Threats to justice everywhere

July 14, 2013 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. – Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” April 16, 1963

Those searing words are as apt today as they were a half century ago. We have not lived fully if we have not done our part to fight injustice.

Look around:

  • In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.
  • Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school.
  • Worldwide, women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  • Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced.
  • Every 2 minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, but 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
  • Murder is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.
  • It costs just 25 cents a day to provide a child with the vitamins and nutrients to grow up healthy, but every hour 300 children die from malnutrition.
  • One in seven people on earth goes to bed hungry each night, while 1,426 billionaires have a net worth of $5.4 trillion, more than 100 times the amount necessary to eradicate global hunger.
  • 85 of the richest people on the planet are as wealthy as the poorest 3.5 billion.
  • Our government regularly uses unmanned drones to fire missiles at ill-defined targets, slaughtering babies in the process.
  • Our government detains people indefinitely with no charges and no recourse then jams feeding tubes down their throats when they protest.
  • Our government assassinates its own citizens with no trial.
  • Global military spending exceeds $1.7 trillion per year, 100 times more than annual cancer research spending.
  • 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less, while the top 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers made a combined $13.2 billion in a single year.
  • Over a million people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year.
  • One in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
  • African American women are  three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated.
  • Over 40% of Americans live in a household with a gun, more than the percentage of young adults enrolled in college.
  • The world’s nations pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels last year, which amounts to 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide every second, poisoning our children and endangering life on our planet.
  • 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage, while 2 to 4 million gallons of water are used to frack a single well, contaminating aquifers with methane, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

Humans cannot claim to be civilized when these travesties are allowed to continue. We truly share a “single garment of destiny” and if we accept one of the injustices above, we are enabling all of them.

Is the progressive blogosphere dead?

October 24, 2012 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

UPDATE (10/29/13): The progressive community is abuzz about a pair of posts from Ian Welsh and Jerome Armstrong about the “Failure of the Netroots.” My view is that Ian and Jerome are reflecting deep, often unspoken dismay among some progressives that the Obama presidency has been a disaster for their cause. Some of the most egregious national security practices and civil liberties violations of the Bush era have been expanded and enhanced under Obama, negating years of tireless, thankless activism by the netroots against the Bush-Cheney agenda.

Following is a post I wrote in response to a 2012 Daily Beast article about the decline of the liberal blogosphere which tracks some of the arguments made by Ian and Jerome. Note my (pre-Snowden) comments about Glenn Greenwald and my prediction that bloggers like Glenn would be among those who “help shape the national debate” in the years to come…

In 2005, I wrote “THE TRIANGLE: Limits of Blog Power,” about the power (and occasional powerlessness) of progressive blogs. Seven years later, the questions remain the same and the Daily Beast’s David Freedlander writes about the perceived decline of the liberal blogosphere, igniting a spirited debate among bloggers.

Jane Hamsher: “Pam has already touched on David Freedlander’s piece about the decline of independent blogs 10 years down the road.  There are many things that are true in his long piece, but he somehow doesn’t manage to ask the rather obvious question — where’s the money? …The reason increasing numbers of blogs can’t keep the lights on is simple –  Google.  As I wrote on Bytegeist recently, news advertising revenues (both online and off) have tanked since 2000, and that money is going straight to Google, who passes pennies on to news outlets for every dollar they receive.”

Susie Madrak: ” As Jane Hamsher points out, we lost revenue over Google ad practices. (Not to mention the Obama campaign’s refusal to buy ads directly from blogs. Guess they showed us, huh?) But I liked Pam Spaulding’s take best. Like me, Pam is just trying to stay afloat with her health problems…”

Pam Spaulding: “It’s not that independent political blogging is toast — after all the longevity of a blog post in the historical record far outweighs a short message on social media. A blog essay has more lasting influence; the problem is independent blogs don’t have sufficient value in today’s commercial space to sustain their existence —  save for the lucky few people who have been able to monetize (or fundraise) for theirs to continue to exist.”

Raven Brooks: “The dynamics of the Netroots may have changed since its beginnings in 2004, but the influence has grown. Freedlander’s premise that people of influence dismiss progressive bloggers is simply not true. Not a day goes by without a staffer, candidate or elected official asking for advice on how to reach bloggers–and get money and support from their readers.”

