Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Inflated Sense of Self-Importance?

Since the tea party protests the entire conservative wing of the American political a clear sense of entitlement has become not just a common theme in rightist circles, but the predominant basis of post-tea-party politics. In fact, the tea parties, often seen as a massive tantrum of sorts against the victory of the emerging Democratic coalition, Obama, the rise of a leftwing voting generation replacing a conservative base, in short a society-wide rejection the conservative ideology which had dominated for the past several decades.

The largest symptom of this is a vicious denial of their nature as a minority, and violent assertions that they are "fighting" for a populist cause, not a shrinking section of the population motivated primarily by bigotry. In spite of all electoral trends, polling data, and other evidence that suggests a slow but steady decline of the current Republican alliance between social conservatives, libertarian neo-liberals, and imperialist neo-conservatives, the emerging new right wing order imagines itself as the champion of the people. Why else do conservatives feel empowered to threaten centrist Blue Dogs? As the New York Times has printed:
So Michael Steele, Republican Party chairman, and Dick Armey, former House Republican majority leader, have already shifted their focus to the 2010 mid-term elections and beyond, hoping to use the health bill to galvanize their base and fill campaign coffers.
An admirable strategy, if they hadn't pulled out every last gimmick in the last election trying to stem the tide of the anti-Republican backlash. They have drained every iota of the potentially-republican-voting angry conservative base, and in the process decimated the political landscape in much of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains - all of the conservative third parties have disappeared into a reliable Republican fold already. Beyond having mined their ideological base to exhaustion, they have become so reliant on reactionaries that they have alienated a huge section of the centrist vote and irreparably lost an entire generation. Roughly two thirds of the voters my age support same-sex marriage, and that's not including those that support or prefer a watered down civil union compromise. Beyond even more entrenched openness that Republicans shy away from on issues of race, gender, or sexuality, the coming political battle over the legal definition of marriage shows a Republican policy that will lose any significant support from the growing "millennial" demographic.

Beyond all of these more detailed concerns over how such an electoral strategy is doomed to abysmal failure, the majority of Americans want health care. Every poll in the past ten years has shown this issue as a growing concern, and now, with a majority supporting a public option and the Obama administration leading congressional Republicans by 15% (and growing) on this issue, the Republicans think they can claim exclusive rights to a popular movement.

Moreover, this older ideological frame the Republicans have returned to embracing, that of a persecuted minority against the liberal establishment, loses all its credibility with this newer argument - that Republicans are the true Americans. Republicans are casting themselves as the majority and sole legitimate heir apparent of American political thought, and at the same time, a hated group hunted by the dark shadowy liberal conspiracy (as if we were that organized). It harkens back to the same inconsistency slacktivist points out time and time again - that America is the shining (Christian) city on a hill and yet also Babylon, only instead of the religious dualism of America as Christian example to all and fallen nation, it occupies a nationalistic frame of mind, where America is righteous and courageous against the evils of the world and yet poisoned from within by traitors of various stripes, false Americans all.

While the Republicans are clearly burning their bridges now, they still have considerable power - enough to disrupt almost any legislation in the Senate, a nearly packed Supreme Court, a surprisingly passive Democratic counterbalance in the White House and to a lesser extent the Congress, and a shocking hold on the media. This is the Republican party at its most dangerous, because they have just begun their fall from power, and they still have the potential to strike back. The perfect motives have arisen just as a palingenic and ultranationalist strain (read: pseudo-fascist) ideology has moved from the background into the forefront of their dreams of an American future. The next few years are going to be the hardest and most dangerous, and while the Republicans are down and are losing face, this may be their dangerous, for that precise reason.

EDIT: Yes, I know, this. Is any one really surprised that the Dixiecrats are angry at the Democrats? Angry enough to not vote with them on anything of consequence? Angry enough to leave the party? This is just the last of the fallout of the party realignment started with the Southern Strategy during the Nixon administration. As in, nearly forty years ago.

Additionally, the data about popular support for a public option is from here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alternate Reality

In the wake of the tragedy at Fort Hood, the right in America has spent hours deconstructing the event, largely because it both undermines their assumptions about the world and also confirms their fantasies about Islamic Extremism. How it operates in the latter fashion is clear - a Muslim man shot several soldiers in an army camp in Texas, killing many of them. And yet, there's a clear element of disbelief and incomprehension, strewn amidst the calls for mandatory debriefings of Muslim soldiers and the increasingly too familiar demands for identification and surveillance of the entire Muslim American community.

Major Nadil Malik Hasan was a native-born American citizen. Fox News returned to that point several times, unable to reconcile it with his actions. Why can't they accept that an American who had faced relatively constant attacks on his character because of his religion become angry with this country? Why can't they accept that though his course of action was truly disgusting and deserving all the reprimand in the world, that his politics had a basis in an utterly human response to their cultural bigotry?

This goes beyond their forced blindness to their enemies' perception of the United States and resultant political opposition. To its core, islamophobic reaction to 9/11 in America has built its base over nativist and anti-immigrant sentiment, casting undocumented immigrants, even non-Muslims from Haïti, as security threats. Within a matter of weeks of that terrorist attack, the legal immigration status of the actual perpetrators of that attack was forgotten, and hundreds of undocumented Muslims were being rounded up because of their religion.

The status of terrorist and Muslim becoming the same fit into a larger narrative of both being foreign. The Bush era undermining of attempts to study domestic terrorism and explanation of the Iraq War as a fight against "them" over there so "they" don't fight us here all contributed to a perception of Islamism as not only an ideology introduced from far away countries, but tied to foreigners and outsiders, never members of American society. This reconciled with an equation of terrorism and Islam by an overarching xenophobia, casting all of these weakly related ideologies and statuses as inherently linked and inherently outside of the American experience.

Already, however, the far right has continued to build up this illusion of utter foreignness of Islamism. Leading Republicans have pronounced this a sign of how thoroughly the American military has been "infiltrated", infected with Muslims as the subtext to this statement. Considering Hasan joined the army in 1995, long before the War on Terror, and was a native-born American, this talk of ideological contamination rings false. He didn't arrive from a distant shore bringing harsh words for the American military. He found himself rejected and trapped within the military and turned to violence as a solution.

In response to the various parts of the case which contradict a narrative of Islamism in favor of a more complex interaction between anti-military sentiment, instability, and a religious justification, various pundits have labeled this as an act purely driven by religion. Retired General Barry McCaffrey has already claimed that murders as a response to an unwilling redeployment. In spite of serving in the Vietnam War, the killing of fellow military servicemen as a desperate attempt to avoid deployment seems a completely foreign attitude for him.

As per usual, the right wing perception of the event has a limited basis in reality and largely ignores evidence contradictory to a larger worldview with xenophobia as a central pillar of their understanding of the universe. They're living in an alternate reality, where the political correctness of the American military is making them too nice to Muslims.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The 2010 Census: Watershed of Neo-Nativism

The census is a natural outlet for nativist fears and related anxiety over the cultural and racial identity of the United States – it quite literally is the federal government’s analysis of who Americans are and what that information means. Those complex issues have overwhelmingly dominated the political environment following Barack Obama’s election to the presidency in the midst of one of the strongest rightwing radicalizations in American history. Like the unstoppable force and immovable object, the most symbolic affront to any ideology invested in White leadership of the United States ever has coincided with the culmination of a backlash brewing since the Civil Rights Movement. Floating in and out of the debate, the 2010 census has the potential to be the flashpoint which ignites any number of powder kegs of ethnic identity politics in America.

