The Increasingly Awkward Conservative Crush on Putin: Mad about Vlad
All the way back in 1946, with Nazi Germany defeated and the cold war commencing, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay on James Burnham. The author of The Managerial Revolution and a leading political philosopher, Burnham was a frequent contributor to the young National Review, and, more broadly, a leading voice of postwar American conservatism.
What Orwell found in his analysis of Burnham was that this ostensible democrat and cold warrior held deep regard for–and even envied–authoritarian or totalitarian powers, including Stalin’s Russia. This is why, Orwell explained, Burnham originally predicted a Nazi victory in World War II. (Britain, typically, was considered “decadent.”) In later years, Orwell continued, Burnham would write about Stalin in “semi-mystical” terms (with a “fascinated admiration”), comparing him to heroes of the past; Burnham didn’t like Stalin’s politics, but he admired his strength. Of Burnham’s odd quasi-regard for Stalinism and its supposedly destined victory over the forces of sickly democratic regimes, Orwell added: “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”
Orwell, then, was not merely critical of Burnham’s pessimism (Orwell himself could be overly pessimistic.) He also saw this pessimism as reflective of a mindset that prioritized vicious power-wielding and coercion over other things that allowed states to succeed and prosper.
This variety of pessimism did not end with Burnham, unfortunately. During the nearly 50 year Cold War, Americans were informed time and again by rightwingers that the Soviet Union did not allow dissent, and could therefore pursue its desired policies without protest. While the Soviets were single-minded, we were, yes, decadent. Soviet leaders could fight wars as they pleased, but freedom-loving presidents like Ronald Reagan had to put up with what Charles Krauthammer laughably called an “imperial Congress.” (Some of the same type of commentary shows up about today’s China: look how quickly the Chinese can build bridges! And, as Thomas Friedman proves, it isn’t coming solely from the right.) But more unique among conservatives is the desire for a tough leader who will dispense with niceties and embrace power.
The reason for all this ancient history is the situation today in Ukraine, where an autocratic Russian leader who exudes manly vibes has ordered his armed forces into Crimea. It is unclear whether this move on Russia’s part will prove successful, but, amidst uncertaintly among western leaders over what to do, there has arisen a new strain of the Burnham syndrome. Conservatives don’t just see the west and President Obama as weak; they also seem envious of Putin’s bullying. “There is something odd,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, “about commentators who denounce Putin in the strongest terms and yet pine for a more Putin-like figure in the White House.”
Sarah Palin, for example, said this last night to Sean Hannity:
Well, yes, especially under the commander-in-chief that we have today because Obama’s — the perception of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates. We are not exercising that peace through strength that only can be brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue, that only a strengthened United States military can do.
Put aside the syntax for a moment and ask: is there not a bit of envy here? Isn’t Palin very clearly desirous of a tough-guy president who wrestles bears and drills for oil? (The swooning over Bush’s landing on that aircraft carrier was a telling sign.) Now read Rush Limbaugh:
In fact, Putin—ready for this?—postponed the Oscar telecast last night. He didn’t want his own population distracted. He wanted his own population knowing full well what he was doing, and he wanted them celebrating him. They weren’t distracted. We were.
If only America wasn’t distracted by silly things like the Oscars, perhaps we would have the strength to stand up to the tough Russia. (On his web page, Limbaugh has a photo of a shirtless Putin.) In case the point isn’t obvious enough, Limbaugh continues:
Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.
Limbaugh quite clearly wants this kind of leader.
Also on view over the past few days is the idea that Putin must be smarter and cagier and stronger: “Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The Russians are thus necessarily craftier than our weak and vacillating (key word) democratic leader.
The silliness inherent in all this talk is that when American presidents have generally acted above the law, or engaged in stupid and immoral wars, or bullied neighbors, or cracked down on domestic dissent, it has backfired in the worst ways on them and the country. (The examples are too obvious to list.) Moreover, I notice that conservatives seem to view some of Obama’s domestic actions–appointing czars, for example–as being the result of a vindictive, bloodthirsty, and authoritarian mindset. However absurd the particular claims may be (Cass Sunstein as Stalin), it is proof that the people who seem to secretly pine for an American Putin don’t really want one.
