Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obama Shifting America From Lead Role To Supporting?

The New Republic has a good article on Barack Obama's foreign policy framework post-Arab Spring:

The explicit theme was the belief that the net effect of the Arab Spring is positive—that the operations of history are taking the Middle East toward better governance, greater respect for human rights, and, presumably, increased security and stability. This belief in organic progress for the region contrasts with the worldview of the Bush administration, as expressed most powerfully by Vice President Cheney, which assumed that absent American initiative, trends in the global security environment were not only negative, but dire. Without vigorous U.S. action, violent extremism would grow in power and the United States would face mounting danger. While Americans might not want to engineer history, they were compelled to.

President Obama's worldview is decidedly more upbeat. This has profound implications for American policy. It means that the United States does not need to re-engineer the world, but only to prod, channel, and support transformation that is already underway. The people of the Arab world will themselves lead the way rather than being led. Ironically, this optimism resonates more of Reagan than of Bush.

The international community, according to President Obama, shares this perspective and thus will lead efforts to consolidate democracy in the Arab world. In another strange twist, this mirrors Donald Rumsfeld's belief that too much American involvement in resolving crises and fixing problems limits the incentive of other states to do so. Drawing lessons from the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, Rumsfeld believed that if the United States minimized its role in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq, other nations would step up. Only when they did not was the United States forced to shoulder the burden. Whether because the international community learned from Iraq or because the Arab Spring was born within the Arab world rather than being imposed on it by the United States, Obama expects this to be a collective endeavor.

The flipside of this view is the second, implicit theme in Obama's speech, which is that if the United States embraces the Arab Spring too tightly and attempts to dominate it, the results would be negative, perhaps even disastrous. Better to tolerate some things that the United States might not prefer than to attempt top control the revolution.

For anyone who is not a foreign policy wonk here, the United States has been the implicit security provider for Europe since World War II. Many liberal hawks were likely propelled into neoconservatism not just by the fall of the Berlin wall but also by the lack of response by Europe to the crisis in the Balkans, making it seem after 9/11 that the United States was the only force available to respond to acts of crisis.

That's slowly beginning to shift and out of pure expediency, alot of rumblings that wonks had made about European security dependency are beginning to show in Obama's response to the Arab Spring. While left-wing anti-war dissidents may bemoan the fact that President Obama went from making anti-Iraq war speeches in 2003 to joining a coalition effort in 2011, Obama is making a pretty clear jump from the dominant actor of America's past to an actor in a coalition fueled by countries like France and the United Kingdom.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Taking Care of the Cuckoo

I was reading an article in Alternet about the 1980s and this really caught my eye:

In 1975, a Democratic Party emboldened by civil rights, environmental, antiwar, and post-Watergate electoral successes was on the verge of seizing the presidency and a filibuster-proof congressional majority. That year, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest were two of the three top-grossing films -- the former a parody using the late-sixties sexual revolution to laugh at the puritanical fifties, the latter based on the novel by beat writer Ken Kesey. Meanwhile, three of the top-rated seven television shows were liberal-themed programs produced by progressive icon Norman Lear, including "All in the Family" --a show built around a hippie, Mike Stivic, poking fun at the ignorance of his traditionalist father-in-law, Archie Bunker.

I've seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and that movie among personal life experience solidified my anti-statist anarchist tendencies. In that film, the state takes the place of the mother and father for many at risk patients and the people willing to take that role are often attracted to it for sick reasons - including a fondness for being in power over other people.

Since I saw that movie years ago, I have lived in the Bay Area. San Francisco, the once "City of Love," is beset by several groups ranging from Hispanic immigrants, art students and homeless people. The large homeless population is often credited by locals as the result of Reagan-era policies of not taking care of the mentally ill.

Only recently, this article appeared in The New Republic in the wake of the Arizona shootings:

Starting in the 1970s, civil libertarians worked to eliminate involuntary commitment or, that failing, to raise the standards and burden of proof so high that few individuals would meet it. Important decisions by the Supreme Court and subordinate courts gave individuals new protections, including a constitutional right to refuse psychotropic medication. A few states have tried to push back in constitutionally acceptable ways, but efforts such as California’s Laura’s Law, designed to make it easier to force patients to take medication, have been stymied by civil rights concerns and lack of funding.

