“Meh. Let the kids fight,” says Obama

What the sweet fuck is going on at the White House?

This is a real memo:

Presidential Memorandum–Child Soldiers Prevention Act
Presidential Determination
No.       2011-4

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE

SUBJECT:    Presidential Determination with Respect to Section 404(c) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, pursuant to section 404(c) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA), title IV of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Public Law 110 457), I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA.

You are authorized and directed to submit this determination to the Congress, along with the accompanying memorandum of justification, and to publish it in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

For those of you in locales where drinking is legal, please start now. I will catch up with you later.

Will anti-ACORN legislation defund corrupt defense contractors?

I’ll go out on a limb and guess no, but only because I’m cynical.

Still, this is a curious development.

The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to “any organization” that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.

What hath outrage over tax advice for pimps wrought?

These people are beyond parody

Too bad, because parody is fun.

Anyway, here is a video that will ruin your afternoon:

You’re welcome.

*
A side note: Videos like the one above make me think, and we’re the ones advising other countries how to run liberal democracies and promote civic involvement and all that warm, fuzzy stuff? Insane.

But then, mercifully, I remember that it’s not the crazies doing that work, it’s people like me, or, more precisely, people like my superiors.

Ken Bacon on healthcare

Refugees International President Ken Bacon, who died today from melanoma, will be remembered for his tireless advocacy on behalf of refugees and internally displaced people.

In light of the increasingly irrational and unhelpful tone of the healthcare debate, it is important to keep in mind the essence of the issue: that the healthcare system we have now is ineffective and cruel, and we owe it to ourselves to find a better way. Bacon knew this all too well. In the last months of his life, he wrote:

My oncologist has spent hours filling out forms and arguing with the insurance company to arrange coverage for my chemotherapy. Now my wife and I are waging our own fight with the provider to arrange payment for my daily brain radiation, which has been rejected as ‘not medically necessary’ even though the cancer in my brain is growing rapidly.

[...]

For me and other Americans suffering from advanced cancer,the health-care debate this summer is no abstraction. It is a matter of life or death.

Bacon was luckier than the vast majority of Americans, something he readily admitted. With his excellent employer-provided health insurance, he could afford at least most of the treatments he needed, and his doctors were among the best in the world. Access to healthcare prolonged Bacon’s life and his advocacy, which was instrumental in changing how the US Government responds to the Iraqi displacement crisis.

If Congress continues to drag its feet and cave to the demands of private insurers, the right to healthcare will continue to be deprived to tens of millions of Americans. That is an ethically unacceptable outcome anywhere, but especially so in a society as wealthy as ours.

“August has ended those dreams”

I have to shake my head sadly and agree with Frank Pasquale’s assessment:

Back in June and July, when I was posting on the policy options behind health care reform, I naively thought that we were headed for an illuminating public debate about the issue. In my most sanguine moments, I imagined a world where not just experts, but even some plurality of voters grasped concepts like DRG’s, risk-adjustment, and parallel public-private systems of health care provision.

August has ended those dreams. What we have instead is completely unhinged talk of “death panels,” euthanasia for the elderly, universal coverage as slavery-reparation, and wholesale government takeovers of the health care system.

[...]

Emotional appeals trump rational argument. In an interview on Chris Lydon’s show Open Source, Cass Sunstein, a rationalist, dismissed the emotional appeals suggested by George Lakoff because they expressed too dim a view of human nature.

On the Sunstein-Lakoff point; I don’t think the problem human nature at all, but rather the peculiarities of American political culture. There are societies in which public debates over polarizing policy issues are conducted with civility –ours just isn’t one of those societies. Not at this point in our political development anyway.

Pasquale agrees, and blames the the omnipresent bullshit cloud that is the only form of political socialization for way too many people in this country (think: Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Lou Dobbs, radio shock jocks, Fox News, sensationalist rags like the NY Post, and the Washington rumor mill).