Orwell’s response to this sort of thinking was to write, of Burnham, “He ignores the advantages, military as well as social, enjoyed by a democratic country.” Of course this is not a guarantee that this crisis will play itself out in a way that is beneficial to American or Western (or Ukrainian) interests. But the presumption that Russia has just masterly played the Great Game, and that our weakness will doom us, is nearly automatic among large segments of the American right. (Olga Dukhnich, in The New York Times, makes the point that this crisis may backfire just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did. Whether correct or not, it is a nice counter to the reigning right-wing ultra-pessimism.)
Orwell closed his essay as follows:
That a man of Burnham’s gifts should have been able for a while to think of Nazism as something rather admirable, something that could and probably would build up a workable and durable social order, shows what damage is done to the sense of reality by the cultivation of what is now called ‘realism’.
It is now Team Obama that styles itself realist, in quite a different way than Orwell was talking about. And large chunks of the American right would now also scorn the term. What they haven’t scorned is the mindset, which is the problem in the first place.
From the US International Socialists:
Above: Obama and Cruz
The good cop/bad cop routine in Washington
The Republicans may not get away with defunding Barack Obama’s health care law, but they’re pushing ahead with all their favorite anti-worker, pro-business measures.
THE LATEST congressional showdown over federal spending–with another threat of another government shutdown looming over it all–is starting to look like a bad TV police drama, ending with a familiar scene of “good cop/bad cop.”
The “bad” cop: the Republicans, led by foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Partiers like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, threatening a shutdown of the federal government unless Barack Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is defunded.
The “good” cop: the Obama administration and the Democrats, loudly insisting that they’ll never give up on health care reform or let the government close because they care about working people–while quietly agreeing to many of the cuts and concessions that the Republicans want, and claiming they’re being “responsible” for doing so.
The two sides seem so far apart that they’ll never agree on anything, but we all know how “good cop/bad cop” works. The Republicans and Democrats are getting much more of what they each want than anyone lets on–and the target of their routine, which in this case is tens of millions of working-class Americans, is getting played.
The same scene has spun out over and over during the Obama presidency–the Republicans playing the part of the budget-cutting maniacs, pushing hard to shred the social safety net altogether, while the Democrats act like they’re powerless to do anything about it, and then go along with most of what the Republicans want.
The Democrats support the least-worst “realistic” option–and claim it’s the best they can do.
At the end of 2010, after almost two years in office, Obama and the Democrats finally acted on their campaign promise to rescind the Bush-era tax cuts for the super-richest of Americans. Even though a majority of people supported them, even though the Democrats were still a majority in both houses of Congress, the Democrats agreed to a two-year extension of the tax cuts for the rich, in return for a temporary extension of supplemental unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut.
In the summer of 2011, the Obama administration needed an act of Congress to raise the debt ceiling or the U.S. government would go into default–but the Republicans refused even Obama’s offer of a “grand bargain” to impose three times as much reduction in spending, including Social Security and Medicare, as increases in tax revenues. Even Corporate America warned against the Republicans’ game of chicken with the world economy. But it was the Democrats who capitulated, agreeing to even deeper spending cuts.
There were more showdowns at the start of 2013, in the wake of an election that Obama won easily. The outcome: Obama agreed to $85 billion in federal spending cuts, including furloughs of thousands of federal workers and cuts to supplement jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
If this is “standing up” to the Republicans, you don’t want to know what caving in looks like.
- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
NOW, THERE’S another looming government shutdown, and the Affordable Care Act is on the chopping block. October 1 is supposed to be the start date of the new state-based “insurance exchanges,” created under the 2010 health care law, where individuals who don’t have health insurance can go to obtain “minimal essential” coverage. If they don’t, they risk paying penalties with their taxes.
