Friday, October 31, 2008

Typical day in a Virginia Obama headquarters

This is how we campaign in Virginia – with singing phone banks and dancing canvassers.

Specifically, these old-time musicians and volunteers are jamming for Obama in Charlottesville, Virginia featuring Darrell Rose, Lydia Martin, Cleek Schrey, Liz Meade, Joe Fallon, Peter Markush, Olivia Johnston, Troy, Maia Stewart-Silver, Josh Stewart-Silver, Mary Stewart-Silver, Ruth Turner, Rob Wolman, Toby Lyon, Samantha, Kathy, and Ted Millich among others.

Sonny Rollins: “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” (1982)

Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone; Masuo and Bobby Broom on guitars; Lincoln Goines on bass; and, Tommy Campbell on drums perform “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” in Prague in 1982.

Sonny Rollins (born September 7, 1930 in New York City) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist. Sonny Rollins has had a long, productive career in jazz, beginning his career at the age of 11 and playing with piano legend Thelonious Monk before reaching the age of 20. Rollins has outlived several of his jazz contemporaries such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Art Blakey, all performers with whom he has recorded.

You can watch and listen to him perform “Weaver of Dreams” in 1950 here, “St. Thomas” in 1968 here, “On Green Dolphin Street” in 1968 here, and “My One and Only Love” in 1982 here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Starting from scratch – national security strategy for the next administration

President Bush will leave for his successor a variety of unresolved conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia including but not limited to Iraq, the orphan war – Afghanistan, the war hidden-in-plain-sight – Pakistan, the wars-in-waiting – Syria and Iran, and the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. What these have in common are they all, by one definition or another, fall under what the Bush administration calls the Global War on Terror. The problem with this “global war” is that it has become a permanent war without clear strategic objectives while cited as justification for a reckless foreign policy, overstretching fiscal and military capabilities, and expanded government power at the expense of civil liberties and democratic government. The Global War on Terror, rather than a means to an end, has become an end in itself.

This is Andrew J. Bacevich on the need to start our national security strategy from scratch:
… the Global War on Terror is a boon, an enterprise redolent with opportunity and promising to extend decades into the future.

Yet, to a considerable extent, that very enterprise has become a fiction, a gimmicky phrase employed to lend an appearance of cohesion to a panoply of activities that, in reality, are contradictory, counterproductive, or at the very least beside the point. In this sense, the global war on terror relates to terrorism precisely as the war on drugs relates to drug abuse and dependence: declaring a state of permanent "war" sustains the pretense of actually dealing with a serious problem, even as policymakers pay lip-service to the problem's actual sources. The war on drugs is a very expensive fraud. So, too, is the Global War on Terror.

Anyone intent on identifying some unifying idea that explains U.S. actions, military and otherwise, across the Greater Middle East is in for a disappointment. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid down "Germany first" and then "unconditional surrender" as core principles. Early in the Cold War, the Truman administration devised the concept of containment, which for decades thereafter provided a conceptual framework to which policymakers adhered. Yet seven years into its Global War on Terror, the Bush administration is without a compass, wandering in the arid wilderness. To the extent that any inkling of a strategy once existed -- the preposterous neoconservative vision of employing American power to "transform" the Islamic world -- events have long since demolished the assumptions on which it was based.

Rather than one single war, the United States is presently engaged in several.

There's nothing inherently wrong in fighting simultaneously on several fronts, as long as actions on front A are compatible with those on front B, and together contribute to overall success. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Global War on Terror. We have instead an illustration of what Winston Churchill once referred to as a pudding without a theme: a war devoid of strategic purpose.

This absence of cohesion -- by now a hallmark of the Bush administration -- is both a disaster and an opportunity. It is a disaster in the sense that we have, over the past seven years, expended enormous resources, while gaining precious little in return.

Bush's supporters beg to differ, of course. They credit the president with having averted a recurrence of 9/11, doubtless a commendable achievement but one primarily attributable to the fact that the United States no longer neglects airport security. To argue that, say, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have prevented terrorist attacks against the United States is the equivalent of contending that Israel's occupation of the West Bank since in 1967 has prevented terrorist attacks against the state of Israel.

Yet the existing strategic vacuum is also an opportunity. When it comes to national security at least, the agenda of the next administration all but sets itself. There is no need to waste time arguing about which issues demand priority action.

First-order questions are begging for attention. How should we gauge the threat? What are the principles that should inform our response? What forms of power are most relevant to implementing that response? Are the means at hand adequate to the task? If not, how should national priorities be adjusted to provide the means required? Given the challenges ahead, how should the government organize itself? Who -- both agencies and individuals -- will lead?

To each and every one of these questions, the Bush administration devised answers that turned out to be dead wrong. The next administration needs to do better. The place to begin is with the candid recognition that the Global War on Terror has effectively ceased to exist. When it comes to national security strategy, we need to start over from scratch.
You can read the entire piece here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Human Obama logo in Alaska

Hundreds of Obama supporters gathered in the freezing cold for over an hour last Saturday in Anchorage to form this human Obama logo. Who said Alaska is a red state? (Hat tip to Mudflats.)

American Stories, American Solutions

This is the 30 minute program aired this evening (October 29th) by the Obama campaign. In it, Presidential candidate Barack Obama addressed the nation about his plan for the country and the issues that are at stake in this election.

John Coltrane: “Naima” (1965)

This is the John Coltrane Quartet performing “Naima” in 1965.

