Phew! That Putin “lifeline” to Obama

September 10, 2013 at 9:55 am (Democratic Party, Jim D, Middle East, Obama, Republican Party, Russia, Syria, war)

Obama, Putin Briefly Interact at G20 Beginning
Above: it’s almost as though they like each other

Most decent people will, instinctively, welcome Putin’s proposal that Assad places his chemical weapons under some kind of international control. Anything that makes an escalation of the conflict less likely can only be A Good Thing. Whether the proposal actually comes to anything is, of course, highly doubtful.

Juan Cole (, as usual, carries a pretty shrewd analysis of what’s going on, noting that Putin has (for whatever reason) helped Obama “avoid the most embarrassing defeat in congress on a major international issue since that body told Woodrow Wilson where he could stick his League of Nations.”

However, it seems to me that Cole is a little too willing to give credit to Putin (Cole of course is a liberal-leftist, but the right-wing media, like Fox News, are taking the much same line). After all, the proposal came initially from John Kerry, even if it was an off-the-cuff remark. And Cole’s dismissal of Obama’s claim that the Putin initiative “would not have come about without his own sabre-rattling” seems to be a dismissal of something that’s merely a self-evident statement of fact.

Of course, Assad (against all the evidence) has still not admitted to having used chemical weapons in Ghouta on 21 August, though Putin now seems (de facto, at least) to accept that even if Assad didn’t personally order the atrocity, elements within the Syrian army were responsible.

If the Syrian rebels were supportable, we’d be calling for their victory over the mass-murderer Assad. But they’re not, so we can’t. The best we can realistically hope for is a compromise between the rebels and the regime: as Cole argues, when both sides are sufficiently exhausted, there may be the sort of agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war in 1989. Not ideal, but probably the least-bad option going.

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Bradley Manning and the Abu Ghraib abusers: compare and contrast

July 31, 2013 at 8:47 pm (Afghanistan, Cross-post, Human rights, iraq war, Jim D, Obama, United States)

Amnesty International makes some interesting comparisons:

While Manning could face more than a century behind bars, numerous high-level officials … have been let off scot-free’ – Widney Brown

The US authorities have failed to deliver justice for serious human rights violations committed during counter-terror operations dating back more than a decade, Amnesty International said as the sentencing phase opened today in the military trial of the US Army Private Bradley Manning.

Manning, who exposed potential breaches of international humanitarian law and other violations by US forces, could face up to 136 years in prison after being convicted yesterday of 20 separate charges – including theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act.

Amnesty pointed out that, for example, high-ranking officials have avoided investigation for the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq in 2003-2004. While 11 low-ranking soldiers were sentenced to prison terms after being convicted in courts martial, they have all since been released. The Brigadier General in charge of the detention facility was reprimanded for dereliction of duty and demoted to Colonel.

Meanwhile, no criminal charges have ever been made in relation to the US secret detention programme where enforced disappearance and torture were authorised at the highest level of government, and details of the programme remain classified.

Amnesty International’s Senior Director of International Law and Policy Widney Brown said:

“There’s a stunning contrast between the extraordinarily severe sentence Bradley Manning could receive and the leniency or complete impunity enjoyed by those responsible for the types of grave human rights violations he exposed.

“It’s outrageous that the USA has failed to hold perpetrators criminally accountable despite credible allegations of torture, enforced disappearances and other crimes under international law in the context of counter-terror operations since September 11, 2001.

“While Manning could face more than a century behind bars, numerous high-level officials have never faced even the threat of investigations – in effect they have been let off scot-free. Even in cases where low-ranking soldiers have been convicted, they’ve received very light sentences.

“The US Attorney General is duty-bound to investigate these serious crimes under international law and bring those responsible to justice. 

“The ongoing failure to do so is a festering injustice and a blight on the United States’ human rights record.”

