Tag Archives: Obama

The Culture Wars and Class War

Obama Endorses Decision to Limit Morning-After Pill: President Obama, who took office pledging to put science ahead of politics, averted a skirmish with conservatives in the nation’s culture wars on Thursday by endorsing his health secretary’s decision to block over-the-counter sales of an after-sex contraceptive pill to girls under age 17. (via NYTimes.com.)

That’s the lead in a recent article in the New York Times on the decision by Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, to overrule the FDA and block wider OTC availability of the “morning-after pill,” the first time ever an FDA decision has been overruled by an HHS secretary.

There’s a lot that could be said about this. When Obama was voted in, it was on a tide of hope, as that ubiquitous and arresting poster so abundantly made clear. Hope for change— in politics, in the economy, in foreign policy (particularly those pesky wars). Those hopes have met with a lot of frustration and disappointment in the years since.

This most recent move was typical of the “pragmatic” and “bipartisan” Obama of whom we’ve seen far too much lately: willing to sacrifice (what we think are) his principles, and the expectations and needs of his believers, his base, for support from Republicans or evangelicals or one of the other groups that opposes — and even hates and reviles — him, people who by and large will not vote for him no matter what he does. If there is anything worse than sacrificing principle to expediency and pandering for votes, it is sacrificing and pandering for nothing.

But stepping back and looking at the wider picture, I was struck by this invocation of the “culture war” meme, which has been around a long time now, and deserves close critical scrutiny.

Culture war: The culture war (or culture wars) in American usage is a metaphor used to claim that political conflict is based on sets of conflicting cultural values. The term frequently implies a conflict between those values considered traditionalist or conservative and those considered progressive or liberal. The “culture war” is sometimes traced to the 1960s and has taken various forms since then. (via Wikipedia.)

While it may indeed be traced by some back to the 1960s, it really assumed the form it now has in the 1990s, and what is really going on in this “culture war” was made abundantly clear by Pat Buchanan in his speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention:

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself…. The agenda [Bill] Clinton and [Hillary] Clinton would impose on America — abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat — that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America wants. It is not the kind of change America needs. And it is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God’s country.

An ideological struggle, like the Cold War, but also crucially a “religious war.” A crusade, in fact, of the righteous Christians against the godless and strayed, a war for the soul of America between those who stand for “God’s country” and those whom their opponents now sometimes refer to as “secular socialists.”

But what is it really, this “war”?  It is a war against women and homosexuals. It is also a war against the poor and persons of color, particularly poor women of color, in that restrictions on things like birth control services, Planned Parenthood, etc., disproportionately affect them.  A war of mostly white men of power and privilege against mostly women, the poor, and people of color.  For the soul of America.

When people talk about “class war” it is, by and large, the same thing, or part of the same thing. But notice how the people who have called for a culture war are the same ones freaking out and attacking what they see as a politics of class war coming from the other side.  Their culture war is good; our class war is bad.

It’s the same struggle. Which side are you on?

Can the Dude Abide?

In her current op-ed column in the Times, Maureen Dowd points to the moment when Sarah Palin and the Tea Party got some traction in the health care debate with their ridiculous claims about “death panels.”

It never occurred to [Obama] that such wildness and gullibility would trump lofty rationality. (NYTimes.com)

That seems to be the problem with this election in a nutshell. Wildness and gullibility trumping rationality. Stupendously misleading claims trumping facts. False fears, fostered by Fox, trumping real needs and interests.

Footnote: Have you noticed that an anagram of Palin is plain? Unfortunately, she really isn’t plain in so many ways, not plain in all the wrong ways about all the wrong things. Equally unfortunate, “plain” no doubt seems like a good thing to much of her base.

Read This: Paul Krugman, It’s Witch-Hunt Season – NYTimes.com

A recent Paul Krugman op-ed piece in The New York Times looks at the intense attacks from Republicans against Obama:

The last time a Democrat sat in the White House, he faced a nonstop witch hunt by his political opponents. Prominent figures on the right accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of everything from drug smuggling to murder. And once Republicans took control of Congress, they subjected the Clinton administration to unrelenting harassment — at one point taking 140 hours of sworn testimony over accusations that the White House had misused its Christmas card list.