John William Coltrane (1926 – 1967), nicknamed Trane, was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. His musical career started in the mid-1940’s but by the mid-1950’s was becoming a major influence in jazz. Between 1955 and 1967 he helped reshape modern jazz and made more than fifty recordings during those twelve years. During the 50’s he performed with both Miles Davis and Theolonius Monk. Coltrane’s quartet of the 1960's included a number of different musicians as his music evolved from classic bebop to avant-jazz and free jazz.

“Naima” was composed in 1959 by Coltrane and named after his then wife, Juanita Naima Grubb. It first appeared on his album, “Giant Steps” and has since become a jazz standard.

Coltrane died of liver cancer in 1967 at the age of 40.

You can watch (and hear) Coltrane perform “My Favorite Things” here, “So What” with Miles Davis here and “Hackensack” with Stan Getz here.

Please don’t lecture us that divided government is something “we like”

Given the sinking prospects for success next week, more and more Republicans are arguing in favor of divided government – McCain seeing the inevitability of a Democratic Congress argues we should put a Republican (him) in the White House and Republican members of Congress seeing an inevitable Democratic Obama victory for the Presidency argue for a Republican Congress. Of course, the Republicans didn’t see the wisdom of divided government when they controlled all three branches of government for six of the past eight years and had an effective check on Democrats in Congress during the past two years. Now with the country involved in two wars and facing a growing financial crisis they are preaching gridlock in Washington. Not surprisingly, the American people are not convinced. According to Andrew Romano in Newsweek:
Everyone loves checks and balances--in theory. But after eight years of widely reviled Republican rule, it's not clear that voters automatically dread a Democratic regime. In fact, according to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, 49 percent would prefer a Democratic Congress (vs. the 38 percent who's prefer a Republican Congress); 57 percent say that a unified government could "work together" and "end the gridlock in Washington"; and only 18 percent blame Congress for the country's problems (vs. the 35 percent who blame the Bush Administration).
Yet, the myth of divided government persists. The myth holds that people are consciously voting for one party to control the legislative branch and another party to control the executive branch for the reason of each checking the power of the other. Of course, most congressional districts are gerrymandered to protect incumbents, Senate elections are staggered very six years insulating them from mood swings of the electorate, and the Electoral College make the votes of many Americans for President irrelevant. Divided government is often as much the result of our Rube Goldberg electoral system as it is the preference of the American electorate. Americans aren’t voting to neutralize their own votes.

Still, many believe that divided government is truly what Americans like. Hendrik Hertzberg takes on the militant ambivalence of the centrists:
As the days dwindle down to a precious few, one of John McCain’s last-minute arguments is that it would be a terrible thing for both of the elected branches of the federal government to be controlled by the same party. McCain never made that argument before this year, of course, and he would not be making it now if the Republicans were a lock to win both Houses of Congress next Tuesday.

Still, nominally disinterested chronically centrist types make essentially the same argument. “Voters in America are increasingly independent and don’t trust any political party fully,” Larry J. Sabato, the U.Va. political scientist and quotemeister, has said. “They don’t want to give all of the political power to one party.” Cokie Roberts, broadcasting’s queen of the conventional wisdom, puts it this way: “For much of the last half-century, Americans have chosen divided government for good reason: We like it.”

Do we really? And have we ever really “chosen” it?

In the real world, most ticket-splitting is an artifact of the advantages of Congressional incumbency. Voters use the Presidential ballot to express their political preference regarding the direction they want for the country. But they may vote for good old Congressman Thing because they know him or because he has enough seniority to bring goodies to the district or because they never heard of the other guy or because his office helped out with that social-security problem Aunt Tillie was having.

One academic study, based on a regression analysis of 1992 and 1996 election data, finds that voters who split their tickets because they are consciously seeking to divide power and balance policy make up about twenty per cent of the electorate.

In other words, eighty per cent of the electorate prefers to have the government dominated by one party—their own.

This doesn’t mean that it’s pointless for McCain to make the argument he’s making. Every little bit helps. But, please, no more complacent lectures about how divided government is something that “we like.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama and a transracial America

Race is a social construction that usually carries a very complicated history in most societies and nations. The United States is no different but has the additional layer of that history of having imported African slaves and then through a wide range of customs and laws segregated freed slaves and their descendants from the larger community of European descendants. This set up a society within a society that has led to misunderstanding, conflict and polarization. The breaking down of the barriers and the integration of the separate societies has not been easy. Great strides have been made but work remains on the path to a transracial America.

This year we have candidate for President who is biracial – the product of a marriage between a black man and white woman in Hawaii that was illegal at the time in many other states. However, while his personal history certainly carries symbolism it is his message that represents a new consensus for Americans. Jim Sleeper has these thoughts in Dissent:
AS PUNDITS dithered late last week over “the Bradley effect” and other racial clouds on Obama’s horizon, the candidate was making a difficult, possibly final, visit to the white mother of his white mother. Few commented on the implications of the fact that while racial identity runs deep in America, maternal bonding runs deeper. But maybe our Hollywood-besotted political culture requires the drama and sentiment in Obama’s farewell visit to “Toot” (the Hawaiian name for “grandma” is “Tutu“) to drive those implications home.

Even so, Sarah Palin claims that Obama doesn’t know or represent the real America. That both Obama’s color and his childhood exposure to Muslims are assets to America’s image abroad apparently doesn’t matter much to Americans who are still offended or frightened by racial and religious difference. Image is one thing; intimate fears another. In a small former steel town in Pennsylvania this weekend a 71-year old woman, a Democrat who considers McCain a grouchy old man and Sarah Palin a joke, paused when a New York Times reporter asked her about Obama. “He scares me,” she said finally. “The coloreds are excited, but my friends and I plan to write in Hillary’s name.”

