A Welcome Shift in the Obama Administration’s Rhetoric on Human Rights and Democracy in the Middle East

On Monday, as tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to demand a change in their autocratic, unresponsive and increasingly corrupt government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a statement that has caused dismay and consternation among supporters of a more democratic Egypt.

Apparently taken aback by unexpected events in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities, Secretary Clinton said: “the Egyptian Government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” Given that these words were uttered at the time Egyptian state security forces were warming to their task of dispersing protesters with batons and tear gas, they were, at best, ill-judged.

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He Doesn’t Feel Our Pain

After listening to the President’s State of the Union address I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of loss. I understand that this was a political speech in a lot of ways and will surely be the kick-off speech to his 2012 run for re-election, but with all of its platitudes and feel good rhetoric there was something missing. Could it have been that unemployment was not mentioned? Or that the poor and the middle-class were conspicuously absent? I don’t know about the state of your union, but in my union these issues are still alive and well. I have yet to hear this President connect to the pain that so many Americans are suffering from, especially black Americans.

One of the troubling aspects of the speech was how the President basically threw American manufacturing under the bus as a consequence of globalization. He stated that the American worker had to raise their game to compete for the future. That’s funny everything I read says that the American worker is one of the most productive workers in the world. Maybe instead of prodding the worker the President should have mentioned how the worker’s boss’ have outsourced all of their jobs overseas as China’s and India’s economies are the fastest growing in the world because they are making the things we used to make. The challenge should not have been that we have to give up manufacturing to these other nations but how American manufacturing can return and compete against these other nations.

This speech is named the state of the union for a reason; instead we got the state of globalization. The President should have been imploring this nation to support and rebuild our manufacturing base and buying our products. I don’t understand how promoting one’s own nation today is now considered un-American. I guess that’s because it is no longer what is good for America it is what is good for America’s multinationals. The truth be told as we found out during the gilded age is that what is good for Standard Oil is not always what’s good for America. I know there are those who will defend this President no matter what he says and does and I understand their fierce loyalty, but this is not about personality it should be about principles.

My fear is that in an attempt to appease the wing-nuts this administration is going to cave in some form on Social Security. We will either raise the retirement age or cut some benefits to show their seriousness in cutting the deficit. What is not being discussed is that Social Security was created by taxes that we all pay throughout our working lives for the benefits we receive. This isn’t some government give away where we take general tax dollars to support the weak, aged, and affirmed. There are less draconian ways to shore up Social Security but none of this is being mentioned or even part of the discussions. The problem with negotiating with folks who want to destroy what you are negotiating is that their aim is not to salvage it but to undermine it. I think Congressman Ryan made that point crystal clear last night.

This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency. - Paul Ryan's remarks

So on the one hand we have the President telling American workers they have to stop whining and on the other hand we have the wing-nuts telling the American workers that they are lazy and complacent. I don’t know about you but my answer to Republicanism is not Republican lite. Just once I would like this President to speak to the pain of those folks on Main Street as eloquently as he spoke to the folks in Tucson. He should give a voice to the voiceless instead of vocalizing the talking points of the opposition. I am not naïve to the process of negotiation and it is important to throw meat to the opposition to appear open to compromise, but what has been missing from this equation is the suffering of the poor and the middle-class and the enunciation of their concerns.

Last night the President spoke to Wall Street and the business communities letting them know loud and clear that this administration is open for business. The problem with this is that they aren’t the ones suffering. The Dow is approaching 12,000, the banks are sitting on boat loads of cash, and businesses are doing likewise. These folks need signals like the millionaires and billionaires need a tax-cut. The message the President should be sending is to Main Street that this administration is serious about creating equal opportunity and securing workers rights. The problem is not the American worker it is the greed of the American corporation.

“What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures,” - Samuel Gompers (1st President of AFL-CIO)

The Disputed Truth

This MLK Day, Arizona moves forward

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson, debates are raging over hate-filled rhetoric in the political sphere. According to Daniel Hernandez, the brave volunteer in Gabriel Zimmerman’s office who helped his boss amidst all the chaos-

“I think a lot of people are realizing that the political discourse has, for years, become completely destructive and more about tearing the other people apart instead of trying to work together to build up the nation and the state.”

Political analysts suggest that, while there are no obvious motives for the attack, the current theme in politics recently might easily give more people like Jared Lee Loughner the inspiration to resort to violence. Others are arguing for stricter gun control, an issue that has picked up momentum since the recent shootings.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 17th of this month, we need to take a minute to sit back and introspect on why we have become a nation whose politics are filled with spewing hatred and fear. Taking a cue from Martin Luther King’s own life, struggles and politics, it is time to look forward and strive for a public discourse that is open and civil. President Obama, in his memorial address at Tucson, has also called for an end to the constant barrage of accusations and hatred against each other by all political actors-

…at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Instead of starting a blame game, which inevitably leads to more word wars, why not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year with a renewed fervor for civility? In an effort to counter the hatred on the political arena in the country, people have called for organized movements to bring back civility in political and public discourse. The Anti Defamation League has launched ‘Restore Civility,’ a call for a more respectful political debate. Another project to follow is the “History of Hate, Future of Progress” Story Collection Project, started by Alto Arizona, asking people to uncover stories of intolerance, hate speech and violent rhetoric in their own community.

