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Archive for March, 2011

How Many Wars? After Libya . . . ?

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli . . .”

[ also at DailyKos ]

We once made the sardonic observation that apparently the aim of the “war on terror,” rather than protecting the Homeland, was to inflame the entire Muslim world—or at least those nations possessing oil. We thought we were only being sardonic.

The U.S. has fired on Tripoli before, of course, in the First Barbary War (1801–1805)—America’s first overseas conflict as an independent nation. Then the United States had its whole future before it . . .

So now the U.S. is at war with four Muslim countries? (We’re counting the undeclared war on Pakistan, as the Afghan war, now in its 10th year, has blurred into the AfPak war, with unmanned Predator drones firing missiles that have killed countless civilians along with jihadists, particularly in Waziristan.)

In response to a request by the Arab League and pressure by France, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., the United Nations Security Council on March 17 passed a resolution demanding an end to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s excessive force against his own people as he fights furiously to crush a rebellion, and authorizing a no-fly zone and the use of military force. The Security Council measure passed with five major abstentions: Germany, Russia, China, Brazil, and India all opted not to vote. Among the Western nations, France and the United Kingdom were pushing hardest for action against Qaddafi. (Click here for a map of the conflict in Libya as of March 25.)

This blog is usually liberal/progressive (domestic policy wishers-and-dreamers), but in this case count us as foreign policy realists. The United States is in a chronic revenue crisis—while radicals in Congress are constantly threatening to shut down the government over excessive spending—and does not have the money to be firing off 110+ Tomahawk missiles at $1.4 million a pop and supporting at least 10 U.S. battleships or aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. We already cannot afford $16 billion per month in Afghanistan (estimate by economist Joseph Stiglitz).

What Is Our Purpose in Libya? Whose Fight Is It, Anyway?

But what is the endgame? How does this play out? Now that we’re involved, the United States as the most powerful player will own the outcome (at least partly). And what will that outcome be? Who exactly are these rebels we’re supporting? (See here and here.) They are said to include the volunteers (or ideological brethren thereof) who went to Iraq to fight against “the Crusader” in the war that began in 2003—on March 19, the same day the Libya air assault began—and still has not ended. If somehow Qaddafi survives and there is an exodus of refugees from Libya, will they seek safe refuge in the United States? France? The United Kingdom? Or will the Arab League states take them in?

NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Richard Engel, who is in Libya and speaks daily with rebel forces there, asks quite logically: Once the rebels feel they have an alliance with the U.S. military whose air strikes have protected them, how do you withdraw that support in a matter of “days, not weeks” without leaving them exposed to reprisals from Qaddafi if he survives in power—the very reprisals the air strikes were originally authorized to prevent? We would add: Do the rebels really have it in them to carry this fight to the finish? How much help do they need? Should outsiders assist? Can al Qaeda pitch in? If outsiders assist the Libyan rebels, what other resistance movements deserve help? Syria’s? Jordan’s? The Palestinians’, too?

What is the mission, and when will the Coalition of the Fractious know when the mission is accomplished? (The Obama administration is not exactly unanimous on the matter, either.) Are the U.S. and Europeans listening to the Arab League, or only telling them how to vote? Obama has said Qaddafi must go, yet the White House denies the U.S. is pushing for regime change. Then there’s the little matter of no congressional authorization, which has infuriated both left and right.

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St. Patrick’s Day in New Orleans: Celtic Carnival

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

Before we write a disapproving piece about the assault on Libya, we want to share a few cheerful views of the St. Patrick’s Day parade we enjoyed from beginning to end on Thursday in Marigny and the French Quarter. (See photos after the jump.) We were not in New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year, so this was a welcome taste of Carnival, though of a more Celtic complexion. The Irish in and around New Orleans can’t settle for just one St. Patrick’s Day parade: we count at least a half dozen. The big one was on Saturday the 12th in the Irish Channel, with the throws including not only beads and cups but cabbages and potatoes. The one we saw on Thursday night in Marigny was the Downtown Irish Club Parade.

It says something about this parade—and about New Orleans—that it originated at a bar called Bud Rip’s Old 9th Ward Bar on the corner of Piety and Burgundy.

During this “Celtic Carnival” season, any lenten fasting or penitence is set aside. Mardi Gras is followed by Ash Wednesday, so by the liturgical calendar (most Irish we know are adherents of a religion that observes this calendar) we are in the season of Lent, a period of 40 days’ fasting before Easter. But . . . everything in moderation.

Before the photos, a few words about Patrick (c. 390–461?), the patron saint of Ireland. He was born in Britain but at about age 16 was seized into slavery by Irish raiders; he was a herdsman for six years until he was able to make his way back to Britain. His work as a missionary among the Irish followed a dream in which he was called to return to Ireland. A description from the Oxford Dictionary of Saints shows an admirable figure well worth emulating:

Although he had little learning and less rhetoric, Patrick had sincere simplicity and deep pastoral care. He was concerned with abolishing paganism, idolatry, and sun-worship; he made no distinction of classes in his preaching. . . . One of the traits which he retained as an old man was a consciousness of his being an unlearned exile and formerly a slave and fugitive, who learnt to trust completely in God.