No one mentions that Obama’s biracial provenance and childhood brush with Islam launched him on struggles that have prepared him unusually well to address one of his country’s most daunting challenges: youthful alienation in inner cities where, at least until 9/11, the Nation of Islam held a certain appeal.

Nor have I heard anyone tell Palin that there is no more “real” America than the one Obama embodied last week off the campaign trail in his grandmother’s apartment. John McCain, adoptive father of a Bangladeshi daughter, does understand this, and he hasn’t let Palin make an issue of race—or even to use the outcries of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright or Obama’s unsought endorsement from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Everybody knows that Obama embraced Wright as a young man while immersing himself indelibly in an inner-city, African-American community. But no one talks about what a daunting and unusual choice this was for a son of transracial Hawaii: Southside Chicago was Obama’s community only by color, not by virtue of his upbringing or childhood culture and the post-racial prospects it had opened. Inner-city blackness was something he felt he had to come to terms with because he understood that the African-American experience runs as deeply within American identity as American identity does within inner-city blackness.

The unintended irony in Palin’s charge that Obama is different from “real Americans” is that he’s also different enough from many black inner-city youths—yet also similar enough—to have turned their heads, big-time, even more than his supporter Colin Powell has done.

Some of us envision an America where this delicate balancing of differences and similarities won’t always be as necessary as it is now. “The old strategies of accusation, isolation, and containment have broken down,” wrote the late black historian C. Eric Lincoln hopefully in 1995. “If transracial marriage is here, and biracial children are here, can transracial adoptions be far behind?....It is time now to reach for the hand that is reaching for tomorrow, whatever color that hand may be. The evening of today is already far spent.”

Lincoln wasn’t thinking of McCain’s transracial adoption, although he could have been. He was addressing black nationalists as well as white racists and even white liberals. He understood, he told me, that to watch blacks running political and military machines, municipalities, media organizations, and even money markets is to watch the angels of a romanticized blackness withdraw along with the demons of something feared and loathed. It is also to surrender an exotic white condescension along with contempt.

For all of us, it is to acknowledge that this country’s redemption has not—and will not—come through keeping race a central organizing principle of our polity and civic culture, let alone a wedge for partisan politics.

America’s image abroad has been helped, too, by Obama’s readiness to take us a step closer to Eric Lincoln’s promised transracial land. But the most important gain for this country would be some Americans’ acknowledgment that color is not disqualifying and other Americans’ acknowledgment that the most effective solvents of racism don’t always march under banners that are marked “anti-racism” or that are colored black or blue.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Bill Evans Trio: “How Deep Is The Ocean?” (1965)

This is the Bill Evans Trio – Bill Evans on piano, Chuck Israels on bass and Larry Bunker on drums – performing Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is The Ocean?” on the UK television program Jazz 625. The MC is Humphrey Lyttelton. This recording was made on March 19, 1965.

William John Evans -- better known as Bill Evans -- (1929 – 1980) was one of the most famous and influential American jazz pianists of the 20th century. He was well known for his use of impressionist harmony, his inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, and his syncopated and polyrhythmic melodic lines.

Bill Evans developed in his duos and trios a unique conception of ensemble performance and a classical sense of form and conceptual scale in unprecedented ways. The Bill Evans Trio became one of the most acclaimed piano trios, and jazz bands in general, of all time. With this group, Evans's focus settled on traditional jazz standards and original compositions, with an added emphasis on interplay among the band members that often bordered on collective improvisation and blurred the line between soloist and accompanist.

Evans died in 1980 due to complications related to his lifelong problems with drugs. However, his musicianship has been a model for many pianists in various genres. Evans' music always displayed his creative mastery of harmony, rhythm, and interpretive jazz conception. His work fused elements from jazz, classical, and ethnic music.

The works of Bill Evans continue to influence pianists, guitarists, composers, and interpreters of jazz music around the world. Many of his tunes, such as "Waltz For Debby", "Turn Out the Stars", "Very Early" and "Funkallero" have become often-recorded jazz standards.

You can watch and listen to him here perform “Waltz for Debby” and here performing “Someday My Prince Will Come.”

Alaska’s largest newspaper says Palin too risky to be one 72-year-old heartbeat from the presidency

On November 5th, Sara Palin will return to Alaska not only to face a growing number of scandals swirling around her governorship but also a hostile press. The Anchorage Daily News, Alaska’s largest newspaper, endorsed Barack Obama for President this weekend. These are the people who know John McCain’s pick for Vice President better than most (and certainly better than the McCain campaign did before making this selection). According to these Alaskans:
Sen. McCain describes himself as a maverick, by which he seems to mean that he spent 25 years trying unsuccessfully to persuade his own party to follow his bipartisan, centrist lead. Sadly, maverick John McCain didn't show up for the campaign. Instead we have candidate McCain, who embraces the extreme Republican orthodoxy he once resisted and cynically asks Americans to buy for another four years.

It is Sen. Obama who truly promises fundamental change in Washington. You need look no further than the guilt-by-association lies and sound-bite distortions of the degenerating McCain campaign to see how readily he embraces the divisive, fear-mongering tactics of Karl Rove. And while Sen. McCain points to the fragile success of the troop surge in stabilizing conditions in Iraq, it is also plain that he was fundamentally wrong about the more crucial early decisions. Contrary to his assurances, we were not greeted as liberators; it was not a short, easy war; and Americans -- not Iraqi oil -- have had to pay for it. It was Sen. Obama who more clearly saw the danger ahead.

