Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Unscientific Bush Polling Update and other post-mortems

This is weird. Normally, America Online polls (which, of course are unscientific, self-selected, and consist only of AOL subscribers) lean heavily to the right. I've noticed a trend away from that lately...kind of an odd barometer that tells me that the Republicans are slipping. But I wasn't ready for the reaction to Bush's speech:

With over 200,000 votes in, the speech was rated:

Poor 52%
Excellent 28%
Fair 11%
Good 9%

By the way, I rated the speech "good." The thing is, I'm not sure how many people rated it according to how much they agreed with it, or if folks were generally trying to be objective about how well he got it done, but in either case, if Bush can't pull the AOL crowd, I'm not all that certain who he's got left.

With over 104,000 votes in, 77 percent are dissatisfied with the progress in Iraq (that's a ridiculously loaded question of course, one which assumes a stable and consistent definition of "progress" and also assumes everyone measures the goodness or badness of the war in such a way), 65 percent say the U.S. will NOT ultimately defeat the insurgents (that really surprises must be the fault of the liberal media), and 74 percent say the war isn't worth the human cost (I wish I could find comfort in that one, but even disregarding criticism of the war, it may reflect an apathy for the well-being of dark-skinned folk).

Are AOL subscribers drifting towards conservative isolationism? Has there been a huge influx of leftist subscribers to AOL? And most importantly, will Karl Rove make a speech calling AOL subscribers liberal traitors?

Normally I don't think much of Andrew Sullivan or his blog, but that doesn't mean I won't shamelessly steal this gem of a quote, especially appropriate after Bush knocked down the straw-argument of a "time table" for withdrawal from Iraq:

"I think it's also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn." - Governor George W. Bush, June 5, 1999, on the troops deployed to Kosovo under president Clinton.

Final thought for the evening: The most disguisting thing I saw during the various post-speech interviews was on MSNBC: Chris Matthews devoting a majority of his panel discussion to listening to (and lapping at the trousers of) the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins. You know, asking Tony how we're gonna win the war on terror and all that. If I were a puker I'd have puked. Here's all we need to know about this guy:

Four years ago, Perkins addressed the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), America's premier white supremacist organization, the successor to the White Citizens Councils, which battled integration in the South. In 1996 Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. At the time, Perkins was the campaign manager for a right-wing Republican candidate for the US Senate in Louisiana. The Federal Election Commission fined the campaign Perkins ran $3,000 for attempting to hide the money paid to Duke.

Well, as I discussed earlier, Mark Fuhrman is doing pretty well these days too. It's enough to make me want to be just a minor-league hater, just so I can buy my family a nice house or something...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bush at Fort Bragg: a study in apologetics

Apologetics is the rhetorical term for the systematic defense of a position. It shouldn't be confused with the word "apology," which has come to mean the admission of guilt and the petition for forgiveness. To be engaged in apologetics is not to beg forgiveness at all. That the speaker is defending a position that has come under attack goes without saying, but apologetics need not confront that criticism directly. It can, but it need not.

Tonight, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in front of attentive soldiers, and on national television, George W. Bush engaged in an apologetic of the war in Iraq. Whether it was his finest rhetorical hour is impossible to say; the speech confronted criticism at best indirectly, and each argument in it was contestable, and will be contested. But it undoubtedly did what apologetics seeks most often to do: It will satisfy those who already agree with him and inspire those who want to agree with him. There will be a third effect as well, as I will mention later: The speech re-established the ground of acceptable argument and perspective. It re-established an entire metaphysics of success and failure that crowded out what may be the only viable perspectives against the occupation and Bush's perpetual war. This third effect may, in fact, have been the easiest to achieve, but that doesn't mean it's not important.

