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Jun. 22 2010 — 8:45 pm | 151 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

Where Are The Afghans In The Afghanistan Debate?

Surely by now you’ve read True/Slant contributor Michael Hasting’s wonderful profile of General Stanley McChrystal — one that has landed the General in hot water and may even lead to his departure from his spot as top commander in Afghanistan. If you haven’t read it, I’ll have to ask you to stop reading this and go read that first, it’s a great look into the minds of the leadership of American troops in that country.

However, while the nation’s attention is refocused to America’s longest war (it recently surpassed Vietnam in length), there’s still one glaring gap in the coverage of the conflict. Namely, there still isn’t any real coverage of actual Afghans in the war.

Watching television coverage of the McChrystal episode today, I saw all sorts of big names — Brooking’s Michael O’Hanlon, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer — dissect the news of McChrystal’s thoughts about Obama and the White House leadership team. Yet who I didn’t see on, and who I never see on the airwaves, is actual Afghans invited on to respond to the day’s news about the war in their country.

When you think about it, that’s a very disturbing absence. International forces have well over a hundred thousand troops fighting in a country with millions of people in it, and those millions of people don’t even seem to be important enough to mention in the debates in our nations’ capitals. This sort of marginalization of the people whose country we have a massive troop presence serves to dehumanize them. We’re always talking about what we’re going to do to them, or winning over their public opinion, or what we want from them. We never ask them to speak for themselves, to explain what they want in the country they were born in. Rather, we seem to obsess over the opinions of generals like McChrystal, foreign transplants who do not have the same organic roots and wisdom that being a native bestows.

Then again, this problem isn’t limited to Afghanistan. It seems that whenever our public figures (media and politicians) talk about the world — even countries we happen to be fighting in or occupying with hundreds of thousands of troops — the natives of those countries are pushed aside, and we’re much more eager to know Sarah Palin’s opinion on the matter than the indigenous person who has lived their whole life in the country.

If we’re serious about becoming a global community in the 21st century, then we need to expand the range of voices we allow in our public debate. And the first place we need to start is by ending the exclusion of the voices of the people who we fight our wars in. After all, the decisions our policymakers make as a result of the conclusions of our public debates matter much more to the natives of these countries than they do to us.

Jun. 11 2010 — 7:53 pm | 866 views | 2 recommendations | 2 comments

Schumer Says Strangle Gaza Until They Do What We Want

Schumer Says It ‘Makes Sense’ To ‘Strangle [Gaza] Economically’ Until It Votes The Way Israel Wants

This past Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) delivered a wide-ranging speech at an Orthodox Union event in Washington, D.C. The senator’s lecture touched on areas such as Iran’s nuclear program, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and several domestic policy issues.

During one point of his speech, Schumer turned his attention to the situation in Gaza. He told the audience that the “Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution,” and also that “they don’t believe in the Torah, in David.” He went on to say “you have to force them to say Israel is here to stay.”

New York’s senior senator explained that the current Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip — which is causing a humanitarian crisis there — is not only justified because it keeps weapons out of the Palestinian territory, but also because it shows the Palestinians living there that “when there’s some moderation and cooperation, they can have an economic advancement.” Summing up his feelings, Schumer emphasized the need to “to strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go”:

via Think Progress » Schumer Says It ‘Makes Sense’ To ‘Strangle [Gaza] Economically’ Until It Votes The Way Israel Wants.

Imagine if Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) — the nation’s first elect Muslim congressman — appeared at a radical mosque in, let’s say, Dearborn, Michigan. At this radical mosque, Ellison explained that the Israeli government simply didn’t want to accept a Muslim state in Gaza and the West Bank — and let’s suppose this wasn’t actually true — and that this was because, you know, they don’t read the Quran.

Then Ellison would go on to say, “You see, those Israelis elected Netanyahu. And we don’t like Netanyahu, he has committed great crimes against our people. So I think it makes sense to economically strangle the Israelis until they change their minds.” And then Ellison went on to advocate denying them fresh meat, basic medical supplies, and a whole host of humanitarian items.

The congressman would probably be (rightly) lambasted across the political spectrum, made into a wild-eyed extremist in the media, and probably forced to resign (or maybe he’d lose by a 30-point landslide in the next election).

Of course, this hypothetical is just that. Unfortunately, this event basically happened, just replace Keith with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and the radical mosque with the Orthodox Union. If you click the link above, which leads to my Think Progress post on the matter, you can watch Schumer delivering his remarks, and you can witness the crowd wildly cheering him on.