Now it’s happening again — except that this time it’s even worse. Let’s turn the floor over to Rush Limbaugh: “Imam Hussein Obama,” he recently declared, is “probably the best anti-American president we’ve ever had.”

To get a sense of how much it matters when people like Mr. Limbaugh talk like this, bear in mind that he’s an utterly mainstream figure within the Republican Party; bear in mind, too, that unless something changes the political dynamics, Republicans will soon control at least one house of Congress. This is going to be very, very ugly.

So where is this rage coming from? Why is it flourishing? What will it do to America?

read the whole piece here: Op-Ed Columnist – It’s Witch-Hunt Season – NYTimes.com.

For a related perspective on the failure of liberals/progressives to imagine how bad things would get:

Liberals and despair, again | Michael Tomasky: “I don’t think anyone saw coming that a majority of Republicans would believe Obama is in sympathy with Islamic fundamentalists ‘who want to impose Islamic law’ around the world, as a new Newsweek poll has found, and that responsible Republicans would not stand up and say, folks, come on. It’s bleaker than anyone imagined. But that’s never an excuse not to fight.”
(via Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)

Read This: Hello, Has Anybody Seen Our Idea of Governance in Afghanistan?

Hello, Has Anybody Seen Our Idea of Governance in Afghanistan?: Mr. Obama needs to find advisors who haven’t already drunk the Kool-Aid. And / or get his own meds checked.

Here’s why . . .

(via Foreign Policy In Focus.)

The Great Kagan Supreme Court Debate

Barring any really surprising revelations, Elena Kagan will pass relatively unscathed (certainly by the standards of some past hearings) through the Senate confirmation hearings and take over the seat on the Supreme Court bench vacated by retiring Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. If and when this happens, she will become the third sitting female justice, joining Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and only the fourth in history, with Sandra Day O’Connor.

She would also bring the Supreme Court to a curious religious mix – 3 Jews and 6 Catholics – which is exciting commentary, and some bizarre speculations and conspiracy theories, on the right. All we need is some connection to the UN and the World Bank to have a set-up worthy of an X Files level conspiracy (Elders of Zion, Templars, Jewish bankers, the Vatican, etc.).

Perhaps Richard Branson has taken Colonel Sanders’ place…

For more reasoned discussion: Two leading legal experts debate the pros and cons of Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan. Lawrence Lessig knows Kagan well through their shared time at Harvard, while Glenn Greenwald is a regular commentator on the Supreme Court.

The Great Kagan Supreme Court Debate: “The following is a transcript of Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! interview on Wednesday with Glenn Greenwald and Lawrence Lessig. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Amy Goodman: If confirmed, the fifty-year-old Elena Kagan would be the Court’s youngest member. She would become the fourth female Supreme Court justice in US history and the third on the Court’s current bench. She would also be the first justice in nearly four decades without any prior judicial experience.  (via AlterNet.)

It’s good to hear some sensible analysis and critique of Kagan’s judicial perspectives – far too much of the discussion has involved a quite disturbing focus on her identity. Her Jewish identity has been the subject of a thinly- to not-at-all- veiled antisemitic screed by, surprise, surprise, Pat Buchanan:

Pat Buchanan Takes On the Kreplach Cabal: “If (Elena) Kagan is confirmed,” he wrote, “Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats.”


“If Kagan is confirmed,” he went on, “three of the four justices nominated by Democratic presidents will be from New York City: Kagan from the Upper West Side, Sotomayor from the Bronx, Ruth Bader Ginsburg from Brooklyn. Breyer is from San Francisco.”

Well, Katie bar the door before the kreplach cabal busts through the gates.

Buchanan didn’t say it but he didn’t have to: The real danger is that too many Jews will wind up sitting on the highest court in the land. And that would be a bad thing for the republic.  (via Coop’s Corner – CBS News.)

