Love-Fifteen U.K.

I haven’t been a fan of any politician for a very long time.  I’m not a fan of Barack Obama’s though, yes, he is much better than George W. Bush, if that isn’t damning him with faint praise.  I haven’t posted much about Obama recently and I’ve been asking myself why.  The truth is, there’s not much going on that I find interesting.

Granted, Obama has made some good initial noises about closing Guantanamo and ending extraordinary rendition and torture.  I’m still in “wait and see” and “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be happy if I see it.  But I’m not going to get ahead of myself.

There are some bad signs.  Obama’s expansion of Bush’s “faith-based” programs, for one.  I hate that.  Religion is quite powerful enough in the United States.  The administration doesn’t need its own religious instructors.

The President’s intentions with respect to Afghanistan gives me the heaves.

I’m glad Tom Daschle’s gone, not so much because I’m freaked out by his unpaid taxes – they all do that shit, they really do – but because there was never any reason to think that he was going to do what it’s gonna take to reform American health care and that led me to think, not unreasonably, that Obama isn’t really interested in doing a good job on that either.

Nor was I impressed at all by Obama’s attempt to get a bipartisan stimulus bill passed by selling out a part of the bill that would have provided free contraceptives to women in need – especially since it didn’t win him a damned thing from the Republicans – that’s smart politics?

All of that has seemed to obvious to be worthy of comment – apart from the Afghanistan situation.  But this really bugs me:  A British Court reluctantly decides not to publicize evidence of torture because of threats from the United States and the Obama administration thanks them.  WTF?

Here’s a bit of Glen Greenwald on that subject:

Andrew Sullivan notes this article from the BBC, reporting on threats made by the U.S. to punish Britain if British courts disclose what was done to one of its citizens, Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantanamo detainee who is suing the British Government for its complicity in his torture.  British judges “said they wanted the full details of the alleged torture to be published in the interests of safeguarding the rule of law, free speech and democratic accountability” — what are those strange things? — but decided not to do so because it was “persuaded that it was not in the public interest to publish those details as the US government could then inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains.”

So not only has our own Government erected an impenetrable wall of secrecy around what it has done, but is demanding that other countries do the same, upon threat of being punished.  As Sullivan said: “Torture is a cancer. It spreads through the legal system until it destroys the integrity of all of it. It will also destroy alliances if allowed to spread. The scale of that destruction has yet to be measured or understood. Obama has now drawn a line under it. But that is only the start of a process of recovery.”

 No kidding!  The rule of law has been under attack in the US for eight years and now Obama’s grateful that his country has applied the jackboot to the country of its birth? 

In a letter [pdf] to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President of the ACLU Anthony Romero said, in part:

The claims made by the British justices that the United States continues to oppose publication of the judgment in the Binyam Mohamed case–to the point of threatening the future of U.S.-British intelligence cooperation–seems ompletely at odds with both the anti-torture and transparency executive orders signed by the President. We strongly urge you to clarify the position of the United States and remove any threat related to the publication of the court’s full judgment.

Indeed.  Clarify Madam Secretary of State and Mr. President.  As Mr. Romero says –

Hope is flickering. The Obama administration’s position is not change. It is more of the same. This represents a complete turn-around and undermining of the restoration of the rule of law. The new American administration shouldn’t be complicit in hiding the abuses of its predecessors.

So already, we’re left hoping for hope.

The judgment of the British High Court is here [pdf].  And here’s a bit of what the justices had to say:

Moreover, in the light of the long history of the common law and democracy which we share with the United States, it was, in our view difficult to conceive that a democratically elected and accountable government could possibly have any rational objection to placing into the public domain such a summary of what its own officials reported as to how a detainee was treated by them and which made no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters. Indeed we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials or officials of another State where the evidence was relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.

[…]

No reason has emerged, particularly in the light of the statement made by Ms Crawford to which we have referred at paragraph 12, why the United States Government has not itself put the matters contained in the redacted passage into the public domain. There has been ample time for the United States Government to do so.

