Browsing the blog archives for September, 2007.


What’s Good

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big picture stuff

Just found this quote:

“We’ve lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We’ve been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. That requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery. We will never clearly understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.” — Wendell Berry

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Metta Sutta

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Bush Administration

There are new reports today that soldiers fired automatic weapons into crowds of protesters in Burma, killing several people.

[Update: The Buddhist Channel has hourly updates.]

Seth Mydans writes for the New York Times:

The government of Myanmar began a violent crackdown on Wednesday after tolerating more than a month of growing protests in cities around the country. Facing its most serious challenge since taking power in 1988, the ruling junta is attempting to contain the uprising by the tens of thousands of monks protesting economic hardships and the political repression of the military junta.

Security forces have clubbed and tear-gassed protesters, fired shots into the air, or according to an Associated Press report today, into a crowd, and arrested hundreds of the monks, who are at the heart of the demonstrations.

Then,

Government security forces in Myanmar cracked down for a second day today on nationwide protests, firing shots and tear gas, and raiding at least two Buddhist monasteries, where they beat and arrested dozens of monks, according to reports from the city of Yangon.

Further casualties were reported today, following at least half a dozen deaths on Wednesday.

Andy Sullivan has a good roundup of information. See also eyewitness accounts at Time.

The battle for Shwedagon began in ferocious noonday heat. The authorities had locked the gates of the pagoda, Rangoon’s most famous landmark, by mid-morning to prevent the monks who had led the weeklong demonstrations against Burma’s military rulers from gathering. Police and soldiers guarded the entrances. The eastern gate of Shwedagon is where thousands of monks would otherwise exit to start their march into downtown Rangoon. But today, hundreds of soldiers and riot police blocked their way.

By 12:30 p.m., hundreds of monks, students, and other Rangoon residents approached the police, stood in the road and began to pray. Then the soldiers and police began pulling monks from the crowd, targeting the leaders, striking both monks and ordinary people with canes. Several smoke bombs exploded and the riot police charged. The monks and others fought back with sticks and rocks. Many others ran, perhaps four or five of them bleeding from minor head wounds. A car was set alight — by the soldiers, some protesters claimed — and then there was the unmistakable crack of live ammunition: the soldiers were shooting into the air.

Then, later,

A pause came upon the battle. The monks regrouped at a nearby monastery to march downtown. But first came a chilling display of the people’s anger — and the monks’ moral influence. A man on a motorcycle rode up. Motorcycles have been banned in Rangoon for years, ever since — the story goes — the paranoid generals fear being shot by assassins riding one of them. Most people on motorcycles are therefore assumed to be spies.

Thus sensing an enemy, the mob pounced. The man was pulled off his bike and set upon by students and people armed with wooden sticks. “Beat him!” they cried. “Kill him!” Quickly, the monks intervened and ushered him away to the safety of a nearby monastery. The mob, however, set upon his motorbike with clubs and rocks, smashing it to bits.

Also in Time — this is something I didn’t know, but should have.

The junta that runs the country imposed a systematic name change several years ago, decreeing that Burma was to be called Myanmar and the capital Rangoon was to be Yangon. The opposition has never accepted these changes; neither has the U.S. government. TIME continues to use Burma and Rangoon.

Bullshit alert — this is from an editorial in today’s Washington Post,

The United States and the European Union acted with admirable cohesion and aggressiveness yesterday, calling for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council and asking it to consider sanctions.

That’s “aggressiveness”? Excuse me while I mutter incoherently for a bit.

The Western governments issued a blunt joint statement that condemned the violence and told the Burmese generals they would be held individually accountable for their actions. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was eloquent: “The whole world is now watching Burma, and its illegitimate and repressive regime should know that the whole world is going to hold it to account,” he said. “The age of impunity in neglecting and overriding human rights is over.”

The editorial goes on to blame China and Russia for blocking international action against the Burmese regime.

Yesterday, Russia and China prevented the Security Council even from condemning the violence against protesters. In effect, they are giving the regime a green light for brutal repression.

At the Guardian, Simon Tisdall also criticizes Russia and China, but says no one’s hands are clean.

Among western countries, Britain may be said to have prime responsibility as the former colonial power. But while regularly calling for democratic renewal, it has consistently rejected calls by Burmese exile groups and campaigners for tougher measures to isolate and weaken the junta.

As a result, an arms embargo and asset and travel restrictions on regime members have not been followed up by targeted economic and financial sanctions and trade and investment bans (such as those now being deployed against Iran).

Britain has increasingly taken refuge in the EU’s “common position” on Burma, as has also been the case in its policy towards Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, instead of showing a lead.

Since most EU member countries have few historical, economic or cultural ties with Burma, the result has been a minimalist European policy with scant impact on the generals.

And then there’s us:

The US has imposed sanctions and White House said this week that additional punitive measures would be taken. But the Bush administration’s decision to put Burma on its list of “rogue states”, and make it a target of its global democracy promotion campaign, may have been counter-productive.

Neighbouring states, including those of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) are embarrassed by the antics of Burma’s tinpot dictators.