It should now be clear that Lakoff likely overestimates the sense of responsibility in the mainstream media. Rather than engage in the hard work of educating viewers about what reform would actually do, it’s searching for the exciting, shocking footage of screaming and shouting. Given the death of appointment television, news producers know that they may well be competing for eyeballs against nasty spats on Real Housewives of New Jersey, or babbling beefcake on the Bachelorette. Dress up the same antics as being Something Important or Civic Protest, and you’ve got yourself a news story. It’s so much easier than, say, describing whom a public option would help, or how health insurance exchanges would operate.

Nothing new, but Pasquale captures the absurdity well.

The alterable future

P1080598

We have a strong civil society that could, in theory, overcome the entrenched interests of the armed forces and the military-industrial complex. At this late date, however, it is difficult to imagine how Congress, much like the Roman senate in the last days of the republic, could be brought back to life and cleansed of its endemic corruption. Failing such a reform, Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, the punisher of pride and hubris, waits impatiently for her meeting with us.

-Chalmers Johnson in Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic

Blocking new funding for the F-22 was a start –a small and far from bold start, but a start nonetheless. Let’s keep Nemesis waiting.

Odds and ends

The Afghan parliament is revising the country’s marriage law, and not in woman-friendly ways, according to AlterNet:

The Afghan parliament is expected to soon approve revisions to its marriage law that will do very little in the way of improving women’s rights. Despite recent demands that the country radically rework its policies on issues such as polygamy and a woman’s right to work, Afghanistan’s government is signaling a continued adherence to regressive traditions.

In a recent letter to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, activists said, “slight changes in the wordings of the law, rather than changes in content,” have rendered the revisions ineffectual.

Additionally, Shinkai Kharokhel, a lawmaker involved in the legislation, told the Associated Press on July 14 that the law’s revisions do little more than uphold structural inequalities in the country. She said many Afghan women “are illiterate, and they don’t have financial security and no one will give her money … shelter, medical, food, all these expenses belong to the man, and he can hold that back.”

What is perhaps most unfortunate among the “revisions” is the Afghan government’s failure to erase a law that calls on women to engage in sex with their husbands at least every four days. Although the proposed revisions do eliminate a time frame for sexual requirements, they still allow a man to withhold financial support for his wife if she refuses to “submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment,” Human Rights Watch has reported.

“[...] submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment”?

That’s grim stuff. Here’s hoping MP Kharokhel and other progressive MPs make more of a dent in this law.

***

While we’re on the topic of misogyny and sexism, my landlord busted out the following gem two nights ago when I complained about sexual harassment of women on the streets of my city.

“You know the Bloodhound Gang song ‘Street Legal Whore’? Well, that describes most women your age. Take it [the harassment] as a compliment. Pretty soon you’ll be too old for it.”

Needless to say, I’m moving out at the end of the summer. I’d move out sooner, but can’t afford to.

(Oh, and that foul Bloodhound Gang song is actually titled “I’m the Least You Could Do.”)

***

I have nothing but contempt for Jeff Sessions.

Via Human Rights Now:

Yesterday the Senate passed four amendments to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, including a provision that would allow the death penalty to apply to hate crimes.  This amendment, added by Senator Jeff Sessions, R, AL (a vocal opponent of the Act itself), adds nothing to the justice the bill seeks for victims of gender and sexuality-based hate crimes.

The point Sessions was trying to convey is something like “If you’re going to pass legislation that discourages people from committing crimes against members of groups I resent the very existence of, I’m going to bundle that legislation with a big, fat human rights violation! How’d ya like that?”

My mind, it boggles.

***

It's almost time for the Sarajevo Film Festival (pictured: posters from the 2007 SFF)

It's almost time for the Sarajevo Film Festival (pictured: posters from the 2007 SFF)

***

afghanstarMy ex-boyfriend and I are going to see Afghan Star this weekend. I’m excited. Here’s the trailer.

Iran panel FAIL, and how you can avert it

Nico Pitney brings upsetting neocon-related news, and articulates the following appeal for a little balance in the upcoming Congressional hearing on Iran:

Neocons invited to Congressional hearing on Iran. Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that it was holding a hearing this Wednesday titled, “Iran: Recent Developments and Implications for U.S. Policy.”

