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This week's editor

En Liang Khong

En Liang Khong is openDemocracy’s assistant editor.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

The US media’s schizophrenic approach to mass shootings

Yet again, the Aurora shooting showed how far away we are from truly "color blind" media reporting on crime. It is time to reflect on how being a white, middle-class male may also be part of the equation.

On bullshit and truthiness: Harry Frankfurt, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Ryan's Convention speech

How do we know when someone is speaking bullshit or talking with 'thruthiness'? In the latter case this is particularly important when it comes to politicians speaking in public, because we are all involved in the resulting compact.  Could this be what radical democracy looks like? 

Uniting States of Americans: We are the 99%!

A year ago this month, 'the 99%' changed the discourse of US politics. But did this call to action for 'American Revolution’ issued by the Occupy Wall Street movement change politics itself? In this first of two multimedia articles, filmmaker and academic Cynthia Weber, introduces us to a range of impressions and reflections in the field.

Empty chairs and hope

Clint Eastwood's bizarre empty chair performance at the RNC in Tampa resonates with a couple's struggle for parenthood - and the very notion of hope that still echoes from the 2008 election.

GOP: Vote for us in 2012, or don't vote at all

The conservative extravaganza in Tampa has been overshadowed by controversy over voter-identification measures taken in some GOP-controlled states. Texas, for example, now regards a concealed weapon license as a legitimate form of identification, but refuses student identification cards. Seemingly limited reforms might radically change the outcome of the upcoming US election.

The Progressive Challenge: taking on robber baron politics

The following is taken from the opening speech at the Take Back the American Dream Summit in Washington, D.C., on June 18

A Personal Primer in Real-World Microeconomics

The Sunday ComicsJim Gabour recalls for us his own personal quest to become a home-owner and thus embody the 'American Dream'.

Fallout of News Corp. Scandal in the US?

In the US, the deleterious effect of rampant commercialization is the real scandal. 

Once again, the Tease

As Louisiana braces itself for Tropical Storm Bonnie, Jim Gabour reflects on the current mood in New Orleans.

The United States: democracy, with interests

The powerful opposition to Barack Obama’s healthcare-reform plan reveals how crucial features of the American political system operate, says Godfrey Hodgson.

(This article was first published on 10 August 2009)

Letter from Motor City

Detroit once represented the growth, bustle and prosperity of the United States. As the US auto industry sinks, the city now epitomises darker times. Ross Perlin explores the ruins

The Cairo speech: Arab Muslim voices

Barack Obama’s appeal for “a new beginning” in America’s relationship with Islam is finding an echo across the middle east, report Karim Kasim & Zaid Al-Ali.

The Cairo speech: letter to America

The intended audience of Barack Obama’s speech in Egypt on the United States and the Muslim world includes the people back home, says Godfrey Hodgson.

Obama's speech in Cairo: live blog

**UPDATE** In summary -- Obama began compellingly, but somewhere in the later half the speech began to drag, its thrust lost in rhetoric that was at best earnest, at worst hackneyed. There were other weaknesses: he asked Arabs and Muslims not to be imprisoned by history, but at the same time justified America's support for Israel with evocations of the excesses of the past. Critics will also have expected sterner stuff on women's issues and on democracy in the Arab world, both of which Obama treated swiftly.

Nevertheless, after eight years of arrogance and error, the speech should go some way in convincing many people around the world that Obama's administration is serious about rehabilitating its role on the global stage. Melding ideas and detail with his typical fluency, Obama was the picture of a cool, informed leader. His systematic parsing of the issues also promised an energetic approach to policy-making. Of course, Obama will be judged by his accomplishments more than his words, but as he said early on, the goal of his speech was to shift perceptions. The audience of elite students in Cairo University gave him a resounding ovation; how his speech fared in dustier parts of the "Arab and Muslim world" will be the better measure of its success.

1303 in Cairo Less than ten minutes to go ahead of one of the most anticipated speeches in recent memory (Read Nader Hashemi's build-up on openDemocracy). President Barack Obama has braved criticism from many fronts in his bid to speak directly to the "Muslim world". How will he spin US involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict? Will he make a dig at his host, Hosni Mubarak, and other American-backed dictators? Will he apologise for the gross blunders of invasion and torture? Stay tuned for live updates and commentary.

1310 And we're off in Cairo University. Takes Obama a few seconds to speak in Arabic ("shukraan"). He now parses the history of relations between "Islam" and the "west", and accounts for American Islamophobia. 

1316 "America and Islam are not exclusive... they share common principles." Nation-state is akin to transcendental global faith? Mohammad Iqbal must be rolling in his grave.