Bush's speech emerged from a context of a dramatic decrease in his own approval ratings, and an equally impressive drop in support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. One cannot discount, also, the growing calls for the President's impeachment, or at least further investigation into the charges contained in the Downing Street Memos. Bush faced a nation that has grown skeptical not only of the potential for the invasion-occupation's success, but also of the deliberative political process that led to the invasion in the first place. Effective apologetics can both confront and dodge criticism, and in this case, Bush confronted the opposition's practical arguments about how the invasion/occupation is going now, while effectively diverting attention from the larger questions about deliberation, honesty, representation, and domestic dissent.

No one should be surprised that there is no longer any talk of the threat of the pre-war Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction, not even any mention of Saddam Hussein qua regional or international threat. Bush clearly framed the entire invasion and occupation in terms of democratization of the Middle East, "a part of the world that is desperate for reform." "Troops...across the world are fighting a global war on terror," he said, and "Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war." And later: "Iraq is where they are making their stand." The enemy we are facing, defeating, is one who "despises all dissent" and "believe[s] that free societies are decadent and corrupt." He quoted Osama Bin Laden in a curious, post facto way, in terms of Bin Laden's declaration that Iraq is a central battleground against the west. Later, Bush invoked the possibility that, absent coalition success, Iraq would become a base, like Afghanistan, of attacks against the United States. No one should be surprised by the implicit acknowledgment that Iraq was not such a threat before the invasion/occupation. Twice, Bush invoked the 'fight over there so we don't have to fight over here' language. The terrorists, Bush said, in a line probably designed to offhandedly deflect criticism of prisoner abuse, "wear no uniform. They respect no laws of warfare or morality."

In a defense of the occupation that was more specific and reasoned than most criticism I've heard of it, Bush painstakingly went through a list of accomplishments in Iraq. His speechwriters wisely devoted several minutes to this. The facts were multilateral in nature, effectively pre-empting criticism from the multilateralist opposition: The United Nations is helping the Iraqi government write a constitution. Eighty nations recently met in Brussels, as they will meet next month in Jordan, to commit to Iraq aid. NATO has established a military academy outside of Baghdad, part of a multilateral effort to empower Iraqi forces.

The Iraqis themselves were repeatedly invoked as a fool-proof defense against those calling for a withdrawal of U.S. troops. Bush's smooth, confident, quotable statement "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" will certainly be repeated for days to come.

Those who claim a certain amount of critical-political capital from Bush's rhetorical inaptitude no doubt cringed as he effectively invoked the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the wars of the 20th century, calling for sacrifice in a war that "demands much of us...we accept these burdens." And to those who might get bogged down in details about the U.S.'s treatment and conditioning of its own soldiers, Bush insisted that "the best way to honor [the lives of the fallen] is to complete the mission." We should emulate those who are "willing to serve a cause greater than themselves."

I have no doubt that this speech will inspire not only the neoconservatives, but also the Wilsonian liberals. There is a certain section of the opposition who share the ideals (probably with more sincerity than the Bush Administration itself) of the U.S. as a shining beacon of light bringing democracy to the world. Tonight, I think Bush effectively won over a large section of that particular opposition. Of course, Bush's real base, the military and their families who constitute 1% of the nation, will, at least momentarily, forget the irresponsibility and rhetorical trickery that committed them to war in the first place. They will be grateful for Bush's domestic call to action--that on the fourth of July, everyone ought to make gestures of appreciation to those military families.

To mention what was obfuscated by the speech is awkward by design. This is that third effect I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Bush obfuscated the lack of honest deliberation leading up to the invasion. He invoked September 11th six times in the speech, a clever and necessary repeat of such invocations in the days leading up to the invasion (tonight's most blatant example of this: "The only way the terrorists can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11."). He obscured our memory of the foolishly optimistic projections of quick victory and welcoming Iraqi masses, just as he obscured the larger historical memory of the United States creating Saddam and Bin Laden, or playing such a heavy hand in creating a world where future terrorism is inevitable. One does not need the critical sensitivity of a socialist or a deconstructionist to know which issues and viewpoints carry the "off limits" banner.