In addition to remembering those we have lost, there is lots to do this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Celebrate the spirit and courage of the man who continued in his struggles without resorting to political hatred, rancor or anger, despite facing stiff opposition along the way.

Besides the annual MLK Day parades in almost every major city in the country, here is a list of events you can attend to show your support for a more “civilized” public sphere!

Arizona
Those living in the metro Phoenix area can celebrate Martin Luther King and the diversity that is this country by attending the Celebration Festival at the Mesa Arts Center. Come for live entertainment, food booths, medical screenings, a job fair and vendors.

New York
Lets teach our children tolerance, respect and an understanding of diversity and equality. Raising Citizens is a weekend-long Martin Luther King, Jr. Festival at the Children’s Museum. Kids experience discussions of Dr. King’s life and teachings, craft projects, and performances by the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir.

Washington DC
Student sit-ins, roundtable discussions, drama, and music- at The National Museum of American History’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Family Festival you can be part of an inspirational tribute to the life and work of Dr King.

Los Angeles
Cheer on young volunteers as the City Year Corps Volunteers head to Thomas Edison Middle School to give the school a makeover on Jan. 17. From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers will paint rooms, a mural, and landscape, and beautify the campus.

Boston
Boston is celebrating Martin Luther King by hosting a free tribute concert at Faneuil Hall Boston. Join the Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events, the Museum of African American History and the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras (BYSO) in remembering a great man, and listen to poet and activist Nikki Giovanni who will deliver the keynote speech.

Chicago
Northwestern’s Chicago Campus will be hosting Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, for a talk on spiritual symbols and frames of reference for unity in light of what Dr King thought about pluralism.

As Jon Stewart aptly put it:

Wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take this opportunity, and the loss of these incredible people, and the pain that their loved ones are going through right now, wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take that moment to make sure that the world that we are creating now, that will ultimately be shattered again by a moment of lunacy, wouldn’t it be a shame if that world wasn’t better than the one we’d previously lost?

Lets hope for a better tomorrow.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

Bloodshed in Arizona turns spotlight on political landscape of anger and hate

From the Restore Fairness blog-

As Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona battles for her life after an assassination attempt, the nation is trying to grapple with the violent tragedy that took the lives of 6 and wounded 14 people on Saturday morning, casting a dark shadow on the start of this year. On the morning of January 8th, while U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at a local shopping center in Tuscon, a gunman opened fire on the gathering. Within seconds, Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range, along with 19 others including Christina Green, a 9-year old girl, Phyllis Schneck, a grandmother from New Jersey and 76-year old Dorwan Stoddard, who lived a mile from the grocery store.

A suspect was apprehended at the scene after two men pinned him to the ground and waited for the police to arrive. The suspect, 22-year old Jared Lee Loughner, has been charged with five federal counts on Sunday, including the attempted assassination of a Member of Congress, and the killing and attempted killings of four other government employees including John M. Roll, the chief federal judge in Arizona, who was killed, Gabriel Zimmerman, a Congressional aide, who was also killed, and Pamela Simon and Ron Barber, Congressional aides who were wounded. Mr. Loughner could face the death penalty if convicted.

Investigators found evidence at Jared Loughner’s residence in Southern Arizona to show that he had planned the attack on Gabrielle Giffords, including an envelope on which the words “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords” were written. In addition to a website linked to his name which contains anti-government writings, Mr. Loughner’s motives for committing the crime remain unclear. In spite of indications that Mr. Loughner is mentally ill, the tragic incident has quickly focused attention on the degree to which a political climate increasingly characterized by hate, fear and vitriolic rhetoric might be complicit in leading to a tragedy of this nature.

In a New York Times editorial written after the Arizona shootings, Paul Krugman refers to an internal report brought out by the Department of Homeland Security in April 2009 that warned of the violence that could accompany the growth of extremist rhetoric that was apparent in the political landscape. The last few years have also seen a growth in the numbers of threats against government officials. In 2010, following the health-care overhaul, Capitol Security officials had said that threats of violence against Congress officials, including death threats, harassment and vandalism, had tripled from the previous year. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a strong and vocal supporter of heath-care reform had her district office door smashed with a bullet following the health-care vote. Judge John Roll, who was killed on Saturday, had received thousands of threatening messages and phone calls after he had allowed undocumented immigrants to proceed with a case in which a rancher had assaulted 16 Mexicans who had crossed through his land.