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The silence of the left: Obama, Bush and extrajudicial killing

February 25, 2012 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has spent the duration of Obama’s presidency asking a fundamental question of the left: Why are George W. Bush’s transgressions, which elicited fury from Democrats and liberals, acceptable when President Obama adopts – and embraces – them? In a recent post, Glenn decries the intellectual dishonesty he sees reflected in a Washington Post poll:

During the Bush years, Guantanamo was the core symbol of right-wing radicalism and what was back then referred to as the “assault on American values and the shredding of our Constitution”: so much so then when Barack Obama ran for President, he featured these issues not as a secondary but as a central plank in his campaign. But now that there is a Democrat in office presiding over Guantanamo and these other polices — rather than a big, bad, scary Republican — all of that has changed, as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll demonstrates.

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Witnessing history

January 13, 2012 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Every age has its historic moments.

Ours:

The 9/11/01 attacks and brutal amputation of Manhattan’s skyline
One of the most destructive tsunamis ever recorded (Indian Ocean)
One of the deadliest earthquakes ever recorded (Haiti)
One of the worst environmental disasters of all time (Gulf spill)
The virtual drowning of a major U.S. city (New Orleans/Katrina)
The near-drowning of a major U.S. city (New York/Sandy)
Japan’s monster earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster
The emergence – and denial – of the greatest man-made threat to human life (climate change)
The Middle East and North Africa uprisings

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Vindicated by new polls, progressive bloggers and activists will determine President Obama’s political fate

September 6, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

The defining conflict of the Obama presidency is not between the White House and Republicans. It’s not between the White House and the Tea Party. It’s between President Obama and the left, specifically between Obama and progressive opinion-makers and online activists.

It’s no coincidence that the angriest barbs from this White House have been directed at the netroots. And it’s no surprise that the media and political establishment – along with a vitriolic cadre of Obama supporters – are mortified by the principled left, simultaneously dismissing them as bit players and accusing them of being ingrates who are damaging Obama’s reelection prospects (hint: you can’t be both).

I’ve repeated a version of this thesis for years: a handful of influential progressive opinion-makers are canaries in the coal mine, propounding and presaging views and arguments later adopted by rank and file Democrats.

It’s been that way since the dawn of the blogosphere and has only been magnified with Twitter and other online platforms. Just as the netroots laid the groundwork for the eventual downfall of the Bush presidency, the sharp, insistent, principled critiques of President Obama emanating from the left on civil liberties, women’s reproductive rights, gay rights, the environment, secrecy, executive power, the economy, war, among other issues, have had a profoundly outsized effect on perceptions of this president.

Recent polls (including Gallup, which shows a double-digit decline among liberals) indicate significant erosion of support for Obama among groups who propelled him to victory in 2008, reinforcing the idea that reality is catching up with netroots criticism. This crumbling of support is typically attributed by pundits to the poor economy, but the problem is more complicated: it’s the poor economy coupled with the sense (fair or unfair) that Barack Obama has no convictions, no moral center, nothing for which he will take an unwavering stand.

That perception of a lack of  convictions can’t be attributed solely to attacks from the right, since they can be discounted as partisan. It’s when the left makes that argument that conventional wisdom congeals.

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GOP radicals and the end of American exceptionalism

August 9, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Last November, Karen Tumulty wrote an interesting article titled American exceptionalism: an old idea and a new political battle:

[T]he idea that the United States is inherently superior to the world’s other nations has become the battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012.

The proposition of American exceptionalism, which goes at least as far back as the writing of French aristocrat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s, asserts that this country has a unique character. It is also rooted in religious belief. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: “God has granted America a special role in human history.

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The ugly truth about climate denial

May 18, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Little should surprise us in a world where intolerable injustices are widely ignored, from preventable hunger, poverty and disease to irreversible environmental destruction to the global oppression of girls and women; where wealth disparities are at record levels and wealthy bankers are bailed out by the people they’ve bankrupted; where huge corporations pay no taxes and get subsidized by the public; where a war based on lies and deceptions that resulted in unimaginable carnage is heralded as a success; where the assault on basic rights and liberties is greeted with a yawn — if not a cheer; where sports games arouse more passion and emotion than a million babies dying; where a minor celebrity infraction receives more attention than an epidemic of sexual violence in which young girls have their insides shredded with broken bottles and sticks of wood.