1317 Shout out to the Koran! Took seven minutes.

1320 The historian in me is pleased: Obama mentions that it was Morocco that first recognised the independent thirteen colonies. Good detail. Less impressed by paeans to Islamic learning fuelling the Renaissance. Neverthless, this is typical Obama on good form, moving smoothly from rich theme to illuminating fact. 

1323 Obama subtly distinguishes the US from the secularists of Europe; the US protects the veil and the hijab, maintains a mosque in every state, and punishes religious intolerance.

1327 Human history, Obama says, is a record of self-interest, but not anymore. We are now in an era of interdependence, "our progress must be shared". Yet there's steel here: "we must face these tensions squarely". He's warmed up.

1330 He now defends military engagement in Afghanistan, playing a bit to the home audience. Faint echoes of Bush in the evocation of a coalition of "46 countries."

Time for a lovely quote from the Koran: "Whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind."

1334 Describes the Iraq war as one of "choice", not necessity. He doesn't apologise or strongly condemn the invasion, but reaffirms commitment to diplomacy and Iraqi sovereignty, and spells out a timeline of withdrawal. All troops out by 2012.

1335 "Unequivocal" about stopping torture and closure of Guantanamo. He's covered most of the bases. Israel-Palestine up next.

1336 "America's bond with Israel is unbreakable." He firmly backs the need for the Israeli state, reminding viewers that he's going to visit Buchenwald after Cairo. A bit too baldly strategic for my liking.

1340 Reaffirms commitment to two-state solution, and like the good doctor he is, lays out prescriptions. Compares the history of African American resistance to slavery and bigotry and nonviolent resistance to apartheid in South Africa to the struggle in Palestinian, arguing that violence is not the way. Many Israelis will bristle at that. Strong of Obama to make the parallel. He's now slamming settlements, and demanding that Israelis must make life more livable for Palestinians. He also demands more compromise from Arab states.

1344  "We will say in public what we say in private." Only Obama can sound credible saying that.

1346 On to Iran. Recognises US involvement in the overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953, and subsequent decades of mistrust. But now it is no time to be beholden to the past: "we are ready to move ahead without any preconditions." Urges Tehran to come to the table.

1350 To the meat of the matter: the issue of democracy ("not an American idea, but a human right") in the Arab world. Are you watching, Hosni?

1351 Takes a dig at both autocrats and neo-cons by affirming that elections alone don't a democracy make. 

1353 He's advocating "freedom of religion", and doing well to mention the religious diversity of the Arab world. 

Delivers another rebuke to the likes of Turkey and France, that would prevent women from wearing Muslim garb.

1355 Excellent move: he separates the issue of women's dress (above) from women's rights. Eat your heart out, Martin Amis, Jack Straw et al. 

1358 "There need not be contradictions between development and tradition." We've returned to opening theme, of moving forward and closer together while remaining rooted (and respecting each other's roots). 

1401 A litany of initiatives and partnerships that will tighten cooperation in a blizzard of areas (lost track) between the US and Muslim-majority countries. Obama does soft power.

1403 We've reached the denouement. Fluffy stuff that rises above the bile of "clash of civilisations", but it's still fluffy. 

1406 Ends with a comp lit lesson; Obama paraphrases the Koran, Torah and Bible, drawing out their common message of peace. He stumbles over his last line; saying "May God be upon you" instead of "May peace be upon you". The audience doesn't care, as students raucously take up an Obama chant.

 

Journalism's many crises

Circulation, revenue, attention, authority, and deference: a host of troubles force the diminishing of news in the United States.

The Islamic world, the United States, democracy: response to Shadi Hamid

The effort to forge a new relationship between the west and Islam and to nurture democracy in the middle east requires that the United States in particular reframe its view of the Islamic world, says Tarek Osman. 

Barack Obama’s hundred days

The United States president reaches a landmark in office with the achievements of his first term already in the balance, says Godfrey Hodgson.

Torture revelations provoke controversy in US

America debates its use of torture. Violence claims 24 lives as vigilantes pursue Kenyan mafia. North and South Korea enter heated negotiations. Turkish Nationalist poll victory threatens to derail Cypriot reunification. Georgia dispute strains Russia-NATO relations. China reveals new naval hardware. And much more in today's update

Smoke over the Vatican

update: the BBC's North American editor Justin Webb has since blogged about this subject here 

Reports emanating from Italian sources earlier this week suggesting that the Vatican has effectively vetoed three of President Barack Obama's nominees to fill the vacant role of United States Ambassador to the Holy See--based on their liberal views on issues such as abortion and stem cell research--may signal the beginning of a cooling in US-Vatican relations under the Obama administration.

Barack Obama's drug policy: time for change

The failure of the "war on drugs" in a now "narcotised" hemisphere makes a new and cooperative approach essential, says Juan Gabriel Tokatlian.