When I watched this happen, I thought to myself: What have we become as a country when this sort of talk is politically palatable for  a leading politician? How is it that my country not only is providing economic, political, and military cover for a country that is depriving an entire innocent population of the basic needs of survival — and then a public official can justify it by citing religious texts?

We need to look at ourselves as a country if this is what goes for mainstream political discourse. Senator Schumer cites the Torah. When I was a small kid, I used to go to a Baptist school (it was the only decent school in the area). I had the Old Testament read to me on a daily basis. I don’t remember the part about how, if you have enemies, you are supposed to starve their children. I do remember the passages about the importance of making peace between sworn, bitter enemies — about being a better human being by choosing nonviolence and grace over brutality and furor.

I think that’s the Torah our public officials need to be reading, otherwise they’re all complicit in what’s happening to the Palestinians.

May. 26 2010 — 8:33 pm | 413 views | 1 recommendations | 7 comments

The New York Times Smears Pakistan

Conspiracy theory is a national sport in Pakistan, where the main players — the United States, India and Israel — change positions depending on the ebb and flow of history. Since 2001, the United States has taken center stage, looming so large in Pakistan’s collective imagination that it sometimes seems to be responsible for everything that goes wrong here.

“When the water stops running from the tap, people blame America,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, an English professor in Lahore.

via U.S. Is a Top Villain in Pakistan’s Conspiracy Talk – NYTimes.com.

Pakistani pro-democracy demonstrators

This story about Pakistanis and how their “collective imagination” supposedly blames America for “everything that goes wrong” in their country has been pinging around the blogosphere. I highly recommend you read Glenn Greenwald’s take, who got to the subject before me and did quite a good job.

Stories like these remind me why the U.S. media does such a poor job covering foreign affairs. To start with, your major papers — the New York Times, the USA Today, the Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal — barely cover the topic of Pakistan. And when they do, it usually is along the lines of, “How does this affect America?”

So when you get an article like this — where the author proclaims that Pakistanis have some sort of weird, irrational tendency to blame America with conspiracy theories for their ills — and you see no citations of poll numbers or any scientific analysis of what Pakistanis actually believe and why, you really can’t be surprised. American reporters just don’t know how to cover foreign countries. This particular one seems to have spent a little time on the ground in Pakistan, found some people who think America is really, really, nefarious and bad and have odd reasons for thinking so, and concluded that, well, that’s just Pakistan for you!

Imagine America wasn’t the most famous country on earth, that saturated the media airwaves on every country’s soil and was as unheard of usually as a country like, let’s say, Pakistan. Let’s say a Pakistani journalist came to the States, encountered some Glenn Beck viewers, and maybe one government official like Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) and found that these people believe:

  • That President Obama’s plan to for health care reform was actually to control Americans’ lives in the vein of Stalin and Hitler.
  • That a small community organizing group called ACORN is one of the most powerful groups in the world, with tentacles in every vestige of the US government.
  • The United Nations is actually an organization dedicated to something called the “New World Order” that will eventually take over the world.

It’s true that there are Americans who believe these things. Most don’t, but there are some who do. But what if the Pakistani reporter said that these conspiracy theories formed the fabric of Americans’ “collective imagination” of their political woes, and that they used these facts to deflect from real problems? We’d be outraged — and rightly so.

Yet the New York Times — that august paper that is proud of containing “All The News Fit To Print” soberly printed this article as straight news and painted a picture of Pakistan that has nothing but crazed conspiracy theorists unwilling to look at their own flaws and who are ready to blame the United States for everything from poor weather to the existence of Al Qaeda. And as if that was not enough, the picture accompanying the article is of followers of a fringe Islamist group with signs that say “I HATE AMERICA.”

Not accompanying the aforementioned picture is widely available polling data that shows that only a single-digit number of Pakistanis view violent Islamists as a positive force in Pakistani politics. Also absent from anywhere in the article is that Pakistanis, who supposedly blame foreigners for all their woes, just got finished in the past couple years, successfully toppling a dictator by creating the political will for a democratic election that — shockingly to the  American press! — didn’t revolve around America. I notice that the picture was also taken in Karachi, the mega port city to the south of the country where my parents are from. Karachi is a cosmopolitan city, and Islamists have next to no power there. You’re much more likely to see  a college student in Levis’ jeans than you are to see a bearded fundamentalist condemning Zionist conspiracies. Yet that too didn’t fit the reporter’s narrative nor the paper’s sloppy smearing of the moderate Pakistani majority.