As the tide of anti-tax and anti-government protests began to rise over the summer of 2009, one of the early voices of alleged warning that sparked this populist explosion was Michelle Bachmann, a Representative of Minnesota. Already famous for dramatically conservative positions, Bachmann had previously become relatively well-known for her statements that a committee should be formed to evaluate the patriotism of every member of Congress. On June 17, her comments during an interview with the Washington Times, however, crossed the line from blatant partisan demagoguery into a clear attempt to transform present paranoia into potentially violent action. This interview combined the various conservative fears surrounding the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN), particularly highlighting Obama’s connections with that organization (referring to him as “a former employee of ACORN now occupying the White House”), but furthermore suggesting that ACORN and related groups (and the infiltrated federal government) intended to gather large amounts of information using the census – presumably for nefarious ends. The congresswoman then advised her interviewers and the audience to follow her supposed example and refuse to answer any of the questions on the census except the number of people in the residence – an act alone that is considered a federal crime.

The paranoia in that encounter is tangible, but pales in comparison to her statements eight days later. On Fox News, she argued that her worries about the 2010 Census have historical precedent in that:
“between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that's how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps […] I'm not saying that that's what the Administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps”
No longer ending with a vague fear of loss of privacy, Bachmann’s train of thought abruptly jumps from typical census data in the modern day to Gestapo-esque utter violations of any sort of due process. The four months following that and similar comments from the various heads of the Republican Party seemed an almost unthinkable acceptance of this paranoia by the right and a bizarre fascination with this strange pseudo-populist movement by the left. This continues into the very current political situation, visible for instance in a newly produced survivalist strategy game involving militias (the role the player takes) killing the remains of the Obama Administration and ACORN “shock troops” following a coup.

At this immediate time, however, the transmission of fears surrounding the census from the libertarian far right to the authoritarian cultural conservatives has radically altered the right’s overall perception of the census, transforming it from utter paranoia to attempted manipulation of the program. To a limited extent, this was clear even during the earliest roots of the census paranoia. Bachmann suggests that her followers fill out one specific question only on the census – that concerning the number of residents. Often, racial minorities are dramatically undercounted while the census frequently overestimates the number of Whites – giving states with less diversity a subtle advantage, as the census determines the number of Representatives and thereby electoral votes a state should have. It remains unclear what motivated Bachmann’s various claims about the census, but her clarity that residents should respond question which directly determines the strength of a location’s political voice suggests that she attempted a nuanced position, which discredited the would-be reformers of the census (ACORN, Obama), legitimized the views of her base (that the Obama Administration was intent on tyrannical government), but left her base’s geographic standing intact (by filling in their answers to that particular question).

That stance has fallen away, as the Republican Party has realized the extent to which it can still legislate policy. Bachmann’s radical tone, the political equivalent of a scorched-earth retreat, has yielded to a new consensus among Republican congressmen to mold the census into a political arm for their current objective – revenge against the demographic widely considered the cause of their downfall and through the silencing of this group the potential of preventing further losses. They hope to use the census to target the Latino community.

The desire for revenge against, or failing that, structural undermining of the politicized Latino community has been the Republican response to the 2008 Presidential Election, which conservatives overwhelmingly perceived as being the decisive transition of the Latino voting bloc from an independent group to a member of the Democratic coalition. As Newsweek reported in the aftermath of Obama’s stunning election:
“Hispanic voters didn't just leave their mark on this year's presidential election. They decided it. Four states with sizable Hispanic populations that went for Bush in 2004—Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada—all turned blue this time around, adding 46 crucial electoral votes to the Democratic candidate's winning tally”
The transition from treating the census as inherently suspect to viewing it as a tool for systematically undermining Latino vote, however, was shockingly sudden. As the summer of 2009 came to an end, the paranoia surrounding the census had reached a fever pitch, resulting in the brutal murder of a volunteer census working in Kentucky. Found in late September, “hanged from a tree near a Kentucky cemetery had the word ‘fed’ scrawled on his chest,” the death of Bill Sparkman seemed an ominous warning of impending violence towards census workers until the completion of the census in 2010. A matter of weeks later on October 7th, however, "Republican [Senators] David Vitter of Louisiana and Bob Bennett of Utah" had proposed an “amendment [which] would exclude illegal immigrants from the population count used to allocate congressional seats [using] the 2010 Census". Senator Vitter explained his reasoning arguing “[i]llegal aliens should not be included for the purposes of determining representation in Congress, and that's the bottom line here”. Unfortunately ignored by the Senators, the impact of this proposal on the political system would not be a glowing restitution of American democracy, but rather a variety a change from one unpalatable choice to another. Instead of illegal aliens’ presence increasing the count of individuals to be represented in a given area or state (the current situation), under the provisions envisioned as stemming from this addition to the census, the concept of one-man-one-vote would be restored at the price of a completely politically voiceless class being created. This amendment brings to the surface the unsavory realities of illegal immigration: at its core the fact that without amnesty and naturalization, undocumented immigrants represent a group inherently deprived either in part or in total of true political representation.

Beyond these more abstract political concerns a variety of more concrete issues seem largely ignored by this Republican amendment. In pragmatic terms, “[a]bout 425 million forms have already been printed” without any questions on citizenship, a new requirement to receive any further funds. In addition to cancelling the current ad campaign based on the ten questions on those millions of forms, adding “questions would require designing new forms” which is “operationally impossible” according to the director of the program. Furthermore, the idea that individuals would willingly reveal their legal status in the country, especially to a state clearly influenced by a growing neo-nativist movement, is quite laughable. Fearing an undesirable response to census questions on residency could be part of the recent trend of more dramatic anti-immigrant policy, “some [Arizonan] immigration advocates are threatening to tell undocumented immigrants to boycott the census”. Appearing to be almost a last act of desperation, such a protest would harm immigrants as much or more than others, as the data from the census not only determines (distant seeming) political districting, but also “would deny recession-starved cities and towns much-needed federal tax dollars, which are allocated based on population” as determined by the census. States like Arizona with strong immigrant communities “could lose millions of dollars in federal funding for roads, schools, redevelopment and other projects if large numbers of people are overlooked”. Even in states traditionally off the beaten path of immigrants, like North Carolina, have realized that the “challenge looms large for census [workers]” interested in accurately counting a community subjected to “raids in which people were taken from their homes at night” by the state conducting the census. Moreover, the constitutionality of the proposed restructuring of the census is quite questionable, as existing law overwhelmingly uses citizenship-neutral language, calling for a counting of “inhabitants” or “persons”. Plagued by so many practical obstacles, it seems unrealistic to expect many to support the Republican amendment.

In spite of its general detachment from reality, the far right, originally terrified of the alleged potential abuse of the census, has primarily rallied around a remodeling of the census as an instrument for excluding certain individuals from the country on an even deeper institutional level. Glenn Beck, a rightwing pundit who used the nationalistic mood of the summer of 2009 to amass a disturbing amount of political power, very quickly endorsed the Republican amendment. On October 11th, a few days after the initial introduction of the change, Beck devoted a section of his broadcast to a nationalistic skewering of opponents to the proposed addition – comparing them repeatedly to those who advocated the three fifths compromise. Beck opines,

“When it comes to immigration laws are we getting best what’s for America [sic] or what’s best for SEIU [a medical workers’ union] who has more immigrant workers than any other union and funded the May Day rallies […] wasn’t that a communist thing?”.

