Focal Points Blog

Patriot Act Sponsor James Sensenbrenner — Progressive Champion?

James-SensenbrennerYou remember James Sensenbrenner, don’t you? A Republican from Wisconsin, he introduced the Patriot Act in the House of Representatives 42 days after 9/11. Among his other “accomplishments” was authoring the Real ID Act in 2005 and acting as a general thorn in the side to any legislation that could be interpreted in as at all humane and progressive. Turns out, even Sensenbrenner has his limits.

In a New York Times article titled Momentum Builds Against N.S.A. Surveillance Jonathan Weisman reports on the beginnings of a congressional change of heart.

The rapidly shifting politics were reflected clearly in the House on Wednesday, when a plan to defund the National Security Agency’s telephone data collection program fell just seven votes short of passage. Now, after initially signaling that they were comfortable with the scope of the N.S.A.’s collection of Americans’ phone and Internet activities, but not their content, revealed last month by Edward J. Snowden, lawmakers are showing an increasing willingness to use legislation to curb those actions.
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Peter Buffett: Corporate Rich Use Philanthropy to Paper Over Wounds They Inflict

Bill Gates -- spreading the wealth?

Bill Gates — spreading the wealth?

“Conscience laundering” is what Peter Buffett (son of Warren) calls “feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.” He provides perspective from inside the world of philanthropy, where, like his father, he’s a player in a startling op-ed in the New York Times on July 27 titled The Charitable-Industrial Complex. He writes:

Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.
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Egypt: The Deck Reshuffled (Pt. 2)

Read Part 1.

Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna.

Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna.

While media in the United States has focused on the Egyptian uprising that triggered a military-led coup in which the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) led government was dissolved, hardly any media reports here have considered the regional implications of the Egyptian events, nor the implications for U.S. Middle East policy. Reeling from the coup’s impact, the echoes of which extend far beyond Egypt, the MB is now scrambling to limit the regional damage to its influence. U.S. Middle East policy slips back into disarray.

Yet, analyzing Egyptian politics, economic, and social structures requires taking into consideration the country’s role in the region, and not in isolation. Assessing the Egyptian crises, the subject matter at hand, in abstraction, without due attention to the Egypt’s regional context misses the proverbial forest through the trees.  To better understand what happened in Egypt and the ramification of the recent events we need to explore a number of issues:

1. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its regional and internal politics
2. The regional power players
3, The sectarian campaign against the Shia.
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Santiago Train Crash: What, No Speed Governor?

AlviaOnly China has a more extensive high-speed train network than Spain. On Wednesday night at least 80 people were killed when a high-speed train, rounding a curve, flew off the rails in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Reuters reports:

El Pais newspaper said the driver told the railway station by radio after being trapped in his cabin that the train entered the bend at 190 kilometers per hour (120 mph). An official source said the speed limit on that stretch of twin track, laid in 2011, was 80 kph.

The driver, Francisco Jose Garzon, was reported as saying:

“We’re only human! We’re only human! … I hope there are no dead, because this will weigh on my conscience.”
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Indonesian Mass Killings Should Have Shortened Vietnam War

McNamaraJohnsonIn a lengthy piece for Slate, Errol Morris, the author and filmmaker, writes about a controversial new movie for which he served as an executive producer. Directed by Josh Oppenheimer, The Act of Killing is an examination of an atrocity, in this case, the 500,000 to a million killed in Indonesia in the mid-sixties. Conducted with the aid of Western governments, especially the United States, it was yet another heavy-handed attempt to staunch the spread of communism.

Rather than write about the film’s innovative approach, for which the director is being hailed, we’ll focus on a point Morris brought up in his article. He writes:

I had picked up Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960–1968, a book by Bradley Simpson, professor of history at Princeton [who wrote]

“The annihilation of the largest non-bloc Communist party in the world vividly undermined the rationale for the escalating U.S. war in Vietnam, as former defense secretary Robert McNamara has noted, eliminating at a stroke the chief threat to the Westward orientation of the most strategically and economically important country in Southeast Asia  …  .”
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Lindsey Graham Ready to Play the “Last Card” on Iran

John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel

John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel

Lindsey Graham is no longer just rattling his saber at Iran — it now looks like he’s en garde and ready to face off against the Islamic Republic. At ThinkProgress, Ben Armbruster reports that, on Tuesday (July 23), the Republican senator from South Carolina said

“If nothing changes in Iran, come September, October, I will present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb,” … “The only way to convince Iran to halt their nuclear program is to make it clear that we will take it out,” Graham said, echoing comments he made last week, calling the war authorization “the last card to play in a very dangerous situation.”

