Election 2012


In the last day before the rhetorically cataclysmic 2012 presidential election, pundits are playing (not really something that could be called work) around the clock to predict who will win tomorrow’s final tally. There is no question about the obvious fact that the United States is about as polarized as it has ever been. As both candidates shout out, the choice is clear. It is hard to imagine anyone who is still undecided; indeed, I think it is so unpatriotic not to have made up your mind that anyone still labeled “undecided” should not be eligible to vote. If turnout is anything like the last election (and most pundits think it will not be on either side), some 40% of the eligible voters will not bother to vote at all. Democracy is so taken for granted in this country that some of my fellow citizens are content to let others decide their fate. And given the untold millions of dollars fueling the propaganda machines, it would seem that the political system assumes the rest of the electorate can be bought by 30-second attack ads.

I write this post in my university office, since my home has not had electricity or Internet for over a week, due to the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy. In my home town more than 50 cars are lined up overnight hoping for gas to be delivered to the local Hess station. But despite the brutal infrastructure damage, especially along the southern coast of Long Island, the death toll has been relatively low. All deaths are tragic, but meanwhile the death toll rises daily in Syria, bumped from the evening news in the New York Metropolitan Area. Camping out by my fireplace each night and setting up my Coleman stove, I really have nothing to complain about. In a sense the enforced rest, week off from teaching and catch-up on reading has been a pleasant, even if increasingly cold, experience. But tomorrow the real damage could be done if Gov. Romney is elected.

I have no crystal ball, but the odds certainly favor President Obama at this moment. No president is perfect, but in my mind Obama deserves re-election for a variety of reasons and Governor Romney does not for an even larger number of reasons. Let’s start with the no-end-in-sight “War on Terror” that many on the right in this country see mainly as a war with Islam. Romney’s previous comments on the Islamic faith show that he is only too eager to grovel before the Islamophobic right wing that paints Islam as inherently violent and Muhammad as a pedophile. The more people hate Islam, the more likely they are to vote for Romney. Romney has stoked this fear as well, in his “severely conservative” rightward leap during the Republican primaries. Not once has he said to the extremists and newly christened “teavangelicals” that their antagonism toward Muslims is wrong. (more…)


“The Bearer of Burdens” painting by Suleiman Mansour

Candidates ignore plight of Palestinians
By Nadia Hijab, The Hill, October 25, 2012

As a Palestinian-American, I awaited the presidential debate on foreign policy with anticipation, given the massive U.S. military footprint in the region of my birth.

I confess to being torn in my attitude to the candidates. From a Palestinian perspective, I know there is little difference: Neither would take effective steps to end Israel’s 45-year occupation, challenge its illegal building of settlements, or shake its draconian hold on Jerusalem.

Their record speaks for itself. President Barack Obama soon gave up on the Israeli settlement freeze he pushed early in his tenure. American and Israeli troops are even now participating in a joint missile-defense exercise The New York Times described as “the largest in the history of the two countries’ relationship.” (more…)


A few months ago, before Big Bird got his “laid off” notice from Mitt Romney, the state of Kansas passed a law “to prevent Kansas courts or government agencies from making decisions based on Islamic or other foreign legal codes.” This passed by 33-3 in the Kansas senate and 120-0 in the Kansas House. Despite the fact that there is no indication that anyone ever tried to use Islamic sharia or any other “foreign” legal system to thwart existing law in Kansas, the legislators thought it prudent just in case. Despite the fact that the U.S. legal system does not allow any other kind of legal jurisdiction to trump it, who knows how many Muslim clerics may be thinking about moving to Kansas and issuing fatwas. Although Kansas is not the only Republican-controlled state legislature to declare jihad on Islamic law, it does have a reputation for reacting to other great moral dangers in our country, like the teaching of scientific evolution rather than creation in science classrooms. When the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz blurted out ” I *do* believe in spooks, I *do* believe in spooks. I do, I do, I do, I *do* believe in spooks, I *do* believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do, I *do*!”, who would have known how much like the Kansas legislators he was.

Perhaps the Kansas politicians think that after Iran’s Ahmadinejad spoke (and spooked, of course) at the United Nations in liberal New York City that he might turn himself into the Wicked Witch of the East and start chopping hands of thieves and stoning men and women who engage in adultery (which does not appear to have reached epidemic proportions yet in Kansas but could if more Democrats are elected). Of course, this is not about hating Islam (a religion that in some respects can look a like that of the God-fearing Mormons not far away in Utah), but to protect the women of Kansas. As Republican State Senator Susan Wagle expressed it,

“In this great country of ours and in the state of Kansas, women have equal rights,” Wagle said during the Senate’s debate. “They stone women to death in countries that have Shariah law.”

