Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mort Zuckerman gets it wrong

Canadian American billionaire Mort Zuckerman has a new opinion piece in his U.S. News and World Report in which he claims -- right in the headline -- that the "world sees Obama as incompetent and amateur" in the area of foreign policy.

In an attempt to support his claim, he cites criticism of Obama on a single issue (nuclear weapons) from French President Nicolas Sarkozy (a man fighting for his political life in a country that thrives on populist anti-Americanism), scorn of "a number of Obama's visions" from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (an authoritarian who got along well with Bush), disdain from the Chinese during Obama's first visit there, disappointment and dismay from the King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (the authoritarian leader of an oppressive regime that profits off America's dependence on foreign oil), and objections from an unnamed Middle East commentator, an unnamed "renowned Asian leader," "many Arab leaders" (critical of the decision to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a civilian trial), and Leslie Gelb (who says that Obama "gives wonderful speeches" but "might confuse speeches with policy").

In other words, who cares? It's important for Obama to have broad international support for his policies, but criticism from such sources hardly carries much credibility. Furthermore, such criticism must be put in context. It is hardly surprising that Obama's policies would meet with criticism from Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, and various other such sources. Indeed, wouldn't Obama be roundly criticized if his policies met with the approval of Sarkozy, Putin, Abdullah, et al.? Do we really want a president who is (and whose policies are) beloved by what is, Sarkozy and Gelb aside, a collection of authoritarians who have no great love for liberty, democracy, and the American way?

These critics, with their generally limited criticism, hardly amount to "the world." Indeed, as a new Pew Research Center survey found, Obama is actually extremely popular around the world:

[I]n most countries, especially in wealthier nations, President Barack Obama gets an enthusiastic thumbs up for the way he has handled the world economic crisis. The notable exception is the United States itself, where as many disapprove of their president's approach to the global recession as approve. This pattern is indicative of the broader picture of global opinion in 2010. President Barack Obama remains popular in most parts of the world, although his job approval rating in the U.S. has declined sharply since he first took office.

Obama's popularity has declined at home largely, I would argue, as a result of the poor jobs situation (and a relentless Republican opposition that spews propaganda in an attempt to undermine his presidency). Around the world, though, both Obama and the U.S. are popular, with much of the world holding a favourable view of America. The notable exception is much of the Muslim world, where anti-American sentiment still prevails (except in Indonesia). That's hardly Obama's doing, though. America's image has weakened in Mexico, but that's because of Arizona's draconian anti-immigrant law, not Obama.

But that's not all Zuckerman gets wrong. Consider:

The end result is that a critical mass of influential people in world affairs who once held high hopes for the president have begun to wonder whether they misjudged the man. They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U.S. power. For example, Obama has asserted that America is not at war with the Muslim world. The problem is that parts of the Muslim world are at war with America and the West. Obama feels, fairly enough, that America must be contrite in its dealings with the Muslim world. But he has failed to address the religious intolerance, failing economies, tribalism, and gender apartheid that together contribute to jihadist extremism. This was startling and clear when he chose not to publicly support the Iranians who went to the streets in opposition to their oppressive government, based on a judgment that our support might be counterproductive. Yet, he reaches out instead to the likes of Bashar Assad of Syria, Iran's agent in the Arab world, sending our ambassador back to Syria even as it continues to rearm Hezbollah in Lebanon and expands its role in the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas alliance.

Zuckerman is fairly conservative on anything having to do with Islam and the Middle East, largely because of his pro-Israeli conservatism, so it's hardly surprising that he objects to Obama's more nuanced approach to the war on terror. Obama is right, of course, that America is not at war with the Muslim world. After all, the Muslim world includes Muslim communities in the U.S., along with friendly Muslim states like Jordan, as well as Iraq (the U.S. is still at war there, but it's not at war with Iraq). The fact that some parts of the Muslim world are at war with the U.S., extremist elements that are also at war with much of their own world, doesn't change this. Perhaps Zuckerman wants America to be at war with the Muslim world generally, and perhaps also with Islam as a faith, but the right course of action is one that does not alienate the Muslim world by treating it as a monolithic enemy. Even Bush didn't do that.

I would argue that it is similarly proper to reach out to leaders like Assad. It is much better to engage with them than to treat them like enemies and thereby to push them further away, and together, where they are much more likely to unite in common opposition to America. Even the early attempts to reach out to Iran made sense. Ahmadeinejad has been unwilling to talk in good faith, but the the attempts had to be made, if only to show Obama's willingness to seek peaceful, diplomatic solutions to difficult issues like Iran's nuclear program. And because he reached out to Tehran, and indicated to the world that he wasn't going to pursue military intervention, as some American conservatives recklessly prefer, Obama now has broad international support for sanctions.

On the Iranians who took to the streets, I would just add that they made clear that they didn't want America's direct involvement in their cause. It was clear where Obama stood, and that was with the protesters and with the reform movement generally, but he was right not to signal that support too aggressively, lest the protesters be written off as agents of Americanism. (Furthermore, the Iranian regime is not the same as Islamic jihadism, yet Zuckerman equates the two here.)

To his credit, Zuckerman does acknowledge that "Obama clearly wishes to do good and means well," but far from proving that "the world" finds Obama incompetent and amateurish, his piece simply reflects his own bias against Obama. It's a highly selective and deeply egotistical piece. And it pretty much gets it all wrong.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Feeding the narrative

By Creature

It's not so much that the GOP wants to stand up for BP, it's that the "slush fund," "shakedown" angle fits too perfectly with their Obama's-a-socialist storyline. I guess, given a choice, they're willing to be called the Party of BP. I guess, given a choice, they prefer staying the minority party. Not that I'm complaining.

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Measuring the drapes

By Creature

This should help with Dem enthusiasm:

Rep. Darrell Issa, the conservative firebrand whose specialty is lobbing corruption allegations at the Obama White House, is making plans to hire dozens of subpoena-wielding investigators if Republicans win the House this fall. [...]

In other words, Issa wants to be to the Obama administration what Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) was to the Clinton administration — a subpoena machine in search of White House scandals.

And, maybe my Bennie Babies will be worth something again too.

