smhwpf: (Default)
It is fucking scary.

Nazis, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, gathering in large numbers, armed, chanting "blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us", violently attacking and even murdering those who protest them.

And a President in the Whitehouse who clearly demonstrates his sympathy with them, praising the defence of monuments to those who fought to preserve slavery, and calling those who protest Fascism as bad as fascists.

While running an Administration with a clear agenda of keeping out immigrants, denying black people the vote, abandoning all efforts for promoting civil rights, and stepping up mass incarceration.

I have white privilege. I do not face the systemic oppression that people of colour face, and which the political establishment maintains and promotes, or at best takes half-hearted measures to moderate.

But I am also Jewish. Or, at least, Jewish. Christian by religion, not actively part of a Jewish community. But I, and members of my family, are very clearly on the target list of the tiki-torch wielders at Charlottesville, if not of the more respectable racists in Congress. So yes, this is not an abstract or distant issue for me.

This by way of prelude.

That Nazis, white supremacists, and their enablers in the halls of power need to be vigorously opposed is not something in question among my friends and progressive people generally. How to do so is a matter of legitimate discussion.

Should you punch the Nazi? Under what circumstances? Should protest against them be kept purely non-violent? Does using violence in return to their violence make things better or worse? I don't think the answers to these questions are as obvious for those with a modicum of human decency and political awareness as the question of whether they should be condemned and opposed.

For a Christian, Jesus's teaching and action are also a central consideration. "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be true children of your Father in Heaven, who makes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous, and the rain to fall on good and evil alike". Or, in secular terms, there is a human being inside every Fascist, with the possibility for change, for love, for a different path to the one they're on.

That's not simply a matter of sentimental wooliness, it's a fact. Daryl Davis, the black musician who befriends KKK members, and has got 200 of them to leave the hate group, for example. Then, lately, I read a Sojourners article, Confessions of a former white supremacist, anout the group Life After Hate. There's an anecdote about one of the people in it, when he was still a Nazi, being served at McDonalds by an African-American woman, who saw the swastika tattoo on his hand, looked at him, and said "Oh. honey, you're so much better than that". And it didn't make him turn around and repent on the spot, but "That seed germinated for years until the man left white nationalism and dedicated himself to helping others leave".

[Geeking out], it sort of reminds me of when Dream of the Endless says to Hob Gadling at one of their Centennial meetings, when the latter has become a slave trader, "It is a poor thing to enslave another". That's all. And several books later we find these few sparse words likewise gnawed at Hob's soul until he stopped. [/geekery]

So yes, I believe that we should never forget the humanity even of the worst people, those who most hate us.

That does not, however, answer the question of what to do about hundreds of armed, torch-bearing Nazis gatheing in a city to march, spew hatred, intimidate, and commit acts of violence.

The first option I would rule out is "Just ignore them, they're a tiny insignificant bunch of losers who are no real threat. Just don't give them th attention".

Tell that to an African American, a Jew, an LGBT person, or a lot of straight white folks for that matter, in a town like Charlottesville where they come to play. From the articles I've read, they were an intimidating presence well before the actual day of the rally. At the rally, they surrounded a synagogue and an African American church. The synagogue was prevented from holding their Sabbath service, and went to the step of hiding away their Torah scrolls. (The police did nothing).

As for the oldest white supremacist group in the US, the KKK, they were orchestrating lynchings within living memory, with complete impunity. When Fascists gather in large numbers, they are a very serious threat.

I do not think it at all likely that explicit white supremacist groups, of the type that paraded in Charlottesville, will take over the government. I don't think we'll see a President Richard Spencer. But when we already have a government that is pushing hard against every gain people of colour have made over the past 60 years, and one of the two major US parties moving further and further to the right, embracing voter suppression and vicious misogyny and homophobia in the name of Christian Fundamentalism, these most extreme groups could play a significant role as the 'tip of the spear' of an increasingly authoritarian polity - in addition to the violence and terror they can spread at a local level.

And, well, I don't think it at all likely that actual Nazis will take political power, but the original Nazis started pretty small too. Unlikely is not the same as impossible. I'm not keen to take the risk.

So I think that left unopposed, far right groups would become more and more emboldened, dangerous, and probably bigger. They need to be confronted, in the streets, opposed and if possible shut down wherever they go, denied the possibility of becoming a more serious threat.

The police have shown, time and again, that they will not be the people to do this. Most police officers are not affiliated with the far right themselves, but they are a reactionary institution, a highly racist institution, and tend to see the left, not the right, as the ones that need to be kept down. Black Lives Matter, the Standing Rock Water Protectors, striking workers, etc., these all regularly find themselves on the wrong end of batons, tasers, tear gas and worse. Fascists far less often.

It is not primarily about beating Nazis up (satisfying as it may be when that happens), it is not about doing them injury, it is primarily about getting sufficient numbers in the streets to block their path, drown them out, make it clear that they are not welcome and will not be allowed to spread their evil, and basically get them skulking off home with their tails between their legs.

The British experience suggests that shutting Fascist groups down on the streets before they can get too big can be effective. The Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when Oswald Moseley's British Union of Fascists, aided by the police, were prevented from marching through the East End of London with its large Jewish community, by a large crowd of Jews, Communists and Socialists, and local workers, is widely seen as having been one of the factors in stemming the tide of Fascism in Britain. A generation later, when the rapidly-growing National Front tried to march through Lewisham in South London, they were likewise stopped and beaten off by left-wing counter protestors, their own internal literature shows they saw it as a defeat that harmed their momentum.

This is a small sample, and moreover there were a lot of other factors at work, and the exact role of these events in the political outcomes is of course highly debatable. I don't know in the end what is going to be most effective in stopping these groups, and nor does anyone else, for certain. But my best guess is that putting up a large and powerful street opposition to them will probably help, and that letting them rally and march unimpeded is dangerous.

If that can be done without violence, great. But, and here's the but, Nazis and their allies are not non-violent. They showed that very, very clearly in Charlottesville, as often before. They will, they do, they did, use violence, sometimes lethal violence, against those who stand in their way. So if you are going to protest against Nazis in the streets, then either you need to be willing to get beaten to a pulp, or you need to be willing to engage in self-defence, or allow those more prepared and capable to defend themselves and you.

Parts of the Civil Rights movement, led by MLK and others, did take the approach of allowing themselves to be subjected to police violence without fighting back, and it was arguably very effective at changing public opinion in favour of their cause and forcing political action. This was not the only aspect of the movement though, and I think that the Malcolm X wing, the Black Panthers, and so on, were also part of what brought about change. Who knows for sure what the balance was. But this is a rather differnent case. Bad as the police are, even less restraint can be expected from a white supremacist mob. Fighting back against a heavily armed police force in a pitched battle is generally going to be a pretty clearly losing option. Nazis can be outnumbered and beaten. This is not so much about changing public opinion in favour of equal rights, public opinion is already against the Nazis, it's about stopping an incipient movement from growing and spreading.

Besides, I don't think you're going to get too many takers for "Let's go and get our heads kicked in by Nazis".