In this atmosphere of denial and self-destruction, few things capture the zeitgeist better than the American right’s reckless dismissal of climate change:

Late last week, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called “America’s Climate Choices.” As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest.

Coincidentally, USA TODAY’s Dan Vergano reported Monday, a statistics journal retracted a federally funded study that had become a touchstone among climate-change deniers. The retraction followed complaints of plagiarism and use of unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia. Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the “birthers,” who continue to challenge President Obama’s American citizenship — a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence.

Here are the facts:

The more carbon that gets released into the atmosphere, the higher the average temperature rises. That’s a scientific fact. Human activities, such as driving, flying, building and even turning on the lights, are the biggest contributor to the release of carbon. That too, is a fact.

Yet millions of Americans, including most Republican officials, are in absolute denial.

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Epic irony: Mideast moves forward while America moves backward

February 23, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

The contrast between events in the Middle East and the political reality here in America is striking: as the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere rise by the millions to protest injustice, and as governments from Jordan to Syria see the writing on the wall, the United States gives power to a political movement bent on reversing generations of progress.

The GOP and Tea Party, drifting ever rightward, want to strip away health coverage, undermine faith in science, deny the overwhelming consensus on the mortal threat of climate change, give tax breaks to the rich, increase record wealth disparities, abolish women’s reproductive rights, defund public radio, gut gun laws, curtail gay rights, inject religion into government, and much more.

Targeting scientists, academics, public broadcasters, unions, health care providers and women, among others, they willfully misinterpret the Constitution to make specious arguments in favor of reactionary policies and are whipped into a frenzy by millionaire radio and TV blatherers, whose sole mission is to demonize liberals and liberalism — to the point of inciting violence against them.

Democratic leaders, obsessed with wooing “independent” voters, and captives of a toxic Beltway mindset, barely make a stand in the face of this all-out assault.

If we fail to see the irony of a Mideast marching into the future while America races into the past, we will pay the price.

UPDATE: The GOP’s mission to deny women’s reproductive rights/freedom is exemplified by this:

One hundred members of Congress (so far) have cosponsored a bill introduced by far right Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) called the “Protect Life Act.” They want to “protect life” so much that they have written into the bill a new amendment that would override the requirement that emergency room doctors save every patient, regardless of status or ability to pay.  The law would carve out an exception for pregnant women; doctors and hospitals will be allowed to let pregnant women die if interventions to save them will kill the fetus.

Heinous beyond words.

UPDATE II: More disturbing examples of America’s reverse trajectory…

First:

Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin has introduced a 10-page bill that would criminalize some miscarriages, and make abortion in Georgia completely illegal and punishable by death. Basically, it’s everything an “pro-life” activist could want aside from making all women who’ve had abortions wear big red “A”s on their chests.

Second:

For nearly a year, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Virginia’s crusading Republican attorney general, has waged a one-man war on the theory of man-made global warming. Invoking his subpoena powers, he has sought to force the University of Virginia to turn over the files of a prominent climatology professor, asserting that his research may be marred by fraud. The university is battling the move in the courts. Now his allegations of manipulated data and scientific fraud are resonating in Congress, where Republican leaders face an influx of new members, many of them Tea Party stalwarts like Mr. Cuccinelli, eager to inveigh against the body of research linking man-made emissions to warming.

Third:

In 2010, for the first time in 15 years, more bank branches closed than opened across the United States. An analysis of government data shows, however, that even as banks shut branches in poorer areas, they continued to expand in wealthier ones, despite decades of government regulations requiring financial institutions to meet the credit needs of poor and middle-class neighborhoods.

Obama and Egypt: clues and warnings in his 2009 Cairo speech

January 30, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

The Obama administration is in a tough spot – navigating the treacherous diplomatic and political waters of Egypt’s uprising is no easy task. Supporting the Egyptian people without doing or saying something that could destabilize the region is a careful balancing act.

Still, many Americans and Egyptians yearn for a more forceful stance from the U.S. president.