The individual “mandate” will force millions and millions of new customers into the arms of private insurers–and leave billions and billions of dollars in their bank accounts. The insurance giants knew there were windfall profits to be made from a new health care law, which is why their lobbyists were in place to help shape the legislation–to make sure, for example, that there was no “public option” for mandated insurance that would compete with private companies.
That was the “inside” strategy, while the Republicans represented the “outside” strategy–continual obstructionism to make sure the Democrats continued to compromise on every question.
This “Plan B” continues today. Last week, the Republican-controlled House voted–almost exactly on party lines–to continue funding federal government operations after the cutoff date of September 30, but to defund the ACA. With a tear in his eye, House Speaker John Boehner called this a “victory for the American people and a victory for common sense.”
Then, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz took the fight to the Senate, where he staged his own filibuster on Tuesday, claiming that the Democrats were willing to risk a government shutdown rather than put the brakes on the health care law.
Most Senate Republicans distanced themselves from Cruz. But they don’t want to distance themselves from the assault on the health care law. Thus, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he disagrees with the threat to shut down the government as of September 30–but he’s just fine with gutting the ACA.
The ACA is a far cry from what’s needed to provide access to affordable health care in the U.S. But that’s not why Republicans are opposing it. From Boehner to Cruz and the others, the Republicans’ fierce opposition to “Obamacare” is another example of playing politics with people’s lives for personal gain–sometimes very personal gain.
While Cruz says his stance on health care is all about the folks back home in Texas, there’s a much bigger influence on him. In May, he was among the special guests at an exclusive party thrown by the arch-conservative oil billionaire Koch Brothers in Palm Springs, Calif.
At the “party,” the Kochs outlined a new focus for Republicans, working toward smaller government and deregulation rather than pressing losing social issues like immigration. Cruz, one of the “rising stars” at the event, is an important part of the project.
The Koch Brothers are up to their elbows in the crusade against Obama’s health care law. In the run-up to the October 1 start-up of the insurance exchanges, they’re backing a campaign to get people to not sign up. For example, a Virginia-based organization with ties to the Kochs is running a campaign of television ads–complete with gynecological exams being performed by a spooky Uncle Sam figure–aimed at scaring off college students and young people.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are more than happy to have fanatics like Cruz attacking them in Congress–it helps them look like they’re trying to get something done. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that the Democrats would reject any attempts by Cruz and others to gut the ACA–but he invited advice from “responsible” Republicans on even more compromises in a thoroughly compromised law.
The Republicans won’t get away with defunding the health care law as long as the Democrats control the Senate. But in the meanwhile, they’re loading up spending legislation with all their favorite anti-worker, pro-business measures: means-testing for Medicare, medical liability “reform,” shredding the federal employee retirement system, eliminating the Dodd-Frank financial regulations passed in 2010, weakening the Environmental Protection Agency, restricting other federal regulators, and expanding offshore energy production.
With Democrats talking tough about the ACA, but showing their willingness to compromise on other questions, who knows how many of these pet projects of the right–most of them considered fringe issues for many years–will make it into the “compromise” that ends this latest crisis.
- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
THE LACK of a real debate over health care has had an effect–opinion polls reflect the effects of the confusion being sown by the Republicans. Some 42 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the ACA, compared to only 37 percent with a positive view, according to an August poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Republican scaremongering has had a lot to do with that result–but it also shows the widespread misgivings about the real inadequacies that have been exposed about the health care law.
Amid the phony debate about Obamacare, there’s a real health care emergency taking place in America. Last year, some 48 million people–about 15 percent of the population–went without health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A quarter of people who earn less than $25,000 annually don’t have health insurance.
“Reform” as it exists in the Obama health care law–rife with loopholes, compromises and watered-down provisions–won’t come close to fixing this gap. The ACA won’t confront skyrocketing health care costs or reform the wasteful and inefficient way for-profit health care is delivered.