At Charlottesville, those practicing pure non-violence and those willing to engage in self-defence found themselves in sometimes uneasy alliance; a group of clergy, of several faiths, along with Professor Cornel West and others, were among the former, linking arms, singing, putting their bodies in front of the Nazis, incredibly bravely, and willing ultimately to face the consequences. But at one critical moment when they were about to come under very serious attack, they were protected by a group of AntiFa.

West said, "The anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that. Meaning what? Meaning that you had the police holding back, on the one hand, so we couldn’t even get arrested. We were there to get arrested. We couldn’t get arrested, because the police had pulled back"

I would never, never belittle what those clergy did, or say it was worthless. I've been involved in non-violent direct action in the face of state violence. But I would certainly, like West and the others, be very glad of the AntiFa stepping in. Is that hyporcytical, to engage in active non-violence, but be willing to have others use violence to protect you? I don't know. Maybe it is. I don't actually care if it is a bit, if it can bring about positive effects. Different roles, different gifts. Not everyone is physically cut out for serious fisticuffs, whatever their ideological approach, but as I say, sheer numbers are most important (so I'm told by one who knows this stuff, anyway, and I'm inclined to believe it).

If you do have the numbers, the likelihood is that you will never have to worry about when and whether to use violence in self-defence, because when far right groups are heavily outnumbered, the police will generally form a very solid cordon around them. (Like I say, much more willing to protect the Nazis than their opponents). The Fascists will not be able to go anywherem they will be restricted to making their speeches and chanting their slogans in their little cordon, hopefully drowned out with plenty of whistles and vuvuzelas and shouting from the other side. Some of the more militant AntiFa might try to break through police lines to get at them, but those who do not wish to do so can remain with the rest of the crowd, making a joyful noise. (This is pretty much how it went down at one anti-Fascist counter protests I went to in Stockholm, although the cops kept the sides so far apart that we couldn't really drown them out.)

From everything I can gather, overwhelmingly the violence in Charlottesville was from the Nazis, and that used by the counter protesters was mostly a matter of self defence. Is going beyond that, actively seeking to attack far right gatherings, justified? Is it effective? I don't know, and I don't know. I would be unlikely to engage in it myself. Getting a bit old, and not in sufficient physical shape, apart from anything else. I'm not going to condemn those who do.

This is not all a matter of theory for me. There's a far-right 'Free Speech' rally in Boston on Saturday, I'm going on the counter-protest. It looks like there will be good numbers. 10,000 have clicked "Going", so hopefully we will be in the thousands at least, whcih will be way more than the Peach Freezers. I will be with a group of people I know. I will be prepared. I will not do anything stupid. I do not intend to be in the front lines. There's a Q&A on the Facebook page for the counter protest. One of the questions is "Are the organizers committed to non-violence?", to which the answer given is "The organizers of this event are committed to community safety, survival, and protecting marginalized communities." I am on board with this.

Where did we leave things with loving your enemies and so forth? I do believe in this. I think it is pretty crictial to calling oneself a Christian. (Though a whole lot of Christians seem to have missed that memo). it is important not to lose sight of your enemy's humanity. I do believe that hatred, even when most understandable (and sometimes emotionally unavoidable), is corrosive at an individual and a collective level. (Though the hatred of the victim for the abuser and oppressor should never be put on the same moral plane as the abuse and oppression itself).

Love of enemies is not about entertaining warm fuzzy feelings for Nazis, it is about remembering that they are also a child of God, on whom the same sun shines and rain falls, and desiring and seeking their ultimate good - part of which of course involves abandoning Nazism. I don't think it means you do not try to stop your enemies from harming you or others, especially when they are gathering in a large group with evil intent.

Incidentally, Daryl Davis's vocation of meeting and talking to Klansmen while black has not always been the safest of pursuits. He says that he's only got into a couple of physical fights as a result though, and won them both.

smhwpf: (Treebeard)
There are a lot of narratives about why Trump won. It's racism. (Almost certainly). It's misogyny (ditto). It's anger by the white working class at declining economy and lost manufacturing jobs. (Maybe). It's a desire to give a big up yours to the system (probably). It's a reaction to political correctness. (Sceptical).

Likewise, there are two major counter-narratives: that we need to understand, reach out to and empathize with Trump supporters; and that, no we don't, or at least we don't need to 'understand their concerns' as if they're poor victims, rather than people with deep racist instincts angry at the perceived dilution of their privilege.

I tend to agree with the latter, except I think we clearly do need to understand Trump supporters, what's driving people to vote for him, and why there were enough people choosing to vote for him in exactly the right states.

I've seen the exit polls, the breakdown by all sorts of demographic indicators, race, gender, age, income, education, etc. Also plenty of articles with data on predictors of Trump support: authoritarianism, implicit racial bias, etc., articles supporting and opposing the idea that economic decline is a factor.

But these all leave so many questions. One of the key ones is, what is the interplay between racism and economics? It seems pretty damned obvious that racism is a factor behind Trump support. But racism is not exogenous; what social circumstances tend to lead to higher levels of racism? Trump has galvanized and empowered racism that was already there, but what factors have led to this strategy gaining him votes in the particular places he needed them.

There is a lot missing from the exit poll data. Like, the breakdown by income shows Clinton getting majorities among people of lower income and Trump of higher income, going against the economic anger theory. But, given that people of colour have lower average incomes, does this pattern hold when restricted to white voters? We know white voters without college degrees voted for Trump much more strongly than those with, and of course college degrees correlate with higher income, but it does not thereby follow that low income among whites correlates with Trump support.

Then again, how does the income distribution of Trump support among whites compare with the income distribution of previous Republican support among whites? Traditionally, I think, lower income whites have been more likely to vote Democrat than high income. So the question is not just are they still more likely to vote Democrat, but, is the income correlation with voting among whites stronger or weaker than before? What has happened to the relative propensity of lower income whites to vote Dem compared to upper income, from previous elections to this one?

In particular, what is the source of the increase in relative Trump vote compared to McCain and Romney? The people who voted Obama but now voted Trump, who voted Obama but now stayed at home or voted 3rd party, the people who stayed at home but now Voted Trump?

Racism is clearly a huge factor behind Trump support. But racism was almost certainly correlated with support for previous Republican candidates. It has been at least since Nixon's Southern Strategy. Trump got the support of the great majority of (self-identified or registered) Republicans, Clinton got the support of the great majority of Democrats, so the fact that racism is correlated with Trump support doesn't tell us much about the relationship between relationship and Trump's gain in support (in relation to the Democrat opponent) compared to previous candidates. (In fact Trump got less votes in absolute terms, as I understand it, than Romney or McCain, but while Clinton beat Trump in popular vote by 0.2% so far, maybe 1-2% when all the votes are in, Obama beat McCain by over 7 and Romney by 3.9.)

Some of Trump's largest gains relative to Clinton in vote share, compared to the 2012 election, were in the Mid-West, certainly if one considers swing states. (Which includes virtually all the Mid-West). By contrast, the Clinton vote held up relatively well in Southern swing states or near swing states.