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More spending please

By Creature

Sixty percent of the public is game for more spending to help the economy, and the Dems can't muster the votes to do something. Of course, they're afraid that Rush Limbaugh will yell at them, so it makes perfect sense.

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More Biden please

By Creature

Pitch perfect [via GOS]:

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Sarah 867-5309

by Distributorcap

Last week, America's Queen of Energy - Sarah Palin - suggested the Obama call her for advice on plugging the Oil leak. We have a transcript of that call.

One ring-y ding-y. Two ring-y ding-y.

Hello, Barry its Sarah. I can't believe I finally got you. I have been trying to call you since you strongarmed, oops won the election, but for some reason your switchboard kept going dead on me. You really need to spend so money and hire good operators, not those rejects from ACORN. I finally got your direct line from Liz Hasselbeck. Liz stole it off Whoopi's blackberry, who has been exchanging texts with Michelle. It pays to have connections.

You know that leak-y oil-y thing-y in the Gulf of the United States. Well I betcha I have the answer to all your problems - and you don't even have to make me Secretary of State. You know that I was governor of the largest oil state. Let me just state that if those dims, um Democrats had allowed drilling in the Alaska National Welfare Refuge we wouldn't be in this position. But no-o-o-o-o.

But even though you and your terrorist friends got us into this mess, I love my country so much and I even love the pelicans more - I am going to give you the answer to all your problems. Two words - plug dikes. You should call the Norwayans and Hollanders. They have the bestest expertise in water spills and plugging dikes. They know how to stop spills, something that is missing from your resume. I have heard they offered to help, but either your peeps have not called them back or the switchboard is acting like a bunch of dictators. I told you needed new switchboard operators. Megan McCain needs a job, I can call John for you.

Oh by the way Barry, Todd used to work at BP until I became the bread winner and earned millions from Going Rogue. Have you read Going Rogue?, it is a much easier read than Hope of Audacity or whatever that book you wrote was titled. Back to Todd, I bet he could use his connections to get you a meeting with BP.

Thanks for your call Sarah, I appreciate all Americans reaching out to give there ideas on how to stop the oil lead in the Gulf of Mexico, not the Gulf of the United States. We have already spoken to the Dutch and the Norweigans about help, but I think this oil leak is a bit more complicated that a plugging the holes in dikes. I spoke with the CEO of BP today, but thank you for offering Todd's services - maybe you can offer them to your friend Michele Bachmann.

And while I have you - didn't you quit as Governor of Alaska halfway through partly due to the fact you could not take all the pressure going on around you? And if I am not mistaken, when Katie Couric asked you to name a Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade you couldn't even remember Exxon Shipping Company v. Baker, which was the Exxon Valdez oil case. And 21 years later, there are still environmental and financial problems due to that spill - that you did not clean up while your were governor for that very short period of time.

No Sarah, I think taking advice from someone who speaks like Max Headroom with the voice of Betty Boop and the brains of Wile E. Coyote is not in the cards today. But you have a nice evening Sarah, and please wave to Vladimir next time you see him through the fence.


Guys, that was Mooselini, who thinks I should plug the oil well like the Dutch plug the dikes.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Senator from Somalia

By Mustang Bobby

The more we learn about Sharron Angle, the GOP nominee for the Senate in Nevada, the more we see that she is not what you would call a believer in the mainstream of American 21st century political views:

The key to understanding Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle may be the fact that she has not always been a Republican.

For at least six years in the 1990s before she held state-level elective office, Angle was a member of the little-known Independent American Party, a right-wing party that combines elements of Ron Paul's doctrinaire libertarianism -- pro-gun, anti-tax, anti-bureaucracy, pro-states' rights -- with Christian social conservatism and fear of the "North American Union" and other forms of "global government." The small party attracted considerable controversy in 1994 when it took out a newspaper ad titled "Consequences of Sodomy: Ruin of a Nation," which suggested HIV could spread through the water.

Julie Ingersoll of Religion Dispatches fills us in on the party Ms. Angle left to run as a Republican:

The Constitution Party opposes abortion in all instances (including some forms of contraception). It calls for the repeal of all federal gun laws. It supports state's rights and localism including the elimination of any activities on the part of the federal government not explicitly delineated in the Constitution. It advocates reform of Congress including the elimination of pensions, return to the election of senators by state legislators, and repeal of the electoral college. It supports repeal of the Voting Rights Act, Social Security, and the Patriot Act. It calls for the elimination of any control or support by government over education (as that is the God-given responsibility of families), for the right of "state and local governments to proscribe offensive sexual behavior," and to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. It advocates a hard money currency, repeal of the Federal Reserve and elimination of fractional reserve banking.

As I reported here, the Constitution Party and Christian Reconstructionism have deeply influenced both Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul and his father. It sees itself in opposition not only to Democrats, but to Republicans; leaders have criticized Sarah Palin for calling on tea partiers to choose one of the major parties. The party is officially on the ballot in at least 17 states including Florida, where Bernie DeCastro, an ex-con turned prison minister, its candidate running for U.S. Senate, thinks tea party favorite Marco Rubio is too liberal.

This isn't "small government" taken to the extreme; this is over the edge and into the realm of the guy in the tin-foil hat on the corner of Biscayne and Flagler in downtown Miami, soaked in his own urine, and verbally assaulting anyone who gets near him. If you want to see a country run the way Sharron Angle envisions it, visit Somalia.

It's clear that Ms. Angle didn't leave the Constitution party because she found them too nutty; she's been saying pretty much the same thing about what she wants to do if she beats Harry Reid, and she's also not above advocating assassination and violent overthrow of the legitimately elected Congress if she doesn't get her way. The reason she's a Republican is that they are the party that could get her on the ballot. So far, the party leadership, such as it is, has been either making excuses or embarrassingly silent.

There are two reasons for this. Either the GOP is afraid to alienate the Tea Party because, for what it's worth, this melange of libertarians, racists, homophobes, and history-challenged whiners is the closest thing they have to a base; without them, they'd go the way of the Whigs. Or they agree with the extreme views and don't have the guts to come right out and say it.

