anywhere in Lebanon at will, and Hizbollah would respond only within Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory.
After the murder of its leader (and his family), Hizbollah began to respond to Israeli crimes in Lebanon by rocketing northern Israel. The latter is, of course, intolerable terror, so Rabin launched an invasion that drove some 500,000 people out of their homes and killed well over 100. The merciless Israeli attacks reached as far as northern Lebanon.
In the south, 80% of the city of Tyre fled and Nabatiye was left a"ghost town," Jibshit was about 70% destroyed according to an Israeli army spokesperson, who explained that the intent was"to destroy the village completely because of its importance to the Shi'ite population of southern Lebanon." The goal was"to wipe the villages from the face of the earth and sow destruction around them," as a senior officer of the Israeli northern command described the operation.
Jibshit may have been a particular target because it was the home of Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, kidnapped and brought to Israel several years earlier. Obeid's home"received a direct hit from a missile," British journalist Robert Fisk reported,"although the Israelis were presumably gunning for his wife and three children." Those who had not escaped hid in terror, wrote Mark Nicholson in the Financial Times,"because any visible movement inside or outside their houses is likely to attract the attention of Israeli artillery spotters, who… were pounding their shells repeatedly and devastatingly into selected targets." Artillery shells were hitting some villages at a rate of more than 10 rounds a minute at times.
All of this received the firm support of President Bill Clinton, who understood the need to instruct the Araboushim sternly on the"rules of the game." And Rabin emerged as another grand hero and man of peace, so different from the two-legged beasts, grasshoppers, and drugged roaches.
This is only a small sample of facts that the world might find of interest in connection with the alleged responsibility of Moughniyeh for the retaliatory terrorist act in Buenos Aires.
Other charges are that Moughniyeh helped prepare Hizbollah defenses against the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, evidently an intolerable terrorist crime by the standards of"the world," which understands that the United States and its clients must face no impediments in their just terror and aggression.
The more vulgar apologists for U.S. and Israeli crimes solemnly explain that, while Arabs purposely kill people, the U.S. and Israel, being democratic societies, do not intend to do so. Their killings are just accidental ones, hence not at the level of moral depravity of their adversaries. That was, for example, the stand of Israel's High Court when it recently authorized severe collective punishment of the people of Gaza by depriving them of electricity (hence water, sewage disposal, and other such basics of civilized life).
The same line of defense is common with regard to some of Washington's past peccadilloes, like the destruction in 1998 of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. The attack apparently led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, but without intent to kill them, hence not a crime on the order of intentional killing -- so we are instructed by moralists who consistently suppress the response that had already been given to these vulgar efforts at self-justification.
To repeat once again, we can distinguish three categories of crimes: murder with intent, accidental killing, and murder with foreknowledge but without specific intent. Israeli and U.S. atrocities typically fall into the third category. Thus, when Israel destroys Gaza's power supply or sets up barriers to travel in the West Bank, it does not specifically intend to murder the particular people who will die from polluted water or in ambulances that cannot reach hospitals. And when Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of the al-Shifa plant, it was obvious that it would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe. Human Rights Watch immediately informed him of this, providing details; nevertheless, he and his advisers did not intend to kill specific people among those who would inevitably die when half the pharmaceutical supplies were destroyed in a poor African country that could not replenish them.
Rather, they and their apologists regarded Africans much as we do the ants we crush while walking down a street. We are aware that it is likely to happen (if we bother to think about it), but we do not intend to kill them because they are not worthy of such consideration. Needless to say, comparable attacks by Araboushim in areas inhabited by human beings would be regarded rather differently.
If, for a moment, we can adopt the perspective of the world, we might ask which criminals are"wanted the world over."
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Friday, February 29, 2008 - 16:54
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (2-29-08)
John McCain has been running mainly against Barack Obama in recent days, and has been running on the successes he says that the Iraqi government has racked up.
McCain (and the US corporate media) manages to avoid noticing that Turkey has staged a major incursion into Iraq and still has ground troops there and is refusing US requests to withdraw! Ironically, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the Turkish chief of staff used McCain's own language against the Bush administration, rejecting the idea of any timetable for withdrawal. He said Turkey could be in Iraq for as long as a year! Turkey claims to have killed 230 guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party inside Iraq in the past week. I mean, how great can the situation in Iraq be when our NATO ally has invaded the country we militarily occupy in order to kill guerrillas harbored by our Iraqi Kurdish allies, who have been slipping across the border for which we are responsible in order to kill dozens of NATO troops in eastern Anatolia?
Aljazeera English has video:
McCain is completely uninterested in the cost of the Iraq War. He hasn't seemed to notice that oil has surged to $103 a barrel, in part on fears of the effect of the Turkish incursion into Iraq.
McCain, who voted to go into Iraq and said it was"important" to do so, does not seem to have noticed that the price tag for it and Afghanistan is rapidly rising to $3 trillion to $5 trillion over the long term, or $10,000 for each man, woman and child in America. For a family of four, that is $40,000 or a whole year's salary that George W. Bush has stolen from us and given to his friends at Halliburton, Hunt Oil, Exxon Mobile, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric, etc., etc., etc. (See Tom Engelhardt on this and other morsels in Bush's Mulligatawny Soup of a war). Not to mention the nearly 4,000 killed in action and the thousands seriously wounded, with brain trauma, spinal injuries, confined to wheel chairs or forever impaired, who will need to be taken care of the rest of their lives (and guess to which address the bill will come-- not Crawford, Texas.) Is the war really unrelated to the growing bad times in the US economy?
Bush's loathsome toadies actually come out and say that all this spending of our blood and treasure is the price of security. But Iraq did not attack the US and was no danger to the US, and the Iraq War is actually actively producing a terrorist danger to our security, according to veteran CIA official and now security analyst Marc Sageman. All this is not to mention the invidious way the Bush administration has framed the terrorism issue, as Noam Chomsky points out at Tomdispatch.
Back to McCain: Running on the efficiency and effectiveness of the failed state in Baghdad would be an extremely risky strategy if in fact the US corporate media were telling the American people the truth (or even just anything) about what is actually going on in Iraq and Iraqi politics. So here is a fact check on two of the claims McCain is making about supposed political progress in Iraq. He has been touting a new law on the treatment of ex-Baathists (who are mostly Sunni and have been treated harshly, contributing to the violence). And he has been ecstatic about the passing of a law on the provinces and some other measures, like the budget. But is any of these laws really likely to lead to ethnic reconciliation?
In his recent response to a measure introduced by Senator Russ Feingold aimed at ending the Iraq War, John McCain ridiculed Iraq War critics who doubted the surge and doubted provincial reconciliation (as at al-Anbar):
"In the face of these new facts, supporters of withdrawal changed their argument yet again. Maybe the surge had brought about greater security, they said . . . But this was irrelevant, they said, so long as national level political reconciliation is lacking – and since we can never expect that, the troops must leave. Yet they were wrong again. In January, the Iraqi parliament passed the long-awaited de-Baathification law that restores the eligibility of thousands of former party members for government jobs lost because of their Baathist affiliation."
In fact, the so-called"debaathification law" passed in January was ruined by the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr in the Iraqi parliament. Far from promoting reconciliation between Shiites, Kurds and ex-Baathists, it was roundly denounced by ex-Baathist parliamentarians such as Iyad Allawi and Salih Mutlak. The law may forcibly retire another 20,000 to 30,000 largely Sunni ex-Baathists from their jobs, and it excludes them from many important ministries. Allawi and others are afraid that its language aims at excluding them from politics altogether. The International Center for Transitional Justice warned (pdf) that the law would actually make for less reconciliation!
Sam Dagher reports from Baghdad,
' Iraq's parliament passed a new law on Jan. 12 amending de-Baathification legislation . . but critics say it is even stricter than the first and offers even fewer chances for thousands of embittered, high-ranking Baathists to return to the fold . . .
Izzat Shabender, a secular Shiite parliamentarian from the party of ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi, who was on the committee that dealt with the law, says senior Baathists that he's in contact with, mainly in Jordan and Syria, have rejected the law. "It did not solve the problem politically, which is the core of the matter." '
Now back to starry-eyed McCain (same link as above) on all that political reconciliation:
McCain:"Earlier this month, a provincial powers law passed that devolves a significant amount of power to the provinces and mandates new provincial elections by October 1 of this year. The parliament passed a partial amnesty for detainees that can facilitate reconciliation among the sects, and it completed a landmark 2008 budget."
Oooops. As usual, McCain is too optimistic too soon. The LA Times reports that:
' Iraq's presidential council Wednesday rejected a law on the powers of local government that was approved by parliament and touted by the Bush administration as a sign of reconciliation between the country's ethnic and religious groups. The three-man council asked that parliament reexamine the complicated and multifaceted law when it reconvenes March 18. '
The LAT notes that the rejection of this law could place in jeopardy the package of laws passed in February, which McCain boasts about, including the budget and the prisoner amnesty.
At the time, the way the laws were passed, without an individual voice vote of the members of parliament, was decried as unconstitutional, in any case. Now the most important of the three has been rejected by the presidency council.
The law on the provinces allowed the prime minister to dismiss provincial governors. Since the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq controls the provincial governments of much of the Shiite south, it doesn't want the federal government to be able to remove them and so weaken ISCI's power base. Likewise, the Kurds are very suspicious of any move to strengthen the central government, because of their memory of Saddam Hussein's brutal interventions against them from Baghdad.
But the law also had set provincial elections for October 1, and this was something the Sunni Arabs very much wanted, since they boycotted the first round of provincial elections and so their provinces don't have representative governments.
The Islamic Supreme Council, in contrast, is afraid that if new provincial elections are held, it might be swept from power in Baghdad and much of the south by the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, who are Iraqi nativists and see ISCI as an Iranian cat's paw.
So, the political progress of which McCain boasted, and which he threw in the face of Senator Feingold and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, has largely been a chimera. Even where parliament has passed laws, there is no evidence that they have contributed or will contribute to actually reducing ethnic and sectarian hatred in Iraq.
McCain argues that violence is down in 17 of 18 provinces. That argument itself suggests the irrelevancy of the US to Iraq. There are no US troops to speak of in the 3 northern Kurdish provinces, or in the southern 4 provinces from which the British have largely withdrawn. There are few US troops in most of the 8 provinces where Shiites predominate. There was no troop escalation or"surge" in the Sunni al-Anbar province. So if violence has declined in 17 of 18 provinces, US policy cannot possibly have anything to do with most of that. General Petraeus has had significant successes in Baghdad, though at the unfortunate (an unintentional) cost of further turning it into a Shiite city from which most Sunnis have been ethnically cleansed. But Petraeus is doing the practical work of trying to make a bad situation better, and makes no claims for success in the political realm in Iraq. McCain is, in contrast, just doing US domestic politics with those hard won achievements of our suffering troops, and is mostly just running on pie in the sky.