What I'm possibly getting at is that it could be true both that racism is the key predictor of Trump support, and that a key factor of Trump's victory—the people who switched to him, the people who stayed at home having previously voted for Obama, and so on—is anger at economic decline and a system that has failed the working class. (Not to say race isn't still a factor. But maybe, say, the more racist people turned out for Trump, while people who were put off by Trump's racism but angry at the system stayed at home instead of voting Clinton. Maybe).

I say this could be the case, but we need better, more granular, data.

None of this changes the fact that Trump's victory has enthused and empowered racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and much else, and that these forces need to be vigorously opposed, not empathized with. That is the priority. But we also need to understand what went wrong, and what strategies can reverse it; what, for example, is going to help the white working class people in rural, small town and suburban communities, who didn't vote for Trump, reach out to at least some of their neighbours who did and offer a better alternative? I think that is a much better question than the one that is often asked, how can 'we' (implicitly right-thinking but guilt-ridden middle-class educated urban liberals) 'reach out' to 'Trump supporters' in the abstract.
smhwpf: (Buffy Restless)
There's a sci-fi film I saw on TV as a kid, of the Earth-to-be-destroyed-by-giant meteor variety, I can't remember the name of the film or the nature of the calamity, and for once will abstain from Googling. Anyway, there's a last throw of the dice effort by the brave sciencey heroes to do science and avert the catastrophe, and no-one knows if it's going to work. It's all in the public eye, and so there's this scene with a newsstand, and there's two piles of papers being delivered to it, one with the headline "EARTH SAVED" and the other with the headline "EARTH DOOMED".

That's kind of how it seems now.

Nate's a bit more optimistic just now than in the past few days, giving Clinton a 70.9% chance, when it had fallen as low as about 63% a few days ago, but those are still darned concerning odds. But I'm not going to speculate on what if this state or that, and shy Trump voters versus Hillary's ground game, because I've wasted far too much breath on that in the past and it's all irrelevant afterwards, vanity and chasing of wind.

Talking of Hillary's ground game, I've been part of it in the last few days. Doing some phone banking down at the Cambridge Dem office, first of all recruiting more volunteers, then calling voters in New Hampshire for Get Out The Vote. Saturday I was up in NH as part of a party from Cambridge, canvassing. I was with a friend, and we were paired with a driver, another British guy who's been living here 20 years. Used to run theatre tours to Britain for dramatically minded young Americans. Anyway, we went up to Rochester NH, a small town of about 30,000. The campaign office was buzzing with dozens of vols, so this ground game is really a thing. My little group was sent on a really rural turf, driving along leaf-covered tracks by a lakeside, where occasional clusters of houses could be found in clearings in the wood. One of the 'streets' was called 'Hideaway Lane', which was accurate.

We only managed to make contact with a handful of voters, but by God the scenery was gorgeous.

This also counted as my first American Road Trip, albeit a relatively short one.

This evening I was calling likely Dem voters in NH to GOTV , using a cunning app that robocalls numbers until it finds a live one, then puts it through to your phone, although half the time you get the click of someone hanging up. Mostly got positive responses, yep, we're voting Dem all the way down, one 'well she's the lesser evil' (I restrained myself from saying 'right there with ya'), but several "For Gods sakes stop calling me, this is the dozenth call", and one "If I get another call from you people I'm voting Trump!".

Is it possible to have too much ground game?

Seriously, it seems loads of people round here are doing stuff, in some cases phone banking from home using a thing on the Clinton website.

More tomorrow after work, which willl be mostly directed at points West. Then an election watch party with some friends, at which I can confidently project that a very large quantity of liquor will be consumed whatever happens.

Deliver us from Evil, O Lord. Or at least from the greater Evil. That'll have to do for now.
smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
In the final round of the 2002 French Presidential election, leftists faced an insidious choice: the two remaining candidates were Jacques Chirac, of the mainstream right-wing party, the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR, Assembly for the Republic); and Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of the far-right, explicitly racist Front National (National Front).

France has a 2-stage Presidential election system: in the first round, there are many candidates – 16 in this case; but if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, there is a 2nd stage run-off between the top 2 candidates.

Usually, that will be someone from the main right-wing party [1], and one from the Socialists. But this time, with an even more divided left than usual with 8 parties standing [2], and partly as a result, the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin came narrowly 3rd behind Chirac and Le Pen.

Most of French society was horrified that a fascist like Le Pen could come so close to power. [3] What, though, was a Socialist or Communist voter to do faced with this ugly choice in the second round of a right-winger and a far-right-winger? Stay at home? Spoil their ballot paper? Or swallow their bile and vote for a candidate whose politics they detest (and with a bunch of corruption scandals from his time as mayor of Paris)?

Read more... )
Footnotes )
smhwpf: (Way out)
As all but the proverbial Martian vacationer know, last week the US Senate released its report on CIA torture since 9/11 at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. It found that the CIA's practice of torture had been far more widespread, more brutal, and less effective (as in 100% not) than previously claimed, and that the CIA had systematically lied about it.

Senator Feinstein and her colleagues are to be congratulated in persisting with this enquiry and getting it published in the face of opposition from the CIA itself and the Administration.

Hard to find much to say that has not already been said about this, beyond echoing the utter, unspeakable horror of such acts, whoever commits them.

There is one aspect of the discussion around it in the US, though, that gets me: namely the way the victims of this torture seem almost invisible or even irrelevant to it.

It is as if the real victim of the government-sponsored CIA torture programme was America itself. A stain on America's character, contrary to America's values. A terrible 'mistake' (which seems to be how Obama and others like to describe it).

No suggestion that America should make an apology to those it has violated, nor that it should pay them reparations. Still less, heaven forfend, that anyone should be prosecuted for these crimes. Nor that the US should close down Guantanamo Bay now, and not only free anyone it can't prosecute, but grant them a home in the US as the very least it owes them, along with compensation for the years of their life that has been stolen.

Because of course America cannot owe anything to, or be answerable to anyone but America.

If the torturers and those - up to the very top - who authorized torture - were to be put on trial, that would be like saying that there is a a higher law to which America is answerable, which is heresy. No: America decided to torture, and now America has decided not to torture, it has realized that that was wrong, it has woken up to its own values once more. That is the end of the story.

This report came out in the middle of Advent, for Christians a penitential season; but for America's great and good, for all that they invoke God and pay lip service to Christianity, there is previous little sense of repentance. Of course not for the Republicans, even louder though they are about their Christianity; the very idea that America could have anything to repent about (apart from homosexuality maybe) is heresy: if America did something, it must by definition have been right! But even for those who do recognize that torture is wrong and that the US did it, it barely scratches the surface.

Not that the US is particularly exceptional in its exceptionalism; it is a common feature of empires and hegemons throughout the ages, along with the self-righteousness and refusal to contemplate the possibility of wrongness; and even when a wrong, like the slave trade, is acknowledged, it is no sooner corrected than forgotten, and indeed self-praise for having stopped becomes the dominant sentiment. While there is such a thing as a patriotism that seeks all the more to right one's nations wrongs, in general patriotism and self-reflection and penitence rarely go together.