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Staging area, Royal Street & Elysian Fields Avenue

[ more photos follow the jump(more…)



Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

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“. . . to secure these rights [including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it . . .”

“In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”Declaration of Independence

 

On the night of Weds. March 9, after weeks of massive opposition rallies and national attention, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the state senate pulled a legislative maneuver to pass a bill that strips the state’s public workers of the right of collective bargaining. Wisconsin’s teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public workers had held and cherished the right to bargain for improved working conditions since 1959. These workers agreed to the fiscal remedies Walker sought, but refused to surrender their right to collective bargaining. He forced his bill through anyway, by trickery. Ironically, it was on another March 9 that Congress passed the first piece of FDR’s New Deal legislation, the Emergency Banking Act of 1933.

There was no fiscal crisis in Wisconsin when Walker took office on Jan. 3. But there was a big deficit after his first legislative priority as governor, to give Wisconsin corporations some $140 million in tax breaks.

What makes Walker’s action most reprehensible is his absolute refusal to meet with his opponents or to listen to the tens of thousands of people in the streets objecting to his scheme for “fiscal repair.” Collective bargaining is a right that would only be taken away by a tyrant, and only by force and deception. (Former labor secretary Robert Reich calls it a coup d’etat.) In Walker’s refusal to meet with or listen to the people he was elected to govern, he violates the very principles of representative government.

“Conservative” Is Not the Word for Someone Like Scott Walker

In the fall of 2009 as the Tea Party movement was growing louder and more raucous, we posted a piece titled “Are ‘Conservatives’ Conservative? Are They Even American?” The obviously provocative title irritated a number of our gentle readers—ungentled them, you might say. We said the question was asked not about ordinary citizens, with whose distress we largely sympathize, but about “the elites, the elected officials who until recently held the White House and majorities in Congress, certain corporate executives and right-wing think tankers and pundits who identify themselves as conservatives.” (more…)



Mad About Trains—High-Speed Trains

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

All Aboard, America!

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Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell) and Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) have cut a Mad Men–style web commercial with U.S. PIRG and Funny or Die to show that high-speed trains are cool. It’s 1965. When Pete tries out a pitch, Harry says, “Why are you worrying about this? . . . Trains make sense. They’re efficient, they’re convenient, they’re good for jobs. Hell, I’d rather take a train than fly or drive anywhere. We don’t need to sell trains.”

Harry adds, “I read a piece that said in 40 years gas is going to cost almost a dollar a gallon. . . . America always makes the right investment. . . . Cities are getting bigger. Trains are the most efficient, economical, best investment. It’s obvious. We do not need to sell trains. Now are you gonna make me a drink? I’ve got a long drive home.”

As Pete pours a drink, Kartheiser adds in a voice-over:

We can’t wait another decade to move forward on high-speed rail. The future is now. Tell your friends, tell your family, but most importantly, if you agree, then tell your senators. Find out how and get a bumper sticker to show your support at madfasttrains.com.

There’s humor but also a sad irony in that in 1965, when this ad is set, developers in New York City were already demolishing the grand old Pennsylvania Station to build Madison Square Garden and Penn Plaza and the down-the-rat-hole maze known as Penn Station today. (Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully once wrote, “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”)

 

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Happy Mardi Gras 2011

Monday, March 7th, 2011


“To many New Orleanians, Mardi Gras is not just the day itself, but the season leading up to it. . . . In the two weeks before Fat Tuesday these [Mardi Gras] krewes throw their famous parades. Every night, people from every class and neighborhood make plans to meet “at Bacchus” or for Endymion . . . , picking a corner to meet, bringing food and drinks in coolers, and often ladders with specially constructed boxes on top in which children sit to catch the beads and trinkets that spew from the parade floats like water from the fountain of life itself.” —Tom Piazza, Why New Orleans Matters (pp. 97–98)

When the cares of this world grow too heavy, we all need a break from the ordinary, and that is why we have Carnival. And this festive season, which begins at Epiphany and whose climax is Mardi Gras (this year Tuesday, March 8), is a big part of the reason why this blog cares so much about the health and well-being of New Orleans: the city, its people, and its culture. It’s the City That Care Forgot, but also a place that has lately seen too much to worry about (thanks most recently to a company called BP).

But we won’t dwell on the cares just now—that’s what Carnival is for. It’s also for making fun of hardships and folly, flipping ’em around jujitsu-like with a sense of humor, satire, absurdity. Sometimes it’s the only way to deal. Let it go for a while. Lighten up.  The ancient Greeks and Romans, with their bacchanalias and Lupercalia (Carnival’s deep-historical origins), understood that if you don’t cut loose from time to time with a little madness here and there, you get hit with the big madness, the kind that doesn’t go away. Therefore . . .

To all our friends in and around Louisiana, to all who “Be a New Orleanian, Wherever You Are”—we wish a lively and frolicsome Mardi Gras, a celebration of life, humor, imagination, and letting the good times roll, everybody all together.