Posted on: Friday, February 29, 2008 - 15:12
SOURCE: TPM Cafe (2-27-08)
I've spent a lot of time around serious scholarship and even more around real journalism-- the kind that, in print or online, requires"leg work," climbing tenement stairs the second time or making that last phone call or watching the expression on the campaign manager's face as you pop your question. Sometimes there's no substitute for going there to get the story, even if you think you've already figured it out or heard it all before.
Scholars uphold equivalent standards, but in today's New Republic, the Princeton historian Sean Wilentz shows us only the arrogance and opportunism of a man who'd hoped to be the Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. of a Hillary Clinton Administration. Here, Wilentz treats one of his forays into journalism as slumming to help his side and mess up Barack Obama's effort by spinning charges that Wilentz doesn't trouble to substantiate with interviews or research of his own.
Wilentz plunges Obama into a hall of mirrors and insinuations by stringing others' reports to accuse him of accusing the Clintons of accusing him of calling them race-baiters. Got that? I get it, having written a lot about racial politics for The New Republic myself, not to mention for the New York Daily News,where I had many black readers.
I know how to expose charming black impressarios of racial street theater and common-room put-downs that freeze white liberals in their seats. Moreover, even in supporting Obama, I've expressed reservations here in posts like "Obama's Biggest Weakness" and "If I Vote For Obama, It'll Be Because..." Not only that, I hold nothing against Hillary Clinton, whom Wilentz thinks he is defending.
But I do recognize attitudinizing and pulling rank, academically or streetwise, when I see them, and I know that someone has gone off the deep end when he ends 5500 words of endless pirouetting with a pompous polemic like this::"[T]here is a long history of candidates who are wiling to inflame the most deadly passions in our national life in order to get elected. Sadly, that is what Barack Obama and his campaign gurus have been doing for months -- with the aid of their media helpers on the news and op-ed pages.... They promise to continue to until they win the nomination, by any means necessary."
That might be a shirring perroration to a series of devastating revelations, but most of what preceded it reads like this:
"His string of victories in caucuses and primaries... gave the Obama campaign undeniable momentum. But Obama and his strategists kept the race and race-baiter cards near the top of their campaign deck -- and the news media continued to report on the contest (or decline to report Obama's role as instigator) as if they had fallen in line."
The evidence, please? it never came.
Wilentz claims repeatedly that the Clintons are unfailingly gracious and astute but that Obama and his minions spin the Clintons' benign observations to stir black paranoia and stampede voters. But read Wilentz yourself and tell me if you find anything it it, anywhere, that's more than a parody of Talmudic exegesis gone wrong, a tangle of arguments by assertion. Does Wilentz even want to meet the kinds of people who might actually pick his stuff up and run with it?
He accuses an always-unspecified"media" and"press corps" of falling into line with Obama's"race-batier card" strategy. I take second place to no one in scourging"the media," but why are all of Wilentz's own sources recyled from the same media and press accounts of what candidates or their spokesmen have already said? He tells us repeatedly that"the Obama campaign" did this or that. But who, exactly? He never says.
Wilentz has operated this way before. He doesn't so much take positions as look over his shoulder in two or three directions before positioning himself as an arbiter of what is safe and appropriate just now for progressives to say.
Sometimes he lurches into histrionic poses, as when he instructed a congressional impeachment committee that"history will judge" them -- a pronouncement sufficiently snooty to remind even from those who agreed with him that history will judge Sean Wilentz, too, for shifting burdens of his own responsibility onto others.
Obama is shrewd, and no doubt he's not pure; but if Wilentz has something to show us, let him show it, not pass off his speculations as charges sanctioned by the judgment of history.
His attack on Obama is too clever by half to persuade anyone who isn't already cheering Wilentz on. The piece reads as if written in an exciting evening of phrase-turning in Princeton after a nice, long chat with someone from the Clinton campaign. The result is embarrassing to Wilentz, embarrassing to the New Republic, and offensive to those of us who've staked our credibility on wresting truth from storms of racial intimidation, insinuations,and lies.
Posted on: Thursday, February 28, 2008 - 17:55
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (2-28-08)
I admired John McCain a great deal in 2000. In my view, McCain was one of the very few politicians who talked straight to the American people and was the victim of an unforgivable hatchet job by the Bush campaign.
I don’t admire McCain any longer. Forget about the ill-advised mention of a rumored sexual affair between John McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman in a recent New York Times story about McCain’s connections with the lobbyist and her clients. In fact, this story and subsequent reporting by the Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, and ABC News raises serious questions about influence peddling by John McCain. Worse yet, explanations offered by the Senator and his campaign have entwined the once straight-talking McCain in a web of deception.
The story begins in the 1980’s when McCain intervened with federal regulators on behalf of crooked Savings and Loan operator Charles Keating after Keating and his associates had poured some $112,000 into McCain’s campaign coffers. A decade later, McCain similarly intervened on behalf of Ms. Iseman’s wealthy clients – who likewise had contributed many tens of thousands of dollars to his campaigns.
In 1998, when McCain chaired the Commerce Committee, which had oversight over the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), he wrote an extraordinary letter to the FCC Chair that threatened to overhaul the Commission if it closed a regulatory loophole that would allow one of Iseman’s clients to circumvent federal rules barring companies from owning more than one television station in a single city.
The following year, McCain wrote to the FCC on behalf of Iseman client Lowell W. Paxson who was trying to get approval for adding a Pittsburgh television station to his media empire. McCain said that he was only urging the FCC to reach a decision on the acquisition after a long delay and was not advocating on Paxson’s behalf.
But influence peddling in Washington doesn’t work in such blatant ways. It didn’t take an Einstein to read between the lines the intent of a letter from the Chair of the Commerce Committee which demanded that “each member of the commission” write to him “no later than the close of business on Tuesday, December 14, 1999, whether you have already acted upon these applications.” The FCC Chair wrote back to McCain to protest that “Your letter comes at a sensitive time in the deliberative process as the individual commissioners finalize their views and their votes on this matter. I must respectfully note that it is highly unusual for the commissioners to be asked to publicly announce their voting status on a matter that is still pending.”
After publication of the Times story, McCain said he never met with Paxson or a representative of Paxson’s company before dispatching his letter. Yet Paxson said in a widely reported interview that he had met personally with McCain on the matter. The Senator was contradicted by yet another source: himself. According to a 2002 deposition that Newsweek uncovered, McCain said, “I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue.…He wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business.”
The McCain campaign also explained that his staff “met with public broadcasting activists from the Pittsburgh area” who opposed the Paxson acquisition. Yet Jerold Starr, the co-chairman of the Save Pittsburgh Public Television Campaign, who led the activist opposition, said flatly that “It never happened.” According to an ABC News report by Avni Patel, Starr said “we had no idea that McCain had any interest in our local matter.” Starr further condemned as “a bold face lie” the assertion by the McCain campaign that the opposition, like Paxson, was seeking to expedite the stalled FCC proceedings. “The longer it took, the better our chances were,” Starr said. “It meant that the FCC was paying serious attention to our complaint.”
McCain was not advocating for the common good in these cases. Rather, he was aiding and abetting the pernicious concentration of the nation’s media in the hands of a few large corporations.
McCain’s tight relationship with lobbyists continues during his time as a presidential candidate. According to former Washington Post reporter Thomas Edsall, “11 current or former lobbyists working for or advising McCain, at least double the number in any other [presidential] campaign.” No problem, said Senator McCain, “These people have honorable records, and they’re honorable people, and I’m proud to have them as part of my team.”
This last remark reveals the truth about John McCain. In one sense McCain is an authentic reformer who has bucked his party’s establishment to push for reforms on campaign finance, congressional earmarks, and lobbying. But he is also a supremely self-righteous individual who believes himself to be above the rules and regulations he imposes on others. It is that arrogance of power that would make John McCain a very dangerous man as president of the United States.
Posted on: Thursday, February 28, 2008 - 14:54
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (2-24-08)
I used to oppose abstinence-only education. It doesn’t persuade American teenagers to delay sexual activity, as a recent five-year study confirmed. And most American parents say they want their children receive wider instruction about sexual issues—including contraception—in their schools.
But I’m not in America anymore. I’m in Africa.
So was President Bush, who visited Ghana and four other African nations last week. One of his goals was to persuade Congress to double the funding for his campaign to fight global HIV/AIDS, from $15 billion to $30 billion. As in the past, however, one-third of the money spent on AIDS prevention will be earmarked for abstinence-only programs.
Democrats have threatened to block the bill unless Bush removes this provision, which they call a sop to the president’s conservative Christian base. But here’s the part they miss: it also resonates deeply with Africans. And that might be the best reason to support it over here, no matter what we make of it back home.
Consider the recent Valentine’s Day celebrations here in Ghana, which the minister of tourism declared “National Chocolate Day.” Part of the goal was to strengthen the cocoa industry—Ghana’s largest cash crop—and to make the country into a “chocolate tourism destination,” the minister said.
But most of all, the new designation aimed to quell “unnecessary sexual activities” among young Ghanaians. Valentine’s Day should promote “family bonds of love and friendship,” the minister explained, not “sexual promiscuity.”
Newspaper columnists eagerly took up the charge. “Innocent young girls will be caught in the net of fornication,” warned Sophie G. Awortwi in the Accra Daily Graphic, on the eve of Valentine’s Day. “It is the ploy of the devil to change their focus from their academic work to promiscuity and lust.”
And don’t even talk about homosexuality. Gay sex is illegal in Ghana, under the same statute that bars beastiality. In 2006, two men caught with gay pornography were sentenced to four years of hard labor in prison. Later that year, officials banned a proposed 2006 gay and lesbian conference in Accra.
“Government does and shall not condone any activity which violently offends the culture, morality, and heritage of the people of Ghana,” one spokesman explained. “Ghanaians were a unique people whose culture, morality and heritage totally abhorred homosexual practices and other forms of unnatural sexual acts.”
But then, the argument goes, the country was seduced by the hyper-sexual West. The papers are full of screeds against music videos and other cultural imports from Europe and the USA, which have supposedly corrupted Ghanaian morals. Instead of slavishly copying “Western promiscuity,” one columnist urged, Ghanaians should rediscover their traditional values of modesty, fidelity in marriage, and abstinence outside of it.
Never mind that Ghanaians and other West Africans practiced polygamy for thousands of years, or that homosexuality and prostitution have long histories here as well. The point is that sexual continence and restraint are powerful present-day themes in Africa, spurred by the most significant Western import of all: Christianity.
In 1900, roughly 10 percent of Africans were Christians; today, about half practice some type of Christianity. Compared to the West, meanwhile, their theologies are overwhelmingly conservative. That’s why so many Anglicans in Africa—including church leaders here in Ghana—have condemned the U.S. Episcopal Church for ordaining a gay bishop.