We need legal reform to shift the balance in favor of protecting the community, especially against those who are armed and deranged. This means two changes in particular. First, those who acquire credible evidence of an individual’s mental disturbance should be required to report it to both law enforcement authorities and the courts, and the legal jeopardy for failing to do so should be tough enough to ensure compliance. Parents, school authorities, and other involved parties should be made to understand that they have responsibilities to the community as a whole, not just to family members or to their own student body. While embarrassment and reluctance to get involved are understandable sentiments, they should not be allowed to drive conduct when the public safety is at stake. We’re not necessarily cramming these measures down anyone’s throat: I’ve known many families who were desperate for laws that would help them do what they knew needed to be done for their adult children, and many college administrators who felt that their hands were tied.

Now, one has to ask if there is really a left/right divide on this issue. Reaganism spelled well for many of the civil libertarian causes that the left-wing counterculture posting during the 1960s, like getting rid of the draft (something both Reagan and his chief economics influence Milton Freidman favored) and doing away with the large scale mental institutions mentioned above. The institutions were associated in pop culture not just with the lobotomies that beset Jack Nicholson but also with electro shock therapy (watch the film Shine some time).

Just as it was back in the 1970s, mental illness is still an issue. I've posted alot here about Asperger's syndrome and popular films still dominate the media with the subject. The film It's Kind Of A Funny Story, a recent release about a teen who checks himself in to an institution, is very different from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and tells us that we should trust our superiors to be able to treat the vulnerable well. In life experience, both the evil and good attract to these occupations and it could be a big mistake to get reactionary on the issue. It's an even bigger mistake, however, to leave it below the radar.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Revolution Hits Syria

I have a good friend who is from Syria. We talked about the wave of revolutions that have hit everywhere from Libya to Tunisia to Egypt to Bahrain, seemingly affecting authoritarian countries in North Africa and Middle East that have good, bad and neutral relationships with the West. The wave of revolutions has been vindicating for people, like yours truly, who have actual contact with people from that region of the world and know that they desire the same things anyone else in the world does.

When I talked with my friend, she said basically that Syrians are too complacent to really break from the shackles of the Assad family. A magazine I contribute towards called Earthwalkers had a writer located in the country and he seemed to paint a similar picture:

Still, while calls for an Egypt-style “Day of Rage” protest in Damascus in early February garnered 15,000 Facebook supporters, UPI reported that only about a dozen protesters actually showed up, and were promptly beaten away by plainclothes police.

So how much does online freedom actually equate to freedom in the streets?

Ramy Mansour, a print and TV journalist who also edits the news website shukumaku.com, says that government repression of information is minimal, and mostly self-imposed.

It goes on:

So what’s really keeping Syria from a people’s revolution like we saw in Egypt?

According to dissidents like Abdul Nour, it actually has less to do with technological repression, and much more to do with old-fashioned intelligence: people spying on their neighbors and reporting subversive conversations they overhear in cafes to intelligence services.

Or maybe the country is just not fertile grounds for protest because most Syrians are still happy under the 40-year dictatorship. After all, almost everyone I broached the subject with was quick to tell me how much they loved the government.

Protests continued in southern Syria Monday as demonstrators tore down the statue of Hafez al-Assad, Syria's former president, al-Arabiya reported. It remains unclear whether the statue was torn town Monday or last week as some opposition websites claim.

Protestors in the city of Deraa burned the house of the ousted district governor as well as the ruling party's HQ and a local culture ministry office. Al-Arabiya also reported that Syrian army tanks arrived in the city on Sunday.

The closest analogy here is still the one Tariq Ali made: This is the Middle East's 1848. Universalism is on the march. Beyond it's perception as a wasteland of ignorance, oppression of women and dependency on fossil fuel economics, deep at the heart of the Arab world (and the Persian world, and the Berber world) is the desire for freedom and self-determination.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Elly Ney - Mozart Piano Concerto

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Foreign Media Superiority: Signs of Decline

If you read this week's issue of Time, or at least glanced at the cover story by Fareed Zakaria,you will know that America is in decline. We all know it. The signs are all around us. From the resurgence of domestic fascist and racist elements that have been absent since America became a superpower in the post-World War II era to the increasing erosion of American culture and soft influence globally, not to mention the economic growth of India and China, it's pretty obvious that America is losing its hegemonic status, if it hasn't been lost already.