Before handing down her sentence, the judge will hear Manning’s explanation of the motives for his actions. He was not able to present a public interest defence during the earlier phase of the trial, but he may be able to offer his reasons for the disclosures he made as a mitigating factor now. She will also hear the testimony of more than 40 witnesses brought by the prosecution and defence.

Amnesty will continue to monitor the sentencing phase of Manning’s trial in the coming days and weeks.

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Egyptian democrat denounces CNN and BBC

December 5, 2012 at 9:39 am (BBC, democracy, Egypt, islamism, Jim D, media, Obama)

I’ve no idea who this guy is (he seems to be an Egyptian living in Canada), but he’s certainly angry.

He notes that CNN has virtually ignored this week’s mass demonstrations against Morsi and the Brotherhood, while the BBC reported that “thousands” (later “tens of thousands”) had demonstrated in Cairo.

Reuters, this guy says, put it at 25 million (though I’ve checked and not been able to find where Reuters cite that figure: it strikes me as incredibly high, given that the total population of Cairo is 18 million.  Still, most credible reports put the numbers in the hundreds of thousands).

Note that he’s emphatically not calling for any kind of western interference:

H/t: Pete Radcliff

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Obama, Romney, and the almost irresistable pull of lesser-evilism

November 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm (Champagne Charlie, Democratic Party, Obama, Pilger, Republican Party, strange situations, United States)

I’m bloody glad I don’t live in the USofA.

Because the more I see of, and hear from, this asshole…

…the more I just know that were I a US citizen right now, I’d be chucking overboard the traditional Trotskyist position and voting for Obama.

Especially as most of his critics on the so-called left” are such a shower, and this persuasive case has recently been made:

“It is noteworthy that four of the best decisions that Obama made during his presidency ran against the advice of much of his own administration. Numerous Democrats in Congress and the White House urged him to throw in the towel on health-care reform, but he was one of very few voices in his administration determined to see it through. Many of his own advisers, both economists steeped in free-market models and advisers anxious about a bailout-weary public, argued against his decision to extend credit to, and restructure, the auto industry. On Libya, Obama’s staff presented him with options either to posture ineffectually or do nothing; he alone forced them to draw up an option that would prevent a massacre. And Obama overruled some cautious advisers and decided to kill Osama bin Laden.”

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Tea Party UK will be built on anti-science

August 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm (BBC, capitalist crisis, climate change, Cuts, Green Party, Guardian, Jim D, Obama, populism, Republican Party, science, United States)

“The founding fathers built a constitution of checks and balances believing reasonable men would agree.; how could they have foreseen Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman or Glenn Beck?”Polly Toynbee in today’s Graun

Following Obama’s humiliating capitulation to the right-wing loons of the Tea Party, the Graun‘s Polly Toynbee (not one of our usual favourites here at Shiraz) speculates on the likelihood of such a movement arising in the UK and is generally fairly optimistic with regard to mainstream politics:

“Whatever you think of the Tory party, it is not shot through with US craziness,
not on stem cell research and gay marriage, or even really on abortion – though
they will toughen its conditions. Steve
Hilton’s cunning plan
to abolish all consumer, employment and maternity

rights got a dusty answer, while his green passions are at least tolerated. Most
Tories are driven by Thatcherism, with its shrink-the-state, on-your-bike thirst
for deregulation. But although Oliver Letwin‘s
parents were Ayn Rand disciples, the American right’s call of the wild is no
closer to Tory core sentiment than is Labour’s ritualistic singing of the Red
Flag once a year. Britain is more rightwing than mainstream Europe, our media
more strident, but we haven’t crossed the Atlantic – yet.”

I think Toynbee’s right about British politics – UKIP and the Tax Payers’ Alliance remain thankfully marginal forces with little popular support and well-deserved reputations for wackiness. That could change, of couirse, but for now I agree with Toynbee that the main arena for irrational, paranoid and reactionary populism in Britain at the moment is science – or, to be precise, anti-science.

