Friday, November 28, 2008

Stephen Zunes on Shared Sacrifice

Our guest this week is Professor Stephen Zunes, chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus. Professor Zunes was an especially prescient doubter of the Bush administration's claims of WMD in Iraq, doubting those claims as early as 2003, when nearly everyone else on the right and left believed such claims. He is the principal editor of Nonviolent Social Movements (Blackwell Publishers, 1999) and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003) and the forthcoming Western Sahara: Nationalism and Conflict in Northwest Africa (Syracuse University Press.) With Rachel M. MacNair, he edited Consistently Opposing Killing: From Abortion to Assisted Suicide, the Death Penalty, and War (Praeger, 2008). Most recently, he authored the Alternet article "Is Obama Screwing His Base with Rahm Emanuel Selection?" Professor Zunes joins us to discuss the challenges and opportunities for progressives during an Obama presidency. Our call-in number is (347) 327-9615.

Listen live or archived!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Throwing the Bedfellows Out of the Bed...

...without even a promise to call them in a couple of days...

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, two heterosexist groups who had joined forces to pass Proposition 8 are now on the splits.

...Other conservative groups that loudly backed Prop. 8 are being targeted as too extreme and off-putting by"We represent the people who got things done, who got Prop. 8 passed," said Andrew Pugno, general counsel for the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign. "An important part of defending Prop. 8 is eliminating arguments not helpful to our concerns." Pugno, for example, persuaded the Supreme Court last week to bar the Campaign for California Families from intervening in the court case over the validity of Prop. 8 and the same-sex marriage ban. "That organization represents the extreme fringe and is not representative of the coalition that got it passed," Pugno said. ... the Campaign for Children and Families, is run by Randy Thomasson, who for years has been one of California's most visible opponents of gay rights and what he bills as "the homosexual agenda." ... In 2005 and again in January, Thomasson and his allies proposed initiatives that not only would bar same-sex marriage but that also "voids or makes unenforceable" rights conferred by California law on couples, gay or heterosexual, registered as domestic partners, including community property, child custody, hospital visitation and insurance benefits. "It was like the nuclear option to obliterate the entire domestic partners law," Pugno said. "We were constantly hassled by that organization, who thought we weren't aggressive enough." ... A Field Poll released in May showed that nearly a third of California voters opposed same-sex marriage, but still believed gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to have civil unions granting them the rights of married couples. Surveys done earlier this year by GOP pollsters also showed that any measure attacking domestic partnership rights had little or no chance of passing in California. ... the disputes between the groups have grown in the past few days, with Thomasson launching an all-out attack against the Supreme Court for accepting the challenge to Prop. 8, a court decision Pugno and others from had welcomed. ... Pugno and others from the Prop. 8 campaign want to avoid such fiery challenges and threats to the court and keep matters on a quiet legal level until the court rules on same-sex marriage sometime after March.

...or perhaps they just needed better lubrication.

What is beauty?

What is normal?

What is obscene?

What is love?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lawless Law

In Myanmar this week, the military government sentenced a comedian to 45 years in prison for giving aid and speaking his mind.

But my editorial today doesn’t concern Myanmar. We have come to expect the opposite of justice—the embrace of absurd, almost satirical brutality there. But here? In the United States?

Welcome to the era of postmodern criminality, where the state can take advantage of unstable terms when it suits them, and ambiguity always serves the interests of power rather than justice.

Let me explain: In Saint Johns, Arizona, an eight year-old boy stands accused in the shooting deaths of his father and another adult male. Because he’s an eight year-old boy, he was interrogated by police without a parental unit, or a lawyer, present at the interrogation. The police argued with him, confused him, and eventually convinced him to confess to the acts. Now, the eight year old boy is being charged with the murders, but the Arizona prosecutors are attempting to have him tried as an adult.

Now wait—you’re thinking “they can’t have it both ways. They took liberties with him in the interrogation process because he’s eight years old, but now they want to try him as an adult.”

And you’re also probably thinking—if you have a conscience and a brain, you’re thinking—on what planet, in what world, in what moral and political and legal universe, are we talking about trying an eight year old as an adult?