In the circumstances, it is still difficult to understand how objection can properly be made to a court in the United Kingdom doing so in all the circumstances we have set out.

[…]

It was submitted to us by Mr David Rose that the situation had changed significantly following the election of President Obama who was avowedly determined to eschew torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and to close Guantanamo Bay. We have, however, been informed by counsel for the Foreign Secretary that the position has not changed. Our current understanding is therefore that the position remains the same, even after the making of the Executive Orders by President Obama on 22 January 2009 to which we have referred at paragraph 9 above. The concern of the United States pertains not to disclosure of the treatment of detainees that might be levelled against the administration of President Bush, but to the disclosure of information obtained through intelligence sharing. However, as we have observed the United States Government will still not make the information public.

The ball’s in your court now Mr. Obama.

Clinton/Palin & the “Attractiveness” Catch

From Merritt Baer at The Situationist:

After the final presidential debate between Obama and Mccain, newsanchor Katie Couric asked Hillary Clinton, “Why do you think Sarah Palin has an action figure and you have a nutcracker?” Clinton replied that she didn’t know. But Hillary Clinton knows better than anyone that capturing the American audience as a woman is a balancing act.

The constant criticism dedicated to Hillary’s pantsuits culminated in the marketing of a “Hillary Clinton nutcracker,” in which her thighs serve as the nutcrackers (perish the thought of imagining what a comparable doll would look like for Obama…?) Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, who took a cue and opted for the skirtsuit and heels, became the subject of sexualized mockery. Interesting too that often, the originators of derogatory material directed at both Clinton and Palin were from the ideological left, a position we associate with progressive and tolerant views.

Read the whole thing here

Clinton, Palin & Feminism

Lydia Sargeant at Z Magazine on Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, sexism and feminism in the 2008 Presidential campaign:

The whole bait and switch from Clinton to Palin seemed so schizophrenic in a way. On one level, it was yet another act by the evangelical right to reduce any progressive feminist inspiration Clinton’s candidacy may have generated and to take back their power to define women—how they look and behave and what role they should play in their idea of the proper “order of things.” That is, the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the church (Ephesians 5:22-24). To Falwell and the whole Moral Majority gang, and their future followers, the women’s movement was “a satanic attack on the home” (Falwell), “a philosophy of death” (Schafly).

This trend was made even more horrifying because it was on a national scale, aimed at the power of the White House, and it used a redefined feminism as a way to continue trying to move towards what the right wing’s Family Protection Act had tried (and failed to do) since it was introduced in Congress in 1981. Its proposals included: eliminate federal funding laws supporting equal education; require marriage and motherhood to be taught as proper careers for girls; deny federal funding to schools using textbooks portraying women in nontraditional roles; repeal all federal laws protecting battered wives from their husbands; ban federally funded legal aid for women seeking abortion counseling or a divorce; offer tax incentives to induce married women to have babies and stay home; a complete ban on abortion, even if it meant the woman’s death; censor all birth control information until marriage; revoke the Equal Pay Act and other equal employment laws; defeat the Equal Rights Amendment.

Ironically, this attempt may backfire a little. They must have panicked, these reactionary evangelicals, when a TV news program interviewed two evangelical youth. The young man quoted the Bible to support the view that women shouldn’t run for public office. The young woman, when asked why she supported Palin, given this biblical prohibition, smiled and said, “Well, I’m a sinner.” It would be redemption indeed if masses of young evangelical women started demanding equal participation—perhaps an overthrow of the Church gender hierarchy and sexist teachings—even at the expense of “sinning.”

