Monday, March 12, 2007

L.A. Times-Another Silly Obama Article

Sunday’s Los Angeles Times had, yet another, silly article about Sen. Barack Obama:

Obama Classmates Saw a Smile, But No Racial Turmoil
by Richard A. Serrano
Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 11, 2007

This time it was about Obama's "angst" as a kid at Punahou School, an elite prep school in Hawaii. The kicker says: “Hawaii classmates recall him as a happy kid who fit in. They say they had no idea of the racial tension inside.”

They say that today Sen. Obama is “trying to show that he understands the indignities of racism and the economic troubles that many believe continue to flow from the legacy of slavery.”

Excuse me? What’s that reference to “economic troubles that flow”?

How about “economic troubles that flow” from gross inequality, discrimination, bad schools, deindustrialization, outsourcing to countries with ridiculously low wages, crony capitalism, and a generally f**ked-up corrupt Republican-dominated Establishment?

The election is a year and a half away and this African-American is already sick and tired of MSM bull**** about Obama’s “blackness.”

Debra Dickerson made a big media splash with a flippant article titled "Colorblind"posted on Salon.
. . .

Obama isn't black.

"Black," in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent (even those descended from West Indian slaves) are just that, voluntary immigrants of African descent with markedly different outlooks on the role of race in their lives and in politics. At a minimum, it can't be assumed that a Nigerian cabdriver and a third-generation Harlemite have more in common than the fact a cop won't bother to make the distinction. They're both "black" as a matter of skin color and DNA, but only the Harlemite, for better or worse, is politically and culturally black, as we use the term. . .

We know a great deal about black people. We know next to nothing about immigrants of African descent (woe be unto blacks when the latter groups find their voice and start saying all kinds of things we don't want said). That rank-and-file black voters might not bother to make this distinction as long as Obama acts black and does us proud makes them no less complicit in this shell game we're playing because everybody wins.
. . .
I lived through the 1960s civil rights revolution. Some of us have been saying all along that the U.S. “Establishment” is not now and never has been “liberal.” What do I mean by “Establishment?” I mean the little men who run big business, big government, big labor, big universities, and the big media.

Moreover, when it comes to civil rights issues, the U.S. Establishment is racist. What do I mean by “racist?” I mean these overrated, overpaid creeps believe that 19th Century superstitious nonsense that humanity is divided into so-called Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid “races” and these “races” are always at war with each other so that in a diverse country like the United States one “race” must necessarily have supremacy over the others.

Hence, the preoccupation with Obama’s “race.”

Here are snippets from the Times piece:

Obama Classmates Saw a Smile, But No Racial Turmoil
by Richard A. Serrano
Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 11, 2007

HONOLULU — As a second-stringer for the Punahou high school basketball squad, Barack Obama would fire up his teammates with renditions from the R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire. In yearbooks, he signed his name with a flourishing O, for Obama, which he topped with an Afro. In a world of 1970s rock 'n' roll, he was known for a love of jazz.

To his classmates, the skinny kid with a modest Afro had comfortably taken his place in the ethnic rainbow of Punahou, an elite prep school.

. . .

"We had chapel sessions on the Bahai faith, Islam, Judaism, and all forms of Christianity," said Bernice G. Bowers, a classmate. "The message was that diversity made for a richer community."

Dressed like other boys in the required collared shirts and khaki pants, Obama was one of a small number of blacks, but the student body included large numbers of kids with Chinese, Japanese, Samoan and native Hawaiian ancestry, as well as many whites.

"We didn't think about his blackness," said Mark Hebing, who went to school with Obama for eight years.

As a candidate, Obama is also trying to show that he understands the indignities of racism and the economic troubles that many believe continue to flow from the legacy of slavery.

Punahou was where Obama first awakened to these issues, and to the complexities of being black in America. In his bestselling memoir, "Dreams From My Father," he writes that during his time at the school — from fifth grade through his high school graduation in 1979 — he felt the first stirrings of anger toward whites. He says he also delved into black nationalism.

. . .

Obama says that as he found his way in the world, he learned there were limits to the desirability of advertising his race.

"People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves," he writes in "Dreams." "They were more than satisfied; they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn't seem angry all the time."

Certainly Obama's classmates had little sense of what he says was going on beneath the surface.

"His reflections about the race issue surprised all of us," said Kellie Furushima, who knew him well. "He gave no indication of feeling uncomfortable in school, and I never witnessed or heard anyone being unkind to him.

. . .

Obama lived with his grandparents in an apartment near the school, his father away in Kenya and his mother pursuing studies in anthropology. None of the 40 classmates interviewed for this article — one-tenth of his class — saw the inside of that apartment, nor had any idea that Obama came to Punahou only by the grace of financial assistance with the tuition — $15,000 a year in today's dollars.

In class, he excelled in debate and composition.

Darin Maurer was amazed at what Obama could get done just over lunch at home. "This was before computers, and he could sit with a typewriter and put down a term paper pretty fast, then head back to school and hand it in."

