Thursday, April 7, 2011

Farewell Manning Marable, (May 13, 1950 – April 1, 2011): A great scholar, a great man

With a heavy heart, I read of the death of Manning Marable at the beginning of the month. Marable was one of America's foremost scholars of African American Studies. He taught at Columbia University and he wrote far too many books to list here. His last book, apparently his magnum opus, was a biography of Malcolm X called Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.

I confess to not having read the book yet, but I have ordered it and eagerly await its arrival. In the future, I'll blog about it here. Malcolm X's famous Autobiography, co-written with Roots author Alex Haley, helped cement Malcolm's important place in American mythology. For the sake of full disclosure, few books have had as great an impact on me as Malcolm's Autobiography. An authentic First Edition, complete with the original dust jacket, occupies a very special place on my office bookshelf.

Marable, who had tremendous respect for Malcolm (this isn't the first book he's written about man), shatters a lot of the myths created by the Autobiography. Among the new revelations from Marable are that Malcolm exaggerated his criminal record in the Autobiography and, in his early life, had a gay relationship with a white businessman. There is a fantastic review of Marable's book in The Guardian. Very long, very nuanced and very positive.

A key graf:
Manning Marable, an academic and respected authority on black America, doesn't use his book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention to destroy the reputation of the man who told the heartlands that the assassination of President Kennedy represented "chickens coming home to roost". But, over 487 pages, Marable does effectively destroy the cultivated brand. There is a wealth of detail, some of it new, some of it old stories confirmed, all aided by documents and new recollections from the US government, the FBI and the Nation of Islam, whose leader Louis Farrakhan gave the author an unprecedented nine-hour interview. At the end of it all, Malcolm X remains Malcolm X, for good or ill, one of the most fascinating historical figures of the 20th century. But it is difficult to see him in the same way again.
The book took twelve years to write. Marable, it turns out, had sarcoidosis (a disease involving swelling of lymph nodes, lungs, eyes, skin or other tissues - in Marable's case, he'd hat in his lungs for about a quarter of a century), which necessitated a lung transplant. Thus, the scholar was racing against the clock to finish the biography before he ultimately died of causes related to pneumonia on April 1.

A wonderful biographical sketch of Marable appeared in an African American newspaper, The Florida Courier, at the time of his death. Here's an excerpt:

Black newspaper roots

Born in Dayton, Ohio, on May 13, 1950, Marable wrote in his book, "Speaking Truth to Power," that as the child of middle-class Black Americans – his father a teacher and businessman, his mother an educator and college professor – He watched the largely Southern civil rights movement from afar.

He found his political voice as a teenager writing columns for a Black newspaper, the Dayton Defender. He served as the Defender’s correspondent and marched along with thousands of others during Dr. King’s funeral procession.

"With Martin’s death, my childhood abruptly ended," he wrote. "My understanding of political change began a trajectory from reform to radicalism."

Marable earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Earlham College and his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. He taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Ohio State University, then served as the founding director of the Africana and Hispanic Studies Program at Colgate University before going to Columbia.

Prolific author

Marable wrote hundreds of papers and nearly 20 books, including "How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America" (1983); "Beyond Black and White: Race in America’s Past, Present and Future" (1995); "The Crisis of Color and Democracy" (1995); "The Great Wells of Democracy: The Meaning of Race in American Life" (2003); "Freedom: A Photographic History of the African-American Freedom Struggle" (2002); and "9/11: Racism in a Time of Terror (2002).

A public memorial service is set for May 27. Besides Leith Mullings, his wife of 15 years, three children and two stepchildren survive him.

Incidentally, I have my own Marable story. Years ago, long before I was a professor of history - hell, before I was even in graduate school - I met Marable. At the time, he was guest lecturing in Utah. And I had the great fortune of going to dinner with him. This was back in the 1980s.

He was a wonderful man and, even though I was only a teenager at the time, he treated me very respectfully and listened as well as talked. Sadly, I never met him in person again after that, although I read a few of his books and followed his career with great interest. When he passed away, a wave of sadness hit me at the thought that America has lost one of its great scholars of African American history and life.

It had also lost a great humanitarian and a truly decent man.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thee-thee-thee-uh-That's All Folks!

Political commentator Glenn Beck, who's so far over the extreme Right that he's on the verge of breaking through the partition into MaoistTopia, is leaving FoxNews. Or he's been fired from FoxNews. Hard to tell. It depends on which headlines you believe. "Fox Gives Glenn Beck's show the boot," said a headline in The Los Angeles Times. By contrast, a CNN headline noted: "Glenn Beck leaving Fox show." Who's right? Beck himself, in his usual overwrought style, went on Fox and explained his reasons for leaving to his viewers:

When I took this job -- I didn't take it because it was going to be a career for me. Paul Revere did not get up on the horse and say, ha, I'm going to do this for the rest of my life. He didn't do it. He got off the horse at some point and fought in the Revolution and then he went back to silversmithing. If you have watched this program and you really -- I ask you at times -- hear me, you know what I believe is coming. If you watch tonight's show, I believe you know that I believe we're heading into deep and treacherous waters.

It bothers me to be entering this phase and feel as though you might say, well, wait, wait, wait. I've been very clear with you. I've played my cards face up. We will find each other. I'm developing other content for Fox through specials and other things, on television and beyond. I will continue to tell the story and I'm going to be showing you other ways for us to connect, but I have other things to do. And not because it's good or bad for business, but I think you, out of all the people, will truly get this. Our only business is the business of freedom and our country at this time. It's why I told you about E4. I told you at the beginning of the year, prepare to be a leader. Educate yourself. Be the mouthpiece. Never rely on anyone else to spoon feed you.

