Home » Politics (Page 2)

Category Archives: Politics


Stamp out starving writers, buy their books!

We think you'll find something interesting here. There's lots to choose from. These posts just go on and on, backward through time. If you'd like to know whenever we post something new, you can get a feed from Critical Pages. If you type our address and add /feed/ at the end, that will do it. That's simply criticalpages.com/feed/ and you're on your way.

Conflict Kitchen

Conflict Kitchen Serving Iranian Takeout
Conflict Kitchen Serving Iranian Takeout

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” That quote is ascribed to Mark Twain, and maybe he did say it. And maybe we can re-write it to say that God created war so that we could learn about other societies and what they eat. Or maybe we should just talk about Conflict Kitchen.

The people who run Conflict Kitchen have announced this about their restaurant. “Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events.”

We think it’s a very interesting idea. And if we were close enough to Pittsburgh to have lunch there, we’d definitely stop in the Kitchen and sample whatever they were serving. Past versions have had menus from Afghanistan, Iran and Venezuela, and currently the Cochina del Conflcto is focused on the food, culture and politics of Cuba. Their next iteration will focus on North and South Korea.

As you might expect, their Job Opportunities paragraph is unusual, too. Among other things: “We expect our employees to be expert conversationalists, deeply versed in the culture and politics within our focus county. We also expect our employees to learn how to produce our cuisine in an efficient, consistent, and professional manner.”

Conflict Kitchen has a stylish website that can give provide you with what you need to know about their project. If you get to the new post-industrial Pittsburgh drop in, and tell us about the food, the politics, the culture.

And No One’s To Blame?

Uncle Sam
Uncle Sam is pissed.

Who’s to blame for the government shutdown? The news analysts on radio and TV say, “There’s lots of finger pointing and plenty of blame to go around.”

Radio and TV people like to use phrases like  “lots of finger pointing” and “plenty of blame to go around.” The phrases don’t help us understand what’s going on, but we hear them just about every day. And it isn’t  sharp and insightful when news analysts call the current bitter dispute between Republicans and Democrats “bickering.”  Now they’re beginning to say that “both sides are digging in their heels” and “both sides refuse to compromise.” That doesn’t shed much light either.

Using those and similar phrases is intended to show that the media is even-handed and not taking sides, not saying that one side or the other is to blame for the shutdown. Honest media people strive for objectivity, and they really want to be even handed and balanced as they report what’s going on. But being balanced doesn’t mean reporting that both sides are equal in responsibility for shutting down the government. Being honest  in analyzing the situation  means saying who is responsible if, in fact, one side is responsible.

This current conflict between Republicans and Democrats has arisen because the Republican members in the House of Representatives want to defund the Affordable Care act – the law commonly called Obamacare. Republicans may be right or wrong about Obama care, but that’s beside the point – they don’t like it and want to kill it by starving it. House Republicans have sent more than 40 bills to the Senate, each one designed to kill Obama care. Each one has been flatly rejected by the Senate’s Democratic majority.

Ordinarily, when you’re outvoted — well,  you’re outvoted, so you move on. Or, when it comes to sending bills between the House and the Senate, if your bill is rejected, you try to modify it enough to get it accepted, or you move on to other matters. That’s not happening now.

What’s new here is that House Republicans have said that if they don’t get their way, if the Democrats in the Senate won’t agree with them, and if the Democrat in the White House won’t sign their bill into law, they won’t fund anything and the government will stay shut down. President Obama has called that legislative maneuver extortion and blackmail. Maybe the media can’t find words to substitute for “extortion” and “blackmail,” and maybe that’s why they can’t quite fix the blame.

Obama and Sunday Morning Talking Heads

Bashsir al-Assad
Bashsir al-Assad

Bashar Hafez al-Assad has caved in and, under the tutelage of his Russian arms suppliers, has agreed to give up his entire stockpile of chemical (gas) weapons. Incredibly, some analysts thought that Obama was weakened, or at the very least “appeared weak,” by negotiating a deal with Russia under which Russia’s client state, Syria, would give up its stockpile of poison gas. Weak? The Syrian government, under the pressure of a threatened attack, gives up it’s poison gas, and Obama appears weak? Does that make any kind of sense?