On another level, the Palin candidacy served to reveal how much mainstream feminism has become a benign politics of difference, rather than a revolution to overthrow a system of patriarchy embedded in and perpetuated by the Church, the family, the workplace, and so on. The politics of Men are from Mars, Women from Venus posits the problem between the genders as one of communication between beings from different planets, a difference solved by better communication and understanding of what each gender wants. Like the right-wing gender agenda, it too claims the right to define each gender’s looks, brain functions, and behavior. Hillary Clinton did not fit the Venus profile, Palin did. She seemed part of the “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man” so-called feminism. Perhaps her lipstick came from Revlon, whose one-time commercial promoted “a revolutionary make up. We’re changing the world one face at a time.”

Read the whole thing here

The entire December issue of Z Magazine is available online here

Note especially “Neoliberalism and Bottom-Line Morality: Notes on Greenspan, Rubin and the Party of Davos” by Edward S. Herman

and “Obama’s Economics: Which Will Emerge? Obamanomics 1 or Obamanomics 2?” by Jack Rasmus

On the “Bitch” & the “Ditz”

From Amanda Fortini at New York Magazine:

In the past few weeks, Sarah Palin has been variously described as a diva who engaged in paperwork-throwing tantrums, a shopaholic who spent $150,000 on clothing, a seductress who provocatively welcomed staffers while wearing only a towel, and a “whack-job”—contemporary code for hysteric. Worse, she was accused by a suspiciously gleeful Fox News reporter named Carl Cameron of not knowing Africa was a continent, of being unable to name the members of NAFTA, indeed of being unable to name the countries of North America at all. (“But she can be tutored,” Bill O’Reilly told Cameron, as though speaking of a small child.) More significant than the dubious origins of these leaks, or the fact that the campaign that cried “sexism” at every criticism of its vice-presidential nominee was engaging in its own misogynistic warfare, is the fact that all of the allegations were so believable. After all, Palin had earned herself a reputation as, in the words of one Fox News blogger, “something of a policy ditz.”

 

It’s hard to get too worked up on Palin’s behalf, of course; she was complicit in her crucifixion. But it is disappointing to watch what some have called the “year of the woman” come to such an embarrassing conclusion. This was an election cycle in which candidates pandered to female voters, newsweeklies tried to figure out “what women want,” and Hillary Clinton garnered 18 million votes toward winning the Democratic nomination. The assumption was that these “18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling,” as Clinton put it, would advance the prospects of female achievement and gender equality. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way.

Read the rest here

“Against Diversity”

Walter Benn Michaels in New Left Review:

The importance of race and gender in the current us presidential campaign has, of course, been a function of the salience of racism and sexism—which is to say, discrimination—in American society; a fact that was emphasized by post-primary stories like the New York Times’s ‘Age Becomes the New Race and Gender’.1 It is no doubt difficult to see ageism as a precise equivalent—after all, part of what is wrong with racism and sexism is that they supposedly perpetuate false stereotypes whereas, as someone who has just turned 60, I can attest that a certain number of the stereotypes that constitute ageism are true. But the very implausibility of the idea that the main problem with being old is the prejudice against your infirmities, rather than the infirmities themselves, suggests just how powerful discrimination has become as the model of injustice in America; and so how central overcoming it is to our model of justice.

From this standpoint, the contest between Obama and Clinton was a triumph, displaying, as it did, both the great strides made toward the goal of overcoming racism and sexism, and the great distance still to go towards that goal. It made it possible, in other words, to conceive of America as a society headed in the right direction but with a long road to travel. The attraction of this vision—not only to Americans but around the world—is obvious. The problem is that it is false. The us today is certainly a less discriminatory society than it was before the Civil Rights movement and the rise of feminism; but it is not a more just, open and equal society. On the contrary: it is no more just, it is less open and it is much less equal.

