Obama “Disappoints” on Iraq Withdrawal

From Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

Iraq’s Parliamentary elections have not yet been scheduled and don’t even have an electoral law, and according to a number of senior Iraqi politicians probably will not be held until March 2010 (not December 2009).  That would then give the U.S. about five months to withdraw the bulk of the dozen combat brigades which would reportedly remain.  And then, keep in mind that U.S. officials generally agree (correctly) that the most dangerous period of elections is actually in their aftermath, when disgruntled losers might turn to violence or other destabilizing measures.  So the following month will likely not seem a good time either.  So that would leave four months to move, what — 9 brigades?  Did someone say precipitous?   Good luck with that. And that’s assuming, of course, that nothing else risky or destabilizing comes up in April or May 2010 (Kirkuk?) which would make a drawdown at that moment appear risky.  [more]

From Robert Dreyfuss at The Nation:

… it’s sad indeed to see the antiwar wing of the Democratic party disheartened by Obama’s Iraq policy, while the McCains of the world are cheering. This, truly, is change I can’t believe in.

From Anthony DiMaggio at counterpunch:

Despite the public’s long-standing opposition to the war and support for a short timetable for withdrawal, Obama and his generals continue to defy public wishes as they debate whether the occupation will continue for another three years, six years, or indefinitely into the future.  Much of the justification for this obstinacy is based on manipulation of available intelligence and from deceptively simplistic arguments that the 2007 troop surge “worked.”  Detailed analysis reveals that this deception is wide-ranging, as support for the surge spans across liberal and conservative mainstream media outlets. 

Political Activism & Social Change

Ya can’t have one without the other:

FDR became a great president because the mass protests among the unemployed, the aged, farmers and workers forced him to make choices he would otherwise have avoided. He did not set out to initiate big new policies. The Democratic platform of 1932 was not much different from that of 1924 or 1928. But the rise of protest movements forced the new president and the Democratic Congress to become bold reformers.


Obama’s campaign speeches emphasized the theme of a unified America where divisions bred by race or party are no longer important. But America is, in fact, divided: by race, by party, by class. And these divisions will matter greatly as we grapple with the whirlwind of financial and economic crises, of prospective ecological calamity, of generational and political change, of widening fissures in the American empire. I, for one, do not have a blueprint for the future. Maybe we are truly on the cusp of a new world order, and maybe it will be a better, more humane order. In the meantime, however, our government will move on particular policies to confront the immediate crisis. Whether most Americans will have an effective voice in these policies will depend on whether we tap our usually hidden source of power, our ability to refuse to cooperate on the terms imposed from above.

From an article at The Nation by Frances Fox Piven here

Republican Hardball

So I’ve been wondering why the Democrats in the US don’t seem to have been able to take advantage of the landslide election of  Barack Obama.  Here’s one man’s answer:

When Republicans held less than 60 seats in the Senate and wanted to push through legislation, right-wing judges, etc., we never heard about how they lacked the 60 seats to pass whatever they wanted.

They played hardball, telling Democrats that if they dared to even consider a filibuster they would use the “nuclear option,” and Democrats curled up in the fetal position and waited until the Republicans had so badly damaged the country that the American people simply couldn’t vote for them anymore, and said, “We want the other guys.” Well, the other guys are in now, and they seem to have convinced themselves that they have neither the power nor the mandate to do the people’s business the way the people asked them to do. For those Americans who thought they might see things like comprehensive health care reform come out of this Congress and this Presidency, good luck. Unless the Democrats dramatically change course or the new President puts his foot down and reminds the American people who they voted for, any new legislation will have to pass muster with co-presidents Collins, Specter, and Snowe, and their shadow cabinet of Cornyn, Boehner, Shelby, and McConnell. The new co-presidents will not be able to do the kind of damage their party did over the last eight years, but they will be able to prevent the Democrats from fixing it—and to allow the radical conservatives to say “I told you so” in two years and take back large swaths of the House and Senate.

Drew Westen

Oh Ain’t It The Truth?

Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

The central tenets of the Beltway religion — particularly when a Democrat is in the White House — have long been “centrism” and “bipartisanship.”  The only good Democrats are the ones who scorn their “left-wing” base while embracing Republicans.  In Beltway lingo, that’s what “pragmatism” and good “post-partisanship” mean:  a Democrat whose primary goal is to prove he’s not one of those leftists.  The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius today lavishes praise on Barack Obama for his allegiance to these Beltway pieties — and actually seems to believe that there is something new and innovative about this approach …


Whatever else one might want to say about this “centrist” approach, the absolute last thing one can say about it is that there’s anything “new” or “remarkable” about it.  The notion that Democrats must spurn their left-wing base and move to the “non-ideological” center is the most conventional of conventional Beltway wisdom (which is why Ignatius, the most conventional of Beltway pundits, is preaching it).  That’s how Democrats earn their Seriousness credentials, and it’s been that way for decades

The “non-idealogical center”!!  Guffaw.

Why is it that Republicans manage to govern significantly to the right, in line with their base, and stay in office for eight years while Democrats have to move significantly to the right to stay in office?  If it’s actually true, maybe it’s because right-wing voters can  count on Democrats to to betray their base and govern significantly to the right.  If this isn’t an argument for the need for a truly revolutionary politics in order to inject the word “change” with basic meaning, I don’t know what is.

Read the whole thing here

Labour & the Non-Bailout

From Salon:

The fiercest opposition to the loan proposal — and nearly a third of the 35 votes against ending debate on the deal — came from Southern Republicans, and the ringleaders of the opposition all come from states with a major foreign auto presence. Not coincidentally, nearly all of those states — except Kentucky — are also “right-to-work” states, which means no union contracts for most of the employees at the foreign plants. The Detroit bailout fell victim to a nasty confluence of home-state economic interests and anti-union sentiment among Republicans.

This week Southern Republicans had a chance to go to bat for foreign automakers while simultaneously busting a union. At a hearing last week, Corker explained that his constituents “have a tough time thinking about us loaning money to companies that are paying way, way above industry standard to workers.” Which may explain why his proposed alternative to the loan agreement between Congress and the White House would have required the United Auto Workers to agree to significant wage cuts next year, based on a spurious claim that union workers earn significantly more than non-union workers.

Even George W. Bush’s White House didn’t push to crush the UAW the way Corker and his buddies did, say Democrats involved in the negotiations with the administration. “It was all about the unions,” one senior Democratic aide said. “This is political payback for lots of things, and probably even more to come.” Labor officials expect Republicans to keep taking shots at unions whenever they can. “This cynical stance they took last night — they’re willing to jeopardize 3 million jobs so they could gain some advantage in their war against unions — is appalling,” said Bill Samuel, the chief lobbyist for the AFL-CIO.

As the Republican Party consolidates in the South, the fight this week could turn out to be a preview of many battles to come over Barack Obama’s economic plans. If those plans involve the domestic auto industry, the GOP pushback will come from somewhere down I-65, the new auto corridor that runs from Kentucky south to Alabama. Expect to hear more not just from the very vocal Bob Corker, but from the rest of a core group of Southern senators whose bread is buttered by the Japanese, Germans and Koreans. 

Read the whole thing here

Obama, “Change” & Torture USA

From Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

While virtually all of the Bush agenda over the last eight years ended up being deeply unpopular and profoundly discredited, it was his foreign policy and intelligence programs (torture, rendition, illegal surveillance, war) which caused the most intense opposition, at least among Democratic voters.  That is a large part of why Democrats just won their second straight national election promising to oppose Bush’s policies and to implement “change.”  It was the policies implemented and overseen by Bush’s Pentagon, CIA and “homeland security” apparatus that caused the most disgrace.  “Continuity” in those areas would be nothing less than a patent betrayal of everything Democrats, over the last two years, told the citizenry they intended to do.