It's really strange where this shows up the most. One could say that the relative impotence of the United States to respond to crisis in Libya or Japan - the sort of thing that America just did because it could for the last fifty years - is a good indicator of a downward slide.

The signs of decline are evident in more subtle ways however, like the coverage of news in the United States. If you were to watch cable news, you really wouldn't know that much about what is going on. Glenn Beck's bold and messy reaction is outpaced by the analytic approach of Rachel Maddow, but both have the feeling of individuals so immersed in the mess that they cannot look at the elements that are taking us down objectively.

That's where Al Jazeera English and Russia Today come in. Both networks have been taking their coverage of the United States into cracks and corners that even many liberal Americans just wouldn't like to go. Russia Today has made many reports on the endless poverty of the country's Native American population, even sending reporters out to the isolated reservations of South Dakota. Unlike Canada, where the CBC has regular programs on the indigenous population and their struggles, the American media acts as if the first Americans are dead. They only ever pop up in presidential speeches or racist Rush Limbaugh tirades.

Al Jazeera recently covered the issue of endangered wolves in the United States and did an amazing job of it. More so than any sort of conservative propaganda could, you are able to empathize with the farmer Druska and her husband Richard, who make their living by feeding America. A couple thousand wolves is alot more than it sounds like and I can empathize personally with the farmers, as while growing up in Seattle I had a pet cat lost to a small pack of coyotes that had their way into town.

With the Environmental Protection Agency's offices located in a distant Washington D.C., where most food is found conveniently packaged and the thought of its origin completed wiped from the consumer, it becomes clear where the gulf of experience arrises from.

There is an organization called Wolf Haven which does make homes for grey wolves, and it would have been good to have heard from them in this report in order to give an element of civil society as a bridge between rural farmers and the bureaucratic state. Check out their website and provide your thoughts.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's Not Just "Our S.O.B.s" Faliing In the Middle East

Keep in mind that America's bestest friends in Saudi Arabia have yet to face a rebellion. If the wave of revolutions were simply fueled by anti-Americanism, Saudi Arabia would likely be a centerpiece and Libya wouldn't be the player that it is.

Also, keep in mind that pressure on Iran has been arriving from more parties than just John Bolton and American policy hawks. While walking in Bellevue, Washington very recently I came upon this man, who had really harsh words for the regime in Iran:


The things this man said to me were very politically incorrect, as he said, "When Islam and the government mix, it's like a disease," before adding, "I'm a Muslim."

The most apt analogy that I actually heard about the Arab Spring actually came surprising from the Marxist Tariq Ali. This was before Libya became a player, which may mess with his ideology, since Ali is a firm supporter of Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Qaddafi. Ali compared the uprisings with the revolutions of 1848, which stretched from Italy to Denmark. Many of the revolutions were put down but resulted in very strong social and cultural change within Europe.

The revolutions occurring in the Middle East may be just as significant. The Middle East has tried all sorts of different policy options beside democracy and pluralism. They've tried religious extremism, American clientelism and Arab nationalism. They now are left with liberalism. That comes with all sorts of social impacts that many in the Middle East aren't going to be comfortable with, including cracks in the firm wall that exists between men and women in most countries of the region, but globalization and the availability of information from around the world makes the unwavering manner of Middle Eastern society alot weaker. How it will all end up is anyone's guess but like Europe in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it will look alot different.

Spectruming Out By Myself

I have Asperger's syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. This has resulted in a sort of epic chaos in my life of insanely ridiculous events that seem to somehow have something to do with my crazed mental state, from getting hit by a rock in the head as a four year year old to having a barbell thrown at my head as a teenager, with everyone from gym teachers to principals screaming at the top of their longs at me in the interum.

