Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Catch-Up!

Weather has rendered me without internet for a few days.  Give me a few days to catch up, Gentle Readers.

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January 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Catch-Up!

Americans Want to Get Afghanistan Right

I have mentioned previously that I worry that the quagmire of Afghanistan could destroy the good that Obama wants to do in the same way that Vietnam destroyed LBJ.  I have mentioned previously that foreign affairs elites are breaking with the once-consensus idea of adding troops to Afghanistan, urging Obama to “Get Afghanistan Right.”

Well, now it appears that the majority of Americans agree.  Only 1/3 of Americans approve increasing troop levels in Afghanistan.    I hope the Obama folk are listening.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, just peacemaking | 13 Comments

25 Most Influential Liberals in U.S. Media?

The business conservative magazine Forbes has written an article describing their take on the 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media and telling their readers to watch for their influence during the Obama era.  Forbes makes no distinction between liberals and progressives, so I will group them together for this blog post.  (The article follows a previous listing of the 25 Most Influential Conservatives  in the U.S. Media).  Now, it is probably true that liberals in the media will gain in influence in the coming years, especially if the Obama administration is successful (a big “if” given the size of his challenges).  But consolidation of the mainstream media’s ownership since the beginning of the ’80s has led to far more conservatives in the mainstream media than are representative of U.S. attitudes as a whole.  Unless media monopolies are broken up and policies implemented to promote more diversity (and local, small-scale) ownership of media outlets, the conservatives are still likely to dominate the  media, reflecting the biases of the media owners. 

But what is strangest about the article, however, is that the list leaves off influential  liberals (e.g., Keith Olbermann, Tavis Smiley, Katrina Van Den Heuvel, Katha Pollit, Naomi Klein, Clarence Page, Gene Robinson [the journalist,  not the Episcopal bishop], Matthew Rothschild, Amy Goodman) and includes figures that are not really liberals, but either moderates or even conservatives (e.g., Oprah Winfrey, Tom Friedman, Christopher Hitchens [a prominent cheerleader for the Iraq War], etc.).  In the case of omitting Olbermann, it is especially strange, because they list Rachel Maddow as #7–and, although Maddow was well-known to listeners of Air America Radio, it was her frequent  guest appearances on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann that led MSNBC to give Maddow her own The Rachel Maddow Show.  It’s fair to say that without Olbermann, Maddow would be much less influential because she would be reaching fewer people.  The Forbes article also lists only one African-American voice, that of Oprah Winfrey. Now, no one would doubt Winfrey’s huge media influence, but she is a very moderate voice–hardly radical in any way and far more conservative than most African-Americans.   All this suggests to me that Forbes, a very conservative magazine, is better at identifying influential conservatives than influential liberals.

At any rate, the Forbes list is below for your consideration,  Gentle Readers, along with my descriptions and comments.  I’ll suggest some substitutes and ask you for other contributions.

