Sunday, June 20, 2010

RIP Jose Saramago

The great Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago passed away this week. I've only read his book "The Cave," but damn what a good book. Check out the NY Times retrospective on him here. It's a pretty good review of his career, outside of the unsupported exaggeration that Saramago"was known almost as much for his unfaltering Communism as for his fiction." Not an exaggeration of his political views, but that they threatened to overshadow his literary production. She sums up his style, at least from what I read in "The Cave," quite aptly, a combination of "surrealist experimentation with a kind of sardonic peasant pragmatism." I hope to delve into his work more in wake of his death. "Blindness" sounds particularly interesting.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Great On Point w/ Douglas Brinkley and Naomi Klein Plus Good Resources on Spill

On Point w/ Tom Ashbrook on NPR put out an excellent program today on the Gulf oil spill that I highly recommend. Tom talks with Douglas Brinkley, Naomi Klein, and Julia Reed about the spill in wake of the President's Oval Office speech yesterday. So much of the coverage of the politics of the oil spill has focused on perceptions and political consequences, such as whether the President is showing sufficient anger or what the electoral implications of the spill might be. It's incredibly refreshing to hear a program that presents analysis of this administration's actual response, not just his words.

It's also nice to hear an avowed leftist like Naomi Klein on NPR, which normally elects panelists with safe, predictable views from the powerful DC think tanks, like Heritage or AEI on the right and Brookings on the center-left. Ashbrook does seem to have the most unique show widely broadcasted on NPR stations, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

Like most of us who think the Democratic party is too tight with monied interests and too militaristic in its foreign policy choices, she has criticized Obama from the beginning for his lack of action on global warming and his rather accommodating treatment of financial capital. As expected, she continued to critique him in this vein. What's really interesting is to see historian Douglas Brinkley, more of a liberal than a leftist and a pretty mainstream guy, agreeing with her and lambasting the President without mincing words.

The consensus from these three is that, while talking tough for the cameras, the President in practice has deferred to BP and even protected the company rather than taking charge of the cleanup. To some degree we are at the mercy of BP and its engineers when it comes to stopping the gusher, but the President could have taken control of the broader cleanup and coastal protection from Day 1. Formerly Secretary of Labor Robert Reich proposed that the President put BP under temporary receivership, something quite within his powers (if you can do it with AIG, you can do it with BP) (see this post on his site here). Yet the President would rather let BP take all the heat and protect his approval numbers, which despite public anger might be better for BP's shareholders than serious action like receivership and putting all our resources to bear on protecting the coastline.

In a side note, Brinkley wrote an interesting article in the Financial Times today (if you register, you can get a daily email update and 8 articles a month, it's worth the minute it takes) calling on the President to allow the Mississippi River to revert to its natural, undiverted state to rebuild the wetlands. The canals and levies on the river, constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent flooding in the Mississippi Delta, have caused a gigantic amount of wetlands to disappear as the river's sediment settles out deeper in the Gulf, where it cannot accumulate and create wetlands. This is a pretty radical idea that I haven't heard even a lot of environmentalists propose, but the situation demands its implementation. The oil will likely speed up the already rapid rate at which the wetlands are lost. We need our wetlands as a crucial home for wildlife (including fisheries crucial to the area's economy) and component of the broader Gulf ecosystem, which is already suffering from oxygen-poor dead zones due to agricultural pollution running down the Mississippi as well as this massive, massive spill. On top of the ecological benefits, more wetlands would provide the natural protection from storm surge the New Orleans once enjoyed. And, as Brinkley notes, why not make BP pay?

Finally, check out the Center for Biological Diversity's excellent page on the spill. It includes breaking news as well as a constantly updated history of the spill. The Center brought to the media's attention the Salazar/Obama administration's continued granting "categorical exclusions" from doing environmental review since the spill, 27 times in fact. If you peruse my blog, you will see that I have been no fan of oil- and rancher-friendly Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and we need to keep up the heat on him as well as the President.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Great Jeremy Scahill Destroys Ed Koch

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If you haven't heard of Jeremy Scahill, he's an excellent investigative journalist that works to expose the injustice of American militarism and imperialism. He began his career as a correspondent for Catholic Worker and Democracy Now!. Scahill wrote the excellent expose of private security contractors, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Currently he writes for The Nation magazine (as well as a blog on the magazine's site).

What I enjoy about Scahill's work is that, much like Bill Moyers, he combines a journalist's attention to fact with the aim of working for a more just society. It's rare in these times of talk-format "news" shows and regurgitated talking points to see real journalism, especially when it professes a political goal. Political journalism lately has devolved into blogosphere hysterics on all sides (I'm going to hurl if I hear another reporter say both sides, as if our Democrat-Republican dichotomy encapsulates all possibilities of political opinion).

Not surprisingly he's been all over Israel's violent assault of the Mavi Marmara in international waters. He posted on his blog the video (I posted it above) of his appearance on MSNBC debating Ed Koch about the incident. His rigor for facts partially explains why he destroys the hell out of Koch.

I'll mostly let Scahill's words speak for themselves (he adds to them in this post on his blog). I just want to highlight two things. First, the list of goods banned from Gaza is really ridiculous, both in length and the inclusion of certain individual items (it includes goats and common culinary spices like cumin). It's clear the blockade is intended to do much more than prevent rocket attacks, as Scahill drives home when he asks Koch how goats could be used to launch a rocket.

Secondly, links to the US are crucial here. Israel gets away with human rights violations and violent aggression because the US unconditionally backs it at the UN and provides generous military aid, no matter what party is in power here. Even now the Obama administration is working to thwart an independent international investigation of the massacre. Until we condition our support for Israel upon respect for international law and human rights, these injustices will continue and the matter of Palestinian statehood will remain unresolved.

I hope to have more later on the legal aspect of the assault, so stay tuned.