Pat Buchanan suggests: Too many Jews on U.S. Supreme Court bench: “Buchanan decried the lack of Protestants on the bench, saying that “If Kagan is confirmed, the Court will consist of three Jews and six Catholics (who represent not quite a fourth of the country), but not a single Protestant, though Protestants remain half the nation and our founding faith.”

Keli Goff: Elena Kagan, Pat Buchanan, MSNBC and Me: “why is a major network is continuing to provide a paying platform for someone engaged in hate speech? Pat argues, “If Kagan is confirmed, Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats.”

Buchanan Kagan Column Draws More Criticisms Today: “Syndicated Columnist Pat Buchanan’s controversial column from last week that essentially claimed too many Jews would be on the Supreme Court if nominee Elena Kagan joined the group received two more criticisms today.”

For some background on Pat Buchanan, and previous examples of his racism, antisemitism and all around demagoguery, check out Pat Buchanan in His Own Words for such tasty treats as this:

In a 1977 column, Buchanan said that despite Hitler’s anti-Semitic and genocidal tendencies, he was “an individual of great courage…. Hitler’s success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path.” (via Fair.org.)

(In a similar vein… while researching this, I came across Top 10 Craziest Things Ever Said By Pat Robertson | Ranker – A World of Lists. I’d love to get him and Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi – of the infamous “boob-quake” theory – together, wouldn’t you? Just imagine the hilarious theories and accusations they’d come up with.)

As the Coop’s Corner post above suggests, other right-wing commentators have complained that Kagan’s confirmation would leave the bench too weighted to “coastal” perspectives and in particular to a New York liberal perspective (and isn’t that really just a code phrase for “kike”?).

But Kagan’s ethnic background has not been the only aspect of her identity to come in for scrutiny, commentary and criticism. Her sexuality has been a frequent topic of discussion – with a sort of consensus seeming to emerge that she is a closeted lesbian, who has kept her sexuality as carefully concealed as her positions on constitutional issues. And as with her legal opinions, the issue of her sexual preferences has been raised both on the left and the right, albeit only with a mild and hopeful curiosity on the left, as opposed to the homosexual panic that is predictably gripping the right.

Oh No! Obama Picks Liberal, Jewish Woman Who May Or May Not Be A Real Live Lezzie As Next Supreme Bench Warmer: “Penetrating intellect, unwavering integrity, sound judgment, and prodigious work ethic??” Well, well no wonder Republicans can’t stand the gal.

It’s interesting to see how much more open – and crass – the speculations about and attacks on Kagan’s sexual identity are than when the issue came up earlier during Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s confirmation process. I share a mild curiosity about Kagan’s sexuality, but don’t see it as having any particular bearing on her performance, if confirmed, on the Supreme Court.

I am much more concerned about the fact that she has kept closeted pretty much any information that might help us to understand what sort of positions she might take on the Bench regarding a whole range of pressing legal and constitutional issues, such as the matter of executive power.

And as if all that crap wasn’t enough, controversy has also arisen over one of the few of Kagan’s constitutional opinions is public:

The defective Constitution – Ben Smith : “Michael Steele has opened up on Elena Kagan today with a particularly odd line of attack, going after her for quoting Thurgood Marshall to the point that the Constitution was “defective.”

Using the words “defective” and “Constitution” in the same sentence is what we call waving the red flag (socialism) in front of the bull(shit) of the right, embodied in people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. What Kagan actually did was refer to a discussion by Thurgood Marshall of the way in which the Constitution finessed the issue of slavery, and in other ways undercut its most important principles: “On a matter so basic as the right to vote, for example, Negro slaves were excluded, although they were counted for representational purposes at three-fifths each. Women did not gain the right to vote for over a hundred and thirty years.”

Thurgood Marshall was  the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. He retired in 1991, unhappy that Bush would be picking his successor, who turned out to be Clarence Thomas – and a less  inspiring or appropriate replacement for one of the greatest legal minds in American history can hardly be imagined. Before becoming a judge, Marshall was a lawyer who, acting as the NAACP’s chief counsel, argued in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court in which he would later serve.

