Thoughts on June 30th, Tamarod, and the future of liberal democracy in Egypt

Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mursi wave Egyptian flags and shout slogans against him and members of the Muslim Brotherhood during a protest in front of El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo

I haven’t blogged in a while, but events in Egypt have been too dramatic and thought provoking to let pass by without comment. If you’ve been following events there, you know that yesterday, June 30th, was an incredible day not only in Egyptian history but in the history of democratic and revolutionary struggles in general. Literally millions of Egyptians came out into the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, heeding the call by the protest movement Tamarod, to express their opposition to Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government and to demand that he resign from office. At the same time, the MB also mobilized their supporters who came out in massive pro-government rallies throughout the country. As I’m writing this, the protests continue, the violence has picked up, and Tamarod has issued an ultimatum for Morsi to step down by Tuesday evening or face a massive campaign of civil disobedience. Continue reading

Venezuela and Egypt: A tale of two oppositions


Venezuelan opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles

There’s supposedly an old Chinese curse that goes something like, “May you live in interesting times.” Turns out there’s actually no such saying in Chinese, but that’s exactly the sense in which this past week was “interesting.” In the space of a few days, we first had the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon and then the subsequent manhunt, shootout, and lockdown as law enforcement searched for–and eventually got–the two terrorists. I followed the manhunt from its awful beginning at MIT on twitter, and it was unbelievably intense. The level of detail that I was getting on my twitter feed (granted, there were some rumors too), combined with the lack of coverage in the mainstream media in the early stages, only made it all the more surreal.

Aside from the events in Boston (as if they weren’t enough), the other major story this week was the presidential election in Venezuela–whose aftermath actually featured a higher death toll than the bombing. Chavez’s anointed “heir,” the ridiculous and bombastic Nicolas Maduro, ostensibly won the election by a margin of less than two percent over the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles. Not surprisingly, despite Capriles’s demand for a recount, Maduro has gone ahead and had himself inaugurated, and has also started cracking down on the opposition and threatening to “radicalize the revolution.” But that’s pretty much what one would expect from a veteran Fidelista like Maduro. What’s been more of a surprise, and a much needed good one, has been the tremendous maturity and sound strategic thinking demonstrated by Capriles and the opposition coalition, MUD (it sounds better in Spanish). Continue reading

Kathy Boudin, conservatives, and remorse


There’s been an online uproar of sorts over the past couple of weeks regarding former Weatherman terrorist Kathy Boudin, sparked in part by the release of Robert Redford’s new film about 60s radicals, The Company You Keep (see here, here, and here). It turns out that Boudin, who served time in prison for her role in a 1981 robbery-murder, was hired by Columbia University back in 2008 and is now teaching as adjunct faculty at Columbia’s School of Social Work. She was also recently been named the Rose Scheinberg Scholar in Residence at NYU Law School. Not surprisingly, the Boudin story has received a lot of outraged attention among conservative writers and on conservative blogs and websites (see here, here, here, and here).

I share the frustration of many on the right who see Boudin’s hiring and her academic laurels as further examples of the double standards and left-liberal bias throughout academia. I also share conservatives’ disgust with Boudin’s long radical career. As something of a cold war liberal/cold war social democrat/post-9/11 neoconservative (how’s that for a label), I’m repelled by the elitist and cultish radicalism of the groups Boudin once belonged to: the late 1960s SDS and Weatherman. And as a (hopefully) soon-to-be working historian, I’m even more repelled by the way former Weathermen like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn have tried to soft pedal their “revolutionary communist” past with a “we were just concerned about civil rights and the Vietnam war” schtick. Yet, there’s something just not right with the way conservatives have been discussing Kathy Boudin. Continue reading

On two Latin American heroes: Yoani Sanchez and Mario Vargas Llosa

Yoani Sanchez and Mario Vargas Llosa

Yoani Sanchez and Mario Vargas Llosa in Lima, Peru on April 5, 2013

It’s great to see Yoani Sanchez continuing with her world tour, speaking out about the lack of freedom in Cuba and the struggle for a democratic future there. After visiting Europe and the U.S. she’s back in Latin America, and yesterday she was in Peru where, as you can see from the marvelous picture above, she met with the renowned writer Mario Vargas Llosa. Aside from being one of the world’s leading novelists, Vargas Llosa is a former Marxist and one-time supporter of the Cuban revolution. He became “disenchanted” with the revolutionary left in the early 1970s, developed a liberal political outlook, and in 1990 ran unsuccessfully against Alberto Fujimori for the presidency of Peru. Today, he’s one of Latin America’s staunchest anti-totalitarian public intellectuals.  Continue reading

Dubya and The Who….