But they are even more strongly averse to any appearance of being bullied or coerced by the most unpopular US administration in living memory. Washington’s leverage in the region is at low ebb, partly because of its own mistakes and hubris and partly because of the rising influence of China and India.

And the United Nations:

Attempts by Asean itself to modify the Burmese regime’s behaviour have been little short of pathetic, undermined by the important trade links countries such as Thailand and Malaysia maintain with Rangoon.

Yet the record on Burma of the UN itself, the home of the “international community” and its ostensible executive arm, is little better.

It has allowed the generals to obstruct, patronise and humiliate a succession of its envoys, some of who simply quit in disgust. Even now, the current envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, is unsure of being allowed into the country.

As Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International in the UK, pointed out this week, international law, including a range of treaties and covenants on human rights, torture, displaced persons and freedom of information and movement, is being grossly flouted in Burma as it is in many other parts of the world.

Western countries, particularly the US in the conduct of its “war on terror” and its occupation of Iraq, have become increasingly – and objectionably – tolerant of such abuses since 9/11.

Western governments are right to condemn the repression in Burma. But for the most part, their actions, inaction and indifference have strengthened the generals – and they should take their share of the blame for what is happening now.

Joerg Wolf at Atlantic Review calls the WaPo editorial a “lame self-congratulation editorial on democracy promotion” —

The West — in particular the United States — likes to portray itself as the promoter of democracy and human rights around the world, but there was no support for the democracy movement in Myanmar/Burma. And that is good. The monks and democracy activists would be discredited, if they received support from abroad. Democracy has to come from within. The West should not exaggerate its contribution. Calling for a Security Council session is easy. Getting Chinese and Russian support for a UN resolution is more difficult and the West has failed in this regard.

Besides, rather than just threatening the regime with more sanctions, it might be more sensible to offer economic aid on the condition that the regime starts democratization in addition to the threats. Providing incentives and threats is better than only threats. Past sanctions did not work. Providing incentives might not work either, but it is always worthwhile to extend an olive branch.

See also this editorial from the Los Angeles Times and this BBC video.

* * *

For me, it’s particularly moving to hear (from Andy Sullivan) that the protesting monks of Burma chant the Metta Sutta (sutra of loving-kindness) as they march.

This is the way of those who are skilled and peaceful, who seek the good and follow the path:

May they be able and upright, straightforward, of gentle speech and not proud.
May they be content and easy wherever they are.
May they be unburdened, with their senses calm.
May they be wise and not arrogant.
May they live without desire for the possessions of others.
May they do no harm to any living being.

May all beings be happy.
May they live in safety and joy.
All living beings, whether weak or strong, old or young, man or woman, smart or foolish, healthy or disabled, seen or unseen, near or distant, born or to be born, may they all be happy.

Let no one deceive or despise another being, whatever their status.
Let no one by anger or hatred wish harm to another.

As parents watch over their children, willing to risk their own lives to protect them, so with a boundless heart may we cherish every living being, bathing the entire world with unobstructed and unconditional loving-kindness.

Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, in each moment may we remain mindful of this heart and this way of living that is the best in all the world.

You’ve got to admit, that’s a step up from “Buck Fush.”

I’m accused sometimes of being opposed to protesting and direct action, most recently by this guy, because I’ve criticized the way some protesters conduct themselves. I’m not against protesting; I’m against protests that are as serious as sideshow carnivals. I’ve had it with people dressing up in silly, often vulgar, costumes to call attention to themselves. I’m tired of participating in antiwar protests in which large numbers of people are pushing opinions, many of which I do not share, on issues other than the war. I’m weary of aging adolescents who still think “Buck Fush” is clever. See Protesting 101, and also this vintage post from the late, great Steve Gilliard, who described standard leftie protest behavior as “the spoiled child, tone deaf approach to politics.”

For guidance on how to protest, study Gandhi, study Martin Luther King, study the Burmese monks. This is how it’s done.

The Metta Sutta (or sutra of loving kindness) is from the Tipitaka, or Pali Canon, which is the oldest collection of teachings of the Buddha. The many texts within the Tipitaka are said to be the actual words of the historical Buddha as memorized and chanted by monks until it was written down three or four centuries after the Buddha’s death (ca. 483 BCE). Of course, it’s possible that what the monks chanted was inaccurate, just as it’s possible the historical Buddha was nothing like the way he is remembered. But it’s good stuff, anyway, so in a way it doesn’t matter who said it.

Note to this misguided person (I’m trying to be nice): The phrase “saffron robe” comes from a practice of the original order of monks. They were allowed only two possessions, a robe and a bowl. The robe had to be made from “pure cloth,” meaning cloth that no one else wanted. So they made their robes from cloth that had been used to wrap corpses. This cloth usually had an orange stain from the spices used to cover the odor of decomposition. Hence, “saffron robe.” As for the monks coming up with a better “game plan” — the same game plan worked pretty well for Gandhi. In the short run peaceful resistance looks ineffectual, but in the long run it often gets better results than insurgent warfare.