Not only is he talking about playing the last card, he’s playing to the cheap seats. Senator Graham was addressing Christians United for Israel (CUFI), fundamentalist kingpin John Hagee’s suspicious foundation. In 2008, at Politico, Ben Smith reported in 2008:  “Hagee is viewed with distrust by some Jews and Israelis because his brand of Christian Zionism closely links support for Israel to the end of the world and the conversion of the Jews to Christianity.”
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Occupy Slovenia

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Sara Pistotnik

Sara Pistotnik

The Occupy movement began in the United States – at a statue of a bull standing in the heart of Wall Street in New York City. It spread quite rapidly to other places around the country and around the world. In many locations, it built on or connected to pre-existing movements that had been working on questions of economic inequality for some time. But for many people, it was their introduction to activism.

In the United States, at least, the movement resisted both conventional leadership and conventional political program. It favored a more decentralized approach to both structure and content. It wasn’t that Occupy lacked a leader or a program. It had plenty of both. Indeed, to quote Walt Whitman, Occupy “contained multitudes.” And, like the poet, it sometimes contradicted itself. But Occupy never promised uniformity or consistency.

Perhaps the chief defect of Occupy had nothing to do with these purported weaknesses. It had to do with process. In many Occupy movements across the United States, the participants could only move forward on projects with the consensus of the group. In a relatively homogenous group, such as Quakers, consensus can be an effective tool for decision-making and group cohesion. But Occupy was far from homogenous. Even the “modified consensus” that some of the groups used, which required 90 percent approval on proposals, frequently came up against a minority bloc determined to dig in its heels.
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Egypt: Requiem for a Revolution that Never Was

Cross-posted from Counterpunch.

 “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

EgyptDemonstrationAs the military in Egypt consolidates its putsch against the leadership and political structures of the Muslim Brotherhood, it should be obvious that the initial narrative rationalizing intervention by the military as a necessary corrective to a “revolutionary process” has lost all credibility. Yet many liberals and radicals appear united in a fanciful reading of the events in Egypt that not only legitimizes the coup but characterizes the collection of small-minded state-capitalists thugs who make up the top officer corps of the military as part of the people and the revolutionary process.

From bourgeois intellectual hacks like Isabel Coleman to venerable Marxist materialists like Samir Amin, who implied that the Egyptian army was a neutral class force, the emotional response to seeing hundreds of thousands of people on the streets seems to have created a case of temporary insanity, or as Frantz Fanon refers to it as – cognitive dissonance. This can be the only explanation for the theoretical and rhetorical acrobatics many are engaged in to reconcile their beliefs in democratic rights and revolutionary transformation with what is occurring right before their eyes in Egypt.
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Uighur Unrest in Xinjiang Has Nothing to Do With “Terrorists”

UighurXinjiang, China’s largest and westernmost province, is home to over eight million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim ethnic minority. The Uighurs have lived uneasily alongside China’s Han majority for centuries, ever since the Qing dynasty seized control over Xinjiang—which lies above Tibet and shares borders with many Central Asian countries—in the 1700s. There are now just slightly more Uighurs in the province than Han Chinese, who have migrated en masse to Xinjiang in recent decades.

Four Julys ago, a spate of ethnic violence rocked Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang. Clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese killed nearly 200 people and injured over 1,000, according to official estimates. The 2009 riots were a culmination of decades of Uighur-directed religious repression and economic discrimination—as well as a serious indication of deteriorating Han-Uighur relations.
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All That Missile Defense Tests Prove Is That It’s a Lose-Lose Proposition

Missile DefenseYou’d think that after the dismal failures of previous tests, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) would wait to run another public test until it was more confident that it could be more successful. Perhaps in tacit acknowledgment that day would never come, on July 5 the MDA launched an missile from the Marshall Islands to act as a fox to the hound of an interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But, this model interceptor, part of a system ostensibly justified by the existence of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program, failed its third consecutive test.

Afterwards the MDA issued this press release (emphasis added):

Although a primary objective was the intercept of a long-range ballistic missile target launched from … the Marshall Islands, an intercept was not achieved. …Program officials will conduct an extensive review to determine the cause or causes of any anomalies which may have prevented a successful intercept.

At Reuters, Andrea Shalal-Esa reports on one “anomaly.”

A failed U.S. missile defense test last week may be linked to a faulty battery that prevented an interceptor from separating from the rest of the rocket. … Riki Ellison, chairman and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said preliminary findings into the missed intercept pointed to a failure of the final stage of the ground-based interceptor to separate, rather than a failure of the interceptor to detect, track or hit the target.
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