It's easy to dismiss Sharron Angle and Rand Paul as the one-offs and the "holy crap, did you hear what s/he said" quotient in this year's election; every cycle seems to bring them out. It's also easy to overreact and demand that they be marginalized or even investigated for threatening sedition; certainly if a left-wing extremist had advocated a "Second Amendment solution" for George W. Bush's actions in starting a war in Iraq and whooping through laws and orders that trampled the Constitution in ways that would spin the tricorner hats off the Tea Party, the belching wrath of Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Michael Steele would still be reverberating. But we're moving out of the realm of the comically wacky into the real possibility of some serious shit. It's not just an "if" anymore.

H/T to digby.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Quote of the Day

By Creature

"It is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown." -- Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) defending BP.

Unbelievable. Why do Republicans hate America?

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Screw the unemployed

Do the unemployed matter? Not so much to a majority of the Senate, it seems, which yesterday voted 52-45 against reauthorizing key expired programs such as extended unemployment benefits. At this time of need, desperation, and hopelessness for so many Americans, what the oligarchs in that august body worry about is the deficit, not the human cost of the economic crisis that has engulfed the country. In that, they are grossly -- and cruelly -- misguided.

As "Democrat" Ben Nelson explained:

I've said all along that we have to be able to pay for what we're spending $77 billion or more of this is not paid for and that translates into deficit spending and adding to the debt, and the American people are right: We've got to stop doing that.

Ezra Klein responds:

No, sir, they're wrong, and we don't. It's hard to say this loudly enough, but it really doesn't make sense to offset stimulus spending, at least in the short term. The point of the money is to get the economy moving faster, to give people cash to spend. This isn't like health-care reform, where you're purchasing something and you should pay for it. When you're trying to expand the economy, you need to use debt to put more money into it than would otherwise be there. If you're just moving a dollar from one purpose to another, you may be using that dollar better, but you're not expanding the total amount of demand in the economy by very much. You're just moving it around. It would be like bailing water from a boat, but throwing it into another part of the boat.

There'll come a time when we need to start reducing the deficit. If we can get the economy back into gear, that time might even be soon. But for now, increasing the size of the deficit isn't some nasty side effect of stimulus spending. It is, quite literally, the point of the enterprise.

I would add that the point is also to help people, and one hopes that the people (that is, those who haven't been lured into the of the Tea Party "movement," even though Republicans and "Democrats" regularly vote against their interests, too) will take it out on those who really have no interest in helping them, those in the Senate, as well as the House, who have the well-heeled luxury of worrying about balancing the books at a time when so many of their own constituents are having trouble paying the bills and putting food on the table. It is fine to be fiscally responsible, of course, but the American people and the American economy demand other, more generous priorities if they are to recover in any meaningful and lasting way.

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The Devil and the Oil Spill

By Capt. Fogg

Fox and Palin.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?

Yes, we have people out in the street screaming about tax increases that never were and while Federal income taxes are lower than they've been in 50 years. We have Fox giving air time to the airhead who has taken time out from chanting "drill baby drill" like an over-aged cheerleader for the oil cartel to chastise President Obama for not doing what he in fact is doing and for not knowing how to do what it was BP's responsibility to know how to do and to be able to do. I wonder if she took time to take a shower and change clothes before switching from 'hands off the oil industry' to 'we need government intervention and oversight.'
"Well then what the federal government should have done was accept the assistance of foreign countries, of entrepreneurial Americans that have had the solutions that they wanted presented."

Well, of course that's what the administration is doing. Looking for assistance from countries where drilling is subject to much more oversight and where Fox ranteth not. Perhaps it's time to ask that "gotcha" question once again. So what newspapers and magazines do you read Mrs. Palin? Oh, I see -- you watch Fox.

Of course there was a 4 week delay in waiving the federal Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which mandates that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be transported in U.S.-built, U.S. owned and U.S. manned ships.Of course there was a long delay during which BP didn't tell us how bad it was and that they couldn't have it stopped in short order, but face it, the Grand Old Bastards have so much fun and profit with their daily game of pin the tail on the President, they're even criticizing the pants he wears when talking about the oil spill, unlike the Commander guy with his costumes.

Does it really matter whether the president has apparently made sure that we won't have to pay for this disaster by having BP set aside 20 billion in escrow? No, even that is proof of perfidy, since it will somehow hurt the Louisiana economy and it basically is a socialist plan to redistribute wealth says the irrepressible Bachmann. Win or lose, we lose, if you ask the New Right.

But it appears that God wants no part of this sound and fury and we're going to have to fix it ourselves. If only we only had to battle the Devil and the oil spill here and not the legions of lying idiots.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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BP to set aside $20 billion for Gulf Coast damage claims, Republicans go berserk

Four days of intense negotiations between the White House and BP lawyers allowed President Obama to announce Wednesday that the oil giant would create a $20 billion fund to pay damage claims to thousands of fishermen and others along the Gulf Coast.

This is certainly a positive development. As Steve Benen notes, "the escrow account will make it less likely American taxpayers will be asked to pick up the tab for BP's disaster. It's not a substitute for an effective response to the crisis -- BP still has an incredible amount of work to do -- but it's a big step in the right direction."

That's right. It doesn't let BP off the hook, but it suggests that, with a big push from Obama (who deserves a lot of credit for making this happen), the oil giant is finally beginning to take genuine responsibility not just for the oil leak itself but for the long-term damage it has caused along the Gulf Coast.

As you might expect, though conservatives are not amused. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, for example, is worried that the fund will slash BP's profits, which, presumably, are more important than the environment and economy of the region, not to mention the way of life of and very welfare of those who depend on the Gulf, a clean Gulf, for their livelihood, many of whom of Barbour's own constituents.

And Michele Bachmann, finding conspiracy at every turn, thinks that the escrow account amounts to a huge "redistribution-of-wealth fund," as if the massive wealth of BP and its larger shareholders matters more than those in the fishing and tourism industries, among others, who are suffering immensely as a result of the spill, and who may never recover.

Of course, BP can afford to shell out billions of dollars, and the redistribution of wealth is hardly what this is all about. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg may have put it condescendingly when he said his company cares about "the small people," but the point the escrow account isn't socialism, as Bachmann suggests, it's about helping people who have been, or who will be, virtually destroyed by this disaster. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that BP is acting compassionately in creating the account -- it is just bowing to political and public relations pressure, trying to look compassionate even if it really isn't -- but I think it's pretty clear that this is about providing much-needed help to those who need it. How utterly despicable a person do you have to be to be against that?

