Tuesday Reads: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Breton Children Reading, Emile Vernon, 1913

Good Afternoon!!

Thank goodness the “holidays” are almost over now, and soon a new year will begin. What will 2018 bring? Will Trump continue his goal of destroying democracy or will we somehow manage to keep it alive? First we have to get through the journalistic ritual of looking back over the year that is ending.

Eugene Robinson posted his evaluation of 2017 last night: Trump’s first year was even worse than feared.

Grit your teeth. Persevere. Just a few more days and this awful, rotten, no-good, ridiculous, rancorous, sordid, disgraceful year in the civic life of our nation will be over. Here’s hoping that we all — particularly special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — have a better 2018.

Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.

Did you ever think you would hear a president use the words “very fine people” to describe participants in a torch-lit rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan? Did you ever think you would hear a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations thuggishly threaten that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not vote on a General Assembly resolution the way she wanted? Did you ever think the government of the world’s biggest military and economic power would reject not just science but also empiricism itself, preferring to use made-up “alternative facts” as the basis for major decisions?

We knew that Trump was narcissistic and shallow, but on Inauguration Day it was possible to at least hope he was self-aware enough to understand the weight that now rested on his shoulders, and perhaps grow into the job. He did not. If anything, he has gotten worse.

Read the rest at The Washington Post.

Paul Krugman still has hope: America Is Not Yet Lost.

Auguste reading to her daughter, by Mary Cassatt

Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party — including so-called moderates — turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it’s evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle — and every shred of their own dignity — as long as their donors get big tax cuts.

Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda….

What we’ve seen instead is the emergence of a highly energized resistance. That resistance made itself visible literally the day after Trump took office, with the huge women’s marches that took place on Jan. 21, dwarfing the thin crowds at the inauguration. If American democracy survives this terrible episode, I vote that we make pink pussy hats the symbol of our delivery from evil….

Let’s be clear: America as we know it is still in mortal danger. Republicans still control all the levers of federal power, and never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.

This obviously goes for Trump himself, who is clearly a dictator wannabe, with no respect whatsoever for democratic norms. But it also goes for Republicans in Congress, who have demonstrated again and again that they will do nothing to limit his actions. They have backed him up as he uses his office to enrich himself and his cronies, as he foments racial hatred, as he attempts a slow-motion purge of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.

I count it as a good sign that journalists are coming right out and calling Trump a wannabe dictator. Also a good sign: both Robinson and Krugman acknowledge that if we are to survive Trump, women’s leadership will be the reason. How ironic that a woman had to be excoriated and mocked by abusive male journalists for this awakening of women’s power to happen.

Jan Van Eyck – Madonna with the Child Reading (1433)

It’s also a good sign that journalists finally recognized the Russian threat, although this only happened after a monster was installed as POTUS. Yesterday The Washington Post published a breathtaking analysis of what the Russians accomplished last year and the danger they still pose to our democracy: Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options. Here’s a brief excerpt; please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.

One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said….

The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential electiontrace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a “third-rate regional power” that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery.

Senior U.S. officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States.

“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”

Much more at the WaPo link.

From former CIA Deputy Director and Acting Director Michael Morrell: Russia never stopped its cyberattacks on the United States.

Every first-year international-relations student learns about the importance of deterrence: It prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe during the height of the Cold War. It prevented North Korea from invading South Korea in the same time frame. Today, it keeps Iran from starting a hot war in the Middle East or other nations from initiating cyberattacks against our infrastructure.

The Reader, by Federico Zandomeneghi (Italian, 1841)

And yet, the United States has failed to establish deterrence in the aftermath of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We know we failed because Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspect of its 2016 tool kit: the use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.

There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day.

This should alarm everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.

Read about the continuing threats from Russia at the WaPo link.

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jonathan Peters reports on the work of NYT master’s student to examine Trump’s Twitter attacks on the media.

Trump’s prolificacy on Twitter is well documented, and some of his press-related tweets have captured vast public attention. For example, Trump tweeted in July a doctored video in which he wrestled a man whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. It got hundreds of thousands of retweets.

Off Twitter, of course, Trump has waged a rhetorical war on the press, threatening to sue various newspapers and calling journalists “the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” all while characterizing as “fake news” any story he dislikes.

That’s what prompted an NYU master’s student to start tracking Trump’s tweets critical of the press. “I took it on as a labor of love and hate, and I suffered through his tweets every few days to log them,” says Stephanie Sugars, who is pursuing a joint MA in journalism and international relations. “It seemed important to maintain a record of what has appeared to be a deliberate and sustained campaign to discredit the media as an institution.”

By Zulia Gotay de Anderson

Sugars was working as a researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists last spring when she created the Trump-tweet spreadsheet that she recently shared with me. She was helping to launch a website that documents press freedom incidents in the US. (CJR is a partner.) Originally, she and others at CPJ thought it would include not only arrests and equipment seizures but also anti-press social media posts.

“That just wasn’t manageable,” Sugars says. “We decided to pare the site back and not focus on tweets. I kept up with the spreadsheet, though, and continued to add to it, even after leaving [CPJ] when my term as a researcher there ended.”

Peters then assigned his students a the University of Georgia to “review the spreadsheet and to help me identify notable items and trends in the data.” Read the rest at the CJR link to see the results.

One more interesting read: could Ivanka be in trouble with the law? GQ: Ivanka Trump’s Old Jewelry Business Is Now Caught Up in an Alleged Fraud Scheme. Author Ben Schreckenger begins by asking, “Why do people looking to launder money seem to find Trump family businesses so appealing?”

Throw a dart at a map of the world and there’s a solid chance it will land near a spot where a Trump family business has allegedly gotten caught up in a money laundering scheme.

There’s Panama, where the Trump Ocean Club is said to have washed dirty cash for Russian gangsters and South American drug cartels. There’s Azerbaijan and the Trump Baku, where the money allegedly being laundered was said to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. And of course, there’s the Trump Soho in Manhattan, a magnet for money from Kazakhstan and Russia, and a property that one former executive on the project now calls “a monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.”

In each of those cases, the Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing and has sought to distance itself—and the Trump family—from the property, saying they merely licensed ​the Trump name. But as it turns out, it’s not just Trump-branded real estate developments that perhaps have attracted the wrong kinds of money.

