“With Osama Bin Laden dead, can we have our rights back?” – How the effects of 9/11 could lead to America 2049

From the Restore Fairness blog-

On Sunday, May 1, President Obama announced the death of Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the notorious terrorist who spearheaded the 9/11 attacks against the U.S. While the predominant reaction from around the world has been one of relief and joy, bin Laden’s death reminds us of just how big an impact the 9/11 attacks had on us and the way we perceive and treat each other.

While the U.S. was already grappling with the immigration issue, 9/11 triggered a major overhaul of legislation that imposed stringent restrictions on immigration and gave the government much greater power to infringe on the rights of citizens and visitors to this country. The U.S had essentially gone into lock-down mode domestically, and U.S. foreign policy became more aggressive. At the time of the attacks, Barack Obama was an local politician only known in Chicago, and largely unknown to the world. He wrote a short article for his local newspaper, the Hyde Park Herald, in which he reacted to the tragic events of that day and suggested a cautious approach to its repercussions. He stated-

The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity….

We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin American, Eastern Europe, and within our own shores.

Obama's emphasis on steering clear of blind rage and discrimination, as a way of blaming certain groups for the attacks, seems prophetic now. Over the last ten years, we have witnessed increasingly stringent immigration enforcement, and a steady dissolution of civil rights and attitudes towards immigrant communities, especially Muslim-Americans and South Asians. This view was echoed by Chris Hedges, a senior journalist and war correspondent who witnessed 9/11 and was plunged into its aftermath. In an address at a fundraising event on Sunday night as news of bin Laden's death was creeping in, Hedges remembered-

When I was in New York, as some of you were, on 9/11, I was in Times Square when the second plane hit. I walked into The New York Times, I stuffed notebooks in my pocket and walked down the West Side Highway and was at Ground Zero four hours later. I was there when Building 7 collapsed. And I watched as a nation drank deep from that very dark elixir of American nationalism … the flip side of nationalism is always racism, it’s about self-exaltation and the denigration of the other.

The risks and backlash that both Obama and Hedges referenced have materialized over the last decade and placed the U.S. at a crucial crossroads where the decisions we take now will significantly impact the America of the future. In its fifth week, Breakthrough's human rights Facebook game America 2049 takes players to their mission in Phoenix, Arizona, which has been in someway the epicenter of the immigration debate.  In Phoenix, players confront heightened debates around severely restricted immigration policies. Players are also confronted with a scenario where ethnic celebrations and festivals have been outlawed for fear that "they promote dissent and unnecessarily emphasize differences between populations." The game presents players with choices for how to address such a situation in the future, and by referencing historical artifacts, shows how our present could very well lead to the dytopic future that the game depicts. One example of this historical reference is a 1920s songbook - "O! Close the Gates." (see photo) - that demonized immigrants in popular culture.

In Level 5 of America 2049, players also meet Cynthia Espinoza. Watch her testimonial about the need to preserve America's multicultural heritage:

America 2049 addresses the rights of immigrants, including forced immigrant workers, in a country that has struggled to reach a rational solution to the "foreign threats" amplified by the attacks of 9/11. The attacks changed the immigration issue in America dramatically, sparking off a wave of new legislation or a tightening of existing ones. In an intriguing article, the Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) outlined five ways in which Osama bin Laden -- and the 9/11 attacks he masterminded -- altered the immigration landscape in the U.S. These include, perhaps most notoriously, the establishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has been responsible for a growing number of deportations each year, as well as the now-canceled Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet) or the "virtual fence" that was planned for the entire stretch of US-Mexico border. The erosion of basic rights accelerated with the Patriot Act, which considerably expanded the government's ability to conduct surveillance over Americans.

The calls for comprehensive immigration reform have intensified over the past few years, making it even more pressing to address the rights of immigrants who have no criminal records and are working hard to become part of American society. Another aspect of the immigration debate that is brought up in America 2049 is the degradation of immigrant worker rights and forced migration. While the tragedy of 9/11 caused the government to enforce stricter anti-immigrant legislation, one of the side effects has been the neglect of immigrant worker conditions. In America 2049, players discover an actual account by a Puerto Rican laborer at Camp Bragg, Rafael F. Marchan, who protested against his deplorable working conditions in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, such situations still exist today, as reported by the New York Times about a story of "500 Indian men hired by Signal International of Alabama for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina were confined in squalid camps, illegally charged for lodging and food, and subject to discrimination and abuse." The fact that such forced servitude of immigrant workers continues a hundred years on from the example in America 2049 proves that prompt action must be taken to restore basic human rights for everyone.

So while the world celebrates the end of a tyrant, we must remember that more than celebrating a death, we must take this opportunity to work towards lasting peace and respect for basic rights for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or background. Osama bin Laden caused much havoc around the world and claimed countless innocent lives, but letting his actions be used as a reason for the dissolution of respect and rights for hard working, innocent people can simply not be justified. As a statement that circulated virally soon after bin Laden's death was announced said- “If Osama Bin Laden is dead, can we have our rights back?” Ten years on, let's make that our main goal.

Photo courtesy of Norton, et. al., A People and a Nation (5th ed., 1998)

In the Middle East, the Obama Administration is Still Failing to Live up to its Rhetoric

In a speech earlier this week to the U.S. – Islamic World Forum Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again exposed tensions at the core of the Obama administration’s response to popular uprisings for human dignity throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These inconsistencies leave human rights and democracy activists in the region wondering which side the U.S. government is on, and how far it is prepared to support a new vision for a region grounded in democratic government, respect for the rule of law and human rights.