The unqualified endorsement of Sen. Obama by a seasoned, respected soldier and diplomat like Gen. Colin Powell, a Republican icon, should reassure all Americans that the Democratic candidate will pass muster as commander in chief.

On a matter of parochial interest, Sen. Obama opposes the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but so does Sen. McCain. We think both are wrong, and hope a President Obama can be convinced to support environmentally responsible development of that resource.

Gov. Palin has shown the country why she has been so successful in her young political career. Passionate, charismatic and indefatigable, she draws huge crowds and sows excitement in her wake. She has made it clear she's a force to be reckoned with, and you can be sure politicians and political professionals across the country have taken note. Her future, in Alaska and on the national stage, seems certain to be played out in the limelight.

Yet despite her formidable gifts, few who have worked closely with the governor would argue she is truly ready to assume command of the most important, powerful nation on earth. To step in and juggle the demands of an economic meltdown, two deadly wars and a deteriorating climate crisis would stretch the governor beyond her range. Like picking Sen. McCain for president, putting her one 72-year-old heartbeat from the leadership of the free world is just too risky at this time.
So is Alaska about to depart the real America?

You can read the entire editorial here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sara Palin’s $150,000 new wardrobe

The Young Turks on Sara Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe paid for by the Republican National Committee following her selection as John McCain’s running mate. The tab for the shopping sprees at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus was picked up by Republicans who thought their contributions to the RNC were going to elect Republicans to Congress and the White House. However it seems the McCain campaign felt a Palin fashion statement was called for while most Americans face an economic downturn.

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has proved that he is the right choice to be the 44th president of the United States

This is a summary of the New York Times’ endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for President:
Hyperbole is the currency of presidential campaigns, but this year the nation’s future truly hangs in the balance.

The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush’s failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens — whether they are fleeing a hurricane’s floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable.

As tough as the times are, the selection of a new president is easy. After nearly two years of a grueling and ugly campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has proved that he is the right choice to be the 44th president of the United States.

Mr. Obama has met challenge after challenge, growing as a leader and putting real flesh on his early promises of hope and change. He has shown a cool head and sound judgment. We believe he has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation’s problems.

In the same time, Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism. His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in Congress.

Given the particularly ugly nature of Mr. McCain’s campaign, the urge to choose on the basis of raw emotion is strong. But there is a greater value in looking closely at the facts of life in America today and at the prescriptions the candidates offer. The differences are profound.

Mr. McCain offers more of the Republican every-man-for-himself ideology, now lying in shards on Wall Street and in Americans’ bank accounts. Mr. Obama has another vision of government’s role and responsibilities.

In his convention speech in Denver, Mr. Obama said, “Government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.”

Since the financial crisis, he has correctly identified the abject failure of government regulation that has brought the markets to the brink of collapse.


It will be an enormous challenge just to get the nation back to where it was before Mr. Bush, to begin to mend its image in the world and to restore its self-confidence and its self-respect. Doing all of that, and leading America forward, will require strength of will, character and intellect, sober judgment and a cool, steady hand.

Mr. Obama has those qualities in abundance. Watching him being tested in the campaign has long since erased the reservations that led us to endorse Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries. He has drawn in legions of new voters with powerful messages of hope and possibility and calls for shared sacrifice and social responsibility.

Mr. McCain, whom we chose as the best Republican nominee in the primaries, has spent the last coins of his reputation for principle and sound judgment to placate the limitless demands and narrow vision of the far-right wing. His righteous fury at being driven out of the 2000 primaries on a racist tide aimed at his adopted daughter has been replaced by a zealous embrace of those same win-at-all-costs tactics and tacticians.

He surrendered his standing as an independent thinker in his rush to embrace Mr. Bush’s misbegotten tax policies and to abandon his leadership position on climate change and immigration reform.

Mr. McCain could have seized the high ground on energy and the environment. Earlier in his career, he offered the first plausible bill to control America’s emissions of greenhouse gases. Now his positions are a caricature of that record: think Ms. Palin leading chants of “drill, baby, drill.”
Mr. Obama has endorsed some offshore drilling, but as part of a comprehensive strategy including big investments in new, clean technologies.

Mr. Obama has withstood some of the toughest campaign attacks ever mounted against a candidate. He’s been called un-American and accused of hiding a secret Islamic faith. The Republicans have linked him to domestic terrorists and questioned his wife’s love of her country. Ms. Palin has also questioned millions of Americans’ patriotism, calling Republican-leaning states “pro-America.”

This politics of fear, division and character assassination helped Mr. Bush drive Mr. McCain from the 2000 Republican primaries and defeat Senator John Kerry in 2004. It has been the dominant theme of his failed presidency.

The nation’s problems are simply too grave to be reduced to slashing “robo-calls” and negative ads. This country needs sensible leadership, compassionate leadership, honest leadership and strong leadership. Barack Obama has shown that he has all of those qualities.
You can read the entire editorial here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why “Joe the plumber” and not “Kareem the soldier”?

It says a lot about how low a campaign for the Presidency has sunk when one campaign and its Know-Nothing supporters have turned the middle name of the Democratic candidate into a pejorative and engage into a whispering campaign about his religion suggesting he is a Muslim. What is particularly distressing about this whole exercise is the belief that it would have traction with the American people. Most Americans pride themselves in the diversity of their country and tolerance for widespread religious beliefs and practices. The underlying assumption of this campaign is that Americans are bigots and to convince Americans a fellow citizen is possibly a Muslim is to convince them he is something less than an American.