And it also helps explain the startling popularity of President Bush in Africa, where his own conservative style of Christianity—like his commitment to abstinence-only education—echoes local sentiments. As Ghana prepares to host Bush, I’ve read plenty of criticisms of his policies in Iraq. But I haven’t seen a single attack on his AIDS plan or its abstinence-only provision.
That doesn’t mean people are actually abstaining, of course. In Uganda, where First Lady Janet Museveni has spearheaded a Christian-themed abstinence campaign, one study showed that women who refrained from sex as teenagers were just as likely to contract HIV by age 24 as women who were sexually active as teens. And the HIV rate has remained steady in recent years even as the number of Ugandans with multiple partners has increased, which suggests that condom use—not abstinence outside of marriage—is the key.
For whatever reason, Uganda's rate of HIV infection plummetted 70 percent in the 1990s. President Bush has repeatedly attributed that success to the abstinence-only efforts of Ms. Museveni, who once led a "march for virginity" through the streets of Kampala. Using U.S. funds, Uganda has removed condom advertisements from billboards and replaced them with abstinence messages from local ministers. Perhaps HIV infections would have declined even further, with a more balanced approach. We really don’t know.
But here’s what we do know: on matters of sex, at least, Africans are deeply conservative. I might not share all of their views, especially about abstinence and homosexuality. But I’m a visitor here, like President Bush, and I’ve got to respect the beliefs of the people. And they’re much closer to the Bush’s than they are to mine.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 27, 2008 - 20:28
SOURCE: New Republic (2-27-08)
After several weeks of swooning, news reports are finally being filed about the gap between Senator Barack Obama's promises of a pure, soul-cleansing "new" politics and the calculated, deeply dishonest conduct of his actually-existing campaign. But it remains to be seen whether the latest ploy by the Obama camp--over allegations about the circulation of a photograph of Obama in ceremonial Somali dress--will be exposed by the press as the manipulative illusion that it is....
In mid-December 2007, one of the Clinton campaign's co-chairs in New Hampshire, Bill Shaheen, remarked entirely on his own on how the Republicans might make mischievous and damaging political use of Obama's admitted use of marijuana and cocaine during his youth. The observation was not especially astute: Since George W. Bush, both the electorate and the press have seemed to be forgiving of a candidate's youthful substance abuse, so long as says he has reformed himself. Nor had the Clinton campaign prompted Shaheen to make his comment. But it was not a harebrained remark, given how the Republicans had once tried to exploit the cocaine addiction of Bill Clinton's brother, Roger, and even manufactured lurid falsehoods about Clinton himself as the member of a cocaine smuggling ring during his years as governor in Arkansas. And it was not in the least a racist comment, as cocaine abuse has afflicted Americans of all colors as well as classes. Indeed, there have been persistent rumors that Bush abused cocaine as well as alcohol during his younger days--charges he addressed in the 2000 campaign by saying that when "he was young and foolish" he had done "foolish" things.
None of the reports at the time about Shaheen's miscue (and the Clinton campaign's decision to relieve him of his ceremonial duties) mentioned anything about racial overtones. Yet the Obama campaign kept stirring things up. After being questioned for ten minutes about the drug allegation on cable television--and repeatedly denying that the national campaign had anything to do with it--Clinton campaign pollster Mark Penn mentioned the word "cocaine" (which was difficult to avoid in the context of the repeated questioning about drugs). "I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising, and I think that's been made clear," he said. Obama's campaign aides (as well as John Edwards's) immediately leapt on Penn and chastised him as an inflammatory demagogue for using the word that Obama himself referred to in his memoir as "blow." Since then, Obama's strategists and supporters in the press have whipped the story into a full racialist subtext, as if Shaheen and Penn were the executors of a well-plotted Clinton master plan to turn Obama into a stereotypical black street hoodlum--or, in the words of the fervently pro-Obama and anti-Clinton columnist Frank Rich of the New York Times, "ghettoized as a cocaine user."
The racial innuendo seemed to fade when Obama won his remarkable victory in the Iowa caucuses. With the polling data on the upcoming New Hampshire primary auguring a large Obama triumph, it looked as if the candidate's own appeal might sweep away everything before it. But at the last minute (as sometimes happens in statewide primaries), there was a sudden movement among the voters, this time toward Clinton. Many ascribed it to an appearance by Clinton in a Portsmouth coffee shop on the eve of the vote, where, with emotion, she spoke from the heart about why she is running for president. Others said that misogyny directed at Clinton on the campaign trail as well as on cable television and the Internet turned off women voters. The uprising was certainly sudden: As late as 6 p.m. on primary day, Clinton staff members with whom I spoke were saying that they would consider a loss by ten percentage points or less as a kind of moral victory. But instead, Clinton won outright, amazing her own delighted supporters and galling the Obama campaign.
That evening, the Democratic campaign became truly tangled up in racial politics--directly and forcefully introduced by the pro-Obama forces. In order to explain away the shocking loss, Obama backers vigorously spread the claim that the so-called Bradley Effect had kicked in. First used to account for the surprising defeat of Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley in the California gubernatorial race in 1982, the Bradley Effect supposedly takes hold when white voters tell opinion pollsters that they plan to vote for a black candidate but instead, driven by racial fears, pull the lever for a white candidate. Senior Clinton campaign officials later told me that reporters contacted them saying that the Obama camp was pushing them very hard to spin Clinton's victory as the latest Bradley Effect result. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, a cheerleading advocate for Obama, went on television to suggest the Bradley Effect explained the New Hampshire outcome, then backed off--only then to write a column, "Echoes of Tom Bradley," in which he claimed he could not be sure but that, nevertheless, "embarrassed pollsters and pundits had better be vigilant for signs that the Bradley effect, unseen in recent years, has crept back."
In fact, the Bradley Effect claims were utterly bogus, as anyone with an elementary command of voting results could tell. If the "effect" has actually occurred, Obama's final voting figures would have been substantially lower than his figures in the pre-election polls, as racially motivated voters turned away. Later, Bill Schneider, the respected analyst on CNN, several times went through the data on air to demonstrate conclusively that there was no such Bradley Effect in New Hampshire. But even on primary night, it was clear that Obama's total--36.4%--was virtually identical to what the polls over the previous three weeks had predicted he would receive. Clinton won because late-deciding voters--and especially college-educated women in their twenties--broke for her by a huge majority. Yet the echoes of charges about the Bradley Effect--which blamed Obama's loss on white racism and mendacity--lingered among Obama's supporters.
The very next morning, Obama's national co-chair, Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., a congressional supporter from Chicago, played the race card more directly by appearing on MSNBC to claim in a well-prepared statement that Clinton's emotional moment on the campaign trail was actually a measure of her deeply ingrained racism and callousness about the suffering poor. "But those tears also have to be analyzed," Jackson said, "they have to be looked at very, very carefully in light of Katrina, in light of other things that Mrs. Clinton did not cry for, particularly as we head to South Carolina where 45 percent of African-Americans will participate in the Democratic contest ... we saw tears in response to her appearance, so that her appearance brought her to tears, but not Hurricane Katrina, not other issues." And so the Obama campaign headed south with race and racism very much on its mind--and on its lips....
[HNN Editor: This is a long article. This excerpt merely suggests one of the arguments the author makes.]
Posted on: Wednesday, February 27, 2008 - 19:15
SOURCE: Counterpunch (2-26-08)
The Reuters headline on February 23 reads: "Rice holds Serbia responsible for US embassy attack."
Reading this I couldn't help thinking about the ultimatum delivered to the Belgrade government in July 23, 1914 by representatives of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Yes, I know it's a stretch and we're not in a similar crisis (yet), but I can't help noticing even distant historical parallels.
Recall from high school history class that Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia on June 28 by Gavrilo Princep, a member of the Serbian minority in Bosnia. Bosnia's mixed population of Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslims had been under Austro-Hungarian administration since 1878.
In the Herzegovinian Rebellion of 1875 peasants---Serbian and Croatian serfs of Muslim beys or overlords---in what was then Ottoman Turkish territory rose up in protest of unbearable tax burdens. Serbia, technically still part of the Ottoman Empire but independent de facto since 1868, and the tiny Princedom of Montenegro intervened on the side of the rebels, and were soon joined by Russia, Romania and Bulgaria. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 Bosnia-Herzegovina was ceded to Vienna. The Ottoman Empire retained formal overlordship, but in 1908 Austria-Hungary (over considerable protest by Serbia and Russia) annexed the state outright.
Gavrilo Princep was a Pan-Slavist, a member of the secret Black Hand society committed to the ideal of a Yugoslavia or "state of southern Slavs:" Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Montenegrans, Slovenians. Perhaps he thought that killing Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia would abet that cause. If so, maybe he was right: just 18 million deaths and four years later, as one of the many outcomes of the "Great War," the "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes," was proclaimed, renamed in "Kingdom of Yugoslavia" in 1929.
We need to remind ourselves that World War I started as a confrontation between Serbian nationalists, and imperialists delivering ultimatums while meddling in the Balkans.
The message from the Austro-Hungarians to Belgrade in July 1914 held the Serbia government responsible for the attack on their archduke:
"The Royal Serbian Government . . . has [since the annexation of 1908] tolerated the criminal machinations of various societies and associations directed against the [Austro-Hungarian] Monarchy, unrestrained language on the part of the press, glorification of the perpetrators of outrages, participation of officers and officials in subversive agitation, unwholesome propaganda in public education, in short tolerated all the manifestations of a nature to inculcate in the Serbian population hatred of the Monarchy and contempt for its institutions . . ."
Accusing the Serbian government of complicity in the assassination, hatched (it alleged) in Belgrade, the message then presents 10 demands. Most pertain to curbing "propaganda against the Monarchy" by Serbian journalists and officials, and demanding cooperation in prosecuting those responsible for hostile actions against Austria-Hungary. But the fifth (and most important) requires Serbia "[t]o accept the collaboration in Serbia of organs of [the Austro-Hungarian government] in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy."
Serbia then, in a generally reconciliatory message, denying any responsibility for the assassinations ("the crime"), offered to "hand over for trial any Serbian subject" that Vienna could prove was involved. To the fifth demand it responded:
"[The Serbian government does] not clearly grasp the meaning or the scope of the demand . . that Serbia shall undertake to accept the collaboration of the representatives of [Austria-Hungary], but they declare that they will admit such collaboration as agrees with the principle of international law, with criminal procedure, and with good neighborly relations."
In other words, the Serbs rejected occupation. This rejection offered Austria-Hungary an excuse to invade.
Flash forward to March 1999, when Condoleezza Rice's predecessor, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, offered Serbia another ultimatum. She ordered the Yugoslav army out of the Yugoslav "breakaway" province of Kosovo. The "Rambouillet Agreement" signed by U.S., British, and Kosovar Albanian separatists that month further demanded that NATO forces receive "free and unrestricted access throughout [Yugoslavia] including the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training and operations."
Agree to that, Belgrade was told, or we will bomb you.