But the average American doesn’t know these facts, and they aren’t going to read any debunking. They’re simply going to read what America’s supposedly most reputable newspaper passed off as the plain truth, and move on with their lives. And an entire people — one that certainly does have some fundamentalist conspiracy mongers, but also brilliant writers, artists, engineers, doctors, and political activists who could teach America a thing or two — will be smeared in the eyes of the Times’ readers. And that’s a complete shame.

May. 18 2010 — 7:34 pm | 1,806 views | 1 recommendations | 11 comments

Why This True Progressive Admires A True Conservative Like Rand Paul

As I write this, polls have closen in Kentucky and it looks as if Rand Paul, the son of maverick congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) will be the winner. Paul’s is widely being touted as a “referendum on the tea party movement” as an article from the Washington Post states. Indeed, Paul has done everything he can to court the tea parties, hedging his bets on using the conservative movement’s anger against the Washington establishment to his favor in a tough primary campaign.

Yet to portray Paul as simply a puppet of the tea party movement is wildly off the mark. In my view, he’s something much more — he’s a true grassroots conservative, and certainly not held hostage to an astroturf movement spawned by conservative megamedia at Fox News and corporate front groups like Freedom Works.

I come to this conclusion by flashing back to the winter of 2008. The primaries in full swing, and the Democrats and Republicans are slugging it out. I remember being in college, and amid all the fanfare about Hillary versus Obama and McCain versus Romney, there was one candidate whose supporters I found to be the most engaging and innovative: Ron Paul’s. They organized gigantic money bombs for Rand’s father, spammed internet polls, and worked to get their candidate, who had next to no respect or positive mention from mainstream media or his party’s leadership, up to the point where he outperformed his foe Rudy Giuliani (who the media can’t get enough of, for some reason).

It’s that same passion that’s driving Rand’s supporters. If you converse with them, the main thing you’ll notice that’s totally different about him than any other Senate race is that most of his most passionate volunteers seem to be a generation younger than his competition. They’re mostly young, idealistic Libertarians who are militant in their opposition to social democratic government, violations of civil liberties, and a radical, imperial foreign policy.

Now, I obviously disagree with the first of those three positions that Paul and his supporters have, and during my interactions with Paul supporters it isn’t long before I get the communist/socialist/statist label thrown at me. Yet at the end of the day, I can’t help admiring these people.

Paul, who has never held office before and was mocked, derided, and considered an extreme long shot by the Republican leadership and conservative press, has managed to break through the tight cabal that is American politics simply by offering a message people agree with, and mobilizing the grassroots to take on entrenched power. Whether I agree with him or not, I have to say, I rarely see such pure and meaningful democracy at work.

And no, it doesn’t hurt that I share some of his views. Paul is on the record opposing the Iraq war, worrying about the erosion of civil liberties in the “War on Terror,” wanting to stop federal overreach in policing medical marijuana, and cutting corporate welfare. He’s a true conservative, not one who only attacks the government when it isn’t working against his corporate contributors. Democrats have been waiting for the Republican who will consistently cross over to vote with them on issues they agree, and it looks like a Paul victory may get them one.

So, even as a proud progressive and card carrying member of the vast left wing conspiracy, I say bravo, Rand Paul. His candidacy is an example of democracy working like it should, and may just give progressives reason to cheer when he joins up with them in fighting on a lot of their common issues.

UPDATE: Bloggasm notes that Rand still has achieved nowhere near the notoriety of his father just yet. I could see that changing.

May. 16 2010 — 8:00 pm | 204 views | 1 recommendations | 3 comments

What Is The Progressive Narrative?

Published on Sunday, May 16, 2010 by Raw Story

‘There is a Narrative that’s Missing’ Laura Flanders Tells Grassroots Radio Gathering

by Gavin Dahl

Television and radio host Laura Flanders ripped into what she called “the all-about the-money media” and encouraged 150 radio enthusiasts to work harder at storytelling in a keynote address to the Grassroots Radio Conference May 14.