Apart from the fact that the vast majority of countries that use Islamic law do not in fact stone anyone for adultery, you never know who might cast the first stone in a state like Kansas. (more…)


A few weeks ago I wrote a commentary which was eventually published in my “Middle East Muddle” column on Anthropology News. This was entitled “Between the Rock of Ages and a Hard Sell.” This was a month before the debate held earlier this week. Below I provide the first two paragraphs of my commentary, but you can read the whole thing here. After reading it, you can return here and see my update after the first debate.

As the 2012 presidential election draws near, the debate thus far has been anything but civil. Attack ads from all sides have been fact-checked and found wanting. A recent Pew poll found that 17% of registered voters still think President Obama is a Muslim and only 49% said he was Christian. Only 60% of registered voters are aware that Republican challenger Mitt Romney is Mormon. Of those who know Romney is Muslim 19% admit they are uncomfortable with his affiliation. To the extent religion matters, and anyone who thinks religion does not matter in American politics needs to think again, both the current Vice-President Joe Biden and the Republican candidate Paul Ryan are Catholic.

For voters in the Bible Belt this puts the choice on November 6 between a rock and a hard place, making it a hard sell for those who sing “The Rock of Ages” in Sunday morning services. Growing up decades ago in a proudly “fundamentalist” Baptist church in northern Ohio, I was told that Mormons were a cult, the Catholic church was Satanic and Muslims were obviously bound for hell along with all the others who were not born-again Bible believers. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were Baptist, but as astute politicians they did not promote the more extreme beliefs of their faith just as John F. Kennedy did not mandate Catholic doctrine. The last time around Obama was attacked for having belonged to a church of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Both Obama and Jon McCain submitted to a religious litmus test in a televised forum hosted by Rick Warren, senior pastor of the one of the largest Protestant churches in America. This time, however, religion is taking a back seat to the economy, but the religious faith of each candidate is still the elephant in the room.

The first daily tracking polls after the debate, which the pundits gave to Romney hands down, show that there has yet to be a big bounce on the ground; even Rasmussen (which usually leans Republican) has Obama ahead nationally by 2 points on Thursday and Friday. Beyond the polls and pundits, however, it is still a very rocky road for Romney, whose etch-a-sketch performance in the debate will be hard to stretch against all the things he has been saying previously. Today’s drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8%, the same as when Obama took office, will blow out the tires of a campaign bus already in the ditch. But to my mind, the biggest mistake Romney made was promising to end the career of Big Bird. I realize that 8-year olds cannot vote (and depending on their skin color may not find it easy to vote when they grow up in certain states), but they can grab onto their parent’s arms and beg them to save Big Bird and Sesame Street. If Romney loses by a nose, it will be a combination of his own Pinocchio moments and the beak of an unemployed Big Bird.


Events in the Middle East continue to fester and flair with yet more deaths in Syria, rumors of the Kurds carving out an enclave for themselves in the ruins of Assad’s state, Kenyan troops cleansing the Al Shabab from their last stronghold in Somalia, cross firings between leaders of Iran, Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the anything but united UN, and the list goes on and on. But in America, now that the official NFL refs are back on the job, the media is gearing up for the first presidential debate between a sitting President that was once thought to be in electoral trouble and a Republican candidate who has been so inept that he may re-enact a Goldwater moment for the party of Lincoln (and now of Lincolns, Lexus and Jaguars).

I suspect quite a few voters will watch the debate, even those who have already made up their minds and voted early, and others will watch just to confirm how much they dislike one of the candidates. But for all the hoopla, these debates are so choreographed that winners and losers tend to be determined only in the eyes of the beholders. Romney could stick his foot, ankle, calf and knee in his mouth and Fox News will still declare him the winner. The MSNBC anchors will try to stifle their laughter, but they actually knew who would win before the show opened. And a show it will be. Think of it as the MLB home-run hitting context with the BP fastballs lain in there, right down the pike, not as a boxing match where someone might get bloodied and knocked out. Consider this: George W. Bush survived his debates and won re-election. Does anyone seriously think that Obama will forget who the leader of China is?

There are a number of questions that I suspect will not be asked, even though quite a few Americans may be mulling over them before they make a “legitimate” vote (I suppose in Todd Aiken’s view this would be a vote in which the voter has a built-in ability to reject liberals and shows an I.D. issued by the NRA). How about these?

• Governor Romney, if you are elected President and Jesus Christ comes back to earth before you take the oath of office, will you be disappointed? Will you urge the Republicans in Congress not to filibuster any of the programs for the poor that Jesus might want to introduce?

• President Obama, why won’t you admit your are a Muslim born in Kenya? If Governor Romney is elected President, will you agree to self deport yourself back to Africa and stop passing yourself off as a white guy?

• Governor Romney, given the rising costs of health care for the elderly, who are often given medical tests they really do not need, would you as president give a tax break to faith healers as an alternative to the E.R.?