Thanks to an overlooked filing made in federal court this past summer, we can now add a jewelry business to the list of Trump family enterprises that allegedly served as vehicles to fraudulently hide the assets of ultra-rich foreigners with checkered backgrounds. In late June, the Commercial Bank of Dubai sought—and later received—permission to subpoena Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fine jewelry line, claiming its diamonds were used in a massive scheme to hide roughly $100 million that was owed to the bank, according to filings at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Read the rest at GQ.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Wednesday Reads: Forest for the trees

potagesmaggiGood Morning

My internet has been acting strange lately, so I am writing this post on the fly and comments will be at a minimum.

First up, sad story from India, according to BBC News: School meal kills 22 in India’s Bihar state

At least 22 children have died and dozens more have fallen ill after eating lunch at a school in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

The poisoning occurred in the village of Dharmasati Gandaman, 80km (50 miles) north of the state capital, Patna.

The free Mid-Day Meal Scheme aims to tackle hunger and boost attendance in schools, but suffers from poor hygiene.

Angry parents joined protests against the deaths, setting at least four police vehicles on fire.

An inquiry has begun and 200,000 rupees ($3,370) in compensation offered to the families of each of the dead.

Twenty-eight sick children were taken to hospitals in the nearby town of Chhapra after the incident and later were moved to Patna.

A total of 47 students of the primary school fell sick on Tuesday after eating the free lunch.

More deaths are possible as many of the kids are under the age of 12 and still in critical condition.

The state education minister, PK Shahi, told the BBC a preliminary investigation indicated that the food was contaminated with traces of phosphorous.

“The doctors who have attended are of the tentative opinion that the smell coming out of the bodies of the children suggests that the food contained organo-phosphorus, which is a poisonous substance,” he said.

“Now the investigators have to find out whether organo-phosphorus was accidental or there was some deliberate mischief.”

Earlier, doctors treating the patients had said “food poisoning” was the cause of the deaths.

“We suspect it to be poisoning caused by insecticides in vegetable or rice,” Amarjeet Sinha, a senior education official, told the BBC.

A doctor treating the children at a hospital in Patna said contaminated vegetable oil could have led to the poisoning.

Patna-based journalist Amarnath Tewary says villagers told local reporters that similar cases of food poisoning after having Mid-Day Meals had taken place in the area previously.

The horror of this story will only be more disturbing if it does turn out to be deliberate. I will keep you all up to date on the details as the day goes on.

Meanwhile, the Zimmerman Jury’s shitstorm has begun B37’s fellow jurors in Trayvon Martin trial bash her for leading country to believe spoke for them – NY Daily News

Four jurors in Trayvon Martin trial have issued a statement Tuesday night bashing B37 for going on TV and leading the country to believe she spoke for all of them.

Just moments after CNN aired part two of its interview with the juror known as B37, four of her fellow members on the six-woman jury issued a joint statement.

“We also wish to point out that the opinions of Juror B37, expressed on the Anderson Cooper show were her own, and not in any way representative of the jurors listed below.”

The jurors added, “We ask you to remember that we are not public officials and we did not invite this type of attention into our lives.”

More from LA Times: Zimmerman trial: 4 jurors say Juror B37 does not speak for them

The other four jurors also cited Florida law. “Serving on this jury has been a highly emotional and physically draining experience for each of us,” the statement signed by Jurors B51, B76, E6 and E40 said. “The death of a teenager weighed heavily on our hearts, but in the end we did what the law required us to do.”

It still makes me cringe to think Zimmerman got away with killing Martin, and not one charge was brought against him…aside from manslaughter…assault…battery…geez, stalking?  I guess I am rambling but it still seems inconceivable to me that there are no criminal consequences for Zimmerman’s actions, which did result in the death of an unarmed young man.

Alright, here are some links from yesterday that you should check out.

Op/ed by Katrina vanden Heuvel: Congress’s appalling Republicans – The Washington Post

There really isn’t any other word. Congressional Republicans are simply appalling. They have absolute control of the House. They set the agenda. They decide what comes to the floor. They decide what passes on to the Senate.

They know that extreme legislation isn’t going to be enacted into law. The Democratic majority in the Senate and the Democratic president stand in the way. So the legislation they choose to pass is a statement of their own values. It is simply designed to proclaim, “This is where we stand.” And for the vast majority of Americans, what they proudly proclaim is simply beyond the pale.

New blog post by Kurt Eichenwald: My Family, Our Cancer, and the Murderous Cruelty of Conservatives | Vanity Fair

My wife has breast cancer.

I write this, with her permission, while sitting in the hospital waiting room as she undergoes surgery. Afterward, there will be another surgery, radiation, and probably chemo, but what else might be in the offing is guesswork at this point. I’ll know more this afternoon, when the operation is over.

A comparison over at Juan Cole’s blog: Israel’s District 9: Its Biggest Ethnic Cleansing since 1948 | Informed Comment

30,000 Palestinian-Israelis of Bedouin heritage are are being forcibly transferred by the Israeli government, and thousands of acres of their land is being stolen from them.

The 972 article compares it to Apartheid South Africa’s District 6, the inspiration for the film, “District 9″

The Palestinian-Israelis are mounting big protests today.

Tales from the Walmart inner circle: Four Angry Wal-Mart Workers, and Four Happy Ones

Last week, we brought you some true stories from Wal-Mart workers— stories that alarmed Wal-Mart so much that they (unsuccessfully) begged their employees to send us positive stories to balance them out. Since then, we’ve received many more, both good and bad. Here are some.

Note: Wal-Mart specifically solicited its employees to send us positive stories (and furthermore, one employee tells us, “Walmart does have an official policy on employees posting on social media and yes we *can* be fired for posting content the company doesn’t like”). Despite this, we’ve received a far greater number of negative than positive stories. Today, however, we’re posting an equal number of positive and negative stories. Take them as you will. They’re all revealing in their own way.

An interesting look at Latin America, considering the recent events surrounding Snowden and the “courtship” of his “affections“:

Why Latin America Is Becoming Less Democratic – Kurt Weyland – The Atlantic

democracytop.jpg

Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stage a protest over a drawing of a gagged face during a march to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the return of democracy after the 1958 coup in Caracas January 23, 2011. (Jorge Silvas/Reuters)

Around the turn of the millennium, prominent Latin America special­ist Scott Mainwaring highlighted the surprising endurance of democracy in that region after the transition wave of the late 1970s and 1980s.Dur­ing that interval, no democracy had permanently succumbed to a mili­tary coup or slid back into authoritarian rule. After decades marked by instability in numerous countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Ec­uador, this newfound democratic resilience came as a welcome surprise.