And yet, having watched Obama already announce that he is retaining Bush’s Defense Secretary, here we have the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee also urging that Obama keep, for “at least” six months, Bush’s handpicked Director of National Intelligence (whom Democrats excoriated during the FISA debates for manipulating and, as even Reyes himself noted, outright lying to them) and Bush’s handpicked CIA Director (who was, as Obama himself said, the “architect and chief defender” of Bush’s illegal NSA spying programs).  Even worse, Reyes is publicly urging that Obama maintain, rather than overhaul, “some parts of the CIA’s controversial alternative interrogation program” — or else we’ll all be slaughtered by the Terrorists.

Read the whole thing here

No Ideology

From Norman Solomon at CommonDreams:

On Friday, columnist David Brooks informed readers that Barack Obama’s picks “are not ideological.” The incoming president’s key economic advisers “are moderate and thoughtful Democrats,” while Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy views “are hardheaded and pragmatic.”

On Saturday, the New York Times front page reported that the president-elect’s choices for secretaries of State and Treasury “suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.”

On Monday, hours before Obama’s formal announcement of his economic team, USA Today explained that he is forming a Cabinet with “records that display more pragmatism than ideology.”

The ideology of no ideology is nifty. No matter how tilted in favor of powerful interests, it can be a deft way to keep touting policy agendas as common-sense pragmatism — virtuous enough to draw opposition only from ideologues.

Meanwhile, the end of ideology among policymakers is about as imminent as the end of history.

Read the rest here

It is the only way David Brooks can justify admiring Barack Obama though …

Sarah Palin, Annie Oakley and “Liberal Values”

I’ve been having conversations with friends, and in the blogosphere, about the meaning of Sarah Palin’s candidacy in terms of feminism and “gender equality” if that is taken to mean equality as between men and women.  One of my friends, who has done decades of thinking about politics and feminism and sexism, said this:

 … note how the Republicans are using liberal values of gender equality to promote Sarah Palin.  Yes, it’s mixed in with conservative values about abortion and family, but second wave feminism did make some headway into sexist ideology.

I don’t think I agree that the Reprobates are using liberal values of gender equality to promote Sarah Palin.  I should put it this way:  the Reprobates are using liberal values insofar as that appeals in some twisted way to liberals.  It’s not necessary to use liberal values to situate Sarah Palin for conservatives.

There have always been exceptions to the rules of gender roles, even in more completely patriarchal societies than the one in which we live.  You could see those women as embodying proof that there is nothing about women, per se, that makes them more fit for one role rather than another.  Or you can simply see it as proof of the norm.  I’m inclined to think that women like Elizabeth I, Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher, for instance, don’t signify a true challenge to patriarchal norms, at least in part because they do such an excellent job of adopting personnae that fit fairly easily into those norms. 

Elizabeth I became the “virgin queen” for many reasons, no doubt.  But I suspect that a few of those reasons were to take herself out of the category of gender altogether in some way, like becoming a eunich for a male.  Gender is off the table and “the body” is enabled to enter arenas of power without threat.  Marriage signified a loss of power and Elizabeth may simply have been too politically smart to fall for it.  There’s also evidence that she was well aware of the loss of personal power that marriage entailed:

“If I am to disclose to you what I should prefer if I follow the inclination of my nature, it is this: beggar-woman and single, far rather than queen and married!”

The virgin role also played powerfully into Christian madonna symbology, the virgin being human but not like any other woman, and this at a time when the status of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic tradition was being wiped out by the Church of England.  The “cult of the virgin” played a powerful role in the lives of the simple people who formed the basis of the economy, going back to pagan times, and a credible alternative to the cult in the form of a ruler had significant results in terms of pacifying the people.

Golda Meir got to be Prime Minister of Israel by “playing” very strongly to the myth of the Jewish mother, who is allowed to protect her children fiercely and by any means when they are threatened [whether she did this consciously is another matter], although she may otherwise be not much more than a terrible nag.  

It’s difficult to imagine any man making this statement made by Meir after the Yom Kippur War:

When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons. But it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.