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

Or, again incredibly, some analysts asserted that by “partnering with a terrorist,” meaning al-Assad, Obama was legitimizing the Syrian regime. The US is partnering with Russia in this deal, not Syria. Furthermore, no one can “legitimize” or “de-legitimize” a government that holds power. Popular power or military might does that; nothing else matters. And, of course, this deal weakens al-Assad.

And, finally, there was talk that Vladimir Putin had emerged as a

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

leader of great stature by pressuring his clients in Syria to give up their chemical weapons. Oh? Putin had repeatedly blocked US efforts to handle this matter in the UN Security Council, but when US missile warships moved close to Syria, he came around to the US position. That raised Putin and reduced Obama’s stature? Really?

But surely the dumbest remarks were made those who wished that President Barack Obama could be more  like Lyndon Johnson. Now, about Lyndon Johnson, they said, “There was a man who really enjoyed politics, a man who got his way with  Congress because he knew how to twist arms, how to make deals, how to win. ” And that’s true. But either those commentators are purposely leaving out a crucial fact or they’re simply ignorant — Lyndon Johnson had the luxury of working with a Congress that was dominated in both chambers by his own Democratic  Party.  But even with a House and Senate of his own party, Lyndon Johnson finished his presidential term so politically ruined by his Vietnam policy that the only places he could give a speech without being heckled and booed and swamped by protesters were military bases.

Maybe you know the opening lines of Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” — When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all. Some of the grumps at Critical Pages feel that way after listening to the talking heads on Sunday morning news shows.

Ins and Outs in the MIddle East

Rabaa Square before and after military assault.
Rabaa Square before and after military assault.

There are always a couple of Republicans ready to help the President make difficult decisions. Right now the pair is Lindsey Graham and John McCain. Yes, that’s the same Senate pair who urged Obama to intervene in Syria, decrying the President’s “lack of leadership” in that conflict. Thus far no American men and women have died in combat over there,  due to our not being engaged in that utterly confused, horrific sectarian war. President Obama is showing leadership. He’s just not leading where McCain and Graham want to go.

Now Senators McCain and Graham are urging the President to “suspend U.S. assistance to Egypt and make clear to the current leadership of the country what steps we believe are necessary to halt Egypt’s descent into civil conflict and ultimately to restore our assistance relationship, which has historically served U.S. national security interests.” The statement continues, “The interim civilian government and security forces — backed up, unfortunately, by the military — are taking Egypt down a dark path, one that the United States cannot and should not travel with them.”

The Obama administration has repeatedly made it’s objections quite clear to the generals in Egypt and the President has already held back a shipment of aircraft and has most recently canceled a joint military exercise with Egypt. The generals  see the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to their very existence and — no surprise — they haven’t changed course to satisfy the U.S.

As the Senators point out, “our assistance relationship” with Egypt “has historically served U.S. national security interests.” That assistance began when, under the guidance of President Carter, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty and — again, no surprise — Israel urgently wants that aid to continue.   We’re giving 1.2 billion in assistance; other states in the Arabian Gulf area are giving a total of ten times as much. No one thinks that our cutting off aid will cause Egypt to change it’s current use of force to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt’s military appears to have massacred civilians.  On the other hand, the Brotherhood appeared to be subverting a fragile democratic Egypt to a radical Islamic caliphate. The U. S. isn’t in charge of events and apparently can’t even influence them much, but if we cut off aid to Egypt we’ll have played our last card and we’ll no longer be in the game at all.  It’s easy for Senators McCain and Graham to call for pious action, especially if the goal is to demonstrate our nation’s purity.  But Egypt presents us with a confused, ugly mess when inaction and watchfulness is best.  We’re free to act later.

Dr. Gupta and the Weed

Dr. Sanjy Gupta
Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one of the most visible and popular medical doctors in the United States, a popular face on television, has just announced that up to now he’s been wrong about marijuana. He’s discovered that marijuana isn’t the terrible destructive drug he had previously said it was. And now he has a CNN special, called “Weed,”to  explain why he’s changed his mind.

Back in 2009 Dr. Gupta wrote in Time magazine about the perils of marijuana. Back then he opposed prescribing marijuana even for severe medical problems where it would have provided relief. Because back then he was being misled. But it turns out that Dr. Gupta recently did some research on the subject.  Better late than never.