But the opposition to the law in Washington isn’t only about the ACA. We’re seeing the same script play out: Intransigent Republicans go on the attack–with or without a majority–and Democrats compromise. For all the flashes of anger and indignation, the good cop and the bad cop end up working together to carry through an austerity agenda that whittles away at the living standards of working people.
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 (http://www.juancole.com/2013/09/congress-embarrassing-themselves.html), 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.
I spent most of yesterday in a room full of British trade unionists, all of whom would regard themselves as (to varying degrees) on the political left. To a person, every one of them that I spoke to, or overheard, expressed pleasure and relief at the US election result.
In fact, I find it inconceivable that any socialist or, indeed, liberal, wouldn’t feel that way. I do not include deranged anti-Americans of the Pilger/Counterpunch variety.
Of course, a general sense of pleasure and/or relief at the outcome need not, necessarily, be predicated upon having advocated a vote for Obama. And there is, of course, a long-standing leftist (specifically Trotskyist) argument against advocating a vote for the US Democrats, which I’ll come on to in a moment.
But even those of us who have never had any great illusions in Obama, need to recognise what his presidency represents for Afro-Americans and other minorities (notably Hispanics), and just what a blow to their morale and self-confidence a Romney victory would have been. It is also a fact that, rightly or wrongly, the majority of unions in the US backed Obama. All reports suggest, as well, that the mass of ordinary people outside the US, feared that a Romney victory would make the world as a whole a more dangerous place.
Now, of course, the orthodox (and not-so-orthodox) Trotskyist position has always been that the Democrats are simply a bosses’ party (in a way, for instance, that the UK Labour Party, being a “bourgeois workers’ party”, isn’t) and so a vote for them is impermissible. Instead, we should advocate the creation of a US ‘labor party’. The great American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon (of whom I am a considerable, though not uncritical, admirer), wrote extensively on this subject, and his articles repay study. Unfortunately, they are not readily available these days.
James P. Cannon
Here’s an excerpt from a 1954 article entitled “A New Declaration of Independence”. I had better explain that Cannon regarded McCarthyism as “American fascism in incipient form.” Whether or not he was correct about that (and, indeed, whether such an analysis of the Tea Party movement would be appropriate today), is not the central issue here.
Cannon argued that:
“[T]he myopic policy of the liberals and the labor leaders is concentrated on the congessional elections next fall, and the presidential election to follow in 1956. A Democratic victory is counted on to deal a death blow to the McCarthy aberration. ‘McCarthyism is becoming a danger all right, and it begins to look like a fascist movement; but all we need is a general mobilisation at the polls to put the Democrats back in power.’ Such are the arguments we already hear from the Democratic high command, the literary liberals, the labor leaders and — skulking in the rear of the caravan, with their tails between their legs — the Stalinists.
“This would really be laughable if humor were in place where deadly serious matters are concerned. The Roosevelt New Deal, under far more favourable conditions, couldn’t find a way to hold back the economic crisis without a war. A Stevensonian version of the same policy, under worse conditions, could only be expected to fail more miserably. A Democratic victory might arrest the hitherto unobstructed march of McCarthyism while it re-forms its ranks. It might even bring a temporary moderation of the fury of the witch-hunt. But that’s all.
“The fascist movement would probably begin to grow again with the growth of the crisis. It would probably take on an even more militant character, if it is pushed out of the administration and compelled to develop as an unofficial movement. Under conditions of a serious crisis, an unofficial fascist movement would grow all the more stormily, to the extent that the labor movement would support the Democratic administration, and depend on it to restrain the fascists by police measures.
“Such a policy, as the experience of Italy and Germany has already shown, would only paralyze the active resitance of the workers themselves, while giving the fascist gangs a virtually free reign. Moreover, by remaining tied to the Democratic administration, the labor movement would take upon itself a large part of the responsibility for the economic crisis and feed the flames of fascist demagogy around the question.