Having fused resurgent neo-McCarthyism, neo-Nativism, and anti-union populism, Beck then hides this repugnant intolerance in an alleged stance of opposition to the modern slavery of undocumented immigrants, declaring in a strange fashion, that his opposition to the irregular political position of all non-citizen residents equates to liberation of undocumented aliens from substandard labor. In short, Beck has claimed that ignoring the problem is the same as solving it. If Glenn Beck is any indication, the populist neo-nativist conservatives of America have quickly forgotten their qualms about Obama’s census and seized a political opportunity, not only regardless of the cost to immigrant communities, but in part because of it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Moving the Goal Posts (p 49 - 51)

Starting the first chapter of her book to deal with something more specific than the general functions of her theory, Amy Chua seems to be trying to kill two birds with one stone - hushing her critics as naysayers ignoring a coming revolution and fleshing out her theory with specific examples.

She starts with Bolivia:
In the fall of 1999 a graduate student from Bolivia named Augusto Delgado raised his hand in my Law and Development seminar. Always frank and incisive, and one of the best students I have ever had, Augusto said: "I believe, Professor Chua, that my country is a perfect counterexample to your thesis. In Bolivia, we have all of the conditions you mention. A very small light-skinned minority dominates the economy, while 65 percent of the population are impoverished Aymara and Quechua Indians. But in Bolivia today there would never be an ethnic movement against the market-dominant minority. The reason for this is because ethnicity has no appeal in Bolivia. No Indian would ever want to identify himself as an Indian. They are willing to think of themselves as campesinos, or peasants, but as indios - no."
Predictably, a poor ethnic majority which has been fed racist propaganda vilifying their own culture which has finally reached a point where identification with their own group has become an almost unthinkable admission of worthlessness is in fact not an easily pacified group and revolts against these terms the wealthy minority has set for them (that is, being peasantry and ashamed of your own ethnicity and cultural traditions).

Less than two years later, when Augusto was back in La Paz working as a corporate lawyer, he contacted me by e-mail. He explained that he was writing to take back his earlier words. At that very moment, angry indigenous coca peasants were marching on La Paz, protesting the government's decision to eradicate coca - for Bolivians, a "sacred plant"widely used in legal, nonaddictive forms; for the U.S.-sponsored anti-drug campaign, the source of cocaine. Calling for a constitutional assembly to organize a new "majority-based" government, the peasants had set up roadblocks, paralyzing the country's major cities.
If we return to the 65 percent figure that Chua was ready to accept a mere page earlier, even if only 8 out of every ten indigenous Bolivians opposed a ban, a low number for a sacred rite, that would be a majority of the population. Her tone seems diplomatic, but clearly suggests her opinion is that these actions were not acceptable, especially the scare quotes around "majority-based" since that's a perfectly reasonable description of what they were protesting in the name of.

She goes on to describe Felipe Quispe, an Aymara "terrorist", quoting a Bolivian minister who attacks Quispe and other indigenous rights activists as operating under a mindset triggered 400 years ago. If their people face a society run for the benefit of a select few who are radically opposed to any sort of victory for the indigenous population, such attitudes aren't antiquated and it's remarkable that Evo Morales's peaceful reform party easily defeated Felipe Quispe's more radical party. Tellingly, Chua omits any references to Evo Morales, although it is unclear whether she wished to ignore a pro-reform pro-indigenous politician who refused to use violence because it failed to fit into her narrow dichotomy of angry poor majorities and blissfully unaware wealthy minorities, or because he wasn't quite the name he was when she originally wrote this book. I will say nothing except that she wrote this book originally in 2003 and Morales's victory in 2002 triggered the crisis her student wrote to her about.

She begins the next section with a description of La Paz: "Despite its stark beauty, La Pax attracts relatively few tourists, in part because its eleven-thousand-foot altitude leaves the unaccustomed with headaches and even the locals with low energy".

One of the most common uses of the coca leaf is to reduce the effects of altitude sickness.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A War Against Itself

In the wake of the First World War, Europe was a mess. Millions had died both directly from the war and indirectly from the Spanish Flu which had massacred the civilian population and the military alike, their resistance weakened by food and supply shortages.

What truly left Europe so devastated, however, was the shift from "traditional" means of warfare that had slowly accumulated over centuries into modern warfare, complete with machines that could kill with the press of a cliché button. Death had become automated and that had destabilized the complex power balances that had kept things running slowly before the war.

Something similar has happened in the American Media.

Instead of "traditional" censorship, where governments would flood the media with propaganda, out-competing alternative viewpoints, and threaten often at gunpoint those who had broken through the government's control.

Now we have something more automated. A censorship based on quiet omissions and a slow choking off of information, leaving what little information seeps through undecipherable, without context. While the mechanization of war roared into a European continent which had enjoyed a previously quite peaceful century and became inescapable as the horrors of the Great War embedded themselves in the politics and arts of the twenties, the subtle gaining of these means of censorship have gone largely unnoticed.

We are in the worst kind of danger. The kind you cannot see coming.

We should have known when it was England the reported more heavily on our own 2000 election and the following controversy. We should have realized what was happening when our media differed so radically from the rest of the world's total lack of the steady drumbeat into the Iraq War. We should have acted when the Pentagon irradiated entire Iraqi cities and the Gap bought members of congress to keep it's caged workers on Saipan working for scarily low wages.

What happens when the media starts refusing to cover bombs being built here, instead of just them going off over there?

(World on Fire coming by Friday, I swear!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Third Parties

In short, the more things change the more they stay the same. We now have confirmed the link between the School of the Americas specifically and the US generally, and the coup in Honduras.

The left wing in the US has been ignored in favor of corporatist (and more recently, growing right wing populist) policy. Obama has no reason to change, and has shown no indication of movement on this subject, in spite of unusually strong complaints from the usually grateful left-center base.

The instability in Honduras at this point, buried by the American media, is the direct consequence of the complete isolation of the left from the American political scene. The entire country of Honduras has been functionally shut down by our actions and inability to correct our failed policies. Our broken system is breaking their system.

If the American Public wants to take a stand against our legitimizing and financing of military coups and resultant dictatorships, we need a protest vote we can turn to. Buchanan, Barr, and Nader have wrecked havoc transforming the Reform, Libertarian, and Green parties into organizations primarily focused on advancing their leaders careers, not actual reform.

There seems to be no avenue to actually repairing our system. For decades now, millions of Americans haven't voted, and tellingly, no mainstream attempts have been made to correct this. Dissatisfaction producing apathy is in the interest of those who don't want the United States to have a democracy, or at least a democracy that actually represents popular opinion.

Japan has given us hope, however.

Where a coalition of centrist, corporatist parties ruled for decades on end, financed by wealthy backers both foreign and domestic, a populist democratic seed took root and seems committed to rebuilding the nation.

Let's hope that they don't get another false promise, another Obama.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The old one-two

I've written before in depth about the split among the loose "bundle" of bottom-up anti-democratic movements throughout North America, particularly the United States, but a clear shift appears to be happening: the race-based communalists are facing growing heat from the mainstream, a very reasonable result given their overt violence and general disregard for their appearance within the media, and perhaps more fundamentally their inability to radically differentiate themselves from earlier race-based politics (Classical Fascism, any one?).