The problem is both simple and impossible. The left, whatever its current form or momentum, cannot effectively broach these subjects precisely because they are off-limits in the language, logic, and metaphysics of current discourse about policymaking. Oh, undoubtedly there will be a powerful rejoinder of the speech on tomorrow's World Socialist Web Site, just as the talk show hosts on Air America Radio will nit-pick at the facts and question Bush's sincerity (a questioning that remains utterly unverifiable, as they know). In fact, these two sides of the opposition, the radical WSWS and the patriotic Air America crowd, symbolize the schitzoid nature of those opposed to the war. Neither side has much of a fighting chance in a world where the President can get on television and (a) optimistically list facts that refute the "it's not going well" crowd, and more importantly (b) enthymematically re-constitute political metaphysics, arguing --silently-- that the world we live in is the only one we have. Thus, the left will again be reduced to speaking moral and political truths that seem too unobtainable to pursue on the one hand, or nit-picking about details on the other. Tonight's speech effectively set back the recent momentum that, at least for a moment, promised to bring together systemic and specific criticism of the Administration. It remains to be seen how effective this will be in the long run, but given that the opposition can't decide (and is unlikely to ever decide) whether it wants a more effective war, or a world without wars, Bush and the neocons have little to worry about.
The Great White North indeed

Canada legalized same-sex marriage today.
The Reverse-Culture Jam has been Reversed!

Nike pulled the ad.
Is "Religious Retardation" An Accurate Term? Or just Evangelical Loondom?

"If facts matter, then some certainty has been established about the case of Terri Schiavo: She was in a persistent vegetative state, she could neither see nor swallow, there was no reasonable hope for improvement, and her husband, Michael, had not abused her." (From an editorial in National Catholic Reporter)

Once, a few months ago, I felt ambivalent about letting Terry Schiavo "die." I even wondered whether it was indicative of a "culture of death." Not anymore. A combination of getting the historical facts of the case, listening to the science, and watching the loony hypocrites set me straght. Even if the history and science had been less certain than they are, the loonies would have made sustained rational support for their cause next to impossible. In this way, and in so many other ways, the loonies are the ushers of the true culture of death in America.

It's time for Jeb Bush and his ilk to leave Michael Schiavo the hell alone. This is beyond absurd. Having lost the court battle, having lost the science and medical battle, Bush is now initiating an investigation of impossible-to-prove charges that Shiavo acted with indifference towards his wife Terry. Bush is doing this in order to placate his loony Christian base. It's disgusting and inexcusable. There's no other way to describe it.

The statute of limitations means Schiavo likely can't be charged for anything even if something is trumped up. But of course, that's not the point. Jeb Bush will be able to face his assembly of loonies and say "brothers and sisters, at least I tried!"

One Christian blogger asks whether Christians owe an apology to Schiavo. It seems reasonable that they do, although some of the comments posted in response display the same moral retardation as Hannity, Frist, Randall Terry, et al.

Oh, and Mark Fuhrman! Yeah, he's become an advocate for Terry Schiavo's empty shell as well. Don't you love this country? You can be a brutal, racist, lying nutcase washed-up failure of a cop and still be a hero to the loonies.

I just don't get it. Most illicit drugs don't make you nearly as stupid, irresponsible, violent or destructive as Evangelical Loondom. Why regulate one and not the other?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Reverse-Culture Jam?

Nike stole Minor Threat's logo!
Poorness beyond identity politics...

Don't know if we've heard the last of this. The full story is here.

An unemployed man and his wife set themselves on fire in front of Chile’s La Moneda presidential palace Thursday to protest their impoverished condition and the government’s failure to provide them with adequate assistance.
Vladimir Poblete, 39, and Ana Perez, 56, driven to desperation, took a bus to Plaza Constitucion in front of the palace in the morning. Wrapping themselves in a tattered Chilean flag, they doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves on fire in front of startled onlookers and scores of police.
Engulfed in flames, they managed to reach the base of a statue of Chile’s former President Salvador Allende, who was murdered in the US-backed military coup of September 11, 1973.
Poblete was reported in grave condition Friday, having suffered severe damage to his lungs from breathing in fire and heat. He was being kept alive on a ventilation machine. His wife suffered burns to her face, neck and hands, but was expected to recover.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Is Persuasion Dead?