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Tiananmen Remix

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Asia, Bush Administration

The Australian news organization ABC reports:

Reports from Burma say at least three monks and a civilian have been killed by security forces in a crackdown on anti-government protests.

A source from inside the military says two monks were beaten to death, while another was shot as he tried to wrestle a gun away from a soldier.

Soldiers have released tear gas in various parts of the city of Rangoon and a western diplomat says up to 300 people have been arrested, including about 100 monks.

The soldiers’ actions against the monks have angered many people, because monks are revered in Burma and have remained peaceful throughout the past five weeks of action against the military government.

Buddhist monks have been leading peaceful street marches for the past nine days in the biggest pro-democracy demonstration since 1988.

The military junta used force to put down that uprising, killing about 3,000 people.

I wrote about the recent protests in Burma/Myanmar a couple of days ago, and mentioned President Bush was going to speak about Myanmar when he addressed the UN yesterday. This has resulted in mostly isn’t it nice that he mentioned Myanmar stories in the U.S. press. But Pepe Escobar writes for Asia Times:

The mystery of why US President George W Bush took center stage at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday but did not promote the next neo-con war on Iran was solved when it became evident that the job has fallen to his new European poodle, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who in his speech once again assumed the inevitability of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Bush instead announced new economic sanctions against the junta in Myanmar and urged the world to apply “diplomatic leverage to help the Burmese people regain their freedom”. Here is Bush engaging in another “liberation from tyranny and violence”, this time in Asia, while trying to start yet another war, as usual, in the Middle East.

The connection is clear: the Bush conception of “human rights” means “oil and gas”. Bush also claimed at the UN that Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq had “asked for our help”. Given the precedents, even the isolated people in Myanmar should be afraid, very afraid.

Myanmar has been in effect off the radar of the international community for years. Why this new, sudden, Bush administration interest in regime change in Myanmar? If the US and the West are so obsessed with “human rights”, why not put pressure on the ghastly practices of the House of Saud? Or the barely disguised repression under the glitz in Persian Gulf petromonarchies? Or the bloody Islam Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan?

A vast drug-money-laundering operation, plus full Asian cooperation – to the tune of billions of dollars – helped the Myanmar junta to build its new capital, Naypyidaw, in the middle of the jungle, almost 350 kilometers north of Yangon, in essence using slave labor. The 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, has been very lenient, to say the least, with the unsavory generals, in the name of a policy of “non-interference”. Thailand – for complex historical reasons – would rather co-exist with a weak neighbor. India coddles the generals to get natural-gas deals – like a recent agreement to invest US$150 million in gas exploitation in the west of the country.

Enter the dragon

But Myanmar is above all a key strategic pawn for China. Not only as a captive market for civilian goods in addition to weapons, but as a pawn to keep India in check and assure China of key strategic access to the Indian Ocean. Just like Britain – which twice invaded Burma, as Myanmar was known until 1989 – China’s utmost interest is natural resources. Oil and gas, of course, but also gems and timber: the once-pristine forests at the Myanmar-China border have been practically wiped out. According to the rights group Global Witness, Myanmar exported no less than $350 million in timber to China in 2005 alone, and the bulk of it was illegal.

I apologize for doing so much pasting, but this is a complex issue that I’m learning about myself. There’s more in the article about connections between the Myanmar miitary junta and China, including a 2,380-kilometer oil-and-gas pipeline from Myanmar into China. Escobar continues,

US sanctions are just for internal American consumption; they will have absolutely no impact. For starters, Myanmar is not under a military embargo. A really different story, for instance, would be the Bush administration telling the Chinese to drop the junta, otherwise no US athletes will be seen at the Beijing Summer Olympics next year. London bookies wouldn’t even start a bet on it. The French for their part now say they fear a terrible crackdown – but in fact they fear what happens to substantial oil business by French energy giant Total. The European Union should have a unified position, but for the moment that is hazier than sunrise at the sublime Shwedagon Pagoda in the heart of Yangon.

This year China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the junta’s human-rights record. It’s virtually impossible that the collective leadership in Beijing will let one of its neighbors, a key pawn in the 21st-century energy wars, be swamped by non-violent Buddhists and pro-democracy students – as this would constitute a daring precedent for the aspirations of Tibetans, the Uighurs in Xinjiang and, most of all, Falungong militants all over China, the embryo of a true rainbow-revolution push defying the monopoly of the Chinese Communist Party.

So this seems to be the trillion-yuan question: Will Chinese President Hu Jintao sanction a Tiananmen remix – with Buddhist subtitles – less than one year before the Olympics that will signal to the whole world the renewed power and glory of the Middle Kingdom? If only the Buddha would contemplate direct intervention.

Just think of it — if the U.S. and other western democracies put China on notice to put a leash on the Myanmar junta or face a boycotted Olympics, think of the good it would do for hundreds of thousands of people in Asia. And at no loss of blood and treasure.

Well, I can dream. Maybe some other nations would consider it.

Sue Pleming of Reuters reports that the White House is “very troubled” today.