. . .

Afro! Black nationalism! He talked… and typed!

(gasp! shudder! shake!)

Obama may have written that in his book, knowing that people who buy books in the U.S. eat that stuff up. But even if it’s all true, so what? All this tells us is that Obama was a very smart, very thoughtful and very precocious high school student. But you knew that already.

Punahou School was founded in 1841 for the children of Congregational Missionaries in Hawaii. Way back in 1851, the school opened its doors “to all races and religions” (about a hundred years before certain famously “liberal” schools in the Eastern United States, but I digress).

Today, this coeducational school enrolls over 3,750 students. It is non-sectarian but retains its Christian heritage.

What’s so terrible about all this? Leave it to the MSM that never questioned what the hell Andover was doing with an obvious dummy like George W. Bush, to try to make it into something ugly.

The Times published a picture from the school yearbook:

Obama at Punahou School

The caption says: “A 1976 photo from the Punahou School yearbook shows ninth-grader Barack Obama-- front row, fourth from right -- with his class.”

The kid looks cool. Were you that cool in the 9th grade? I, myself, was a total geek . So, the kid went through changes in adolescence. So what? That’s what kids do in adolescence!

Nobody worries about the “angst” of the very self-righteous Rudolph Giuliani growing up in a large extended family that included cops, criminals, firefighters and Mafia hoodlums.

Nobody worries about the “angst” of John McCain, Navy brat born in the Panama Canal zone and the son of Admiral John S. McCain, Jr. For all we know when McCain wanted to be an artist. It’s not hard to imagine McCain experiencing "angst" being pressured to go to Annapolis and be a big war hero.

Richard M. Nixon grew up a poor kid in Southern California and nursed a seething hatred of Eastern “liberal” elites to the end of his days. Too bad the know-it-all media never asked questions about the destructive and self-destructive consequences of Nixon’s “angst.”

My dear wife does not agree with my FLAME-ON about this article. She says if all the talk about Obama raises the consciousness of a lot of clueless folks about the perniciousness of racism that's a good thing.

I respectfully disagree. Want to have a serious discussion about U.S. Sen. Barack Obama for president? Talk about the issues and the man’s philosophy.

Want to have a serious discussion about racism and the “economic troubles that flow” from the U.S. Establishment? Bring it on


Anonymous said...

Obama is smart and he has the right inclinations. He has experienced more racism than I (white, male) so I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt in this regard. The modest afro in his school photo clearly shows that he identified with being black.
Let's compare him to G.W. Bush. Well, on second thought, let's not. There is no comparison. Obama shows the capacity to empathize, Bush doesn't.
Racism is a fact in this country. It is deep seated. We should have a war on poverty and racism, instead of launching wars on sovereign nations whose resources we want. America is now at its nadir.

Anonymous said...

How Barack Obama learned to love Israel
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 4 March 2007

(EI Illustration)

I first met Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama almost ten years ago when, as my representative in the Illinois state senate, he came to speak at the University of Chicago. He impressed me as progressive, intelligent and charismatic. I distinctly remember thinking 'if only a man of this calibre could become president one day.'

On Friday Obama gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Chicago. It had been much anticipated in American Jewish political circles which buzzed about his intensive efforts to woo wealthy pro-Israel campaign donors who up to now have generally leaned towards his main rival Senator Hillary Clinton.

Reviewing the speech, Ha'aretz Washington correspondent Shmuel Rosner concluded that Obama "sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Giuliani. At least rhetorically, Obama passed any test anyone might have wanted him to pass. So, he is pro-Israel. Period."

Israel is "our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy," Obama said, assuring his audience that "we must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs." Such advanced multi-billion dollar systems he asserted, would help Israel "deter missile attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza." As if the starved, besieged and traumatized population of Gaza are about to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Obama offered not a single word of criticism of Israel, of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians.

There was no comfort for the hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza who live in the dark, or the patients who cannot get dialysis, because of what Israeli human rights group B'Tselem termed "one cold, calculated decision, made by Israel's prime minister, defense minister, and IDF chief of staff" last summer to bomb the only power plant in Gaza," a decision that "had nothing to do with the attempts to achieve [the] release [of a captured soldier] nor any other military need." It was a gratuitous war crime, one of many condemned by human rights organizations, against an occupied civilian population who under the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel is obligated to protect.

From left to right, Michelle Obama, then Illinois state senator Barack Obama, Columbia University Professor Edward Said and Mariam Said at a May 1998 Arab community event in Chicago at which Edward Said gave the keynote speech. (Image from archives of Ali Abunimah)

While constantly emphasizing his concern about the threat Israelis face from Palestinians, Obama said nothing about the exponentially more lethal threat Israelis present to Palestinians. In 2006, according to B'Tselem, Israeli occupation forces killed 660 Palestinians of whom 141 were children -- triple the death toll for 2005. In the same period, 23 Israelis were killed by Palestinians, half the number of 2005 (by contrast, 500 Israelis die each year in road accidents).