There are also many other nations culpable in the CIA torture scandal, most notably the UK, but also many, many others, including Sweden, which arrested two Egyptian asylum seekers in 2001, and handed them over to masked US security agents at Bromma airport in Stockholm, to be flown to Egypt for torture. If we are lucky, we may see enquiries that dig out more of the truth of what happened in various countries, but prosecutions? Well, if they happen I will be pleasantly surprised.
smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
I don't know if you have been following the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act through Congress. (Yeah, I'm a couple of days behind. Been busy/tired/rubbish).

It is seriously scary.

The NDAA is an annual act passed by Congress to approve the budget of the Department of Defense. But this year, the Republicans, with the support of some Democrats, have stuck in some clauses regarding the treatment of terrorism suspects.

First, it keeps Guantanamo open indefinitely, and extends the prohibition on transferring prisoners there to the US.

Secondly, and here is the real kicker, it authorizes the US military, if so instructed by the President, to take terrorism suspects into custody.

And hold them indefinitely. Without charge. Without legal access.

Anywhere in the world. (US or abroad). Regardless of nationality. (US or otherwise).

Some blog comment here. A press release by Human Rights Watch on it here.

It seems that Obama is not going to carry out a prior threat to veto it. Apparently there were a few provisions thrown in at the last minute to mollify him on certain points - but not the main thrust of the bill.

It is utterly mindblowing. Indefinite military detention with no rights. Of course, only if the President so approves. And we can totally trust President Obama not to misuse that. Or President Romney or Gingrich or whoever.

For the US, it would appear to represent the final shredding of the Bill of Rights. Theoretically I suppose this means the Supreme Court could overturn it, but I rather doubt they will.

For the rest of the world, it means the US is formalizing its claim to act as the global tyrant, with absolute rights over the life and liberty of all, anywhere in the world. In the US, the comments all seem to be about "OMG, it even applies to AMERICANS!!!!!" Like, of course the US has the right to do what it likes to foreigners.

I sometimes think that the rise of China can't come quickly enough. Not that China is any better (I wonder how long their 'non-intervention' philosophy would survive the capability to do otherwise). But at least they might offer some counterbalance to the overweening arrogance of the US.

I'm beginning to wonder about voting for Ron Paul for President. He's vile economically, but at least - unlike Obama - he's decisively against this sort of shit.

For USians, there's a petition on the Whitehouse website calling on the President to veto the NDAA.
smhwpf: (Six words)
The 'Blood Libel', as probably most of you know, was the frequently-repeated lie amongst Christians in Europe that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, most often supposedly to put their blood in Passover Matzohs.

According to the Wikipedia article, there are examples of similar anti-Semitic lies going back to antiquity, but it really took off in the Middle Ages where it was frequently the prelude to massacres of Jews by Christian mobs. Blood libel stories could make the approach to Easter, and Good Friday in particular - for it was for many centuries official Catholic teaching to blame Jews in general for the death of Christ - a highly dangerous time to be Jewish.

The Blood Libel, then, was not any old lie, not something told merely to mislead or discredit, but to instigate and justify genocidal slaughter.

Which really makes one speechless with disbelief that Sarah Palin could apply the term to claims that her rhetoric helped create a political climate that may have contributed to the massacre in Arizona. One hardly knows where to begin in pointing out why such claims - whether or not one agrees with them - do not remotely resemble a blood libel, and how utterly crass and offensive is Palin's comparison. It really makes one wonder whether she has the slightest clue what she's blurting out. Is she really trying to say that people who criticize her rhetoric or her infamous "target" map are seeking to instigate anti-Tea Party pogroms?

This naturally leads to asking the Slacktivist's perennial question, "Stupid or evil?" I suspect Palin is, in various ways, both, but I'm inclined to go with "stupid" on this one, because I don't see what she actually stands to gain by using such a phrase. Republicans don't get much of the Jewish vote anyway it's true, but pissing off the entire Jewish community is still probably not good politics. This is a very different case from her "death panels" for example - an accusation which she must have known was false, but which certainly served a political purpose in helping drum up the frenzy of opposition to Obama's health care plan. In contrast, it is rather easy to believe that she was ignorant of the actual meaning of "blood libel".

It is also not hard to see where she might have picked up the term, because it comes straight out of the contemporary pro-Israel playbook. The Evangelical Christian Right, to which Palin belongs, is of course strongly Christian Zionist and a core part of the US pro-Israel (or more accurately, pro-Israeli hardliner, Israel-right-or-wrong) lobby.

As Juan Cole points out, Israeli Premier Netanyahu described the Goldstone Report, detailing Israeli violations of International Humanitarian Law in their attack on Gaza in 2008-09 as a "modern day blood-libel". And, look who's just sprung up to defend Palin's use of the term, but Alan Dershowitz, one of the most prominent US exponents of the "if you criticize Israel you're an anti-Semite" school of thought. Dershowitz himself boasts in the article that he also described the Goldstone report as a blood libel. In other words, this is a term that's in vogue with 'her team' as a means of smearing opponents and she picked up on it, not getting just how much of an ass she was making of herself.

The use of the term "blood libel" by the likes of Netanyahu and Dershowitz, on the other hand, is very deliberately chosen, malicious, and equally false.

The purpose of invoking the spectre of the "blood libel" - and this is what the Israel-lobby usage has in common with Palin's - is to seek to close down debate, to make it unnecesssary to answer an allegation, because anyone who makes the allegation must be a monster. It typifies indeed, in many ways, the way the Right has worked to degrade political debate in the USA and elsewhere, to render indeed any sort of fact or reason-based debate impossible.

In this particular case, with Sarah Palin, it would appear (I hope) to have backfired rather badly, but for the pro-Israel lobby accusations of anti-Semitism in general, and the especially toxic allegation of "blood libels" in particular, remain a favoured and trusted propaganda tool.

I suspect it may be wearing thin though. When people start calling Archbishop Desmond Tutu an anti-Semite, it reflects ill only on the accuser. I am glad to see though, on further Googling, that the South African Zionist Federation has distanced itself from the claims made by some of its members.
smhwpf: (Buffy Restless)
(Commenting rather late on this, because I'm a useless procrastinator, but hey, better late than never.)

In other news over the past week, President Obama redoubled his efforts on Monday to not deserve his Nobel Peace Prize with the publication of his Fiscal Year 2011[1] Budget request to Congress.

To be fair, there seem to be some good things in the budget, job-creating measures and so forth, and apparently education got a reasonable deal. But one striking feature is that, at a time of a soaring budget deficit, and when Obama is trying to put a freeze on all other 'Discretionary' spending[2], the "Defense" budget is going up yet again. The base Defense budget is going up about 3.4% to $549 billion, and in addition there is a $159 billion request for funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The President also requested an additional $33 billion of spending for FY2010 for the war in Afghanistan, the result of his decision to escalate the US troop presence there.