Well, he didn’t actually do the research, but he read a lot of articles and medical papers about it by others who did the research, and it turns out he had been misled.  He doesn’t say so, but we think maybe he also researched the election returns and discovered that public opinion and laws about usage of marijuana have begun to change and some states have already legalized the weed.

Marijuana leaf
Marijuana leaf

Writing on CNN.com on August 8, 2013, he said,  “We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that. “

That’s a very interesting sentence. When Dr. Gupta says “we” he seems to be including himself among the people who have been mislead, but in the second half of the sentence he apologizes “for my own role in that.” For his own role in what? His role in being misled? Being  misled doesn’t require an apology unless, of course, you were willfully blind to all the easily available articles giving an alternative view of marijuana. Maybe he’s apologizing for his role in misleading us.  Because he did mislead.

We can’t judge Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s smarts as a doctor, but we do know he’s  a media savvy TV personality. We find it hard to believe that this highly educated doctor, who is himself part of our popular culture,  didn’t know the other side of the marijuana story.  In his article on CNN.com he says, “I hope this article and upcoming documentary will help set the record straight.” We hope so, too.

Messy Flower Garden (2)

Messy flower gardenReaders of Critical Pages may recall that we believe in messy gardens — messy vegetable gardens, messy flower gardens. The gardens at Versailles give us a splitting headache, and as we pointed out in our previous post on this subject, the people who delighted in the gardens of Versailles got their heads split from their necks. French aristocrats liked the idea of Nature tamed, contained and obedient to the Gardener. The gardens at Versailles reflected the aristocracy’s ideal on how to rule not only unruly Nature, but also the unruly lower classes. But we at Critical Pages are believers in fair democracy, so we let our garden grow any which way it pleases. If one flower gets watered, all flowers get watered.  No  one percent hogging 80 percent of the nutrients in this garden. And the flowers appear to be happy.

Egypt, the Mobs & Democracy

On the evening of July 3 and long into the night, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrated the Egyptian military’s ouster of their democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, who had been in office for about a year.

We old sourballs at Critical Pages have never liked President Morsi. His party, composed primarily of the Muslim Brotherhood and a sprinkling of conservative Islamic groups, was the last to take part in the grassroots uprising that overthrew the autocratic Hosni Mubarak — an uprising that succeeded when the military withdrew their support of Mubarak, forced him out of office and took him prisoner. And when the Muslim Brotherhood did begin to participate in the move against Mubarak, they said they were not interested in political power and would not field a presidential candidate.

That was merely the first in a long list of lies and stealth maneuvers that brought Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power. And after getting into office President Morsi behaved like a man who, having won the election, believes he has an intrinsic right to do whatever he pleases.  And what pleased him was to acquire more and more power. At one point in 2012 he granted himself unlimited powers to “protect” the nation and the power to legislate without judicial oversight or review. Yup, he was a rotten president.

But we old sourballs don’t feel like celebrating the overthrow of a democratically elected president, even a rotten one, by a military junta acting in the name of “the people,” by which they mean the mobs in the street. That mob is made up of secularists, yes, and liberals, yes, and also by lots of supporters of Mubarak and by religious zealots more backward than the Muslim Brotherhood. But even if those cheering in Tahrir Square had been saints and angels, it’s still a lousy way to remove a president from office.

So the military powers have rolled out the armored personnel carriers, arrested the president, arrested the leaders of his political party, suspended the constitution and announced to the cheering throngs that they, the generals, will present them with a roadmap to the future. The last time this happened was at the fall of Mubarak and after the military had been in power for a while the mobs discovered they didn’t like it.

Maybe this is what Egypt needed to do. Maybe the political system had failed — it certainly looked that way — we know the economy was failing and maybe the society as a whole was sliding toward failure. Now, this time, maybe the secularists will get their act together, get organized, field one candidate and not three. Maybe Egyptian society will get around to the concept that people have certain rights regardless of which party wins an election. Maybe the idea of live-and-let-live will spread everywhere.