  1. Paul Krugman, Professor of Economics at Princeton University and winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics.  Author of The Conscience of a Liberal (which I highly recommend) and the brand new The Return of Depression-Era Economics (which I have on order).  Krugman writes a weekly column for the New York Times and has been a relentless critic of Bush-era economic policies, predicting the current economic crisis as early as 2003. He is also a frequent commentator on several cable news shows.  I don’t know if he  is the MOST influential liberal in the media, but he should be near the top–and I wish he was more influential with the Obama admin. than economist Larry Summers or Timothy Geithner. 
  2. Arianna Huffington was a moderately conservative Republican in the ’80s and ’90s, but had a conversion in the late ’90s and became a Democrat.  After unsuccessfully running for California governor in the recall election which led to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2 terms as governor, she founded the blog The Huffington Post, which has quickly grown into  an online daily journal with hired journalists as well as op-ed writers.  Because of HuffPo, Arianna is surely one of the most influential liberal voices, but she is only moderately liberal–and her writing staff includes people from across the political spectrum.
  3. Fred Hiatt is the editorial page editor of The Washington Post which definitely makes him influential, but does it make him liberal?  WaPo was a major cheerleader of the Iraq war from the run-up until early 2005 and Hiatt is an apologist for many Bush policies, including keeping open the detention gulag for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  I seriously doubt that many true liberals consider Hiatt a member.
  4. Thomas Friedman, Foreign Affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author for the New York  Times, at best Friedman is a moderate.  He defended the invasion of Iraq, but changed his tune quickly once no “weapons of mass destruction” were found.  Forbes probably considers him liberal because Friedman works hard to sound the alarm about catastrophic climate change (he suggests that “global weirding” would give a more accurate weather picture to non-scientists than “global warming”) and population explosions, but he’s a strong defender of globalized capitalism–even if not in the strong laissez-faire sense that Forbes would prefer.  To most progressives and liberals, Friedman is a reasonable conservative.
  5. Jon Stewart, stand-up comic turned host of Comedy Central’s fake news show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  Stewart is definitely a liberal and uses his show to critique the silly aspects of the news (on all sides) as well as the silly side of politicians of all stripes. But, he interviews serious authors from all perspectives and here exercises real influence.  Surveys have shown that young people who get most of their “news” from The Daily Show are better informed than those who watch the mainstream media, which is both weird and sad.
  6. Oprah Winfrey, actress and host of The Oprah Winfrey Show.  No one doubts Oprah’s influence.  If you are writing a book, you definitely want her to promote it because then its sales go through the roof.  But apparently Forbes’ only criterion for considering this incredibly wealthy woman a “liberal” is that she was a major supporter of Obama’s campaign for the presidency. But Obama was supported by conservatives like Christopher Buckley (!), and moderate Republicans like Colin Powell, too.  (Obama’s campaign was like a Rorschach test in which people saw very different things  in his campaign–and he was clearly a break from Bush.) Maybe Oprah is a liberal, but nothing in her show really shows this and Forbes seems to have no real criteria for including her–a woman who, apart from the Obama campaign, has been notoriously apolitical. (In fact, I would argue that his appearance on Oprah in 2000, and her softball questions for him, allowed George W. Bush to swing enough of the women’s vote to “win” the 2000 elections.)
  7. Rachel Maddow is one of my favorite newscasters.  A young out lesbian Rhodes Scholar with an Oxford Ph.D.  in political science, Maddow held a number of strangely unrelated jobs before becoming a major liberal voice on Air  America Radio.  In 2007, she became a frequent guest commenter on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann which led in ’08 to her own hugely popular The Rachel Maddow Show.  She is openly to the left of Obama (was furious at the invitation of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inaugural), a policy wonk, and someone with a great sense of humor.  She may also be the only host of a cable news program who deliberately doesn’t own a television and gets all her news online and from newspapers and magazines. (One of my favorite segments of her show is “Ms. Information” where she highlights underreported “Holy Mackeral” stories that need greater exposure.)
  8. Joshua Micah Marshall is the founder and senior editor of Talking Points Memo, a left-of-center on-line news center.  TPM began as Marshall’s personal blog during the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida and has grown to become an online news source with a staff of journalists and op-ed columnists. TPM has often broken news before the mainstream media and its factcheckers have debunked misreporting by the MSM.  With more and more under-30s getting the majority of their news online, Forbes is probably right that Josh Marshall is a major liberal influence.