After the G20: America, Obama, the world

A smooth London summit and European tour allow the global problems Barack Obama faces to be seen in their true scale, says Godfrey Hodgson.

Barack Obama: end of the beginning

The United States treasury's plan to deal with "toxic assets" relies on the very financial institutions that created the economic whirlwind. The young presidency is already in a vice, says Godfrey Hodgson.

(This article was first published on 30 March 2009)

France's Obama fixation

Enthusiasm for Barack Obama's success provides a window into the glaring shortfalls of French society

Jindal only offers more of the same

On paper, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal would appear to be the perfect candidate to help shepherd the Republican Party out of its post-election mire. A Rhodes scholar of Indian descent, who became the youngest governor in the country upon assuming office in 2007 at the age of 36, Jindal possesses the intellect, youth, and philosophical outlook to both satisfy the whims of the party's base and court the interest of young and non-white voters--demographic groups which the GOP has been haemorrhaging to the Democrats in recent election cycles.

As such, it should come as no real surprise that the Republican leadership saw it fit to hand Jindal the fillip of presenting the party's official televised rebuttal to President Barack Obama's first speech to Congress: a perfect opportunity to introduce himself to a national audience, articulate a distinct vision for America's present and future, and lay the foundations for an already-mooted presidential run in less than four years' time.

However, if Tuesday's address truly was the first litmus test of a potential Jindal candidacy, then perhaps he would be better off sticking to his pledge (made on last week's edition of 'Meet the Press') to focus solely on getting re-elected as governor in 2011.

Jindal's performance has drawn widespread criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike, and rightly so. With the country in the midst of a historically unprecedented economic implosion, and its citizens eagerly looking towards their democracy's political elders for both leadership and solace, the Louisiana governor comprehensively failed to substantively address the Presidential speech that preceded him, or perhaps more importantly discuss the topic of the economic crisis itself in a meaningful or engaging way.

Instead, the GOP's spokesman chose to deliver an oft-heard and well-trodden diatribe on why Republicans favoured a diminutive role for the state in government, punctuated with a catchphrase--"Americans can do anything"--which undoubtedly appeared rousing on paper but was sapped of any inspirational potency by Jindal's awkward, uneven and surprisingly unpolished delivery.

At a time when the vast majority of Americans now face uncertainty and trepidation on a daily basis due to the current economic crisis, those looking towards the Republican Party for leadership or solace on Tuesday night must have been sorely disappointed. The entire country has just experienced a two-year presidential race that was publicized and scrutinized to its last breath by the media--does the GOP really believe that there's anyone in the country in doubt as to what each party stands for? Do they think that voter confusion was the root of John McCain's defeat in the fall? Bipartisan governance is strongly desired by the electorate now more than ever--why shun the possibility of co-operation and return instead to the tired talking points of the last eight years at the very first opportunity?

While Jindal's performance was poor, the content of his message also deserves much criticism. Yes, there is need for stringent oversight on such a large and contrived spending package as the one in question to avoid a return to the pork-barrel politics that has become synonymous with Washington, unquestionably. However, if the Republican Party want to follow Barack Obama's lead and turn this theme into a communications strategy that really resonates with the American people, they first need to dilute down their obvious distaste for large, centralized government. There is an appetite across the developed world for an expanded fiscal role for government that only the most serious of crises can create: however inconvenient it may be, Republicans ignore this sentiment at their peril.

Governor Jindal's speech on Tuesday night did nothing to dispel the perception among liberals and conservatives alike that the Republican Party has become a party lacking in ideas. If anything, it should have sent alarm bells ringing within the party, and forced many who watched it to reconsider whether the comparisons frequently made between Jindal and President Obama are rooted more in superficiality than substance.

The peril of parodying Obama

Last week, Carol Thatcher unwittingly illustrated how an archaic word from a different generation retains much of its racially-charged potency to this day - and rightly drew condemnation for it. This week, it was the turn of imagery to dredge up the unseemly spectre of the past.

A storm of publicity has gathered around the offices of the New York Post, after a cartoon published in Wednesday's edition of the newspaper - depicting the author of the recently-approved economic stimulus as a dead, crazed chimpanzee - was accused of being a not so subtle exercise in jingoism by both commentators in the media and civil rights activists.

Speaking to the media, Reverend Al Sharpton declared that "the cartoon in today's New York Post is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys."

"One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual reference to this when in the cartoon they have police saying after shooting a chimpanzee that ‘Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill,'" he added.

A press release was quickly issued by the newspaper, defending its cartoon as "a clear parody of a current news event" - the shooting dead by police of a chimpanzee in Connecticut on Monday after the creature mauled its owner's friend - and denouncing Rev. Sharpton for being "nothing more than a publicity opportunist."