My initial thought was that the panel was decent but a bit disappointing, and lacking in progressive voices. Among the initial four witnesses announced were Patrick Clawson, a Bush administration supporter who repeatedly advocated that the U.S. use the threat of military strikes to shift policy in Iran, and Abbas Milani, whose 2004 op-ed arguing that President Bush should resist negotiations and publicly endorse democracy activists in Iran was distributed by the neocon outfit Project for a New American Century. (Milani has since shifted his position on the matter of negotiations.)

Suzanne Maloney, a Bush-era State Department official who notably worked against the administration’s hawkish elements, is also invited to testify. So is Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment, who has generally done excellent work on Iran.

On Friday, I spoke with committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman’s staff and suggested that they invite Trita Parsi, the superb analyst who heads the National Iranian American Council, to testify. I was told that Parsi would be considered but that it was late in the process to add witnesses.

But on Monday morning, the committee announced two new additions to the hearing, both aggressive neoconservatives whose Middle East analysis has proven detrimental. One is Orde F. Kittrie of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the other is Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. (These witnesses were chosen by Republican members of the committee.)

Rubin’s addition, in particular, is rather stunning. His career work include aiding Doug Feith in the notorious Office of Special Plans to advance dubious intelligence that helped lead the U.S. into war in Iraq; repeatedly advocating for military action against Iran over the last several years; and, in June, laying out the case for why Ahmadinejad would be preferable to a “more soft-spoken and less defiant” president like Mousavi — “it would be easier for Obama to believe that Iran really was figuratively unclenching a fist when, in fact, it had it had its other hand hidden under its cloak, grasping a dagger.”

This panel really needs some balance. If you’re interested in calling the committee and suggesting Trita Parsi (or someone else) [REZA ASLAN! -Ed], you can reach them at (202) 225-5021.

Go!

Hooray impunity!

This makes me very, very, very, very angry. And not just “I’ll-post-this-on-my-blog-and-write-that-I’m-angry-about-it” angry. No, I’m angry in real life.

Robert Litt, a former top Clinton administration Justice Department prosecutor, said Obama should focus on moving forward with anti-torture policy instead of looking back.

“Both for policy and political reasons, it would not be beneficial to spend a lot of time hauling people up before Congress or before grand juries and going over what went on,” Litt said at a Brookings Institution discussion about Obama’s legal policy. “To as great of an extent we can say, the last eight years are over, now we can move forward -that would be beneficial both to the country and the president, politically.”

Shorter Robert Litt: “Tsk, tsk, you fussy human rights lawyers. Enough of this ‘accountability’ nonsense. Don’t you know that the rules are different for the powerful? Just let us move on and forget all this, err, unpleasantness.”

SOB!

Oversight? What’s that? (Sorry, it’s been a while.)

I was, in the words of many a Capital Hill douchebag, “cautiously optimistic” when I read this today in the Washington Post.

A massive federal plan to revive the U.S. financial system ran into intense skepticism today on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers from both parties questioned whether it would work and demanded protections for taxpayers with tough oversight.

Oversight! Now there’s a role Congress hasn’t taken very seriously in the past seven years. But, if real, this attitude shift is welcome –a bit late, and a bit cynical coming from Republicans– but very, very welcome nonetheless.

For reasons best expressed by Naomi Klein, I am still pretty worried.

The second [phase of the economic shock] comes when the debt crisis currently being created by this bailout becomes the excuse to privatize social security, lower corporate taxes and cut spending on the poor. A President McCain would embrace these policies willingly. A President Obama would come under huge pressure from the think tanks and the corporate media to abandon his campaign promises and embrace austerity and “free-market stimulus.”

So, even if there is strict Congressional oversight of the “bailout” and it’s followed by much greater regulation of Wall Street, it’s still likely that those of us who bear the least responsibility for the crisis in the first place (especially the poor) will ultimately pay most dearly.

Cheery, no?