[…]

The recent suffocation of political pluralism in a whole group of countries is with­out precedent. For the first time in decades, democracy in Latin America is facing a sustained, coordinated threat. The regional trend toward de­mocracy, which had prevailed since the late 1970s, has suffered a partial reversal. Unexpectedly, democracy is now on the defensive in parts of the region.

That is just a couple of paragraphs, go read the whole article…

There was a freaky story that you may have missed a couple of weeks ago, Mystery of Nazi Swastikas in the Forests – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Over 20 years ago, a landscaper in eastern Germany discovered a formation of trees in a forest in the shape of a swastika. Since then, a number of other forest swastikas have been found in Germany and beyond, but the mystery of their origins persist.

Blame it on the larches. Brandenburg native Günter Reschke was the first one to notice their unique formation, according to a 2002 article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. To be more precise, however, it was the new intern at Reschke’s landscaping company, Ökoland Dederow, who discovered the trees in 1992 as he was completing a typically thankless intern task: searching aerial photographs for irrigation lines.

For decade, this swastika of larch trees stood undiscovered in the middle of...

Instead, he found a small group of 140 larches standing in the middle of dense forest, surrounded by hundreds of other trees. But there was a crucial difference: all the others were pine trees. The larches, unlike the pines, changed color in the fall, first to yellow, then brown. And when they were seen from a certain height, it wasn’t difficult to recognize the pattern they formed. It was quite striking, in fact.

As he was dutifully accomplishing the task he had been given, the intern suddenly stopped and stared, dumbfounded, at the picture in his hand. It was an aerial view of Kutzerower Heath at Zernikow — photo number 106/88. He showed it to Reschke: “Do you see what this is?” But the 60-by-60 meter (200-by-200 foot) design that stood out sharply from the forest was obvious to all: a swastika.

Reschke is actually a fan of his native Uckermark region of northeastern Germany, extolling its gently rolling hills, lakes and woods, as the “Tuscany of the north.” But what the two men discovered in 1992 in that aerial photograph thrust this natural idyll into the center of a scandal.

This is one hell of a story, and at that Spiegel link there is a gallery of images that you need to see: Photo Gallery: Swastikas in the Woods – SPIEGEL ONLINE – International

The planting of swastika formations, like this one near the town of Asterode in...

The planting of swastika formations, like this one near the town of Asterode in the western state of Hesse, was popular among foresters throughout various regions of Nazi Germany. There were many swastikas in the forests surrounding Berlin until they were removed under Soviet occupation.

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In this same wooded area of Asterode in Hesse, the numbers "1933," the year...

In this same wooded area of Asterode in Hesse, the numbers “1933,” the year Hitler came to power, were spelled out in larch trees across a backdrop of pine forest, bursting into color in autumn. The eyesores remained for a long time, until the early 1960s, when American occupying forces discovered the trees during an aerial reconnaissance flight and complained to the local government.

But it was not just trees in the forest that took the shape of Nazi symbolism, towns..buildings and other land formations that remained hidden until discovered by views from above…seriously, go and check that article out.

One more link in connection with this story above, Misreading ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ – NYTimes.com

The movie “Hannah Arendt,” which opened in New York in May, has unleashed emotional commentary that mirrors the fierce debate Arendt herself ignited over half a century ago, when she covered the trial of the notorious war criminal Adolf Eichmann. One of the pre-eminent political thinkers of the 20th century, Arendt, who died in 1975 at the age of 69, was a Jew arrested by the German police in 1933, forced into exile and later imprisoned in an internment camp. She escaped and fled to the United States in 1941, where she wrote the seminal books “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and “The Human Condition.”

It is easy to cite the ‘banality of evil.’ It is much more difficult to make sense of what Arendt actually meant.

When Arendt heard that Eichmann was to be put on trial, she knew she had to attend. It would be, she wrote, her last opportunity to see a major Nazi “in the flesh.” Writing in The New Yorker, she expressed shock that Eichmann was not a monster, but “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” Her reports for the magazine were compiled into a book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” published in 1963.

The poet Robert Lowell proclaimed Arendt’s portrayal of Eichmann a “masterpiece,” a “terrifying expressionist invention applied with a force no imitator could rival.” Others excoriated Arendt as a self-hating Jew. Lionel Abel charged that Eichmann “comes off so much better in her book than do his victims.” Nearly every major literary and philosophical figure in New York chose sides in what the writer Irving Howe called a “civil war” among New York intellectuals — a war, he later predicted, that might “die down, simmer,” but will perennially “erupt again.” So it has.

The op/ed continues to explore reviews of the film, and how Arendt’s work is still causing controversy so many years since it was first published.

Lastly, big news in Atlanta this week, LUN LUN THE GIANT PANDA GIVES BIRTH TO TWINS!

Lun Lun, a 15-year-old giant panda, gave birth to twins on July 15, 2013. The first of the tiny duo arrived at 6:21 p.m., and its twin followed at 6:23 p.m. The cubs are the first giant pandas to be born in the U.S. in 2013 and the first twins to be born in the U.S. since 1987.

The babies are doing great and according to a news release today…are healthy and fine.   Zoo Atlanta has a Panda Cam up and running, so I wanted to give you that link:

Zoo Atlanta Panda Cam

Panda Updates

Tuesday, July 16
The panda team is tired and a little stressed, but happy! So far, both cubs are doing well. We are fortunate that both were born a healthy weight and strong. Sometimes one twin is very small. As you all know, Lun Lun is a fantastic mom, and she’s even more impressive this time. The cubs are being alternated with her, which is a technique first developed by our colleagues in Chengdu and used successfully for many cubs. Lun Lun is such a good mom, though, that she is reluctant to give up whichever cub she has. So, we have not been able to swap the cubs as frequently as we would like. Because of that, both have been supplemented with some formula. Both are doing well with this. Their condition and Lun Lun’s behavior will continue to guide our actions. The next few days are especially critical. So, please continue to keep us in your thoughts. We can use the good vibes!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD, 
Curator of Mammals

There is so much information at that link to the Zoo Atlanta website, but I just want to add one more graphic which illustrates how amazing this little baby’s growth timeline really is:

Panda Developmental Timeline

Isn’t it wonderful?

Hope you have a fabulous day today, and try to stay cool out there. See you down in the comments, what are you reading and thinking about today?


Saturday Reads: President Obama’s Acceptance Speech

Good Morning!