I’m nervous about Kagan’s nomination – obviously not because she might be a queer Jew from the Big Apple, which would suit me down to the ground, that being one of my personal favorite demographics – but because I feel that the little we do know about her perspective on pressing matters that are likely to come before the Court suggests that she will be too centrist for my tastes. Roe v Wade might be safe, but I am not so sure what would happen on issues like Patriot Act-style expansions of executive power and domestic surveillance or Guantánamo-like extraterritorial finessing of political and judicial oversight.

New US Gasoline Mileage Standards – Too Little. Too Late?

The Obama administration has issued new guidelines on gas mileage that will require automakers to meet a fleet-wide average of 35.5 mpg (miles per gallon) by 2016:

White House Issues New Gasoline Mileage Standards

That gallon of gas is going to get you a little farther. The Obama administration signed off on the nation’s first rules on greenhouse gas emissions Thursday and set new fuel standards that will raise current standards by nearly 10 mpg by the 2016 model year.

The so-called CAFE standards, issued by the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, cover cars and trucks for model years 2012 to 2016. Automakers will be required to meet a fleet-wide average of 35.5 by 2016.

The standards forthcoming under the ‘clean car peace treaty’ are a good deal for consumers, for companies, for the country and for the planet.
– David Doniger, of the Natural Resources Defense Council

Although the new requirements would add an estimated $434 per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 per vehicle by 2016, drivers could save as much as $3,000 over the life of a vehicle through better gas mileage, according to a government statement. The new standards also will conserve about 1.8 billion barrels of oil and cut carbon dioxide emissions by nearly a billion tons over the life of the regulated models.

(via NPR. )

That 2016 figure of 35.5 mpg translates out to 6.63 litres per 100 km (L/100 km), the standard way of measuring fuel consumption standards in much of the rest of the world.

To put the new US requirement into perspective, the 2008 standard for China was 5.7L/100 km – or 41.27mpg, almost 20% better than the US standard for 2016. Other studies put current Chinese mileage at 35.8mpg – so China has already surpassed the requirement that Obama wants to implement in 6 years. And Chinese officials have announced a new target of 42.2mpg by 2015. Europe is implementing a requirement for an even lower standard of 5L/100 km by 2012. So… the new requirement for the US fleet basically sucks.

China to Impose Stricter Gas Mileage Rules Than U.S.: “The president of China’s Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation has said that Chinese officials are drafting new mileage standards that would require an 18 percent improvement in fuel economy by 2015. New cars in China already average about 35.8 mpg and under the new rules, would be required to get 42.2 mpg by 2015. The new U.S. standards require an average mgp of 35.5 by 2016.”

With this kind of attitude on the part of one of the major players, it isn’t really surprising that the Copenhagen conference did so poorly. And as to that, a recent study has found that if the agreed-upon principles that came out of Copenhagen are followed, the world will experience a rise of 3 degrees celsius, rather than the 2 degrees which is seen as crucial if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change effects.

‘Paltry’ Copenhagen carbon pledges point to 3C world.
Pledges made at December’s UN summit in Copenhagen are unlikely to keep global warming below 2C, a study concludes.

Writing in the journal Nature, analysts at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research in Germany say a rise of at least 3C by 2100 is likely.

(via BBC News.)

Not only are these new US fuel consumption standards a case of too little, and possibly too late, but the Obama administration’s other efforts to face up to the challenge of climate change are being threatened by domestic politics – specifically, the increasingly nasty and brutish dispute over immigration:

Immigration row delays energy bill: “The high visibility roll-out tomorrow of proposed climate change legislation for America collapsed at the weekend after a Republican co-author threatened to withdraw his support for the bill in a row over immigration.

Democrats were forced to postpone the much-hyped unveiling, putting a core Obama mission in jeopardy and further complicating international efforts to reach a deal on global warming.”

(Via guardian.co.uk.)

No wonder the rest of the world is losing patience with American foot-dragging on climate change.

To convert between miles per gallon and litres per 100 kilometres, see Convert Fuel consumption, Miles per gallon (one of many sites that will handle this and other conversions for you).