When you factor in various other bits of military spending in other parts of the budget (e.g. some spending in the Department of Energy on the US nuclear weapons program), you get a total of $739 billion of military spending ("National Defense") requested for FY11 (up from $722b in 2010).

If you look at the actual Outlays - the money that's actually spent in a given year as a result of the budgets[3] - the picture is even starker. In FY2009, the last year for which Bush was (mostly) responsible, the US spent $661 billion of military expenditure. In FY2010, the estimate is for $719 billion, and in FY2010, if the Obama request is passed, the total will reach, to the nearest b, $750 billion.[4] Three quarters of a trillion dollars.

This is, quite simply, obscene. It shows that Obama, while his rhetoric may be softer, represents absolutely no change from the fundamental Bush philosophy. The US is to seek ever greater military power, not to tackle some new threat, not indeed to tackle any likely threat that can be tackled with military force, but to maintain and extent absolute, unchallengeable military dominance in ever corner of the globe and in every dimension of military power conceivable.

It is an imperialist, warmongering budget.

It comes at a time of dire economic conditions, when the US can ill-afford such waste. The national debt is soaring, and pretty soon the only thing that's going to be bigger than the Defense budget is interest on the national debt. Military spending represents a clear majority of Discretionary spending - so how Obama intends to get the deficit down while leaving untouched, nay increasing, the overwhelmingly largest cuttable item is a mystery. Moreover, in terms of the necessity for economic stimulus, military spending is about the most inefficient way of creating jobs. A study by Foreign Policy in Focus last year found that, while $1 billion spent on the military creates an average of 11,600 jobs, $1 billion spent on clean energy creates 17,100 jobs, on health 19,600, and on education, 29,100. Even $1 billion worth of tax cuts for personal consumption would creat more than military spending, at 14,600.

In other words, continuing to prioritize the military when the US faces the dire twin problems of unemployment and soaring deficits is economic lunacy.

And the final thing that makes this budget utterly criminally irresponsible is that the world is facing a very real, critical and calamitous security threat, one that can't be tackled by military force and that requires hundreds of billions of dollars to tackle, namely climate change. Making a real contribution to stopping it and helping the world adapt would not require the US to go pacifist, it would be enough to spend only, say, 4 times as much as the next biggest country (China) instead of six.

This budget is wasting money on tackling imaginary threats while the world burns.

[1] In the US, the Fiscal Year begins on 1st October of the year before the named year, so FY11 begins October 1st 2010.
[2] Federal government expenditure is either "Mandatory" or "Discretionary". Mandatory spending is that which is required by existing legislation, such as Medicare and Social Security. It therefore does not need Congress to pass a budget to make it happen - in fact Congress would have to repeal the existing laws mandating these expenditures to stop them happening. Discretionary spending is everything else, including Defense (apart from about $4 billion of Mandatory Defense spending), which must be requested annually by the President in the Budget, and then passed by Congress.
[3] When the Congress passes a budget, following the President's request, it authorizes spending departments, such as the Department of Defense, to spend a certain amount of money on specified purposes. This is "Budget Authority". However, not all this money has to get spent in the same fiscal year - some can be spent in subsequent years. The amounts actually spent in a given fiscal year are called "Outlays".
[4] All these figures (and many more for previous years) can be found in the Historical Tables at the Office For Management and Budget site linked to above.
smhwpf: (Way out)
So far I'm moderately impressed with Obama's progress on domestic policy. Far from perfect, but some real steps forward, and he is obviously hampered by the ridiculous set-up whereby it takes a 60-seat majority to get anything through the Senate.

I am less impressed on foreign policy, where it increasingly seems to me that what we are seeing is a change of style far more than of substance.

Take the issue of torture and indefinite detention without trial, where I (like many others) was praising Obama to the hilt last month with the decision to close Guantanamo.

Last week though, with much less fanfare, another decision of the new administration came through: The prison at Bagram airfield in Afghanistan is to remain, and detainees are to continue to be classed as "enemy combatants" with no legal rights. Bagram holds around 600 prisoners, two and a half times as many as Guantanamo. Many of whom, most likely, have nothing to do with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, but were turned in for the bounty offered by the Americans.

Detainees released from Guantanamo have reported that Bagram - often a first port of call for US captives - involves worse abuses than its Cuban counterpart. Presumably Obama's ban on torture holds there too, in theory. But where there is no legal accountability, no means for detainees to challenge what is happening to them, that is a recipe for abuse, whatever pieces of paper Obama may sign.

One detainee to be released from Guantanamo earlier this week and returned to the UK, where he had residency before his captivity, is Binyam Mohammed.

Here is the statement he made on his release. Read it. It's not long.

For those in the UK, one of the most scandalous (I won't say "shocking", still less "surprising") revelations to come out is the collusion of the UK intelligence agencies in Mohammed's torture at the hands of Pakistani agents. Nor was this the action of a few rogue agents, but the result of a policy drawn up within the UK government.

Compounding all this, the UK government has been refusing to publish documents, received from the US, providing evidence of Mohammed's ill-treatment. This decision was upheld by UK judges, despite their scathing criticism of the government, on the grounds that the US had threatened to halt intelligence co-operation if the UK government released the documents. Except, it turns out that the UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband actually solicited the letter from the US.

Which, of course, the US happily provided. And by "the US", I mean the Obama administration, in case there's any confusion.

So Obama gets the easy plaudits by closing Guantanamo. (And don't get me wrong, it's wonderful that Binyam Mohammed is free and that the other 240 there will be within the year). But, like the addict that promises to go cold turkey and very publicly hands over his gear, but keeps a secret stash under the bed just in case, he keeps the larger and worse (but much less notorious) Bagram camp open. And meanwhile his nobly anti-torture administration colludes with the equally nobly anti-torture UK government to cover up the crimes of their predecessors.

It's a very clever strategy. One thing Obama really does want to do is rebuild alliances with Europe and elsewhere. The Democrats have always been more multilateralist. He knows how badly Bush damaged America's image in the world, and he wants to restore that image. Note the word image. As for the European and other allies, this works very well for them too. They don't actually give a shit about a few hundred random individuals in Guantanamo or wherever, but they do want to maintain their alliance with the US without having to embarrass themselves in front of their populations. They want a US President that they can shake hands with and the resulting pictures'll make them look good. And with Obama, yes they can.

Call me cynical if you like. But on the evidence of my last post about Obama, my problem is I'm not yet cynical enough.
smhwpf: (Head Desk)
So John McCain has been trying to tone down the rhetoric of some of his supporters, and defending Barack Obama against some of their wilder accusations.

Very big of him.

Too bad that his idea of 'defending' Obama includes a blatant display of racism.

At one of his recent rallies, when the mike was passed round to supporters. One woman was going off in an incoherent rant about Obama, concluding with:

"I don't trust him... he's an Arab!"

Whereupon McCain shook his head, took the mike, and replied "No ma'am. He's a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with".

He thus corrected her factual error, but failed to challenge his supporter's vicious, hate-filled racism - indeed, he implicitly endorsed it.

"Oh, I'm sure he didn't mean it that way!", I hear. "It was just a slip!"