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“It is rare indeed to have every, or almost every, citizen in a city tuned to the same channel at the same time. Everyone agrees to have a day, the same day, in which no one can be certain what is going to happen. People light out in the morning, often wearing masks or costumes that advance an alternate persona for themselves. They may have certain stops that they know they will want to make, but they are also open to the fact that the winds of the day may lead them elsewhere, and that that is part of the point of it all. One submits to the multifarious flow of chance and felicity, of music and motion.” —Why New Orleans Matters (pp. 98–99)

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Public Works in a Time of Job-Killing Scrooges

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

 

[ A modified version of this piece appears at New Deal 2.0, a project of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. ]

Last week we went to a panel discussion on public works and infrastructure at the Museum of the City of New York: “Roads to Nowhere: Public Works in a Time of Crisis,” part of the museum’s ongoing Urban Forum series on infrastructure in New York. The discussion focused on NYC and environs, but has implications for public works—infrastructure and transportation—around the nation, including levees and flood control projects in coastal Louisiana, this blog’s primary concern. The same pressures affecting public works funding (or slashed funding) in New York hold for the U.S. generally.

The distinguished panel—moderated by Michael M. Grynbaum, transportation reporter for The New York Times—were Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Construction Company (MTACC); Joan Byron, Director, Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at Pratt Institute; Denise M. Richardson, Managing Director, General Contractors Association of New York; and Jeffrey M. Zupan, Senior Fellow for Transportation, Regional Plan Association. The panelists’ collective expertise was most impressive, almost formidable, and quite to the liking of the near-roomful of about 150 transportation and public works geeks.

What the experts did not discuss to our satisfaction was the political dimension to the “Time of Crisis”: Why are there budget shortfalls? Which political party is doing most of the canceling of projects, and why? What wouldn’t be possible if the rich and corporations paid their fair share of taxes? And why, we keep wondering, aren’t the president or congressional Democrats pushing for anything like the WPA & CCC programs that rebuilt America and employed millions in the last big depression? More about these questions below.

Michael Grynbaum began by reading quotations from a report on how the building of the Second Avenue subway line in Manhattan was affecting local East Side businesses, parking, etc. A spokesman from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) estimated that work would be completed on the long-planned line in 10 years. Date of article: 1977. Status of project: still ongoing. Audience response: pained laughter, chagrin. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry.

Hanging over the whole discussion, Grynbaum noted, was the shocking, job-killing decision by New Jersey governor Chris Christie in October 2010 to pull the state out of the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) project—a new train tunnel under the Hudson River linking New Jersey and Manhattan—because, in Christie’s view, New Jersey was having to pay too much, more than originally budgeted. The cancellation outraged local officials and the public generally, and the Obama administration sought to negotiate a compromise, but Christie rejected the offers. (The two tunnels shown at left, built about 100 years ago, are N. J. Transit’s only way in and out of New York City.)

Denise Richardson said that Christie’s cancellation of this project that would have provided public benefits for at least a century to come—not to mention easier commutes and less auto traffic—would immediately cost about 6,000 direct jobs at a time when unemployment among contracting workers is already at 30%. (The blog 2nd Avenue Sagas says the cancellation means $478 million flushed down the drain for New Jersey alone.)

Grynbaum pointed out that not only Christie but other Republican governors across the United States—in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida—have been rejecting federal appropriations for high-speed rail. (Or, in Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s case, not even applying for the funding.) Many of the same job-killing GOP governors who publicly reject stimulus money as “wasteful federal spending” quietly take the money anyway and have their pictures taken handing out checks to constituents. (See “Republicans Secretly (Seriously) Like the Stimulus.”)

What can be done in a time of budget shortfalls and critical needs for repair and expansion of public transit and other infrastructure? The public can and should individually and collectively demand generous funding for these projects—through letters to the editor, letters and phone calls to elected officials, whatever it takes. We must also help educate our fellow citizens that the benefits are not for a few (such as those who don’t drive cars) but for all.

Panelists generally agreed that transportation and public works supporters must do a much better job of communicating to the public the benefits of public works and transportation and mass transportation in particular. The public does not want to have to pay any higher taxes, understandably, but often the benefits of the public works programs are not evident and the support is lacking.

Hey Obama, Congress: Where’s the WPA for Our Depression?

Michael Horodniceanu said that it is difficult to spread the view of public works as beneficial to all the public amid the pervasive anti-government rhetoric spread by conservative politicians. The tax on gasoline is too low to fund mass transit expansion, and would be voted down. He contrasted the widespread American view (and unwillingness to pay for public transportation) with the French readiness to embrace and pay for public works. He cited a field trip of a group of French students to see building of the trans–English Channel tunnel popularly known as the Chunnel, while across the Channel a group of British citizens were protesting the “eminent domain” taking of wheat fields to be used for the building of the tunnel and rail line into London. The implication was that the American attitude is more like the British than the French.

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Republican War on Working Families

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

It’s Not Only in Wisconsin, America

This TV ad is being launched today in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans. Please help Democracy for America spread the word by clicking here to contribute. Thank you.