“That would be something to see: The fascists howling about the crisis, and stirring up the hungry and desperate people with the most extravagent promises, while the labor leaders defend the administration. The official labor leaders are fully capable of such idiocy, as they demonstrated in the last presidential election. But with the best will in the world to help the democratic administration, they couldn’t maintain such a position very long.
“The workers will most probably accept the recommendation of the labor leaders to seek escape from the crisis by replacing Republican rascals by Democratic scoundrels in the next election. But when the latter become officially responsible for the administration, and prove powerless to cope with the crisis, the workers will certainly draw some conclusions from their unfortunate experiences. The deeper the crisis and the more brutal the fascist aggression fed by the crisis, the more insistent will be the demand for a radical change of policy and a more adequate leadership.
From all indications, the workers’ discontent will be concentrated, at first, in the demand for a labor party of their own. This will most probably be realized. It will not yet signify the victory over fascism — not by a long shot — but it will represent the beginning of a counter-movement which will have every chance to end in victory.”
I have to say that I find most of Cannon’s case unconvincing and (ironically for an outspoken anti-Stalinist) verging upon Third Period Stalinism. Just at a factual level, I don’t think it’s accurate to dismiss the New Deal as something that could not have succeeded without a war, or to suggest such a policy in the 1950’s was doomed to “fail miserably”. Certainly, Cannon produces no evidence to back up that claim. His argument against illusions in the Democrats and the dangers of being seen to defend a Democratic administration are fair enough, but do not amount to a coherent case against even voting for the Democratic Party – any more than the danger of sewing illusions in the UK Labour Party and giving uncritical support to a Labour government, are arguments against a Labour vote.
In fact Cannon, it seems to me, fundamentally undermines his own argument by concluding that workers’ discontent with a Democratic administration at that time would result in the demand for a labor party, which “will most probably be realised.” That would seem to be an argument in favour of getting the Democrats elected, not against it.
I have quoted Cannon’s argument at some length so as not to risk the charge of having taken him out of context. And I decided to quote Cannon in the first place because his writings on the US labor movement are generally of a high standard, and because his arguments are still, essentially, the arguments put forward by serious people who oppose a Democrat vote.
(NB: “A New Declaration of Independence” was published in The Militant of April 12 1954, republished in Notebook of an Agitator, pub: Pathfinder Press 1958 & 1973)
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.
“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.”
That wise commentator, Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom, comments upon Mitt Romney’s dangerous and ignorant comments about the Middle East.
Above: Avnery at checkpoint protest
The whole article is essential reading (A Message from Romney at http://www.avnery-news.co.il/english/index.html), but Avnery’s thoughts on Romney’s rejection of the two-state solution, and others who also reject it for a vast range of different reasons, is absolutely spot-on:
THE GIST of Romney’s message is that the two-state solution is dead. This reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
It is now in fashion to say so. Quite a trend. However, different people have different reasons for believing that the two-state solution is dead.
Parents, teachers, pedophiles and cannibals all say they love children. But their motives are not the same. This is also true for the would-be undertakers of the two-state solution. They include:
One: Idealists, who wish for people of different nations to live together in harmony and equality in one state. (I would like them to study the history of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Sudan, and the present situation of the French in Canada, Scots in Britain, Flemish in Belgium and Basques and Catalans in Spain.)
Two: Arabs, who really believe that this is a peaceful way to get rid of Israel.
Three: Settlers, who want to turn the whole of historical Palestine into their dominion and, if possible, “cleanse” the country of non-Jews.
Four: Israelis, who believe that the settlements have created a situation that is “irreversible”. (Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, coined this phrase already in the early 1980s, when there were less than 100 thousand settlers. I told him then that nothing was irreversible except death. Situations created by human beings can be changed by human beings.)
Five: Anti-Zionists, including Jewish anti-Zionists, who hate Zionism indiscriminately, with all its good and bad aspects, and for whom the very existence of a “Jewish” state is an abomination.