Like I said, welcome to the era of postmodern criminality. Picture a funhouse mirror. In front of the mirror stands an eight year old boy. In the mirror image, a burly, threatening adult. But we have always been taught that the images in the law’s mirror are accurate. Apparently not.

An eight year old is an adult if the state declares them to be an adult. Moreover, an eight year old can be declared, by the state, to be an adult only in the instance of their criminality. Their criminality will be abstracted from the rest of their being. The eight year old, of course, won’t be able to drink alcohol as an adult. Why? Because an eight year old’s brain is still developing! And, because an eight year old cannot form the requisite judgment to drink alcohol.

The eight year old can’t vote in an election. Why? Because an eight year old cannot form the requisite judgment to decide between candidates. The eight year old cannot drive a car. The eight year old cannot get married. The eight year old cannot enter into a legal contract.

Welcome to the world of the state cutting and pasting our identities onto their matrix. That might be acceptable, if we could trust that the state had the same interests as we did. But in a society where inequality and lack of access to basic necessities is considered the price of freedom, it is of utmost importance that the Law –capital L Law—be able to step outside of itself, violate its own consistencies, create its own states of exception. Hence, we’re now talking about something which would be fodder for satire if it weren’t true: declaring, for the singular, abstracted purpose of a criminal trial, that an eight year old boy is all grown up.

I will pause while you contemplate the terrifying absurdity of this situation. I will help you contemplate it by painting a clearer picture. The eight year old boy is led into the courtroom in shackles and a jail jump suit that is too big for him. He is disoriented. He is scared. He looks for his mother, who is on the other end of the court room. She waves to him, blowing him kisses. She is dying inside, but struggles to appear brave and upbeat for him. Like everyone else, she doesn’t know what happened, and doesn’t know why he’s there. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the judge talk in language the boy doesn’t understand. The mother’s heart is breaking, but not in the same, forgive the term, “standard” way that a mother’s heart breaks to see her offspring on trial for murder. Augment that heartbreak with a profound alienation, created by this very absurdity.

How did we get here? Contrary to popular conception, the United States, and most other countries, have never hesitated to turn children into adults for the purpose of locking them up or executing them. But while there are legitimate ethical and legal disagreements where trying a 17 or 16 year old is concerned, this case, this case of an eight year old, is the extremity that proves the absurdity. How we got here is by giving “law and order” politicians license to create lawless law. What is lawless law, you ask?

Lawless law is created and enabled by fear of criminality and deviance. Lawless law gives prosecutors and cops a green light to trample over people’s rights and interests, under the assumption that only bad people will get hurt, and we all know that can’t be us. Lawless law is what philosopher Giorgio Agamben describes as the “state of exception,” whereby the representatives and guardians of the law can step outside the boundaries of the law in order to purportedly keep us safe. Lawless law is intended to create fear: fear of the law. Fear of the law is like fear of God. Religions which teach you to fear God are intended to reduce you to your weakest denominators. Above all, lawless law is inconsistent, precisely because that is what we fear the most: If authority doesn’t have to be consistent, then that’s all the more reason for us to fear it, serve it, be subservient to it, kneel before it, hope we aren’t arbitrarily and capriciously punished by it, grateful that it passes over us, fearful that it will find us doing something we didn’t know was wrong.

All of which is not to say that an eight year old boy shooting two adults to death is somehow okay. But there is simply no world where such an action can be considered on the same legal plane as an adult’s responsible or intentional act of criminality. No world, at least, except the state of exception, where the state needn’t be consistent, where the state can interrogate a child and then declare the child an adult, deny the child the choicemaking rights of an adult and then declare the child to be a choicemaking adult.

Lawless law is based on fear. Fear trumps consistency. But consistency, ladies and gentlemen, is the cornerstone of democracy. And so if Arizona puts this child on trial as an adult, that inconsistency is as great a threat to democracy as George W. Bush lying about WMD, as voter suppression in an election, as public officials refusing to honor subpoenas, as corporations colonizing the deliberative process.