In response to Matt Miller's June 4 New York Times editorial on the death of persuasion, I recently composed these brief and incomplete thoughts:

In two years of research, and teaching of three graduate seminars related to this subject, I've come up with a list of possible factors in the "death" of civil political conversation. I don't agree with all of them, but here they are:

1. Demoralization of disenfranchized groups: they no longer see the point in gentlemanly petitioning of the powers-that-be. Their interpretation of history tells them that dialogue achieves very little, and that confrontation and the threat of institutional destabilization achieves a great deal more.

2. Distrust of institutional means of political discussion. After Cointelpro, various black bag jobs, political assassinations and coups in other countries, etc., we have seen too many instances of institutional power resorting to "extra-persuasive" or "extra-discursive" means of crushing disagreement or alternative politics.

3. The guise of civility: As Robert Scott and Donald Smith wrote over 30 years ago, a rhetorical theory suitable to our age must account for the fact that civility and decorum often act as masks for the preservation of injustice. (I'm paraphrasing here, but their quote is virtually the same). Miller's call for more persuasive communication seems at best quaint and at worst blind to how standards of "politeness" seem to cover up systemic and ideological hegemony, and often great brutality. People blame journalists or activists for being "divisive" when they point out the corrupt, immoral, "divisive" actions of officials, etc.

4. The decline of "fairness doctrine"-based attempts to provide balance in the media. I'm NOT saying the Fairness Doctrine was a good idea (although this essay argues it was. But the decline of concern over genuine pluralist balance has been part and parcel of media consolodation.

5. The fact that ideas and conversations are basically contextualized by material relations, which means that in a world of growing antagonisms between and among social classes, nobody should be surprised that few people attempt to persuade others in different classes or perspectives.

6. Society's growing religious intolerance and the growth in popularity of totalistic religious dogma. When your religion has all the answers, it's difficult to accept other people's questions. When your religion has all the answers and eternity hangs in the balance, questioning those answers is, by definition, counterproductive, threatening, and destructive.

7. Brutal is as brutal does: Is it any surprise our young people (and even their parents) turn to violence as solutions to disagreements, etc., when (a) that's what our country does, and (b) that's what talk radio does, because it sells?

Just some ideas as to why "persuasion" is dying. I think the communication/rhetoric discipline has been slow to realize the way in which external and foundational factors contextualize and limit the utility of "pure persuasion," but I think those scholars who realize that we no longer live in Aristotle's world (if we ever did) will find some useful, if somewhat depressing things to say.

Monday, June 20, 2005

In recognition of a very important issue, I'm letting my friend Shea Donato post today's Underview blog. Thanks, Shea, for the work you are doing on Bibi's plight.

Mukhtaran Bibi

The BBC has reported another incident in the long list of tragedies inflicted upon Mukhtaran Bibi (also known as Mukhtar Mai in the media) by the Pakistani government. For those who are unfamiliar with Bibi, she made international headlines a while back thanks to Nicholas Kristof who reported her gang rape ordered by her village's tribal council. In Kristof's initial story (done in the fall of 2004), he detailed how it is customary for Pakistani women sentenced to such punishment to commit suicide afterwards. However, Bibi did not commit suicide. Instead, she opened up a trauma center for women in Pakistan, which is funded by donations worldwide that poured in after her story rocked the world. Kristof wrote about how an unofficial group of assassins had Bibi in their sights, yet she continues to run the trauma center. The courage of this woman is not difficult for anyone to see, and her story has inspired women all over the Third World. Bibi's efforts are only a single instance of women empowering themselves in the Third World, yet they have given hope to women all over the Third World.

Not only did she have the courage to continue living in a culture that told her she should be dead, but with the support of a local Islamic leader, she also testified against her attackers, and helped to convict six of them. Unfortunately, her attackers were set free and now Bibi is dealing with an entirely new roadblock set in her path by the government.