Once more, we see clearly just what the Republicans' priorities are. When faced with a catastrophe in human, economic, and environmental terms, all they really care about is protecting the interests of the rich, corporate, and powerful.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Republic of Arizona

By Capt. Fogg

"Madness is something rare in individuals- but in groups, parties, peoples, ages it is the rule."

- Nietzsche -

The people who wrote the US constitution never intended to give citizenship to "aliens" says John Kavanagh, a state representative from Arizona. Yes, of course he's a Republican. He apparently has some cryptic powers allowing him to know just what Jefferson and Madison were thinking about allowing folks to become citizens that isn't reflected in the Constitution, or perhaps it's just another line of Republican bullshit, seeing as we didn't have the kind of immigration laws in the mid 18th century we instituted in the early 20th century. The fact is that the constitution, for from being anti-alien, doesn't really mention immigration requirements or quotas at all.

I don't think Alexander Hamilton, for instance, had to get a green card to become our first Secretary of the Treasury, a bona fide Founding Father, signer of the Constitution, economist, and political philosopher; Aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War and a leader of nationalist forces calling for a new Constitution. He was a Caribbean immigrant, you know and illegitimate to boot. He just came here for an education, liked the place and stayed and prospered, as so many modern illegals do.

Kavanaugh says the proposed Arizona law denying citizenship to children born here to parents with expired or non existent visas isn't unconstitutional. He's wrong, of course, but whether it is or isn't, the establishment of requirements for citizenship, or for legal presence in the US is a power not granted to Arizona, to establish or to enforce. Article 1, Section 8 reserves the power To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, to the Congress of the United States alone and that one would think, should be that.

Like many politicians, Kavanaugh is good at answering a question that wasn't asked and pretending to have won the contest. Like many self-styled Libertarians, he talks about the constitution and the rule of law a lot, but what he and his ilk seem to want is the power to do as they please to anyone they please without paying any attention to that much abused and often inconvenient document or the nation for which it stands.

Is Libertarianism one of those things, like Christianity and altruism and "pure" capitalism, that are wonderful to contemplate, but don't exist or can't exist in practice? Perhaps some day I'll find one that isn't just using the pose to advance some private motives. Perhaps not.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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BP cut safety to cut costs

From the AP:

BP took measures to cut costs in the weeks before the catastrophic blowout in the Gulf of Mexico as it dealt with one problem after another, prompting a BP engineer to describe the doomed rig as a "nightmare well," according to internal documents released Monday.

Generally, BP rejected options that would have enhanced safety and instead chose to do everything on the cheap. For example:

BP apparently rejected advice of a subcontractor, Halliburton Inc., in preparing for a cementing job to close up the well. BP rejected Halliburton's recommendation to use 21 "centralizers" to make sure the casing ran down the centre of the well bore. Instead, BP used six centralizers.

In an email on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision explained: "It will take 10 hours to install them. I do not like this." Later that day, another official recognized the risks of proceeding with insufficient centralizers but commented: "who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine."

You know you're not doing well when you make Halliburton, of all companies, look good by comparison.

And that line from the BP official has to be the worst prediction of the year. As of right now, everyone cares, it's far from done, there's no end in sight to the story, and, far from fine, BP has justifiably become one of the world's most hated corporate villains while the worst environmental disaster in American history continues to wreak havoc on the entire region.

And all to save a few million and a few hours.


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Tension on the Left

By Creature

While I think Katrina is spot on here, I do wonder if Obama's agenda is in line with the progressive agenda. The administration has been too quick to go to bed with the very corporations that need an ass kicking. I initially supported Obama because, it seemed, he was not a DLCer, today I'm not so sure.

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Just how crazy is Sharron Angle? (1)

It would be unfair to allow Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada, to qualify for our Craziest Republican of the Day series. Why? Because in this campaign season she could win it day after day. She's that crazy.

So let's start a new series -- How crazy is Sharron Angle? -- in which we document, as far as possible, the mounting evidence of her astonishing craziness.

Okay? Okay.

Let's get started with the WaPo's Greg Sargent:

Here's another one that could be tough for Sharron Angle to explain away: In an interview in January, Angle appeared to float the possibility of armed insurrection if "this Congress keeps going the way it is."

I'm not kidding. In an interview she gave to a right-wing talk show host, Angle approvingly quoted Thomas Jefferson saying it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years -- and said that if Congress keeps it up, people may find themselves resorting to "Second Amendment remedies."

That's right, armed insurrection, an attempt to topple the country's democratically elected government. For more on what we're talking about here, see TPM's Justin Elliott:

The key to understanding Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle may be the fact that she has not always been a Republican.

For at least six years in the 1990s before she held state-level elective office, Angle was a member of the little-known Independent American Party, a right-wing party that combines elements of Ron Paul's doctrinaire libertarianism -- pro-gun, anti-tax, anti-bureaucracy, pro-states' rights -- with Christian social conservatism and fear of the "North American Union" and other forms of "global government." The small party attracted considerable controversy in 1994 when it took out a newspaper ad titled "Consequences of Sodomy: Ruin of a Nation," which suggested HIV could spread through the water.

Three members of the Independent American Party tell TPM that Angle, a Nye County, Nevada, school board member at the time, was an active member of the party in the 1990s. They say she only left the Independent American Party and became a Republican out of political expediency when she decided to seek a seat in the state assembly, to which she was elected in 1998.

That's right, she was well to the right of Ronald Reagan and the bulk of the Republican establishment of the '80s and '90s. She's more "mainstream" now, given how far to the right the GOP has moved, but she's still a fringe-dweller in broader terms.

This is a woman, after all, who appears to hate democracy, and whose loyalty is not to her country but to a far-right ideology of delusion and paranoia.

How crazy is she? I'm not sure we have a scale big enough to contain her. We may be beyond Michele Bachmann territory here (if not by much).

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No deal yet on BP escrow account

By Creature

Why are they even dealing? This is why I think last night's speech was weak. The president was still asking, not telling BP what to do. Just like with the Senate, he seems captured.

Update: $20 billion independent fund has been established. Good. Very good. I give the president props here for getting it done.