Did you follow that? I sure as hell didn't. Maybe the master, Hunter S. Thompson, put it best when he said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

Whether he was fired or left on his own steam, Beck has achieved the dubious distinction of being too right-wing for FoxNews.

I hate to come out of the closet and say what I'm about to say, but I'll sort of miss the guy. I actually watch Beck from time to time. I get FoxNews and I'm one of the few lefties who finds his rants entertaining.

We haven't seen the last of Beck, that's for sure. He'll be back, on some other channel, giving some insane chalkboard conspiracy theories utilizing arrows and circles. And I applaud him for crying on the air. Some asshole liberals gave him grief for that. There are plenty of reasons to critique Beck, but getting emotional on the air isn't one of them, even if you think the guy is a pompous blowhard.

Beck will be back. Who knows? He may even get his own channel. Beck-24/7... Twenty-four hours of Beck. Day and night. Chalkboards galore. Conspiracy theories connecting Barack Obama and Woodrow Wilson to the International Communist Conspiracy. So many people love the guy. Not sure what that says about the state of the United States these days.

U.S. Politics 101: Making Sense of the Possible Government Shutdown Without All of Those Expensive Poli Sci Textbooks!

Republicans: MY WAY!

Democrats: NO, MY WAY!

Republicans: NO! MY WAY!

Democrats: No. My, um, way.

Republicans: NO! MY WAY!

Democrats: Look, we're not really getting anywhere with all of this shouting...

Republicans: NO! MY WAY!

Democrats: Surely, there must be some room for compromise...

Republicans: NO! MY WAY!

Democrats: In the spirit of bipartisanship, can't we simply...

Republicans: NO! MY WAY!

Democrats: The American people expect action, and, let's face it, we aren't delivering...

Republicans: NO! MY WAY!

Democrats: Okay, okay. Your way.

Republicans: NO! MY WAY!

(Note: That rumbling sound is Harry Truman spinning in his grave...)

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Great Disillusionment

What a difference four years makes.

Slightly over four years ago, on February 10, 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama announced his intention to run for the presidency in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, the same place another Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln, delivered his famous "House Divided" speech in 1858. Thousands of people huddled in subzero temperatures to witness that historic event. Obama criticized what he called the "smallness of our politics." "The time for that politics is over," he told the cheering crowd. "It is through. It is time to turn the page."

Obama spoke repeatedly of the importance of what he called "hope" and, in the words of The New York Times, portrayed "his campaign less as a candidacy and more as a movement." "Each and every time," he said, "a new generation has risen up and done what has needed to be done. Today we are called once more, and it is time for our generation to answer that call." (Source)

After years of George W. Bush's presidency, Obama captivated people. He hypnotized them. He became a modern-day Pied Piper. People succumbed en masse to his siren call. People snapped up his books on They cheered him on as a "man of the people." Americans, young and old, rallied around him, supporting him despite attacks from inside and outside of his party. Obama could do no wrong in people's eyes. They viewed him as a savior. Without doubt, part of his appeal had to do with the fact that he was the first African American frontrunner in a major presidential campaign.

I myself called him "this generation's Abraham Lincoln."

But it was more than that. People saw in Obama what they wanted to see in him. Liberals regarded him as a liberal. Outsiders thought of him as an outsider, a man with limited experience who appeared destined to lead a great nation. Independents felt he was more of a genuine maverick than John McCain, his Republican foe. A "Cult of Obama" took hold. It swept people away.

Flash forward to today, April 4, 2011. Few took notice of Obama declaring himself a candidate for re-election. The announcement went out with a whimper, not a bang.

"We can't go backwards," he told the nation today. "We have to preserve the progress that we've made and take it to the next level, and that means that we're going to have to mobilize." (Source)

Or, as a campaign email in my Inbox from the Obama folks said, simply, "We aren't finished."

Despite a dimming of the enthusiasm, the White House will probably be an easy conquest for Obama. He will, in all likelihood, win handily in 2012. Most pundits are already concurring with that prediction.

Look at his challengers. The Republican opposition, thus far, has done a dismal job of finding someone up to the task of running against Obama. Michele Bachmann? Sarah Palin? Mitt Romney? Tim Pawlenty? Newt Gingrich??? Really? Newt Gingrich? Seriously? Newt Gingrich? Does anybody really think Newt Gingrich is going to be the next commander in chief? What a sorry state of affairs when some think he may actually be a contender.

The only credible challenger to Obama thus far has been Representative Ron Paul, who could easily forge a coalition of Republicans, Independents and even leftists who applaud his anti-interventionist politics. But the Republican Party leadership is likely to put the kibosh on those plans. Like him or not, Ron Paul, unlike John McCain, is a genuine maverick whose anti-establishment politics are a breath of fresh air in this age of tired, stale, partisan politics.

Barring any unforeseen disasters (particularly of the economic variety), victory in '12, at this point, appears highly likely for Obama. Professor Peverill Squire, who teaches political science at the University of Missouri, put it best: "If the economy does chug along the way it is now a lot of people may be more comfortable going with Obama." (Source)

Squire is right. And Tea Party talk about Obama being a "socialist" and a Muslim who wasn't born in the United States won't make a dent in his reelection bid if the economy continues to, in Squire's well-chosen words, "chug along."