For whatever weird stuff is going on in this brain of mine, it's resulted in me being quite dexterous with words. The words simply pop off out of my mind from some sort of mental catalogue. I imagine that I may easily have been a rapper, and I partly love rap music because it's filled with people who seem to share this odd talent. I'm able to pick words out of my head that aren't regularly used in the common vernacular and then formulate them in a manner that makes sense, with no instruction on how to do it or formal training. I can't explain it.

One thing that is clear about Asperger's syndrome is that it makes me really happy to be alone. As much as I try to make it in the social world, it's exhausting and cumbersome at best. The strongest bonds seem to break and the bonds you're left with are ones you didn't expect to last.

Recent months have really reminded me of my love for being alone. I'm in my hometown of Seattle and finishing up an online course. I have money in the bank and am able to spend my time alone. It's amazing. I can go work out, walk or by groceries and listen to the radio and read comic books. I can work on my writing and keep the social world completely under my control.
It reminds me all very much of when I was a little kid. At only about eight or nine years old, I would walk to the local movie theater and watch films by myself. The process was easy enough and all the rules in doing so made sense. There were never any problems. It was only in school that problems arose, and likewise in the workplace.

I can imagine that Temple Grandin's work with animals provide a very similar vindication and great alone time for her, and I envy her for that. For all the bending over backwards that schools do to try to get kids with Asperger's situated in their messed up system, some means of just having them left alone - from screaming teachers and bullying students - is really what is simply wanted. Of course, that is probably too simple for this world, but I can dream.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Pacific Northwest's Aryan Separatists

Just in case you were living in Washington or Oregon and thinking wistfully that you were free of the bigotry of the deep south or the soft apartheid of the northeast, you're wrong. Appearing now is the group Northwest Front, an Aryan separatist group out of the Pacific Northwest:

The Northwest Front is a political organization of Aryan men and women who recognize that an independent and sovereign White nation in the Pacific Northwest is the only possibility for the survival of the White race on this continent.

The founding fathers of the United States would be far closer to being White Nationalists than to any of the other political groups of today. The men who drafted the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution were all White. They shared a common cultural background, and none of them wanted racial mixing.

We don’t stand for hating people, we stand for freeing people, our people, from a yoke of tyranny and oppression that has become impossible for us to live with. We stand for preserving our race from biological and cultural extinction.

The Northwest Front is about building a new, better society where everyone contributes, everyone benefits, and all share a common set of values and cultural beliefs and a common ethnic heritage.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Kid Rock Advocates For Detroit

Back when I was about twelve or something like that, Kid Rock and Eminem jumped on to the scene. A rambunscious troublesome white kid in the Central District of Seattle, I instantly took with these two guys. They're both very different and have gone in very different directions with their music (which probably could not have been foreseen back then) but they both reek of loyalty to their hometown, Detroit, a city that is besmerched and looked down upon throughout the country.

I don't know how much comparison I can make here but when I was growing up in Seattle, it was alot different than it is now. Seattle looked alot more like the "hick town" it used to often get referred to and bowling alleys, fisheries, hardware stores, military bases and breweries were the blue collar fair before the city exploded with coffee shops, the biotech industry and Microsoft.

I've talked earlier about the steady gentrification of Seattle's historically black and immigrant areas. I can easily imagine, if industry had not taken off as it did, that Seattle could have gone downhill fast and wound up looking alot like Detroit, with airplane manufacturing and the military being the ghost industry instead of automobiles. Some areas, like Glenn Beck's hometown, steadily deteriorated into nothing more than shopping malls. Who then would have been the advocates for Seattle? Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and the guys with Them Crooked Vultures? TCV is vintage Seattle, harkening back to Murder City Devils and the post-punk that dominated Seattle before hipsterdom came into vogue.

Like Seattle and its sister city Portland, which also has experienced substantial rebirth, perhaps it is worth looking at Detroit and similar downtrodden cities (Oakland being a great example). The cities that created America's past aren't really pushing forward innovation (Washington D.C. and San Francisco are great examples of this) and change is brought about by a strange new cast of characters instead of the old guarde.

So with the endorsement of native sons Kid Rock and Eminem, maybe it's worth the time of journalists, investors and others to give another look at Detroit. To have produced such substantial talent in the depths of economic depravity shows that they have something that cities like Boston or San Francisco don't. That talent should be harnessed for a new America.

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