  9. David Shipley, editor of the op-ed page of The New York Times.  Well, now that the Times employs more rightwing columnists than liberal ones,  it seems that only conservatives still consider the Times itself to be liberal. (Judith Miller’s shoddy reporting helped cheerlead us into Iraq!)  There are many liberal writers working for the Times, but Shipley’s own views are unknown.  Again, Forbes’ choice is hard to understand.
  10. Markos Moulitsas (“Kos”) is the founder and editor of the liberal blog (with diaries from across the spectrum) Daily Kos.  Here my curiosity is not that Markos was included, but that he was placed this low on the list.  After all, Daily Kos was one of the earliest influential liberal blogs, the answer to conservatives’ The Drudge Report and Markos used it to organize liberals and progressives at a time when conservatives were apparently winning everything.  His annual convention of liberal bloggers, which began as “Yearly Kos,” became “Netroots Nation” and in 2008 became influential enough that almost all major Democratic candidates for office felt compelled to attend and speak to  the assembled guests.  Unlike many political bloggers, Markos actually has a journalism degree and, while the diaries and comments of other “Kos” users may be simply opinionated rants, his own posts usually involve sharp political analysis.  I am not questioning Forbes’ inclusion of Moulitsas, but their ranking of his influence in this list.
  11. Fareed Zakaria, is a CNN Host, and editor and writer of Newsweek International.  With a B.A. from Yale and a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard, Zakaria is the past editor of the influential journal Foreign Affairs and author of the bestselling The Future of Freedom which has been translated into 20 languages.  His new book, The Post-American World, about the rise in power and influence of the rest of the world, has become an instant bestseller.  Again, my question here is not about Zakaria’s inclusion on the list, but his place on it.  I think he’s a major influence shaper, especially of policy elites. 
  12. Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC”s Hardball and, for a time, rumored to be a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate (from his native Pennsylvania) in 2010–rumors Matthews finally put to rest earlier this month.  Is Matthews a liberal? Sure,  he became infamous for saying on air that Obama inspired him so much he “sent a tingle up my leg,” and Matthews never stops letting people know that he worked for Bobby Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency, his show is always about polls and process and not much about issues.  While he has a reputation for tough questioning of guests, his questions are often not the ones which really should be asked.  I give Matthews major points for being against the Iraq war from the beginning, and for raising hard questions about the case for invasion during a time when most of the mainstream media (including the New York Times and The Washington Post ) were buying the Bush propaganda hook, line, and sinker, but so did Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), now retired, and no one would call him “liberal.” Opposition to war, especially a war waged under false pretenses and was illegal under both domestic and international law, is not a “liberal” or “conservative” position.  Matthews is, at best,  a centrist.
  13. Bill Moyers, may be the last of the old-school serious journalists who does real investigative journalism in the United States.  The native Texan once thought of becoming a minister and actually graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, but returned quickly to his first love, journalism.  He worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson before quitting over the Vietnam War.  He has spent most of his long journalistic career with PBS and may have interviewed more globally fascinating people than Barbara Walters and Mike Wallace combined.  Definitely to the left of Obama politically, Moyers is part of that hardy breed of white Texas liberals. (Texas doesn’t breed many liberals or progressives, but those which do spring up there tend to be tough–they have to be– and possessed of great senses of humor and incredible bull**** detectors and a cultural tendency to plain speaking which annoys both Washington, D.C. and the East Coast elites. Which is why I like them so much.) He would be more influential than he is if more people watched PBS.
  14. Christopher Hitchens is a British-born American journalist, author, and literary critic–and one of the growing number of “angry atheists” seemingly spawned in reaction to religious fundamentalism.  But  is Hitchens a liberal?  Once a Trotskyist Leftist, Hitchens seems to have embraced at least part of the agenda of the Neo-Conservatives.  He was a strong defender of the Iraq war (and still is), and of preemptive war against what he calls “fascism with an Islamic face.”  Though insisting that he remains a “Democratic socialist,” this seems even more unbelievable than when Tony Blair says the same thing! I think Hitchens is popular with both liberal and conservative media types because he is both articulate and provocative, but it’s hard to argue that he is influential–much less an influential liberal.
  15. Maureen Dowd is the New York Times columnist and former Washington correspondent.  She’s center-left and her columns are popular for their humor, but I doubt she is as influential as Forbes believes.