But there will be something missing from Obama's victory this time around. There won't be any dancing in the streets. Don't expect two million people to journey to Washington, D.C., in chartered buses, carrying the iconic red and blue stencil picture of Obama with the words "Hope" and "Change" below his face.

Those of us who voted for Obama knew it would take time to repair Bush's errors. That is not the source of the disillusionment. No, the despair comes from a man who stands for nothing, who has reneged on so many promises, and who has done little to actually help people reclaim politics. So little, in fact, that some of his former supporters have actually flocked to the Tea Party, hoping perhaps its promises of change may yield greater results.

Today, the day Obama announced plans to run for president, a Los Angeles Times headline told of yet another broken promise. "No Guantanamo suspects will be tried in U.S. civilian courts." (Source) So much for the vow to close Guantanamo. Add it to a long list of unfulfilled vows.

Men and women who trudge to the polls on Election Day 2012 will not do so with the illusion that they're reclaiming American politics. This time, the idealism will be nonexistent. Joy will be knocked off her perch by pragmatism. And that euphoric moment on November 4, 2008 - Election Day - will be largely forgotten, recalled only be a few who look back fondly at a very different time, when an eloquent president-elect momentarily convinced ordinary voters that the system did, indeed, belong to them, and it was theirs for the taking.

Libya: Two Videos from Jack Hunter

Conservative political commentator and talk radio host Jack Hunter, who alienated many Neoconservatives with his criticisms of George W. Bush's foreign policy in the early 2000s, offers two very thought-provoking videos here. I'm posting them because I think Hunter raises a number of compelling issues on American intervention on Libya. Specifically, he likens President Barack Obama's actions in recent weeks to Bush's foreign policy approach to the post-9/11 wars. Hunter is saying what I've been saying on this Blog from the start of this intervention. Obama and the Democrats are adopting a Neoconservative approach to Libya that involves regime change, forging alliances with indigenous elements within the country, and military actions in the form of Coalition airstrikes to carry out this agenda.

Meantime, at home, America is in a lot of trouble economically. Hunter and others like him are insisting that it is high time to pay attention to matters closer to home. While I have some differences of opinion about what needs to be done in the country, I agree with his concerns about the United States continuing its role as a global policeman. This is a costly endeavor and, by its very nature, it's highly selective. It is impossible to argue that what is happening in Libya is far worse than what is happening in the Ivory Coast. Why pick one above the other, when the crises inside both countries are so strikingly similar in so many respects, particularly when it comes to the violence unfolding in both places? This is not to say the United States should become a hardcore isolationist nation. There are things that Washington can do to help those who are struggling to uphold the primacy of human rights. It is difficult to see how dropping bombs from airplanes is one of them.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Three Cheers for Our Tea Party Comrades for Exposing the Running Dog Paper Tigers of the Reactionary Elitist Obama Clique! Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

Our comrades in the Tea Party, America's equivalent to the Great Maoist Purification Drive in the People's Republic of China, are thankfully exposing the Paper Tigers who are acting as lackeys of the Democratic Party! The People's Revolution will stamp out these Running Dogs and show them to be the Truly Impure Evildoers that they are!

A New Day is Dawning! The People's Revolution has exposed the Dangerous Miscreant that is Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, a lackey of the People's Enemies who is pretending to be a Republican and who has deviated dangerously from the People's Revolutionary Doctrine! This Running Dog will be paraded through the streets of Beijing in a Dunce Cap for all to see!

Comrade Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation has drawn attention to this Cowardly Traitor's Outrageous Crimes Against the People! Last week, in an absolutely purge-worthy vile display of his love for the Enemy of the People, Senator Scott Brown, a dancing marionette of the Obama Clique, had the temerity to deliver a speech on the Senate floor saying that Tea Party cuts would hurt programs for the elderly and poor of the state of Massachusetts! How dare he?!?!?!? Thankfully, Comrade Phillips set the record straight, establishing the CORRECT PARTY LINE for the People! Here is what this man of the people said:

“Brown is a politician, and that is meant in the worst sense of the word. He knows self-preservation and self-promotion. He has aligned himself with the [Republicans in name only] crowd, which has no beliefs, other than getting reelected and appeasing whatever base he thinks will help him get reelected.” (Source)
Where would we be without Comrade Phillips leading us to the PROMISED LAND of the People's Revolutionary Utopia? We will purge this DEVIATIONIST ELEMENT from our People's Republic, for Criminals like Scott Brown hinder our Super Great Leap Forward! And let this be a lesson! ANYTIME SOMEONE FEELS THE NEED TO SPEAK THE TRUTH, THEY WILL BE MADE AN EXAMPLE OF SO THAT THEY DO NOT CORRUPT THE WILL OF OUR GREAT REVOLUTION!!!

So three cheers for Comrade Phillips!!!

(Cue the chirping crickets...)

Ivory Coast/Cote d'Ivoire 101: Making Sense of the Crisis

For those of you trying to make sense of the crisis and the escalating violence in the Ivory Coast/Cote d'Ivoire (and, like me, wondering why in the hell the international Coalition is intervening in Libya but not this troubled West African country), this Al Jazeera Q&A is extremely helpful. It is somewhat longer than the typical videos I post on the Tiki Lounge (about 25 minutes), but the talking heads here are extremely intelligent, unlike the "Usual Suspects" you're likely to find on the Sunday morning gab fests (who, let's face it, really don't have any idea what the hell is going on in the Ivory Coast). These Al Jazeera guests know their stuff and they do an excellent job of putting the recent events in the broader political and historical context.