So, I think we can consider the Birthers and their even more radical splinters that haven't seen as much media exposure as in retreat. The partial media blackout on right wing terrorism has kept many of the less savory events involving them outside of the public eye or reduced their impact (most notably, James F. Lindsay's insanity, Richard Poplawski's rampage, the James von Brunn attack, and the mess surrounding James G. Cummings).

Alternatively, we have to wonder if we're too late to stall even this movement. Our own government is now party to this, specifically the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), which has essentially transformed sections of our border with Mexico into a police state. A culture where being non-white, speaking a language other than English in public, and similar racially-charged non-criminal acts have become suspect, sparking a complex spectrum spanning from the ICE, official government agents ignoring our own laws, into non-governmental organizations involved in this mess and rouge individuals attempting to appease both groups resorting to unspeakable acts.

Nonetheless, the mainstream seems to be catching on, albeit slowly, to the kind of insanity going on here. PACs aiming at reform of this situation are developing, in a large part because of the spots of this movement that are showing through the media giants' mysterious silence.

Meanwhile, something entirely different appears to be happening to the religious counterparts. Coverage of the Dominionists and the Dispensationalists has been practically nonexistent on the major stations since the election last November (and it only came up then in relation to Sarah Palin's ties to the Assemblies of God and Robert Muthee, and that was incredibly spotty in coverage). An optimist might conclude that this is because the religious communalists aren't as violent or well-organized or widespread; that we've lucked out with one branch of this macro-movement self-destructing while the other never took off.

Realists, however, will notice a similar pattern of individuals within the movement radicalized into violence (as the Tiller Murder and others as recently as less than a week ago), a similar development of cult-like phenomena en masse, ridiculous visions of their own in-group's infallibility, and the same transmission of fringe ideology into the mainstream. In spite of all this, where is the equivalent media attention on these self-proclaimed defenders of virtue?

And yes, just as coverage began to surface of the ICE's routine abuses, Eric Prince, founder and head of XE, originally called Blackwater, has been found to have given out orders, which were followed, to murder members of the organization suspected of acting as informants to the federal government about official misconduct. Incited by Prince, a number of murders of Iraqi civilians drive soldiers, trapped between a failing public system and corrupt private system, to tell the government of the wrongs done by themselves or their company. This only prompted Prince to push XE into a deadly spiral of growing body counts.

Who would have thought? A mercenary organization permeated with a neo-crusader mentality developing murderous intent and becoming corruptly dangerous.

We need to bring the second movement out of the shadows, because it's just as big and just as dangerous as its more illuminated cousin.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Power (pages 12-13)

When we last read from Amy Chua, she had just dropped a rather shocking conclusion:
[M]arkets and democracy were among the causes of both the Rwandan and Yugoslavian genocides. (12)
That's a rather inflammatory statement. Similar to "Obama is a super secret Muslim Socialist plant", it clearly clashes with mainstream understanding of the facts. In other words, you have to make a case.

Chua's first instinct seem to be argumentum ad hominem, rather than alternative presentation:
Essentially, the anti-globalization movement asks for one thing: more democracy. (12)
Oh, no...?
Thus Noam Chomsky, one of the movement's high priests... (12)
Setting aside the clearly embedded insult, Chua seems to be falling prey to the typical human fallacy of "you're either with me or united against me." She speaks of the anti-globalization movement as monolithic in organization, unified behind certain leaders, like Chomsky. Ironically, a paragraph earlier she had eloquently described the complex coalition that makes up the modern American anti-globalization movement-
Joining [Thomas] Frank in his criticism of "the almighty market" is a host of strange bedfellows: American farmers and factory workers opposed to NAFTA, environmentalists, the AFL-CIO, human rights activists, Third World activists, and sundry other groups... (12)
Note how Chua associates opposition to the "market" with an improper response to the inequalities it creates but seems overwhelmingly hesitant to delver nearly as deep into opposition to democracy, although she freely admits that those responses also exist. In fact, her earlier statements that seemed like attempts to give these two alternatives equal time quickly disappear around the ten page mark, and she starts outright conflating democracy with populist communalism:
Given the ethnic dynamics of the developing world, and in particular the phenomenon of market-dominant minorities, merely "empowering the poor majorities of the world" is not enough. Empowering the Hutu majority in Rwanda did not produce desirable consequences. Nor did empowering the Serbian majority in Serbia. (13).
So much baggage so little time.

Again, we see a theme that started to show its head in the last section - Chua's treatment of the the Rwandan and Serbian genocides as equivalent and nearly interchangeable, an attitude just skirting between forgivable ignorance and obnoxious dehumanization of massive human tragedies into a prop for Chua's political ideas. Fundamentally, this comparison fails with even a simple glance. The market-dominant minority and primary target of the Rwandan genocide were the Tutsi, yes, but the market-dominant minority, according to Chua, among the Serbs was the Croat community, a group that fought with the Serbs on a scale and in a form much more similar to a war, bloody and localized and with little concern for civilian suffering or deaths. The Serbian genocide, instead, involved a primary target of the Muslim minorities in the region, above all else the Albanians, who faced a steadily advancing encroachment on their property, then their homes, then their bodies, eerily reminiscent of the genocidal prototype of Nazi Germany.

Back to this specific statement, however, there's a lot of inaccuracy crammed into those two sentences. In the case of Serbia, Serbs were somewhat politically dominant and took the course of actions they did because they feared loosing that dominance. Croats had a history of brief spells of extreme political and economic dominance, often based on external support. As Yugoslavia collapsed into a patchwork of local governments based on local nationalism, Serbians sought to maintain control over the majority of the country, and because Croatian ascendancy threatened to leave them landlocked or nearly landlocked, the Serbian-dominated government responded with extreme violence. In short, semi-democratic rule reduced Serbian dominance instead of increasing it. Self-determination by the various ethnic minorities had begun shattering the Serbs' Yugoslavia, and prompted them into action, instead of giving them a new capacity to act on a mysteriously derived ethnic hatred.

On the other hand, Rwanda at least gives off the appearance of the minority-majority dynamics Chua has described. Again, details contradict her larger statements, most strikingly how the centrists have been silenced, attacked, and killed by Hutu extremists in Rwanda and Tutsi extremists in Burundi.

Retreating to the general statement, it clearly suggests an unnamed external force which empowered the majorities and determines whether the results are "desirable". Chua's context of the statement more than suggests a very specific identity:
Similarly, at the 2002 World Social Forum in Brazil, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen rejected the label "anti-globalization," explaining that "our movement, really, is globally for democracy, equality, diversity, justice, and quality of life." Wallach has also warned that the WTO must "either bend to the will of the people worldwide or it will break." Echoing these voices are literally dozens of NGOs who call for "democratically empowering the poor majorities of the world." Given the ethnic dynamics of the developing world, and in particular the phenomenon of the market-dominant minorities, merely "empowering the poor majorities of the world" is not enough. Empowering the Hutu majority of Rwanda did not produce desirable consequences. Nor did empowering the Serbian majority in Serbia. (13)
Chua is clearly insinuating that the anti-globalization movement should share in the culpability for the two major genocides of the post-WWII era. The fact that the major external powers in these two events were radically in favor of globalization seems to have not appeared to her - the rabidly pro-globalization Clinton administration, the EC (parent of the EU), the UN, NATO, and in opposition the changing remains of the Soviet bloc essentially drove the ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and to a lesser extent throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Rwanda's record of foreign intervention is even more explicitly colonial, with the concept of Tutsi and Hutu only solidifying under extreme pressure from colonial Belgium and later Belgian and French corporations which funded the genocide drew heavily from the same colonial handbook on divide-and-conquer tactics. In short, the lengthy histories of foreign involvement in both cases involves entirely different movements - in fact, ones that the anti-globalization movement uses specifically as semi-strawman counterpoints to their movements.

