Category Archives: American Politics

What Americans should learn from Egypt

I have a new piece up on GOOD magazine about what Americans can learn about democracy from Egypt, namely that protests are a useful tool to push for change. You can read it here.

I initially wrote this a while ago, while the both the Tahrir sit-in and the US debate over the debt ceiling were going on. (Also before the London riots, which I think is a tangentially related issue.) The essay was also (very understandably) cut down to a more manageable size for publication, but I’m posting the whole thing here because I think it deals with a lot of other interesting issues about how democracy is practiced in the United States that I couldn’t get to in the GOOD piece. Also, you can do stuff like that when you have a blog. Read it after the jump.

And with that, I make yet another attempt to revive this blog. Hope I’ll be back soon. Bizarre to think that the last time I posted was on January 26

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Filed under American Politics, Democracy, Egypt

For dinner? World domination

For some reason I find it really heartwarming that Bill and Hillary Clinton have exactly the same inane convesrations as Helen and I.

Politico runs the transcript from an interview Secretary Clinton did with some talk show hosts in Australia:

QUESTION: It all requires excellent patience, great negotiation skills. Your husband also possesses those qualities. When you two can’t agree on what to get for takeaway dinner, who wins out in that type of negotiation?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We practice different models of negotiation around important issues like that.

QUESTION: Yeah.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Because if I were to say to him, as I have on many occasions, “What shall we have for dinner tonight?” If he says to me, “Oh, I don’t care; you choose,” I know that’s a really bad answer, because then I’m stuck with the responsibility.

QUESTION: Yeah.

SECRETARY CLINTON: So I will come back and I’ll say, “All right. Well, so how do you feel about Chinese — ”

QUESTION: Oh, good.

SECRETARY CLINTON: “ — or Mexican or Italian?” And if he says a second time, “I really, really don’t care,” then I will go choose. Now, contrarily, if he says to me, “What do you want for dinner tonight,” I will say, “What do you want?” Then he’ll go, “Well, I was thinking of maybe picking up some Thai.” And if I’m in a good humor, I’ll say, “That’s fine.” But if I am feeling not enthusiastic about Thai, I’ll say, “Well, maybe we should consider something else.” And he’ll say, “Well, then you choose.” (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Do you ever eat before midnight? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are very late eaters. Yes, we do. I mean, this could go on — this goes on for some time.

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Filed under American Politics, Personal Stuff

The emperor travels

Maybe it’s gauche to attribute the unending stream of virulence toward Barack Obama to racism. But that hasn’t stopped Jimmy Carter and it certainly won’t stop me.

The latest–and maybe stupidest–to be taken up by the right wing is that Obama’s trip to East Asia is a boondoggle that will cost $200 million per day. Ignore that we spend about $200 million a day on the war in Afghanistan (though no one ever mentions that). But this is the case being peddled by Republicans and right-wing pundits this week. While I watched Sean Hannity last night, some moron started spewing numbers about Obama traveling with an entourage of 3,000 people and renting out every room in the Taj Mahal hotel. Blah blah blah blah.

What’s this have to do with race? I think that the ultimate aim of this meme is to convey an image of Barack Obama as an Oriental despot traveling through the dusty streets of India and Indonesia on the back of an elephant, trailed by a team of eunuchs who clip his toenails. It’s a attempt to link the fiscal conservative current to the Obama-as-Muslim current. That it has absolutely no basis in fact isn’t stopping anyone. Emperor Akbar Obama. Be scared.

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Filed under American Politics, Diplomacy

HR 1297 passes!

The resolution we have all been waiting for. The House passed yesterday Resolution 1297, which celebrates the “goals and ideals of Craft Beer Week.” This is a true victory for American beer drinkers. It’s good to see that the beer lobby is finally accomplishing something. The representative, from Colorado, who wrote the resolution, called it a “no brainer.” I concur.

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Filed under American Politics, Beer

AfPak always reminded me of Aflac

Remember those commercials with the duck?

Anyway, point is, the Obama Administration is dropping the term AfPak. Josh Rogin writes on his blog at Foreign Policy. They’re getting rid of it because–surprise!–it “does not please people in Pakistan.”

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the term. Washington people liked it because it’s catchy and it summed up their thinking that Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely connected issues. Whatever. Plus, it works well on Twitter.

But when you think about how it sounds to the outside world, it’s probably not a good PR move. When government officials use the term all the time, it sounds like they don’t realize that Afghanistan and Pakistan are two different places. Or they don’t care. It is, as Richard Holbrooke admitted, “understandable” that Pakistanis don’t like the phrase.

On a side note:

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Filed under Afghanistan, American Politics, Diplomacy, Pakistan

Is the CIA addicted to torture?

The Guardian reported the day before yesterday that the Central Intelligence Agency is “working closely” Palestinian security forces who are known to torture Hamas members.

Of course, this isn’t shocking. CIA has a long tradition of supporting regimes that torture, murder, and violate human rights in any number of ways. This is in Latin America, in the Middle East, around the world. In pursuit of American interests overseas, Washington is almost always willing to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. American support for Egypt is, naturally, the first example that comes to my mind.

This isn’t to say that CIA support for Fatah torturers shouldn’t be condemned. This is important because this fits in with a pattern of torturing Islamist militants that has developed over the last eight years.

Barack Obama has said he wants to end torture and secret imprisonment. So far his movement in this direction has been slow. Despite a brief flutter of excitement over the summer when Attorney General Eric Holder said there would be an investigation, it seems clear that those who condoned and practiced torture during the Bush Administration will not be held accountable. Meanwhile, the Guantanamo prison remains open eleven months after Barack Obama took office. Just now are American policymakers seriously talking about what to do with the prisoners.

There has been no new evidence of CIA or American military torturing people in the last year (correct me on this if I’m wrong), but it could happen again. I think that during the Bush Administration, the CIA was let off the chain when it comes to torture and now they’re hooked.

Something comparable happened during the early years of the Cold War when CIA got very comfortable using covert operations to take out regimes in the Third World. Once they started they couldn’t stop, even after it became clear that the tactic didn’t always work out. See Bay of Pigs after the 1957 Syrian Crisis, for example.

The Central Intelligence Agency is prone to going rogue. I think it’s in the organization’s nature. Because much of what they do is clandestine, they are able to resist scrutiny from outside. In the 1950s and 1960s this meant that they could plot assassinations and coups with impunity. Now it means that they can torture prisoners and assist others in torture.

The exposure of CIA complicity in the torture of Hamas members in Palestine is not surprising. It is, however, yet another indication that the organization needs to be reigned in.

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Filed under American Politics, Human Rights, Intelligence, Israel-Palestine

Obama can’t stand up to pushy Jersey girl

It’s hard to make me not feel proud about being from New Jersey. But this does:

That’s Robin Benosf of Teaneck, New Jersey (a mere twenty-five minutes from my hometown) laying the cornerstone for a new settlement in East Jerusalem. (Photo from the AP, via Mondoweiss.) As the American president and State Department declare their “dismay,” New Jersey citizens actively take part in expanding the reach of Israeli settlements in occupied land. Luckily, we can still claim Bruce Springsteen.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is seen as impotent when it comes to confronting the Israelis. An AFP story yesterday said:

The Obama administration is hardening its tone against Israel, but analysts warned Wednesday the tough talk was mere bluster hiding the lack of a viable plan to revive the Middle East peace process.

“You’ve had three ‘no’s’ to an American president in his first year,” Aaron David Miller, who has served as advisor on Middle East peacemaking to previous US administrations, told AFP.

President Barack Obama is now “faced with the default position, which is words,” said Miller from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“And the louder they shout, the more there is a paradox. The tougher the words are, the weaker we look.”

But when I read that, I find myself thinking, “Well, if we give them about $3 billion a year, can’t we force them to take the most basic step necessary to keep the possibility of a two-state solution alive?” Obama should have more than “words” to fall back on when dealing with the Israelis. Obama and Hillary just need to kick the Israelis in the ass a little bit and then they’ll be forced to comply with our demands. Indeed, the US uses financial and military aid to impose its agenda all over the world.

But I think that Robin Benosf of Teaneck helps to show why it isn’t that simple. Many Americans (and not only Jews) support the Israeli right-wing’s agenda. A politician from New York was right beside Benosf at the founding of the new settlement. Reuters reports:

Dov Hikind, a member of New York state’s assembly, looked out over Jerusalem’s Old City and dismissed the “extreme” view on the matter taken by his party’s president.

He urged fellow American Jews to buy homes on occupied land rather than in traditional U.S. vacation spots.

“I’m trying to get a whole bunch of my friends to actually buy,” said Hikind during a tour of settlement housing projects for several dozen potential U.S. investors.

“Rather than buying second homes in Florida, we want people to buy in Israel,” he said, having watched a foundation stone laid for an extension to the Nof Zion, or Zion View, settlement.

Palestinians, whose leaders declared this week’s Israeli government approval for more settlement building near Jerusalem a killer blow to peace, reject Hikind’s description of Nof Zion as “Israel,” as it lies on occupied land they want for a state.

But his views, shared by significant numbers of American Jews, many of them Democrat voters, are an indication of Obama’s difficulties in holding to his demands that Israel halt its expansion of settlements in the interests of a peace agreement.

With that kind of attitude holding sway in American politics, it’s understandable that Obama and his team are kind of impotent when it comes to pushing the Israelis. I don’t say this just to defend Obama. I’m generally disappointed in his lack of decisiveness across the board. But I think that this helps to contextualize the lack the of progress.

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Filed under American Politics, Diplomacy, Israel-Palestine, Jews