Even if you're a lay person and know nothing about the Ivory Coast (like Yours Truly), you'll come away from this Q&A a lot more informed. Have a look. The 25 minutes are well worth the time and once you're finished watching it, you - unlike most of the pundits on the political talk shows - will have a much better idea of what is happening in this troubled part of the globe.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Libya: More Evidence that Democrats are Morphing into Neocons

Here's a video of Ed Schultz, an MSNBC "liberal" who sounds a hell of a lot like a Neocon (circa 2002 and 2003) justifying the Coalition intervention in Libya. Listen carefully to his arguments. If this isn't classic Neoconservatism, I don't know what is. He even cites the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 as a justification for U.S. intervention in Libya and regime change (i.e., dumping Gaddafi). If that horrific airline bombing is the real reason why the United States is involved in these military operations, why didn't Washington intervene years ago when Libyan involvement was first revealed?

Thankfully, some progressives, like Jeremy Schahill - a fantastic investigative journalist (and frequent contributor to The Nation magazine) who really tears Ed apart in this video - understand what is happening in Libya and aren't blinded by partisanship. Listen to his arguments. They make a hell of a lot of sense, in my view. It's a sad day when so many (but by no means all) Democrats have become the Neocons and quite a few Republicans have suddenly morphed into Cindy Sheehans. But in this pathetic episode, that's exactly what has happened.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Libya: The Confusion & Inconsistencies Abound...

Somebody help me, because I'm still confused as hell about Libya!

Democrats, who were doves when George W. Bush was president, are now hawks. "Democrats Back Obama on Libya," said a headline.

And Republicans, who were hawks when George W. Bush was president, are now doves.

In fact, in the tradition of President Warren G. Harding, the Republican commander in chief who invented the word "normalcy," Sarah Palin created her own new word: squirmish.

"Are we at war?" she asked the other day (as quoted in The Chicago Sun-Times). "I haven't heard the president say we are at war. And that's why I too [don't know] do we use the term intervention, do we use war, do we use squirmish?"

Here's the really crazy part: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Tea Party favorite, is now using the same rhetoric and logic employed by the Antiwar Movement in 2002 and 2003!

Listen to Paul's rebuttal (above) to Obama's speech defending Coalition intervention in Libya yesterday and you'll see what I mean. Many of the exact same arguments that prominent antiwar figures articulated eight or nine years ago, Senator Paul is repeating now.

At one point, Senator Paul said the United States is
already in two wars that we are not paying for. We are waging war across the Middle East on a credit card, one whose limit is rapidly approaching. And this is just wrong. We already borrow money from countries like China to pay for our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and it would be interesting to know how many Americans believe we should continue borrowing money and saddling future generations with debt to pay for our current actions in Libya.
The senator went on to say, "We can no longer afford to spend what we don't have. And we can't afford to address every other nation's problems before we address our own." If that isn't classic Antiwar Movement rhetoric, I don't know what is.

It is a sad day when Republicans are the main voices in favor of restraint and non-intervention, whereas most Democrats are circling the wagons around Obama.

It goes to prove an old theory of mine - that once a Democrat comes to power in the White House, the forces of "progressivism" in the United States, which are so adept at resisting Republican misrule, often completely shut down.

This fact, coupled with the sudden appearance of a strong antiwar sentiment in the Republican Party, speaks to just how fiercely tribal and partisan so many high-profile political figures in the United States are today.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Libya: Up is Down, Left is Right, White is Black, War is Peace, Democrat is Republican... Twist it all around & what've you got?

OK. Let me see if I've got this straight (because I'm pretty damned confused right now)...

The current Commander in Chief of the United States, Barack Obama, favors U.S. military intervention in Libya - which he defended in a speech tonight (in the video above) - yet he opposed it in Iraq and (as far as anyone can tell) waffled on the issue of Afghanistan.

Sound inconsistent? Obama is not alone. This current intervention highlights incredible inconsistencies on both sides of the political spectrum.

Conservative Republicans, who backed military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, are - in large numbers, anyway (with definite exceptions) - opposed to Obama's current intervention in Libya. As Mississippi Governor (and potential 2012 G.O.P. candidate) Haley Barbour told the Wall Street Journal: "What are we doing in Libya? I mean, we have to be careful in my mind about getting into nation-building exercises, whether it's Libya or somewhere else. We've been in Afghanistan for 10 years." (Source)

Where was Barbour when the Antiwar Movement was out in the streets marching against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Missing in Action.

Longtime Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar echoed Barbour's concerns on Sunday's Meet the Press on NBC:
There have to be objectives and a plan and an agreement that we're prepared to devote the military forces but also the money. It makes no sense in the front room, where in Congress we are debating seemingly every day the deficits, the debt ceiling situation coming up, the huge economic problems we have -- but in the back room we are spending money on a military situation in Libya.

To be fair, there are some conservative Republicans rallying around Obama, but many are opposing this current intervention. Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times explained what he called the "Republican dilemma":

Republican presidential hopefuls have been scrambling to figure out the right vocabulary for denouncing President Obama's decision to launch U.S. planes and ships into action against Libya's Moammar Gaddafi. Because Obama made the decision, they know they're against it. But it took most of them a day or two to settle on exactly why, in part because so many of them had called for intervention before Obama pulled the trigger.

According to McManus, Newt Gingrich, another likely GOP presidential hopeful, flip-flopped on Libya, first stating, "This is a moment to get rid of Gaddafi. Do it. Get it over with." Then Obama intervened and Gingrich said, "It is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except opportunism and news media publicity. Iran and North Korea are vastly bigger threats.... There are a lot of bad dictators doing bad things."