She's absolving the powers at be that permitted these atrocities to occur, ignoring the role of the actual perpetrators of these genocides, and demonizing those who opposed both. At the core, she's ignoring the whole of contemporary understanding of the context of these events, but basing her entire argument on what she imagines the contexts to be, all the while filtering it through her personal experiences.

And this is what has to come to represent neo-liberal political thought and Harvard University?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Counting Down

Things are getting even worse - we have Fox News having guests that outright compare interracial marriage to inter-species "marriage". Elsewhere, the media attack is reaching a fever pitch, with the "Birthers" receiving more attention than they ever dreamed of.

Away from the prying cameras of mainstream news channels, we're seeing widespread military war games by civilian minutemen groups in Northern Idaho. South, towards the border, we have threats of massacres of illegal immigrants (this from a group with ties to murderer who misidentified legal immigrants with no connections with drugs or gangs with illegal immigrants running a gang financed by drug running) now approaching routine, but still fresh enough that they retain an elaborate flavor. Miles of landmines, they say; gunning down children, they say.

Is any one taking the Department of Homeland Security Memo seriously yet? They're plotting something, and you know it.

Not quite

There's one passage of Rachel Carson's brilliant Silent Spring that always struck me particularly strongly:
Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good? Such thinking, in the words of the ecologist Paul Shepard "idealizes life with only its head out of the water, inches above the limits of toleration of the corruption of its own environment... Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world that is just not quite fatal?" (12)
Something similar seems to be at work here. The Economist, as a passionate (some might say rabid) defender of libertarian economics, naturally can't fault Texas's strategy of leaving the poor to fend for themselves. As well educated writers, however, they seem incapable of ignoring the resultant poverty that seems poised to swallow the state - even more unthinkably low educational standards, even higher pollution, less wealth in every corner of life, except for a small super-rich upper class. Their ideological solution? Texas is apparently not quite fatal, which is good enough.

Seems like this line of thought is becoming pervasive, especially on economic issues:
With U.S. unemployment at a 20-year high, some Americans are working for free while looking for a job, but experts are split over whether it is a sign of dedication or desperation.
Experts can't decide if pseudo-slavery is good or bad? Not quite fatal so far seems to be the verdict? Dear God, who appointed these people "experts"?

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Sorry about the delay, for that you get both of the remaining alleged results of a market-dominated minorities' dominance.

After a comparatively lengthy description of the so-called horrors the black Zimbabwean population has committed against the white minority (tellingly, Chua has omitted the atrocities the Zimbabwean leadership under Mugabe has brought to both whites' and blacks' doors), Chua gives us the mirror-opposite, the shocking knowledge that, yes, wealthy minorities are often undemocratic. She writes-
In the contest between an economically powerful ethnic minority and a numerically powerful impoverished majority, the majority does not always prevail. Instead of a backlash against the market, another likely outcome is a backlash against democracy, favoring the market-dominant minority at the expense of majority will. Examples of this dynamic are extremely common. Indeed, this book will show that the world's most notorious cases of "crony capitalism" all involve a market-dominant ethnic minority--from Ferdinand Marcos's Chinese-protective dictatorship in the Philippines to President Siaka Stevens's shadow alliance with five Lebanese diamond dealers in Sierra Leone to President Daniel Arap Moi's "business arrangements" with Indian tycoons in Kenya today.
That's all she wrote. The basis of an entire suite of despotism apparently only deserves a paragraph made into anything more than a four sentence description with egregious name-dropping. The populist-uprising result she mentioned yesterday, on the other hand, supposedly deserves a multi-paragraph explanation with in depth description of the regime headed by Mugabe.

To be fair to Chua, Ferdinand Marcos and Siaka Stevens are such common household names that they don't need introduction, unlike Robert Mugabe, a completely unknown individual for the primarily American audience that Chua was addressing.

More seriously, the inclusion of this paragraph feels slightly like the now famous liberal showcasing people feel they have to include for the mysterious PC police (who never seem to be around when I'm with them...). I've seen Crash. I know how hard some minorities have had it. I've read all about this. I'm not racist. And we're all supposed to nod knowingly to the speaker while still exchanging nervous glances and pained looks.

Worst yet, Chua seems to have embedded this apologetic sidestepping in between two more obviously questionable arguments. She returns those immediately:
The third and most ferocious kind of backlash is majority-supported violence aimed as eliminating a market-dominant minority. Two recent examples are the mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda and, to a lesser extent, the ethnic cleansing of Croats in former Yugoslavia.
Two sentences in, Chua has already pulled all sorts of red flags. Within the first sentence alone, her parallel wording in the first two potential reactions makes this final one appear odd - the first two were defined by their origin and their opponents, and out of nowhere we see majority-led genocide, without the parallel capacity (minority-led genocide) addressed, or even dismissed.

Furthermore, the examples she selects have particularly complex histories which contradict the picture she seems to be painting, with a lot of general description (the impoverished majority attacks the elite minority with intent to eradicate) supplemented with name dropping, not actual descriptions. In fact, the only explanation she gives fails to even differentiate between the two examples:
In both cases a resented and disproportionately prosperous ethnic minority was attacked by members of a relatively impoverished majority, incited by an ethnonationalist government. In other words, markets and democracy were among the causes of both the Rwandan and Yugoslavian genocides.
Except massive differences between that description and the realities of those horrific atrocities. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, a patchwork of religious, ethnic, and political fault lines lined up in a perfect storm, resulting in a dangerous de facto war between three primary blocs - the muslim Albanians, who had become an elite proxy under Turkish rule; the catholic Croats, who had originally risen to prominence as proxies for the Nazi government but had very effectively refashioned themselves as proxies for the West, building on historical ties between Croats and Italians, Austrians, and other "westerners"; and the Serbs, historically the greatest beneficiaries under pan-slavism and similar "eastern" nationalism, most notably under communism. The opening of the former Yugoslavia threated the Serbs' rule, and ultimately, the Serbs snapped and attacked those they perceived as their greatest historical enemies - the muslims, especially the Albanian Muslims, and the Croats. Ironically, the alleged market-dominant minority very effectively defended itself and avoided in large the Serbs' attacks, at least in its rich sections - countless impoverished Croat villages found all their women raped and their men killed. Ultimately, the violence proved to be undone by the economics, and continued on in purely ethnic terms. Alternatively, the Albanians were massacred much more uniformally. The situation is complex and could be studied for decades without acheiving a proper summary. Chua's very quick analysis seems to have been delivered in good faith, but could easily be interpreted as insensitive.

Alternatively, Rwanda displays a much more complex political event - the first attacks were on moderate Hutu, an preemptive attempt at weakening a potential retaliation of centrist Hutu and Tutsi against Hutu attacks. Combined with continual brutality of the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority in neighboring Burundi, extensive European meddling, and constant influx of radicals from Uganda, this clearly is a much more complicated situation than Chua seems to be willing to give it credit for.

