Saturday, January 30, 2010

Change of venue

Here's the lede of a story in the New York Times today:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

Shouldn't that be alleged Sept. 11 plotters? The administration's decision to hold the trial in New York City was a dumb-ass move from the get-go, because the attorneys for the defendants were sure to argue that they couldn't get a fair trial there. And they almost certainly would have been right.

Obama was right to insist that they should be tried in the United States rather than by a military commission in Guantanamo. But by picking a highly controversial place to hold the trial, and then--much worse--giving in to pressure to move it someplace else, Obama has shot himself in both feet.

He has also taken the punch out of what otherwise could have been a good lesson in the principles of American justice, which Americans are sorely in need of.

Obama is making all the wrong moves these days. The joy of having elected a liberal Black Democrat as president didn't last long, which perhaps should not have surprised us. After all, he is still a Democrat.

PS--At some point, on some issue, Obama will have to stand his ground and demonstrate that he can't be pressured. Otherwise he is finished.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn, RIP

An excellent obituary of the "people's historian" can be found here, and a very recent interview with Zinn about his documentary "The People Speak" and other important matters is at this link.

(Thanks to PG for the heads up on these links.)

On another matter entirely. I gather that America (or some of it) has been transfixed by the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien affair. So much attention to two guys who aren't very funny, nor are their writers.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why have so many died?

We all know that if an earthquake of the same magnitude that hit Haiti struck a developed Western country, the death toll, while possibly significant, would be much lower. Why? This article from Socialist Worker explains how the policies of the United States and other developed countries towards Haiti have contributed greatly to its impoverished state. I won't vouch for every statement in the piece, but overall this analysis is correct.

Thanks to PG for the heads up.

More about why. From Tracy Kidder, an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune.

Is the Haiti rescue effort failing? From Danny Schechter on Alternet.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Was Harry Reid right?

I've read a lot about Senator Harry Reid's remarks over the past days, except that he might have been right. That was redressed today in a post by Jeff Zeleny on the New York Times' Caucus blog. Zeleny's source is none other than Barack Obama himself, who was very aware of the need to keep white voters at ease. As Zeleny puts it:

The comment – made to the authors of a new book on the presidential campaign – is not so different from remarks Mr. Obama has made himself while navigating the complicated intersection of race and politics in America during his rapid rise to the White House.

It's nice to see a little honesty about racial politics in America, a refreshing break from the sanctimony on both sides of the Democratic-Republican divide. Give it a read and you will see what I mean--I hope.

PS--The use of the word "Negro" is not necessarily racist, and depends on the context.

Feigned outrage. Rutgers professor of history, journalism and media studies David Greenberg has some interesting comments on the insincere reactions to Reid's remarks, in a commentary in the Los Angeles Times.

A truth, crudely put. So says the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Eugene Robinson, on Truthdig.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Yemen: The mouse that roared?

I don't know about you, but I am so pleased to have this opportunity to learn so much about Yemen in the past days. Here's Christiane Amanpour on my television giving me all the background I need to find Yemen on a map when the U.S. decides to send troops there.

Actually, I doubt this will happen, but one never knows. When the Duchy of Grand Fenwick invaded the United States back in the 1950s, hoping to lose immediately and then receive foreign aid so it could avoid bankruptcy, things didn't work out as planned. You may have seen the documentary, "The Mouse That Roared."

Anyway the Yemeni government must be pleased as punch to be getting so much money and help from the U.S. so that it can pretend to fight al-Qaeda while crushing the various other insurrections now going on and throw dissidents into jail, or worse. Who says the United States doesn't have a big heart?

Why is it so easy for al-Qaeda to recruit terrorists? Glenn Greenwald has some insights about how U.S. Middle East policy helps out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Looking Glass War?

When a suicide bomber blew up seven C.I.A. agents at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan last week, including the base chief, I waited for news analysts to point out the obvious: U.S. policy and strategy in Afghanistan were in a lot of trouble. After all, when the enemy can infiltrate to the very center of your most sensitive operations and kill your operatives, that enemy can be said to have the upper hand in the war. But unless I missed something, none of the mainstream news media I saw flagged the obvious point that this disastrous episode was symptomatic of a greater problem.

Now we find out that the bomber was a double-agent invited into the base for a meeting. So now I am wondering if today's C.I.A. agents should be reading John Le Carre's novels as part of their training? If they had, they would know that when an intelligence agency "turns" someone it remains an open question which way they are really pointing, or at least should remain so in the minds of the agent's handlers.

I don't mean to be facetious with these remarks. I am sure the C.I.A. agents involved thought they were doing their duty to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. But the cloak-and-dagger strategy they are following is a sure loser, as these events should make clear. The "enemy" is pretty smart, and is operating in his own territory, swimming like a fish in the sea--whereas "our" team is, apparently, completely out of its depth.

No one, in politics or in the news media, seems to want to say that this kind of disaster makes America and Americans look dumb, silly, vulnerable, and weak. But if other commentators are pointing this out, I would be grateful to readers of this blog if they would bring it to our attention.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Now it's Yemen

The year is not starting off well. The Obama administration, having made the fatal mistake of escalating troop presence in Afghanistan, is now going down a dangerous road in Yemen (with much of the news media, so far at least, tagging along relatively uncritically.) But as Obama seeks to "strengthen" the Yemeni government, the consequences of propping up and allying with a repressive regime will become obvious soon enough. Human Rights Watch has got the Yemeni government's number; will the U.S. government continue to repeat the Cold War policy of supporting (ie, giving arms and money to) any government that promises to cooperate with the "war on terrorism," just as they did with the war on Communism? Can American troops be far behind? Will Americans support a policy that actually strengthens the terrorists and provides them with an ever greater number of recruits?

It's so sad and tragic that things have to get so much worse before they can get better. Bad times ahead.

PS--How is the closing of the American Embassy in Yemen going to be viewed by potential terrorist recruits? A victory for their movement, perhaps? So much for projecting strength, at least American strength.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Year

I'm back in Paris after a family holiday in Rome and Pompei between Christmas and New Year's Eve (we celebrated the New Year in the taxi coming back from Charles de Gaulle airport.) I want to wish all readers of this blog a happy and productive 2010. This blog will be picking up the pace in the days to come, although posts will be less frequent than in the past. Look for a number of changes soon!

Photo: The Roman Forum/Michael Balter