The United States said on Wednesday it was “very troubled” by the harsh crackdown against protesters in Myanmar and pressed China to use its influence to get the military junta to change its repressive policies.

The Bush administration was responding to word from hospital and monastery sources that two monks and a civilian had been killed, as Myanmar security forces tried to quell the biggest protests in 20 years.

“If these stories are accurate, the U.S. is very troubled that the regime would treat the Burmese people this way,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said as President George W. Bush pressed his foreign policy agenda in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

I’m sure the Myanmar military is “very worried.” Oh, and the UN Security Council is meeting today to consider action against the junta. They might decide to send an envoy. Yeah, that’ll fix it.

History can be a prickly thing. Back in the1990s Hallliburton CEO Richard Cheney grumbled because Congress got in the way of business deals with places like Myanmar.

He cited Iran, which is making overtures toward renewed trade with the West, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and Nigeria as oil-rich regions that have come under fire in Congress because of their internal politics and accusations of wrongdoing.

Some are suggesting boycotts of countries that fail to protect religious liberties, he said.

“I don’t agree with that approach,” Cheney said.

There’s no profit in that approach, you see. It’s better to start a war; then Halliburton can get the contracts.

Jawahara Saidullah writes of the monks,

There are thousands of them but they are unarmed. Their saffron and maroon robes, their heads shaved, they march down the streets of Yangon. With dignity and non-violence, exhorting people to stay away for they don’t want others to face the wrath of the army. They are Buddha’s warriors.

They converge at the two pagodas: Shwedagon and Sule though they have been closed. With no weapons except their will and the belief in a cause that is just, these are the monks of Burma.

This really is a Tiananmen remix.

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The SCHIP Hits the Fan

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Bush Administration, Congress, Health Care

That’s Dan Froomkin’s headline, but it was too good not to steal.

I’ve written about S-CHIP before, so I’m going to skip the background and go right to the update. Yesterday the House approved S-CHIP legislation. Tony Pugh writes for McClatchy Newspapers:

In one of the biggest congressional health care votes since 2003, the House of Representatives voted 265 to 159 to reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years.

But the victory tally fell short of the tally needed to override a promised veto of the measure by President Bush.

Forty-five Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill that provides health coverage for 3.8 million uninsured children and has the support of most health industry organizations as well as most of the nation’s governors, religious leaders and patient advocacy groups.

But expanding government programs to cover more uninsured Americans has proven ideologically intolerable to President Bush and to many House Republicans, whose opposition left the legislation well short of a veto-proof, two-thirds majority despite an all-out push by hundreds of lobbyists.

I just learned that one of the handful of Dems who voted against it was Dennis Kucinich. Jerid at Buckeye State Blog writes that Kucinich won’t vote for any health care measure other than his own universal coverage bill. Rosemary Palmer, a Democrat who is challenging Kucinich in the primary next year, said,

On one hand, President Bush vows to veto the bill, and on the other, Dennis Kucinich votes against it because he doesn’t think it is perfect. This is a perfect example of what is presently wrong with Washington decision-making. Polarizing positions work against functional compromise resulting in a government that cannot serve in the nation’s best interest. While fringe politicians like President Bush and Congressman Kucinich rant like petulant children, the nation remains stagnant and desperately needing effective leadership. Unfortunately, children in Northeast Ohio and around the country will pay the price for their obstinate actions.

I believe Kucinich also had a problem because House Democrats agreed to drop language from the bill that would have allowed foreign-born children who are here legally to obtain coverage. Apparently this was a sop to right-wingers who feared SCHIP benefits might go to illegal aliens in spite of identification requirements. The provision for legal immigrants was being called ” a gaping loophole to allow states to give taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants” by ring-wing congress critters like Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee).

You know the rightie principle — better to let American citizens do without than allow one thin dime of taxpayer money benefit illegals. Back in the day we called that attitude “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Back to Tony Pugh:

A vote on the measure is expected Thursday in the Senate where a two-thirds majority is likely. The bill will then go to President Bush who is expected to veto it. In the interim, Democrats will temporarily fund the program, possibly through mid-November, until a long-term funding agreement can be reached, according to a senior Democratic aide.

Dan Froomkin:

President Bush may be courting the ultimate presidential indignity — a Congressional override — with his threatened veto of a bill to expand poor children’s health care access, which many members of his own party enthusiastically support.

Bush is still able to bully Congressional Democrats when it comes to the war and national security. But, in the realm of domestic politics, he’s the archetypal lame duck. About the only power he has left is the veto — and then, only if he can maintain enough Republican backing to sustain it.

Yet, astonishingly enough, Bush not only remains dead-set on vetoing the popular child health-care initiative, he’s once again pushing a dead-on-arrival proposal to give tax breaks to people who buy private insurance. Even some leading Republicans are agog.

The House vote suggests that overriding the veto is a long shot. Karen Tumulty writes at Swampland:

We’ve discussed before why this is a fight President Bush is likely to regret having won–and why millions of uninsured children are likely to regret it even more. Now, with House passage of the children’s health insurance bill having fallen about two dozen votes short of a veto-proof majority, it appears the bill is indeed headed for doom because of what Bush’s HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has called “the ideologic question.”