Professor Steve Jones’ recent report on BBC coverage of scientific matters showed how even the good ol’ Beeb’s much-vaunted “impartiality” in practice has played into the hands of irrational nutters, flat-earthers and fanatics, by giving their nonsense equal coverage to the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion.

Jones cites the examples of climate-change, the MMR/autism row and GM crops, as exaqmples of the BBC giving “false balance” between fringe fanatics (or, in the case of climate-change deniers, paid lobbyists) and the overwhelming weight of international scientific opinion. I would add the Green Party’s and CND’s irrational objection to nuclear power to that list.

But the recent story about threats to scientists working on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is, perhaps the most dramatic recent example of at least some people’s paranoid consumerist hostility to rationalism and objectivity in science:

British researchers looking at the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome have received death threats from protesters angry at their focus on possible mental triggers, a report said Friday.

Several scientists researching the condition, which is also known as myalgic (ME), say they are being subjected to a campaign of harassment and abuse, the BBC reported.

Professor Simon Wessely, a scientist based at King’s College London, told BBC Radio that he now scans his mail for suspect devices after receiving “maliciously unfair” threats of violence.

“It’s direct intimidation in the sense of letters, emails, occasional phone calls and threats,” Wessely said, adding that those behind the abuse were also making official complaints to British medical bodies.

“I think sadly some of the motivation here comes from people who really do believe that any connection with psychiatry is tantamout to saying there is nothing wrong with you, you are making this up… That is profoundly misguided.”

The causes of are currently unknown but symptoms include severe and debilitating tiredness, muscle and joint pains, and .

A doctor representing sufferers in Britain said there was anger about the way the condition was being probed.

Charles Shepherd, medical adviser to the ME Association, said threats to scientists were “completely unacceptable” but called on the British government to support more research into the possible biological causes.

“I think you need to put this into the context of the fact that we have about 250,000 people with this illness (in Britain). A very, very tiny minority of these people are involved in this sort of behaviour,” he said.

A major US study in 2009 claimed that a mouse virus was the cause but researchers later said its findings were wrong and likely based on contaminated lab samples.

Toynbee closes her piece with a quote from Chief scientist John Beddington, arguing that  society must become “Grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and scientific method”. That’s the best – in fact, the only – defence we have against Tea Party thinking, whether from UKIP, the Greens or climate-change deniers.

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Israel/Palestine: Obama gets it partly right…

May 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm (Jim D, Middle East, Obama, palestine)

OK, he’s a bourgeois politician, and he’s not prepared to go all the way and back Palestinian statehood at the UN. But he’s surely right that the pre-1967 borders and two states are the only viable, realistic and just way foward. For that, he deserves our critical support, especially in the face of Netanyahu’s belligerent rejectionism (not to mention the nihilistic, incoherent sub-Chomskyite sneering of the likes of Fisk):

It’s not necessary to be an Obama fan to recognise that on the question of pre-1967 borders as the starting point for a peace settlement, he’s got it right – and to back him against Netanyahu.

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“The toxic effect of Tea Party ignorance”

November 2, 2010 at 6:22 pm (Champagne Charlie, elections, history, insanity, Obama, Palin, populism, religious right, Republican Party, United States)

It looks like being a pretty depressing night for those of us who value sanity, common decency and feel generally positive towards America and its people. But it’s worth remembering that the nuts and bigots of the Tea Party movement are not the only voices to be heard at this time. Here’s an admirable piece of sanity from one Ron Rosenbaum, that appearered in back in April. You may want to check it out as the results roll in tonight:

“Consider this CNN report, which attempts to give a smiley face to the Tea Party’s underlying ideology. Even Fox News recognizes Tea Party dogma as a seething cauldron of deranged and vicious lies about history. Look at the guy in the photo in this report and how proud he is of his illiterate swastika sign.

Tea Part protesters.