Yugoslavia, born out of World War I, had been falling apart for eight years. The dream of southern pan-Slavism had given way to long-dormant nationalisms and the nightmare of ethnic cleansing. The Serbs, with the largest member-state in the Yugoslav federation, had watched Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia secede. Now the U.S. and its allies were demanding that Belgrade give up Kosovo, the Serbian Jerusalem, the Serbian heartland.
Belgrade was willing to restore the autonomy, the de facto republic status Kosovo had enjoyed until 1989. It was willing to accept UN peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. It had the year before accepted unarmed Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) forces. But it was not willing to give NATO unbridled access to the roads and airspace of all that remained of Yugoslavia. The "scope of the demand" (to again cite the 1914 Serbian reply to Vienna) was such that no sovereign state could accept.
But the spin in the U.S. corporate press was well expressed by CNN's Christiane Amanpour: "Milosevic continues to thump his nose at the international community." The U.S.-dictated "agreement," rejected by Russia and Yugoslavia, was depicted as a reasonable international consensus. Belgrade, which had maintained neutrality between NATO and the Warsaw Pact for decades, naturally resisted an unlimited alliance presence in its territory. But the logic of this stance was obscured by the anti-Serbian propaganda relentlessly unleashed by the U.S. press and the statements of U.S. officials charging the Serbian state with responsibility for mass murder in Kosovo. It later became clear that the charges were wildly overblown, while attacks upon Serbs, their property and holy places were generally ignored by those demanding U.S. military action.
That action killed about 500 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. Since the bombing ended and NATO occupied Kosovo, thousands more have died in anti-Serbian pogroms. Between June 1999 and March 2004, by one estimate, over 3000 perished in ethnic-based violence in Kosovo. Over 200,000 Serb have fled their Kosovo homeland since 1999.
It's taken all that infliction of suffering to finalize the humiliation of Yugoslavia, born in 1918. It's taken all that to cut out its heart, the site of the Battle of Kosovo Polje against the Ottoman Turks in 1389. (Kosovo Polje by the way was also the site of a pogrom against Serbs that killed 28 people in March 2004. "Kristallnacht is under way in Kosovo," declared a UN official at the time.) It's hardly surprising that angry Serbian youth would attack the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, enraged at the speedy U.S. recognition of Kosovo independence.
In the wake of that expression of outrage the U.S. secretary of state issued a veiled threat to Belgrade. "They had an obligation to protect diplomatic missions," fumes Rice (who has no problem raiding an Iranian consulate in Iraq), "and, from what we can tell, the police presence was either inadequate or unresponsive at the time. We do hold the Serb government responsible. We've made that very clear. We don't expect that to happen again."
But it probably will happen again. And anyway, if Rice can hold the Serbian government responsible for the attack on the U.S. embassy, the Serbs can surely hold the U.S. represented by that embassy responsible for multiple attacks on their country. Serbian security forces will demand to remain in the north of their Kosovo province. Albania, which hopes to join NATO this year, threatens to take action if Serbia attempts to partition Kosovo. There will probably be more violence, more blowback from the 1999 war, more fingers pointing blame, more imperialist ultimatums.
While Condi talks tough to Serbia, what does Serbia's powerful ally, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, say (as it were) in reply?
"The precedent of Kosovo is a terrible precedent, which will de facto blow apart the whole system of international relations, developed not over decades, but over centuries. [The Americans] have not thought through the results of what they are doing. At the end of the day it is a two-ended stick and the second end will come back and hit them in the face."
This from a man who understands something of the history of the Slavs, the Balkans, the horrific wars twentieth-century wars in Europe, and the infinitely cruel potentialities of U.S. imperialism. I'm no Putin fan, but I think he's assigned blame appropriately. He's holding Washington responsible for what happens next. He might state (like Rice) that he doesn't "expect it"---another provocation of NATO at his doorsteps---" to happen again." But how can there not be follow-up since the Kosovar Serbs are going to refuse inclusion into what they see as a bastard state; the new government in Pristina is likely to challenge Serbian "secessionists" with force; and Albania threatens to de-recognize existing borders between itself, Serbia and Macedonia with its large Albanian minority? There will be hell to pay for this "dangerous precedent."
* * *
On February 24, Reuters reports that Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, in what is perhaps a response to Rice, assigns responsibility for the embassy attack rather differently than the U.S. secretary of state. Paraphrased by Reuters, he suggests the "United States was to blame for this week's attacks on foreign embassies in Belgrade"
Samardzic declares: "The U.S. is the major culprit for all troubles since Feb 17. The root of violence is the violation of international law. The Serbian government will continue to call on the U.S. to take responsibility for violating international law and taking away a piece of territory from Serbia." Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica adds, according to AP: "If the United States sticks to its position that the fake state of Kosovo existsall responsibility in the future will be on the United States."
Take responsibility, Rice demands of Serbia. Take responsibility, Serbia backed by Russia demands of the U.S. There's a fundamental disconnect here between historical perceptions. The official American one is deeply distorted by the Clinton-era disinformation campaign used to justify the Kosovo War, and by the cultivated depiction of the U.S. as the virtuous victim of embassy attacks (most nobaly the Iranian "embassy hostage crisis" episode in 1979-81) and terrorist actions undertaken by people who supposedly "hate our freedoms." No U.S. presidential candidate is going to challenge this misrepresentation of the origins of the current crisis. U.S. policy will be to stabilize Kosovo, draw it into the NATO fold alongside Albania, and maintain the massive Bondsteel military base it has established in Kosovo. But Serbian and Russian policy will try to thwart these objectives. History does not really repeat itself, and this is not 1914. But it's a good time to revisit that history, consider the near-term possibilities, and organize opposition to further U.S. aggression in the Balkans.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 23:02
SOURCE: Nation (2-25-08)
In the Wisconsin primary, almost nine per cent of Obama's vote came from Republicans, according to exit polls. Other states that permitted Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary include Virginia, where almost seven per cent of Obama's support came from Republicans - and the Democrats dream of carrying Republican Virginia in the fall. In Missouri, almost six per cent of Obama's support came from Republicans. Missouri is a key swing state that has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1904 except one.
The next state where Republicans are permitted to vote in the Democratic primary is Texas.
The Republicans-for-Obama phenomenon is a response in part to the Illinois senator's speech about transcending partisanship - a speech which is not just a naive expression of sentiment, but rather a calculated political tactic aimed at winning independents and Republicans. Many middle-of-the-road Republicans voted for Bush because he claimed to be a "compassionate conservative"; many of them are appalled by the war and concerned about the environment; some of them support gay rights and access to abortion.
A few big-name Republicans have led the move to Obama, including Rhode Island's former senator Lincoln Chafee, a well-known as a moderate; he was defeated in 2004, and Obama campaigned for his opponent. Other Republicans for Obama include Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the president, and Tom Bernstein, a longtime Bush fund-raiser - he was co-owner of the Texas Rangers with Bush.
"Republicans for Obama" has a website and a string of favorable press clips, including a feature story on Monday on page one of the LA Times . At one Obama phone bank in Ohio, the Times reported, four of the 13 volunteers were lifelong Republicans. One of them, Josh Pedaline, 28, who voted for Bush twice, said "I'm a conservative, but I have gay friends. . . I don't feel like Obama is condemning me for being a Republican."
The Austin American-Statesman ran a story on Monday headlined "Obama campaign attracting disenchanted Republicans; 'Obamacans' could be out in force for the Texas open primary on March 4." The Texas paper quoted Jack Holt, a former marine and lifelong Republican who supported Bush and McCain the past, saying "The Republican Party has become so ugly and so arrogant, I don't want to have any part of it."
However as of Monday the Texas Republicans for Obama online petition had a total of 21 signatures. The Ohio petition had eight.
Those pathetic numbers raise the question: how successful can Obama be at winning Republican votes - first in Texas and Ohio, and then - assuming he wins the nomination -- nation-wide in November? Experts caution that partisanship remains a significant force even in 2008, and that registered Republicans are extremely likely to vote for their party in November, despite their disgust with Bush and Cheney.
Of course even small numbers can be significant, as we learned in Florida in 2000. Obama is far more likely to win Republican votes in November than Clinton. John Zogby, the pollster, told the Austin Statesman, "There really is such a thing as an Obama Republican. This group tends to be politically moderate, tired of bickering and even more tired of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. It is part of the unique appeal that Obama has among centrist voters, independent thinkers and those concerned with America's image overseas."
Obama himself often talks about his Republican supporters in campaign rallies. "They whisper to me. They say, 'Barack, I'm a Republican, but I support you.' And I say, 'Thank you. Why are we whispering?'"
Posted on: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 22:39
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (2-26-08)
This month, Denmark's police foiled a terrorist plot to murder Kurt Westergaard, the artist who drew the strongest of the twelve Muhammad images, prompting most of the country's newspapers to reprint his cartoon as an act of solidarity and a signal to Islamists that their threats and violence will not succeed.
This incident points to the Islamists' mixed success in curbing Western freedom of speech about Muhammad – think of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses or the Deutsche Oper's production of Mozart's Idomeneo. If threats of violence sometimes do work, they as often provoke, anger, and inspire resistance. A polite demarche can achieve more. Illustrating this, note two parallel efforts, dating from 1955 and 1997, to remove nearly-identical American courthouse sculptures of Muhammad.
In 1997, the Council on American-Islamic Relations demanded that part of a 1930s frieze in the main chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. be sandblasted into oblivion, on the grounds that Islam prohibits representations of its prophet. The seven-foot high marble relief by Adolph Weinman depicts Muhammad as one of 18 historic lawgivers. His left hand holds the Koran in book form (a jarring historical inaccuracy from the Muslim point of view) and his right holds a sword.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, however, rejected CAIR's pressure campaign, finding that the depiction "was intended only to recognize [Muhammad] … as an important figure in the history of law; it is not intended as a form of idol worship." Rehnquist only conceded that court literature should mention that the representation offends Muslim sensibilities. His decision met with riots and injuries in India.
In contrast, back in 1955, a campaign to censor a representation of Muhammad in another American court building did succeed. That would be the New York City-based courthouse of the Appellate Division, First Department of the New York State Supreme Court. Built in 1902, it featured on its roof balustrade an eight-foot marble statue of "Mohammed" by Charles Albert Lopez as one of ten historic lawgivers. This Muhammad statue also held a Koran in his left hand and a scimitar in the right.
Though visible from the street, the identities of the lawgivers high atop the building were difficult to discern. Only with a general overhaul of the building in February 1953, including its statues, did the public become aware of their identities. The Egyptian, Indonesian, and Pakistani ambassadors to the United Nations responded by asking the U.S. Department of State to use its influence to have the Muhammad statue not renovated but removed.
Characteristically, the State Department dispatched two employees to convince New York City's public works commissioner, Frederick H. Zurmuhlen, to accommodate the ambassadors. The court, Chief Clerk George T. Campbell, reported, "also got a number of letters from Mohammedans about that time, all asking the court to get rid of the statue." All seven appellate justices recommended to Zurmuhlen that he take down the statue.