Read the rest here

via wood s lot

How They Talkin’

From Peter Haney at Linguistic Anthropology:

… a strategy of condescension occurs when someone at the top of a social hierarchy adopts the speech or style of those at the bottom. With such a move, the dominant actor seeks to profit from the inequality that he or she ostensibly negates. When Anglo politicians, for example, trot out a few words of broken Spanish on the U.S. campaign trail, they hope to benefit from the unspoken rule that political discourse here will occur in English. It is precisely that rule that leads some voters who identify with the Spanish language to see its use as a thoughtful gesture on the politician’s part. Although Palin’s campaign persona represents an extreme example of the strategy of condescension, she was not the only candidate to take such an approach. Vice President Elect Joe Biden’s endless allusions to his childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania and visits to Home Depot are also textbook examples. Note that for Biden, being an ordinary guy is all about consumption and style rather than labor. When President Elect Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech that the change he represented had been “a long time comin’,” he replaced the nasal consonant represented by “ng” in English spelling with that represented by “n.” In the U.S., this substitution connotes informality and is popularly associated with both White working class and African American vernacular speech. White middle-class liberal friends of mine have criticized Palin for her colloquialism and have expressed longing for a vice president who could, in their words, “prounounce a g.” Most of these friends render “ng” as “n” themselves in unguarded moments, of course, although few of them use her regionally marked nasalized vowels. They key difference here is that my friends believe that Obama can use the formal, standard register of English and that Sarah Palin cannot. I am less convinced of the Governor’s linguistic inflexibility. But it is clear in any case that those who mock her speech see her apparent lack of access to privileged styles as a sign of other, more serious deficiencies.

 

This is precisely the risk of a strategy of condescension. Bourdieu notes that a dominant actor who symbolically negates hierarchies must do so “without appearing to be ignorant or incapable of satisfying their demands” (1991:69). In her effort to play with hierarchies of linguistic competence, Sarah Palin failed to convince voters that she was above the game. Her attempt to present herself as plain folks failed precisely because people believed it. Joe Biden, by contrast, failed less badly because people, on some level, did not believe him. Another interesting contrast is the case of Senator Hillary Clinton, who was roundly mocked for aping the speech of audiences in the South on the campaign trail. In Clinton’s case, national audiences found her affected drawl so different from her usual speaking style that they doubted its authenticity. Palin inspired no such doubts, but this alone does not explain her failure. Remember that the current occupant of the White House is the scion of an elite New England political family who used language to convince the world that he was a Texas cowboy. His colloquialisms were as forced and robotic as Palin’s, and they succeeded equally well in giving him a common touch with the public. That both Palin and Bush convinced the country of their speech styles’ authenticity is clear from the work of comedians who satirize them. Tina Fey’s overrated Saturday Night Live parody, which recast the Alaska governor as a defanged, rustic ingénue, reinforced rather than questioning Palin’s “Wasilla hillbilly” persona. Similarly, the legion of comedians who lampoon Bush never show him letting the Good Old Boy act lapse while relaxing with Poppy. Belief was not the issue here. But few voters appear to have worried about Bush’s competence or command of policy until after the disastrous consequences of his policies and tactics became clear. These same voters would not give Palin a chance. What explains this difference?

Check this out for the answer

via wood s lot

Palin on Clinton

WTF?

When Hillary Clinton protested last spring about facing blatant sexism in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, one of her harshest critics was another female politician, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“I think she does herself a disservice to even mention it, really. You’ve got to plow through that,” Palin said at a forum on women in politics held in March.

“When I hear a statement like that, coming from a woman candidate, with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism, or maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think that doesn’t do us any good.”

Palin’s admonition to Clinton at the time: “So be it, work harder.”

How political circumstances change. Now Palin’s on the Republican presidential ticket, and it’s John McCain’s campaign decrying discrimination on the campaign trail.

Palin’s selection as McCain’s running mate has dramatically transformed the U.S. election campaign, creating something like Sarah-mania among conservative Republicans, and helping to propel the Arizona senator ahead of Democrat Barack Obama in national polls. But the biggest impact of Palin’s selection may be in how Republicans and Democrats are dealing with issues of sexual politics.

In a series of ads and campaign conference calls this week, Republicans have made Palin’s gender a central component of their attack strategy against Obama, accusing the Illinois senator and his supporters of being sexist and condescending to Palin.