  16. Matthew Yglesias, B.A. (magna cum laude) in philosophy from Harvard and once editor of the Harvard Independent, Yglesias started blogging in 2002 while still in university.  He is editor of the influential liberal blog, Think Progress and his first book, Heads in the Sand: How Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and How Foreign Policy Screws Up Democrats (2008) should be read by everyone in the Obama administration. Yglesias is also a staff writer for The American Prospect, a liberal journal.  He is widely respected by conservatives because he is willing to critique liberals and progressives (something far more common than conservatives believe, but they notice when Yglesias does this internal criticism), but his views do have major influence on the left side of the American spectrum.  I hope Yglesias’ influence grows–at least as long as he shows the kind of brilliant analysis he has shown so far. 
  17. Hendrick Hertzberg is a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter (D-39) and principle political commenter for The New Yorker magazine.  Does The New Yorkerhave enough circulation these days to be influential? Update: I wrote that last question because of the declining circulation of most newspapers and magazines, but Hertzberg replied to me that The New Yorker‘s circulation is over 1 million, it’s highest ever.  This is VERY good news, in my opinion.
  18. Glenn Greenwald, spends about half his time in Brazil with his same-sex partner.  A U.S. Constitutional lawyer, he was a columnist and author who resists easy categorization.  But the Bush administration pushed him much further to the left and he has been a relentless critic of its policies, of the echo chamber of the U.S. corporate media, and of the timidity and complicity of far too many Democrats in Congress.  He writes a column devoted to politicall and legal topics for the online journal Salon.com (which is one of the best online magazines, imo).  He has focused much attention on surveillance issues and separation of power abuses and his testimony has been cited in Congress.  He is the author of 3 highly influential books, How Would a Patriot Act? (2006), which makes the argument that apologists for the Bush regime betrayed core American principles; A Tragic Legacy (2007), examining how the Bush presidency led to huge longterm failures; Great American Hypocrites (2008) exposes hypocrisy in both political parties.  All are New York Times bestsellers and all are highly recommended by me.
  19. Andrew Sullivan is a British citizen, but he writes frequently for American media and his blog The Daily Dish, is an excellent online feature of The Atlantic Monthly.  Forbes appears to classify Sullivan as “liberal” because he is openly gay and because of his opposition to the Religious Right and American cultural  conservatives (yet, he is a faithful, if dissident, Roman Catholic).  But he is no liberal or progressive, but rather a classic libertarian conservative (expect him to be a major critic of Obama’s economic policies).  As a progressive, I always find libertarians to be excellent companions in struggles for civil liberties (and frequently on war and peace issues, too, since libertarians are seldom military interventionists), but on economics, we are lightyears away.  This makes Sullivan an interesting dialogue partner, but it hardly makes him a liberal.
  20. Gerald Seib  is Washington bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal .  He is an excellent and objective reporter.  The WSJ has arch-conservative editorial pages, but its news sections are brilliantly objective and free from influence of the editorial pages.  I guess this makes Forbes think that the WSJ news section and its writers are “liberal” because they aren’t obviously conservatively biased.  But I don’t know anyone who can really tell Seib’s politics from his writing.
  21. James Fallows  is a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter who has been a journalist for years with The Atlantic Monthly.  Once again, I would guess that Fallows is liberal because of his former occupation, but I have never seen much “liberal bias” in his reporting.  I also doubt that Fallows is an influence upon many liberals in America.
  22. Ezra Klein is a young writer and editor at The American Prospect and he was one of the first bloggers to be given press credentials at a political convention in 2004.  He writes frequently on health policy and has argued that 2009 may finally be the year Americans get universal healthcare (I hope he is right!).  He is also a major writer on the labor movement. 
  23. Kevin Drum  is a journalist who became a blogger and is now both.  His blog, The Political Animal at The Washington Monthly  is always worth reading.  I admire Drum for his intellectual honesty.  In the aftermath of 9/11, he got  caught up in the delusional Bush war fever like so many others.  He originally supported the invasion of Iraq, but, on the eve of invasion, he changed his mind, initially for pragmatic reasons. His investigations had convinced him that the approach the Bush administration was taking was bound to make the invasion an unmitigated disaster and that Saddam was once more contained and the weapons inspectors were doing their work.  Since that time, he has seen that the war should have been opposed from the beginning on philosophical grounds. 
  24. Kurt Anderson the writer and novelist and creator of the cultural website, Studio 360.  I don’t see anything which makes Anderson either liberal or a POLITICAL influence, though his cultural influence is undeniable.
  25. Michael Pollan is a columnist, an environmental activist, and also a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley.  The author of the bestselling, The Omivore’s Desire and his The Botany of Desire explores the co-evolution of humans with certain plants. 