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Fear and loathing in Oklahoma

By Capt. Fogg

The Muslims are coming! The Muslims are coming! Some day, anyway -- it could happen, and Oklahoma isn't OK with it. I mean, we really need to trash our secular constitution and make judicial decisions rely on a few selected Jewish commandments palatable to Christian godbothers, but we are simply not going to sleep at night unless we make it illegal for Judges to be swayed by other, illegal religions like Islam; not in Oklahoma.

No, Okies need to "Save our State" and have proposed an amendment to the State constitution making it illegal for judges to reference Sharia or any other international law and as 0.8% of Oklahomans are Muslim, we can't waste any more time in saving the state from the bearded menace. What is needed is a "pre-emptive strike" says State Representative Rex Duncan (Republican of course.) "Court decisions ought to be based on federal law, or state law" says he.

Of course I agree that they should. yet Federal law just might have a problem with the legislature interfering with judicial decisions and process. Beyond that, I think Federal and State laws should be free of any dependence on Christian doctrines as well, but we're talking about Oklahoma here and we're talking about Republicans everywhere and how can we expect even a modest amount of moral or logical consistency?

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Reflections on Obama's Oval Office speech on energy and the Gulf oil spill

Like Creature, I found Obama's Oval Office speech tonight adequate but not nearly enough -- adequate in the sense that it got the message across to a broad audience that the president will be tough on BP and will pursue some sort of energy agenda, much needed in these troubling times, not nearly enough in the sense that it didn't contain nearly enough of a commitment from the president that he will actually pursue meaningful energy/climate legislation. I would have found it disappointing except that I wasn't expecting much and pretty much got what I expected.

At times, Obama was, as unfortunately he so often is, Bush-like. As The Atlantic's Joshua Green put it, "The no-nonsense tone, martial imagery ('battle plan'), the three-part plan, the identification of a bad guy (BP's CEO) who is going to be dealt with sternly, who was scolded for 'recklessness,' and whose company will be paying for the cleanup and damage -- not asked, but told to pay, evidently -- all of this was good theatrics, and moderately reassuring." Yes, moderately, to the generally uninformed, but hardly to those who get that what is needed is comprehensive, transformative reform.

And that just wasn't there. Green again: "What stood out was that for all his praise of the House climate bill and talk about the 'consequences of inaction' and so forth, not once did he utter the phrase, 'It's time to put a price on carbon.' And that suggests to me that this speech was primarily about containing the damage to his administration, and was not the pivot point in the energy debate that many people were hoping for." Anyone hoping for more, or seriously believing that more was coming, hasn't been paying attention. I have no doubt that Obama understands the need for address climate change and America's energy problems with a robust plan, but he has proven thus far to be anything but the bringer of meaningful change he claimed he was way back in the heady days of the '08 campaign.

Health-care reform was significant, true, but he pulled back from demanding a genuinely transformative bill, one with a robust public option, and ultimately championed Republican-style reform, a package that closely resembled what the Republicans had been pushing as an alternative to Hillarycare in the '90s. He is doing the same with on energy and climate change. The rhetoric has been lofty, the possibilities promising, but what he will end up supporting is something far less than what is so desperately needed, something that goes some of the way but that essentially protects his political self-interest first and foremost. Am I too cynical? How can I not be? I was a huge Obama supporter, and I've been paying attention.

The connection here between energy/climate and health care was certainly not lost on Ezra Klein:

Obama did not make any specific promises about the bill he would support, or even that he wanted. He did not say he would price carbon, or that we should get a certain percentage of our energy from renewables by a certain date.

But his language was a close echo of the language he used in the health-care fight. "There are costs associated with this transition," he said, using a formulation many will remember from health care. "And some believe we can’t afford those costs right now. I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy." Similarly familiar was his reminder that "I am happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party – as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels," and his promise that "the one approach I will not accept is inaction."

The optimistic take, at least for environmentalists, is that this is the language and approach Obama uses when he really means to legislate. The pessimistic take is that Obama shied away from clearly describing the problem, did not endorse specific legislation, did not set benchmarks, and chose poll-tested language rather than a sharper case that might persuade skeptics.

Count me optimistic in that Obama can get something done. Count me pessimistic in that it'll be too little too late.

But of course it's not all his fault -- just like he alone can't clean up BP's mess -- and Jonathan Chait is right that he can only do so much:

Basically, he's saying he just wants some kind of bill. His standards are very low. I can't necessarily blame him -- the votes aren't there in the Senate and he can't conjure them up. He needs something that at least begins the process of transitioning to a clean energy economy. But with the public uninterested in climate change, interest groups mostly advocating for the status quo, and moderate Democrats unwilling to take another tough vote, he's not going to get much.

The thing is, that shouldn't stop him from pushing for more than he can ultimately achieve. Instead of conceding to political reality, he should be leading from a position of strength, using his pulpit and his office to sway minds and, as necessary, twist arms. We saw some toughness on BP and the oil spill tonight, but on the larger questions of how to transition America away from oil dependency to clean, alternative energy and how to address climate change in a meaningful way, we saw the same old President Obama, and, alas, that's just not good enough anymore.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oval Office speech

By Creature

I just don't know who the speech was intended for. It didn't play well with me, but for those who don't pay as much attention I suspect it may have done the job.

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Should Bob Etheridge be charged with assault?

Perhaps you've already seen this now-notorious clip of Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC) confronted by a student-reporter (and a cameraman) and responding, well, let's just say, inappropriately:

Glenn Greenwald thinks that it's a clear-cut case of assault -- or at least that Etheridge should be arrested and charged with assault (I assume that Glenn does not presume guilt, which would be for a jury to decide). Glenn is backed up by John Amato and John Cole, among others.

And the evidence is fairly compelling. For while the whole thing may have been a right-wing set-up, Etheridge does act violently, if not all that aggressively, knocking the camera out of the cameraman's hands and grabbing the reporter by the wrist and then briefly by the back of the neck (and then putting his arm around him). He is clearly irritated, visibly upset by the encounter, and he repeatedly asks the reporter who he is.