Even though, as Time magazine put it, "the danger that any large number of New Yorkers would take to worshiping the statue was, admittedly, minimal," the ambassadors got their way. Zurmuhlen had the offending statue carted off to a storehouse in Newark, New Jersey. As Zurmuhlen figured out what to do with it, the Times reported in 1955, the statue "has lain on its back in a crate for several months." Its ultimate disposition is unknown.
Then, rather than replace the empty pedestal on the court building roof, Zurmuhlen had the nine remaining statues shifted around to disguise the empty space, with Zoroaster replacing Muhammad at the westerly corner spot. Over a half-century later, that is where matters remain.
Recalling these events of 1955 suggests several points. First, pressure by Muslims on the West to conform to Islamic customs predates the current Islamist era. Second, even when minimal numbers of Muslims lived in the West, such pressures could succeed. Finally, contrasting the parallel 1955 and 1997 episodes suggests that the earlier approach of ambassadors making polite representations – not high-handed demands backed up by angry mobs, much less terrorist plots – can be the more effective route.
This conclusion confirms my general argument – and the premise of the Islamist Watch project – that Islamists working quietly within the system achieve more than those relying on ferocity and bellicosity. Ultimately, soft Islamism presents dangers at least as great as does violent Islamism.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 22:32
SOURCE: Tabsir (2-26-08)
Yesterday the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life issued a 143 page report, downloadable here, surveying the changing religious landscape of the United States. Based on interviews with some 35,000 individuals and drawing on earlier Pew research specifically on Muslims in America, this report is well worth reading. The findings are suggestive of the decline of strait-laced Puritan and venomous WASP America. Indeed, it seems that the United States is on the verge of losing its Christian Protestant edge, at least by direct affiliation. There has also been a dramatic decline in Catholicism, offset in large part by the fact that twice as many recent immigrants are Catholic rather than Protestant. One of the main findings is that Americans have taken on the habit of changing religions. “More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion - or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether,” conclude the authors. A full quarter of respondents between the ages of 18-20 are not affiliated with any organized religion. “Honk if you love Jesus” is being bumped off the sticker wars and overrun by “Our Father, who art in Walmart.”
To be sure, the Christian veneer of the United States will ensure “In God We Trust” on our mammon for some time to come. Over 78% of Americans self-identify as Christian, the largest block being the amorphous, and now apparently porous, Protestants and the politically courted Evangelicals constituting the largest Christian segment (26%), just a little larger than the total percentage of Catholics (24%). The 1.7 % of Americans who follow the Joseph Smith/Brigham Young (as opposed to the New Orleans) saints (that most people dub Mormons) accounts in part for the fact that Mitt Romney is not the Republican candidate this year. For a reality check on minority status, the same percentage (1.7) of Americans follow Judaism. Islam is way down the list at 0.6%, slightly less than the number of Buddhists (0.7%), but almost double the number of New Age enthusiasts at 0.4 %). Please keep in mind that these figures only refer to “adults” of the age of 18 and over. Since so many Muslims are young, there are in fact many more Muslims overall (as there are many more Christians) than this figure suggests.
In an NPR interview this morning, Luis Lugo, expressed surprise that so many Americans are leaving the faith of their fathers (and mothers, of course). But perhaps he should bone up on his French: plus ça change plus c’est la même chose. Or, to give it a pragmatic cultural spin: the more some things change, the more all things change. In a society in which most children do not follow the same profession as their parents, do not consider musical “oldies” to be from the same decade and, as the Obama craze suggests, do not vote as their parents, why should it be surprising that our consumer approach to life should cover our souls searching as well. The audience reach of massive Megachurches and televised evangelism is postmodernly Borg-like. In part people change religions because they can, but certainly the constant competitive converting plays a vital role. Given that few popular religions are tolerant enough to let people choose whatever religion they want, or none at all, shopping for God or morality is just another way of truly being American.
But where does all this leave Muslims in America? The report does not provide many details on Muslim communities, but I did find the following relevant points:
“Hindus and Mormons are the most likely to be married (78% and 71%, respectively) and to be married to someone of the same religion (90% and 83%, respectively).”
“Mormons and Muslims are the groups with the largest families; more than one-in-five Mormon adults and 15% of Muslim adults in the U.S. have three or more children living at home.”
“In sharp contrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in the U.S. is primarily made up of native-born adherents, whites and converts. Only one-in-three American Buddhists describe their race as Asian, while nearly three-in-four Buddhists say they are converts to Buddhism.”
“Muslims (0.6% of the overall adult population) fall primarily into two traditions: Half of the Muslims in the U.S. identify as Sunni and 16% are Shi’a; one in three, however, either say they are affiliated with a different Muslim group or describe themselves as ‘just a Muslim’”
Reading through the whole report, beyond the introductory findings, is well worth the time. Much has been said about the reported flood of conversions to Islam after the tragedy of 9/11, as though Bin Laden in an ironic way really did do the work of Allah. One of the interesting findings is that 40% of the Muslims polled are converts from another religion that they grew up in. Contrast this to Hindus, of which only 10% have come from outside the faith. So where are these Muslim converts coming from? Over half of these were raised in Protestant churches (a fear expressed long ago by Martin Luther) and only 10% cross over from Catholicism (a legacy perhaps of the divide created by the Crusades). On the other hand, 70% of Americans raised as Muslims stay Muslim, a retention rate slightly better than Catholics (68%), but a little below Jews (76%). In pragmatic terms, the supposed rush to Islam is better seen as a small stream with fluctuating current rather than a tsunami; the overall number of individuals self-identified as Muslims is still barely on the charts in the American religious landscape. The American dar abyad is not about to be non-white-washed into the territory of dar al-harb.
One of the more illuminating findings is that the percentage of adult Muslims under the age of 30 is quite high (23%) relative to other groups, moreso than Jews (20%), but slightly less than Mormons (24%). Only 7% of Muslims are 65 or older, compared to 20% of Protestants and 22% of Jews. This also reflects the dynamics of a largely recent immigrant community. Along the racial divide, which is hardly as black and white as it used to be, about 10% of blacks identify as Muslim, the overwhelming majority of African Americans being Protestant, mainly from historically black churches. Among American Muslims overall 37% are white, 24% black, 20% Asian, 4% Latino and and 15% dumped into the ethnic limbo of “other/mixed race.” This is again a reflection of the large number of Muslims who arrived in the United States as immigrants; some 65% of American Muslims were born outside the country. Of these immigrant Muslims, half came from North Africa and the Middle East and 28% from South Asia. About one quarter of all immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East are Muslim, while 12% of all Asian immigrants identify as Muslim. Some 21% of American Muslims have less than a high school education, reflecting again the large number of immigrants, which is higher even than the percentage of members of historically black churches. On the basis of high income levels Muslims share bragging rights with Mormons; in each case 16% have annual incomes over $100,000. Mitt Romney, meet a guy named Muhammad who sells more than Persian rugs. But 35% earn less than $30,000 per year, worse than Catholics (31%), and nowhere near as well as American Jews (14%).
What do all these statistics mean? The data on Muslims are less trustworthy than on the Christian groups for the obvious reason of sample size, but it is also not clear how representative the sample size of Muslims really is. Groups who are outside the mainstream, and particularly those who have a reason to be suspicious of opinion takers, do not fare well in statistical sweeps. But at least there is a set of data that can be played with. Muslims are part of the American landscape. Hopefully the American public, and media, can learn to see their presence as part of the system, like Abdul Kareem al-Jabbar on a basketball court, and leave the images of bearded clerics and veiled women overseas.
[For more information on Muslims in America, start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_the_United_States.]
Posted on: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 20:00
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (2-25-08)
What is Barack Obama’s foreign policy? As it becomes clear that Obama is likely to win the Democratic nomination, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain are attacking him for a lack of foreign policy experience and for proposals he has made that appear to make him appear rather naïve. Is he going to retreat from confronting our nation’s enemies, or is he going to be tough when he has to be? What advice will he heed? Now, he has been offered advice for his campaign by none other than Tom Hayden, once the young lion of the New Left and the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Tom Hayden is, of course, no longer a major public figure with great influence. His words, however, resonate with scores of activists as well as liberal intellectuals, who will take them to heart and seek to up the ante on the Obama campaign. Hayden, who clearly views Iraq as another Vietnam, is seeking to move Obama to adopt the prescriptions of the most left-wing sectors of the Democratic Party constituency.
Pointing to Obama’s victory speech in Houston last week, Hayden has noted that Obama has shifted his position, to one of calling for withdrawal of all American troops in the first year of his administration, not over a lengthier time span. Does Obama mean it? Hayden has one suggestion: the Left and antiwar forces must hold Obama to his word. More importantly, he argues that sentiment among Obama’s base “is running strongly enough to push the candidate forward to a stronger commitment,” strong enough to move him away from the words in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope, in which Obama wrote that a complete withdrawal was a matter of “imperfect judgment” and “best guesses.”
It is clear from Mr. Hayden that his supposition - and that of the Left he represents - (his comments appear in The Nation magazine website) believe that the United States should not be involved on a “so-called war on terrorism,” a phony concept developed by evil and strong neoconservatives who falsely believe there is something called “Islamofascism.” Obviously believing that there is not such force in the world, he argues that its advocates, including Senator John McCain, favor a “permanent war against Muslim radicals” that is really about one thing: “American access to oil.”
What worries Mr. Hayden is that in a contest between McCain and Obama, John McCain’s war record, combined with his Senate experience, makes him a “formidable” advocate of tough steps to protect American national security, something Mr. Hayden sees as a danger to the antiwar movement. His own prescription for withdrawal of troops are thus threatened by General Petraeus’ forthcoming April testimony before Congress, in which it is expected he will report on the favorable outcome of the surge, and urge the nation to stay the course.
Mr. Hayden thus sees Petraeus not as a honest soldier reporting the truth of what he has accomplished, but as a “de facto surrogate for McCain” that will force Barack Obama to have to respond without retreating from his promise of early withdrawal. He says, rightfully, that those he dubs the neoconservative opposition will oppose Obama by challenging him for wanting “to pull the plug on Iraq just when the tide is turning.” And why shouldn’t McCain do just that? Does Mr. Hayden think that the United States, should in fact, pull the plug precisely when the situation in Iraq is improving?
Ironically, Mr. Hayden condemns William Kristol for arguing in the pages of the New York Times and The Weekly Standard that the Democratic Party has become “the puppet of the antiwar groups.” Clearly, Mr. Kristol may have been premature. Mr. Hayden seems to want now to prove Kristol both prescient and right. Mr. Hayden fears that all of this will lead to McCain successfully forging a new center-Right coalition, leaving the Democrats only with the moderate and antiwar left-wing. The Republicans will have, he notes, the aid of Senator Joe Lieberman working as an ally who would also make inroads among the Jewish community.
Nevertheless, Tom Hayden is optimistic. He believes Americans will also see Afghanistan as a quagmire not susceptible to a military solution; Pakistanis showing they do not want to be pawns in an American war, and that a fight with the Taliban or al-Qaeda is nothing but a “bottomless battle.” His fear: that Obama will ignore all this, and seek to “prove his credentials as a militarist or face being painted as another Democrat too weak to be Commander-in-Chief.” His solution: the forces of the Left and the peace movement wage “open political and intellectual battle” against “the neoconservative agenda.”
Should Barack Obama listen to the Left’s advice, he will only push the Democratic Party back to the age of McGovernite isolationism, and contrary to the assertion of Tom Hayden, make the campaign much easier for John McCain. If the Democrats hope to actually win the presidency, the worst thing they could do is to take advice from Tom Hayden.
Posted on: Monday, February 25, 2008 - 23:33
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (2-25-08)
.... Obama's mixed ancestry ... is not what most generates the new uncertainty about blackness. Much more important is the fact that his black ancestry is immigrant rather than American-born.....
The differences in history and circumstances among various descent groups were largely ignored during the era when our conceptual and administrative apparatus for dealing with inequality was put in place. As John D. Skrentny, a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego, has shown — in his important 2002 book, The Minority Rights Revolution — conflating Asian-Americans, Latinos, and American Indians with African-Americans was a largely unconscious step driven by the unexamined assumption that those groups were "like blacks"; that is, they were functionally indistinguishable from the Americans who experienced slavery and Jim Crow. Such conflation was officially perpetuated as late as 1998, when President Clinton's Initiative on Race, One America in the 21st Century: Forging a New Future, systematically and willfully obscured those differences. That was done by burying statistics that disproved the all-minorities-are-alike myth, and by fashioning more than 50 recommendations to combat racism, not a single one of which spoke to the unique claims of black people.
If we are now going to recognize that even some black people — people like Obama — are not "like blacks," how can Mexican-Americans and Cambodian-Americans be "like blacks"? Can the latter be eligible for entitlements that were assigned largely on the basis of a "black model" that suddenly seems not to apply even to all black people? If black people with immigrant backgrounds are less appropriate targets of affirmative-action and "diversity" programs than other black people, a huge issue can no longer be avoided: What claims for special treatment can be made for nonblack populations with an immigrant base? Can the genie of the immigrant/nonimmigrant distinction be put back in the bottle, or are we to generate new, group-specific theoretical justifications for each group? That prospect is an intimidating one, trapping us by our habit of defining disadvantaged groups ethnoracially.
Employers and educators are asked to treat the Latino population as an ethnoracial group, yet the strongest claim that many of its members have for special protections and benefits is specific to economic conditions. The history of mistreatment of Latinos by Anglos is well documented, but the instances most comparable to antiblack racism predate the migration of the bulk of today's Latino population. One need not deny the reality of prejudicial treatment of Latinos to recognize another reality as more salient: Immigration policies and practices that actively encourage the formation of a low-skilled, poorly educated population of immigrant labor from Mexico and other Latin American nations. As the recent debates over immigration confirm, the United States positively demands an underclass of workers and finds it convenient to obtain most of them from nearby Mexico....
Posted on: Monday, February 25, 2008 - 23:20
SOURCE: NYT (2-24-08)
ON Feb. 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed his place in the history books by telling a crowd in Wheeling, W.Va., that the State Department was full of Communists. “We are not dealing with spies who get 30 pieces of silver to steal the blueprint of a new weapon,” he said. “We are dealing with a far more sinister type of activity because it permits the enemy to guide and shape our policy.” The claim was baseless, scurrilous — and plagiarized. The same words, practically verbatim, had been spoken on the floor of the House of Representatives two weeks earlier, by Representative Richard M. Nixon of California.
Senator McCarthy’s wholesale borrowing was discovered only years later. Had reporters noticed it sooner, he might have run into a different kind of trouble than he did, for the press loves a plagiarism quarrel. Consider the well-aired sins of numerous writers in recent years — and last week’s back-and-forth over Senator Barack Obama’s uncredited use of the words of others.
Last weekend it was reported that Mr. Obama used on the presidential campaign trail a rhetorical set-piece first spoken by Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, a friend and co-chairman of his campaign. The sequence contained famous political lines followed by the refrain “Just words” — a gibe meant to rebut the taunt of his rival, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, that he offers voters only speeches, not deeds. Mr. Obama acknowledged that the failure to cite Mr. Patrick was an error, if an unimportant one. In Thursday’s debate, Mr. Obama said he thought it was “silly” that this was even under discussion. Mrs. Clinton pressed the case, saying, “If your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words.”
Mr. Obama is unusual among politicians for having written a memoir praised for its literary skill and for being the author of at least some of his own finely wrought speeches. That reputation is partly why the suggestion of plagiarism was startling to some. Hendrik Hertzberg, who was a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, wrote on his blog at newyorker.com that Mr. Obama’s was “not a mortal sin,” but rather a “damaging mistake ... given that Obama’s eloquence and ‘authenticity’ are so central to his appeal.”
When professional writers borrow words without attribution, they’re frequently censured, sometimes fiercely. It’s natural, however, that when politicians do something similar — and particularly when the words are spoken — they are forgiven....
Posted on: Sunday, February 24, 2008 - 22:31
SOURCE: Dissent Magazine (Winter 2008) (2-1-08)
LIKE SO many of my generation who did voter registration work in the South during the 1960s, I have been saddened by the debate that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sparked over whether Martin Luther King or President Lyndon Johnson was responsible for the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination in hiring and public accommodations. Instead of providing voters with a thoughtful view of the recent past, Clinton and Obama combined to offer a crude, “great man” theory of history in which King's vision and Johnson's pragmatism were portrayed as antithetical forces.
The debate has quieted down. But it should not be allowed to fade from the headlines without a reminder of the lesson this controversy threatened to obscure—blacks and whites across America relied on one another to make the Civil Rights Act of 1964 a reality.
The act had its legislative origins in a June 11, 1963 speech that President John Kennedy delivered on national television after Justice Department officials, aided by federal marshals, forced Alabama Governor George Wallace to stand aside while two black students were admitted to the previously segregated University of Alabama. “If an American, because his skin is dark . . . cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place?” Kennedy asked the country.
But Kennedy's speech, which was followed hours later by the murder of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Jackson, did not guarantee a speedy passage of civil rights legislation. A coalition of southern Democrats and conservative Republicans stood in the way and the best that Kennedy could do before his November 22 assassination was to get his civil rights bill voted out of committee.
It fell to President Lyndon Johnson to get Kennedy's civil rights legislation enacted. Soon after taking office, Johnson made his intentions clear. “We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights,” he told a joint session of Congress on November 27. “It is time now to write the next chapter and to write it in books of law.” At this same time, Martin Luther King was playing a crucial role in shaping public opinion. His April 16 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and his August 28 speech “I Have a Dream” galvanized millions of Americans who in the past had remained passive when support for civil rights was needed.
Still, it was not until 1964 that Kennedy's civil rights bill got through Congress. On February 10, the House passed the bill by a vote of 290 to 130 and on June 19, in the wake of a record-breaking 75-day filibuster, which took up 534 hours, the Senate passed its version of the civil rights bill by a 73 to 27 margin. Now Lyndon Johnson began pressuring Congress to reach agreement on a bill that he could sign by July 4.
At this moment, Johnson benefited not only from the civil rights coalition led by Martin Luther King but from the grassroots work of Bob Moses, then a young organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who had been active in Mississippi since 1961. ...
Posted on: Friday, February 22, 2008 - 18:57
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (2-21-08)
Westerners opposed to the application of the Islamic law (the Shari‘a) watch with dismay as it goes from strength to strength in their countries – harems increasingly accepted, a church leader endorsing Islamic law, a judge referring to the Koran, clandestine Muslim courts meting out justice. What can be done to stop the progress of this medieval legal system so deeply at odds with modern life, one that oppresses women and turns non-Muslims into second-class citizens?
A first step is for Westerners to mount a united front against the Shari‘a. Facing near-unanimous hostility, Islamists back down. For one example, note the retreat last week by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in a dispute concerning guide dogs used by the blind.
Muslims traditionally consider dogs impure animals to be avoided, creating an aversion that becomes problematic when Muslim store-owners or taxi drivers deny service to blind Westerners relying on service dogs. I have collected fifteen such cases on my weblog, at"Muslim Taxi Drivers vs. Seeing-Eye Dogs": five from the United States (New Orleans, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Brooksville, Fl.; Everett, Wash.); four from Canada (Vancouver, twice in Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Alberta); three from the United Kingdom (Cambridge, twice in London); two from Australia (Melbourne, Sydney); and one from Norway (Oslo).
News accounts quote Muslim cabbies rudely rejecting blind would-be passengers, yelling at them,"No dog, No dog, Get out, get out";"Get that dog out of here"; and"No dogs, no dogs." The blind find themselves rejected, humiliated, abandoned, insulted, or even injured, left in the rain, dropped in the middle of nowhere, made late for an appointment, or caused to miss a flight.
Australian Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes and his guide dog. Innes is often denied service by taxi drivers.
However, when the police and the courts are called in, the legal rights of the blind to their basic needs and their dignity almost always trump the Muslim dislike for dogs. The Muslim proprietor or driver invariably finds himself admonished, fined, re-educated, warned, or even jailed. The judge who found a cabby's behavior to be"a total disgrace" spoke for many.
CAIR, realizing that its approach had failed in the courts of both law and of public opinion, suddenly and nimbly switched sides. In a cynical maneuver, for example, it organized 300 cabbies in Minneapolis to provide free rides for participants at a National Federation of the Blind conference. (Unconvinced by this obvious ploy, a federation official responded:"We really are uncomfortable … with the offer of getting free rides. We don't think that solves anything. We believe the cabdrivers need to realize that the law says they will not turn down a blind person.") And, finally, last week, the Canadian office of CAIR issued a statement urging Muslims to accommodate blind taxi passengers, quoting a board member that"Islam allows for dogs to be used by the visually impaired."
CAIR's capitulation contains an important lesson: When Westerners broadly agree on rejecting a specific Islamic law or tradition and unite against it, Western Islamists must adjust to the majority's will. Guide dogs for the blind represent just one of many such consensus issues; others tend to involve women, such as husbands beating wives, the burqa head coverings, female genital mutilation, and"honor" killings. Western unity can also compel Islamists to denounce their preferred positions in areas such as slavery and Shar‘i-compliant finances.
Other Islam-derived practices do not (yet) exist in the West but do prevail in the Muslim world. These include punishing a woman for being raped, exploiting children as suicide bombers, and executing offenders for such crimes as converting out of Islam, adultery, having a child out of wedlock, or witchcraft. Western solidarity can win concessions in these areas too.
If Westerners stick together, the Shari‘a is doomed. If we do not, we are doomed.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Friday, February 22, 2008 - 18:51
SOURCE: RealClearPolitics.com (2-21-08)
The rhetoric of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton about the sad state of America is reminiscent of the suspect populism of John Edwards, the millionaire lawyer who recently dropped out of the Democratic presidential race.
Barack Obama may have gone to exclusive private schools. He and his wife may both be lawyers who between them have earned four expensive Ivy League degrees. They may make about a million dollars a year, live in an expensive home and send their kids to prep school. But they are still apparently first-hand witnesses to how the American dream has gone sour. Two other Ivy League lawyers, Hillary and Bill, are multimillionaires who have found America to be a land of riches beyond most people's imaginations. But Hillary also talks of the tragic lost dream of America.
In these gloom-and-doom narratives by the well off, we less fortunate Americans are doing almost everything right, but still are not living as well as we deserve to be. And the common culprit is a government that is not doing enough good for us, and corporations that do too much bad to us.
In the new pessimistic indictment, the home mortgage meltdown has not occurred because too many speculative buyers were hoping to flip houses for quick profits. It had nothing to do with misguided attempts of government and lending institutions to put first-time buyers in homes through zero-down payments, interest-only loans, and subprime but adjustable mortgage rates - as part of liberal efforts to increase home ownership rates.
And there apparently are few Americans who unwisely borrowed against their homes a second and third time to remodel or purchase big-ticket consumer items - on the belief that their equity would always be rising faster than their debts. Nor are we to look at this downturn as part of a historical boom-and-bust cycle in the housing industry - the present low prices and non-performing loans the natural counter-response to the overpriced real estate of the last five years....
Posted on: Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 18:28
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (2-20-08)
More than 1,000 feminists have signed a statement criticizing Hillary Clinton and supporting Obama for president - evidence that Clinton's support among women activists continues to decline. The group,"Feminists for Peace", started out with 100 signers before the super-Tuesday primaries, and has 1,200 signers two weeks later.
Clinton's support for the war in Iraq was the leading reason she lost the support of the feminists, along with the fact that"until quite recently [she] opposed all legislative efforts to bring the war and occupation to an end." The group added,"We urgently need a presidential candidate whose first priority is to address domestic needs."
Those endorsing Obama include writer Barbara Ehrenreich; longtime peace activist Cora Weiss; Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation; Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times writer Margo Jefferson; women's rights historians Alice Kessler Harris and Linda Gordon; political scientist Frances Fox Piven and actor/activist Susan Sarandon.
"Choosing to support Senator Obama was not an easy decision for us," the group stated,"because electing a woman president would be a cause for celebration in itself." They"deplored" the"sexist attacks against Senator Clinton that have circulated in the media." But, they stated, they nevertheless supported Obama because his election"would be another historic achievement" and because"his support for gender equality has been unwavering."
This group joins other prominent feminists who have turned against Hillary and endorsed Obama, including Kate Michelman, president for 20 years of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the country's leading reproductive rights group, and Ellen Bravo, former director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women.
Meanwhile an opposing group of 250 feminists has responded with a statement supporting Clinton. Led by historians Ellen Carol DuBois from UCLA and Christine Stansell from the University of Chicago, the group includes writers Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, CUNY Women's Studies professor Michele Wallace, Blanche Wiesen Cook, biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Peg Yorkin of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Their statement says that, in supporting the war, Clinton"made a major mistake." While acknowledging that Obama opposed the war from the start, the group declared that his opposition" carried no risks and indeed, promised to pay big dividends in his liberal Democratic district."
Obama, they wrote,"has no monopoly on inspiration." They praised Clinton's"brains, grace under pressure, ideas, and the skill to make them real: we call that inspiring," they said.
A third feminist statement blasted the Clinton supporters as"'either/or' feminists determined to see to it that a woman occupies the Oval Office." Eve Ensler, author of"The Vagina Monologues," and Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia, declared that the pro-Clinton feminists"interrogate, chastise, second-guess and even denounce those who escape their encampment and find themselves on Obama terrain. In their hands feminism, like patriotism, is the all-encompassing prism that eliminates discussion, doubt and difference about whom to vote for and why."
Posted on: Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 17:02
SOURCE: Nation (2-20-08)
It is too soon to write Fidel Castro's political obituary. "I am not saying goodbye to you," he wrote in his February 19 resignation letter to fellow Cubans. "I wish only to fight as a soldier of ideas," meaning that even as he formally steps aside as maximum leader, he will pursue his retirement career as the world's most famous opinion-page columnist. Still, it is clear that the post-Fidel era in Cuba is now beginning.
As Cubans approach a National Assembly meeting February 24 to name Fidel's replacement, his announcement clears the way for the country to look forward, not backward. All expectations are that Raul Castro will be ratified as president of Cuba--although Fidel omitted any direct reference to his brother and designated heir in his letter, raising the possibility that younger disciples from what he calls "the intermediate generation" could emerge. Whoever steps up to the podium on Sunday in Havana will lead the Cuban revolution into its next phase.
Already, over the past nineteen months, Raul has raised expectations that post-Fidel economic changes will address the serious hardships in the daily lives of Cubans: housing shortages, transportation problems, low wages and few jobs. Known as a manager rather than a speechmaker, Raul has called on Cubans at all levels to engage in a fuller debate over the solutions to Cuba's many problems. While the political orientation of the regime seems immutable, many Cubans now harbor hope that the tight socialist reins on the economy will soon be loosened. The challenge for Cuba's new leadership, having created widespread expectations, will be to actually meet them.
While most authoritarians only leave power in a coffin or a coup, Fidel Castro is leaving on his own terms. Fidel has survived long enough to see the revolution he led so institutionalized that it will endure without him. He has been in power long enough to transform his country from a small Caribbean island into a major player on the international stage. He has lasted long enough to watch other major nations in Latin America move closer to his worldview, so that Cuba is no longer isolated in the region. And he has outlasted those who tried to isolate and destroy him--no fewer than ten US Presidents who, through paramilitary assaults, assassination attempts, economic embargoes and diplomatic pressures, have embraced a policy that seeks to overthrow Castro and roll back his revolution.
The seamless shift in power completed by Fidel's resignation marks the latest failure in five decades of US policy toward Cuba. The Bush Administration's special Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba explicitly called for "transition not succession"--only three weeks before Fidel ceded power to his brother on July 31, 2006, as he fell ill with intestinal disease. Only last November, Bush issued a call on the Cuban people to rise up--and warned the Cuban military not to shoot them if they did--as if Cuba were ready to throw off the shackles of Communist Party rule, which is clearly deeply entrenched. Even with Fidel on the sidelines, there is no indication that his revolution will miss its fiftieth anniversary at the end of this year.
That anniversary will coincide with the inauguration of a new President of the United States, who will have a golden opportunity to bring an end to fifty years of perpetual--and futile--antagonism in Washington's posture toward Havana. To be sure, at word of Fidel's resignation, the candidates fell all over themselves to declare that the United States should redress its hostile position only if, as Barack Obama stated, "the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change." But the worldview of an aspirant with an eye on the swing state of Florida in November is different from that of a President sitting in the Oval Office.
From that vantage point, the next President will face the stark realities of Cuba policy, which has failed for fifty years to meet its goals. It has given hard-liners in Castro's circle a real threat around which to rally state security forces; isolated Washington among its allies far more than it has isolated Cuba among its enemies; undermined US national interests on trade, environment, immigration and counternarcotics collaboration in the Caribbean; and diverted resources from the fight against terrorism into violating the constitutional rights of US citizens to travel abroad freely. "Our policy leaves us without influence at this critical moment, and this serves neither U.S. national interest nor average Cubans, the intended beneficiaries of our policy," more than 100 bipartisan members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, urging a major review of sanctions against Cuba now that Fidel has departed. "After fifty years it is time for us to think and act anew."
Whether Fidel will live long enough to see the end of the US embargo, and the recognition from his arch-enemy to the north that would come with normalized bilateral relations, remains to be seen. But he retreats from the political scene confident that his ideas and actions have left a legendary mark on his country, the Third World and US relations with both. "Our enemies should not delude themselves," Castro states in "After Fidel: What?" the appropriately titled last chapter of his recently published memoir, Fidel Castro: My Life. "I die tomorrow and my influence may actually increase. I said once that the day I really die, nobody's going to believe it. I may be carried around like El Cid--even after he was dead his men carried him around on his horse, winning battles."
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 16:13
SOURCE: Edge of the American West (2-20-08)
About two weeks ago, a news producer for one of the television stations in Sacramento called to ask me, “Will Barack Obama be our first black president?” I didn’t write about this at the time, because I was a bit freaked out and didn’t want to make sport of someone I don’t know. But the time has come to tell the story.
I was taken aback by the question itself, I have to admit. I first sputtered something like, “Um, it’s too soon to know.” And then I gathered myself and launched into a minutes-long discussion of race as a social construction, focusing especially on the Phipps case and Omi and Winant’s ideas about racial formation. I elevated the discourse, in other words. And I was in rare form, offering a rock-solid lecture to a keen audience of one. It was gripping. Producer Man (PM) was gripped.
So gripped that he didn’t say a word until I paused for breath. Then PM interjected, “No, I mean, hasn’t there already been a black president? I mean hasn’t there been a president with black blood.” I started hemming and hawing: “Oh, black blood, well, hmm.” Until, finally, I said, “I don’t mean to be rude. Really, I don’t. But where did you say you’re calling from? Because you sound like a white supremacist, talking about blood purity.” And that really took him aback. He was no longer enthralled by the subtlety of my disqusition. “No,” he sputtered, “I’m not white [well, okay then]. I’m just saying that Obama has black blood. But he’s not the first, right? He won’t be the first black president?” “That’s all I’m saying,” he added rather more angrily than I considered necessary. To which I inquired, “You’re talking about Clinton?” “Nope,” came his answer, “I mean Harding. Didn’t Harding have black blood?”
I caught my breath, laughed, and said, “Dude, Harding was white. That rumor was a smear used by his political opponents. There wasn’t any truth to it.” And that was that. Or so I thought. But then I started wondering. Not if Harding was African-American. But where the stories to that effect had originated. John Dean (yes, that John Dean), in his biography of Harding, notes that rumors of African-American ancestry swirled around Warren G. (as his homeys called him) during his childhood. Later, Harding’s father-in-law, desperate to break up his daugter’s relationship with young Warren, amplified the charges. And finally, Harding’s political oppononents did run with the lies, including during Harding’s campaign for the presidency.
So, here’s the thing: last night, in the wake of Obama’s huge victory in Wisconsin, the great Ogged of the great Unfogged wondered: “One question now is what else the Clinton’s will try to use against Obama, or whether they have something up their sleeve for the debates?” I have no idea what the answer to that might be. But I do know that if Obama is the nominee — we still aren’t there yet — we’re going to start hearing a lot more questions like PM’s: supposedly innocuous queries about the man’s racial identity, often with a subtext of whether he “shares our values.”
