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By John Hickman:
Politicians from both parties might perform public anguish about the student loan problem but it is painfully obvious that they just don’t get how serious it is. The most recent Congressional legislation tying interest rates on student loans to the several points beyond the interest rates on treasury notes might have looked like an important reform in Washington, where achieving anything bipartisan is hailed a great victory, but not to the 37 million young Americans who are on the hook for more than one trillion dollars in student loans that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. They owe an average of $29,000. In an economy that no longer produces enough decent jobs
so patently dishonest
Clever public relations officers working somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon have decided that henceforth the Guantanamo hunger strike will be termed a “long term non-religious fasting.” What’s more, rather than being subjected to forced-feeding the “non-religious fasters” are now being treated to “enteral feedings.” What are we to make of such obvious lexical fig leaves?
That the Crimean Crisis would be exploited by Republican Congressional leaders to criticize President Obama was inevitable. Politics hasn’t stopped at the water’s edge in the United States for a very long time. What wasn’t inevitable was the shamelessness of Senator John McCain’s denunciation of President Obama in a speech to the most powerful ethnic foreign policy lobby in Washington. In a March 4th address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Arizona Republican complained about a “feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”
war in afghanistan
What would winning the War in Afghanistan look like? America has been at war there for 13 years and you would expect that after thousands of casualties and spending immense sums of our tax dollars something that could be deemed victory would have been achieved by now. Instead of that we are presented with soon to be retiring Rep. Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon, Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, chiding the America people and President Obama for not wanting to keep fighting the longest war in our history.
A recent article in the Journal of Wine Economics by Duquesne University Economics Department associate professor Pavel A. Yakovlev and graduate student Walter P. Guessford offers research findings so obviously pleasing to conservatives that you might wonder whether they were perpetrating a hoax. What their findings show is a positive relationship between measures of the ideological liberalism of a state and measures of how much alcohol was consumed in a state for the years between 1967 and 2010.
why the memorial offends
Ordinary Gentlemen blogger Nob Akimoto’s “Guide” to the recently reignited controversy surrounding the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is mislabeled. What he has actually penned is an “Apology” for war criminals and those who honor them. That is unfortunate because trusting readers may misunderstand why the memorial deeply offends some many people all over the world. The first clue that a bait and switch is being perpetrated is the deployment of that classic piece of illogic called special pleading.
Failure is written all over the Joint Statement on Syria issued on September 6th meeting of the Group of 20 in St. Petersburg. Only 11 of the 20 leaders present – the U.S., Britain, France, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Spain, and Saudi Arabia – signed on to the condemnation of Damascus. Thus the opposite of the international moral consensus that is supposed to be the foundation of international law.
Worse from the standpoint of the Obama administration, the text of the statement does not endorse military action.
The June 26, 2013 U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the foreign language broadcast services funded by the United States government offered an imperfect example of Washington political elites successfully sidestepping the obvious. What most of the participants wanted to talk about was reorganizing entities like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, possibly by turning them over the State Department; adding language broadcasts like Ibo and Sindhi…
Last Friday, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes had the job of announcing that the Obama administration had decided to officially begin arming the Sunni Islamist insurgents attempting to overthrow the Syrian government. All that lobbying by the war party in Washington and its ‘friends in the Gulf’ is finally paying off. You would think that the problem was explaining why to a skeptical news media. Not so.
Could there be a more appropriate monument to the War in Terror than the wasteful and counterproductive prison camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base? At a cost of $4,360.00 a day per prisoner, it is among the most expensive lock-ups on the planet and surely the most expensive for inmates who are neither deposed heads of state nor leaders of defeated rebellions. (For that amount you could book a Premier Suite at the Ritz Carleton Central Park and still have a thousand dollars left over to pay for dinner!)
Clapper v. Amnesty International:
Associate Justice Alito Changes His Mind About Giving the Targets of Secret Surveillance a Day in Court
Surveillance was victorious over Liberty once again in the U.S. Supreme Court on February 26th. In a 5 to 4 vote in Clapper v. Amnesty International,the court overturned a decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that U.S. citizen attorneys, activists and journalists working on human rights issues have standing to seek a permanent injunction against the monitoring of their electronic communications with foreigners outside the country by U.S. intelligence agencies. The important work they perform requires privacy of communication so that their sources will give them information
Bad for Bizness
We learned a lot about the issue agenda of John Kerry from his first major foreign policy speech as Secretary of State. Although cast as the strong advocate for action on global warming in the Obama administration second term, he barely mentioned the single most daunting problem that confronts our species. Instead his theme was that the U.S. State Department existed to tell the rest of the world that America was open for business. Oh yeah, and the department can’t do its work without its meager share of the Federal budget.
State of the Planet
If there is reason to be pleased that the issue of global warming made it into both President Obama’s January 13th Inaugural Address and February 12th State of the Union Address, there is less reason to be reassured by what he said. Here is why.
First, Obama didn’t use the phrase ‘global warming’ to identify the issue, but instead chose the more innocuous sounding ‘climate change.’ For a president who has tended cave on issues when faced with strong opposition that is not a good sign.
