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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: President Obama stands accused of political correctness for his unwillingness to accuse groups like ISIS of Islamic extremism, choosing a more generic term, violent extremism. His critics say you cannot fight an enemy that you will not name. Even his supporters feel that his approach is to professorial.

But far from being a scholar concerned with describing the phenomenon accurately, the president is actually deliberately choosing not to emphasize ISIS’ religious dimension for political and strategic reasons. After all, what would the practical consequences be of describing ISIS as Islamic? Would the West drop more bombs on it? No.

But it would make many Muslims feel that their religion had been unfairly maligned and it would dishearten Muslim leaders who have continually denounced ISIS as a group that does not represent Islam.

But Graeme Wood writes in a much discussed cover-essay in the “Atlantic” this month, “The Islamic State is Islamic — very Islamic.” Wood’s essays is an intelligent and detailed account of the ideology that animates the Islamic State. These are not secular people with rational goals, he argues, they really do believe in their religious ideology.

But Wood’s essay reminds me of some of the breathless tracks written during the Cold War that pointed out that the communists really, really believed in communism. Of course, many ISIS leaders do believe their ideology. The real question is, why has this ideology sprung up at this moment and why is it attractive to a group, a tiny group of Muslim men these days?

Wood describes ISIS as having revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. Exactly. ISIS has rediscovered, even reinvented, a version of Islam for its own purposes today.

Wood is much taken by the Princeton academic, Bernard Haykel, who claims that people want to turn a blind eye to the ideology of ISIS for political reasons.

Quote, “People want to absolve Islam,” Wood quote Haykel as saying. “It’s this Islam is a religion of peace mantra, as if there is such a thing as Islam,” he says. “It is what Muslims do,” end quote.

Right, there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and perhaps 30,000 members of ISIS. And yet Haykel feels that it is what 0.0019 percent of what Muslims do that defines the religion.

Who is being political, I wonder.

“An Ideology succeeds when it replaces some other set of ideas that has failed,” says Professor Sheri Berman at Barnard College.

And across the Middle East, the ideas that have failed are Pan Arabism, Republicanism, nascent efforts at democracy, economic liberalism and secularism. The regimes espousing these principles have morphed into dictatorships producing economic stagnation and social backwardness. In some cases the nation itself has collapsed as a project. It is in the face of this failure that groups like ISIS can say Islam is the answer.

This battle of ideologies can be seen vividly in the life of one man, Islam Yaken, profiled brilliantly by the “New York Times'” Mona El- Naggar. Yaken, a middle class fitness trainer from Cairo who’s interested mostly in making money and meeting girls. “But his dreams began to crash into Egypt’s depressed economy and political turmoil,” the article notes. He couldn’t get a good job and began dreaming about leaving Egypt.

Questioning his life choices Yaken became drawn to a very different ideology, a version of Islam that is rigorous and militant. Yaken, now 22, fights for the Islamic State in Syria. During the last Ramadan season, he tweeted a photograph of a decapitated corpse. His post read, “Surely the holiday wouldn’t be complete without a picture with one of the dog’s corpses.”

Islam Yaken is now a true believer. But the question surely is, how did he get here and what were the forces that helped carry him along? Calling him Islamic doesn’t really help you understand any of that.

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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST:

But, first, here my take: I was in Malaysia this week and I expected a volley of complaints. The country was one of the stops on President Obama’s planned trip to Asia this month that was canceled because of Washington’s manufactured budget crisis.

The country’s Prime Minister Najib Razak told me, We were disappointed, but we understood the situation.

Others were less diplomatic, pointing to the cancellation as evidence of America’s dysfunctional political system and general decline. But many in Malaysia and across Southeast Asia told me that they were mostly puzzling not about what’s happening in Washington but rather in Beijing.

This is partly the product of power. As China has grown in importance, its neighbors have become increasingly attentive to the Middle Kingdom. In the past, the only politics that these countries followed outside of their own was in Washington. Today they feel they must also understand Beijing.

And there’s much to understand. China is in the midst of great political change. Last month, the country watched on national television as President Xi Jinping sat in on a meeting at which senior Communist Party officials publicly engaged in “criticism and self- criticism.”

