Monday, June 29, 2009

Everything old is new again

Pleasant surprise: A coup is taking place in Central America and the U.S. government is not backing it (now). Nor is anyone else.

Seriously, I was impressed and pleased with the U.S. government response. See my comments here, in response to understandable kneejerk cynicism skepticism of a kind found widely througout the left end of the blogs today.

Not that there's anything wrong with cynicism if it's funny: My favorite post so far is from the guys at BoRev, who take apart the zombie lie of this news cycle (ZOMG the leftist president is trying to make himself dictator for life!).

For coverage of the issues involved, see coup vet Al Giordano and reporter Karen Bricker at NarcoNews.

The rightists' line is that this is all perfectly legal, not a coup, but a "democratic transition." The Supreme Court openly says it ordered the troops to kidnap Pres. Zelaya out of his bed in the early morning -- so it's legal! The usurper Micheletti (Congressional speaker) showed up with a laughably phony "resignation letter" supposedly signed by Zelaya (on Thursday yet), got voted in, and put his hand on the Bible -- so it's Constitutional! The "democratic transition" was made especially smooth because none of the leftish members of Congress showed up, for fear of being taken prisoner. Like the eight members of Zelaya's administration on whom there is little to no information. Oh, and the fake president promptly declared an indefinite period of martial law, because how else would you kick off such a festival of democracy?

Here's hoping the international isolation has the desired effect: a climbdown in which no one is killed, and the return of normal political life, which can be pretty dangerous on its own in Honduras. Via CISPES, a rundown of what's made Pres. Zelaya so unpopular among the ricos he grew up with:

The proposal to draft a new constitution is the culmination of a series of controversial measures undertaken in his presidency, which include a significant raise in the minimum wage, measures to re-nationalize energy generation plants and the telephone system, signing a bill that vastly improves labor conditions for teachers, joining the Venezuelan Petrocaribe program which provides soft loans for development initiatives via petroleum sales, delaying recognition of the new US ambassador after the Bolivian government implicated the US embassy in supporting fascist paramilitary groups destabilizing Bolivia...

You can see why the Washington Post and New York Times editorial staffs are a bit thrown by the Obama administration's failure to accept the gift of this "democratic transition" gracefully. [Hint: It's the tanks; so nineties eighties seventies over.]

Update: noon, 30 June - The beginning of the end: Two military battalions have turned against the coup plotters, the popular movement has blockaded major highways, and Honduras' neighbors have sealed the borders for 48 hours, shutting down trade. Micheletti's illegitimate government has blocked international media channels, including CNN and Venezuela's TeleSur, and has arrested AP and TeleSur correspondents.

Update 2: 1:40pm, 30 June - Mexico, Brazil, and Chile have withdrawn their ambassadors. Pres. Zelaya has announced that he will return to Honduras accompanied by the president of the Organization of American States after speaking before the UN in New York (at the invitation of General Assembly president Miguel d'Escoto). The UN General Assembly has just unanimously passed a resolution demanding that the coup plotters step down and that Zelaya be returned to his office.

Update 3: 11:45am, 2 July - The OAS has given a 72-hour deadline to the coup government that expires Saturday morning, and Zelaya has agreed to postpone his return until then. Within hours of Zelaya's announcement, the Honduran Congress yesterday afternoon passed a decree suspending indefinitely during curfew hours the five articles of their constitution that most resemble our Bill of Rights. Clearly, they're planning to try to use the night to arrest and intimidate enough popular leaders to prevent a big showing of support for Zelaya's homecoming.

It's remarkably convenient for the Obama administration that these events will be buried in a holiday weekend. More than ten countries and the European Union have withdrawn their ambassadors; the U.S. has not, saying that Amb. Hugo Llorens, a Cuban-born economics specialist who was the State Dept's Andean advisor to the Bush administration during the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela, will be needed to help reach a peaceful solution. Nor has the U.S. government cut off aid, despite being required to do so by the Foreign Assistance Act. (However, the Defense Dept. has suspended all operations with the Honduran military indefinitely and the World Bank has "paused" aid). The administration has put a big emphasis on working through the OAS, so the test will be Saturday: if the coup government hasn't stepped down by then, the U.S. response needs to include an immediate aid cutoff. But don't just wait and watch: call State at 202-647-4000 and leave a message reminding Sec. Clinton that U.S. law requires an immediate end to U.S. aid to Honduras.