Largely missing in the current immigration policy debate is the reality that the legal treatment of immigrants is first and foremost a human rights issue. Altogether lost in that debate is that their treatment also has important implications for the rights of U.S. citizens. What Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Georgia and President of the National Lawyers Guild, makes absolutely clear in this January 24th interview is that the freedom of U.S. citizens and immigrants are inextricably linked.
Having It Both Ways
Will 2013 be a year of wonders? Disappointed in 2012 by our delayed planetary doom/arrival of our ‘space brothers’ perhaps predicted on a Mayan stone calendar or the perennially postponed performance of the Antichrist? Well if the unendingly sour and dismissive conversation on CNBC’s Squawk Box can turn entertaining, as it did early on the morning of January 3, 2013, then anything is possible this year!
What could be the least bit diverting about the dreary business talk show that conservatives turn to when they begin to weary of the inanities on Fox News?
If we needed any further convincing that the electoral college was a political institution that had outlived its usefulness, the focus of the 2012 presidential campaigns on mobilizing voters in a handful of counties in five battleground states should have done the trick. Notwithstanding dubious educations in the issues from a blizzard of campaign commercials and mass mailings, the voters in places like Hillsborough County, Florida and Hamilton County, Ohio shouldn’t have ended up effectively choosing the president for the rest of America.
New York Times war correspondent C.J. Chivers isn’t covering the War in Syria in the same way that he covered the War in Afghanistan. He is still writing fascinating accounts of the weapons and munitions improvised by Sunni Islamists. However now the words he uses to identify those Sunni Islamists are strikingly different.
Consider a May 20, 2009 article, “Arms Sent by U.S. May Be Ending Up in Taliban Hands,” in which Chivers details the evidence that ammunition given by the U.S. military to the Afghan military ended up in the hands of the enemy. Who are the enemy?
What do you call a Sunni Islamist attempting to overthrow a legitimate government through kidnapping, assassination and bombing? For the American print and broadcast press, the answer depends on where the violence is being committed. In simpler times — actually just in the previous decade — they would have been called “terrorists.” Today, however, reporters and editors reserve that term for people who commit or plan to commit, or perhaps just talk trash about committing, acts of violence in the West.
Unshackled by Morality
If most of the moral outrage performed on Fox News is patently absurdly overwrought and insincere, the unhappiness expressed about the removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office in the Obama White House, temporarily or permanently, is a notable exception. Bustgate bubbled up, ‘erupted’ is too strong a word, because of a July 26th column written by the dour neoconservative Charles Krauthammer and a July 27th response by Dan Pfeiffer that the bust was still in residence outside the treaty room.
Science fiction is at its best when it directs our attention to traumatic material while we are being entertained. With her riveting Bel Dame Apocrypha series of novels, author Kameron Hurley does that brilliantly. She was kind enough to answer questions about her inspiration.
John McCain’s June 18th speech at the American Enterprise Institute was a useful reminder of why we didn’t elect him president. While fulminating about President Barack Obama’s reluctance to intervene militarily in Syria, the senior Senator from Arizona displayed the kind of rhetorical disingenuousness that convinced a majority of Americans that he couldn’t be trusted. Posturing as a neo-Wilsonian idealist, McCain exhorted Obama learn from the experience of former President Bill Clinton, who “finally summoned the courage to intervene and stop the killing” in Bosnia.
In this interview with poet and novelist Anthony Grooms, I am reminded of the postmodern insistence that every reading of a text is new. The author of the powerful 2001 novel Bombingham, which won the 2002 Lillian Smith Prize for Fiction, Grooms teaches creative writing and literature courses to the fortunate students of Kennesaw State University. I persuaded him to answer some questions about the power of place in that novel and about his current research. His answers do something timeless. They lead us home.
The June 8, 2012 decision of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in National Federation of Federal Employees v. Thomas J. Vilsack deserved more news coverage than it received. At issue in the case was whether subjecting all employees at Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers to random drug tests ordered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service, without regard to their specific responsibilities, violates the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.
The recent elections on the other side of the Atlantic continue to cause concern around the planet and news coverage in the United States is both short on explanation and perspective. That is why I asked Dr. Bill Downs to help sense of it all. Downs serves as Associate Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Georgia State University and is the author of numerous books and articles on contemporary politics in Europe. His most recent book, Political Extremism in Democracies: Combating Intolerance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) examines xenophobia and anti-immigrant parties across the continent.
Huey P. Long is surely the most assassinated figure in American political history. Although he was murdered only once – bullet holes still visible in the marble around the ground floor elevators in his state capital building in Baton Rouge mark the scene of the crime – his memory continues to be the object of shocking distortion. The most recent savaging of the Kingfish was perpetrated by Sally Denton, whose 2012 popular history The Plots Against the President recounts the attempted assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by the anarchist Giuseppe Zangara in Miami and rumored subsequent coup plotting by disgruntled conservatives.
Why Police The Middle East?
Who wants to intervene in the Syrian civil war? Opinion polls on both sides of the Atlantic make it clear that while events in Syria are tragic there is no desire for involvement in another war in the Middle East. Recent experience has taught the public lessons about their cost and futility. Instead, it is the diplomats and the journalists who ache with war fever. You can read it in the rigorous application of double standards about democracy and human rights by the Clinton State Department. You can read it in the slanted framing of the Syrian tragedy by the major English language news sources.