“These swastika nuts look ridiculous. But words matter, sometimes in a life-and-death way. Take for instance the Tea Party demonization of “federal regulation” as the instrument of the tyranny that’s been imposed on them. I would like every Tea Partier who has denounced federal regulation to write a letter to the widows and children of the coalminers in West Virginia who died because of the failure of “federal regulation” of mine safety.

“Tell the weeping survivors that such regulation is tyranny, that their husbands and fathers had to die, but for a good cause: lowering federal spending so the T.P.ers could save a few pennies on taxes. That’s worth 29 lives snuffed out in a mine blast, isn’t it? They either don’t see the connection or don’t care.

“Indeed the demonization of ‘federal regulation’ could prevent cowardly legislators from strengthening protections for miners and other workers imperiled by unsafe conditions. But the happy T.P.ers will still go out with their swastika and Hitler-mustache signs, whining about tyranny. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a liberal politician who, in the wake of the mining catastrophe, had the courage to stand up and say that federal regulations are often a very good thing? Don’t hold your breath.

“This is just one example of the toxic effect of Tea Party ignorance on the lives of their fellow citizens. But the damage done by the injection of fraudulent history into the body politic by Tea Party ignoramuses and their enablers will be more profound and lasting than one tragedy.

“That’s because ignorance of this sort isn’t inconsequential. Historical fraudulence is like a disease, a contagious psychosis which can lead to mob hysteria and worse. Consider the role that fraudulent history played in Weimar Germany, where the ‘stab in the back’ myth that the German Army had been cheated of victory in World War I by Jews and Socialists on the home front was used by the Nazis to justify their hatreds…”

Full article here.

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Hurrah for Socialised Medicine!

March 23, 2010 at 6:50 pm (Anti-Racism, Democratic Party, Max Dunbar, Obama, United States)

So, it has happened. Obama has got his healthcare bill through against heavy odds.

This isn’t as good as our NHS. It is flawed. But it is a start.

The subsidies and mandates take effect in 2014, but insurance regulations and some other provisions kick in right away. Immediately, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to people on the basis of pre-existing conditions. They’ll no longer be able to drop sick people from their policies. They’ll no longer be able to set lifetime caps on payouts. Young adults will be allowed to remain on their parents’ plans until they’re 26. Small businesses will receive tax incentives to provide healthcare to their employees.

It is projected to bring healthcare to 31 million people, covering a total of 95% of Americans, while reducing the deficit by over $100bn over a decade. At its core, the 2,400-page package comprises tough insurance regulations to protect consumers, subsidies to extend coverage to low-income individuals, and mandates to broaden the risk pool and contain the rise of costs.

This legislation was enacted despite the presence of a noisy Palinite rabble on Capitol Hill, waving their placards and shouting bigoted epithets at congressmen as they walked into the building.

Preceding the president’s speech to a gathering of House Democrats, thousands of protesters descended around the Capitol to protest the passage of health care reform. The gathering quickly turned into abusive heckling, as members of Congress passing through Longworth House office building were subjected to epithets and even mild physical abuse.

A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had been spat on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a ‘ni–er.’ And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a ‘faggot,’ as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams. Frank, approached in the halls after the president’s speech, shrugged off the incident.

But Clyburn was downright incredulous, saying he had not witnessed such treatment since he was leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s.

‘It was absolutely shocking to me,’ Clyburn said, in response to a question from the Huffington Post. ‘Last Monday, this past Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus of Claflin University where fifty years ago as of last Monday… I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit ins… And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus.’

‘It doesn’t make me nervous as all,’ the congressman said, when asked how the mob-like atmosphere made him feel. ‘In fact, as I said to one heckler, I am the hardest person in the world to intimidate, so they better go somewhere else.’

It’s not that hard to work out whose side you’re on, is it?

Some racist losers yesterday

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‘We came unarmed (this time)’

September 22, 2009 at 2:11 pm (cults, Max Dunbar, Obama, reaction, Republican Party, United States)

Comrade Denham’s post got me thinking. A few months ago I wrote about Blinded by the Right, David Brock’s memoir about his time on the conservative attack machine in the 1990s. He wrote for a variety of conservative publications and worked with senior Republicans towards the goal of bringing Clinton down. He portrays an American right that was corrupt, conspiratorial and deranged.