While it would be misguided to directly attribute the Loughner’s violent actions to the surge of inflammatory language characterizing politics and media, it is important to understand that there are real consequences to framing political discourse through violent rhetoric. The extent to which hateful and angry rhetoric has made its way into mainstream politics was evident in 2010, during the debate around Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, and during the 2010 mid-term elections, where campaign ads openly promoted hate and divisive sentiments. In March 2010, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin announced a target list of Congressional candidates to be defeated in the 2010 midterm election. Launched through her personal profile on Facebook, Palin’s “Don’t get Demoralized. Get Organized. Take Back the 20” campaign was symbolized by a map of the country which had crosshairs over the districts represented by candidates that she wanted defeated. Ms. Giffords, who was among the candidates marked on this map, had expressed her concern about it at the time-

We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.

At a press conference about the shootings on Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik spoke about the “vitriol” that characterized political discourse. Saying that it was time for the country to do a little “soul-searching” he said-

The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

There is never an explanation for senseless acts of violence such as this that take the lives of innocent people. While Saturday’s shooting can be seen as an isolated action of a mentally ill individual, it can also be seen as emblematic of a political landscape that is angry, divisive, intolerant and eliminationist. Can this tragic incident become the pivotal turning point towards a more humane and peaceful political discourse?

Photo courtesy of examiner.com

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

The Cost of Victory

The ultimate decision about what is accepted as right and wrong will be made not by individual human wisdom but by the disappearance of the groups that have adhered to the "wrong" beliefs. - Friedrich August von Hayek

As the President begins his victory laps and the pundicracy begins to fall back in line by touting the recent passage of some historic legislation I think it is important that we remember what the cost of these victories has been and what it will be in the future. So let’s be clear it took 700 billion dollars to get the Republicans to enact legislation that the majority of Americans supported. Is paying the ransom to the kidnappers a victory? I do not want to appear as if I am raining on the President and the Congress’ parade but the reason this legislation got passed was not because the Dems finally realized they had a majority that was due to expire or that the Republicans finally decided that bi-partisanship was worth pursuing, it was because the Dems gave them 700 billion dollars.

What we have seen the last few weeks is how our legislative system was created to work. Legislation was proposed, debated, and voted on. The only problem is that in America for our political process to work it took a bribe of 700 billion dollars. Welcome to the banana republic of America where payoffs and kickbacks are required to do the people’s business. The fact that everyone is so thrilled that the process worked just demonstrates how truly broken our system is. Forgive me but I will not celebrate this process as a victory. It may be a victory for this President but it is not a victory for the American people. The question we must ask is simply this, is any one President’s personal political survival worth giving up our principles? The repeal of DADT is an historic achievement by this President but at what costs?

Some may say that I am being overly dramatic but I don’t think so. By making the concessions that this President and Congress have made they have created two very big problems in the coming years. The first is that they have embolden the wing-nuts to take more hostages and this will be played out following the holidays when they begin debating the budget for the fiscal year of 2011 since no spending bill was passed this year. Anyone who thinks that what has happened recently will ring in this era of compromise from the wing-nuts is in for a rude awakening. Their constant refrain has been and will continue to be that everything must be paid for except tax-cuts for the wealthy. Now that they have delivered on the tax-cuts they will focus their attention on paying for them through cuts to our social safety nets. Funding for health and financial reform will be their first targets followed by our regulatory apparatus.

The second problem will be that by accepting the wing-nut philosophy of tax-cuts the President has now opened the door for negotiations on Medicare and Social Security. Based on how they have negotiated thus far I am not convinced that these programs will remain intact. The wing-nuts have learned that if you say something loud enough and enough times it becomes fact and in this case it will be that we can no longer afford these programs. The wing-nuts don’t want to “pull the plug” on granny they just want to work her to death. Make no mistake about it Social Security and all of the other safety net programs we have come to accept will now be re-litigated and are now negotiable. Were the legislative victories of the last few weeks worth dismantling the last 50 years of liberal values and programs?

Unlike many of my progressive and liberal friends I am not calling for a primary challenge of this President. To me this would be counterproductive and would allow a group that I know does not represent anything I support to come to power and this to me would be foolish. I am not a purist but I refuse to accept that everything is negotiable. There has to be some principles that are not open for debate or negotiation. I refuse to accept this false moral equivalency being promoted by the media and funded by the wealthy. There is no moral equivalency between funding unemployment for those ravaged by the greed of Wall Street and the huge bonuses for those same Wall Streeters. There is no moral equivalency between funding the medical expenses for first responders and tax-cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Our job as progressives and as liberals is not to fall in line with the pundits and the apologist but to remain true to our visions and our principles that we may keep the light burning for those who may lose their way in the darkness. If those who seek our support will not stand for our principles then it is incumbent upon us to find those who will be willing to stand and create our own vehicles for success.

As long as we continue to allow these clowns the cover of moral equivalency then they will continue to take hostages. Our government has to become more representative of the people. We cannot continue to allow Senators from under populated and safe states to undermine the will of the majority of Americans. There is no moral equivalency between someone who represents 100,000 people and someone who represents a 1,000,000 people and by allowing this travesty to continue we will continue to have these obstructionists holding the rest of the country hostage.

Enjoy your victory Mr. President but know that those who were preparing your demise continue to lie in wait with their steely knives and their deceptive smiles.

In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him for then it costs nothing to be a patriot. - Mark Twain

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