Meir’s personal warmth and “motherliness” allowed her to be a woman with nerves of steel in the political arena without threatening traditional gender roles:

Golda Meir was a poster woman for the feminist cause in the 1970’s. Her picture as Prime Minister appeared with the caption: “But can she type?” However, many feminists felt that she could have done more to help other women. Golda overcame many personal hardships because she was a woman: as a child she fought with her parents to continue her education and as a married woman she made a difficult choice between her family and her career. However, she failed to recognize that many of her personal struggles were universal problems faced by most other women of her time. Golda did not use her position of power to address women’s needs (such as child care or equality in the workplace), to promote other women to aspire to public office, or to advance women’s status in Israel. Thus she was an inspiration and source of pride to women, yet, simultaneously, a disappointment and source of frustration to twentieth century women who were fighting for social change.



If Golda Meir was a “poster child” for liberal values of sexual equality, it certainly wasn’t because she actually embodied them.

As for Margaret Thatcher, she was seen as being asexual and so, once again, a very different kind of woman.  Perhaps in some ways she harkens back to Elizabeth I, the “Iron Lady” appellation so often attached to her name is reminiscent of strength, but also of a chastity belt.  Thatcher adopted the term herself to indicate a strength and resolve not traditionally associated with women.  It’s clear that many powerful woman have had to “de-sexualize” themselves in order to maintain that power.  The “iron” qualifier is often applied to women with political power, to distinguish them as extraordinary: Wikipedia:

Many male politicians have to define themselves as “ordinary” in order to appeal to “ordinary” voters in order to be successful.  In America, it’s the “regular guys” who have risen by virtue of their work ethic who appeal to voters and, though many powerful men may be far from ordinary, they nevertheless attempt to establish personal narratives that appeal to “everyday” Americans in order to achieve success – witness the attempts of Barack Obama to fit himself and his wife into that story, whether successful or not.  Chris Matthews loves the fact that Joe Biden is “just a regular guy”. 

As a “Jewish mother”, Golda Meir was able to exploit an abundance of emotion.  Thatcher, on the other hand, was not known for displays of emotion at all, which is very “un-womanly”, but fits with an alternate narrative of “the woman who is ‘really’ a man”.  These are no ordinary women, nor are they allowed to be if they are successful.  They are “irregular” women and that allows them to circumvent their status as women.
As for Hillary Clinton, she got absolutely murdered by sexism, not only in the media, but also among Democrats!  Mostly Democratic men, of course.  Unlike Sarah Palin, she got hammered for not being a “real woman”.  She was too old and baggy and wrinkly and shrieky and “post-sexual”, postmenopausal and too much a ballbreaker who had nevertheless made herself a doormat for her husband who cheated on her and she then capitalized on her “victim” status to get elected to the Senate.  She was critisized if she showed her cleavage (expoiting her sexuality?  behaving like an ‘unchaste’ woman?) and critisized for wearing pants (too much like a man?  not ladylike?) and critisized if she complained, because that was whining.  And ain’t all that just like a woman?  Not even liberals have liberal values!  They’re certainly confused and contradictory expressions of attitudes toward women, which shouldn’t surprise us and, indeed, does not surprise many feminists.
Sarah Palin breaks the Clinton mold AND the Thatcher mold so it is true that she is a new version of a woman with at least potential political power.  Time will tell whether there is a need to construct her place in as complex a way as in the cases I’ve been talking about.

Thus far, Palin has described herself as “a pit bull with lipstick“.  Her audience has seemed not just willing, but delighted to accept that definition.  She is far from de-sexualized.  Chris Matthews wants to wake up in bed next to her and that seems to be a good part of the appeal – they’ve accepted a total stranger, those Reprobates, because somehow, they can see her as a version of Annie Oakley.  Sarah Palin hunts and rides a snowmobile and shoots – she’s a modern day American cowgirl.  Not many people can sling guns the way those broads can!  I bet Annie Oakley voted Republican.  She didn’t align herself with the feminists of her day either. 

I came up with the comparison to Oakley all by myself but I’m not alone.  Here’s what Joan Walsh said about Palin:

By the time Palin took the stage, she no longer seemed like an Alaskan Annie Oakley, a gun-toting, hockey mom biker-gal; she’d become pioneer victim girl, Pauline tied to the train tracks by mean Democrats and the liberal media. But Palin shook off the victim mantle by coming out swinging, first blasting “the pollsters and the pundits” for writing off McCain last year, then tearing into Barack Obama with glee, teeth bared like a Rudy Giuliani in heels.