• President Obama, you once wrote a book called “The Audacity of Hope.” Is it true that your are currently working on your next book and it will be called “The Audacity of Hype”?

• Governor Romney, if last time around the VP candidate Sarah Palin was a pit bull, do you think that Paul Ryan is a poodle or a Doberman? Has the campaign committee put him through a dog training school yet?

• President Obama, is there a room in the basement of the White House where Joe Biden can be sent and the key thrown away?

• Governor Romney, do you actually shop at Staples?

• President Obama, if you are not re-elected President, would you be willing to work at Staples for a minimum wage or would you prefer to take your chances in the NBA draft?

I have one more suggestion. Since there are three debates, could we remake “Survivor” and vote one of them (or both of them) off the stage at the end of the third debate?


US Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens to questions on the attack on the US consulate in Libya, in Jacksonville, Florida, September 12, 2012. [Reuters]

Romney poses, as militants burn a US consulate over Islamophobic film

By Juan Cole, Al Jazeera, September 14, 2012

As Mitt Romney misfires on the campaign trail; scholar argues that the events in Benghazi are atypical of the new Libya.

Predictably, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried to make political hay of the tiny demonstrations in Cairo and Benghazi by Muslim militants. The Benghazi mob turned violent in clashes with police and the consulate ended up being burned and an embassy staffers being killed.

Romney seized on the frantic tweets of the Cairo embassy, which condemned the sleazy Youtube videos by American Islamophobes that had provoked the ire of the crowds, as evidence that the Obama administration was sidingwith the attacking mobs. First of all, really? Romney is trying to get elected on the back of a dead US diplomat? Second of all, really? He thinks the State Department thought the attack on themselves was justified? Third of all, really? Romney is selective. When it comes to Christianity, Romney decries a ‘war on religion.’ But apparently he thinks there *should* be a war on Islamic religion. Romney’s intervention (he is just a civilian at the moment) in American foreign policy is unwise and risky, not to mention distasteful. (more…)

The world has been on the verge of ending ever since people decided it was on the verge of ending, which probably happened when we were Neanderthals wondering why it took so long to figure out how to make fire. The history of apocalypse prophecy is, quite literally, a bottomless pit. The 21st century is no exception, especially for those who were convinced we would never make it past 2000 or 2001. What is particularly ludicrous is the prediction that the world will end at a specific point in time. This says as much about the gullibility of our species as it does about the duplicity of certain self-proclaimed prophets. Forget Ezekiel and the wheel or Daniel in the lion’s den: every era has its doom sayers. Take October 22, 1844, for example, which was only a few months after Joseph Smith (the prophet of Mormonism) was murdered at age 38. On this October day more than a century and a half ago perhaps as many as 100,000 God-fearing Protestant folk had given up their earthly possessions and quite a few joined Miller on a hill waiting for Jesus to come and greet them. The Mormons believe that Jesus came to Missouri, but it seems he skipped Rev. Miller’s venue.

There are quite a few doom-mongers to choose from, some like Harold Camping of relatively high media renown, but let’s focus on an internet prophet named Ronald Weinland. In 2006 he published a book saying that the world would end in 2008. As you can see in the cold print below, the United States has ceased to exist as an independent nation, at least as far as the prophet could see. (more…)


The gaffes of Republican nominee Mitt Romney have put him up against the wall several times, including the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages. But his latest “stump” in Israel, with the obligatory picture of Romney at the Wailing Wall, has even brought out a critique from the New York Times editorial page. Romney is visiting Israel and veering hard to the right, even outdoing the neocons that fueled our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Here is what the editorial says, followed by my own comments.

Mr. Romney Stumps in Israel

Mitt Romney made a point of insisting that he would adhere to an unwritten rule and often violated rule about candidates not criticizing each other or contradicting American foreign policy on foreign soil. About the only effort he made to keep that promise during his stop in Israel was to avoid mentioning President Obama by name.

Beyond that, with some of the biggest investors in Republican politics in tow, Mr. Romney made no effort to disguise the target and intent of rhetoric that was certainly inflammatory but largely free of any sense of how we would carry out policies he was championing.

The message — on Iran, Jerusalem, the Palestinians — was all anti-Obama: Mr. Romney would be a much better friend to Israel than Mr. Obama ever could be. He would be much tougher on Iran. He would recognize Jerusalem as the capital. For good measure, he insulted the Palestinians by declaring that cultural differences — not decades under Israeli occupation — are the reason Israelis are more successful economically. It’s hard to say how this could affect policy if he were president, but it is not encouraging.

The real audience for Mr. Romney’s tough talk was American Jews and evangelical Christians, some of whom accompanied him on his trip. He is courting votes and making an aggressive pitch to donors, including Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate with the hard-line pro-Israel views who is spending more money than any other American — $100 million — to defeat Mr. Obama. (more…)

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