Generally speaking the pundits didn’t care for President Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday night. It’s not surprising that the guys at Politico thought it “fell flat.”

A surprisingly long parade of Democrats and media commentators described the speech less as a failure than a fizzle—an oddly missed opportunity to frame his presidency or the nation’s choice in a fresh or inspirational light.

Even those who liked the president’s performance generally went no further than saying that he was effective in doing a job that needed to be done, in a tough-minded if prosaic style.

These shoulder-shrug reactions confront Obama with a question no one expected to be asking when the week in Charlotte began: How did a president for whom stirring speeches were the engine of his rise to power manage to give, at best, only the third-most compelling speech at a convention devoted to his own re-election?

But even more liberal commentators found Obama’s speech wanting. Peter Beinart called it “underwhelming and anticlimactic.”

Obama’s acceptance speech had two apparent goals: The first was to lay out an agenda for the next four years so people feel they have something forward-looking to vote for. The second was to recapture the sense of hope that defined Obama’s 2008 campaign.

On paper, he did both things. But what the speech lacked was a coherent explanation of the nightmare this country has gone through for the last four years. Republicans are laying the Great Recession at Obama’s feet. Obama is saying that Republicans created it and, if elected, will make it worse. To win that argument, Obama needed to explain why the financial crisis happened, and he didn’t. Yes, he mocked the GOP for proposing tax cuts as the answer to every problem, but the financial crisis didn’t happen because of tax cuts. It happened, in large measure, because Republican and some Democratic politicians—blinded by free-market fundamentalism and Wall Street largesse—allowed bankers to create unregulated markets in which they gambled the savings of millions of Americans, knowing that if their bets failed, they wouldn’t be the ones to lose their homes and their life’s savings.

Obama should have told that story, and then gone at Romney for doubling down on the ideology that almost brought America to its knees. Then he should have contrasted that with his own interventions to protect people who the market has failed: whether they be auto workers or people with sick kids.

Michael Tomasky called it Pedestrian and Overconfident

Let’s be blunt. Barack Obama gave a dull and pedestrian speech tonight, with nary an interesting thematic device, policy detail, or even one turn of phrase. The crowd sure didn’t see it my way. The delegates were near delirium; to what extent they were merely still feeding off the amassed energy of the previous two nights I can’t say.

And swing voters watching at home? They probably weren’t as bored as I was, but it seems inconceivable that they’d have been enraptured. This was the rhetorical equivalent, forgive the football metaphor, of running out the clock: Obama clearly thinks he’s ahead and just doesn’t need to make mistakes. But when football teams do that, it often turns out to be the biggest mistake of all, and they lose.

Nevertheless, the final night of the Democratic Convention drew about 35.7 million viewers. The second night of the convention, when Bill Clinton spoke pulled in more views than the Giants-Cowboys game that played opposite the Convention coverage, about 25.1  million people–but nowhere near the number who watched the speeches by Vice President Biden and President Obama. Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech attracted 30.3 million viewers.

Howard Kurtz reported that Obama’s acceptance speech was deliberately “low-key.”

While the pundits are generally calling the president’s Thursday night address mediocre, Obama and his advisers had taken great pains to avoid soaring rhetoric that might have been derided as empty.

Indeed, they extensively tested the president’s speech in dial groups, a type of focus group where voters twist dials to register approval or disapproval of specific passages, and say it tested off the charts. The reaction, they say, was more positive than to Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech in Denver.

In short, the president deliberately dialed it down, stopping well short of the altitudes he is capable of reaching. Perhaps that will prove to be a mistake, but the decision to go with a less rousing approach was carefully considered.

The campaign’s primary goal at the Democratic convention was to provide a concrete sense of what Obama would do in a second term. That was what independent voters wanted, according to the research, and that was the focus in Charlotte.

Personally, I thought the first half of Obama’s speech was underwhelming, but I’ve never been a big fan of his speeches. About half-way through I thought the speech became more interesting. I was impressed that Obama admitted how difficult the job is and that he has questioned himself at times and that he has been “changed” by being President of the United States. I think the best evaluation of the speech that I read yesterday was by Tom Junod at Charles Pierce’s blog: President Obama Falls Back to Earth, Transformed. Junod’s thesis statement: “We should have known that Barack Obama would emerge from this convention conventionalized — that is, as a more conventional politician than he was when he went in. Or that we ever thought he could be.”

He didn’t rise to the occasion on Thursday night; he not only didn’t reinvent the possibilities of political language, he used language that many people had to feel they’d heard before. His speech was disappointing until, with about ten minutes to go, it acknowledged disappointment, and so began its rise. “The times have changed — and so have I,” he said. “I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the president.” Of course, he was reminding us of his power; the fact of his presidency has become an argument for his presidency. But he was also reminding us that as a candidate who rose to power on the politics of pure potential, he is, as president, a fallen man. “And while I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failiings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'”

This was where the speech turned, and became, in its statement of humility, a statement of rousing power. “I ask you for your vote,” he said, and his commonplace words had a beseeching quality that put them outside the realm of political performance. He had failed to transform his office, and failed to transform our politics, but he sounded fully aware that he had been himself transformed.

He had started out as the Cassius Clay of our politics, brash and blinding, with an abilty to do things in the ring that no one else had ever thought of — with an ability to be untouchable. Now he stood inside the ring of stars on the blue carpeted stage of the Democratic National Convention as the Muhammad Ali whose greatness was proven after he returned to boxing bigger, slower, harder-hitting but also easier to hit. Oh, Ali got touched, all right, and since he lost his skill at avoiding punches he had to find the skill of taking them. He became a prodigy not of otherworldly gifts but rather of sheer will, and so it was with Obama in his speech on Thursday night. At an event that paid endless tributes to our wounded warriors, he rebranded himself as something of a wounded warrior himself; and at the very moment when those who remembered 2008 hoped he might say something that no one had ever heard before and maybe even reinvent, one more time, the possibilities of a word as hackneyed as hope itself, he instead completed his hard-won journey to convention.

Of course I never thought Obama was anything but an ordinary, conventional politician. As everyone here knows, I never bought the “hope and change” schtick. I never saw Obama as a great liberal savior. I was impressed with his acceptance speech, because he showed humility. By the end of the speech I was convinced that this man had matured in office, and because of that, I saw hope for his second term.

Apparently, Charlie Pierce never saw the transcendent Obama either.

I never heard the music.