Oh yeah? If it was a slip, it was of the distinctly Freudian variety. Try, as a thought experiment, substituting "Jew" for "Arab" in that exchange. It should be immediately obvious that what was most wrong with this woman's words was not that Obama is not in fact an Arab, but the notion that Arabs are inherently untrustworthy. That it was not immediately obvious says some very unpleasant things not just about McCain, but about some of the attitudes prevalent in America today.
smhwpf: (Buffy fire)
Barack Obama has clarified his remarks about Jerusalem remaining Israel's undivided capital.

He says that what he meant is that "Jerusalem remains Israel's capital and it's not going to be divided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-1967." This does not rule out Jerusalem also being capital of a Palestinian state, or Palestinian soveriegnty over Arab areas of the city, such matters being final status issues for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Well, that's nice to know. So allow me to clarify too. When I said "Barack Obama is a fucking idiot", what I actually meant is that if he seriously believs that the natural interpretation of his comments - that Jerusalem would remain 100% under Israeli rule - is compatible with achieving peace in the Middle East (and you can bet that's what he meant his audience to understand) - then Barack Obama is a fucking idiot.

How could anyone understand anything different?
smhwpf: (AbbasSharonLove)
It doesn't surprise me that Obama, and all serious US presidential candidates, should pledge unswerving support for Israel at an AIPAC conference (America Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main Israeli lobby organisationi in the US). It does surprise me - OK, actually it doesn't surprise me, but does send me into a lather of steaming fury, that he should go beyond this to pledge (copying Clinto and, I believe, McCain) that Jerusalem should remain Israel's undivided capital.

Jerusalem is of crucial importance, economically, politcally and religiously, to both Israelis and Palestinians, to Jews, Muslims and Christians. There is no possible peace agreement - at least a 2-state solution as Obama claims to support - that does not involve sharing Jerusalem. Obama has spent enough time around pro-Palestinian folks to know this. In calling for Jerusalem to remain 100% in Israeli hands, he is declaring that he does not support peace, but victory of one side and surrender by the other. A fine approach for someone who hopes to be the leader of the country facilitating the 'peace process'!

Some further implications of Obama's statement, many of which are noted by for example these articles:

- He is going against the fundamental principle of international law that territory may not be acquired by force. East Jerusalem was conquered by Israel in the 6-Day War in 1967.

- He is going against the official policy not only of every other country in the world aside from Israel, but even the US itself. Not one country has acknowledged Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem. Not one country has its embassy in Jerusalem - all embassies are in Tel Aviv.

- He is taking a position more extreme than George W. Bush, who has made no such declaration that Jerusalem must remain undivided. (He has said that Israel will keep major settlement blocs in a peace agreement, which is bad enough, but that doesn't imply keeping the Arab parts of Jerusalem.)

- He is taking a position more extreme than many - quite possibly most - Israelis, including some in the current government, who have talked about the possibility of sharing Jerusalem.

- He is going very clearly against the Clinton Parameters for a peace agreement, the last attempt at serious negotiations that actually got quite close to a solution back in 2000, and which envisioned a shared Jerusalem.

- He is siding with the most right-wing elements of both Israeli and Jewish-American opinion, and with the rabid Christian Zionist movement for whom any sharing of the Holy Land will prevent the Second Coming.

It is also breathtaking to note, in passing, the arrogance of him and other American politicians - that it is up to America to decree how territory shall be divided in a far-off land. Obama may be saner than most senior politicians, but he shares the same delusions of superiority, the 'best nation in the world', the 'last best hope', and so on.

Can anyone still reasonably maintain that the (right-wing) Israeli lobby does not wield massively disproportionate influence in US politics? I mean obviously the Zionist right who scream anti-Semitism at anyone who remotely criticises Israel or even suggests that an Israeli lobby exists will dispute it, but for me this pretty much knocks on the head the theory espoused by some on the left (e.g. Chomsky) that US policy on Israel is the product of US strategic interests. Maybe that could apply for someone who sees US interests in the way George W. Bush does, but not someone who otherwise sees the world the way Barack Obama does - who opposed and opposes the war in Iraq, who believes (except in the case of Hamas) in talking to your enemies, who believes, if not in a kinder gentler America then at least in a slightly less psychopathic one. No, Obama is not following a coherent picture of US strategic interests here, he is bowing down and grovelling before the might of AIPAC.

In doing so he is ignoring the growing more progressive strands in American-Jewish thinking represented by the recently-formed J-Street, which (while I would probably disagree with a lot of their emphasis) offers a view of support for Israel that involves promoting a just peace - including the sharing of Jerusalem. I have no idea what proportion of US opinion (Jewish or otherwise) this represents, but I suspect the answer is a lot, and would be a lot more if people like Obama were to actually have the courage to take up their approach - one that surely accords far more with Obama's general world view than does the pro-war AIPAC's.

Indeed, this is what angers me most about Obama's statement. I expect this sort of shit from McCain or even Clinton. Barack Obama ought to know better.
smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
Yet more craziness and slaughter in Iraq, as forces of Nouri al-Maliki's government continue their assault on the Mehdi army militia in Basra. This attack has been loudly praised by George Bush, and US and UK planes have chimed in with air attacks.

Things have been pretty horrendous in Basra, controlled by rival Shia militias (including the Badr brigade, which is the militia of al-Maliki's Dawa party.), and their rule has not been pretty, especially for women. But so this is the way to solve it? Start an all-out civil war (on top of the various other civil wars still raging in Iraq) in an attempt to destroy the official 'bad guys'?

Juan Cole is probably the best available regular commentary in English on what's going on in Iraq. He reckons (amongst others) that this move is linked to forthcoming provincial elections in Iraq in October, in which al-Maliki and the US are distinctly afraid that Muqtada al-Sadr's party, of which the Mehdi is the militia, will win in the Shia provinces. The Sadrists are strongly against the US presence in Iraq, and have at times been engaged in direct armed resistance against US and UK forces, though currently they are on ceasefire. (Not that the other Shiite parties are that thrilled about the occupation, and Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the spiritual leader of many Shia, including Maliki's party, has been a strong critic of the US presence. But US forces are what keep the government in power, so they go along.) So, destroy the militia, destroy the party may be the thinking. Whether it works is another matter, as the Sadrists are rather popular amongst the Shia, and the US - not so much.

So, Maliki, with the hand up his back moving his mouth barely hidden, vows to fight the Sadrists to the death. Attempts at negotiations are stifled. Basra - and now many other areas of southern Iraq - is turned into a warzone, the US and UK drop righteous bombs which only ever kill "militants" (except that Iraqi sources, including police and medical, have an annoying habit of revealing that actually they were civilians), and the humanitarian situation - never good, with the chronic failure of the 'rebuilding' project in Iraq to provide basic services - deteriorates further.

Thing is, it's not just Iraq. It's the same pattern in every conflict at the moment where the US see their interests as at stake. In Afghanistan, the heavy-handed military approach to dealing with the Taliban insurgency, where Coalition forces appear to be killing more civilians than the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai occasionally makes protests for form's sake, but he's not the one calling the shots. Talk to the Hand.