Democrats have been handed what could be a powerful issue going into an election year in which health care ranks at the top of voters’ domestic concerns. The bill got 45 Republican votes in the House–a sharp increase from the five who supported the original House version of the bill and more than some of its sponsors expected. That isn’t much consolation to all those children, though. Which is why Nancy Pelosi vows this won’t be the end of it.

An example of the nonsense going on surrounding this bill is provided by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The Georgia congressional delegation split on the vote:

Republicans opposed it, Democrats supported it, and the only exception was Rep. Jim Marshall, a Macon Democrat, who voted against the expansion. Marshall is one of the most vulnerable congressmen in the country is once again facing a strong Republican challenge in next year’s congressional elections.

PeachCare, funded through SCHIP, has been successful and popular in Georgia so state Republicans were careful to praise PeachCare while denouncing SCHIP, which provides health insurance for poor kids, as a first step toward socialized medicine.

Is that slick, or what?

“Reauthorizing SCHIP is essential,” Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, said. But “I was forced to oppose the bill.”

“The reality is this bill does not protect the most vulnerable amongst our citizens,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Marietta Republican. “Rather it diverts precious resources from those who need it the most in order to cover adults and already privately insured children.”

As explained by Jeanne Lambrew at the Center for American Progress, Gingrey’s charges are bogus. The bill does not expand coverage to adults, and the charge that the bill would divert money from poor children to less needy children comes from data promoted by Secretary Mike Leavitt of the Department of Health and Human Services that has been widely discredited, in particular by the Congressional Budget Office. See Lambrew for details.

The Senate bill is expected to pass tomorrow.

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Bed-Wetter Nation?

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Bush Administration

Yeah, pretty much.

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Whose Plantation?

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American History, Bush Administration

I’m so happy the New York Times got rid of that damnfool subscription firewall. Now I can link directly to Bob Herbert’s excellent column today.

“The G.O.P. has spent the last 40 years insulting, disenfranchising and otherwise stomping on the interests of black Americans,” he writes. Last week the Senate Republicans blocked the vote on a measure that would have given District of Columbia residents — who are mostly black — representation in Congress. And then there was the debate snub —

At the same time that the Republicans were killing Congressional representation for D.C. residents, the major G.O.P. candidates for president were offering a collective slap in the face to black voters nationally by refusing to participate in a long-scheduled, nationally televised debate focusing on issues important to minorities.

The radio and television personality Tavis Smiley worked for a year to have a pair of these debates televised on PBS, one for the Democratic candidates and the other for the Republicans. The Democratic debate was held in June, and all the major candidates participated.

The Republican debate is scheduled for Thursday. But Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson have all told Mr. Smiley: “No way, baby.”

They won’t be there. They can’t be bothered debating issues that might be of interest to black Americans. After all, they’re Republicans.

This is the party of the Southern strategy — the party that ran, like panting dogs, after the votes of segregationist whites who were repelled by the very idea of giving equal treatment to blacks. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. (Willie Horton) Bush, George W. (Compassionate Conservative) Bush — they all ran with that lousy pack.

Here’s something about Saint Ronald of Blessed Memory they’d rather we all forgot:

Dr. Carolyn Goodman, a woman I was privileged to call a friend, died last month at the age of 91. She was the mother of Andrew Goodman, one of the three young civil rights activists shot to death by rabid racists near Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964.

Dr. Goodman, one of the most decent people I have ever known, carried the ache of that loss with her every day of her life.

In one of the vilest moves in modern presidential politics, Ronald Reagan, the ultimate hero of this latter-day Republican Party, went out of his way to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 in that very same Philadelphia, Miss. He was not there to send the message that he stood solidly for the values of Andrew Goodman. He was there to assure the bigots that he was with them.

“I believe in states’ rights,” said Mr. Reagan. The crowd roared.

Let’s talk about states’ rights. Juan Williams writes at the Washington Post:

Fifty years ago this week, President Dwight Eisenhower risked igniting the second U.S. civil war by sending 1,000 American soldiers into a Southern city. The troops, with bayonets at the end of their rifles, provided protection for nine black students trying to get into Little Rock’s Central High School. Until the soldiers arrived, the black teenagers had been kept out by mobs and the Arkansas National Guard, in defiance of the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling ending school segregation.

Here’s a web site dedicated to this episode of American history that provides some background:

Three years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which officially ended public-school segregation, a federal court ordered Little Rock to comply. On September 4, 1957, Governor Orval Faubus defied the court, calling in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine African American students–“The Little Rock Nine”–from entering the building. Ten days later in a meeting with President Eisenhower, Faubus agreed to use the National Guard to protect the African American teenagers, but on returning to Little Rock, he dismissed the troops, leaving the African American students exposed to an angry white mob. Within hours, the jeering, brick-throwing mob had beaten several reporters and smashed many of the school’s windows and doors. By noon, local police were forced to evacuate the nine students.