You'd think these GOPers, who were so impassioned in their support of George W. Bush's interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq - often for the same reasons (when WMDs were debunked, they switched to a largely human rights defense of the Iraq War, and human rights was often at the center of justifications for the Afghan War) - would support Obama's Libya intervention, which would be consistent with their reasons for supporting the two post-9/11 wars. And, like I said, some do. But many oppose Obama - and with a passion.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the Left is no more consistent than their Right-wing counterparts. As was the case with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are plenty on the Left who are opposed to the Libya intervention.

But there are a surprising number of liberals and lefties who are cheering on Obama's tough new Libya policy. "I would like to urge the left to chew gum and walk at the same time," said Juan Cole, one of the most eloquent and brilliant and scholarly opponents of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. In his "An Open Letter to the Left on Libya," Cole came to Obama's defense in a strongly worded Blog entry.

An excerpt:
If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left. We should avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo the way the Right makes abortion an absolute taboo if doing so makes us heartless (inflexible a priori positions often lead to heartlessness). It is now easy to forget that Winston Churchill held absolutely odious positions from a Left point of view and was an insufferable colonialist who opposed letting India go in 1947. His writings are full of racial stereotypes that are deeply offensive when read today. Some of his interventions were nevertheless noble and were almost universally supported by the Left of his day. The UN allies now rolling back Qaddafi are doing a good thing, whatever you think of some of their individual leaders.
Cole isn't alone. There are other leftist defenders of U.S. military operations in Libya, including veteran liberal/leftish political columnist John Judis and L.A. Weekly columnist and author Marc Cooper. While Cole and Judis are quite respectful and fair toward those who disagree with them, Cooper is downright nasty to anyone voicing doubts about the intervention. He saved one of his most vicious attacks for Phyllis Bennis, a respected progressive-left commentator and author who opposed Obama's Libya policy. In a nakedly ad hominem comment mirroring the most infantile sort of Sixties-era left-wing sectarianism imaginable, Cooper remarked that he's known Bennis "for years - even back when she was a Maoist and relaundered herself as some sort of reasonable 'analyst' an (sic) shrouded with the legitimacy of the Institute for Policy Studies."

What Cooper doesn't say in his blog is that much of what Bennis says mirrors the same sort of rhetoric used by antiwar activists in their opposition to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Moreover, if the pro-war leftists in America who defend U.S. intervention in Libya were being consistent, they would've supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, after all, Washington was instrumental in overthrowing one of the worst regimes in modern history, the Taliban, which repressed Afghanistan's civilian population far more violently than Gadaffi has done in Libya. The Taliban is, in fact, South Asia's equivalent of the Khmer Rouge - insane, brutal, violent, to the point of being apocalyptic. Corrupt as the government of Hamid Karzai is, when it comes to human rights, it is a huge improvement over the Taliban.

And in Iraq, once you strip away all of the now thoroughly refuted claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), U.S. military intervention resulted in the overthrow of one of the worst tyrants of the past 30 years. Say what you will about current-day Iraq, but the fragile government there has far greater respect for human rights than Saddam Hussein ever did. Saddam was a monster, and some of the most impassioned defenders of the Coalition bombings in Libya were dead-set against U.S. military operations to overthrow him.

So Libya is right, but Afghanistan and Iraq are wrong? If one bases their support of Coalition bombing of Libya purely on human rights, how is it possible to defend Libya but not Afghanistan and/or Iraq?

Is it because Afghanistan and Iraq involved large-scale commitments of ground troops, but Libya doesn't? Is it because those two post-9/11 wars have dragged on for years and have been extremely costly, both in dollars and human lives? If that's the argument, then it's a chicken-shit one. If you accept that the Libya intervention is a justified struggle against an aggressive and violent dictator trying to harm his own people, then you should be willing to put the proverbial money where your mouth is and back an all-out, full-scale military attack to stop Gaddafi from doing what he's doing. Unless, of course, at some level, you don't really buy it.

You hear a lot of defenders of the Libya intervention saying, "Libya is not Iraq." Talk about a hollow cliché. What does that mean, exactly? Does it mean that Obama is too timid to send ground combat troops into Libya? Does that mean it was wrong to overthrow Saddam Hussein, a worse tyrant that Gaddafi? Does it mean that the Bush administration lied to push the country into war in Iraq, but Obama didn't with Libya, so therefore this intervention is OK but Iraq wasn't? Why should it matter that Bush lied if the end result in Iraq is that a monstrous despot was removed from power? Isn't Obama pushing for intervention in Libya for the same reasons - to prevent a bloodthirsty dictator from harming his own people?

So why oppose Iraq and Afghanistan but not Libya? Is it because George W. Bush spearheaded the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq and you can't trust him (and he's a Republican), whereas the intervention in Libya was the doing of Obama, whose motives are pure as snow? Perhaps partisanship is at work in all of these glaring inconsistencies, whether we're talking about the Right or the Left.