She stressed that there is a failure in the media to report on important news from the perspective of the public, and insisted that those stories can be told better at the grassroots level. “There is a narrative that's missing,” Flanders insisted. “Rupert Murdoch bought the narrative when he paid $5 billion for Wall Street Journal… And we are being played and played and played and played.”

Her most recent book Blue Grit looked at an upsurge in grassroots activism during the previous presidential administration. She said Friday night that there was more progressive politics than anything reflected in the Democratic party. On keeping President Obama accountable to those who elected him she said, “We're not doing any better job than the civilians of Afghanistan.”

via ‘There is a Narrative that’s Missing’ Laura Flanders Tells Grassroots Radio Gathering | CommonDreams.org.

Had a narrative.

During the healthcare fight, whenever I’d see a politician up on the TV screen, usually a Democrat, talking about the “cost curve,” I’d groan.

It wasn’t like controlling costs wasn’t important to me — it definitely is, and why I’m an advocate of a Medicare-style program for everyone — but it was the wrong way to talk about health care. We needed to stress the fact that people are dying without health care, and that the government through programs like Medicare provides insurance cheaper and better than a greedy corporation.

That’s what gets me to Laura Flanders’ speech here. Flanders is a wonderful radio host, and I highly recommend her daily GritTV. She often gets to the heart of issues in a way that a lot of the fluff-commentary on TV doesn’t, and that’s what makes her such an illuminating voice.

What she points out here is that progressives have yet to build a “narrative.” Narratives are powerful tools in politics — they allow you to not only campaign on policies, but on an outlook on policies and politics. A narrative is what lets you set yourself in history and say, “This is what I’m about.”

The right certainly has one. Ronald Reagan came to power on demonizing the government — let’s ignore the multiple times he raised taxes or expanded tariffs or drastically overspent — and it was a simple narrative in that it was easy for people to understand and had a very simple premise: the government is bad, so cutting taxes is good. It captured the minds of millions of Americans and is still the defining story of the conservative movement today (even if its leadership, like the most recent Bush, didn’t unhypocritically follow it).

So then what’s the counter-story that progressives have to tell? Usually, when progressives are tasked to tell our narrative, it falls into two categories:

- We Need To Help People: Under this narrative, progressives appeal to emotion: we tell people that it’s their moral duty to help those less fortunate than them. There are often appeals to religious faith or simply having a good heart that accompany this one.

- Our Policies Work Better: Under this narrative, progressives say our policies simply work better for the country. This is usually encompassed in tons of wonk-speak.

Both these have been used to some extent by progressives for years. Individually, they’re an appeal to the heart and to the mind. What we need is a narrative that can tie these together. What we’ve seen so far since the Bush years is essentially separate policy battles have brought together disparate coalitions and where progressives has won, it’s because we’ve managed to make our case based on individual issues, but we don’t have any sort of thread tying together what it is we’re trying to do for Americans and the globe.

If we want to make the same kind of change in the American political psyche that Reagan and the rest of the New Right made, we’re going to have to have a new narrative. My suggestion: We need to build a progressive narrative that says we believe in the public sphere, and we believe in our country. That means giving people decent pay for a decent day’s work, and it means not letting people fall through the cracks when they’re working their butts off. We want to take on big interests, because we want this country to work for everyone who’s willing to work for it — not just a wealthy few.

President Obama so far has not built a story. He’s said we have to move away from dog-eat-dogism, but towards what? He usually throws in some liberalish rhetoric in his speeches, and notes the value of working for the public, but he isn’t the fierce public champion that say, Franklin Roosevelt was when he named Four Freedoms that defined liberalism for decades: Freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Where are our freedoms? What are we, at the end of the day, trying to do for the country?

As a part of the answer to that question, we have a proud legacy to build on: Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting, FDR’s New Deal, and Johnson’s Great Society. If the right wants to attack government, we should bring up the success of Medicare. If labor unions are under attack, we should remind everyone they gave us the 8-hour workday. Really, progressive achievements are so woven into the fabric of American life that we don’t even think about them. By building on a history of success and expanding that legacy, we will have our narrative, and the demonize-the-government shtick pushed by the opposition will pale into comparison to our tried-and-true ideology. The question is, how are we going to get this narrative out to the public? I’m open for suggestions.

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    I'm a recent graduate of the University of Georgia who has found himself smack dab in the middle of Washington, D.C. working as a reporter-blogger for ThinkProgress. I'm here to do what so many young people set off to their nations' capitals to do: change the place for the better.

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