When Faubus did not restore order, President Eisenhower dispatched 101st Airborne Division paratroopers to Little Rock and put the Arkansas National Guard under federal command. By 3 a.m., soldiers surrounded the school, bayonets fixed.

Under federal protection, the “Little Rock Nine” finished out the school year. The following year, Faubus closed all the high schools, forcing the African American students to take correspondence courses or go to out-of-state schools. The school board reopened the schools in the fall of 1959, and despite more violence–for example, the bombing of one student’s house–four of the nine students returned, this time protected by local police.

This incident enflamed southern white segregationists. Since the end of Reconstruction in 1877, they’d had a free hand to oppress African Americans all they liked. Now the federal government was enforcing the civil rights of citizens of color, and the yahoos were outraged. This was a violation of states’ rights, they said. (And, frankly, I believe much libertarian antipathy toward “big government” was kick-started by the Little Rock showdown also.)

“States’ rights” wasn’t a new idea, of course. But it had a clear connection to segregation. In 1948, several southern Democrats bolted when the Democrats put an anti-segregation plank in the party platform. This splinter group formed the States’ Rights Democratic Party, whose slogan was “segregation forever.”

Surely any American in the 1950s and 1960s with a measurable IQ understood that “states’ rights” was a code word for “white supremacy.” Today you’d still have to be pretty thick not to get that, but we do seem to have a lot of thick people among us these days.

Anyway, the Democratic Party became increasingly split between the northern, mostly pro-civil rights Dems and the southern segregationist Dems. Lyndon Johnson’s endorsement of civil rights legislation, followed by his antipoverty programs, were the last straws for southern Democrats. Eventually several prominent segregationist Dems switched parties and became Republican, along with a majority of white voters. In the 1950s “solid South” referred to the fact that southern states voted as a block for Democrats. Now the southern states vote as a block for Republicans.

I realize most of you know this, but it still has to be spelled out for righties. They refuse to acknowledge this is what happened. Yes, 50 years ago the Republican Eisenhower supported civil rights, and the Democratic Faubus did not. That was before the Southern strategy, my dears. Things have changed a bit since.

One of the more pathetic attempts at denial comes from Jon Henke at Q and O. Reagan did not kick off his re-election campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, says Henke. He was at a fairground ten or twenty miles outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Please. Reagan was in Mississippi, in the same county in which Andrew Goodman was murdered, and he said “I believe in states’ rights.” Reagan couldn’t have been more explicit if he’d said “I believe in Jim Crow.” Reagan may not have re-instated Jim Crow laws (as President, that was outside his authority), but then he campaigned against abortion, also, without bothering to follow up.

Herbert continues,

In 1981, during the first year of Mr. Reagan’s presidency, the late Lee Atwater gave an interview to a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University, explaining the evolution of the Southern strategy:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger,’ ” said Atwater. “By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

To go back to an example I’ve used before in another context, check out Richard Nixon’s 1972 Republican Convention acceptance speech. Although it’s all in code, the first half of the speech is about race.

The first issue Nixon launched into was not Vietnam, but quotas. He was speaking out against Affirmative Action. He spoke of “millions who have been driven out of their home in the Democratic Party” — this was a nod to the old white supremacist Dixiecrats who were leaving the Democratic Party because of its stand in favor of civil rights (the famous Southern Strategy). McGovern had proposed a guaranteed minimum income for the nation’s poor that was widely regarded as radical and flaky and (in popular lore) amounted to taking tax money away from white people and giving it to blacks. Nixon warned that McGovern’s policies would raise taxes and also add millions of people to welfare roles — another racially charged issue. Then Nixon took on one of his favorite issues, crime. If you remember those years you’ll remember that Nixon was always going on about “lawnorder.” This was another issue with racial overtones, but it was also a swipe at the “permissiveness” of the counterculture and the more violent segments of the antiwar and Black Power movements.

Herbert continues,

In 1991, the first President Bush poked a finger in the eye of black America by selecting the egregious Clarence Thomas for the seat on the Supreme Court that had been held by the revered Thurgood Marshall. The fact that there is a rigid quota on the court, permitting one black and one black only to serve at a time, is itself racist.

Mr. Bush seemed to be saying, “All right, you want your black on the court? Boy, have I got one for you.”

Republicans improperly threw black voters off the rolls in Florida in the contested presidential election of 2000, and sent Florida state troopers into the homes of black voters to intimidate them in 2004.

And righties wonder why African Americans tend to vote for Democrats. Well, actually, they don’t wonder. They have a Theory. African-Americans are being kept in a slave relationship with the Democratic Party, the theory goes. African Americans are being kept on the Democratic Party plantation. According to Francis Rice, chairman of the National Black Republican Association,

In order to break the Democrats’ stranglehold on the black vote and free black Americans from the Democrat Party’s economic plantation, we must shed the light of truth on the Democrats. We must demonstrate that the Democrat Party policies of socialism and dependency on government handouts offer the pathway to poverty, while Republican Party principles of hard work, personal responsibility, getting a good education and ownership of homes and small businesses offer the pathway to prosperity.

There’s a decent deconstruction of Rice at People for the American Way. And no, Martin Luther King was not a Republican.