Then there's Somalia. Without a government since 1991, it was largely controlled by various warlords [1], although there was a theoretical Transitional Government that controlled only the town of Baidoa. In 2006, an Islamist group, the Union of Islamic Courts, captured a large chunk of territory, including the capital Mogadishu, temporarily ending the warlords' rule.

Now these were probably not an entirely nice bunch, but maybe that might have been an opportunity for, say, some sort of negotiations between the UIC and the Transitional Government? Maybe there'd have even been a vague chance of uniting the country? But noooo, the US decides (without any actual evidence) that the UIC are linked to Al-Qaida, and instead back an invasion by Ethiopia. The Ethiopians force the UIC out of Mogadishu in short order, but then comes the inevitable insurgency, plus the warlords return to Mogadishu, as always no-one is particularly keen on foreign occupation (and Somalia and Ethiopia have something of a history) and now aid agencies say that a humanitarian catastrophe is impending. Another triumph of US policy!

Then there's Palestine. Leaving aside the US's ongoing unconditional support for Israel, there's their role in the intra-Palestinian conflict between Fatah and Hamas. which has been, of course, to stoke it up as much as possible. Ever since Hamas unexpectedly won the 2006 elections, they have been doing their darndest to overturn that result, leading an international boycott of the PA, plunging the Palestinians into even deeper poverty, and opposing all attempts at dialogue between the parties, continuing to boycott the unity government that was set up early in 2007.

Then of course there was the Hamas coup in Gaza, since when that territory has been kept under siege. As I said at the time, there was a lot to suggest this was pretty much the inevitable outcome of US policy of playing the two sides against each other. But recently there's been evidence that their role was even more direct than this, with Vanity Fair claiming to have leaked documents showing that the US was arming Fatah forces under Mohammed Dahlan, their strongman in Gaza, and was seeking to orchestrate a coup against Hamas - a policy which of course went horribly wrong with Hamas winning the battle instead.

Every time, every situation, the US policy is the same. Pick an ally, decide who the bad guys are, and pursue a military solution to wipe the bad guys out, and never mind how many innocent people suffer in the process. Pretty much every case where the US's baleful influence is felt, the result is humanitarian catastrophe. You think they might have noticed by now that it doesn't work? Except at one level it does work. Doesn't solve the problem, but it does succeed in dividing and ruling, preventing any unity amongst the subject population that might oppose US interests.

One final case where things may be going a little bit differently - Pakistan. There, the US had President Musharraf as their friendly dictator, pursuing the usual strategy against Taliban insurgents in the North-West Frontier Province. Rather horribly ineffectually, and with the usual dire consequences. But in February, parliamentary elections led to the overwhelming defeat of Musharraf's allies, and a governing coalition that has left the President isolated. And now the new government, unbeholden to the US, wants to try a different approach, with more talk and less killing. No, not suddenly becoming pacifist, and yes the insurgents they're dealing with are an extremely unpleasant bunch, but now that the Pakistanis are free(r) to choose their own approach, they've decided that maybe there's a better way than fighting until every last enemy is dead, no matter the cost. Good luck to them.

I hope, hope to God that things might be a little different with a new Administration - not that evil began with Bush and every past US government was pure as the driven, but there does seem to be a strong current in US opinion that is heartily sick of perpetual war, which might just find a voice in a Democrat Whitehouse. McCain, who gets far too easy a ride in the British press, let alone the American, quite clearly represents more, even more of the same - if anything, "no more Mr. Nice Guy", and I shudder to think what the future holds if he wins.

[1]Except for the self-declared republic of Somaliland in the North, which I gather is fairly peaceful, although it is not recognised by the UN, and the region of Puntland which is likewise de-facto self-governing
smhwpf: (Going places)
Well, I'm all packed, and I've made sure I don't have anything on me that could connect me to that scoundrel Sam Perlo-Freeman, so pretty much all ready to go. Just about time for another quick update!

Interesting week. Was at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting in Bristol last night in fact - a Palestinian film-maker was there, Osama Qashoo, showing a short film called My beautiful olive tree, about the importance of said trees to the Palestinians, and footage of protests against the demolition of olive trees to make way for the wall. Also discussion of trying to get a twinning arrangement going between a school in Bristol and one in Tulkaram.

This evening, there was a vigil outside Easton Mosque, about 15 minutes cycle-ride from me - it's been firebombed twice since 7/7, and there have been a lot of attacks on Muslims, so it was a sort of communal solidarity thing, organised by various anti-war and lefty groups in the area. Pretty good turnout.

Couple of actual good news (from my pov) articles I think I'll post. First, the news that lone-wolf Christian peace campaigner Brian Haw has won his case in the High court to continue the anti-war protest he's maintained in Parliament Square since the invasion of Afghanistan. He's there 24/7, with a forest of placards, haranguing our Honorable representatives as they pass. Well, it seems the poor little lambs didn't like the horrible man being nasty to them, so they passed a law to get rid of him. Specifically, banning protests in Parliament Square - even of a single person - that didn't have prior police permission. Then, our beloved Home Secretary Charles Clarke sneakily extended it to any protest within half a mile of Parliament Square, which includes opposite Downing Street.

Only problem was, the idiots forgot to make the law retroactive. So Brian Haw successfully argued that as his protest started before the law was passed, it wasn't covered. So now the government'll be in the extraordinary position of having to pass a second law specifically aimed at a single individual! Or maybe they'll desist for sheer embarrasment.

They interviewed Haw on 5 Live. The presenter was extremely patronising and showed severe ignorance about what's going on in Iraq. Brian Haw strikes me as being like the Old Testament Prophets. Mad as a box of frogs, but knows when something terribly wrong is happening in his country, and is not going to shut up about it.

The second good news story is one that considerably restores my faith in the good sense of the American people. Apparently, the US Army and Marines are experiencing an unprecedented recruitment crisis. Young people are not signing up. Many people who do sign up are leaving after six months. Thousands have gone AWOL. Opinion surveys show young people much less willing to join up, and much fewer parents supporting the idea of their children joining the military. The reason, of course, being Iraq. According to the survey, potential recruits increasingly don't believe in the war, and have seen all the images of Abu Ghraib and so forth, and don't want to be a part of that.

It may be that the American Empire will fail because too many young Americans have too much sense to be willing to kill and die for it.

Ah well, just an hour to go till my coach. Better finish getting ready.
smhwpf: (Angel)
So Bush has won, and will be in the Whitehouse for four more years.

That is indescribably bad.

But. Democracy didn't start on election day, and it doesn't end there.

Bush will pursue policies that are extremely damaging to ordinary Americans, and to the world.

But Kerry would have pursued most of the same policies. Not as bad in various ways, and the difference in morale it would have meant for both progressive and regressive forces is vast - but a Kerry Presidency would not have suddenly meant hugs and fluffy bunnies the world over.

If you want to see a more just and peaceful world, if you are not one of the rich and powerful and wish to defend your own economic interests and civil liberties, if these things matter to you, then you have to fight for them. True under Bush, true under Kerry.