Six: Muslim fanatics, who believe that Palestine is a Muslim waqf (religious grant), so that allowing any part of it to non-Muslims is a deadly sin.
Seven: Jewish fanatics, who believe that all of Eretz-Israel, from the Nile to the Euphrates, has been promised to the Jews by God, so that conceding any part of it to non-Jews is a deadly sin.
Eight: Christian fanatics, who believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be possible only after the ingathering of all the Jews in this country (with no place in it for anyone else.)
Sorry if I have forgotten someone.
SOME OF these people have invented something called the “one-state solution”. That is an oxymoron. There is a one-state problem, there is no one-state solution.
From time to time it is worthwhile to come back to the basic facts of our life:
There are two peoples living in this country.
Neither of the two will go away. They are here to stay.
While the Arab Palestinians living in the country are still a minority, they will constitute the majority quite soon.
Both peoples are intensely nationalistic.
The two peoples have different cultures, languages, religions, historic narratives, social structures, standards of living. At present, after some 130 years of continuous conflict, there is intense hatred between them.
The possibility that these two peoples could live peacefully in one state, serving in the same army and police, paying the same taxes and abiding by the same laws enacted by the same common parliament, is nil.
The possibility that these two peoples could live peacefully side-by-side in two states, each with its own flag and its own elected government (and its own soccer team), does exist.
Such co-existence can take different forms: from a loose confederation with open borders and free movement to closer forms of evolving structures, like the European Union.
I hope this is not too complicated for Romney to understand. But it may become irrelevant if — as I fervently hope — he is not elected.
I would hate for an ignoramous to be given the opportunity to learn world affairs on our backs.
I am still far from convinced that US socialists should vote for Obama, but I have to admit that the more we see and hear that ignorant, dangerous jerk Romney, the more difficult it becomes to resist the lure of lesser-evilism.
However, I offer the film below not to in order to endorse Obama, but because it’s such an extraordinary production. It certainly puts the typical Brit “party election broadcast” to shame. Enjoy…
And on the subject of Obama-cool, here are a few pseudo-Blue Note album covers that I just stumbled across:
H/t (album covers): Bruce R
OK: we can’t ignore the passing of Andy Williams.
Here he is with Henry Mancini (co-writer, with Johnny Mercer, of ‘Moon River’) a few years ago:
The Los Angelese Times obit, here
If my tribute here at Shiraz seems less than usually fulsome, it may be because (1) I never particularly liked his singing, and (2) this (from the Guardian‘s obit):
Although he was a lifelong Republican, Williams became a close friend of Robert and Ethel Kennedy in the mid-60s. He was present when Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles during the 1968 campaign for the presidential nomination. Williams sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic at the funeral and voted for George McGovern at the Democratic party convention, having been nominated as a delegate by Kennedy. More in keeping with his political convictions was his outspoken criticism of Barack Obama, and he allowed the rightwing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh to broadcast his recording of Born Free with added gunshot sounds. Sony Music (now the owner of CBS Records) forced Limbaugh to remove it.
Sometimes it’s very hard to argue against an Obama vote…
From Mother Jones:
During a private fundraiser earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a small group of wealthy contributors what he truly thinks of all the voters who support President Barack Obama. He dismissed these Americans as freeloaders who pay no taxes, who don’t assume responsibility for their lives, and who think government should take care of them. Fielding a question from a donor about how he could triumph in November, Romney replied:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
Romney went on: “[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
The rest here
By Juan Cole (at his blog, Informed Comment)
The late science fiction writer Ray Bradbury authored a short story about time travelers. They were careful, when they went back to the Jurassic, not to change anything, but one of them stepped on a butterfly. When they got back to the present, the world was slightly different.
When scientists studying complexity put forward the idea that small initial events could have large effects in non-linear, dynamic systems like the weather, they chose the term ‘butterfly effect.” One of the images students of weather instanced was that a butterfly flapping its wings might set off minor turbulence that ultimately turned into a hurricane. (In the older model of Newtonian physics, small events have small effects and large events have large effects, so you wouldn’t expect a minor action to produce big changes).