It’s a lie and it says a lot about those who peddle in this type of hatemongering in order to gain political advantage. It is a shame those who rattle on and on about “Joe the Plumber” cannot take a little time to honor “Kareem the soldier.” This from Nancy Youssef in McClatchy Newspapers:
"Joe the Plumber" was only one of two Americans injected into the presidential election this past week. The other was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, whom former Secretary of State Colin Powell invoked in his endorsement Sunday of Barack Obama.

Khan was a 20-year-old soldier from Manahawkin, N.J., who wanted to enlist in the Army from the time he was 10. He was an all-American boy who visited Disney World after he completed his training at Fort Benning, Ga., and made his comrades in Iraq watch "Saving Private Ryan" every week.

He was also a Muslim who joined the military, his father said, in part to show his countrymen that not all Muslims are terrorists.

"He was an American soldier first," said his father, Feroze Khan. "But he also looked at fighting in this war as fighting for his faith. He was fighting radicalism."

Khan was killed by an improvised explosive device in August 2007 along with four other soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter while searching a house in Baqouba, Iraq. He's one of four Muslims who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where 512 troops from those wars now rest.

About 3,700 of the U.S. military's 1.4 million troops are Muslims, according to Defense Department estimates.

Khan, a child of immigrant parents from Trinidad, was 14 when the Sept. 11 attacks happened. Feroze Khan said he remembered his son watching in stunned silence: "I could tell that inside a lot of things were going through his head."

Three years later, Feroze honored his son's request and allowed him to enlist him in the Army. "I told him: 'You are going to the Army.' I never said there is a war going on in a Muslim country. I didn't want him to get any ideas that he was fighting (against) his religion."

Feroze kept his fears for his son's safety to himself.

His son was assigned to the Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Lewis, Wash., deployed to Iraq in 2006 and fought on Baghdad's Haifa Street, a Sunni insurgent stronghold.

His tour was extended as part of the surge of additional U.S. forces to Iraq, and he called or messaged home often until he was deployed to restive Diyala province, where he was under fire too often to contact home regularly.

But he prayed every day, his father said.

One Sunday morning, his son sent an instant message: "Hey Dad. Are you there?" Feroze Khan was out, and he saw the message when he returned.

A few hours later, his ex-wife called. Soldiers had knocked on her door in Maryland. Their only child was dead.

A few minutes later, soldiers appeared at Khan's door. "I guess it helped that I knew beforehand," he said. "There are no words to describe it."

Kareem Khan was a month from finishing his tour when he was killed.

On Sunday, Powell said that Khan's sacrifice and service had swayed him to discuss the way that Muslims have been portrayed in the presidential campaign, and the contention that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Obama "is a Christian," Powell said. "He has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, 'What if he is?' Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That is not America." He added: "I am troubled that within the (Republican) Party we have these kinds of expressions" suggesting that Obama is a Muslim, and that if he is, he likely associates with terrorists.

Powell said that he felt strongly about the issue after he saw a photo of Khan's tombstone in the New Yorker magazine. In the black-and-white picture, Khan's mother is resting her head on her son's tombstone. On each side of the stone are flowers, and in between is a copy of the Quran. On the face of the tombstone is a crescent and star, indicating that the soldier buried there is a Muslim.

"He was an American," Powell said.

Giving patriotism a bad name

According to the latest from the McCain-Palin campaign, patriotism is not evenly spread around the country and parts of some states are not real. According to these fine folks Americans from many regions of the country, if not most Americans across the entire nation, do not measure up to their high standards of being pro-American.

Joe Klien sums it up nicely:

Maybe this doesn't need to be said, but:

Anyone who talks about the "pro-American" parts of the country is making an anti-American statement.

Anyone who talks about the "real" parts of Virginia doesn't understand that all of Virginia is real--just not the reality as fantasized by the sort of people who see some parts of the country as more "pro-American" than others.

Anyone who describes one part of the country as "most patriotic" has lost all sense of what patriotism means.


But, seriously, you have to wonder why John McCain has spent so much time questioning the patriotism of others, especially his opponent, in this campaign. Is it because he once signed a prison "confession" that he considered treasonous? If so, please know that we don't blame you. You're a patriot, Senator, and a least, you were until you started questioning the patriotism of others--by saying things like they'd rather win an election than a war, and by implying that they're soft on terrorists. Then you became something else entirely. And it hasn't worked very well, has it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How U.S. foreign policy will change under the newly elected President Obama

The United States has suffered globally under the leadership of George W. Bush. The international community rallied to the United States following the September 11th attacks yet seven years later that good will has clearly been squandered by unprecedented arrogance guided by ideological blinders and undercut by incompetence and dishonesty. The conflict in Afghanistan pursuing the forces behind the 9-11 attacks was placed on hold while the U.S. pursued other military objectives in Iraq. However, given the very poor planning prior to the invasion and very poor political work following the invasion, American troops became bogged down in Iraq's overlapping civil wars where they remain today. The few allies we had going into Iraq have either left or are in the process of leaving. In the meantime, the military situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated from neglect by Washington.

Whether the issues concern trade, global warming, energy use, human rights, or international law to name just a few, the Bush administration either comes down on the wrong side more often than not or fails miserably in providing leadership. Under this administration the use of the military has replaced diplomacy stretching U.S. armed forces to a dangerous breaking point. The worldview of unilateralism has alienated friends. The Bush administration has taken the old wisdom of the need to unite your friend sand divide your enemies and turned it on its head. The United States is considerably weaker and more vulnerable than it was eight years ago.