Today, Bibi continues to be harassed by the council that condemned her to be gang raped. The same government that has faced international condemnation by people all over the world who were both shocked and horrified by the story has made attempts to block Bibi's movement out of (and in) Pakistan. Bibi applied for a US visa and was "pressured" by the Pakistani government to pass on the invitation to come into the US...whatever that means. The BBC further reports that Bibi has complained of a "virtual house arrest" and Musharraf's government has gone into overdrive trying to enact public relations damage control on his government's image. He is currently touring Australia and New Zealand, and according to some journalists, his supporters claim that "heads will roll" once he gets back and deals with the elements in his
government that have caused Bibi's further dehumanization. However, that remains to be seen. Given the history of the government's apathy towards Bibi's situation, it is difficult to accept its newfound "interest" as anything sincere.

Amnesty International has now jumped all over this story, and will probably be developing possible methods for people like you and me to help out. The biggest question for those of us sitting here reading all of the coverage of this story is what can we do to help? One of the easiest ways to help Bibi is to donate money to her trauma center in Pakistan. Nicholas Kristof has listed several sources through which you can donate money.
I suggest the Mercy Corps because they are taking a very active role not only in Bibi's quality of life, but for the quality of life for all women in Pakistan. Mercy Corps has also been named one of America's best charities, and is certainly a worthy charity to donate a bit of your money to. This is all in the link I provided, but for a quick rundown of the general donation process:

* Over 91% of the money you donate goes to the humanitarian relief.
* Every dollar you give helps them secure $16.51 in donated food
and other supplies.
* It allows you to donate to a specific cause or just generally
where it's most needed.
* Online donations are very safe and secure

In Bibi's particular case, they give an address directly on the website where you can send a check or money order as a donation to this cause. That address is:

Mercy Corps
Mukhtaran Bibi Fund
Dept. W
PO Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208-2669

You can also donate online if you wish. Either way, your money will make it to Mukhtaran Bibi, and will be used to support this very important cause.

Please take a bit of time out of your day and a little bit of money from your checking account for this cause. This isn't just for Mukhtaran Bibi. It is for the women of Pakistan as well. It is for the women in the Third World who are dehumanized, raped, beaten, murdered, ostracized, and oppressed every single day. Every day women all over the world are forced to endure the worst atrocities imaginable in silence. Mukhtaran Bibi chose to defy that fate, and every woman in
the Third World deserves the chance to do so as well. She is a symbol to all the women in the Third World who wish to live a better life than the one they currently have. Supporting Bibi is supporting all women of the Third World and their wishes to no longer live in silence. Please help with this cause.

Shea Donato

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Great News for Voting Rights

Iowa will restore voting rights for ex-felons. Read the story here.

Mark Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project and author of Race to Incarcerate, has a compelling article on the subject here.

This is a topic that is germaine to a larger discussion about the prison industrial complex. At a time when we are incarcerating people at a higher rate than ever before, and those who are incaracerated tend to be among the most disenfranchised members of society, the political benefits of voter disenfranchisement to ruling class politics are obvious. The prison industrial complex is part and parcel of the "new global economy."

Three years ago, I was introduced to the Prison Moratorium Project through an incredible hip hop CD called No More Prisons.
Sites about No More Prisons (book and CD) and the Prison Moratorium Project:

Mr. Politician, tell me who you represent?
He says I represent big industry cause they're the ones that pay my rent
Why should I back a poor community that's mostly black?
When it's a fact, I need some cash to get elected back
The bank account of the prison is the account that's feeding mine.
They need more prisoner's to make more money
So I invent another crime
Or increase the penalties for crimes that already exist
The public will love me for it as I put handcuffs on their kids
But don't blame me because the ship's about to sink
Blame the media and yourself for letting them tell you how to think
If you say that you're not influenced than your lying through your teeth
You're frightened by the cover but don't know what's underneath
Can't drive through the ghetto cause it makes you feel unsafe
When your block gets too dark you move to another place
Better think of something cause there is no place to hide
It will affect us all it's just a matter of time