The fight just got that much harder.

Perhaps of most immediate concern outside the US, a Bush Presidency, in my opinion, will represent a serious danger to world peace. It is highly likely that the newly triumphant Neocons will seek to start another war before long.

Well, we fucking nearly stopped the last one. And now, though temporarily demoralised, we're that much more prepared, and world opinion is that much more united in loathing of Bush. And 48% of American voters are pretty much with us too. We can stop the next one. In Britain at least, I don't believe Blair can get away with following Bush into another war.

So dust down those Feb. 15 placards, cross out the Q and write in an N, and be ready for a long haul.

The fight's not over. It's just beginning.


Nov. 3rd, 2004 11:11 am
smhwpf: (Despair)
Pretty much says it all.
smhwpf: (Giles party weasel)
There's a very dramatic and poignant scene in Thucydides' History of the Pelopponesian War (one of many), towards the conclusion of the Athenians' ill-fated adventure in Sicily; they have failed to capture Syracuse, and are basically in a bad way, facing utter defeat, and have decided they want out. To do this, their fleet makes one last desperate bid to break the blockade established by their Syracusan and Spartan enemies, to allow them to escape and go home.

So there's this massive naval battle in the bay where the Athenian fleet is holed up, while all the Athenian land troops line up along the cliff-sides above watching, cheering when their side gains the upper hand, groaning when they are losing, but totally unable to influence the outcome of a contest that is so crucial to their fate.

Which is rather like the position of the rest of the world watching the US elections unfold. (See, there was a point to all that story!) The policies adopted by the US will have massive consequences for the security, freedom and prosperity of the entire world.

Like the great majority of the world's peoples (And, by the look of things, about half of American voters), I view the prospect of four more years of George Bush, with his warmongering, assaults on human rights, and rejection of any moves to tackle global climate change, with unmitigated horror. Kerry is not much better in my books, but the difference between a Bush Administration re-eected, rejuvenated, vindicated and rewarded for its act of naked aggression in Iraq, and a Kerry administration elected at least in part as a result of a rejection and punishment of this war, is incalculable. The stated policy differences are small, but I think it may not be exaggerating to say that Bush is considerably more likely to bring about the Apocalypse than Kerry. (Indeed, it seems that a good proportion of Bush's core vote is hoping for precisely that.) There are also some very significant differences in domestic policy, which of course largely affect only Americans. (Though the attacks on civil liberties pursued by Ashcroft and co. could make it more difficult for Americans to oppose the worst excesses of a future Bush Administration, which would affect the rest of the world.)

It is traditional to say on these occasions, "Whatever you do, go out and vote". I have some sympathy with this view, but I'm not sure I totally go along with it. For example, in Germany 1932, I would consider it wholly inappropriate to say "Whoever you vote for, make sure you vote." I am not quite comparing Bush to Hitler. But the point is that you can't exhort people simply to vote without some reference to who they might be voting for.

So I am rather tempted to say to my American readers, If you are intending to vote for Kerry, or Nader, or Cobb, or any of the other minor candidates, then make sure you go out and vote, exercise your democratic prerogative! But if you are intending to vote for Bush, then for the love of God, stay at home, drink beer, watch TV, play video games, surf the web, whatever. Voting? Pah! Overrated!

So, we watch and wait. All looking nail-bitingly close. I for one shall be up all night. If Kerry wins I'll get through my 9.30 seminar on adrenaline, trickier if it goes the other way. Of course, we may not know by then. Overall I am cautiously optimistic. (If by "cautious" we mean "scared shitless".) The latest state-by-state polling (see shows Kerry ahead in the college, though the big swing states are too close to call. What fuels my optimism is that it looks like a very high turn-out, there's been a lot of effort to register young, ethnic minority voters, etc. who will strongly break for Kerry. These are not counted as 'likely voters' by most of the polls, so aren't included. Still, it is frighteningly close.

My last grounds for hope is that the Americans have something of a track record of getting rid of unelected tyrants called George. It's kind of what you're known for.

Do it, America!


Oct. 27th, 2004 11:28 pm
smhwpf: (Me)
Probably most if not all of my flist has already seen this, but in case you haven't, anyone who remotely cares about their own freedom of speech, especially if they live in the US, should read this.

I think "Fuck" is about the only coherent comment I can make on this.
smhwpf: (Giles party weasel)
This is quite mindboggling, even to me. It relates to a poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which basically shows that the majority of Bush supporters base their support on demonstrably false beliefs about the Iraq war.

I mean, this is not especially unusual, in the sense that there's a great deal of information out there that doesn't get covered in the mainstream media, but which a minority of people who are into these issues know about from reading alternative sources.

But this is about stuff that is covered in the mass media. As major news items. That you, sort of, couldn't miss unless you were living on Mars and therefore probably hadn't heard that there was a war on in Iraq anyway.

For example, 72% of Bush supporters still believe that Iraq had WMD or at least major WMD programmes, despite the fact that the US's own Iraq Survey Group has said this is not the case. What is even more mind-boggling is that 58% of Bush supporters believe that the Iraq Survey Group (Duelfer) Report said that Iraq had WMD or WMD programmes. When in fact it said the opposite. And received pretty widespread coverage.

Likewise, 75% of Bush supporters believe Iraq was providing substantial support for Al Qaeda, 63% believe evidence of this has been found, and 55% believe that the US's 9/11 commission concluded this was the case, when in fact it concluded the opposite.

I mean, if someone said "Yeah, well I know that here hasn't been hard evidence found, but no smoke without fire, Saddam and Al Qaeda are both evil, they both hate America, so of course they were working together", I might disagree with them, I might fault their logic, I might argue that this is a pretty flimsy reason to go to war, but in the end that's their opinion. But to actually believe that a highly-publicised official report says the opposite of what it actually did say - that's not a matter of opinion, that's just straightforwardly, factually, wrong!

Bush supporters also believe that the majority of the rest of the world is favourable to the Iraq war or neutral, and that the rest of the world likewise supports the re-election of Bush or is neutral, despite strong polling evidence to the contrary.

Kerry supporters, on the other hand, overwhelmingly believe the opposite, in other words, they believe factually correct propositions.

The killer thing is what Bush and Kerry supporters agree on - that if Iraq did not have WMD, and if they were not supporting AL Qaeda, then invading Iraq was wrong. In other words, it is very likely that an awful lot of Bush supporters are basing their vote on ignorance of widely-publicised facts.

It is highly tempting to conclude that Bush supporters are simply stupid or perverse, but of course the other available explanation is the shocking level of information provided by the US mass media, and especially the Republican station of choice, Fox News. I must admit I base this assessment of the US media on heresay, as I do not watch Fox News and only occasionally CNN, but this is what I am frequently told, and it would explain the wide prevalence of faulty information amongst a large section of the US public.

What is clear is that someone is feeding Americans an extremely blatant and effective package of misinformation.

Well, nothing new there, I guess. But perhaps more stunningly blatant than usual.


smhwpf: (Default)

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