So January 20th cannot come too soon. And fortunately, the likelihood of John McCain carrying on a Bush third term is fading. So what would U.S. international relations look like under an Obama administration? Michael Walzer speculates as to how U.S. foreign policy will change under the newly elected President Obama:
“Liberal internationalism” is the name that some of his advisors, and various friendly intellectuals, have chosen for the policies they hope he will adopt. But what does this mean? Here is a list of some of the things it might mean, though every item comes with a big question mark. For the moment, I am just trying to suggest what liberal internationalism might look like, not arguing about what it should look like.

1) The end of Bush’s unilateralism—at least in the form of there being endless consultation with other nations. U.S. diplomats, under Obama, will be doing a lot of traveling and a lot of talking—in Europe, with our natural allies, but also elsewhere. The policy of not talking to enemies will be explicitly rejected; we will be talking to any enemy who is prepared to talk to us—I mean any enemy state—and Iran and Syria will be the first candidates.

The policy with regard to terrorist organizations won’t change. Here I am just repeating what Obama has said. States are members of international society, and it makes sense to treat them like responsible members, committed to the norms of that society and capable of living up to those norms—and then to hold them responsible when they don’t do that. Terrorist organizations are, by definition, insofar as they practice terrorism, criminal organizations, which should be treated in accordance with their practices.

2) A new position on global warming and the Kyoto Protocols, maybe with Al Gore leading the charge.

3) An indication that we might be willing to join the International Criminal Court, though still with reservations to protect American soldiers from what are called “political” prosecutions. I don’t think that Obama will take on the Pentagon for the sake of membership in the ICC. Remember Clinton also would have joined except for opposition from the military establishment.

4) A different approach to the WTO and to trade issues generally, though how different is radically unclear. There will be, perhaps, a new interest in treaties that include provisions for workers’ rights, environmental protection, and so on. But economists are economists, and Obama’s advisors are not all that far from the neoliberal, free-trade Washington consensus; they are not, so far as I can see, the advocates of a global social democracy. Left economists will still be critics from the outside, though, given the financial crisis, they will get the hearing in Washington that they haven’t had these last eight or even sixteen years.

5) A stronger (rhetorically stronger or stronger in practice?) commitment to “the responsibility to protect” in places like Darfur and Myanmar, though the new administration is not going to send American troops into any countries where we are not already engaged. Are there other countries ready to send troops? If they are ready, the U.S. under Obama would probably be willing to support, help pay for, equip, and transport the troops. More than that: Obama has talked about creating a no-fly zone over Darfur—a good thing to do, certainly, but even then I doubt that the UN’s 20,000 African troops would be sufficient to stop the killing without some reinforcement from better trained and more disciplined armies.

6) A clear recognition that the “war” against terrorism is mostly police work and political work, that it requires cooperation among many countries, and that it can be, and should be, conducted within constitutional constraints. I would expect Guantanamo to be shut down, the torture memos repudiated, “rendition” terminated, and some trials of accused terrorists moved from military to civilian courts. But the new administration won’t give up clandestine activity, the war in the shadows, the long war. I would hope for a more coherent, nuanced, ideological commitment to the ongoing struggle against terrorist organizations—a way of drawing smarter lines than Bush’s black/white, righteous/evil, us/them discourse. But don’t count on it.

7) A withdrawal, as pledged, from Iraq? The commitment of Obama and of the leading Democrats in the Congress to withdraw is so clear, so strongly expressed, that it is hard to see how they can back off, and yet I think that they will back off. I find it difficult to imagine a U.S. withdrawal on Obama’s sixteen-month schedule. (Does that include all the private contractors and all the people who have worked with us and will be at risk when we leave?)

A formal policy of disengagement will certainly be announced, but in practice the disengagement will be very slow, with a lot of pauses, accompanied by negotiations with Iran and Syria aimed at providing cover for an eventual pullout. Will Iran and Syria cooperate? Do they want us to leave in a decent way, with what U.S. officers would regard as their honor intact? Probably not, though that might change in negotiations.

Anyway, in the short run, Obama will find that the Kurds don’t want us to leave; the Sunni chiefs don’t want us to leave; the Shi’ite government, despite Maliki’s endorsement of the Obama timetable, will or won’t want us to leave, depending on its strength relative to the Kurds and Sunnis. The Kuwaitis, the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Israelis, and the Turks will all be wary of any near-time departure. So the trick will be to leave and not leave at the same time. Nothing about Iraq has been pretty, and nothing will be pretty in the foreseeable future.

8) But some troop withdrawals will be necessary because the Democrats are really committed to a stronger effort in Afghanistan, which means more troops going there and more troops from Europe, or so the Democrats hope. And this might be the place to say that no new American foreign policy will be successful or sustainable unless the administration finds European partners who are prepared, along with the U.S., to take responsibility (some degree of responsibility) for the way the world goes. American multilateralism is going to require a lot of work from the other sides, probably more than our European allies currently have in mind.

9) A greater willingness to work closely with European states in figuring out how to deal with Putin’s Russia, first of all in Georgia and then more generally. Bush objected strongly to Sarkozy’s trip to Moscow days after the Russian invasion. Obama won’t object to efforts of that sort.

10) A diplomatic initiative in Israel/Palestine and also in the larger Israel/Arab conflict. I assume that the current negotiations, including the talks between Israel and Syria, will be ongoing and there will be nothing settled by January 2009.