Lock'em up cause it only brings us money
63% incarcerated by 2020
Little rich kid, he got caught and paid a fine
While the poor black youth got himself a 3 to 5
No more room? Well than I'll build another prison
Create another job get re-elected to my position
The war on drugs if you read between the lines
Is a way to enslave people for non-violent crimes

Abolish slavery? Fuck that, we'll reinvent it
There's crack in the black community so why should we prevent it?
Instead we'll just arrest them try to keep them all unskilled
We just built a brand new prison and the beds have to be filled
This industry is growing fast we're going to make some money
63% in the year 2020, of all black men age 18 to 34
Will be incarcerated, spend their life behind a cell block door
But wait there's more
We'll cut the budget's of all the programs that were designed
to help the poor cause we don't love them no more
Not like we ever did. Locking up our Native Americans
Puerto Ricans, Asians don't forget about the Mexicans
If you're poor and white well then we'll get you too
It will help us hide our racism make it harder for you to sue
So go ahead, speak out. Maybe you'll find someone who listens
Want to change the world? Well why not start with

("No More Prisons" by the Lunchbox Superheroes)

Monday, June 06, 2005

"Team Jesus Christ"

Sheesh, I can't seem to shake this theme lately. Nick's comment on my last post was, essentially, "how is this part of some kind of significant trend?"

Maybe this story provides a little more of a representative example...induction is a tough thing, you know...

THE REPORTS OF the religious climate at the Air Force Academy are unsettling: A chaplain instructs cadets to try to convert classmates by warning that they "will burn in the fires of hell" if they do not accept Christ...freshman cadets who decline to attend after-dinner chapel are marched back to their dormitories in "heathen flights" organized by upperclassmen. A Jewish student is taunted as a Christ killer and told that the Holocaust was the just punishment for that offense. The academy's head football coach posts a banner in the locker room that proclaims, "I am a Christian first and last. . . . I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."...critics say the response was belated and grudging, treating the problem as one of a few instances of insensitivity by out-of-line cadets rather than, as they see it, a broader culture of intolerance fostered from the top down...Cadets need to know that they can serve the Air Force, and their country, even if they haven't signed up for Team Jesus Christ.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Right Wing Religious Barbarism Update

It was never my intent to keep posting on this subject. Even after election '04, concern about religion and politics was about #24 on my list. But this is another painfully clear illustration of where we are right now:

On May 10, the Sheriff of Hamilton County, Ohio—which includes Cincinnati—delivered a fascistic tirade against “the forces of moral corruption,” at a public rally in the heart of the city’s downtown district. According to Sheriff Simon Leis, Jr., Cincinnati and police departments across the US are engaged in a battle against Satan and his minions—i.e., “liberal judges,” “atheists,” homosexuals, “feminists” and “liberals.”
...Leis denounced “proselytizing parasitic groups” like “gay and lesbian coalitions, rabid feminist groups, and the American Civil Liberties Union.” ...called on the return of “God and the Ten Commandments back [into] our schools and the workplace” to address America’s social problems.
...Leis’s speech ranged from alarmist and wildly inaccurate claims (such as, “Depression among children is up 1000 percent”) to outlandish theories whose cause-and-effect correlations collapse under the most minimal reflection (like blaming Supreme Court decisions “made in the 60s” for the spread of AIDS). ...The City Beat article interviewed Jay Twomey, a University of Cincinnati professor in the English department who teaches “Bible as Literature,” as well as other courses. Dr. Twomey discovered during his research that Sheriff Leis apparently plagiarized the bulk of his speech, lifting such lines as “satanic pestilence,” “rabid feminists,” and “perversion of the Internet” from a rant given by former Sheriff John McDougal of Lee County, Florida. ...
[Sheriff McDougal’s speech can be found online here:]...
Media Transparency on how Bush is using religion to control American politics.