Ok, this clip from 2008 of George W. Bush recounting the story of The Who may well be one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Not a bad thing, just a very, very strange thing… Two of my worlds colliding in slow motion….

And there’s more colliding to come next week when I discuss Mr. Pete Townshend’s relation to neoconservatism and his views on George W., the Iraq war, Iran’s nuclear program, and Israel. As they say, the fun never ends! But needless to say, nothing I write will be able to top this video for just plain awkwardness.

In the meantime, enjoy these wonderful blog posts on The Who by Binky Philips here, here, and here. He’s a great writer and it’s absolutely brilliant stuff.

“Not a child of any revolt…”


I’ve been listening to The Who’s 1975 album The Who By Numbers lately, and it really is a work of art. “Squeeze Box” can get a little tiring, but the rest of the album is absolutely stellar. It’s not considered one of the bands’ seminal works, but the combination of acoustic oriented music and Townshend’s very personal lyrics (which have been referred to as his “suicide note,” although that’s total overkill) make it really powerful and a great listen. Continue reading

Take that, hippies

The Who performing “My Generation” at the Monterrey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967.

Of course, a few years after this Townshend would be preaching Meher Baba, penning a little album called “Thomas,” and writing wonderful songs about searching for enlightenment and finding an eternal note. All unquestionably hippyesque. But that’s a whole other story. Meanwhile, crank this one up, enjoy the performance in high quality video, and most of all, have fun picturing the reaction of a bunch of stoned San Francisco flower children to the “auto-destruction.”


China, Culture, and Martin Jacques

Liu Xiaobo. Intellectual. Liberal democrat. Political Prisoner.

Liu Xiaobo. Intellectual. Liberal democrat. Political prisoner.

I’m currently doing archival research at Stanford University’s fantastic Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace so I won’t be blogging as much as usual. But I couldn’t resist a comment on the reprehensible Martin Jacques and his latest screed on China. Jacques writes in today’s Globe and Mail that China will never become a “Western-style” democracy because its culture is different from ours and because the most important political value for “the Chinese” is… wait for it… meritocracy. Continue reading

Straight outta East Vancouver, circa 1979


The Dishrags

Ah, the Vancouver punk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Great riffs, crazy shows, and a fake British accent or two. I was too young to be part of the scene, but I remember watching the local cable video show Soundproof in its early days. In the true spirit of punk, it was totally amateur and brilliant. Bands would perform live, the interviews were hilarious, and the hosts would on occasion get death threats live on air–which were not to be taken too lightly, since in those days you could get your ass kicked on East Hastings for being a punk. Continue reading

Silencing Rebiya Kadeer

Rebiya Kadeer and the Dalai Lama

Rebiya Kadeer and the Dalai Lama

Back in February, I wrote a post about the attempts by some on the far left in Brazil to shout down Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez and disrupt her speaking engagements when she was in that country. I also noted how the disruption campaign had likely been organized by the Castro regime through its supporters in Brazil, including inside the ruling Workers Party. The Cubans were simply exporting the same strong-arm tactics they use at home against dissidents such as the Ladies in White. Continue reading

“…in case the U.S. pulls out like it did in Vietnam.”

US Embassy, Saigon, 1975

US Embassy, Saigon, 1975

The recent nuclear test and ensuing apocalyptic rhetoric by North Korea have, not surprisingly, had a major impact on South Koreans. The New York Times has an interesting piece today about one effect that the North’s threats have produced in the South: a new willingness by at least some South Koreans to consider developing their own nuclear weapons program. Continue reading

Berkowitz v. Tanenhaus and other good reads

John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun

About a month ago, Sam Tanenhaus wrote an article for The New Republic entitled “Original Sin,” in which he argued that modern day conservatism is based on the ideas of the early 19th century American statesman and Southern pro-slavery thinker John C. Calhoun. The gist of the article is that today’s conservatism is based on Calhoun’s extreme views on states’ rights (nullification), views the nascent conservative intellectual movement adopted in the 1950s when it opposed the civil rights movement. Because of this “original sin,” conservatism is destined to remain “the party of white people.” Continue reading

Oswaldo Payá, R.I.P.

Oswaldo Payá, 1952-2012

Oswaldo Payá, 1952-2012

What if the Soviet Union had murdered Sakharov, or Czechoslovakia Havel?