If it's right to intervene in Libya for human rights purposes, why not do the same thing in the Ivory Coast, where - as U.S. News and World Report points out - the violence is just as intense, if not more so, than it is in Libya? As U.S. News and World Report notes:
Thousands of supporters of Ivory Coast’s President Laurent Gbagbo enlisted in his army last week, fueling fears of renewed chaos in West Africa. Gbagbo’s refusal to accept his electoral defeat to Alassane Ouattara in the country’s November presidential election triggered bloody clashes between loyalists and Ouattara supporters. Rapes and killings, reportedly by Gbagbo’s forces, have left more than 400 dead. Over 50 people were killed last week alone. Gbagbo officials are encouraging young activists to join the army and fight against “the terrorists,” or backers of Ouattara, whom the United States and the rest of the international community recognize as the legitimate leader. Ouattara called on the United Nations to use force to protect civilians.
Where are the liberal and Democratic Party establishment and left-leaning defenders of U.S. intervention in Libya on the issue of the Ivory Coast? Answer: They're nowhere to be heard.

So what is with all of these wild inconsistencies on both sides of the political spectrum? Is it all about partisanship? Is it that "Good" Democrats were supposed to oppose the war in Iraq, waffle on Afghanistan, and take a hawkish position on coalition bombings of Libya, whereas "Good" Republicans are supposed to defend Bush's war against Saddam, be slightly less enthusiastic (but still supportive) about Afghanistan and oppose Obama on Libya?

If you can figure out this insanity and you think it amounts to anything other than blind partisanship, please - please - let me know.

Addendum: If you get a chance, see Christopher Hitchens' article in titled, "The Iraq Effect: If Saddam Hussein were still in power, this year's Arab uprisings would never have happened." Essentially, Hitchens raises many of the issues I've raised here, but from a different angle. I do not agree with Hitchens apology for the Iraq War, just as I do not agree with the Iraq War itself, but if I were to support it, I'd support it for the exact same reasons he does.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Middle East Uprisings 101

It is nothing short of remarkable to see the struggle for freedom sweeping across the Middle East, a region that, for quite some time, has been home to some of the most repressive regimes on the planet. We are witnessing incredible history unfolding before our very eyes on our television and computer screens, in our newspapers and magazines. Libyan rebels have captured the key strategic city of Ajdabiyah. More uprisings are planned for Syria. Protests are about to take place in Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan. It's all happening so fast, at such a dizzying pace. A new headline each day tells stories of demonstrations and violence. Crackdowns have become a regular occurrence. Meantime, a coalition of Western powers still strikes targets in Libya from the air. Where is it all going?

From the Right: From a realist perspective, Robert D. Kaplan offers an interesting analysis in the Wall Street Journal. Headlined "The Middle East crisis has just begun," the article is brooding analysis, a cautionary tale of seismic power shifts. You may not agree with everything Kaplan says, but his perspective is insightful. He is clearly worried about China's growing influence in the Middle East, which seems to increase each time the United States intervenes in the region. A highlight from Kaplan's piece:

In the background of the ongoing Middle Eastern drama looms the shadow of a rising China. China is not a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system, as we proclaim it should be; it is a free rider. We are at war in Afghanistan to make it a safe place for China to extract minerals and metals. We have liberated Iraq so that Chinese firms can extract its oil. Now we are at war with Libya, which further diverts us from concentrating on the western Pacific—the center of the world's economic and naval activity—which the Chinese military seeks eventually to dominate.

Every time we intervene somewhere, it quickens the pace at which China, whose leaders relish obscurity in international affairs, closes the gap with us. China will have economic and political problems of its own ahead, no doubt, and these will interrupt its rise. But China is spending much less to acquire an overseas maritime empire than we are spending, with all our interventions, merely to maintain ours.

From the Middle: From a slightly different P.O.V., Samia Nakhoul of Reuters offers a sweeping snapshot of events in the region in an analysis titled "Ground shifts as new Middle East order takes shape." This piece may be the best succinct overview of everything that has happened to date. Nakhoul tells us who the main players are, what they're struggling for, and reveals the common threads that tie all of these recent events together. Bottom line: It is a balanced assessment, with no axes to grind, and a very clear-eyed and lucid view of the region, grounded in a deep understanding of its politics, culture and history. Very well done.

From the Left: Gary Younge, a very eloquent and thoughtful British journalist who writes for The Guardian and lives in the United States, weighs in on the intervention in Libya in an outstanding column titled "The Innocence of the Liberal Hawk," which appears in the April 11 issue of The Nation magazine. As the headline indicates, Younge weighs in on the issue of folks on the liberal-left side of the spectrum who applaud this latest military intervention. The best thing about the column is that Younge sees the nuances and complexities very clearly in this issue. A highlight from the article:

This time around, however, there is no need for historical references, because the hypocrisy is playing out in real time. When protests started in Tunisia in January, the French foreign minister offered the Tunisian police training to “restore calm.” The day before Libya was attacked, dozens of protesters were shot dead in Yemen. Less than a week before, Saudi forces invaded Bahrain, where many protesters have been killed. These are American allies.

So while the West clearly has the power to intervene, given its history of colonialism and imperialism, it has no more credibility to do so on humanitarian grounds in this region than Iran would to bomb Bahrain in defense of the Shiites who are currently being killed there.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Farewell Leonard "Lenny" Weinglass (1933-2011), a gentleman and a soft-spoken "people's lawyer"

Lost amid all of the headlines about Elizabeth Taylor's passing was news of Leonard Weinglass's death. He died last night at 6:30 p.m., at age 78, in his favorite place: New York City. Weinglass - "Lenny," as his friends called him - was a soft-spoken and assuming attorney who dressed in frumpy clothes and went into the courtroom ready to take on the Goliaths.

Weinglass is one of the forgotten giants of the 1960s. He's not mentioned in most of the standard Sixties' history texts. When one thinks of "the Sixties," Lenny is not the first person who comes to mind.