See?  Palin isn’t a woman.  She’s McCain, Obama and Giuliani in drag!  Not even Joan Walsh can resist describing Palin in terms “other”.

The fact that Palin was momentarily “tied to the railroad tracks” by sexism, visions of that “Alaskan Annie Oakley” still apply – Palin came back swinging and untied those knots, just as our girl Oakley would.

I’m trying hard to find male commentators who don’t refer to Palin’ssex while at the same time bending the gender narrative to take her outside the realm of ordinary women.  Some comments from an article by Rick Moran:

There’s steel behind that beautiful smile that Democrats belittle at their peril

… a huge smile creased John McCain’s face as he gave her an affectionate peck on the cheek and looked at her as a father might see a daughter on her wedding day …

… There also appears to be a high level of confidence that the six-term senator from Delaware will make mincemeat of the little lady from Alaska when they debate in a few weeks.

If I were a Democrat, I would not be so sanguine iIf Joe Biden is seen as being condescending in the slightest toward Palin during that debate, he is likely to get clipped.

… in my appraisal of the relative strengths of Mr. Biden vs. Mrs. Palin. This is one tough lady …

… they grow them “Tough in Alaska.”

“Them” being women.

In addition to the Oakley qualities, Palin is a Mom of a great big family, she’s “pro-life”, rabidly anti-abortion, pro-marriage, anti-gay, blah blah blah.  She’s no threat at all the the status quo and I just can’t see how she’s in the position she’s in because of liberal values.  American males want to screw her for gawd sakes.

 Golda Meir once said “There is a type of woman who does not let her husband narrow her horizons.”   [Neither Meir nor Palin let their children narrow their horizons either].  Such women have always existed.  They have little to do with liberal values.  In the case of those values, the Reprobates may find it convenient to appeal to such them when it’s convenient.  Or perhaps they are just “read in” to the narrative by others.  But those are not values that are likely to hit the mark for those who will vote McCain/Palin.  And they are far removed from feminist values, of any wave.  As Bart Motes said at The Huffington Post, “Women may love Sarah Palin, but she doesn’t love them back.”

Multiple narratives are used to explain the success of a small number of women who have achieved political power.  Powerful women themselves have been savvy enough to appeal to whatever narrative helps them achieve and maintain that power.  Sometimes, no amount of savvy works, as with Hillary Clinton, who found herself in the unenviable position of believing that an appeal to her gender would lose voters while at the same time finding herself unable to defeat the sexism of which she was the target.

While the fact of competing narratives may be an indication of competing values and material interests, it’s also proof of the lack of success of “liberal” equality narratives in terms of achieving dominance.

Remember Boadicea.

Why Are Republicans?

From Jonathan Haidt at Edge:

What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany’s best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.

Diagnosis is a pleasure. It is a thrill to solve a mystery from scattered clues, and it is empowering to know what makes others tick. In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger. We can explain how Republicans exploit frames, phrases, and fears to trick Americans into supporting policies (such as the “war on terror” and repeal of the “death tax”) that damage the national interest for partisan advantage.

But with pleasure comes seduction, and with righteous pleasure comes seduction wearing a halo. Our diagnosis explains away Republican successes while convincing us and our fellow liberals that we hold the moral high ground. Our diagnosis tells us that we have nothing to learn from other ideologies, and it blinds us to what I think is one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats. To see what Democrats have been missing, it helps to take off the halo, step back for a moment, and think about what morality really is.


This is the first rule of moral psychology: feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete. If people want to reach a conclusion, they can usually find a way to do so. The Democrats have historically failed to grasp this rule, choosing uninspiring and aloof candidates who thought that policy arguments were forms of persuasion.


I would say that the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.

When Republicans say that Democrats “just don’t get it,” this is the “it” to which they refer. Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society. When Democrats try to explain away these positions using pop psychology they err, they alienate, and they earn the label “elitist.” But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb?

Fascinating and important it seems to me.  Read the rest here

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