The thing is, context matters here, and I don't think it's right to jump to conclusions based on a short clip. No, I don't mean to defend Etheridge, and I certainly don't want to suggest that there is a double standard here. I would like to think that my views would be same if a Republican had acted in a similar manner. Just because the reporter and cameramen may have been part of some right-wing set-up, that shouldn't excuse Etheridge.

But part of the problem here has to do with the very idea of such confrontational "journalism." Etheridge is a public figure, but being accosted on the sidewalk is hardly the sort of "reporting" he or any other public figure should be subjected to. He was right to ask who they were, and he was right to be persistent, and it must be noted that they didn't answer. A legitimate reporter would have stated his name and organization. Etheridge must have suspected foul play, of sorts, and that surely explains, at least to a great extent, the severity of his reaction (again, without necessarily excusing it).

In other words: context matters here. It was likely a set-up -- and note how the reporter's face is blurred. And I just don't see much in the way of assault, or at least not enough (and, admittedly, I say this without being an expert on criminal law) to warrant an assault charge. Indeed, I tend to agree with Jon Chait:

It's probably true that the law is going to get enforced more harshly and literally if the victim is a member of Congress. I think the proper remedy is to treat Congressmen like everybody else, not to start treating everybody like a Congressman. If you were walking down a random street and started firing questions at some random person, and they grab your wrist for a few seconds and demand to know who you are, they're probably not going to be arrested and charged with assault and battery. Normally such an encounter would stay clear of the legal system, even if a cop was standing right there. I could see how the notion of prosecuting this kind of scenario would appeal to a lawyer like Greenwald, but Greenwald's beau ideal of society is probably a lot more legalistic than mine.

The whole thing seems wildly overblown to me, and it's telling that the "victim" isn't pushing this. (Do we even know who he is?) Etheridge has rightly apologized. He should pay for any damages to the camera but should face charges only if local prosecutors determine that it was assault given the context in which it occurred (and to determine that requires more than a short clip).

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not excusing what Etheridge did. He should not have responded even to such an unpleasant confrontation with physical violence of any kind. As a public figure, as a politician, he should have known better. He could have asked who they were and, not getting anywhere, simply walked away. After all, why give the opposition any ammunition? But I just can't get too worked up about this, not given the context, and I don't think it's fair to rush to judgement. The clip doesn't tell us everything we need to know about what happened.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Steve King

Appearing yesterday on G. Gordon Liddy's radio show, where nothing is too extreme, Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has been our CRD twice before (see here and here), said that President Obama "favors the black person."

This is utterly ridiculous, of course, a claim that pops up regularly in the race-based smear campaign against the president, one that plays right into the racism of the Republican base, where Obama is widely seen not so much as the American president as a black president who seeks vengeance against whites. We've heard this sort of thing from Glenn Beck, among others.

As for King, he evidently favors the white extremist right-wing idiot.

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Spy in the Sky

By Capt. Fogg

You expect the smaller government gospel in Texas and Texans will tell you that the damned government should stay out of private matters like dragging gay men to death behind pickup trucks, instituting safety standards for drilling rigs and demanding proper accounting practices from Bush beloved companies like Enron, but there's an alternate logic in Texas; one that has no problem with the government spying on us with unmanned drones. Following us down the road recording our movements and our speed and our destinations, peeking into our back yards. The largest of these things are as big as airliners and the smallest, I'm told, can fly right into your window. Some are remotely operated, some are almost autonomous. They can see in the dark, they know when you're sleeping; they know when you're awake -- well, maybe not, but they know if you've been good or bad.

Of course there's support for patrolling the borders with these machines, which are much cheaper to operate and aren't dangerous to the operators, but they pose a collision hazard to civil aviation and the FAA, pushed by manufacturers, fear-mongering politicians and the government, has been trying to balance the need for aviation safety with the lust for more government surveillance. Texas officials, including Gov. Rick Perry, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, are so hot to employ drones on the border and who knows where else that they're trying to twist the President's arm. Cornyn, for instance is blocking a Senate confirmation vote on Michael Huerta, Obama's nominee for the No. 2 FAA job, until he gets his way.

Of course there are legitimate uses for drones, but there are legitimate dangers, not all of which concern collisions and the urge to deploy more eyes in the sky; the insistence that we can and must trust the government with another spy tool seems to make liars out of the people making careers out of telling us we can't trust anyone but them.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Old whine

By Mustang Bobby.

The Washington Post had an article over the weekend pointing out the fractious state of the various Tea Party parties around the country.
The national tea party movement has never had a central organization or single leader; in fact, it has boasted the opposite. But Tuesday's primary results provided fresh evidence of the amorphous network's struggle to convert activist anger and energy into winning results. Frustrated and lacking agreement on what to do next, self-identified tea party leaders say the movement may be in danger of breaking apart before it ever really comes together.

The problem is that it really isn't a movement per se; besides not having a central organization or single leader, they don't really have an agenda. Other movements in recent history -- civil rights, anti-war, women's liberation, gay rights -- at least had a goal. So far all we've seen from the tea party is that they "want our country back," but they really don't say "back" to what... unless you discern that the subliminal -- and often not so subtle -- message is that they want the country back from the Black Guy; they want "lower taxes," which 95% of the country got from the stimulus bill they opposed; and they want the economy fixed, which they claim the government must do, therefore going against one of their other basic tenets of keeping the government from doing anything. No wonder they can't get their act together.

What you basically have is a bunch of whiners who suddenly woke up from their eight-year high of W's folksy platitudes and bulging-crotch butchness to find that the cowboys and frat boys had trashed the place, puked on their shoes, and stuck them with the bill. And they have the nerve to get defensive when the Party of Personal Responsibility is told that they were responsible for inviting them in. That's not a movement, that's a temper tantrum.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)


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Japan's whaling shame

This really isn't all that surprising:

A SUNDAY TIMES investigation has exposed Japan for bribing small nations with cash and prostitutes to gain their support for the mass slaughter of whales.

The undercover investigation found officials from six countries were willing to consider selling their votes on the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The revelations come as Japan seeks to break the 24-year moratorium on commercial whaling. An IWC meeting that will decide the fate of thousands of whales, including endangered species, begins this month in Morocco. 