In June of 2009, I wrote a post about President Obama’s Cairo speech and I’m posting it below to offer some context on how the administration is handling today’s events:

Let Women Wear the Hijab: The Emptiness of Obama’s Cairo Speech
June 4, 2009

I know many will gush over President Obama’s Cairo speech and I’m likely swimming against the tide of the media and my fellow Democrats and progressives. But reading the transcript, I was struck by two things:

1. Aside from a few platitudes, it is disappointingly weak on human rights and specifically women’s rights.

2. It betrays a naiveté, perhaps feigned, about how the Arab world works.

I sometimes preface my posts by explaining that my Mideast perspective is that of an American-Lebanese-Christian-Jew who grew up in Muslim West Beirut at the height (or should I say depth) of the Lebanese civil war. The tumultuous and bloody intersection of religions and geopolitical interests is painfully real to me.

Yes, Obama is targeting the Arab ‘street’ and global public opinion – but to the corrupt regimes that dominate that region of the world, his oration means virtually nothing. Repression and suppression will go on uninterrupted. And to those whose abiding hatred of Israel (and thus America) is absolute, Obama’s words will be seen as empty and hypocritical.

Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy explains:

Right before he took off from DC, on what the media has been depicting as some “odyssey,” to address the Muslim World from Cairo, President Obama had described the 81-year-old Egyptian President Mubarak as a “force for stability.” This week Cairo and its twin city Giza have been a showcase of what this “stability” cost.The capital is under occupation. Security troops are deployed in the main public squares and metro stations. Citizens were detained en masse and shops were told to close down in Bein el-Sarayat area, neighboring Cairo University, where Obama will be speaking. In Al-Azhar University, the co-host of the “historical speech,” State Security police raided and detained at least 200 foreign students, held them without charges in unknown locations.

Is there an overarching purpose to Obama’s speech? Is it to repair our image after eight years of a radical rightwing administration? Of course. But if the goal is to repair our image, then how about shunning the barbaric concept of indefinite detention? How about heeding the increasingly distressed calls of those who view the new administration’s actions in the realm of civil liberties as a dangerous, disturbing, and precedent-setting affirmation of Bush’s worst excesses?

Glenn Greenwald writes:

The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 — that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.”What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people? Read the language of the bill; it doesn’t even hide the fact that its only objective is to empower the President to conceal evidence of war crimes.

That this exact scenario is now happening in the U.S. is all the more remarkable given that the President who is demanding these new suppression powers is the same one who repeatedly vowed “to make his administration the most open and transparent in history.” After noting the tentative steps Obama has taken to increase transparency, the generally pro-Obama Washington Post Editorial Page today observed: “what makes the administration’s support for the photographic records act so regrettable” is that “Mr. Obama runs the risk of taking two steps back in his quest for more open government.”

What makes all of this even worse is that it is part of a broader trend whereby the Government simply retroactively changes the law whenever it decides it does not want to abide by it.

Glenn has been documenting – and railing against – dozens of similar instances. I echoed his concerns in a recent post:

Setting aside all the campaign slogans about hope and change, what Obama really signifies is a razor sharp break from Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rice, Rumsfeld, Addington, Libby, Bybee et al. After eight years of damage to the fabric of our Constitution and our nation, the entire point of a new face, a smart, youthful, inspiring Democratic president is to completely and totally reject the Bush years, to reject the lawless behavior, the Orwellian rationales, the blatant disregard of the Constitution. Neglecting to do so, and leaving any doubt about where Democrats stand on these issues, is profoundly detrimental to the country.

Take the issue of women’s rights, addressed in Obama’s Cairo speech with the most tepid language:

“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.”"I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.”

“Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.”

“Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.”

Is that a joke?

With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters.

I return to the example of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow:

13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped. Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died. When some of the people at the stadium tried to save her, militia opened fire on the crowd, killing a boy who was a bystander.A witness who spoke to the BBC’s Today programme said she had been crying and had to be forced into a hole before the stoning, reported to have taken place in a football stadium. … She said: ‘I’m not going, I’m not going. Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.’ “A few minutes later more than 50 men tried to stone her.” The witness said people crowding round to see the execution said it was “awful”.

Enough with the perpetual campaign. True justice, true peace, these are earned through courageous decisions and bold actions. Real truth to power.

If we are to fix America’s image in the world and if we are to heal the planet’s myriad ills, it will not be done through contrite kumbaya speeches about how we are all one world and how we should all coexist peacefully, no matter whether the remarks are delivered in Cleveland or Cairo. It will be done by leading through example, by righting the many wrongs here at home, by seeking justice and fairness for all, by doing what is right, not saying what sounds pleasing to the media elite and the pliable punditocracy.

A video is worth a thousand words

December 17, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

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