Take Your Camera To The Bank

Bank vault 470Let’s have some fun with privacy.  But first of all, let’s be reasonable. We don’t expect privacy when we take a walk down town or drive into the city. That’s important, because a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is often the basis for judicial decisions on privacy.

But do reasonable people expect to be followed continuously by a policeman?  That’s what happens whether you’re a pedestrian on the sidewalk or a driver in a car. Police departments have access to municipal cameras posted all over town and they can follow a person or a vehicle quite nicely. And don’t think you’ll escape surveillance because they’ll fall asleep from boredom. They have excellent software that takes the drudgery out of finding and trailing you.  Furthermore, they can make arrangements to be connected to commercially owned cameras positioned in stores or outside or in parking lots.They have you covered.

But the invasion of privacy is all in one direction. Have you noticed? Your government and the commercial enterprises that surround you, such as your bank,  are permitted take your photograph and invade your privacy, but you’re not supposed to  invade theirs in return.

The next time you go to the bank, take a camera with you and photograph the employees and the interior of the bank. After all, the bank is run by reasonable people who don’t expect their customers to be blind and not able to see their surrounding. So take a camera along and start taking photographs. If you take photos with your smartphone, you’ll be able to upload them! Work fast.

The Right to Privacy

Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren  were friends and classmates at Harvard Law School. They graduated in 1877 —

Samuel Warren, 1875
Samuel Warren, 1875

Warren was second in that class, second to Brandeis who not only was first, but also had the highest grade average in the history of the school, a record that lasted for 80 years.  In 1879 the two young lawyers founded the Boston law firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish. At the end of 1890 they published their famous law review article “The Right to Privacy.” It has remained a landmark in American legal history. What follows is a brief excerpt from  that famous article:

Brandeis, Louis
Louis Brandeis, 1900

The common law secures to each individual the right of determining, ordinarily, to what extent his thoughts, sentiments, and emotions shall be communicated to others. Under our system of government, he can never be compelled to express them (except when upon the witness stand); and even if he has chosen to give them expression, he generally retains the power to fix the limits of the publicity which shall be given them. The existence of this right does not depend upon the particular method of expression adopted. It is immaterial whether it be by word  or by signs, in painting, by sculpture, or in music. Neither does the existence of the right depend upon the nature or value of the thought or emotion, nor upon the excellence of the means of expression. The same protection is accorded to a casual letter or an entry in a diary and to the most valuable poem or essay, to a botch or daub and to a masterpiece. In every such case the individual is entitled to decide whether that which is his shall be given to the public.

Horizontal line 460px

In 1916, Louis Brandeis — by that time a well known advocate of progressive causes — was confirmed by the Senate and became an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.  His nomination by President Woodrow Wilson was controversial; there was opposition from some because of his “radical” views and from others because he would be the first Jew on the Supreme Court. The vote was 47 to 22. Forty four Democratic Senators and three Republicans voted in favor,  21 Republican Senators and one Democrat voted against.

NSA vs. The Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Yes, that’s the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the fourth item in the Bill of Rights. But a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post reveals that our government is collecting information directly from the servers of  Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.  And that’s searching and seizing without probable cause.

 It’s too early to say that our National Security Agency is tracking every email we send or receive, and every phone call we make or receive, how long we spoke and to whom.  After all, we only found out about the program today. What do we know, right?

 On the other hand, we do know the government doesn’t have probable cause to believe that all citizens with telephones and/or  email accounts have committed a crime. Nor has a judge issued two or three hundred million warrants based upon probable cause.

 Some defenders of the National Security Agency say that the agency doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment by gathering all this metadata  — data about data — because it isn’t actually listening to your phone conversations or reading your texts or examining the sites you visited or the photos you posted or received. It’s only tracking, only recording who you talk with and for how long, only recording what websites you visit, and so forth. The NSA gathers this metadata so it can sift through it, sift through all of it, to uncover patterns which may or may not look suspicious. So all those people, those people referred to in the Fourth Amendment, they have nothing to worry about. Except their privacy.

More Notes

The World Happiness Report, released by the United Nations, ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. This year, Finland is first, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland, followed by Netherlands, Canada,New Zealand, Sweden, Australia. The United States, which has never been in the top ten, silpped down four places from last year and is now 18th. President Trump may make American Great Again, but apparently not happier.