People told me it was there. People told me it sang to them. People told me that its chords touched them deeply in their hearts. I watched as it make them weep and cheer. I watched as it moved them while I stood there, an unbeliever at the grotto, seeing only rocks and weeds where everyone around me saw and heard and joined in something altogether transformative. I was there in Boston when the president gave the speech that first sent him rocketing up the charts, and I didn’t hear it. Since then, I have seen him give an acceptance speech, an inaugural address, a Nobel oration, and three State of the Unions, and the only thing I remember about any of the latter is that he got heckled by some peckerwood from South Carolina, and that he called out the corporate meat-puppets of the Supreme Court in what I still believe is the finest — and certainly, the most prescient — moment of his presidency.

But I never found the poetry in it all. I thought he was a good, smart orator with some uniquely gifted writers and a talent for creating a warm and comfortable context in which people could take what they believed were all their best instincts out for a walk. I still believe that. He still reaches people at depths that I cannot fathom. He still reaches them in frequencies beyond my poor ability to hear.

That is pretty much how I’ve always reacted to Obama’s speeches. But in his convention speech, I thought I saw something more substantive. And it gave me hope. Pierce was impressed with Obama’s reference to “…the hard and frustrating and necessary work of self-government.”

That I heard. That I understood. It is not musical. It is not in any way poetic. But it is a clear line drawn between the president and the person and the party that would like to take his job from him. It is now an article of absolute faith among Republicans that “the government” is an entity separate from “the American people,” which they say the same way that the old Jesuits talked about “the mystical Body of Christ.” It is now an ironclad commandment of conservative orthodoxy that “the government” is something parasitic and alien. There is a reason why conservatives talk about “government” and not “self-government,” because to refer to the latter is to concede that “the government” is really the most basic product of our political commonwealth, that it is what we produce among ourselves so as to order the production of everything else that we do together. This is not an idle distinction. It is the entire message of last week’s Republican convention, and it is the entire message of the campaign they are planning to run, and, make no mistake, it resonates deeply with millions of people because it has been spoonfed to them as a kind of noxious anesthetic for almost foty years now, a long enough time for it to seem as though it is the natural order of things.

“…the hard and frustrating and necessary work of self-government.”

Make no mistake. This little throwaway line was the most direct, and the most serious, challenge that the president threw down at the feet of the Republican ticket on Thursday night because it strikes at the very essence of four decades of conservative political philosophy. We create “the government” we have. “The government” is not imposed from without. It is our creation. Its proper operation is our responsibility. If we do not like the way it operates, we do the hard and frustrating and necessary work to change the way it does. If we believe that it is being hijacked, we do the hard and frustrating and necessary work of using the tools of self-government to run the moneychangers out of the place. If we do not like the way the person we vote for is doing the job with which we have entrusted him — if he, say, allows the crooks who brought down the economy to walk away free, or if he perpetuates policies antithetical to civil liberties, or if he gets a little too cozy with fracking or if he gives away too much in some Grand Bargain — then we do the hard and frustrating and necessary work of self-government to hold his damn feet to the fire and say, “No further.”

Please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already. Obama articulated the key difference between today’s Republicans and the rest of us. They hate government and believe it should do nothing for people, just fund national defense and aid corporations. Most Democrats still believe that Government has a role in making people’s lives better, in ensuring that even the weakest and most vulnerable among us have rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

At the same time we citizens have the responsibility to stand up to our leaders, to voice our needs and our values, to remind our leaders that they work for us and there are certain things we won’t tolerate–whether that’s privatizing social security and medicare, limiting women’s rights, killing people with unmanned drones, limiting voting rights or some other policy that is important to us.

I think Obama’s speech got the job done. It made the convention delegates happy, and it laid a foundation for the arguments he will make over the final few weeks of the campaign. I hope he will continue to emphasize the importance of citizenship–of the necessity of every American being involved in “self-government.” That is the price of democracy.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?  This is an open thread!


How to make decisions in a democracy

I’ll say up front that I don’t know the answer. Everything that’s been tried up till now has real problems, so I’d like to throw some ideas out there. The current discussion about (the difficulty of) decision-making in the General Assemblies at #OccupyWallStreet is what jogged me to post.

Update, Nov. 16, 2011. Law enforcement is clearing out the encampments of #Occupy. That’s dictatorial, but it suggests a broadening of tactics, which would have been a good idea in any case. Too few people have the financial freedom to camp. Winter is unfriendly to campers. The Occupations could move to shift work. Groups of hundreds or thousands, whatever can be mustered, occupy for four hours, and then their replacements move in. 24/7/365. Also, come up with other actions people can take. Refusal to pay taxes (for the very brave), door-to-door explanation of ideas and suggestions for action, continuing to move money away from Big Finance, start by boycotting of the Koch Empire (Did you know they make Quilted Northern toilet paper? I didn’t either.) move on the boycotting the next worst nasties, and so on through a hundred things we could all help with.

That takes organization and the ability to make relevant decisions in real time. Neither of those can be achieved by General Assemblies. So exploring better ways to organize is more relevant than ever, unless the movement is to fall right back into old ways that haven’t proven resistant to cooptation.

It’s important to remember that democracy has to work all the time. Failure is not an option. When it fails briefly, governance ratchets toward anti-democratic. Before you know it there’s an undemocratic elite at work and you’re struggling with monopolies, or corruption, or wars. The fact that a method sometimes, or even often, works is not good enough.

So, first, democratic decision-making methods that sometimes fail:

  • Direct popular majority vote. Sometimes called “tyranny of the majority” because it can be so anti-democratic in its treatment of large minorities.
  • Indirect popular vote, e.g. Electoral College. If it has no real power, it has the same problems as direct popular vote. If it does have power, it’s liable to ignoring the will of the people, i.e. being anti-democratic, at the least, and corrupt at the worst.
  • Super-majority vote. This is an attempt to prevent the exclusion of large minorities. In practice, it gives veto power to minorities, which is also anti-democratic. Decision-making becomes too slow and unwieldy to respond adequately to reality. (Look at California trying to deal with its budget mess.) Another effect in practice can be the formation of a much smaller group of real decision-makers who then use the official consensus process as window-dressing. (E.g. European Union in the current financial crisis, Spokes Councils in OWS General Assemblies.)
  • Decision-making by committee. Another way of trying to achieve consensus decisions. The problems are that responsibility becomes spread too thin, and social dynamics play a larger role than the merits of the case. Both of those factors make it easy to take bad decisions.