For more information on mileage standards and fuel consumption, see Fuel economy in automobiles – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Comrade Obama

“there is overwhelming evidence that Obama is a Marxist that has been surrounded his entire life by Communists, Socialists, Marxists and Maoists. For example, Obama’s former spiritual leader for over 20 years, Rev. Wright, is a Marxist and so, too, is Obama’s current spiritual leader, Jim Wallis. Further, it is an indisputable fact that Obama has appointed Communists, Socialists, Marxists and Maoists to his administration. As a Marxist, Obama’s pledge to uphold the US Constitution is worthless, as evidenced by his words and his actions since his election.

Obama’s goal is to fundamentally transform America (to Socialism or Communism or worse). He is attempting to destroy America from the inside.”

and there’s more, at Velvet Revolution – Socialist, Communist, Marxist, Obama.

(I know I said I’d lay off posting about the Tea Party, but this isn’t directly about them… Just coming from the same space.)

Fox News Shocked by Conspiracy Theories and Right-Wing Extremism in the Tea Party Movement

“Sometimes the Tea Parties attract protesters whose ideas about Obama, Democrats and recent legislative battles aren’t fully substantiated by facts, Fox News is shocked to discover. As it turns out, these “fringe” elements, who for totally mysterious reasons have attached themselves to this particular movement, are making the Tea Parties look bad.”

One small step for a man, one giant leap for Fox News Shocked … « AlterNet.

Shocked? Really? This from the home of Glenn Beck…

The Rage Is Not About Health Care – NYTimes.com

 Op-Ed Columnist – The Rage Is Not About Health Care
If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. (
via  NYTimes.com.)

This is why so many people (like me) still read The New York Times—well-written, thoughtful articles and columns that help you understand what the hell is going on. I haven’t read anything better on the insanity that seems to have gripped the US around the health care reform bill. If you only read one newspaper column this week…

Is Obama a Secret Vulcan?

Confessions of an Aca/Fan: Is Obama a Secret Vulcan?

Continue reading

Too Soon to End Black History Month

Bias incidents roil University of California

Swastikas, nooses, a KKK hood, graffiti, epithets and jeers.

An ugly spate of bias incidents has crossed several University of California campuses over the past month, causing consternation, outcry and fear that bigotry is alive among the young and educated…. Continue reading

Black History Month (cont’d)

I’d like to clarify and expand on a couple of things I said in my previous post on Black History Month, in light of some comments I’ve received.

On Obama’s Narrative of African American History

[I have appended the full text of Obama’s proclamation below for easy reference; a link to the source is given in my previous post.]

As I said earlier, President Obama’s Proclamation on “National African American History Month” makes for interesting close reading – particularly in relation to the narrative of black history it presents.

The opening sentence constructs a very clear story of black history, a narrative, with a beginning, middle and end: beginning in “slavery and oppression”; continuing through “the hope of progress” (emphasis added); and ending in triumph – specifically, “the triumph of the American Dream.” Continue reading

Black History Month

February is Black History Month in the United States and Canada. (In the UK it’s October.) As the month draws to a close, I wanted to reflect a bit on its meanings, with particularly reference to it as the second Black History Month of Obama’s presidency, and to the nature of Black History Month as seen from my current home, in Canberra, Australia. Continue reading

Fooled Again?

Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates. — Gore Vidal

Or, as the song says, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

If you have read any of my previous posts discussing Obama, you will know that I was overjoyed at his election, and remain enthusiastic, overall. Nonetheless…

In an article on Dick Cheney’s efforts to line up a publisher – and a multi-million dollar advance – for his memoirs, The New York Times mentioned, parenthetically, that Bush, Clinton, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and even President Obama have all been represented in book contract talks by the same Washington lawyer, Robert B. Barnett [here].

Continue reading

The End of Days II

Back in the giddy aftermath of the presidential election, I poked fun at a woman in Florida who claimed (on PRI’s “The World”) that – “honest to God” – Obama was the Anti-Christ. Well, it turns out she was right, apparently. Continue reading