But Obama was not entirely insensitive to ordinary lives. He recalled a January 2006 visit to the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona that resembled an ordinary American suburb where he could imagine the sounds of Israeli children at "joyful play just like my own daughters." He saw a home the Israelis told him was damaged by a Hizbullah rocket (no one had been hurt in the incident).

Six months later, Obama said, "Hizbullah launched four thousand rocket attacks just like the one that destroyed the home in Kiryat Shmona, and kidnapped Israeli service members."

Obama's phrasing suggests that Hizbullah launched thousands of rockets in an unprovoked attack, but it's a complete distortion. Throughout his speech he showed a worrying propensity to present discredited propaganda as fact. As anyone who checks the chronology of last summer's Lebanon war will easily discover, Hizbullah only launched lethal barrages of rockets against Israeli towns and cities after Israel had heavily bombed civilian neighborhoods in Lebanon killing hundreds of civilians, many fleeing the Israeli onslaught.

Obama excoriated Hizbullah for using "innocent people as shields." Indeed, after dozens of civilians were massacred in an Israeli air attack on Qana on July 30, Israel "initially claimed that the military targeted the house because Hezbollah fighters had fired rockets from the area," according to an August 2 statement from Human Rights Watch.

The statement added: "Human Rights Watch researchers who visited Qana on July 31, the day after the attack, did not find any destroyed military equipment in or near the home. Similarly, none of the dozens of international journalists, rescue workers and international observers who visited Qana on July 30 and 31 reported seeing any evidence of Hezbollah military presence in or around the home. Rescue workers recovered no bodies of apparent Hezbollah fighters from inside or near the building." The Israelis subsequently changed their story, and neither in Qana, nor anywhere else did Israel ever present, or international investigators ever find evidence to support the claim Hizbullah had a policy of using civilians as human shields.

In total, forty-three Israeli civilians were killed by Hizbullah rockets during the thirty-four day war. For every Israeli civilian who died, over twenty-five Lebanese civilians were killed by indiscriminate Israeli bombing -- over one thousand in total, a third of them children. Even the Bush administration recently criticized Israel's use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians. But Obama defended Israel's assault on Lebanon as an exercise of its "legitimate right to defend itself."

There was absolutely nothing in Obama's speech that deviated from the hardline consensus underpinning US policy in the region. Echoing the sort of exaggeration and alarmism that got the United States into the Iraq war, he called Iran "one of the greatest threats to the United States, to Israel, and world peace." While advocating "tough" diplomacy with Iran he confirmed that "we should take no option, including military action, off the table." He opposed a Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah and insisted "we must maintain the isolation of Hamas" until it meets the Quartet's one-sided conditions. He said Hizbullah, which represents millions of Lebanon's disenfranchised and excluded, "threatened the fledgling movement for democracy" and blamed it for "engulf[ing] that entire nation in violence and conflict."

Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"

But Obama's gradual shift into the AIPAC camp had begun as early as 2002 as he planned his move from small time Illinois politics to the national scene. In 2003, Forward reported on how he had "been courting the pro-Israel constituency." He co-sponsored an amendment to the Illinois Pension Code allowing the state of Illinois to lend money to the Israeli government. Among his early backers was Penny Pritzker -- now his national campaign finance chair -- scion of the liberal but staunchly Zionist family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain. (The Hyatt Regency hotel on Mount Scopus was built on land forcibly expropriated from Palestinian owners after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967). He has also appointed several prominent pro-Israel advisors.

Michelle Obama and Barack Obama listen to Professor Edward Said give the keynote address at an Arab community event in Chicago, May 1998. (Photo: Ali Abunimah)

Obama has also been close to some prominent Arab Americans, and has received their best advice. His decisive trajectory reinforces a lesson that politically weak constituencies have learned many times: access to people with power alone does not translate into influence over policy. Money and votes, but especially money, channelled through sophisticated and coordinated networks that can "bundle" small donations into million dollar chunks are what buy influence on policy. Currently, advocates of Palestinian rights are very far from having such networks at their disposal. Unless they go out and do the hard work to build them, or to support meaningful campaign finance reform, whispering in the ears of politicians will have little impact. (For what it's worth, I did my part. I recently met with Obama's legislative aide, and wrote to Obama urging a more balanced policy towards Palestine.)

If disappointing, given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama's about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power. Palestinian-Americans are in the same position as civil libertarians who watched with dismay as Obama voted to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, or immigrant rights advocates who were horrified as he voted in favor of a Republican bill to authorize the construction of a 700-mile fence on the border with Mexico.

Only if enough people know what Obama and his competitors stand for, and organize to compel them to pay attention to their concerns can there be any hope of altering the disastrous course of US policy in the Middle East. It is at best a very long-term project that cannot substitute for support for the growing campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions needed to hold Israel accountable for its escalating violence and solidifying apartheid.

Ali Abunimah is the co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse