Archive for the ‘Obama’ Category

When Harry Met Hugo

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Harry Belafonte — a man who’s given us great music, a man who put himself on the line during the civil rights era — is one of a number of celebrities to have spent the last several years shilling for the ruthless Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez.

Supporters of Chavez often argue indignantly that the man is no dictator, that he was democratically elected. But look around the world and it’s easy to see: being democratically elected does not mean governing democratically. According to Human Rights Watch, “[T]he [Chavez] government has systematically undermined free expression, workers’ freedom of association, and the ability of human rights groups to function.” HRW’s full 2012 report on Venezuela is here, and it’s grim.

Chavez is also a proud ally of the virulently antisemitic Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He’s given vocal and even material support to the Assad regime throughout its ongoing slaughter of Syrian civilians.

If any of this disturbs Harry Belafonte, or fellow Chavez dupes such as Sean Penn and Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, they’ve yet to indicate it. And yet now, in 2012, we have Belafonte declaring that U.S. capitalism “is taking us to the doorstep of [a] Fourth Reich, I think.” A Fourth Reich.

Chavez runs Venezuela into the ground and backs some of the most heinous regimes in the world, and Belafonte gives him a free pass, even a big thumbs-up. “Viva la revolucion!” But oh, that Obama – better hold that man’s feet to the fire. Better call him out. No criticism is too harsh. Compare the U.S. to Nazi Germany? Why not.

Sorry, but when it comes to democratic advocacy, Belafonte’s credentials are in tatters. Not Obama’s.

Glenn Greenwald thinks he understands Egypt

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Regarding the protests against Hillary Clinton that occurred in Alexandria, Egypt, Glenn Greenwald tweeted this:







And then this:






As if the Arab world is one undifferentiated mass of anger at the U.S.

In fact, this report (hat tip David Toube via FB) on the demonstrations includes the following line:

“The protest appears to have been the result of suspicions that Washington had helped the Muslim Brotherhood win elections in Egypt in the wake of last year’s ouster of president Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of massive street protests.”

In other words, the protesters were not voicing their anger at the U.S. for propping up Mubarak. They were apparently voicing their anger over a perceived U.S. tilt toward the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak’s longtime arch-nemesis. Such is the view of at least this one particular group of Egyptians, and it’s not my intention to comment on it.

But I will say that Greenwald’s Iraq analogy is inapt, and it reveals much about his simplistic Chomsky-ish view of foreign policy. It goes something like this: America has done bad things in country x. Therefore, the people of country x are angry at America. And that’s all that liberal and lefty Americans really need to know about the events unfolding in country x.

PS: Note the placard in the third photo in this story about the demonstrations: “Message to Hillary: Egypt will never be Pakistan.” What does that mean? I’m not exactly sure, but it merits further inquiry. It could mean that Egypt won’t tolerate violations of its sovereignty, as many believe has occurred in Pakistan. Or it could mean Egypt cannot be allowed to be overrun by religious extremists, as has definitely occurred in Pakistan. Again, I’m not sure, but it points to something far more complex than Greenwald is comfortable dealing with.

Remembering the fallen

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

The New York City Firefighters Memorial, one of the most peaceful locations in the city, two blocks from my apartment. I sat there often to reflect in the days after 9/11.

Hard to believe it’s been nine years since I emerged from the N/R station at 8th Street at about 9:20 a.m., to see a huge cloud of dark smoke high in the sky — actually not an unthinkable sight in New York, so I wasn’t particularly alarmed until I reached my office on Lafayette near East 4th. There, from the roof, I watched the buildings burn, standing near a co-worker who was essentially watching her brother die.

I’m very sorry to see the memory of this event turned into a circus by some shrunken, ignorant and self-seeking politicians and pundits, among others, but very grateful that we have a president with the integrity and presence of mind to say this.

In support of Cordoba House

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

I’m proud that the president of my country, and the mayor of my city, have spoken out forcefully against the bigoted campaign to block the construction of a Muslim community center on Park Place in lower Manhattan. This is a phony issue ginned up by the right, in fact part of a wider outburst of xenophobia that actually has little to do with the hallowed 9/11 site itself. And the fact that a demagogue like Newt Gingrich can now accuse President Obama of “pandering to radical Islam” gives you a good idea of what the game plan was from the beginning.

For Obama, this is not the time to back-pedal.

Ironically, Gingrich’s smear coincides with this extensive report, on Obama’s significantly stepped-up war against radical Islam. The facts are in front of us.

I’m saddened to know that a majority of my fellow New Yorkers disagree with Mayor Bloomberg, and my advice to them would be to look beyond New York’s borders — I know, it’s so difficult — and learn something about the internal divisions in the Muslim world. Jeffrey Goldberg put it most effectively: “If he could, Bin Laden would bomb the Cordoba Initiative.” Or as President Obama noted, “Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion.”

This is something I’ve said a thousand times before on this blog — and it’s something equally ignored by the Rush Limbaugh right and the Code Pink left: The chief victims of jihadi violence are Muslims. It’s time for Americans to get over their narcissism and understand what this means.

The Cordoba Initiative must go forward. It is an eloquent rejection of jihadi ideology, a powerful alliance of pluralist Islam and the Western democratic ideal.

As for the sensitivities of the 9/11 families: There are other 9/11 families who passionately disagree with the effort to demonize Cordoba. Why do their opinions not count? Muslims, too, were among the 9/11 victims. And in case you think that the ADL speaks for the entire Jewish community on this issue, please read this.

Obama’s spill speech fallout

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

The right is blasting Obama’s Oval Office speech for pushing too hard on costly clean energy initiatives. Wait a minute, the left is blasting Obama’s speech for not pushing nearly hard enough on clean energy initiatives.

What is going on here? To me it looks like a de facto left-right alliance to tear down this president halfway into his term.

The right’s pro-oil agenda is clear enough. As for the left, I’m beginning to think there are those who just love to proclaim their disappointment — the more extravagant and apocalyptic, the better.

“Where is the President Obama whom we believed in? Where did he go?” wrote one friend on Facebook. “I do not understand why he did not announce the commandeering of oil tankers,” wrote Yobie Benjamin, knowing full well that there was no way Obama was going to do any such thing. But this is the routine: Hold Obama to expectations yanked from unreality, then announce your shock that he failed to meet them. “Mr. President, you failed your first Oval Office speech,” Benjamin continues. “I am only one supporter, a decline-to-state, one blogger and though I lean progressive and will continue to do so, I hope someone runs in a primary against you. I’d love to look at progressive options.”

Good luck with that. How wearying, this sort of petulance.

Look, I’m not saying it was a great speech. But some of the reactions on the left seem to issue from an alternate universe. The president did not lay out a vision for a clean energy future? Didn’t he say this?

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. […] We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.

And today we read that the president got the $20 billion escrow account from BP, an amount that is uncapped and will probably grow.

I understand some of the criticisms — it’s taking too long, he’s not channeling the public’s anger, etc. But many on the left are at a point where they just will not give Obama any credit, for anything. And when 2012 rolls around, by failing to rise to this president’s defense in the face of what is sure to be the ugliest right-wing assault yet, they might just help Sarah Palin take over Washington.

Obama’s Cantor smackdown

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Conventional wisdom remains that our president is a wimp, spineless, etc., which flies in the face of jujitsu moments like this (hat tip Marc Cooper):

And that’s not to deny that Obama, in his way, makes use of political theater, which is what that health care summit was. But taking the opportunity to call out Republicans on their nonsense for six hours on national TV — is that a meaningless exercise or a cave-in? I don’t think so. Give the man a bit of credit already.

Hands, teleprompters

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

“Which is more egregious?” [McCain] asked reporters. “Reading a word from your hand or from a teleprompter?”

From this story on the increasingly odious John McCain and his bumbling, near-pitiable defense of Sarah Palin. (Hat tip Marc Cooper.)
I’m stating the obvious but I can’t help myself: President Obama, like his predecessors, and like Palin herself at the 2008 Republican Convention, uses a teleprompter when delivering lengthy prepared speeches. When Palin read crib notes from her hand, she was in an informal Q&A session — precisely the setting in which an informed candidate would not need crib notes. The equivalent situation would be for our current president to read notes scrawled on his hand during a White House press conference.
John McCain knows this to be so, and that makes his comment above all the more cynical, dishonest and disgraceful.

Giuliani vs. the facts

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Lerner on Obama

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Josh Marshall and Marc Cooper make good sense on the Massachusetts aftermath, and although I remain a staunch Obama supporter, I can agree with this from Cooper:

Obama conceded way too much power to a feckless and literally corrupt Congress. He pandered to such dolts as Baucus and Lieberman instead of going to the Hill early on and sternly warning his delegation that he was elected on a mandate of real change and real change is what he wanted and wanted NOW.
True enough. But most of the other analyses I’ve seen amount to: “Obama didn’t affirm my worldview at every step during the first year, therefore his presidency is a flop,” and on and on. That’s the gist of this post by Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine. Positively oozing with self-importance, Lerner’s screed hinges on the ludicrous suggestion, taken as a mere given, that the MA election went down as it did because Obama failed to govern like a movement leftist.
As long as I’m discussing stuff from my past: I interned for Tikkun in 1993. And I still identify with the ideal of Judaism and social justice, the mode of Jewish political engagement that drew me strongly toward Tikkun in the first place. But the last thing President Obama should do is to start expounding the worldview of Michael Lerner. It’s not as if there’s any danger of it actually happening, but just for the record.
Lerner is in some ways a complex case. To the right-wing smear artists of Discover the Networks, he’s a rabid anti-Israel ideologue on par with Yasser Arafat, although in a list of his books they of course omit The Socialism of Fools: Anti-Semitism on the Left, which would conflict with their caricature. To the editors of Palestine Solidarity Review, Lerner represents “the vanguard of the Zionist state” and wants more than anything “to keep Palestinians in their place, as as a subordinated colonized people.” So take your pick.
Normally I feel drawn to thinkers so wildly misrepresented by both the far right and the far left. But Lerner has taken what was a promising forum for ideas back in the ’80s and ’90s and flushed it. Even as far back as my internship, he was starting to turn the magazine into a platform for his own self-aggrandizement.
But he did want to move the left away from its bad habits and build something new. He published fresh, original thinking by the likes of Jay Rosen and Todd Gitlin. Today? He’s publishing James Petras on Venezuela. As Judeosphere has noted, Petras busies himself by identifying powerful Jews in what he calls the Zionist Power Configuration, and puts the word “genocide” in quotes when referring to Darfur. This is someone whose work has been trashed even in the ultra-left Monthly Review, but Lerner features him at great length. Lerner is also a dabbler in 9/11 Truth; he put his name to this document alongside Cynthia McKinney, David Ray Griffin and other cranks.
Read the posts on the Tikkun blog and you’ll find Obama being smeared as a “rightist” and a person without principles. But just keep in mind the cretins that Tikkun sees fit to highlight in its space — and Lerner’s contorted, barely readable justifications for doing so — and ask yourself: Who is the principled one?

Afghan reality checks

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

From reading Robert Greenwald’s antiwar website Rethink Afghanistan, or the work of pacifist Derrick Crowe, one of RA’s house bloggers, you would think that Obama’s plan is to reenact the My Lai massacre on a regular basis and maybe drink the blood of the victims in ritualistic triumph. Crowe writes:

I held my nose and voted for President Obama last year, fully understanding he planned to send roughly 12,000 troops to Afghanistan, fully aware that he would have to be resisted, protested, cajoled and boxed in if we were to have hope of true change….
At least Crowe, unlike Michael Moore, is honest enough to acknowledge Obama’s clearly stated campaign position rather than moan about a supposed betrayal. He goes on:
After reading this [Nobel] speech, I can honestly say I regret my vote for him. No, I don’t regret it: I repent of it. [Emphasis in original.]
Oh, really now. While Crowe is rending his garments and hurling every charge in the book at the new American president, he might want to say something about the routine carnage being caused by Islamist militants in Pakistan, or read about UN statistics establishing that the majority of Afghan civilian deaths in recent months are the result of insurgent action, not U.S. or NATO action. These things by themselves do not justify a U.S. escalation, but they form the context in which Obama reached his decision. And Crowe, as someone who condemns violence in all forms and bears witness to injustice, ought to say more about it.
It’s worth reading this Christian Science Monitor piece about Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, a man who’s been doing humanitarian work on the ground in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. While Mortenson had some sharp criticisms of how the White House reached its troop-surge decision, he is not anti-military per se. In fact, by his own account he’s acted as an unofficial Pentagon advisor, helping put civilian welfare and civilian infrastructure at the top of the agenda:
Mortenson says his respect for US commanders has grown immeasurably. […] “Our military is now actually ahead of the curve, not behind it,” he says.
And then this:
Jamal Meer, a shura elder in Paktia Province in the east, says if more US soldiers are assigned, they should be concentrated on the border with Pakistan. But if “the other kind of soldiers are sent,” he says, referring to National Guard troops with expertise in civil engineering and farming, their presence as teachers would be welcomed.

Part of McChrystal’s request specifically asks for soldiers with skills beyond warfighting.

Skills beyond warfighting. This is what will make or break Obama’s Afghan strategy. And it’s one of the many complexities that Derrick Crowe’s rigid, morally one-sided analysis doesn’t account for.