A Democratic administration will be more engaged in the “process,” but not engaged in significantly different ways. Obama is not going to force an Israeli withdrawal until—and unless—it is clear that rockets won’t be aimed at Tel Aviv from the “liberated” West Bank, and it is hard to see how progress on that front can be made with a frighteningly weak Palestinian Authority, along with a weak Israeli government, and the still-growing strength of Islamic zealots in Gaza, in Palestine generally, and in Lebanon. I would expect a lot of rushing around and no great advance. But this is a place where there might be some real surprises. Given a gradual process of implementation and some strengthening of the PA (with NATO troops or Jordanians?), it is at least possible to imagine a settlement.

So in terms of foreign policy the U.S. will look a lot better if there is an Obama presidency and a large Democratic majority in Congress. But, compared to the Clinton years, the U.S. has less power and diminished authority today, and the world is more recalcitrant. A different American foreign policy may not make a big difference unless it is accompanied and supported by policy changes in other parts of the world.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Will Obama supporters, sure the election is basically wrapped up, slack off in the stretch and let McCain smear and cheat his way into office?

It is two weeks to the election. Obama has maintained a small but significant and consistent lead in national polls while the 72-year-old McCain seems to be floundering. Ohio and Florida no longer have a monopoly on the status of “swing states” but have to share the title with states that went Republican in 2004 such as Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina. McCain’s new mantra is “We’ve got them just where we want them.” Yeah, right.

So what’s going to happen in the next two weeks? It’s likely to get ugly.

Here is Michael Tomasky in the Guardian:
A year or two ago, if you'd told me that Barack Obama would be leading John McCain by a seemingly comfortable margin with two weeks to go and asked me what, in their desperation, the Republicans would be talking about to try and scare my fellow Americans into voting against him, I'd have said race. After all, Republicans have race-baited in one form or other in most of our presidential contests since Richard Nixon's time, so it would have seemed impossible to me that they'd miss the chance to do so at a time when Democrats had actually gone to the trouble of nominating an African-American candidate.

It's true that we're hearing racial-code talk here and there. But the main fear tactic being employed now is something else. It's that Obama and his associates - and for that matter his supporters and even the regions of the country that he's destined to carry - are anti-American.'

Last Friday, in North Carolina, Sarah Palin told a rally that she was proud to be "with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation". She means here of course that there are anti-American areas of America, and they are where the liberals live, and the people there are voting for Mr Anti-America.

This was especially interesting coming from a woman whose husband, Todd Palin, was until just six years ago an enrolled member of a rightwing fringe political party that wanted the state of Alaska to secede from the US. But if you understand rightwing logic, then you'd know that Mr Palin had no choice but to join the Alaska Independence party in 1995, because by that time the America he thought he knew and loved had been brought to ruin by the liberals and socialists and America-haters. See?

Likewise, earlier this month, Joe McCain, the brother of John, said that Alexandria and Arlington, the two major cities in the northern Virginia suburbs that lie just across the Potomac River from Washington, were "communist country" as far as he was concerned. His brother lives in Arlington when in the nation's capital for work, and his brother's campaign is headquartered there as well, but never mind. A McCain spokeswoman offered a wan apology at the time, but lo and behold, just last Saturday a different McCain spokes-woman said on television that while Obama would perform well in northern Virginia, "the rest of the state - real Virginia if you will - I think will be very responsive to Senator McCain's message". This did not seem a planned one-liner. The spokeswoman made the fatal error of saying what she actually thinks. Republican Virginia equals real Virginia. Democratic Virginia is alien and impure.
And here is Josh Marshall’s assessment:
If you're thinking to yourself that there's little more than two weeks before election day and Obama has a solid lead in the polls, don't be so sure.

Yes, it looks good for the Democrats. But you need to play close attention to the McCain campaign's final weeks' strategy under and just above the radar. McCain's final strategy relies on two pillars. The first is aggressively playing to voters' fears of electing a black president. Make no mistake: not just his campaign in a general sense, but McCain himself and his top handful of advisers, are banking on the residual racism in a changing America to get them over the finish line. The second is an aggressive use of innuendo to convince casual voters that Obama is in league with Islamic terrorists bent on killing Americans.

Many people have asked whether enough Americans really care any more about the cultural convulsions of the 1960s. The answer? It doesn't matter. For the McCain campaign, Bill Ayers has nothing to do with 60s radicalism. Ayers is nothing more than a tool that permits McCain, Palin and all their surrogates to use the noun "terrorist" in polite company in the same sentence as "Obama," over and over and over again. It allows them to cobble together a 'respectable' version of those Obama smear emails they can push in commercials and robocalls and surrogate talking points every hour of every day.

Stripped down to its components McCain's message to voters is this: "Don't forget. He's definitely black. And he may be a terrorist." That's the message. The nuts and bolts is a concerted effort to keep Democrats from voting -- through intimidation, by striking new voters from the rolls, which is going to happen to lots of them, clogging polling stations to create delays that keep late day (predominantly) Obama voters from voting altogether. Smears in the air and voter suppression on the ground.