It’s an odd list. It combines undoubted influential liberals with those who are either not liberal or not very influential.  Further, as I pointed out, it leaves out every African American voice except that of OPRAH! (Where is Tavis Smiley, Clarence Page, or Bob Herbert? Since bloggers were featured so prominently, what about some prominent black political blogs like Jack and Jill Politics?)  There were no Latinos, either.  And the ranking of the liberals included seems odd. 

So, Gentle Readers, any suggestions for a better list of influential liberals for what Forbes is calling “the age of Obama?”

January 25, 2009 Posted by | media reform, U.S. politics | 11 Comments

Faith Groups Celebrate Torture Ban

This has been underreported in the news.  Gentle Readers, especially in the U.S., please flood your local papers, TV stations, and national networks with this story. It needs to get wider attention.  Many, MANY faith groups are applauding the Obama administration’s ban on torture (and related matters) and urging more to be done–like legislation by Congress.  Faith in Public Life has links to many approving statements by faith groups here.  Give the link in that story to the media outlets you contact.  The media story today was that these moves by Obama were welcomed by “liberal civil liberties groups,” but not by either the military (not so, those were retired generals behind Obama’s desk when he signed the Executive Orders and many in the military and intelligence communities had been urging these actions for years) or “average Americans.”  If we can get widespread media coverage of the support by faith leaders, we can give these actions much needed support–and encourage the further actions which are needed.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | human rights., torture | 5 Comments

What the GOP Fears

You can tell what the Republicans in the Senate most fear from the Obama administration by looking at which cabinet nominees they are stalling or trying to block.  Hillary Clinton (once considered by the GOP to be a symbol of everything bad about “liberals”–even though liberals and progressives like myself always saw the Clintons as center-right) passed easily.  Tim Geithner is being confirmed as Treasury Secretary despite his past tax problems even though he  arguably helped create our current economic mess. (Not by himself, of course, and he stopped being a fann of deregulation sooner, but he still would never have been my choice at Treasury.  I would have wanted a real left of center economist like Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman.) William Lynn of Raytheon infamy (whose appointment breaks Obama’s own rules on lobbyists) will probably be confirmed as Deputy Sec. of Defense for Appropriations!  Where Obama is more continuity than “Change we can believe in,” the Senate GOP has no real problems, even if they posture ahead of time for their constituents.

No, where they are really digging in their heals shows their  deep fears:

  • Eric Holder as Attorney General.  The Republicans are terrified that he will have the Department of Justice investigate all the Bush admin.’s criminal wrongdoings. They want him to pledge that he will not prosecute torturers–something he has refused to do, thankfully, even though he hasn’t pledged to investigate and prosecute either.
  • Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) as Secretary of Labor.  The Republicans are TERRIFIED that she will actually believe in and defend organized labor–as her job requires–rather than being a union buster as the GOP prefers.
  • Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator.  Not all Republicans hate the environment, of course.  In fact, our best environmental presidents have been Republicans (Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, & Richard Nixon). Our worst environmental presidents have also been Republicans (Reagan,  both Bushes) which averages out to the mixed record of Democratic  presidents.  But the TYPE of Republicans that are left in the U.S. Senate (with the partial exceptions of McCain (AZ), Snowe (ME), & Collins (ME) )absolutely LOVED the Bush-era free reign to rape and pillage the earth–and are scared witless that this will end in the new administration.

So, that’s it.  The GOP fears an independent Department of Justice that will really uphold the rule of law. It fears that union busting will be replaced by a newly strengthened labor movement (recall the war on the United Auto Workers by the GOP in December!).  And it fears an EPA that actually PROTECTS the environment!

What the GOP fears is precisely what most Americans celebrate–and at least partly why they voted as they did this past November (and not just in the presidential election, but in “downticket” races). So, we need to push back and get the GOP to quit stalling and confirm these cabinet members so they can get to work for us.  If they want to flex muscle and show Obama he can’t get everything he wants, they should do it with Geithner or Lynn (I would add Gates at Defense, but since he’s a holdover from Bush, he doesn’t have to be confirmed by the Senate). Call your senators  today and tell them to quit stalling–and turn their attention to helping the president save our economy!