It is part of the party’s “mass-line” campaign, designed to address concerns that the party is out of touch, elitist and corrupt.

The campaign includes a strong anti-corruption drive, most visibly involving the humiliation of Bo Xilai, the former party boss of Chongqing. Many in China have worried that anti-corruption is a mechanism that is being used to eliminate political opponents.

“There is so much corruption in China that whom you choose to prosecute is really a political decision.” Those are the words of a Beijing businessman to me.

More surprisingly to many, the new leadership has begun a sweeping crackdown on dissent. Chinese media and human rights groups say that hundreds of journalists, bloggers and intellectuals have been detained since August, charged with the crime of “spreading rumors” among others.

China scholars have noted in recent years that the Communist Party is deeply concerned about its legitimacy and grass-roots appeal. That led many to believe it would address these issues by opening up its political system, with political reforms that would accompany economic reforms.

Instead, it appears that the Communist Party is choosing older, Mao-era methods’ crackdowns, public confessions and purification campaigns.

The people I talked to in Southeast Asia were not approaching these issues from the perspective of human rights activists. They were really just trying to understand what was going on in China.

Above all, they wondered what the internal changes meant for Beijing’s foreign policy. “China is being very friendly with us these days,” an Asian politician told me, “More so than it was a few years ago, but it still pushes its own interests very strongly.”

Diplomats have worried that China has been circulating new maps of the region in which a previously dotted line demarcating Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea now appears as a solid line.

Last month, China’s foreign minister denied any such change in its claims when he was publicly asked about it at a Brookings Institution forum by the former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. Yet, the concerns highlight the nervousness felt in the region.

The United States washes its dirty linen vigorously and in public. When Washington messes up, it does so in prime time, with politicians, journalists and commentators describing every gory detail with delight.

China, by contrast, has an opaque political system, which makes it far more mysterious. But China, too, has its share of crises, controversies and change. And because of its newfound clout, the world is watching and wondering what to make of the black box that is Beijing.

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1310/27/fzgps.01.html

 

 

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The Sunlight Foundation on Friday published a useful and thorough group of charts breaking down the latest tallies of dark money spending this election cycle.

The top-line numbers: Through Nov. 1, at least $213 million had been spent on the presidential, Senate, and congressional races by groups that do not disclose their donors. Of that total, $172.4 million (81 percent) was spent to support Republican candidates, while $35.7 million (19 percent) was spent to support Democratic candidates.

There are 34 races (12 Senate and 22 House) where dark money groups have spent more than $1 million, and four Senate races where more than $10 million have been spent: Virginia ($19 million), Ohio ($13.1 million), Nevada ($11.7 million), and Wisconsin ($10.4 million).

In four House races where dark money tops $1 million and accounts for at least half of the outside money spent — NY-28, CO-3, NY-22, and NY-23 — 99.9 percent of the dark money has gone to support Republicans.

http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/11/dark_money_spending.php?ref=fpb

Posted November 4, 2012 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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During an appearance on Meet the Press, comedian Stephen Colbert explained the philosophy behind The Colbert Report.

“I’m a satirist,” he told David Gregory. “All satirists make points. Satire is parody with a point. So if I was doing satire and didn’t have a point of view, then that would be truly schizophrenic. That would be like trying to establish patterns that aren’t really there. I always have a point of view.”

“I’m interested in the news, so people often think that I’m an ideologue or that I have a political intent,” Colbert continued. “But I comment on things that are in the news. I do not imagine that I am a newsman. I really admire newsmen. I really enjoy good news. And I’m not a politician. But I like playing political games to see what really happens.”

Colbert explained that he tried to embody absurd political memes, while Jon Stewart deconstructed the news.

“I falsely reconstruct the news,” he said. “If I do it, and something in the news is doing it, that real thing is probably bull.”

Forming his own Super PAC, Colbert said, allowed him to learn about the “political-industrial complex” that feeds off of campaign money. He denied that his satire allowed him to tell “truer truths.” Comedy, he said, just made things more palatable.

“We did almost an entire year on Super PACs. Every week we did a story, sometimes twice a week we did a story on Super PACs. Those are jokes about campaign finance reform, but we were so interested in it that we got our audience interested in it.”