This week, the judge in St. Johns Arizona gave the prosecution two weeks to complete their request to try this child as an adult. I pray with every fiber of my being that they see the error of their ways and decline to do so. But if they do decide to try him as an adult, you haven’t heard the last of it on this show. We will fight lawless law. We will resist the drive of the state to practice its fragmented inconsistencies, its postmodern criminality, its exploitation of ambiguity, and its willingness to reduce itself to terrifying, fun-house mirror absurdity and exploitation of the politics of fear.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Morning Randomness

A strange thing happened at the new Broadway revival of "Annie." The actor playing Daddy Warbucks inexplicably changed the lyrics mid-production, belting out: "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I HATE YOU, tomorrow" and subsequently guffawing in a resounding "HOHO" before the stunned audience.

The preceding account is false. Me and a childhood friend find it hilarious, for reasons too complicated to explain.

Will Peter Garrett ever play Warbucks down under? Wouldn't that be brilliant?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

they're missing something of that marxist rigor...

So thanks to the BBC, we find that the photo the DPRK has been using as proof of Kim Jung Il's health was clumsily photoshopped:

Maybe they should have kidnapped a South Korean photography expert or something...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

the best progressive internet radio show

Shared Sacrifice truly kicks progressive radio booty. Just look at our lineup for the next three weeks:

November 15: Dr. Judith Broder of The Soldiers Project discusses the psychological effects of combat and the free services provided by her organization to veterans and those who live with them.

November 22: Chris Rothfuss, Wyoming's 2008 Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate, discusses the past election cycle and the future of Democratic and progressive politics.

November 29: Professor Stephen Zunes, chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, also the author of the recent Alternet article "Is Obama Screwing His Base with Rahm Emanuel Selection?" discusses the challenges and opportunities for progressives during an Obama presidency.

Truly a unique and stimulating lineup, eh?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama and Abortion Politics

I can't help agreeing with Damon Linker's suggestion that President Obama needs to paint an inclusive picture of the abortion debate: one that acknowledges the importance of choice in the present, but also recognizes the morally troubling nature of abortion and the desire of all sides (well, all reasonable sides) to build a society where abortion is not necessary:
...Obama could follow the lead of Bill Clinton in combining a stalwart defense of the right to choose with an acknowledgement that the decision to have an abortion is a choice that troubles the consciences of many millions of Americans--including many millions who steadfastly support abortion rights. Clinton's "safe, legal, and rare" served him well in this regard, but surely an orator as gifted as Obama could forge an even finer phrase or passage of prose to capture the often tragic moral complexities surrounding this most divisive of issues.

In taking such a conciliatory approach, Obama would not only contribute in an important way to fulfilling his stated desire to heal the cultural fissures that have fractured our nation since the mid-sixties. He would also help to ensure that the victory of November 2008 proves to be the start of a new era of liberal leadership, instead of merely the latest Democratic parenthesis in an age of Republican domination.
Well said, Damon!

Matt's Four Planks

We have a tiny bit of political space. It's time to begin work in earnest on projects that will open up more political space. I explain each of these below in "On Conditional Happiness in Politics," but here they are. Let's talk about them.

1. Build a coalition of progressive, socialist, left-libertarian, labor and green parties in an effort to form the largest new political party in a hundred years.

2. Demand universal health care.

3. Demand an Economic Bill of Rights.

4. Restore equality to the airwaves.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

More live election blogging: Proposition 8 leads in California

In slightly less edifying news...

California marriage amendment leads early
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Six months after the California Supreme Court sanctioned same-sex marriage in the state, voters Tuesday were repealing the landmark decision with 12 percent of precincts reporting.

live blog: Obama victory as seen in Laramie

Obama is giving his victory speech. There are several smiling faces here at the Wyoming Union; several faces with tears and many staring at the TV screens with a sense of wonderment.

Even my skeptical and cynical friend (and frequent political consultant) Pinto T. Ellsworth muttered "he's an amazing speaker" a few moments ago. I gave a brief invited speech which will be played on this weekend's show. All in all it's a thoughtfully happy night here for Democrats, an unhappy one for Republicans, and an interesting but uncertain one for progressive independents and those left of the Democratic Party.

quote of the election cycle

From WSWS writer Patrick Martin:

"A principal concern of Obama and his key strategists is that a large-scale Democratic victory will arouse popular expectations that they have no intention of meeting."