Liberty of the Powerless
Scarcely two years have passed since excited crowds of Tea Party activists thundered fervent evocations of individual liberty and yet today there is only a faint echo of their temper tantrum. Although they could be faulted for puerile conceptions of the American Revolution, for treating the U.S. Constitution as holy text rather than as a deal struck about the rules of the game for competing for power in a liberal democracy, and for barely concealed racist hysteria about President Barack Obama, we can still grant that some Tea Party activists were sincere in declaring their love of freedom. That is what makes their nearly complete silence in the face of current threats to individual liberty from state governments across the country worth noting.
Iran Sure Looks Big
Would it be too much to ask that the neocons at the Weekly Standard decide which country in the Middle East they want the United States to attack next? Astonishingly, in the same March 19th issue of this leading journal of the neoconservative movement can be found an article by Stephen F. Haynes critical of the Obama administration for not being bellicose enough on Iran and another by Lee Smith critical of the Obama administration for not being aggressive enough on Syria. After having waged two very long and, as it is now obvious, pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, can the neocons be serious that they want to launch two more?
What U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says that she wants from the Obama administration is a foreign policy of consistent toughness toward repressive authoritarian regimes. On October 27, 2011, she complained that the administration talking tough to the governments of Libya and Yemen but engaging the government of Cuba.Coming from a Cuban-American who represents the Miami-Dade County District that is home to a large Cuban-American population, that is easily dismissed as yet another regrettable case of ethnic foreign policy lobbying.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith deserves recognition for achieving something that many observers would have thought impossible. He found a way to make the War on Drugs an even greater public policy disaster. On October 10th, the House Judiciary Committee that he chairs voted final passage of a bill amending the Controlled Substances Act to make U.S. drug prohibition prosecution authority universal. If adopted into law by Congress, his Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2011 would make anyone within the borders of the U.S. who “aids or abets” anyone outside the borders of the U.S. in committing acts involving the many substances prohibited and/or heavily regulated by the underlying law that would be illegal if committed within the borders of the U.S. in violation as a conspirator. The range of absurd prosecutions that would be made possible is outlined in a recent piece by Radley Balko in Huffington Post.
There being no escape from the recent efflorescence of evocations of American Exceptionalism by Republican presidential candidates and conservative commentators, I felt compelled to investigate the phenomenon. For insight I turned to Berry College’s own Dr. Michael Bailey, whose scholarship focuses on the ideas that animate American Politics. Surprisingly, his answers point to something positive.
Hickman: First, am I correct in thinking that there a lot more discussion about American Exceptionalism now as opposed to the past? Why are we seeing it now?
Alarmed by a recent encounter with ticks and unable to synthesize what I was finding online about tick borne disease, I decide to exploit the expertise of Berry College’s Biology Professor and College Veterinarian Dr. Martin Goldberg, who just happens to be one of the planet’s foremost authorities on the biology of ticks. His answers offer important background together with some practical advice and useful perspective.
Hickman: Are we in “tick season” now? How long does it last? Is it the same time every year?
Goldberg: Yes, we are in tick season now but it is starting to taper off. Maybe a few more weeks. Generally tick season starts in the spring runs through the summer and into the fall. Ticks need heat and moisture to thrive.
What is the difference between an ‘atrocity’ and a ‘killing spree’? The question is worth asking because, although English language news sources have employed different words or phrases to label the recent horrific events in Norway, the phrase ‘killing spree’ keeps cropping up in place of the word ‘atrocity.’
Part of the difference in connotation involves intention. Where soldiers, police officers and terrorists ‘commit atrocities,’ common criminals, juvenile delinquents and madmen ‘go on killing sprees.’ Atrocity implies greater intention than killing spree. Like the phrase ‘shopping spree,’ killing spree conveys the idea of spontaneous, irresponsible action. Another part of the difference in involves scale. Atrocity implies larger numbers of victims than killing spree. What happened on March 16, 1968, when Georgia’s own Lt. William Calley issued orders to Charlie Company that resulted in the execution of 504 unarmed peasants in the village of My Lai as a reprisal for supporting the National Liberation Front, was an atrocity.
You could almost hear the deflation in Atlanta as the CNN news editors lost interest in the terrorist attack in Norway. The initial report must have seemed so promising. Here was a great news story. A brutal bombing in the capital of a Western European government that was almost certainly committed, or so CNN’s ‘terrorist expert’ concluded, by radical Islamists. No doubt still enraged about some political cartoon in a Danish newspaper. For many network executives and for much of the audience, the Nordic countries are almost indistinguishable anyway.
An Interview with Ian Almond on Attorney General Sam Olens
When the most senior law enforcement officer and legal advisor for the state of Georgia accuses a group of Georgia State University students of being pawns for international terrorists, every liberty loving Georgian should pay close attention. On May 24th, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens stated that he “absolutely” believed that the Progressive Student Alliance leaders who had made an opens records request for information about the Georgia International Law Enforcement Program were acting for unnamed others.