Many people say, well ... all this stuff just hasn't worked. But the truth is that the really corrupt and vicious part of McCain's effort only comes now because it's only in the last couple weeks that you can pull stuff that the press won't get to call you on before election day -- after which it doesn't matter. Will it take Obama down? So far McCain's gutter campaign has hurt him more than helped. But there's no reason to be sure it will continue that way. And many Obama supporters, sure the election is basically wrapped up, appear ready to slack in the stretch and let McCain smear and cheat his way into office.
The McCain campaign is desperate and will resort to desperate actions and words. These people have held power for eight years and will resort to almost anything to hold onto power for another four years. Contrary to the “Country First” slogan, this is all about power first and always by rightwing ideologues regardless of the impact on the country. The negative stuff has not paid off for the McCain campaign so far but with two weeks to go they most likely will pour it on. They have failed utterly to convince the American people that the McCain-Palin team has anything positive to offer this country so they’ve got nothing to lose by promoting fear and division. All a negative campaign has to do is alienate enough voters in enough key states to sway the election and keep this country on its downward spiral under Bush-McCain control.

This is not a prediction but don’t be surprised if polls tighten up. People who are concerned about the future of this country are going to have to work even harder to prevent the rightwing ruin of the United States. We can’t let up now.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Presidential debate no “game changer” for McCain

The third and final Presidential debate is now history. According to the polls, the verdict of the voters is Senator Obama soundly defeated Senator McCain as he had in the previous two debates. While many say this was McCain’s strongest performance of the three joint appearances, it wasn’t enough. The problem faced by McCain coming into Wednesday’s debate was not only that he was running behind Obama in all national polls and a growing number of state polls but that Obama had passed the 50% threshold in a growing number of polls. If Obama were under 50% then McCain’s challenge would have been to convince more undecided voters to back him over Obama. But with Obama over 50%, McCain had to convince all undecided voters to swing his way plus convert a number of people who have already decided Obama was their man.

But McCain was his own worse enemy. His answers were not so much geared to address the needs and concerns of independent voters and middle class Americans – the people who swing these elections one way or the other – but he seemed ignore these citizens and concentrated on talking points important to America’s dwindling number of conservative ideologues. It is as if he were not running for the November election but still running for the Republican nomination last spring. In the face of an unprecedented economic crisis for modern time he tried ever so hard to rekindle the culture wars of previous decades.

McCain mentioned Joe the Plumber almost two dozen times (in what Marc Ambinder calls the “real person fetish” of the day) supposedly as a living example of the wisdom of the Arizona Senator’s proposal. He represented real people. He was the new Sara Palin. The problem was that this real person example was no better vetted by his campaign than his vice presidential pick. He is not a plumber. He owes back taxes. He makes well under $250,000 annually meaning he would receive a tax cut if Obama were elected President.

And then there was McCain’s bizarre body language. If his campaign staff pounded into his head that he needed to hold his tongue they failed to mention he should not roll his eyes when the camera was on him. Actually, he didn’t hold his tongue or control his body language. He is a man, much like George Bush, who seems to think sarcasm is a substitute to a superior argument. Much like George Bush, he doesn’t know how to agree to disagree with a political opponent. He only questions the motives and character of those who dare to disagree with him. This is not a very promising character trait for leadership.

Hendrik Hertzberg has these observations about the debate in the New Yorker:

The word ahead of time had been that McCain needed a “game changer,” and presumably Joe the Plumber was going to be it. I remember seeing Joe on some cable network or other a few days ago, in a report on an Obama campaign event. Obama met him on a rope line and tried to persuade him of the virtues of his middle-class tax cut. The guy wasn’t having any. (Now we know why: Joe, who looks like Henry Paulsen on beer, is a stalwart Republican.)

I imagine somebody at McCain headquarters saw the same clip, checked Joe out to make sure he was politically correct (though the vetting was no more rigorous than Sarah Palin’s), and gave the candidate a memo. As a result, Samuel J. (Joe) Wurzelbacher, of Toledo, Ohio, is the most famous nonmetaphorical plumber since George Meany (Google him, kids).

The problem was that McCain mentioned Joe the Plumber so many times that it became a running joke that, as of this writing, is still running, with McCain as the butt—and that’s before Jon Stewart gets hold of it tonight.

My eyes were pretty much riveted on Obama during the debate, so I missed McCain’s bizarro repertoire of Elmer Fudd-like facial expressions—which, I now realize after reviewing the video clips, were a lot more unpleasant than the Democrat’s arguably smug smiles. But I like to think that McCain’s real problem, especially during the last half, was substance.

Obama was able, for example, to give a reasonably complete description of his tax and health-care proposals. McCain tangled himself up in a Reaganite ideology that has never looked more threadbare. Instead of American English, he spoke a dialect of Heritage Foundation-speak, sprinkling his disjointed answers with winger shorthand: “trial lawyers,” “capital gains,” “class warfare,” airquote health of the mother unairquote. Obama, in his rope-line chat with Joe, had said casually, “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,” and McCain evidently thought that just contemptuously repeating the phrase “spread the wealth,” as he did nine times, would be enough to expose Obama as a dangerous redistributionist. McCain failed to consider that after eight years of skyrocketing hedge-fund payoffs and declining real wages climaxing in a massive prospective shrinking in the whole economy, a little wealth-spreading might not sound as threatening to Main Street as it does to K Street.

McCain repeated that he is not George Bush and in previous debates tried to put distance between himself and the Bush-Cheney White House and bragged about his “maverick” reputation in Congress ruffling feathers of his fellow Republicans. Obama pointed out McCain’s overwhelming support for Bush during the past eight years but what Obama failed to ask McCain directly was why McCain chose to run as a Republican at all. The Republican nomination is an albatross around the neck of many politicians this year. Senator McCain – the so-called maverick – could have easily run as an independent running against both Republicans and Democrats. However, he chose to run as the heir to George Bush even as he is running away from George Bush. He’ll learn on November 4th that he can’t have it both ways.