A McCain television ad launched Friday in several battleground states charges Obama with being “disrespectful” of the Alaska governor.

It highlights Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden’s offhanded description of Palin as “good-looking” and an Obama aide’s statement that the governor was doing “what she was told” by McCain.

Democrats say the McCain ad takes the remarks wildly out of context, making it appear as if it was Obama who called Palin good-looking.

Similarly, Obama dismissed as “phoney outrage” Republican allegations earlier this week that his reference to putting “lipstick on a pig” – made specifically about McCain’s policies – was a personal attack on Palin.

Still, the GOP tactics have flummoxed Obama’s campaign and left high-profile Democrats – male and female alike – struggling to find the right tone when criticizing Palin.

When the chairwoman of South Carolina’s Democratic party, Carol Fowler, said this week Palin’s “primary qualification seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion,” Republicans within hours had arranged a conference call with reporters to denounce the remark.

Senator Lindsey Graham said “there would be a firestorm of monumental proportions” if a Republican had said the same thing about a female Democratic candidate.

“Our Democratic colleagues and opponents are in a meltdown mode over Gov. Palin,” said Graham.

“She’s a talented, reform-minded, conservative female governor who has, I think, thrown our opponents for a loop in terms of how to engage the McCain-Palin ticket.”

Fowler said she was referring to Palin’s appeal among anti-abortion activists on the religious right. But she quickly apologized.

“Palin’s selection really has the Democrats in a box,” says Kathleen Dolan, political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “They don’t know how to go about trying to dismantle her as a credible candidate in the ways they would if she were a man, without being perceived as being bullies.”

Obama has said he assumes Palin “wants to be treated the same way that guys want to be treated.” But the rules of engagement are unclear, even after Clinton’s candidacy highlighted the challenges of a woman running for president and of running for president against a woman.

“The norms are quite rapidly changing about what counts as sexist,” says Lynn Sanders, a politics professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in gender politics.

“The experience of having Sarah Palin nominated, on the heels of Hillary’s candidacy, is going to help Americans figure out what is fair game in talking about women, and maybe get some attention off of questions about appearance and sexuality and onto questions about policy and ideological commitments.”

But even on matters strictly political, gender issues loom large.

When Palin sat down for an interview on Thursday with ABC News anchor Charles Gibson, much of the resulting news coverage focused on how the Alaska governor struggled to define the “Bush doctrine” of pre-emptive military strikes.

But conservative bloggers and commentators had a different take Friday morning – blasting Gibson as “pompous,” “sneering” and “condescending” for his persistent questioning of Palin.

“Republicans seem to be saying there are things that can’t be said about Palin, questions that shouldn’t be asked,” says Dolan. “They see the real sexism where it exists, but they also want to call honest, critical analysis of her sexist.”

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Republican presidential candidate, maintains Palin is being subjected to a double standard when it comes to her political experience.

“The whole issue of whether she knows world affairs or not, these are questions that were never asked of Barack Obama, never asked of him to this day,” Giuliani said Friday.

The fierce reaction among conservatives to the treatment of Palin hearkens back to how Democratic voters responded to Hillary Clinton’s first Senate campaign in 2000, says Dolan.

At the end of a televised debate, Republican candidate Rick Lazio approached Clinton demanding she sign a petition. The incident was cast as an attempt to bully Clinton, and his support plummeted.

Lazio’s fate should serve as a cautionary tale for Biden, who will face Palin in a much-anticipated vice-presidential debate Oct. 2 in St. Louis.

“Male candidates have to walk a fine line about how they campaign against women, because our stereotypes are still so strong,” Dolan says. “On the one hand, we want to see women as strong and independent and forceful. On the other hand, we still see them as our daughters who need to be protected.”

Another McCain campaign ad this week showed images of a pack of wolves emerging from the forest as a narrator warned Obama would “try to destroy” Palin as he falls in the polls.

It may be “inconsistent” for McCain’s campaign to complain about sexism when Palin herself has dismissed such talk as whining, but it’s also smart politics, Sanders says.