However, with the furore over the cartoon refusing to abate, and a group of protestors converging on the newspaper's headquarters, the Post softened its stance in a Friday editorial, saying that "to those who were offended by the image, we apologise."

Whether simply a poorly executed sketch that was misconstrued - as the Guardian's USA blog rightly points out, the author of the stimulus package referenced in the cartoon would be the Democratic congressional leadership, not President Obama himself - or something more sinister, the controversy surrounding Sean Delonas's work highlights an interesting dilemma: the challenge now facing the professional satirists whose job it is to subvert the image of the first African-American president of the United States.

Distorting facial features as a means of highlighting the excesses and frailties of our public figures has been a staple of political satirists' trade in the western press since Thomas Nast's pioneering work during the Tammany Hall era, providing some iconic and enduring images: from the defiance of Winston Churchill's bulldoggish scowl to, more recently, Tony Blair's unnervingly large and perfectly-formed dentures and the increasingly simian features of George W Bush.

However, as highlighted recently in an article on the Huffington Post, cartoonists in the American press now find themselves in unchartered waters, as they try to tread an increasingly thin line between caricature and stereotype when penning their work: draw President Obama's lips too large, or his ears too big, and an artist may inadvertently face the same charges of racism and xenophobia levelled at the New York Post this week.

As CNN columnist Roland S. Martin succinctly put it: "What could be seen as silly humour if President George W Bush were in the White House has to be seen through the lens of America's racist past."

Tell Rall, president of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, summed up the difficulty this paradigmatic moment in American history has invariably posed for his organisations' members, noting that, "without a doubt, people are stepping more gingerly. People are tiptoeing their way through this."

The alarm bells should have sounded for many during the general election. Seeking to poke fun at the right-wing media's continued chatter over Obama's "true" religious beliefs and purported affiliation with terrorist organisations, The New Yorker magazine placed on its front cover a depiction of Obama and his wife standing in the Oval Office: replete with turban, salwar kameez, camouflage pants and an AK-47 rifle. The cartoon, while playing on the issue of religion rather than race, was quickly rounded upon by critics who believed it reinforced popular misconceptions about the Democratic candidate - including his own campaign, which denounced it as "tasteless and offensive."

With more than 45 months left in President Obama's tenure, it seems inevitable this issue will arise again; particularly given that interest groups such as the NAACP are set to become even more vigilant in their monitoring of the media's output after this week's incident.

Consequently, political cartoonists now face the unenviable challenge of marrying outrageous and provocative iconography with political correctness: a damning restriction of free speech, which may, ironically, provoke a self-fulfilling creative backlash that results in the production of more vitriolic and jingoistic works.

As decorated American cartoonist Jules Feiffer noted, "outside of basic intelligence, there is nothing more important to a good political cartoonist than ill will." American political cartoonists are starting to get tetchy.

The redemption game

There are second and even third acts in American political lives. So the Republican Party hopes, says Jim Gabour on the eve of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

American women's stimulus: voice, agency, change

The test of Barack Obama's economic-recovery plan will be the degree to which women workers' interests and needs are put at its heart, says Ruth Rosen.

Obama's Bush-like foreign policy

Presidents don't make history, but history makes presidents. Biden's speech in Munich suggests Obama's foreign policy is as imprisoned by its circumstances as Bush's.

US neo-cons jump the conservative ship

The predicament of Sam Tanenhaus reminds us that conservatism's original sin lies not in its bombastic and noxious neo-conservative interlopers, but in the tragic nature of conservatism itself

Afghanistan and Pakistan: recommendations for Obama

The challenges faced by the new Obama administration in Afghanistan and Pakistan are too big to be tackled alone

Barack Obama and the American void

The president of the United States inaugurated on 20 January 2009 remains a political enigma. What are the true lineaments of his character, his vision, his faith, and his appeal? The philosopher Simon Critchley reflects.

(This article was first published on 22 January 2009)

Barack Obama: hope, fear... advice

A new, young, African-American president opens a fresh political era in the United States and the world. openDemocracy authors offer their thoughts on the prospects.

(This article was first published on 19 January 2009)

Barack Obama’s triple test

The foreign-policy in-tray of the new United States president should be headed by Palestine, Iran and Afghanistan, says Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Paine's crisis and Obama's

Tom Griffin (London, OK): In his inaugural address, America's new president turns to England's greatest republican:

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have travelled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

The reference is to Tom Paine's Crisis No 1, which George Washington ordered read to his men in December 1776 before crossing the Delaware to attack George III's Hessian mercenaries, in a crucial turning point in the American revolutionary war.

What will Obama do with Churchill's bust?

The task of redecorating the Oval Office includes remembering and re-imagining trans-Atlantic relations
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