Next Friday, we'll see Chua finally give her critics a bit of credit.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Where certainty ends and zealotry begins (page 10)

Amy Chua isn't just writing about a process that can occur. She's, allegedly, talking about something inevitable:
Introducing democracy in these circumstances does not tranform voters into open-minded cocitizens in a national community...
Wait, I thought the point of your book was the combination of laissez-faire capitalism and democracy radicalizing and created ethnic tensions, not drawing from them? Maybe I'm picking at something that's not here, but it seems like Chua is writing from personal experience, the situation of the Phillipines, where lack of regulation and the rise of a Chinese economic elite proceeded later democratization. Getting back to the main point:
Introducing democracy in these circumstances does not tranform voters into open-minded cocitizens in a national community. Rather, the competition for votes fosters the emergence of demagogues who scapegoat the resented minority and foment active ethnonationalist movements demanding that the country's wealth and identity be reclaimed by the "true owners of the nation". (10)
Look at that language - "fosters" not "can foster". Not only is this strangely absolute (and if there's one absolute that holds firm it's that absolutes rarely stand the test of time), but she seems to be making herself bizzarely vulnerable. A single counterexample can destroy her entire statement here, and thereby damage the credibility of the rest of her thesis-meets-book. One, sole, singular example of, Catholics (the rich minority) and Protestants (the not-so-rich majority) in the Netherlands over the past few centuries not killing each other or much of anything on par with Chua's predictions. Before she or any one else complains, she uses other primarily religious shifts as examples several times - the Catholic-Protestant splits in Ireland and the Balkans most memorably and pertinent to this issue.

A few sentences later, however, she's backtracted some:
When free market democracy is pursued in the presence of a market-dominant minority, the almost invariable result is backlash. (10)
Ok, so it's only 99.9% of the time. That's even harder to prove, since the existance of examples or counter-examples means nothing. Now we need ratios. Why didn't Amy Chua look into this, instead of using backdoors like "almost invariable result", or better yet, not have gone down the road of absolute certainty in the first place?

Meanwhile, back in her slightly more calmly worded paragraph:
When free market democracy is pursued in the presence of a market-dominant minority, the almost invariable result is backlash. This backlash typically takes one of three forms. The first is a backlash against markets, targeting the market-dominated minority's wealth. (10)
Hold up a second, isn't that the preferable response? Isn't that what should happen? Or are you suggesting that disproportionate levels of wealth should be encouraged? She goes on to give us the first in depth example since her autobiographical one concerning the Phillipines:
Zimbabwe today is a vivid illustration of the first kind of backlash-- an ethnically targeted anti-market backlash. For several years now President Robert Mugabe has encouraged the violent seizure of 10 million acres of white-owned commercial farmland. As one Zimbabwean explained, "The land belongs to us. The foreigners should not own and here. There is no black Zimbabwean who owns land in England. Why should any European own land here?" Mugabe himself was more explicit: "Strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy!" Most of the country's white "foreigners" are third-generation Zimbabweans. Just 1 percent of the population, they have for generations controlled 70 percent of the country's best land, largely in the form of highly productive three-thousand-acre tobacco and sugar farms. (10-11)
(Lest any one get the wrong idea, I don't support Mugabe. But I don't agree with the position presented here either - welcome to a non-Manichean worldview!)

Frankly, Mrs. Chua, I don't give a damn. The transformation of most of the third world's agricultural fields into commodity plantations (virtually always with either non-edible products or not terribly useful foodstuffs like tea, sugar, coffee, and the like) was the basis of colonialism. This is eighth grade world history, honestly. I'm sure with a degree from Harvard you could grasp at this much better than I -- but what I'm trying to say here is that those plantations (and thereby their owners) were not only symbolic of the brutal colonial regime, but of the continuation of the economic conditions which typified that regime. I know you bring up Latin America collectively as an example later on, so let's get this out of the way, so I don't have to define this when we delve into it: Land redistribution isn't inherently bad. Just say it over and over. Some slacktivist might help make it make sense.

Fundamentally, I don't think Chua sees the disconnect. 1% of the population controlling 70% of the land isn't democracy. And given that they've controlled it over generations, that's also not a free market it any sane definition of it. That's an enormous amount of power undemocratically (and for that matter against the principles of the free market) stolen, yes nearly a century ago, but still stolen. Worse yet, the small group that stole that source of enormous wealth and used it to create a racially-based supremacy over the majority for much of that past century. Now that the majority has turned on that small, violently despotic minority, the rest of the world has withdrawn anything that could be perceived as tacit support, out of misplaced loyalty with that small upper class.

Mugabe is thug and a fool, but ultimately his success comes from over a century of brutal misrule by foreign powers and their descendents - who let Zimbabwe tear itself apart rather than accept that their reign was undemocratic, unprincipled and unfair.

This is the second time Chua has failed to adequately explain the very situation she has decided to write a book about.

(You get to find out the other two "forms of backlash against market-dominant minorities" are tomorrow.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Some catch-up

Yes, I'm a little behind on World on Fire, sorry. I'm switching to Friday, since hopefully that will make updating a bit easier. In the meantime, however, I'll go through with a mini-post on one of the earlier passages in the book that caught my eye. Jumping in,

For globalization enthusiasts, the cure for group hatred and ethnic violence around the world is straightforward: more markets and more democracy. (9)
I wouldn't consider myself a globalization enthusiast, especially given my opinions on protectionism, but I really can't see what she's trying to say here - it seems almost universally accepted that true democratic representation is a key component in reducing terrorism and violent extremism. For example, Islamism, a popular example of both, has thrived in the least democratic areas of the Muslim world, and has only seen stunted growth in more democratic areas. Where there is some level of democratic representation, as in Morocco or Turkey or the United Arab Emirates, a lengthy battles continues between the democracy and the Islamist forces. This goes further than correlations, as countless politicians from that region have remarked on how the rule of secular, pro-Western despots have steadily radicalized the population, often making them vulnerable to Islamist revolutionaries. As Benazir Bhutto once said, she found herself stonewalled in trying to expand educational and economic opportunities in Pakistan, often by the remains of the dictatorship or the grounds on which the later dictatorial governments were built. Nonetheless, she wanted aid to reach the poor through the semi-secular government without coming through a mosque, which in many cases bred a religiously-defined identity, which first stoked sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni populations, precisely what Chua claims to want to prevent through lesser democracy - what stunted the necessary aid in the first place.

Alternatively, the statement about markets, on the other hand, seems nonsensical. More markets? Does that mean more goods and more products or more exchanges and more buyers? What are we talking about here? Globalization advocates clearly favor opened markets, a lack of national trade barriers, and other means to restructuring markets, not increasing their size (whatever that translates to). Nonetheless, globalization is only one of several alleged solutions to promoting economic as well as political equality; what of us anti-globalization advocates? To put it simply, we try to point out that the correlation of extremism and anti-democratic oppression is dwarfed by a triple correlation between extremism, lack or deficiency of democracy, and poverty. Yet, apparently we neither matter nor exist for Chua, who only describes a pro-globalization position:

Thus after September 11 attacks, Friedman published an op-ed piece pointing to India and Bangladesh as good "role models" for the Middle East and arguing that the solution to terrorism and militant Islam is: "Hello? Hello? There's a message here. It's democracy, stupid!" -- "[m]ulti-ethnic, pluralistic, free market democracy." (9)
I'm just surprised there's any one who takes Thomas Friedman (or for that matter Globalization) seriously. Even stranger though, is that Chua seems to present this as the only alternative to her muddy position, despite the fact that she's characterized this Friedman alternative as consisting of multiple political opinions - pro-democracy, pro-"free market", and pro-Globalization - without discussing alternatives to the alternative that can switch off one or two of those opinions.