So the Associated Press did a careful investigation of the ‘Sam Bacile’ who supposedly directed the hate film, ‘The Innocence of Muslims.’And AP found that probably he does not exist, but is a persona used by a convicted Coptic Egyptian fraudster, Nakoula Bassely Nakoula.
But the story gets more complex. Nakoula had Coptic and evangelical associates in the shooting of the film, including Steve Klein, a former Marine and current extremist Christian who has helped train militiamen in California churches and has led “protests outside abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques.” My guess is that most of the Egyptian Copts involved are converts to American-style fundamentalism.
The Egyptian Coptic church has roundly condemned the hateful film they made smearing the Prophet Muhammad.
Anyway, the bigotry of the edited film, directed at Muslims, is part of a movement of religious prejudice that also targets . . . Mormons.
Mitt Romney may want to rethink his ‘visceral’ reaction to the US embassy in Cairo’s tweet condemning the group’s hate speech.
Then it turns out that the film was shot in such a way that there was originally no mention of the Prophet Muhammad in the script, and the cast had no idea what they were getting themselves into, and then the name of Muhammad was clumsily dubbed into the final edit.
So, the film was from the beginning a fraud. It was directed by a fraud. It was promoted by a militia trainer. And Nakoula marketed it fraudulently as the work of a fictitious Israeli-American Jewish real estate agent, ‘Sam Bacile,’ and falsely said it had been funded by “a hundred Jewish donors.”
The group behind the film, in other words, managed to evoke all the classic themes of anti-Semitism as a way of disguising the Coptic and evangelical network out of which the ‘film’ came. When they weren’t busy picketing Mormons and defaming Muslims they were trying to get Jews killed for their own smears of Islam!
Of course, given the strident hatred of Muslims promoted by a handful of Jewish American extremists such as Pamela Geller, David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes and others, in which they gleefully join with white supremacists and Christian fundamentalists, it was only a matter of time before their partners in hate turned on them and used them.
The bad, dubbed ‘film’ only had one theater showing in some dowdy place in LA. Then in July the group had the trailer for it dubbed into Arabic with subtitles as well, and put it on Youtube, where it was found by strident Egyptian Muslim fundamentalist Sheikh Khaled Abdallah, who had it shown on al-Nas television and caused the sensation that led to Tuesday’s demonstrations in Cairo and Benghazi. As I argued yesterday, the vigilante extremists or ‘jihadis’ have been left on the garbage pile of history by the democratic elections in Egypt and Libya, and are whipping up the issue of this film in a desperate attempt to remain relevant.
Aware of the building sensation about the film, an employee of the US embassy in Cairo condemned it as hate speech before the rally began outside its premises.
In other words, this is a non-film and a non-story, a fraud, promoted by the worst people in each culture.
In Cairo, the rally allegedly got out of hand because the Ultras or soccer ruffians joined in, and they were probably the ones who tore down the American flag and ran up a black Muslim-fundamentalist one. Ultras are not fundamentalists but they are mischievous and resent authority, so a superpower that backs the army and police they hate might be a target of their wrath. There may have also been a handful of al-Qaeda supporters there, not surprising on the anniversary of September 11. The crowd at the American embassy was tiny by Egyptian protest standards.
In Benghazi, Hadeel Al Shalchi got the story. She talked to Libyan special forces members who explained that there were three stages to the events there. First, there was a demonstration. Then when the police and consulate guards tried to curb it, the demonstrators got angry and some of them went for guns and a rocket propelled grenade, so that the consulate was set on fire and looted. It was at that second stage that US ambassador Chris Stevens and another diplomat were killed (Stevens inhaled too much smoke in the fire and the other man was shot). Stevens’ death is a great tragedy and irony, since he was liaison to the transitional national council during the Libyan revolution and many Libyans lionize him. Why in the world he was in an insecure minor consulate in a provincial city on September 11 is a mystery to me.