Here are the examples I quoted; the second one refers to Clinton’s friend and associate Vince Foster, who committed suicide in 1993.

Of all the ‘Clinton crazies’ I would meet – the term was one that Ambrose [Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph correspondent] and many others openly embraced – Ambrose was the least cynical of the bunch, and perhaps the craziest… I visited Ambrose at his home in the Maryland suburbs to hear about his latest scoop. This one involved Clinton’s alleged abuse of the penal system in Arkansas, where Ambrose said that he compelled prison warders to make inmates available to him for his sexual gratification…. Ambrose drew the shades and asked if we had been followed. The CIA, he was sure, had tapped his phones, and he believed his house was under surveillance by the Clintons’ ‘death squads’. A few minutes into the conversation, it was apparent to me that poor Ambrose had lost his grip on reality.

As a mark of how effective disinformers like Ambrose were in drawing the leadership of the Republican Party into their conspiracy-mongering, the leader of the House inquiry, Dan Burton, became preoccupied with the notion that the position of [Foster's] wounds showed that they could not have been self-inflicted. To test the theory, Burton, who publicly referred to Clinton as a ’scumbag’, reenacted the Foster death [at an official dinner] by firing a .38 caliber revolver into a watermelon.

Reading what I’ve already written, it’s clear I went wrong in describing Blinded by the Right as a period piece. It appears that whenever the American right is in opposition it descends into a state of paranoid frenzy. Brock is now the head of a watchdog, Media Matters for America, and he must be feeling like history’s repeating itself. The birth certificate thing is pure Evans-Pritchard. The frenzy is more intense because the crazies have more and better media outlets and organisational techniques. Plus, they have lost: and to a black man!

For as Jim said, and despite what Dan Hannan thinks, this is clearly a racist campaign. Check out the placards:


There are many more.

It’s a campaign of disbelief, of incredulous fury, and also denial. Johann Hari explains the psychological roots:

The election of Obama – a centre-left black man – as a successor to George W. Bush has scrambled the core American right’s view of their country. In their gut, they saw the US as a white-skinned, right-wing nation forever shaped like Sarah Palin. When this image was repudiated by a majority of Americans in a massive landslide, it simply didn’t compute. How could this have happened? How could the cry of ‘Drill, baby, drill’ have been beaten by a supposedly big government black guy? So a streak that has always been there in the American right’s world-view – to deny reality, and argue against a demonic phantasm of their own creation – has swollen. Now it is all they can see.

It’s been said in the comments that Obama will not highlight the racism. In fact he can’t highlight it. Political incorrectness means that a victim of racist taunts can’t point out the offence for fear of being accused of playing the race card.

Harry’s Place has a guest post from Andrew Murphy who appears to have taken a similar political journey to Brock’s. In his piece, ‘Why I am no longer a Republican’, Murphy explains his disillusionment with the GOP:

Additionally I become alarmed with the blog I was writing for when they started denouncing Obama as a National Socialist and began peddling the birther mythology that Obama was actually not a US citizen. (At first I was intrigued by the birther idea until I investigated it and found it hopelessly silly, in an Oliver Stone film sort of way). The comparisons of Obama to Hitler did not start with the health care debate. I saw it peddled even before Obama won the Democratic nomination. And shamefully, while I privately protested to the editorial staff of the blog, I did not resign nor was I allowed by the editor-in-chief to write an alternative editorial disputing the birther claims. That was the editorial line, love it or leave it.

Like Brock, Murphy came to feel that modern conservatism had betrayed the classic Republican ideals of personal responsibility, the rule of law and individual liberty. Being a conservative was no longer about intellect, reason, pragatism and honesty. It was about being a stupid, self-pitying, immature arsehole. 