Too bad, because nobody did more to defend the marginalized, the radical, the down-and-out, the railroaded and the "lost causes" generally than Lenny. When it came to the heavy hitters of the "people's lawyers," Lenny wasn't as flamboyant as fellow radical attorney Bill Kunstler, nor was he as connected to people in high places as Civil Rights champion Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. But he was always there for those who needed him the most. He gained fame as the attorney for the Chicago 8 (later 7), the group of activists accused of conspiring to riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

"Leonard Weinglass, an attorney from Newark, ...was asked to enter the case by Tom Hayden, a former client," wrote Frank L. Jonas and Diana Kelbanow in their book People's Lawyers. "A detail-oriented attorney who did much of the research for the case, Weinglass had never previously tried a case outside of New Jersey."

The Chicago 8 Trial catapulted Weinglass to nationwide fame. He went on to defend the late Anthony Russo (1936-2008), Daniel Ellsberg's co-defendant accused of helping to leak sensitive documents in the Pentagon Papers case, imprisoned Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Cuban Five (a group of five Cubans accused of spying on the United States for the Castro government), and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as well as a myriad of other activists, prisoners of conscience and assorted dissenters. He got his start as a U.S. Air Force judge advocate. He later went to Yale Law School.

Weinglass was constantly busy, yet he never liked attention, and shunned the role of celebrity attorney. Way back in the 1990s, before I decided to write my Ph.D. dissertation about Vietnam Veterans Against the War, I asked Lenny if he'd be willing to be the subject of a biography. He wrote back, simply, "No. If I were willing, I'd pick you to do it. But I'm not, so there you go."

Yet years later, in August 2001 (just a few weeks before the 9/11 terror attacks), I had a chance to interview Weinglass in his spacious, yet cluttered office in Manhattan. The place was full of framed political posters, some dating back decades, others very recent. There were stacks of case files everywhere. We had the most fascinating conversation imaginable. But never once did Lenny take credit for any of his successful cases. He wanted to talk more about the history he witnessed and the other people he met. He always tried to keep himself out of the picture.

A few weeks later, when those planes hit the World Trade Center, Weinglass, a lover of all things New York, was devastated. But he still took on the cases nobody dared touch, from Muslims who'd been the victims of racial profiling to militants who marched in the streets against George W. Bush's policies. "The typical call I get is the one that starts by saying, 'you are the fifth attorney we've called,'" he said. "Then I get interested!"

When I heard Lenny was ill, I signed the guest book on a tribute website. I noticed the countless other wonderful messages from men and women, young and old, from all walks of life, who'd been touched by him in one way or another. What a poignant thing to read all of those well wishes, all of those words of hope and kindness.

In my little note to Lenny, written just weeks before he died, I told him that American democracy was much healthier because of him. No doubt Leonard Weinglass, attorney for the outcasts, the falsely accused and the dispossessed, would have been the first to object to such an accusation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Farewell Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011): Her finest moment...

Boy, oh boy, this scene is hard to watch. Two acting titans - a couple on screen and off - Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton lock horns in Mike Nichols' 1966 masterpiece Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. This is a particularly painful moment in the film, when Martha (Taylor) lets George (Burton) have it over his lack of ambition and his low-paying job as an associate professor of... (deep sigh) ... history. Ouch, man!

Elizabeth Taylor, of course, died today, at age 79. Taylor was one of those incredible figures in film who straddled two generations of Hollywood: the so-called "classic" age of the 1940s and early 1950s, and the more modern era of the late 1950s through the 1970s.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was one of those films of the Sixties that anticipated the coming of post-Production Code filmmaking, an era of new movie realism that introduced profanity, violence, nudity and gritty depictions of life - elements absent in the movies made in Hollywood's Golden Age. Who's Afraid was based on the 1962 stage play, written by Edward Albee, of the same name. In its day, it was considered quite revolutionary for its painfully honest depiction of a deeply dysfunctional codependent relationship.

Taylor was in so many great movies: National Velvet (1944), A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956), Raintree County (1957) and my personal favourite, Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Even when she was in a dud, like 1994's dreadful live-action version of The Flintstones, she gave it her all, the same way Bela Lugosi did in those old Monogram cheapies of the 1940s.

You often hear that tired old saying when someone dies about it being the "end of an era." In this case, those words ring true, though. Elizabeth Taylor was one of the last stars of Golden Age Hollywood, and her death comes less than a month after silver screen starlet Jane Russell passed away at the end of February at age 89.

There are still a few "classic" Hollywood stars still alive: Mickey Rooney, the sibling rivals Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, two-time Academy Award winner Louise Rainier (who recently celebrated her 101st birthday!), Shirley Temple, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, Ann Blyth, Esther Williams. I'm sure if I thought long and hard, I could come up with some others. In the Netherlands, prolific Dutch film actor (and, sadly, Hitler apologist) Johannes Heesters just celebrated birthday number 107 in December.

So there are a few classic stars left. But their ranks are thinning out more and more with each passing year. And each time we lose one of these precious people, the world is a lesser place because of it.