Whenever large numbers of people have to come to a decision together, structural factors work anti-democratically. It’s not bad outside influences that corrupt the process (although they can). It’s decision-making by large numbers of people that doesn’t work. Since the will of large numbers of people is the essence of democracy, we have a problem.

Right now, the idea is that voters steer government. But voters are proving terrible at governing. Who wants to do all the homework involved? You have to know the issues, study the background facts, and evaluate implications. It’s a full time job, and most voters already have a full time job.

It’s much easier to tell when something is wrong. And it’s much easier to mobilize voters to throw the bums out.

The problem of preserving democracy should be approached from the other end. Instead of trying to steer government, voters should be smashing messes into small enough pieces to cart away. Preventing the ratchet toward elitism can only be done by continual corrections. Without them, the inevitable imperfections in any system will ultimately lead to failure. Voters are well-positioned to provide corrections. It’s hard to suborn such a large group. And, practically by definition, most of them won’t be part of the elite, so they won’t be blinded by class loyalties.

As for how to implement it, votes could be held every so often (once a year?) to recall hopeless administrators or reverse decisions that people feel aren’t working out. (That and all the ideas here are more completely discussed in Re-imagining Democracy, Government, Decision-making.)

Voters might — I think would — be able to provide course corrections, but that still means somebody has to hold the actual steering wheel. Somebody has to do the business of government, so there is the question of how any decisions get made in this system.

To answer that it’s worth thinking about what government actually is. (When it’s not a pot for personal power and riches.) Government is a lot of tedious housekeeping for the social good, in other words for no direct benefit. It’s cleaning up other people’s messes and sorting out stupid fights and trying to come up with rules to keep the messes and fights to a minimum. It takes very skilled, knowledgeable, and fairly unselfish people to do that.

The bad news is that we’re terrible at finding those people. The good news is that I don’t think we have to.

What we’ve done so far is used a purely random system. The lottery may be genetic, as in hereditary monarchies, or it may be by self-selection, as it is in democracies. (There are no job-related qualifications to run for office. Anyone can play.) And even though the random systems produce plenty of charlatans and failures, we have survived. So randomness, by itself, need not be feared.

If we improved the pool from which random selections are made, we might improve the whole process. We could still have the democratic advantages of randomness for preventing elitism, and yet reduce the disadvantage of having complete amateurs running the show.

I think it’s actually easy to come up with an improved selection process.

Let people self-select to put themselves in the pool and list their background showing their administrative abilities. People would then review the pool to winnow it to those who actually have successfully administered something, whether it’s the yearly school fair or an aluminum smelter. It could work somewhat like rating schemes on the web. Readers would rate some limited number of resumes.

One big difference is essential, however. Other people’s ratings should not be visible. It’s important for the ratings to be independent, otherwise they immediately fall into confirmation of the earliest favorites. The ratings should be purely a pass-no pass based on whether the candidate has the experience they say they have. Candidates for positions requiring special knowledge would be reviewed by people with the relevant education or work experience.

The process would be most convenient if computerized, but even without computers, all you’d need is central locations for the lists, like public libraries or meeting places, to make it work. If it turns out people can’t be bothered with ratings voluntarily, it could be a jury duty type of obligation.

The administrator would then be randomly selected, i.e. by lottery, from the candidates still in the pool after that. The pool could be refreshed on an ongoing basis, and numerous administrators could be drawn from each relevant pool. In other words, you wouldn’t go through the whole process every time the community needs a municipal dogcatcher.

The administrator would stay in as long as they kept doing a good job by various metrics, or until the voters chucked them out. Administrators at higher levels, such as state, province, or nation, could be chosen from the pool of those who’d done a good job (as evidenced by no recalls or few complaints) at a lower level.

There are several advantages to that system. Anyone can play, and yet there are some job-related qualifications. There are no unrelated job qualifications, such as being rich or looking good on television. People who prove incompetent can be ousted on a regular basis. There are no obvious points at which an elite group of insiders could develop. And it could even be easy to ensure that administrators reflect the composition of the general population by limiting the lottery to candidates who meet gender or racial criteria.

Of course, there are bound to be disadvantages, too. They’d become evident if the system was tried.

Ideally, it would be a method that allows competent administrators to do the tedious work of government without at the same time hijacking it for themselves.

Or, in an OWS context, it could identify order-keepers and finance officers and media relations experts who could approach their work with experience and professionalism. But their actions would be subject to public scrutiny. They’d operate in the open, not in a clique, and they’d be subject to recall if they did their jobs badly. I see a system of randomly selected, knowledgeable, responsible individuals who are answerable to the group as a much more democratic solution to the problem of unwieldy General Assemblies than the formation of inner Spokes Councils who have power because they took it.

What the system doesn’t do is decide overall policy. People still have to agree on the social contract, the constitution, on some statement of principles. In an OWS context, people still need to decide whether they care about non-financial inequalities, like sexism. Or whether they care about the use of violence. Or meetings held at times when the people who are the point of the meetings can’t attend.

Once there is a statement of principles, however, the function-or-be-fired system does show the way toward finding people to actually carry out those principles in practice, and to getting rid of them if they don’t.


Thursday Reads: Power to the People!

Good Morning!! Over the past couple of days, I’ve become really fascinated with the situation in Greece. It’s a pretty fluid situation at the moment. On Tuesday Robert Reich wrote a pretty good primer on what is happening and expressed his view that letting the Greek people decide their own fate is the best idea. Here’s a bit of it:

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou decided in favor of democracy yesterday when he announced a national referendum on the draconian budget cuts Europe and the IMF are demanding from Greece in return for bailing it out.

(Or, more accurately, the cuts Europe and the IMF are demanding for bailing out big European banks that have lent Greece lots of money and stand to lose big if Greece defaults on those loans – not to mention Wall Street banks that will also suffer because of their intertwined financial connections with European banks.)

If Greek voters accept the bailout terms, unemployment will rise even further in Greece, public services will be cut more than they have already, the Greek economy will contract, and the standard of living of most Greeks will deteriorate further.

If Greek voters reject the terms and the nation defaults, it will face far higher borrowing costs in the future. This may reduce the standard of living of most Greeks, too. But it doesn’t have to. Without the austerity measures the rest of Europe and the IMF are demanding, the Greek economy has a better chance of growing and more Greeks are likely to find jobs.

Shouldn’t Greek citizens make this decision for themselves?

Reich argues that it would have been better in the long run if the American people had been consulted about the bank bailouts here.