Why not surprising? Because this is how Japan gets its way on the IWC -- and the Times report confirms what we saw in The Cove, last year's powerful Oscar-winning documentary on the country's mass dolphin slaughter. If if you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

(Although I've never been, I love so much about Japan, from its food to its film to its literature to its culture generally. This, though, is simply abhorrent, and it should be enough to shame the country into giving up this ugly and brutal business for good.)

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Palin to seek Thatcher blessing

Britain's Daily Mail is reporting that Sarah Palin may be heading across the pond for a meeting with Margaret Thatcher:

Controversial US politician Sarah Palin could soon be on her way to Britain to boost her hopes of challenging Barack Obama in the 2012 US presidential election.

Her representatives approached Margaret Thatcher to ask for a meeting as part of a bid to enhance her claim to be the "heir to Ronald Reagan" and prepare to challenge Mr Obama.

And Lady Thatcher has agreed to see Mrs Palin, who stood as the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008. A spokesman said: "We had an informal approach asking if Lady Thatcher would meet Mrs Palin if she comes to Britain and we said yes."

As if Palin is anything like Thatcher -- for more on the two, see my piece at The Guardian from last year -- but perhaps, if nothing else, the Iron Lady can turn the not-even-one-term ex-governor Hockey Mom on to the delights of befriending Latin American dictators.


Here's the most amusing bit in the article:

Any trip by Mrs Palin to Britain could cause potential problems for David Cameron.

Embarrassingly, Mrs Palin's team have not contacted No 10 so far.

One individual involved in the talks about the visit said: "Palin's people haven't said anything about meeting Cameron. Their main interest is getting a picture of her with Lady Thatcher. I'm not sure they know who David Cameron is."

It would also pose a delicate diplomatic protocol dilemma for the Prime Minister, who is trying to defuse an acrimonious confrontation with Mr Obama over the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Outspoken Mrs Palin has launched a series of savage personal attacks on the US President.

Mr Cameron would have to decide whether to pose for photographs with her on the steps of No 10, invite her in through the back door – or meet her elsewhere more discreetly.

It could also cause difficulties within the coalition Government. While many Right-wing Tory MPs admire Mrs Palin, many Liberal Democrat MPs regard her as dangerous and irresponsible. 

Palin showing up for a photo-op outside #10 would be an embarrassment for Britain, not just for Cameron, and Clegg et al. would be right to protest. And while it's probably true that Palin's people haven't got a clue who Cameron is, and that Palin herself doesn't either, it's somewhat amusing to think of the new PM letting her in "through the back door," given how much credibility he would lose (with everyone in the country other than right-wing Conservatives) just being seen with her in public. As for a more discreet meeting place, well, the imagination reels.

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Below the surface

By Capt. Fogg

Sometimes I meet the nicest people, kind, outgoing, articulate and with many shared interests. A Saturday afternoon barbecue, a manicured garden, a convivial crowd of fellow boaters; many with experiences I can only envy, of cruising the beautiful and exotic parts of the globe.

I mention a planned sail to the Leeward Islands and a stop in beautiful Dominica with it's mountains and waterfalls and hot springs and black sand beaches like the Hawaii of long ago. "Maybe I'll never come back," I say.

"Maybe we'll all have to go elsewhere" says she, "before those Liberals ruin the country with all that debt and, you know before that Obama destroys capitalism."

There's that sick, sinking feeling again; the realization that beneath the tranquil surface, there's a dangerous reef to rip your bottom out. I should have known; but facing the isolation one feels when surrounded by people passionately inimical to your every thought and steadfastly obstinate in resisting any facts or any argument that might diminish the comfort of their cherished anger, makes one too desperate to believe someone might not have been infected with that alien zombie virus. Damn it, I let my guard down again.

"I can't watch the news any more, it's all Liberal" she says. Perhaps she doesn't, but she's listening to someone. Someone is not telling her that the debt began so soar in terrifying fashion when George entered the white house; has soared under every Republican president since Ford or reminding her that the tax cuts that were supposed to increase government revenues and that were supposed to create new jobs created didn'tno private sector jobs whatever while government jobs and government coasts soared. Someone isn't telling her that our senseless military endeavor that appears now to have been embarked upon for profit has already cost more that World War II and continues to burn through billions. That kind of debt doesn't count, only debt that might help Americans who aren't already in the club. No -- best not to listen to the Liberals on the TV news.

"It's true that 24 hour coverage leads to a format that's mostly speculation and opinion and it's true that at least one network simply lies and invents and misquotes and twists facts, " I said. Her brow began to furrow. "That's why I try to read as many sources as I can. "I read three or four to a dozen newspapers most every morning," I say. " I listen to everything from Al Jazeera to Haaretz on line." I can see the suspicion growing, the bestial voice in her head growling liberal.

I'd ask her to define liberal, but I know she's define it as its opposite. I know she has no awareness of current events, history or anything outside the Yacht Club Republican cocktail-hour school of economics and social criticism. I know there's no point in flexing a consciousness that's been ossified in one position for 75 years, so I do what I always have to do and smile and say:

"Oh, don't worry, it's a strong country and I'm sure we'll survive," even though I'm far from certain.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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The courage to get the hell out of Afghanistan

If you missed it, make sure to check out Bob Herbert's excellent column in Friday's Times on the state of the war in Afghanistan. It deserves to be read (and thought through) in full, but here's some of it:

There is no good news coming out of the depressing and endless war in Afghanistan. There once was merit to our incursion there, but that was long ago. Now we're just going through the tragic motions, flailing at this and that, with no real strategy or decent end in sight.

The U.S. doesn't win wars anymore. We just funnel the stressed and underpaid troops in and out of the combat zones, while all the while showering taxpayer billions on the contractors and giant corporations that view the horrors of war as a heaven-sent bonanza. BP, as we've been told repeatedly recently, is one of the largest suppliers of fuel to the wartime U.S. military.


What's happening in Afghanistan is not only tragic, it's embarrassing. The American troops will fight, but the Afghan troops who are supposed to be their allies are a lost cause. The government of President Hamid Karzai is breathtakingly corrupt and incompetent — and widely unpopular to boot.


There is no overall game plan, no real strategy or coherent goals, to guide the fighting of U.S. forces. It's just a mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-destroying slog, month after month, year after pointless year. The 18-year-olds fighting (and, increasingly, dying) in Afghanistan now were just 9 or 10 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked in 2001.