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/10/14/colbert-satire-is-parody-with-a-point/

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With Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee, Mitt Romney’s central argument pushing back against critics of the House budget chief’s Medicare plan is that President Obama cut deep into Medicare under the Affordable Care Act. But Ryan’s plan includes the same cuts, which don’t target beneficiaries.

“Unlike the current president, who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion, we will preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security,” Romney said Saturday while introducing Ryan.

The trouble with this argument — made frequently by Republicans, including Ryan himself — is that Republicans have voted overwhelmingly for Ryan’s own budget which sustains the Medicare cuts in “Obamacare.” Conservatives argue that Ryan’s plan, unlike the Affordable Care Act, doesn’t use the Medicare savings to fund additional spending.

Talking points circulated by the Romney campaign Saturday similarly instruct surrogates to make the “Obama cut Medicare” argument to blunt voters’ fears over Ryan’s Medicare plan.

 

http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/08/paul-ryan-obama-medicare-cuts-mitt-romney.php?ref=fpa

 

 

Posted August 12, 2012 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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Mitt Romney attacked a lawsuit brought by President Obama’s campaign seeking the restoration of early voting rights for Ohio voters by falsely implying that Obama is trying to take away the early voting privileges for members of the military.

“President Obama’s lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state’s early voting period is an outrage,” Romney said in a statement Saturday.

Actually, the Obama campaign’s lawsuit, filed by the campaign in mid-July, explicitly asks a federal court to restore in-person early voting rights to all eligible Ohio voters on the three days preceding Election Day.

The suit does not seek to prevent members of the military from voting in person during that period, rather it seeks to force Ohio to give other voters (including, for instance, cops and firefighters) the same opportunity to vote.

http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/08/romney-falsely-accuces-obama-campaign-of-trying-to-restrict-military-voting-rights.php?ref=fpnewsfeed

 

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Fareed Zakaria “Well, it turns out, again, that there’s some recently released data that contradicts the claim. The Pew Foundation released one of its global surveys in June, soliciting opinions from several countries around the world.

When asked if they have some or a lot of trust in President Obama, the numbers are overwhelmingly positive across most of the world. In Britain, for example, which was Romney’s first stop on his foreign tour, 80 percent of people trust Obama, compared with 16 percent who trusted George W. Bush. Most countries surveyed have much higher approval ratings of America in 2012 than they did in 2008, when Bush was President. And, by the way, consider the reasons Obama’s ratings are low in one area in particular, the Arab world.

The two strongest justifications given by people in every Arab country that was surveyed were, first, that he has not been fair in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and second, that he has used drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan to go after terrorists.

In other words, the reason Obama has lost some of his global popularity is that he is perceived as too pro-Israeli and too hawkish. Think about that, Mitt Romney.

Romney has tried to use the standard-issue Cold War Republican attack on Democrats; the world is dangerous, our enemies are growing strong, Obama is weak. The problem is most Americans recognize that none of this is really true.

The world is actually quite peaceful right now. Our adversaries, like Iran, are weak and isolated. China is growing strong, but it has not used its power to contest America in major national-security terms.

The one enemy Americans recognize and worry about remains al- Qaeda and its affiliated Islamic terrorist groups, and Obama has been relentless in attacking them.

Now, Mitt Romney is a smart man who has had much professional success, but even Republican insiders have admitted to me that he has been strangely amateurish on foreign policy.

His campaign, they note, is not staffed by the obvious Republican foreign policy heavyweights, people like Robert Zoellick, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Richard Haass, Stephen Hadley.

As a result, he has blustered about Russia’s being our greatest geopolitical adversary. Actually, it is a second-rate power. He seems willing to start a trade war with China. He’s vague yet belligerent about Syria and Iran. He’s gone back and forth on the timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Romney faces a tough problem. President Obama is the first Democrat in nearly 50 years to enter an election with a dramatic advantage in foreign policy. The last time was Lyndon Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater in 1964. But, unless Romney can craft a smart, strategic alternative, that gap will only get wider.”

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1207/29/fzgps.01.html