At first she seems to lay down a comparatively reasonable conclusion:
Because markets and democracy benefit different ethnic groups in such societies, the pursuit of free market democracy produces highly unstable and combustible conditions. (9)
I'm unclear on how democracy fits into this. Dictatorships actually destabilize countries, often because they pit different ethnic groups against each other with the intention of dividing and conquering. More fundamentally, dictatorships often pit patriotism against rationality, love of country against love of equality and freedom. It's quite difficult for patriotism to stand in the face of outright political violence of that sort, and so, again returning to theoretical impacts, fanaticism on ethnic identity is often a necessary basis for a patriotism strong enough to withstand human decency. We can see this in Sri Lanka, in a situation quite similar to Amy Chua's, but in one regard. The Sinhalese majority attacked the politically and economically influential Tamil minority in a ruthless manner, targeting, in an eery way reminiscent of Rwanda, Sinhalese moderates who opposed the massacre of their compatriots. The only difference? The Sri Lankan government was a transparently failing democracy, not a state keeping up the appearance of democracy despite clear violations of minorities' rights and even basic rule of law. Chua has given some arguments explaining why a "free market" (again carefully examine what that term even means) can be a necessary component to extreme ethnic competition, but nothing concerning democracy, and now she should deal with an obvious counterexample that precisely what she wants to discuss can occur without democratic assistance.

Yet Chua seems unconcerned with whether addressing this, instead continuing and letting a thin piece of her actual opinions peek through:
Markets concentrate enormous wealth in the hands of an "outsider" minority, fomenting ethnic envy [...] (9)
Envy? Ignoring issues with mechanics, that we'll start with on Friday, wanting equality with a newly emerging upper class is envy? As others have said, wanting equality is justice if you're hungry but envy if you're well-fed. Chua had persisted on how unfairly the lower class Filipino servants of her family were treated, but in this moment she let her guard down and showed us her unmediated thoughts, and we saw how little concern she actually has for the situation of the poor. She clearly cares enough about something to write a book, and it's becoming increasingly clear that it's not the horror of the inequality, but maintaining the status quo.

Again, I think we're seeing all the reasons Chua shouldn't have written this book on parade, the most visible being her inability to separate herself from the issue and report on it objectively. Instead of picking apart the violent revolutions and finding a complex interaction of ethnicity and economics, and perhaps finding the ability to criticize her own community in addition to others - faulting both, the elites for their lack of empathy and the majorities for their ends-justify-the-means insanity within most of her examples. And her injection of democracy into it deserves some examination as well. But Chua seems determined on each and every page to look away and fault every one else (recall it was other members of her community, not her family, and especially not her than had supposedly provoked the nativist response) for the anger, sometimes justified anger, directed at her.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Burqa Logic

They don't want to talk about those people. They don't want to think about those people. So of course they don't want to see those people.

From El Paso to Philadelphia, from one of the most repressive corners of America to a place of supposed "brotherly love" things are getting ugly.

Two things we can draw from this is how willingly the police let both groups discriminate and how suddenly events that sound like they crawled out of the seventies or sixties are popping up in the news.

Both of these minorities, naturally, are unfortunately used to strange coincidences and even the occasional outright bitter hate-rant, unlike most of the rest of us. Remember the Jena 6? Or a certain other case in Louisiana?

Is there more to come though?

One step forward...

Last month, I wrote on the democratic elections in Iran, India, and the US, and how the popular responses all hinted at broad coalitions forming in response to third different authoritarian ideologies that quite literally, want to watch the world burn.

Perhaps, I spoke too soon. Since then, we've seen some serious set backs in a number of places.

Early in the morning hours of June 28, 2009, the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was dragged from his house still in his pajamas, and put on a plane to Costa Rica. For the past three days, he had had an arrest warrant placed on him by his Attorney General.

The leaders of this coup, most notably the interim president Roberto Micheletti, have already framed this event in the context of Zelaya's "corruption" - that he had supported a non-binding plebiscite concerning the possibility of a constitution convention to address the radical disparities in wealth between the Honduran upper and lower classes and other issues. Only, of course, the media outlets owned by the wannabe banana corporations and the upper-class dominated officers of the military who together led the coup have claimed that he wanted to... get rid of term extensions. A coup, in response, to that? Huh?

The fact that Zelaya had more and more consistently attacked the anti-labor factions of the government and hinted at radically changing Honduran policy to the benefit of labor unions, which threaten the semi-feudalistic caste system in Honduras which in turn supports those same wannabe banana-republic-leading-corporations and military-dominant upper class, of course had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the coup. Right.

Meanwhile, in the US, Palin apparently feels comfortably leaving her post in Alaska with six months left on her term, because of her fan base in the rest of the country. In other words, she's going national. Many have pronounced this political suicide, and perhaps quite rightly, but keep in mind that many authoritarian movements have no real memory - their leaders and policies can change, but they still claim a constancy and unchanging truth. Her base, clearly, doesn't see this as a failure, and thankfully, she needs to convince more people than her fan club of her potential - for the moment.

"For the moment" is the real thin line protecting us there. What happens if voter turnout lowers? What happens if there's another cataclysmic event that she can effectively spin? What happens when the Democrats blow it? We need certainty and stability, not low possibility.

She probably feels so comfortable due to the far right's increasingly distorted perception of the tea parties. They expected giant crowds and massive publicity for their second series of rallies, planned for Independence Day. Instead, they got a few small groups and rather spotty media coverage, because insane and inane rants are only entertaining the first time. Watching reruns of those are rarely captivating.

Nonetheless, "secular" authoritarian extremists have skillfully transformed these failed revolutionary rallies into recruitment camps. The "secular" white supremacists and neo-Nazis have managed to incorporate huge numbers of previously free radicals into their own authoritarian structures. We're seeing a solidification of a minor, radical right wing block, centered on the "secular" aspects of that political landscape.

I say "secular" because the Dominionist and Dominionist-leaning right have so far stayed their distance, even though many have participated in the same tea party rallies and similar events, and there's been an alarming degree of continuity between the conspiracy theories within the Dominionist circles and those in other extremist right wing groups. The anti-Semitic neo-Nazi subgroup and the fanatically pro-Zionist Dominionists have clear ideological rifts that could easily be exploited to divide them. If any one interested in opposing this "loose-bundle" movement actually means it, we need to use this fracture to our advantage.

This is the primary distinction between the modern Western ultra-nationalist palingenic movement and those occurring in the Hindu and Islamic worlds - the Western variant has largely lagged behind the other two (who have already become major political forces in several countries instead of minor influences on larger coalitions as in the US) in part because this split has kept the more violent race-based nationalism from the more widespread and organized faith-based nationalism.

Similar splits existed decades ago in the Middle East and in India - Arab nationalists such as the Baath party in Iraq and Nasser's Arab Union led from Egypt were bitter enemies of various early Islamist groups like the Iranian and Saudi governments and the now national Hindutva movement began as a number of small, local movements as angry at each other as they were at left wing and centrist opponents. Islamists waited out the gradual collapse of Arab nationalism and now dominate much of the Middle East, although the Sunni-Shia split still haunts them. At least three local right wing movements - Shiv Sena in Gujarat, the early Uttar Pradesh movement surrounding the Babri Masjid, and the increasingly alienated upper middle class Brahmins stung by land reforms scattered through out central India - which were frequently in opposition to each other were the base out of which the modern Hindutva movement grew. A parallel movement developed in South India, and the split between these two twin authoritarian groups has been maintained, but it stands that these countless small basic groups merged until two major powers and forced allies remained.