January 23, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 4 Comments

Closing Gitmo & Secret Prisons; Banning Torture

President Obama today issued several welcome Executive Orders rolling back some of the worst abuses of the Bush era:

  • An order to close the detention center at Guantanemo Bay Cuba completely within the year.  Some of the detainees will simply be released or repatriated, some will be tried in regular courts and some who are clearly dangerous but who cannot be tried in either civilian or military courts because Bush folk screwed up and tortured them no one knows yet how to handle.  If the Obama people follow the law, they may have no choice but to release these people because their attorneys can file writs of Habeas Corpus.  This is a legal and national security mess (and a MORAL mess) that Bush created that will  be hard to clean up.
  • An order to close the so-called “black sites,” the ring of secret CIA prisons around the world created by the Bush administration. I hope the Obama administration allows international human rights observers and journalists to see all of these gulags.
  • An order to place all interrogations under the standards of the U.S. Army Field Manual (which spells out interrogation techniques allowed by international law, especially the Geneva Conventions), effectively banning torture.  Several sources seem to see a loophole for expanding those interrogation techniques in the order, but given the people Obama is putting in the Office of Legal Counsel, I don’t really fear that he will allow torture to sneak back in. [UPDATE: The Obama people told the Washington Post and the L.A. Times today that this is NOT a loophole. Rather, because the CIA doesn’t want to be guided by the Army Field Manual, this will develop a similar guide that is just as compliant with the Geneva Conventions as the Army Field Manual. This is what was done from 1947 when the CIA was created until the Bushies suddenly considered the Geneva Conventions “quaint.”] I worry more that what is ended by executive order could be allowed again by another executive order in a future administration.  Congress should act quickly to require all interrogations be controlled by the standards of the Geneva Conventions and the relevant treaties against torture. Statute removes this from simply policy differences. [ UPDATE: Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) is reintroducing legislation that will make the Army Field Manual standards apply to  all interrogations, thus making it harder for a new president to reverse Obama’s decision and return to Bush torture practices.  Hooray!  However, there is some irony here since many, including myself, have been critical of DiFi for not doing more to stop the Bush people from torture, spying on Americans,  etc. So, maybe she’s seen the light.] Prosecuting past abuses will also put all future administrations on notice.
  •  We need to be vigilant, here. All politicians like to give themselves “wiggle room” vis-a-vis the law and Obama the Constitutional Scholar will struggle with Obama the Commander in Chief in a world of terrorist networks.  Congress, the courts, and WE, the PEOPLE, need to work against any temptations to backslide back into the Bush era.  Faith networks like Evangelicals for Human Rights and the National Religious Coalition Against Torture need to play our part–because stupid pro-torture TV shows like “24” are shaping public attitudes where moral authorities do not speak up. UPDATE:  Aaron Weaver has posted the public reaction from my friend, Baptist ethicist Dave Gushee, founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights, on these orders at this link!
  • An order reoking Bush’s efforts to hide all presidential and ex-presidential papers forever in presidential libraries, undercutting the post-Watergate “Presidential Records Act.”  This will add transparency back into government–and sunshine is still the best cure for skullduggery.  Why did W issue this order BEFORE 9/11? I think it was to bury evidence of just how far his father, George H.W. Bush (or Pres. 41), was involved in the Iran-Contra crimes.  The statute of limitations has expired, but at least future generations will know. And, of course, no limitations have run out on Jr’s own crimes.  Prosecute NOW!

This is a good start.  It’s also welcome news that former Sen. George Mitchell, who negotiated an end to the fighting in Northern Ireland during the ’90s, is being sent as special envoy to the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region. (I also think some Muslim American faces should be part of these efforts.) I  am still nervous about Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary and keeping Bob Gates on as Secretary of Defense, but these bold moves begin the process of restoring the U.S.’ moral stature (never as large as we Americans usually believe–read our history–but seldom as far off course in modern history as in the last 8 years).

These efforts will also be controversial. Many Americans voted for Obama for other reasons and only 51% approve the closing of the Gitmo gulag.  58% approve banning all torture, which is still too low a percentage, imo.