If Americans had been consulted about the 2008-2009 Wall Street bailout, I doubt it would have happened the way it did. At the very least, strict conditions would have been placed on the banks in return for the money. The banks would have had to eat the losses of the predatory mortgages they sold, and help homeowners reduce those mortgages. They’d be required to improve the capitalization of small banks in communities across the country. They’d be forced to accept stringent new regulations, including resurrection of Glass-Steagall

But we weren’t consulted. The wishes of the American people were considered irrelevant by the oligarchs who run this country. And the European oligarchs are hoping to prevent the Greek people from claiming a right to make a democratic decision.

Of course if the Greek people do decide to default on their debts, there will be serious consequences–for them and for the rest of Europe. Krugman calls it “Eurodämmerung.” He argues that

…the euro was an inherently flawed idea that can work only given a strong European economy and a significant degree of inflation, plus open-ended credit to sovereigns facing speculative attack. Yet European elites embraced the notion of economics as morality play, imposing across-the-board austerity, tightening money despite low underlying inflation, and have been too concerned with punishing sinners to notice that everything was going to blow apart without an effective lender of last resort.

The question I’m trying to answer right now is how the final act will be played. At this point I’d guess soaring rates on Italian debt leading to a gigantic bank run, both because of solvency fears about Italian banks given a default and because of fear that Italy will end up leaving the euro. This then leads to emergency bank closing, and once that happens, a decision to drop the euro and install the new lira. Next stop, France.

Yikes! But Fortune also says Italy and France are in trouble if Greece defaults. And Spain could go bust too.

What worries is that Spain and Italy are not in the Greek situation but they could be. Greece is bust and Spain and Italy could be driven bust. They both have a lot of debt and each year some of that debt has to be repaid. Now governments almost never do repay debt, they just borrow some more and use the new money to pay off the old. Bit like swirling what you owe around a few credit cards.

Which is just fine: except, if interest rates rise then they have to pay more interest on this new debt that they’re issuing to pay off the old. And if interest rates rise enough then they do go bust, as the interest payments they have to make take too much money out of the budget. Switching money around on zero interest introductory rate cards is very different from doing it when you’re being charged 30%.

Now, the general agreement is that when the interest rates are above 6% then Italy and Spain are in danger of going bust. When they’re over 7% they will do so. But of course, when people see that Italian interest rates are above 6% then they become more wary of lending Italy any more money and so interest rates keep on rising to possibly above 7% and game over.

It’s still not clear what Greece is going do in their referendum. Dakinikat says they need to ask the people if they want to leave the European Union or not. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have said that the referendum must ask the Greek people if they want to opt out of the Euro, but not the EU itself. Meanwhile, the offer of a bailout of Greece has been called off until after the vote on the referendum is taken. From Naked Capitalism:

The Eurocrats have decided to try to push Greece into line, threatening expulsion from the Euro (note, not the EU) if Greece does not back down. From a practical matter, if the Greeks were to turn down the bailout package, it would lead to a banking crisis, making a Eurozone exit a not that much more traumatic incremental move with considerable upside. And under the Maastrict treaty, Greece cannot unilaterally exit (although as various commentors have pointed out, Nato is not going to send in tanks if the Greeks were to do so).

But this may be an appeal to the Greek public, or more likely, an effort to break Greek prime minister’s Papandreou’s thin coalition on the eve of a vote of no confidence.

So that’s another possibility–that Papandreau’s government might fall. More on the European reaction from Bloomberg:

Led by Germany and France, Europe’s economic and political anchors, the euro’s guardians yesterday cut off financial aid for Greece until a vote they said would be on Dec. 4 or Dec. 5 determines whether it deserves a fresh batch of loans needed to stave off default.

“The referendum will revolve around nothing less than the question: does Greece want to stay in the euro, yes or no?” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after crisis talks hours before a Group of 20 summit set to begin today in Cannes, France. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Prime Minister George Papandreou’s government won’t get a “single cent” of assistance if voters rejects the plan.

The hardball tactics open the door for a nation to leave the currency bloc that at its setup in 1999 capped Europe’s progression from war to prosperity and was declared “irrevocable” by its founding fathers. Polls show most Greeks object to the austerity required for aid, yet more than seven in 10 favor remaining in the euro, a survey last week of 1,009 people published in To Vima newspaper showed.

They’re going to have to decide between two awful choices, and the rest of Europe will have to deal with the results of the vote–if there is a default, failures of banks that hold Greek debt and getting Italian, French, and German taxpayers to pay for more bank bailouts–unless Papandreau’s government falls.  Read the whole article at Bloomberg to get a sense of how serious all this is.

In U.S. news, Occupy Oakland called for a general strike today. That situation is still fluid as of this writing, 11PM Eastern on Wednesday night.

OAKLAND – Protesters blocked streets near City Hall, smashed windows at a bank and gathered by the thousands in an attempt to shut down the nation’s fifth-busiest port Wednesday.

The Occupy Oakland protest was the largest in a series of rallies in several cities as the Occupy Wall Street movement that began Sept. 17 tried to grab national attention.

A group of about 300 protesters, many of them men wearing black, some covering their faces with bandanas and some carrying wooden sticks, smashed windows of a Wells Fargo bank branch while chanting “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”

Are you getting the feeling this genie can’t be put back in the bottle either? The Occupy demonstrations have shown us that we pretty much live in a police state at this point. There very little respect for the protesters’ constitutional rights by local governments or law enforcement. From Counterpunch, here is a report of what actually happened when police attacked protesters in Oakland on Oct. 25.

In a heavily armed pre-dawn raid, on Tuesday, Oct. 25, with back up from armored vehicles and helicopters, the Oakland Police Department in conjunction, with over 15 other police departments from Northern and Central California, stormed the sleepy Occupy Oakland Encampment.

Asleep inside tents of the makeshift Occupy encampment, were over a hundred men, women and very young children. The heavily armed police force, dressed in black ninja-like outfits, and special forces helmets, with full face-shields down, and armed with and assortment of latest riot gear, fired tear gas canisters and concussion grenades into the camp, as helicopters circled above.

Police then attacked and ransacked the entire encampment. In a short time, the camps library, soup kitchen, and children’s center were left in ruins, and over a hundred of the inhabitants were roughed up, arrested and held on high bail. The activists suffered many injuries, including broken bones.

Please read the whole thing–it’s an eyewitness account of a horrifying paramilitary action by police. As everyone knows, Iraq war veteran Scott Olson was critically injured in the melee.