Update 4: 4:55pm, 7 July - Negotiations begin in Costa Rica Thursday, with Arias mediating. Restoration looks likely, with Zelaya agreeing to drop effort for constitutional reform. Cracking of ice internally in Honduras has been quite visible: the National Party candidate for President backed Zelaya's return, the head of the Supreme Court has proposed amnesty for the collection of charges against Zelaya, and today even bozo Micheletti toned down the bluster in accepting the negotiations.

Obama and Clinton get to distance themselves politically from Zelaya while getting multilateralist and democratic cred for backing his return to office through regional efforts. The tepid response, the failure to cut off aid ("pausing" it instead), and the indisputable and continuing U.S. role in funding right-wing elites as "democracy promotion" will encourage pessimists to conclude that nothing has changed. But I think the popular movement's pressure for a constitutional assembly provoked the military and the rightists in Congress to overplay their hand badly. The Liberal Party has discredited itself for some time to come as a path to any real reform. Honduras' majority understand that their determined actions helped force the restoration -- although at a high cost.

The distorted accounts in U.S. media and punditry of what led to this crisis are hard to dispel partly because so few people know much of anything about Honduras. Blogger RAJ has stepped into that breach with very useful information. [Update edited and links added at 6:15 pm.]

Update 5: 11:00am, 9 July - Finally! U.S. suspends military aid. That's the right tone to set as Zelaya enters the talks. This will be the last update to this post unless the situation's resolved within a day.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Watching and hoping

Update: 21 June, 2:30 pm - To clarify what I'm hoping for: that this movement continues to deepen, that it can pry open more space for authentic democracy in Iran, and that it will be able to do so with a minimum of bloodshed. I say that with full consciousness of the long and continuing history of my government's pernicious intervention in Iran and around the world, and its exploitation of popular movements for its own ends. I say it while aware of the unsavory and compromised backgrounds of the powerful men who "lead" or support this movement.

We all knew people going out onto the streets today would be killed. Grandstanding by reckless cheerleaders who want this to be all about their own moral or political stance disgusts me. But, likewise, it's unnecessarily constricting to allow the ugly background to block one's ability even to acknowledge what has been accomplished in the last ten days. [See my comment here for more along those lines.]


Monday, June 01, 2009

Assassination in a dirty war

What Digby said.

People always act like this issue is simple. But pregnancy is one situation in life that falls across all kinds of moral, emotional and rational lines, calling into question the autonomy of the very body in which we live and lifelong commitments made in the heat of the moment --- painful choices and primitive imperatives in the most basic human drive we have. Whether it's the idea that women should be "punished" with pregnancy for failing to use birth control, to the idea that adoption is a simple and painless alternative, to the insistence that women who carry a child for seven or eight months must be forced to give birth when the child has no chance at life, to the spectacle of the Octamom, the fact is that there is no broad brush answer that can be applied to all these different circumstances. Certainly, the crude instrument of the law isn't the answer as even the anti-choicers tacitly admit when they refuse to consider the women who have abortions murderers and instead focus on the doctors.

Indeed, the murder of Dr Tiller in a demented defense of a "culture of life" should be all it takes for everyone to see that this is not the simple, straightforward issue they'd like to believe it is. And once you recognize that it's a unique circumstance in which the moral boundaries are blurry and indistinct, the only possible course is to trust the person with the most knowledge of the circumstances, the symbiotic relationship to the fetus and greatest stake in the outcome --- the woman. [emphasis mine]

Pres. Obama was right in his Notre Dame address that it's unfair to impute to every individual who opposes abortion an ideological right-wing drive to coerce women and control their bodies and sexuality. That's true as long as we're dealing with individuals. But the anti-abortion movement as a political entity is waging a war on women's right to choose, to control their own lives. Their extreme fringe is literally waging that war.

My heart goes out to the family, friends, co-workers, and patients of Dr. George Tiller. May we honor his memory by calmly proceeding with the work of defending reaffirming women's right to choose.

Update: 12:30 pm, 3 June - If a war is being waged on us, why not make it a real war by fighting back with "whatever it takes"? Because, as usual, war is not the answer. It strengthens the already-too-strong state and its mechanisms of repression, which will be turned against us far more than against the right.

But neither is this moment a time for mawkish hogwash about finding common ground with organized anti-abortion, anti-choice operatives (there isn't any; they don't support contraception or sex education, either), or how abortion is always a difficult and painful decision (it's not). Dr. Tiller's murder is a clarion call to end apologetic, defensive retreat and affirm our rights as autonomous human beings. Abortion must be safe, legal, and available. Contributions to Medical Students for Choice or another pro-choice organization help make that a reality. [links via commenter John Protevi at]

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