This is all the more reason to fulfill this campaign promise quickly, while Obama enjoys an 83% approval rating.  (Psst. Mr. President: For the same reason, this would be a great time to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on GLBT folks serving openly in the military–a repeal now supported by many military brass, and to urge Congress to pass quickly the Employee Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA–bans discrimination in hiring, promotions, etc. for GLBT persons, with religious liberty exceptions for churches,  synagogues, etc.] & the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA–the federal law against same-sex marriages signed by Bill Clinton in ’96]. If you wait until later,  these measures will be much harder to do.)

January 22, 2009 Posted by | civil liberties, human rights., terrorism prevention, torture, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

Olbermann: Obama MUST Prosecute Bush Officials Guilty of Torture–Or It Will Happen Again

In a Countdown “Special Comment” Keith Olbermann tells President Obama that he MUST prosecute Bush officials guilty of torture. He won’t want to do this because it will eat political capital (looking like revenge) that he needs for other things.  He would rather just end these practices and look to the future. A special prosecutor with public investigations and trials (which may include even former Pres. Bush and former VP Cheney since they both seem to have admitted to authorizing torture) will be a huge distraction from ending two wars and fixing the economy (and greening the economy), etc.  But when we as Americans have tried to “just move on” regarding Watergate, etc., we have seen future administrations do even worse.  This can’t just be “policy differences.” These are war crimes and crimes against humanity and must be prosecuted accordingly.

See the video below:

January 21, 2009 Posted by | human rights., torture, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

Afhganistan Could Derail Obama Like Vietnam Derailed LBJ

The old expression is “Afghanistan is where empires go to die.” Ask Alexander the Great.   Ask Genghis Khan.  Ask the British.  Most recently ask the (now defunct) Soviet Union which spent 10 years in Afghanistan before breaking up.  The Soviets started trying to get out of Afghanistan during year 6. We have already been in Afghanistan 7 years (although at much lower troop levels and not engaging in constant battles) and are poised to try a “surge” strategy–in a nation twice the area, with double the population of Iraq–and divided not just into Sunni, Shi’ia and Kurds, but into numerous hostile tribes who could care less about the government  in Kabul.

During the campaign, I didn’t say much about Obama’s desire to increase troops in Afghanistan.  As a pacifist, I opposed the war from the beginning, but knew after 9/11 that there was very little chance of stopping military action in Afghanistan.  A President Al Gore (provided he allowed 9/11 to happen) would have gone after the al-Qaeda training camps and the Taliban sheltering them no less than President Bush did.  No one who could have been elected in America would have acted much differently–and most of the governments of the world were behind us.  The mission was limited: Get Osama and his cohorts.  Set up a framework for Afghans to form their own democracy based on their own ancient traditions.  Offer material aid and reconstruction and get out of the way.  The invasion of Iraq changed that:  allowed Osama to escape and took resources away from the fragile government in Kabul, allowing  the Taliban to regroup.

But the answer is not to add more military.  Fortunately, the Washington consensus that it is the right strategy is coming undone.  Not only peaceniks like myself, but more and more foreign policy types, from across the political spectrum, and including top military, are now saying that there is no military solution to Afghanistan.  We need a rethinking of strategy and goals, and to plan and endgame and exit strategy–while there is still time.  Otherwise, Afghanistan could derail everything Obama wants to do to rebuild and green our economy–and, in fact, it could bring down our entire system as it has so many others.

Fortunately, people are no longer shy about telling the new president to GET AFGHANISTAN RIGHT! as a new website put up  by bi-partisan foreign policy types against escalation puts it.  Read their analyses at the link.  Then, do as I have done and send the link and your opposition to escalation in Afghanistan to Whitehouse.gov and State.gov (the State Department). 

I did see hints in Obama’s speech yesterday that he is aware of the quagmire Afghanistan can be.  He no longer was talking about “ending one war that should  never have been waged to win another,” but talked about forging “a hard peace” in Afghanistan.  He consults with military leaders today about ending Iraq (keeping a campaign promise to begin the withdrawal on day 1), but Afghanistan will also be on the agenda–and General Petraeus is among those who have claimed that there is no longterm military solution to Afghanistan.