Something similar is brewing in the US. When the splinter radicals build significant alliances, we go from run-of-the-mill extremists into a political force, which all three of these major groups have seen. The two others, however, went further, melding these small angry pockets into sizeable broad movements. That's when India transitioned from panderers to the Hindutva running the legislature to actual Hindutva believers controlling the government. That's when the Islamic world found itself plunging from a variety of horrific despotic governments into a dangerous international Islamist movement.

I don't want that here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Latin American Troubles

Over the past couple of months, we've been seeing countless examples of violence towards Native groups in Latin America. Most strikingly on June Eighth:
Dozens of people are estimated to have been killed in clashes between police and indigenous activists protesting oil and mining projects in the northern Peruvian Amazonian province of Bagua. Peruvian authorities have declared a military curfew, and troops are patrolling towns in the Amazon jungle. Authorities say up to twenty-two policemen have been killed, and two remain missing. The indigenous community says at least forty people, including three children, were killed by the police this weekend.
Latin American politics seem to work along a highly predictable dichotomy - a loose liberal coalition of radicalized populists and Indigenous groups, and the militant neoconservative-leaning oligarchy. Something similar happened on Sunday in Honduras:

Naturally, the remaining democratic leaders of Latin America immediately suspected American involvement, since American meddling perhaps even defines the region and moreover, a recent American attempt was made against Hugo Chavez. The Obama Administration, however, seems to be adopting the same approach here as in Iran:

Honestly, this makes so sense at all. Those protesting the anti-democratic events in Iran are seen as weak against the threat of the Americans, so endorsing them would only undermine them. Those protesting the illegal actions of the Honduran military see the US as the cause of this or historically of very similar events, and therefore endorsing them would mark a radical shift in American policies and potentially undermine their opposition. Alternatively, Obama might want a counter-American-Intervention streak to their protests since that could very effectively rally the masses.

Nonetheless, things are getting interesting down there.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Obama's Ugly Speech

Naturally the right wing has been in a fury since Obama's inauguration if not since his election to the presidency, but a surprising amount of flack has been thrown at him from the left as well. Hardly the cult idol that he is often painted as being among the left wing, a significant block of the left outright sees him as little more than another George Bush. While not even close to the largest Obama fan, I take some offense to this, but since Obama's overwhelming insistence on co-operation with the grand old psychotic warmongering party had tainted my opinion of him, I felt rather ambivalent about the whole issue.

Until his speech during his Middle East tour. Naturally, many on the left saw it as just more platitudes little more than what Bush might spout off and more or less came back and back again to a certain refrain:
the point here is that pretty speeches mean nothing
Or rather, that Obama said what Bush said, and that there's neither a difference in their rhetoric nor in the effective it could have.

I can't sit back and let this be said. It's categorically wrong. The collection of Bush quotes masqueraded as lines from Obama's speech don't even cut to the meat of the matter. Obama went further than Bush's lip service ever dared to consider. Please, just read for a moment what Obama apologized for or admitted to an American role in:
More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.
He just admitted American culpability in virtually every anti-democratic state in the Muslim world since the fifties. If that's not monumental, you don't know what is. In the case of Iran, one of the pillars of the Muslim world, and to a lesser extent, Pakistan, another major Muslim country, this is the major point of contention with the US - our support for a bloodthirsty tyrant out of fear of an imagined communist threat.
But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth."
Again, the left often shrieks that Bush said virtually the same thing - praising the Koran and speaking positively of the Muslim faith, yet he never actually quoted from the Koran when asking for a free and open dialogue between Western and Islamic societies. Obama just showed the Islamic world his willingness to speak to them while acknowledging their beliefs and understanding of the world in way the Bush never managed. The Islamic world called Bush on his bluff and he did nothing. Obama's laying his cards down on the table and showing them at least a few jacks.
It was Islam - at places like Al-Azhar University - that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.It was Islam - at places like Al-Azhar University - that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.
In one long paragraph, Obama acknowledged in depth the debt of Western society owes to various Islamic cultures which reigned supreme as the intellectual center of the world for its inventions. Another major issue for would-be Islamists is the apparent lack of respect that much of the modern world shows for Islamic societies all the while living within situations made possible by the advances under Islamic learning. Just as before he's deflating their argument - forcing a necessary change both in terms of American policy and (hopefully) Islamic perception of the United States.
Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.
Or, the shorter version, the US isn't France - we respect the religious rights of Muslims, neither hiding behind a false claim to secularism nor outright attacks on a religious minority, but respect the Muslims in our lands. These few words alone undermine much of the Islamist boogie-man perception of America with excellent skill, explaining that our customs are not their customs, but that we respect their individual rights to continue those practices with minimal interference to others within our borders.
We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.
The antagonistic invasive empire will... rebuild hospitals? Again with the Islamist narrative destroying.
The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Yes, he says in the abstract, but a direct call from the US President to cease building Israeli settlements and for Israel to actively assist development in Palestine is not just words. It's a clear challenge to decades of Israeli-American policies that ignore or actively attack Palestinian sovereignty, legitimacy, solidarity, and equality. That's not nothing.
In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government.
Holy crap! He just outright said exactly what every one in the Middle East has been saying for years - that the US played a central role in violent anti-democratic suppression of Muslim-majority countries, that we killed Iran's nascent democracy and led them down a road of brutal dictatorship. There are people out there claiming that this is nothing important? Imagine, if you will, China not only refusing to admit the clear suppression and illegitimacy of its rule in Tibet but moreover that every major official in China refused to speak on the role of their government in Tibet, to even acknowledge the existence of a previously independent Tibet. Now imagine such a policy existing for generations, in ever medium - educational, administrative, economic, etc, no one acknowledged that Tibet had at one point been an independent state, not that it was justified in being such an entity, but that it even was. Imagine that even non-state-associated media goes along with a total gag order. Unsurprisingly, after more than forty years, the entire population has guessed, based on the total vacuum of information that the entire populace of the country would largely be ignorant of this simple fact. (This isn't terribly different from the real situation, but the insanity's been cranked up to US-on-Mossadeq level.)

China wouldn't be the laughing stock of the international community but outright feared and hated. They weren't just oppressing people, refusing to acknowledge their role, but refusing to acknowledge the existence of the oppression, and on an extensive scale.

That is why there were and still often are rallies filled with chants of "Death to America" in Iran. They hate us. They hate us more than most people can possibly understand, because until a few weeks ago the average American knew nothing of Iran except that they hurt us by taking hostages and that they're presided over by a despotic theocracy. Mossadeq? Reza Pahlavi Shah? Savak Secret Police? Those meant nothing to the average American.

And Iranians knew it. We didn't look away, but explained that the existence of a car with our license plate in their living room was coincidental.

In short, that is why they hate us. And to suggest that a brave speech addressing precisely these issues is indistinguishable from "they hate us for our freedom" or any other example of Bush-esque rhetoric is to fail to understand the impact the lack of self-criticism America has shown has had on the world.

It wasn't a pretty speech. It was ugly. And both the Islamic world and America needed that exact speech at that exact moment.