The Freepers give us some nice elaboration on the “Democratic plantation” theory:

Democrats are seen as the party of proactive government. Blacks are disproportionately employed in government employment. ‘Nuff said. … Deterioration with black culture and breakdown of the family starting in the 60’s including high drug usage rate, high dropout rate, high illegitamcy rate, high incarceration rate, high welfare dependency rate. The more people behave irresponsibly and depend on the government, the more likely they will vote Democrat. … The democrats bought the votes of blacks with the massive “Great Society” spending programs that over proportionality took money from non black America and gave it to black America. We can argue that these programs destroyed the black family – but now they are entitlements and blacks will vote for anyone who will fund and expand them… How about the black minority is a surrogate action group for post holocast Jews. The blacks were assigned civil rights issues that would benefit the smaller minority Democrat Jews. … It goes back to the Johnson administration when he voted into law “The Great Society” meaning you could sit on your ass and collect welfare for life. This was specifically sold to inner-city blacks coming on the heals of then civil rights movement which was Republican led, I should add. … Because Democrats decided that they wanted to champion the Civil Rights movement and set out to show Blacks that they were victims and needed a lot of free handouts to “make it”. Human nature seems to gravitate towards those that want to give you something for nothing and to tell you that you can do no wrong because any wrong you do is someone else’s fault. The irony is, Democrats have effectively put many Blacks back into slavehood, and they embraced it willingly.

And on and on. You can count on the Freep to show us the naked truth of rightieness.

I’m not going to heap any praise on the Democratic Party, because frankly it hasn’t done as much as it could have to earn African American votes. I’d say it’s Republicans that persuade African Americans to vote for Democrats. Bob Herbert explains how.

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David Schuster Is Da Man

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News Media, Republican Party

See why at Crooks and Liars.

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Freedom on the March

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Asia

Tom Fawthrop writes for The Guardian blog site about a new protest movement in Burma (aka Myanmar):

On Saturday, 10,000 monks made a procession in Mandalay. In towns across the country they have come out on to the streets braving the dictatorship and challenging the state of fear that has ruled for decades. Other protests are quickly nipped in the bud, activists carted off to jail, and routinely tortured. Many have died in custody.

In Rangoon, the monks fearlessly swept past the police barricades around the house of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the persecuted opposition party the National League for Democracy, who has been held under house arrest ever since her election victory in 1990. She held an impromptu meeting with the monks and joined them in prayers. “The Lady” – as everyone calls her – remains the one great hope for a new Burma.

A potent feature of the protests has been the declaration by the monks’ union of “patam nikkujjana kamma” – a boycott of alms from members of the military regime, or simply overturning their bowls instead of collecting food. One young monk justified this ban on the armed forces as equivalent to excommunication in the Christian church. This sanction includes a refusal to conduct funeral and weddings services and a ban on other Buddhist ceremonies for members of the military.

Burmese Buddhism is a sect of Therevada, the oldest school of Buddhism. There are some doctrinal differences between Theravada and Mahayana (e.g., Zen, Tibetan, Pure Land), so I’m not qualified to explain the “excommunication” thing in detail. I only know it has something to do with gaining spiritual merit through alms-giving. See also this “Q&A” from The Telegraph.

The presence of monks leading the protests puts the military in a difficult position. Buddhism is an essential part of the Burmese identity, and to physically attack monks would threaten both a popular uprising and their own immortal souls — Burmese are highly superstitious and the generals are no exception. Buddhist authorities have said that monks will refuse to accept alms from soldiers, which effectively prevents them from ‘making merit’ and fulfilling their religious duties.

Back to Fawthrop:

In Burma the chances of any so-called “velvet revolution” as happened recently in the Ukraine and in parts of Eastern Europe appears to be highly unlikely. In 1988, besieged by massive popular protests, the generals ordered their troops to shoot unarmed demonstrators in their thousands.

Since 1988 bloodbath the generals have massively expanded their army and security services, and switched the capital from Rangoon to the obscure ultra-secure town of Naypyitaw, well-protected from the people that they rule. They have never deviated from their iron-fisted determination to cling on to power despite international lobbying for dialogue with the opposition – intimidated but never silenced.

But after the military, it is the Buddhist monks who represent the most important institution in Burma today – revered by almost everybody. Are we heading for another showdown? The civilian population has enthusiastically cheered the stand taken by the monks but remains wary of what happened in 1988.

If massive bloodshed is to be averted, the EU, Buddhist countries and South-East Asian nations all need to act now, putting human rights before trade, and to act in respect the heroism of buddhist monks in Burma. With the junta still a little rattled by these rolling demonstrations of defiance there is a rare window of opportunity for the world to help the Burmese people. If the EU and Burma’s neighbours were to speak with one voice, warning the regime against another 1988, it could make a difference.

Sanctions can only work where there is an overwhelming consensus of nations about the pariah status of a regime. South Africa under apartheid was the classic example. Just as the Zimbabwe disaster should be on the conscience of Africa, so Burma is the special responsibility of South-East Asian nations (Asean). The generals need to be told that more atrocities will result in punishment: to kick them out of Asean; a suspension of all tourist links. And it is above all the voice of Asian countries – Asean, India and China – that should be heading efforts to avert a disaster.