The general theory of the administration’s approach to the region is clear enough: denying the legitimate rights and aspirations of people throughout the region is not a sustainable way for governments to rule.  In her speech secretary Clinton spoke of “exposed myths…that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights.”

Problems come when the administration is required to apply its theory in practice in the form of specific policies designed to deal with the challenges presented by specific country situations.  Here the speech is laced with caveats and qualifications: will the Arab spring result in lasting reforms?  Well, “these questions can only be answered by the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa themselves. The United States certainly does not have all the answers…” Hardly a ringing endorsement of the reform agenda.

There's more...

In the Middle East, the Obama Administration is Still Failing to Live up to its Rhetoric

In a speech earlier this week to the U.S. – Islamic World Forum Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again exposed tensions at the core of the Obama administration’s response to popular uprisings for human dignity throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These inconsistencies leave human rights and democracy activists in the region wondering which side the U.S. government is on, and how far it is prepared to support a new vision for a region grounded in democratic government, respect for the rule of law and human rights.

The general theory of the administration’s approach to the region is clear enough: denying the legitimate rights and aspirations of people throughout the region is not a sustainable way for governments to rule.  In her speech secretary Clinton spoke of “exposed myths…that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights.”

Problems come when the administration is required to apply its theory in practice in the form of specific policies designed to deal with the challenges presented by specific country situations.  Here the speech is laced with caveats and qualifications: will the Arab spring result in lasting reforms?  Well, “these questions can only be answered by the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa themselves. The United States certainly does not have all the answers…” Hardly a ringing endorsement of the reform agenda.

There's more...

Obama Caves On Budget, Brags About It

President Obama is publicly enthusiastic about his budget cut negotiations with Republicans, but should he be? Cenk Uygur weighs in.

 

Progressives Must Stand up to the President

These budget negotiations were a giant win for the Republican Party. President Obama initially cut $40 billion from his own budget proposal -- and he got absolutely no credit for that. It was a very typical preemptive concession by the president. It was so typical, you wonder if he recognizes what an indisputably terrible strategy it is or if he has a different agenda.

So, after getting no credit for his original $40 billion concession, then the negotiations began at square one. The Republicans claimed in February that they wanted $32 billion in cuts from that point on. About a week ago, the president came out an announced that they had given the Republicans another $33 billion in cuts -- a billion more than they originally asked for. And still the Republicans wanted more.

Why not? They're dealing with the world's worst negotiator, why not ask for more? After February they came up with a brilliant good cop-bad cop strategy with the Tea Party, where they had the Tea Party force them to go to $61 billion in demands. Which pushed the spectrum out further to the right. They know President Obama will go to the middle of any spectrum, no matter how radical. And then once they had baited Obama out to the $33 billion number, which was past their original goal, they baited him out even further. Finally, they got him to $38.5 billion in cuts an hour before the deadline.

So, in the end, he got no credit for the original giant cuts, he got no credit for going a billion past the Republican's wildest dreams and he had to give them an extra $5.5 billion to get a deal. But what he doesn't realize is that the shutdown would have been a disaster for the Republicans -- they never wanted that. They were playing him the whole time. When Boehner came back with the deal, he got a rousing ovation from his side, including the Tea Party faction.

It was a put on. The whole time when the Tea Party was demanding the whole $61 billion, they were just playing their part in the game. They were the bad cop to make sure Obama made the deal with Boehner, the good cop. They must had a good laugh at the end.

First, I want to make clear I am not a Monday morning quarterback. Anyone who watches me on The Young Turks or on MSNBC knows that I have been saying all along that Obama was going to fall for this trick and that he was going to go way past $33 billion. It's just who he is. He hates conflict. There almost isn't any deal you can't get him to sign off on. And that's my whole point for writing this -- we can not have him do this next time!

Next time, the negotiations are over trillions, not billions. If he meets them more than halfway -- as he has done every single time now -- it will be a colossal disaster. Whenever Republican presidents try to cut Social Security or Medicare, they run into a brick wall. If the Republicans use President Obama to help them do that instead, then he will have done more damage than a Republican president can.

I hear from Democrats every single time that they'll fight the next time. And it's never the next time. Well, this time we've hit the wall. The next negotiations will be inarguably the most important. If the president obamas this (yes, I used it as a verb), it will be catastrophic.

Now, I want to ask even the most ardent Obama supporters -- do you really believe the president is going to hold strong the next time around? Even you don't believe that, right? It's not who he is. He will look to get past partisan politics. What's the only way to do that when one side is being obstinate? To give in to them. How many times have we seen this movie?

I didn't write this to rub it in the face of the feckless Democrats who always wind up playing the role of the Washington Generals to the Republican Globetrotters (remember the Democrats have the White House and the Senate -- but they let the GOP run the place like they are totally in charge). I wrote it to tell you how incredibly important it is that you put real pressure on the president from the left. He will move to the middle of any spectrum!

If you don't help push the spectrum to the left, the Republicans will move it massively to the right -- and the president will fall for it.

The whole point of the insane, draconian, ridiculous Paul Ryan budget proposal for next year was to move the spectrum all the way to the radical right, so that they can lure Democrats to a false middle, that is in reality the far right.

It's time to stop playing nice with Democrats. Good cop-good cop doesn't work. We need a bad cop. We need a strong progressive wing to keep shouting "no deal!" every time the White House wants to concede (which will be every time).

You can ignore this, blame me and go hug the president one more time, but you won't be doing your side any favors. If you actually care about policy and progressive priorities, you must get tough with the president right now. There is no next time.

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