–Jackson Diehl, Washington Post

New disclosures in The Washington Post today that the Castro regime likely murdered Cuban dissident and Catholic political activist Oswaldo Paya in July of last year in a bogus “car accident.” You can read about it here, here, and here. Carl Gershman, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy (and one of the people I will be focusing on in my dissertation) was one of the first to bring up this awful possibility shortly after Payá’s death. Nothing the totalitarian regime in Cuba does, no matter how barbaric, surprises me. The day it finally disappears will be a good day indeed.

Thoughts on Hugo Chavez, 1954-2013

Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

What more can you say about these two??

It didn’t take long after the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez for the contending reactions from the left and right to roll in. On the left, Jimmy Carter produced a typically Carteresque piece of writing claiming that el Comandante would be remembered for his “formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment,” a statement which managed to make Chavez sound like Tony Robbins. On the right, Arkansas Republican senator Tom Cotton issued comments that, in a rather creepy allusion to Lincoln’s assassination, opened with “Sic semper tyrannis.” Cotton called the news of Chavez’s death “welcome” since now the “oppressed people of Venezuela” would be able to overcome “tyranny.” We can look forward to getting more perceptive statements from both sides over the next day or two. Continue reading

Casting the first stone….


Kerry and the Comandante, Managua, 1985

Nils Gilman, an American intellectual historian whose work I admire (his 2003 Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America is excellent, even if I disagree with some of his interpretations) recently tweeted that, “No one who was wrong on Iraq should be allowed back into foreign policy circles until they admit their errors.” Now, I don’t share the view that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the ensuing fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Mahdi Army were “wrong.” But assuming that what Gilman has in mind is the lack of WMD and the other mistakes that were indeed made, I would say this: Sure, everyone involved with Iraq should admit their errors or not be eligible for government service–but only if that very same stricture is applied to anyone who was wrong on, say, how to deal with the Sandinistas, or on Grenada, or on the 1991 Gulf War, or on the Iraq surge. Full mea culpas required or booted from public service…. Agreed?

Egypt’s hapless democrats

Can they get their act together?

Can they get their act together?

As a casual observer of Egyptian politics since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, I’ve been struck over the past few months by the hapless nature of Egypt’s secular democratic leaders. Granted, I haven’t been a big fan of Mohamed ElBaradei since his days running interference first for Saddam and then for Iran’s nuclear program. But the problem is not just ElBaradei. Seems to me that the real problem is threefold: a total lack of charisma among the liberal leaders (dangerous when misused but think of MLK, Mandela, or Lech Walesa); a (not unrelated) air of weakness and the impression that they’re in over their heads; and the biggest failing of all: an inability to develop a coherent electoral strategy for confronting Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in the context of Egypt’s new democracy. Continue reading

The Muslim “Right” and the Anglo-American Left


Birds of an anti-American feather: Nasrallah and Chomsky

Meredith Tax is a New York-based writer and a long-time feminist-socialist activist. Until recently, she was best known for her role in the American women’s movement and for her historical novel about Jewish immigrant women on the Lower East Side, Rivington Street. Over the past couple of years, though, she’s been engaged in a new and major political-intellectual project, one that’s guaranteed to make her some lasting foes on the far left in Europe and North America. Continue reading

A petition for Yoani and expanding prison camps

Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has wrapped up her visit to Brazil and is now in the Czech Republic. She’s not on a South American tour, as I mentioned in my last post, but rather on a world tour that includes stops in the U.S. in April. Given the Cuban regime’s ability to intervene throughout Latin America and continue to disrupt her events, I think that’s all for the good. It also struck me how during the Cold War, there would have been plenty of Latin American anti-Communist trade unionists and social democrats to act as additional security for someone like Yoani. After all, the Communists have a long history of disruptive, violent behavior, and the rest of the left had to be prepared. But of course, these days, the democratic left is small and fragmented in the face of Chavismo, and the Congress for Cultural Freedom is long dead. Continue reading

Bravery North and South…


Yoani Sanchez

Wherever I will stand, whatever microphone I will be given, I will use it to denounce the lack of rights of the Cuban people

–Yoani Sanchez

This past month has seen some fine examples of bravery in the struggle for human liberty and against both Communism and radical Islam. In Latin America, the Castro regime–the last remaining dictatorship in the region–finally granted an exit visa to the dissident and blogger Yoani Sanchez as part of a loosening of restrictions on Cubans’ ability to travel abroad. Yoani has embarked on an 80 day South American speaking tour, and she is currently in Brazil. Sadly, but not surprisingly, pro-Castro thugs have tried to physically disrupt and shout down her speeches. Some of these attacks have apparently been organized by the Castro regime itself through its supporters in Brazil, including within President Dilma Rousseff’s governing Workers’ Party. Continue reading