And don’t look now, but the great Katherine points out that it’s already happening. Over at National Review Online’s squalid gossip rag, the corner, super-classy Lisa Schiffren is wondering about “Obama’s Political Origins.” You see, it’s not really about race at all. She just want to know why Obama’s white mother would have had sex with his father, a black man. And the answer is: Communism! Simple. Honestly, that’s her argument. White women, in Schiffren’s experience, didn’t make babies with black men unless there’s a reason, usually politics, especially radical politics:
Obama and I are roughly the same age. I grew up in liberal circles in New York City — a place to which people who wished to rebel against their upbringings had gravitated for generations. And yet, all of my mixed race, black/white classmates throughout my youth, some of whom I am still in contact with, were the product of very culturally specific unions. They were always the offspring of a white mother, (in my circles, she was usually Jewish, but elsewhere not necessarily) and usually a highly educated black father. And how had these two come together at a time when it was neither natural nor easy for such relationships to flourish? Always through politics. No, not the young Republicans. Usually the Communist Youth League. Or maybe a different arm of the CPUSA. But, for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics.
Let’s be clear about two things. First, Schiffren’s still in touch with some of the “mixed race” people who grew up in her ‘hood. Make no mistake about it: some of her friends are beige. And second, she talks to these people even though the unions that created them weren’t “natural.” In short, she’s an open-minded person with “mixed race” friends, unnatural friends to be sure, but friends nevertheless. Well, she doesn’t actually allow that they’re her friends. But she’s in touch with them. Which is nice. You could even say it’s mighty white of her. But that might be gratuitous.
Beyond that, after admitting that she has no idea how Obama’s parents actually met, Schiffren points to another article, from the fair and balanced site, Accuracy in Media, noting that, in Hawaii, the Obamas “had close relations with a known black Communist intellectual.” Then, after explaining that the Commie in question, Frank Marshall Davis, “mentored” Barack Obama in some way, Schiffren arrives here:
Political correctness was invented precisely to prevent the mainstream liberal media from persuing the questions which might arise about how Senator Obama’s mother, from Kansas, came to marry an African graduate student. Love? Sure, why not? But what else was going on around them that made it feasible?
It was, of course, an explicit tactic of the Communist party to stir up discontent among American blacks, with an eye toward using them as the leading edge of the revolution.
Before finishing up with a flourish:
Time for some investigative journalism about the Obama family’s background, now that his chances of being president have increased so much.
Let the games begin. Oh, and I got another phone message from PM this morning. It seems that he wants to talk again. Maybe because I was so helpful the last time. It almost makes me feel bad for Warren Harding. Not that there’s anything wrong with having “black blood.” But a black Communist? Now that’s worth investigating.
[Update: Reading Henry at Crooked Timber, I realize that Belle Waring has posted on this already. Which offers me the chance to reiterate that I heart Belle Waring. But not in a creepy way. At all. Really. And Crooked Timber’s okay, too.]
Posted on: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 - 21:08
SOURCE: Nation (2-19-08)
America seems to be holding its breath, trying to decide what kind of country we want to be. The current presidential election may provide an answer.
Political campaigns don't ignite grassroots movements for change, but politicians, by their rhetoric and actions, can encourage or discourage people from joining crusades for social justice. They can give voice and lend credibility to people working for a better society.
In recent weeks, Hillary Clinton and some of her supporters have taken to criticizing Barack Obama for his charisma, his inspiring speeches and his campaign's boisterous rallies. "There's a big difference between us--speeches versus solutions," Clinton said February 14 in Ohio. "Talk versus action. You know, some people may think words are change. But you and I know better. Words are cheap."
The Clintonites say that Obama is peddling "false hopes." They suggest that the fervor of the crowds at his rallies is somehow "creepy," as though his followers are like a herd of sheep who would follow Obama off a cliff.
But Obama is clearly touching a nerve in America's body politic--a pent-up idealism that seeks not utopia but simply a more decent society. Obama can recite his list of policy prescriptions as well as, perhaps even better than, most politicians. But he also views this campaign as an opportunity to praise and promote the organizers and activists on the front lines of grassroots movements and to explain what it will take to bring about change. A onetime organizer himself, Obama knows that, if elected, his ability to reform healthcare, improve labor laws, tackle global warming and restore job security and living wages will depend, in large measure, on whether he can use his bully pulpit to mobilize public opinion and encourage Americans to battle powerful corporate interests and members of Congress who resist change.
Talking about the need to forge a new energy policy during a speech in Milwaukee on Saturday, Obama explained, "I know how hard it will be to bring about change. Exxon Mobil made $11 billion this past quarter. They don't want to give up their profits easily."
The dictionary defines "encourage" as "give hope to"--and that's an important role for a public official, including a President. In his 2002 book, A History of Hope: When Americans Have Dared to Dream of a Better Future, New York University historian James Fraser examined the nation's history from the bottom up. He showed how ordinary people have achieved extraordinary things by mobilizing movements for change. But it is also true that at critical moments, a few Presidents--including Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson--embraced these movements and helped propel them forward.
Obama, who called his recent book The Audacity of Hope, understands this history. In his speech in Milwaukee, he challenged Clinton and others who accuse him of being what he termed a "hope-monger." His opponents, Obama said, think that "if you talk about hope, you must not have a clear view of reality."
Hope, Obama countered, is not "blind optimism" or "ignoring the challenges that stand in your way."
Obama explained that during his twenty years as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, state legislator and US senator, "I've won some good fights and I've also lost some fights because good intentions are not enough, when not fortified with political will and political power."
"Nothing in this country worthwhile has ever happened except when somebody somewhere was willing to hope," Obama insisted, reviewing the history of American movements for social justice, starting with the patriots who led the fight for independence from England.
"That is how workers won the right to organize against violence and intimidation. That's how women won the right to vote. That's how young people traveled south to march and to sit in and to be beaten, and some went to jail and some died for freedom's cause."
Change comes about, Obama said, by "imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, what did not seem possible before."
That's the lesson that Fraser recounts in A History of Hope. Starting with the revolutionaries of 1776, he shows how activists have built powerful rank-and-file movements through hard work and organization, guided by leaders who have combined empathy, political savvy and that elusive quality we call charisma.
Fraser examines the abolitionists who helped end slavery; the progressive housing and health reformers who fought slums, sweatshops and epidemic diseases in the early 1900s; the suffragists who battled to give women the vote; the labor unionists who fought for the eight- hour workday, better working conditions and living wages; the civil rights pioneers who helped dismantle Jim Crow; and the activists who since the 1960s have won hard-fought victories for environmental protection, women's equality, decent conditions for farmworkers and gay rights.
The activists who propelled these movements were a diverse group. They included middle-class reformers and upper-class do-gooders, working-class immigrants and family farmers, slaves and sharecroppers, clergy and journalists, Democrats and Republicans, socialists and socialites. What they shared was a strong belief that things should be better and that things could be better.
Abraham Lincoln was initially reluctant to divide the nation over the issue of slavery, but he eventually gave voice to the rising tide of abolitionism, a movement that had started decades earlier and was gaining momentum but could not succeed without an ally in the White House.
Woodrow Wilson was initially hostile to the women's suffrage movement. He was not happy at the sight of women picketing in front of the White House, a tactic designed to embarrass him. But eventually he changed his attitude, in part for political expedience and in part through a sincere change of heart, and spoke out in favor of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in an address to the Senate. Women gained the right to vote in 1920 only after suffragists combined decades of dramatic protest (including hunger strikes and mass marches) with inside lobbying and appeals to the consciences of male legislators--some of whom were the husbands and fathers of the protesters.
In the 1930s, workers engaged in massive and illegal sit-down strikes in factories throughout the country. In Michigan--where workers had taken over a number of auto plants--a sympathetic governor, Democrat Frank Murphy, refused to allow the National Guard to eject the protesters even after they had defied an injunction to evacuate the factories. His mediating role helped end the strike on terms that provided a victory for the workers and their union.
President Franklin Roosevelt recognized that his ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protesters. He once told a group of activists who sought his support for legislation, "You've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it." As the protests escalated throughout the country, Roosevelt became more vocal, using his bully pulpit to lash out at big business and to promote workers' rights. Labor organizers felt confident in proclaiming, "FDR wants you to join the union." With Roosevelt setting the tone, and with allies like Senator Robert Wagner maneuvering in Congress, labor protests helped win legislation guaranteeing workers' right to organize, the minimum wage and the forty-hour week.
President John Kennedy was a hard-line cold warrior and ambivalent, at best, about the emerging civil rights movement. Despite this, his youth and his famous call to public service ("Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country") inspired Americans, especially young people, to challenge the nation's racial status quo.
When Lyndon Johnson took office after JFK's assassination, few expected the Texan--a stalwart New Deal liberal but, like FDR and JFK, no civil rights crusader--to embrace the Rev. Martin Luther King and his followers. At the time, many Americans, including LBJ, viewed King as a dangerous radical. However, the willingness of activists to put their bodies on the line against fists and fire hoses tilted public opinion. The movement's civil disobedience, rallies and voter registration drives pricked Americans' conscience. These efforts were indispensable for changing how Americans viewed the plight of blacks and for putting the civil rights at the top of the nation's agenda. LBJ recognized that the nation's mood was changing. The civil rights activism transformed Johnson from a reluctant advocate to a powerful ally.
King and other civil rights leaders recognized that the movement needed Johnson to take up their cause, attract more attention and "close the deal" through legislation. King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the August 1963 March on Washington inspired the nation and symbolized the necessity of building a mass movement from the bottom up. LBJ's address to a joint session of Congress in March 1965--in which he used the phrase "We shall overcome" to urge support for the Voting Rights Act--put the President's stamp of approval on civil rights activism. Johnson said, "There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans--not as Democrats or Republicans. We are met here as Americans to solve that problem."
Not all Presidents rise to the occasion. Some straddle the fence, forgoing the opportunity to rally Americans around their better instincts. And some actively resist movements for justice, siding with the forces of bigotry and reaction.
Obama recognizes that some candidates and public officials engage in demagoguery: "I've seen how politicians can be used to make us afraid of each other. How fear can cloud our judgment. When suddenly we start scapegoating gay people, or immigrants, or people who don't look like us, or Muslims, because our own lives aren't going well."
And he clearly understands that as a candidate, and as President, he can give voice to those on the front lines of a grassroots movement trying to unite Americans around a common vision for positive change. "That's leadership," he told the enthusiastic crowd in Milwaukee last week.
Then Obama called on the crowd to "keep on marching, and organizing, and knocking on doors, and making phone calls." Yes, he was asking them to work on his campaign, but he was also encouraging them to see themselves as part of the long chain of change, the history of hope, that has often made the radical ideas of one generation the common sense of future generations.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 - 18:04