Here is a major opportunity for peacemaking organizations.  We need to help change direction here early before the Obama administration becomes invested in particular policy strategies for Afghanistan.  I don’t want America to be an empire (although we have certainly acted like one in recent history!), but I also don’t want our ship of state to founder on the shoals of Afghanistan.  It’s time for whole new approaches.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | just peacemaking, just war theory | 1 Comment

Barack Obama is now 44th President of USA

Chief Justice Roberts flubbed the oath of office, but we got through it. [Update: Obama also made a mistake–minor but embarassing for a student of history like the new president. He said that 44 Americans have now taken the  oath of office. Oops! He IS the 44th President, but only because Grover Cleveland served 2 non-consecutive terms, as 22nd and 24th President. So, only 43 Americans have taken the oath.  I wonder that none of his factcheckers caught that one. 🙂 ]

  Bush is gone. Obama has just signed his official nominations of his cabinet, many of whom will be confirmed today by unanimous consent of the Senate. (One senator is preventing that from being the case with Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State, so she will be confirmed tomorrow by roll call vote, which she will easily win.)

The crowds were huge.  The inaugural address was amazing, calling for both personal and governmental responsibility. He prepared the nation for tough times, but called us to sacrifice for the common good. He reached out to other nations, especially Muslim nations, in friendship and work for peace. He also promised poor nations that we would work beside them to achieve prosperity. He told terrorists that they could not defeat us, we would outlast and defeat them, but NOT while lowering our ideals to their levels for the sake of expediency. (Much hinting that swift action would be taken to close Gitmo and secret prisons, ban torture, by executive order.)

A call to clean energy and tackling climate change while rebuilding the economy.  But he reminded us to be primarily citizens rather than primarily consumers!!

A call to sacrifice with quotations from Washington, and allusions to JFK, Lincoln, I Corinthians, and much else. 

I cried like a baby.  I’ll return to “outsider social critic” tomorrow. Today, I am just a proud citizen–and it has been a LOONNGG time since I was proud of my country.

You can read the full text of the inaugural  address at this link.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 11 Comments

The Real West Wing?

If they made a hit TV show about the working White House of the new administration, this is what it would look like–with more “characters” to be named (and lots of guest shots from Cabinet members, no doubt).

Who are these people?

David Axelrod (b. 1955, A.B. University of Chicago, 1977), the genius who ran Obama’s campaign, is now White House Senior Advisor.

Joseph Biden (b. 1942, A.B., University of Delaware; J.D., Syracuse University School of Law), Democratic Senator from Delaware and former presidential candidate will be sworn in tomorrow as Vice President of the United States.

Rahm Emmanuel (b. 1959, B.A. [in DANCE!] Sara Lawrence College; M.A. in Speech and Communication, Northwestern University), U.S. Rep. (D-IL 05), former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, former Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives, will now be White House Chief of Staff. (This is a very powerful position.)

Robert Gibbs (b. 1971, B.A., North Carolina State University), was communications director for the Obama Campaign and will now be White House Press Secretary.

Valerie Jarrett  (b. 1956, B.A., Stanford University; J.D., University of Michigan Law School), a Chicago lawyer, business woman and longtime Obama confidant, is co-chair of the transition team and will be White House Senior Advisor.

Jim Messina (b. 1969, B.A., University of Montana) has worked on numerous political staffs and campaigns. He will be Deputy Chief of Staff in the White House.

Ellen Moran (b.? B.A., Wheaton College) is currently Executive Director of EMILY’s LIST, an organization dedicated to electing more feminist Democratic women at all levels of government. She will be White House Communications Director.

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (b. 1964, B.A., Princeton University; J.D., Harvard Law School), successful Chicago lawyer and community activist, mother of two, is, of course, our new First Lady.

Mona Sutphen (b. 1968, B.A. in International Relations from Mount Holyoke University; M.Sc. in international community from London School of Economics) is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and worked in the Clinton administration. She is currently a consultant for a firm on international business. She will be Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Foreign Affairs.

Barack Hussein Obama II (b. 1961, B.A. in international relations, Columbia University; J.D., magna cum laude, Harvard Law School, president of the Harvard Law Review) has been a community organizer, state senator for Illinois, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Chicago Law School, U.S. Senator from Illinois and will now be President of the United States of America.

Not a bad cast for a first season at all! 🙂

January 19, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 4 Comments