Americans have zoned out on this war. They don't even want to think about it. They don't want their taxes raised to pay for it, even as they say in poll after poll that they are worried about budget deficits. The vast majority do not want their sons or daughters anywhere near Afghanistan.

Why in the world should the small percentage of the population that has volunteered for military service shoulder the entire burden of this hapless, endless effort? The truth is that top American officials do not believe the war can be won but do not know how to end it. So we get gibberish about empowering the unempowerable Afghan forces and rebuilding a hopelessly corrupt and incompetent civil society.

Our government leaders keep mouthing platitudes about objectives that are not achievable, which is a form of deception that should be unacceptable in a free society. 

I will admit that, like many, I was an early supporter of the Afghan War. But I was a supporter specifically of the effort to topple the Taliban government and to remove al Qaeda from its safe haven. Since then, though, it has been a badly mismanaged war, largely because Bush shifted focus to Iraq, but also because the war, with the Taliban overthrown and al Qaeda pushed back into the mountains and the Pakistani border regions, lacks a compelling purpose, let alone any sort of realistic objective.

As I wrote after President Obama's West Point speech in December, while there was good reason (a solid, defensible rationale) to go to war, and while the war, early on, may have been legitimate (in other words, the U.S. was justified in going to war to confront an enemy that had attacked it), but the war now is not the war then. And the war has only gotten worse and seemingly more pointless.

Writes Herbert, "[i]f we don't have the courage as a people to fight and share in the sacrifices when our nation is at war, if we're unwilling to seriously think about the war and hold our leaders accountable for the way it is conducted, if we're not even willing to pay for it, then we should at least have the courage to pull our valiant forces out of it."

Such courage seems nowhere to be found, though, and now, as the Times is reporting, there is more reason for the U.S. and its allies to stay, and that is to exploit the country for its natural resources:

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.


"There is stunning potential here," Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. "There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."

Potential. Sure. Just don't expect the Afghan people to benefit, and don't expect the killing to stop. The war will continue, if not to defeat the terrorists, then to fill the coffers of multi-national industry and the politicians who profit off the global corporatocracy, including in Washington.

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So much for the Tulip Revolution

In case you were wondering, things aren't good in Kyrgyzstan:

Escalating ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan has prompted tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks to flee the country.

A third day of fighting in the south of the country has claimed nearly 100 lives, officials say.

Witnesses speak of Kyrgyz men shooting ethnic Uzbeks and setting property alight; a BBC correspondent in the city of Osh has heard heavy gunfire.

On Saturday the interim government gave security forces shoot-to-kill powers.

If, like me, you don't know much about the place, check out the BBC's Q&A on the political unrest earlier this year -- though it does not yet seem to be clear how, or if, the current ethnic violence in the south is connected to the larger political situation.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Belgium on the brink: Parliamentary elections could lead to split

We're used to the issue of separatism here in Canada, with Quebec nationalists agitating for separation from the rest of Canada for decades now (despite two referendums with "No" outcomes), but the country dealing with it today is Belgium, which heads to the polls to elect all 150 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 40 of 71 seats in the Senate.

The country faces a number of serious problems, including (as with the rest of Europe) the economy. As the BBC reports, "[d]uring the last three years the national debt has grown to unmanageable proportions." Just how bad is it? "The country's ratio of debt to gross domestic product is behind only Greece and Italy in the Eurozone."

And yet the election campaign has been dominated not so much by the economy but by language and culture, with the country's old divide between Flanders (the northern half the country with Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent) and Wallonia (the southern half of the country with Liege and Charleroi) threatening to tear Belgium into two distinct and sovereign states:

Belgium is holding parliamentary elections which could bring the country closer to a constitutional split.

The Flemish separatist party the New Flemish Alliance (NVA) is expected to do well in the vote.

Its leader Bart De Wever supports dividing the country in two, Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia.

However, a split bringing an end to Belgium would not happen immediately.

Belgian governments are required to be made up of a bi-lingual coalition, but this is the first federal election from which a party advocating the end of Belgium could emerge the outright winner.

And that could mean the end of Belgium as we know it.

Belgium is in effect two separate communities held together by a bi-lingual political system.

Much of public and political life in Belgium is dominated by bitter debates around language and the allocation of public resources.

Government aid to poorer Wallonia, home to four million French speakers, has caused resentment among Belgium's 6.5 million Flemish majority, correspondents say.

Until now separatist parties have been on the fringes of political debate.

But Mr De Wever, 39, has pushed his party into to the mainstream over the last three years while the other parties have been locked in a political stalemate.

It's a lovely country, and, to me, its bilingual and bicultural heritage is a strength, the whole being greater than the sum of the two parts (as Canada is much greater than the sum of its parts). And I find the move to break up diverse countries like Belgium along narrow parochial lines -- linguistic, cultural, ethnic, religious -- rather distressing. It may be necessary sometimes, as with the former Yugoslavia, and it may make sense sometimes, as with Czechoslovakia, but should the world essentially just be a collection of homogeneous states based on exclusive identity? I understand the sovereign aspirations of places like Flanders and Catalonia, for example, as well as Quebec, but it seems to me that their national identities can thrive within larger states like Belgium and, Spain, and Canada, not just on their own, where they are much more vulnerable to international forces, such as globalization and Americanization, that do not respect them at all.

Unfortunately, it's all too easy to focus on national identity instead of more pressing matters like the economy, and to use nationalism as a cure-all, with the Other (in this case, the Wallonians) scapegoated as the problem. Hopefully cooler heads and more mature voices will ultimately prevail in Belgium.



Belgium's Flemish separatist party, the New Flemish Alliance (NVA), has won more than 20% of the vote in parliamentary elections, according to early unofficial results.

If confirmed, the NVA would have the largest share of the vote, bringing the country closer to a split.

The NVA wants to more fully divide the country between Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia.

But the party would have to form a coalition with Wallonian parties.

Such a coalition might force NVA leader Bart De Wever to tone down his Flemish nationalist rhetoric. 

An imminent split is unlikely. And while the NVA "won" the election, it only won 20 percent of the vote, far from enough to break up the country on its own.

Needless to say, this is a situation that bears watching.

(The Times has more.)

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