Late last night as part of the general strike, Oakland protesters succeeded in shutting down the Port of Oakland.

Several thousand Occupy Wall Street demonstrators forced a halt to operations at the United States’ fifth busiest port Wednesday evening, escalating a movement whose tactics had largely been limited to rallies and tent camps since it began in September.

Police estimated that a crowd of about 3,000 had gathered at the Port of Oakland by early evening. Some had marched from the California city’s downtown, while others had been bused to the port.

Port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read said maritime operations had effectively been shut down. Interim Oakland police chief Howard Jordan warned that protesters who went inside the port’s gates would be committing a federal offense.

In New York, Los Angeles and other cities where the movement against economic inequality has spread, demonstrators planned rallies in solidarity with the Oakland protesters, who called for Wednesday’s “general strike” after an Iraq War veteran was injured in clashes with police last week.

Organizers of the march said they want to stop the “flow of capital.” The port sends goods primarily to Asia, including wine as well as rice, fruits and nuts, and handles imported electronics, apparel and manufacturing equipment, mostly from Asia, as well as cars and parts from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai.

We knew there would eventually be civil unrest, and now we’re seeing it all over the world and here at home. What next? I’d say 2012 is going to be an eventful year.

With that, I’m going to wrap this up. I know there’s lots of other news, but these two stories–Greece and the general strike in Oakland–seem to me to symbolize what’s happening in the world today. People are sick and tired of being bilked by the super-rich, and ignored by the politicians. It’s so chaotic, yet I feel that the only hope we have is for the people to keep resisting as best they can. For so long, I was afraid nothing would wake American up, but I’m finally getting the feeling that we won’t go down without a fight. Let’s keep the elites nervous!

Sooooo… what are you reading and blogging about today?


Hillary Clinton on Libya: “Nothing is Off the Table”

Hillary Clinton speaking in Geneva (Fox News)

CNN: From Geneva, Switzerland yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that

“nothing is off the table” as the United States works with allies to stop the bloodshed in Libya where embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi struggles to remain in power. But as the Pentagon confirms that the United States is “repositioning” naval and air forces to be prepared for any option with Libya, Secretary Clinton said there is no pending U.S. naval actions planned against Libya. “We do believe that there will be the need for support for humanitarian intervention,” she said when asked about the reports.

[….]

Clinton’s remarks come as she meets with European Union ministers. Monday the EU agreed to impose economic sanctions on Libya, including an arms embargo, freezing Ghadaffi’s assets and banning travel to Libya. This is the latest action after the United States announced similar sanctions Friday.

Speaking to reporters, Clinton said that U.S. humanitarian teams have been sent to Libya’s borders of Tunisia and Egypt. Clinton said USAID has set aside an additional $10 million for humanitarian aid including much needed medical supplies.

Today, Hillary was back in Washington, and she went to Capital Hill to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and argued, in so many words, that cutting diplomatic funds to deal with foreign crises would be penny-wise and pound foolish

The comments came a day after the US began repositioning warships and military aircraft in the Libya region.

Mrs Clinton repeated demands that Col Muammar Gaddafi “must go now, without further violence or delay”.

“The entire [Middle East] region is changing, and a strong and strategic American response will be essential, Mrs Clinton said to the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in prepared testimony.

“In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy, or it could face protracted civil war. The stakes are high.

Voice of America provided more information on from Hillary’s Congressional testimony:

Clinton said the U.S. is sending humanitarian and military teams to help those fleeing Libya for Tunisia and Egypt. She called the situation in Libya an example of how the State Department must use diplomatic resources to sustain and advance U.S. security.

Clinton’s testimony comes as the U.S. Congress battles over the country’s proposed budget, with some lawmakers demanding deep cuts in spending. But she warned members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that reductions in diplomatic spending could come at a high cost.

She said a failure to fund civilian missions in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq could cause military gains to erode or be erased.

Clinton said shifting responsibilities from military to civilian efforts saves money. She said the U.S. military’s total worldwide request dropped by $45 billion from 2010, while the State Department’s cost will increase by less than $4 billion.

It sounds like the US and other Western countries are nearing a decision about whether to intervene in some way in the carnage in Libya. On Al Jazeera there has been more talk of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, but a number of commentators have pointed out that this would be a very serious step. It means that those enforcing the no-fly zone would be committed to shooting down violators. It would also mean taking out Libya’s air defenses. In other words, it means military action in Libya.

It will be interesting to see what the next step will be. It certainly does feel as we are building toward something serious.


Saturday Night Specials

The Martini dakini

There’s a lot going on to think about during this weekend that’s generally reserved to celebrate the sale of mattresses, bad candy, and greenhouse flowers.

First, Is Algeria the next democracy domino in the MENA region? Also, why can’t I get any newspaper or TV news channel in this country to tell me about it?  Let’s start helping these folks out too!!

Internet providers were shut down and Facebook accounts deleted across Algeria on Saturday as thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators were arrested in violent street demonstrations.

Plastic bullets and tear gas were used to try and disperse large crowds in major cities and towns, with 30,000 riot police taking to the streets in Algiers alone.

There were also reports of journalists being targeted by state-sponsored thugs to stop reports of the disturbances being broadcast to the outside world.

But it was the government attack on the internet which was of particular significance to those calling for an end to President Abdelaziz Boutifleka’s repressive regime.

Protesters mobilising through the internet were largely credited with bringing about revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

“The government doesn’t want us forming crowds through the internet,” said Rachid Salem, of Co-ordination for Democratic Change in Algeria.

It’s interesting that so many countries are aiming for what we’re losing every day. Meanwhile, the US Presidential assertion of the day is: FBI can get phone records without oversight.

The Obama administration’s Justice Department has asserted that the FBI can obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without any formal legal process or court oversight, according to a document obtained by McClatchy.That assertion was revealed — perhaps inadvertently — by the department in its response to a McClatchy request for a copy of a secret Justice Department memo.

Critics say the legal position is flawed and creates a potential loophole that could lead to a repeat of FBI abuses that were supposed to have been stopped in 2006.

The controversy over the telephone records is a legacy of the Bush administration’s war on terror. Critics say the Obama administration appears to be continuing many of the most controversial tactics of that strategy, including the assertion of sweeping executive powers.

So, this is an open thread, but I thought I’d share something with you. This is the famous Emma Lazarus poem that is etched into the pedestal of the statue of Liberty.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Do you think it still applies?