Then 37 embassy personnel escaped to a rural safe house. The Libyan special forces commander charged with evacuating them to Tripoli at first was stymied by not having enough vehicles for so many people. Then the safe house came under fairly precise mortar fire from members of an al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Benghazi, which must have been surveilling consular personnel. Finally, the Libyan government forces got the Americans to the airport and they flew back to the capital of Tripoli.
It should be remembered that Libyan forces fought and risked their lives to protect Americans. In opinion polling in Eastern Libya, the United States has a 60% favorability rating, while the Salafis or hard line Muslims stand at only 28% favorable.
It was while all that was going on in Cairo and Benghazi that Mitt Romney took it into his head to condemn Barack Obama for the tweet issued by the Cairo embassy before the demonstration. He alleged that Obama had *reacted* to the embassy attacks by showing some sympathy for the attackers. This allegation is untrue and absurd, but Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan went on repeating it all day Wednesday.
Romney was caught on camera walking away from that shameful performance with a shark-like grin on his face. Since he was talking about matters of life and death, the expression was inappropriate. But a darker theory is that he was grinning about having stuck it to Obama.
Romney’s politicization of September 11 and of the horrible events in Benghazi was poorly received among opinion leaders, including prominent Republicans, and some observers suggest that this miscalculation may have been a decisive nail in the coffin of his sputtering campaign.
Meanwhile, the Libyan government apologized for and vehemently condemned the attack on the consulate and the killing of its personnel. And, on Wednesday Libyans staged pro-American demonstrations in several cities.
In Egypt, in contrast, small demonstrations were held again in front of the US embassy, until police pushed the activists back. When, on Thursday morning, protesters set two cars afire with Molotov cocktails, police arrested 12 of them. The police have the embassy surrounded and have closed the roads leading to it in Garden City.
Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, fell short of strongly condemning the Cairo and Benghazi attacks. Late on Wednesday the Muslim Brotherhood finally retweeted comments of one of its other leaders, Khairat al-Shater, in condemnation of the attacks. Nevertheless, the Brotherhood is sponsoring rallies protesting the film on Friday, a ‘day of rage.’ Morsi is no doubt worried that religious and political currents to his right will outflank him on the issue of the blasphemous film and its American provenance. But Morsi has a Ph.D. from the US and surely knows that the US government cannot suppress films, and it is shameful that he did not condemn forthrightly the killing of Ambassador Stevens and the others.
In Tunisia, Salafis rallied on Wednesday in front of the US embassy, but were fairly quickly dispersed by police deploying tear gas. Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki denounced the killing of Stevens and the others as an “act of terrorism.”
So the Butterfly Effect set off by a low-budget bad propaganda film gotten up by two-bit frauds and Christian supremacists, and then promoted by two-bit Egyptian and Libyan fundamentalists, has provoked some squalls and cost the lives of four good men.
The storm provoked by this butterfly has revealed character on an international scale. The steely determination of an Obama to achieve justice, the embarrassing grandstanding of a Romney, the destructive hatred of a handful of extremists in Cairo and Benghazi, and the decency and warmth toward the US of the Libyan crowds, all were thrown into stark relief by the beating of the butterfly’s wings.
In the end, the violence and extremism of the hardliners on both sides is a phantasm of the past, not a harbinger of the future. The wave of democratic politics sweeping the region has left the haters behind, reducing them to desperate and senseless acts of violence that will gain them no good will, no popularity, no political credibility.
A little-noted major event of Wednesday was the democratic selection of a new prime minister in Libya for the first time in the country’s history. Mustafa Abushagur defeated the Muslim Brotherhood candidate handily. Abushagur for a long time taught college in the US, at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Libyans again showed themselves nationalist and non-fundamentalist. This remarkable achievement, and what it portends for the shape of Libyan politics, will be drowned out by the atrocity in Benghazi, but it is the development that is likely to be marked by future historians as a turning point in Libya and in the Middle East.