“How do they get around that inconsistency? Well, Sarah Palin can’t be the one who complains.”

Obama’s campaign signalled Friday it hoped to shift the spotlight off Palin and put it back on McCain, with new ads claiming he’s out of touch with middle-class Americans.

“In recent weeks, John McCain has shown that he is willing to go into the gutter to win this election,” David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, said in a strategy memo. “His campaign has become nothing but a series of smears, lies and cynical attempts to distract from the issues.”

CanWest News

So the response to Palin should be “plow on”, “work harder”.  That is, if we weren’t feminists.  And damn it, she isn’t!  I’ve read several posts on blogs I’m not gonna link to admonishing feminists to “be inclusive” with respect to Palin and feminism.  I’m all for tolerance.  I’ll tolerate Palin but it’ll be a frosty Friday in the north woods before I call her a feminist.  She isn’t!

Democratic Misogyny

There’s an absolutely GREAT post at Anglachel on the misogyny some Democrats have demonstrated toward Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and yes, even Barack Obama.  Here’s just a bit:

The “progressive” blogosphere has exposed its own fundamentalist tendencies this electoral cycle, wielding misogyny like a sledge hammer to achieve its political goals. To try to claim innocence on this count is insulting to the readers’ intelligence. The Blogger Boyz (and the women frantically trying to prove they are really just Girlz so they can stay in the club) have damaged the campaigns of every female Democratic candidate, legitimizing use of misogynist tropes. The reproductive history of our women candidates is now fair game. In performing this violence against female candidates and public figures, they have validated its continued use by the Right and have cast into doubt their progressive claims.

You just gotta read the rest

Conserving Violence

From Edward S. Herman at Z Magazine:

It is interesting and depressing to see that as Obama calls for some kind of withdrawal or at least substantial cutbacks of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, at the same time he calls for escalation in Afghanistan. By doing this he hopes to ease the threat of vulnerability to accusations of weakness on “national security” and an un- or anti-American “cut and run” perspective. This has long been a problem for the Democrats, who have a mass populist constituency that would like some transfer of government resources to their pressing civilian needs.

The establishment, including the mainstream media, therefore, keeps the pressure on to assure that the Democrats stay in line and the Democrats often compensate, even overcompensate, to demonstrate their integration into an imperialist worldview and weapons culture. Both Gore and Bush wanted a bigger military budget in 2000 (Nader, who wanted cuts, was marginalized). Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the campaign trail called for a larger army to meet U.S. “defense” needs. Now Obama wants us to take on a bigger commitment to violence. This will keep the arms cargo ships and planes busy and the bomb factories and plane and missile factories working at full capacity. Of course, those wanting infrastructure improvements and resources will have to wait and “hope” for a better future after our enemies are defeated and full hegemony and stability are established. They need a good dollop of “vision.”

The law of conservation of the level of violence thus rests on the structure of power and its reflection in politics. If you want to compete in politics in the militarized America of today you can’t scrimp on money for “national security” and you need to display a readiness to exercise a “muscular” foreign policy. If you call for reduced forces in one country, you must urge their increase in another. Keep those muscles in shape and bombs dropping.

One of my favorite quotations from the Vietnam War era was: “I think maybe today we create many Vietcong,” spoken by a Vietnamese collaborator and helicopter pilot when answering a question by Master Sergeant Donald Duncan while both were on a plane that had just dropped bombs on a Vietnamese target. The Vietnam War was a murderous capital-intensive war, with millions of tons of bombs dropped on villages deemed supportive of the indigenous enemy, along with napalm, phosphorus, and crop-destroying chemicals. (Napalm and rice-killing chemicals were used exclusively in the South, which we were allegedly “saving” from the North’s “aggression.”) In any case, this murderous behavior killed vast numbers, but also made any Vietnamese previously harboring doubts about the ongoing struggle extremely hostile to the United States and its local puppets. We had mastered the art of creating enemies.

Read the rest here