From the Nixon Files: The Funniest Conversation Ever Captured on Tape in Human History

I truly love this insane conversation (taken from the infamous Nixon Tapes) between President Richard Nixon and his Chief Domestic Advisor John Ehrlichman and his White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. The conversation starts off focused on a made-for-TV movie, then quickly shifts to the hit early 1970s' TV show All in the Family. They spend a little bit of time discussing Archie Bunker and his relationship with his "hippie" son-in-law Michael "Meathead" Stivic. When Nixon becomes fixated on a gay character that appeared on the show, all hell breaks loose and the conversation goes spiralling off in all kinds of maniacal directions. These three White House chums can't stop talking about homosexuals. It turns into sheer lunacy as Nixon, Haldeman and Ehrlichman end up saying the most over-the-top things, touching on history, gays in San Francisco, gay hair dressers, and so forth. Normally, as a supporter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and gay and lesbian rights, I'd find this kind of thing almost too repulsive to listen to. But in this case, it's so over the top and loony that you can't help but laugh in discomfort. No doubt if he were still alive today, Dick Nixon would be an ardent foe of political correctness.

Give this crazy conversation a listen. You'll laugh like mad.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on 60 Minutes (March 6, 2011)

I'll let the master speak for himself...

Hilarious Japanese video "Nuclear Boy" explains the nuclear crisis to Japanese kids...

I know "hilarious" is not a word you'd want to apply to the current nuclear crisis in Japan, but this is a very funny cartoon made in Japan and full of scatological reference (ample references to "poo poo," diarrhea, soiled diapers, etc.). The cartoon is about a character named Nuclear Boy, who gets sick after the huge Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The video is full of humor, but it ultimately takes a poignant turn toward the end.

Have a look at it. We're only talking four and a half minutes here. It's a fascinating glimpse at how Japanese culture handles its crises. And the animation is very cute and funny. It's a sweet salute to a brave people who have been coping with a hell of a lot of devastation and loss in recent days.

Vanishing America: A Sad Farewell to Drive-in Theaters...

This is a wonderful four-part documentary that aired on a Lansing, Michigan public access TV show called "Outdoor Moovies." (The word "Moovies" is their misspelling, not mine...) Some of the production elements are a little bit dicey, but this low-budget 2006 documentary, called "Ohio Drive-in Theater Road Trip," is well worth the time it takes to watch it.

Have a look if you get a chance. I have very fond memories of going to the drive-in theater when I was a kid. When I was a little kid, our drive-in theater of choice was the Van Buren in Riverside, California, which is apparently still going strong. I remember seeing Jaws there with my dad and brother and it scared the s--- out of me.

Unlike the Van Buren, most of the classic American drive-ins are either gone or rapidly deteriorating. In this documentary, you'll see that even the ones still going are aging poorly: falling apart, rusting, relying on crummy old roadside marquees.

But the drive-in was a great American institution. Rather than forgetting about it, treating it as a relic of the past, we should celebrate it. That's why I'm posting these documentaries here, which are a well made and loving homage to these great outdoor arenas of entertainment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Many Faces of Muammar Gaddafi

Ever since the Allies launched their massive air campaign over Libya, Muammar Gaddafi has shown himself to be a man with many sides to him. His moods switch dramatically from hour to hour.

Here are but a few of the many faces of the Libyan dictator...










Sad (or is it Happy?)

The Return of the Tiki Lounge from Hell!

Greetings friends. The Tiki Lounge, I'm proud to say, is back.

Where did it go, you ask? Well, even if you didn't ask, I'm going to tell you. Back in 2008, the Tiki Lounge relocated to The Record, the local newspaper here in Waterloo region. I blogged regularly when the Tiki Lounge was housed on The Record's website. I blogged about damn near everything: Barack Obama, the financial meltdown, world crises, loud-mouthed FoxNews types, chickenshit liberals, mushy-minded political correctness, Sarah Palin, inner-city poverty, overseas wars, nuclear weapons, music, movies, TV, books. You name it, I blogged about it.

Then something happened. I got sick of Blogging. By the late summer of 2009, my Blogging had tapered off significantly. I decided I needed to step back. Andrew's Tiki Lounge had taken on a life of its own and I'd gotten burned out.

There was another reason I ducked out. I have to admit, I got sick of the Politics of Nastiness, which is so abundant on the Right and the Left. It's more pervasive on the Right, but Lefties have their fair share of assholes, too.

Also, my politics changed, as politics are bound to do. Not my commitment to human rights, which is unwavering. Not my sympathy with the vulnerable, which is stronger than ever.

No, the change came in the form of an intensified aversion on my part to all forms of dogma. I became more of a Libertarian Humanist. I became an Animal Rights advocate. I went vegan.

I neglected the Tiki Lounge. Then the people at The Record deleted it. Months and months and months and months of hard work and writing disappeared with one keystroke. I was fucking pissed off. I'm still fucking pissed off when I think about it.

I started a whole new blog, We're All Animals: A Celebration of Animal Rights and Vegan Living. My main focus is now Animal Rights, which I think is the single most important issue confronting the human race right now. Close to 60 billion animals are being murdered each year by the Factory Farm System. Billions of other animals - aquatic and land - perish at the hands of human beings for no good reason at all.

So I blogged about Animal Rights. I blogged and blogged. I still do.

But I grew to miss my non-Animal Rights blogging. I wanted the Tiki Lounge back.

And here I am.

I figured I'd return to my old, abandoned Tiki Lounge, still on that same run-down little Cul-de-sac, clean the place out, and start blogging again. The New Andrew's Tiki Lounge will be a departure in many respects from the Old Tiki Lounge of '08-09. For one thing, the blog entries probably won't be so detailed (when did I find time to write those suckers????). But one thing will remain the same: It'll be my own little soapbox where I can pretty much say whatever in the hell I want.

To quote the theme song of one of my favorite 1970s' TV shows: "Welcome back..."