American patriot Horatio Alger said that: ‘if you ever expect to do anything in the world, you must know something of books’. It’s a sentiment that would be shouted down on Fox News today.

From Murphy’s article:

Can you imagine Alexander Hamilton barking like a seal at a Sarah Palin rally as she explains that the only real Americans are rural and small-town Americans? The same Hamilton who was for an urban, manufacturing America?

Or John Adams, one of the champions of the American Philosophical Society, egging on the conservative movement’s war on science and its hostility toward the educated ‘elites’?

It is hard to imagine that Benjamin Disraeli, the author of Sybil, would be indifferent to the millions of Americans without health insurance.

This is a US phenomenon but you can detect similar aspects of self-pity, immaturity and conspiracism on the British right, particularly when it talks about immigration and multiculturalism.

It’s a pleasure to know that the Fox ghouls are on the losing side and that Obama probably doesn’t let the bastards bring him down.

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May you live in interesting times

March 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm (capitalist crisis, labour party, Max Dunbar, Obama, parasites, plutocrats, poverty, welfare, workers)

I know I’m a naive optimist but aren’t the general public getting pissed off with inequality? The spectacle of incompetent businessmen walking off with pensions equal to the GDP of a developing nation while hardworking families are forced into the black market at sub minimum wage is so glaring an injustice that it is making an inroad into the UK’s normally servile working class.

I used to rant about executive pay during the boom years and people would tell me, ‘Well, maybe he’s worked hard for that money’. You can’t imagine that defence being used now. The boom years carried a deferential faith in the wisdom and benevolence of the aristocracy of wealth that has, like the bubble, burst.

Studies are showing that unregulated freemarket capitalism is perhaps not the best way to run societies: moreover, people tend to be happier and more successful in societies run along egalitarian lines.

Gaze across the pond and you realise what we’re missing and what a chronicle of wasted time the last decade has been. Barack Obama has repealed several of Bush’s anti-labour laws plus the religious conscience law, he has legalised stem cell research, he has ordered the closure of Guantanamo and the secret CIA prisons, he has ended rendition, he has lifted Bush’s restrictions on funding for family planning NGOs, he has expanded state health insurance, he has made it legal for women to sue for equal pay, he has capped executive pay, he has scrapped Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy… and the guy was only elected in, like, January. Radical journalist Greg Palast looked on in astonishment:

Then came Obama’s money bomb. The House bill included $125 billion for schools (TRIPLING federal spending on education – yes!), expanding insurance coverage to the unemployed, making the most progressive change in the tax code in four decades by creating a $500 credit against social security payroll deductions, and so on.

Look, don’t get your hopes up. But it may turn out the new President’s … a Democrat!

It’s been argued on Shiraz Socialist that Obama has achieved more ‘in the course of the past few weeks than the free-market lackeys of our so-called ‘Labour Party’ have managed in nearly twelve years’.

All this is registering. As Will Hutton says:

[W]hile a clear majority do not like current levels of inequality, support for doing anything about it is falling, at least through the tax and benefit system. Rather than doing as we would be done by, the British have a keener-than-ever awareness of being cheated by benefit frauds and unjust claimants and are not minded to pay up for more redistribution.

This isn’t ‘troubling’. It’s common sense. The Great Crunch has shown us that the tax burden falls overwhelmingly on the middle and working classes. Why should they pay to sort out the mess that the rich have got us into? People hate benefit fraudsters but also, now, billionaire tax dodgers. Labour’s best chance of winning the next election is to assume that it will lose and to go down fighting on a honourable programme of redistribution of wealth.

Of course my optimism could be misplaced – as David Toube pointed out, hard times make for ugly politics and ‘there is every reason to believe that the defining themes of the present economic downturn will be xenophobic, anti-immigrant and racist’. We have to be ready to challenge and fight this when it appears but, overall, I think there’s scope for hope as well as hate.socialism-rich

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