From The Telegraph (link above):

There are three possible outcomes — firstly that the protests fizzle out over time, although this is unlikely as momentum is growing.

Secondly, some sort of negotiated compromise could be achieved, or the regime pronounces itself willing to enter talks, which it would then try to stifle over months and years of prevarications and conditionalities, as it has before.

Third, and seen by some as most likely, is that there will be blood on the streets.

Against this is the influence of China, Burma’s most important ally and trading partner. Diplomats say that China does not want to see massacres carried out by its friends in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics next year, and is urging restraint. But as the ineffectiveness of Western diplomatic moves in recent years have shown, the Burmese regime is adept at ignoring international pressure.

To his credit, President Bush is expected to urge the UN to impose sanctions on the government of Burma in a speech to the UN tomorrow. Just as long as we don’t invade and “liberate” them — Burma has oil and gas, you know, and all those nonbelievers to convert.

Still, I am hoping for the best possible outcome. Go monks!

* * *

Personal note: I banged myself up real good in a fall yesterday. The orthopedic guy assured me I didn’t break anything. I’ll be lounging about with lots of ice packs and some pain pills for the next couple of days, however. Posts may be infrequent and incoherent, but I’ll do my best.

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But They Bet He Can Dance

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Bush Administration

I’ll be a bit scarce until later today, as I banged up a knee yesterday and today am enjoying Adventures in Health Care. I’ve accomplished Stage One, getting a referral from the Primary Care Provider, and will move on to Stage Two, seeing the orthopedic guy, this afternoon. At least I have insurance.

For now, I just want to point to Tim Grieve:

This just in from the Irony-Free Department: A “senior official” in the White House of George W. Bush tells journalist Bill Sammon why Barack Obama won’t be the next president of the United States: Obama is intellectually “capable” of the job, the official says, but he relies too much on easy charm. “It’s sort of like, ‘That’s all I need to get by,’ which bespeaks sort of a condescending attitude towards the voters … and a laziness, an intellectual laziness.”

You can’t make this shit up.

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Political Desert

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blogging

The Right Blogosphere is in a tailspin. I expect it to crash into the political desert any time now.

The political desert is the place where fringe groups go to howl, unheard by the rest of humanity. For example, do you remember the people whose cause [not so] célèbre was opposing fluoride in drinking water? I actually miss the anti-fluoride nuts. I figured it was a good thing they were wound up about something that, relatively speaking, wasn’t a big bleeping deal. I could listen to their rantings and ravings with a peaceful heart, content that the worst thing they could do was fail to prevent some tooth decay. And I think every American whose head was screwed on all the way just ignored them. They lived in the political desert.

Today the Right Blogosphere is in a full-throated screech over this news story in the New York Daily News:

Officials at the New York Times have admitted a liberal activist group was permitted to pay half the rate it should have for a provocative ad condemning U.S. Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

The MoveOn ad, which cast Petraeus as “General Betray Us” and attacked his truthfulness, ran on the same day the commander made a highly anticipated appearance before Congress.

But since the liberal group paid the standby rate of $64,575 for the full-page ad, it should not have been guaranteed to run on Sept. 10, the day Petraeus warned Congress against a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Times personnel said.

“We made a mistake,” Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for The Times, told the newspaper’s public editor.

As the NY Times public editor explains,

Eli Pariser, the executive director of MoveOn.org, told me that his group called The Times on the Friday before Petraeus’s appearance on Capitol Hill and asked for a rush ad in Monday’s paper. He said The Times called back and “told us there was room Monday, and it would cost $65,000.” Pariser said there was no discussion about a standby rate. “We paid this rate before, so we recognized it,” he said. Advertisers who get standby rates aren’t guaranteed what day their ad will appear, only that it will be in the paper within seven days.

Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for The Times, said, “We made a mistake.” She said the advertising representative failed to make it clear that for that rate The Times could not guarantee the Monday placement but left MoveOn.org with the understanding that the ad would run then. She added, “That was contrary to our policies.”

The Right Blogosphere is all over this “issue” like sharks to chum. The list of rightie bloggers weighing in is like a Who’s Who of Wingnutland. However, if in fact no other ad was bumped so that MoveOn got its desired date, what the bleep difference does it make? And sales people fudge the rules all the time if it means they can sell something that might not otherwise have been sold.

Is it just me, or do you think anyone in America who isn’t already a drooling Wingnut is going to give a flying bleep what the New York Times charged MoveOn for the bleeping ad?

This past week righties foamed at the mouth over the MoveOn ad; over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad possibly visiting Ground Zero; over Dan Rather filing a lawsuit. These are the issues they care deeply about, in other words. And I say, let ’em howl. Let ’em rant and hyperventilate and go all buggy-eyed. Let them be as out there as they wannabee.

Let ’em earn passage to the political desert, in other words. And let’s not stand in their way.

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