Saturday, May 30, 2009

Runaway Car

Can't believe I missed this Judge Reinhold classic. Kudos to Shakesville, a progressive culture blog with some great gems like this.

"everything's coming up roooooses..."

If I am correctly interpreting this data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, gross domestic product decreased in the first quarter of 2009, while corporate profits increased during the same time period. Feel free to chime in as to what you believe this indicates, either normatively or predictively.

proposition on the retreat of conservatism

(1) The philosophy of deregulation cannot be severed from the conservative paradigm, and deregulation has, without a doubt, proven to be a failure.

(2) Unregulated capitalism inevitably produces a byproduct of a marginalized subaltern periphery -- even if you believe that capitalism EVENTUALLY lifts everyone up. In order to contain the social unrest and geopolitical fallout, the state must get bigger and bigger. It's true that the current stewards of conservatism are fools and tools, but the paradoxes of conservatism are structural, not contingent.

This doesn't mean there won't be a conservative revival, a successful reassertion of the ideology even in the face of material reality. Not like that never happens. It may be more difficult, however. Or, following the predictions of various Trotskyists, it will re-emerge in a more violent, fascistic form. The statements coming out of the defiant Republican peanut gallery lately (secession, racist and sexist remarks towards Obama and Sotomayor, inappropriate accusations of socialism) do resemble incipient fascism.

All of this emerged from an impression I had earlier today that some conservatives I know have kind of disengaged from politics rather than vigorously defend their principles. While there are notable examples of crossover (seldom further than becoming moderate democrats excited about Obama), there may be more disengagement than crossover. Again, just an impression. Don't hold me to it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

brief note on the Sonia Sotomayor nomination

There's obviously nothing particularly progressive about Sonia Sotomayor. But that won't stop stupid Republicans (are there any other kind left who are up to publicly identifying themselves? I know a few closet ones, but they all voted for Obama) from calling Judge Sotomayor both "radical" and "racist."

So I just wanted to share what I wrote in response to one such charge, from a well-meaning imbecile saying that charging her with racism is simply a fair-minded instance of placing the "shoe on the other foot." I replied:
Placing the shoe on the other foot is an abstract exercise at best. In reality, such "shoe flipping" across history and political power makes zero sense. I needn't even be a defender of affirmative action to see through the self-serving falsity of charges of "reverse discrimination." Your concern about one culture oppressing another rings hollow because it spontaneously rises up just as the historical hegemony of whiteness is on the decline. Think about that.

Think about that next time some right winger starts bellyaching about "reverse discrimination." Remind them that nothing they have said or done in the past expressed any real concern with "discrimination" categorically. Add the word "reverse" and suddenly arbitrary hierarchies are unacceptable.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Afghanistan Follies: Gates punk-slaps Cheney, sides with Obama in favor of a more restrained imperialism

In addition to pointing out how we're losing percetually and, to a large extent, strategically in Afghanistan (important because the public, Gates charges, will soon run out of patience), the Defense Secretary weighed in on torture and Gitmo, and punk-smacked Dick Cheney--though Gates is far from the first Bush administration veteran to do so.
Mr. Gates, a Bush administration holdover, also waded into the debate over the Guantanamo Bay prison and Bush-era antiterror tactics. He said critics of the Obama administration's plans to close Guantanamo and move some prisoners to the U.S. were guilty of "fear-mongering."
"If people begin to absorb the fact that we've got several dozen very dangerous terrorists in our jails right now...maybe a little greater perspective would be brought to the issue," he said.
Colin Powell, a former secretary of state and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in Republican administrations, on Sunday told CBS News's "Face the Nation" that he had lobbied former President George W. Bush to close the facility and that Mr. Bush had wanted to close it but "couldn't get all the pieces together."
Mr. Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said government interrogators should be limited to the techniques contained in the Army Field Manual and barred from using harsher methods.
"We have as high a motive to get information that will prevent attacks on our soldiers as anybody does," he said of the military. "And yet we find the methods that we use are sufficient."
The defense chief sided with Mr. Obama in his debate with former Vice President Dick Cheney, who defended the Bush administration's interrogation tactics and criticized the president in a speech last week. "Having been in this business a long time, I think that you never can underestimate the power of American values," Mr. Gates said.

And AP reports that the U.S. captured 4 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan yesterday. AP devoted a huge article to this, and their photo editor made sure a picture of Bin Laden appeared alongside the article in search engines. The suspected members "are believed to be associated with an al-Qaida leader" in Afghanistan. That's certainly worthy of attention, isn't it? It isn't? Really? Congratulations to the skilled journalists at AP for using "believed" and "associated" in order to pump up morale. That's the role of the media, isn't it? It isn't?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wow, I really spoke too soon...

Michael Steele is the dumbest, most gaffe-prone mouthpiece I've ever seen. From his laughable garbage last week about gay marriage killing the economy, to this:
STEELE: The problem that we have with this president is that we don’t know [Obama]. He was not vetted, folks. … He was not vetted, because the press fell in love with the black man running for the office. “Oh gee, wouldn’t it be neat to do that? Gee, wouldn’t it make all of our liberal guilt just go away? We can continue to ride around in our limousines and feel so lucky to live in an America with a black president.”

Why GOP purists don't like uppity black people, part 10,434

Meanwhile, over at the aptly-named "Hot Air" slog, they're ridiculing Colin Powell's plea for GOP moderation. They actually call for "spitting moderates out" of their party. Hurrah.

Bush's Belief in Mythical Monsters

In case anyone is still in the dark about what a nutcase George W. Bush is, Clive Anderson of Counterpunch has an article in today's Alternet describing Jacques Chirac's reaction to (and admirable but regrettable restraint in making public) Bush's description of the Middle East to him in 2003. Bush, as you might recall, was lobbying European leaders to support the invasion of Iraq. While talking to Chirac, "Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated."

Remember how pro-war forces painted those European leaders as unreasonable? How they were described as all manner of charlatans and opportunists and naysayers? The "old Europe/new Europe" distinction? Well, all this was occurring while the leader of the free world was spinning a mythical fantasy involving magical, destructive creatures. Perhaps Chirac should have retorted that, having gazed into his French crystal ball, he had prophesied that Iraqi elves would sabotage the invasion.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

No death sentence for Steven Dale Green: this is a good thing, but critical reflection is needed

Jurors couldn't agree on a penalty for the soldier who raped 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi in Iraq, killed her and her family, and set fire to her house.
Steven Dale Green, 24, of Midland, Texas, will instead serve a life sentence in a case that has drawn attention to the emotional and psychological strains on soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you're categorically against the death penalty, then you have to acknowledge the desirability of sparing Green's life. At the same time, he was not spared on principle, and if he'd done this to Americans, he probably would have received the death penalty. Even AP's spin, drawing attention to the psychological condition of U.S. soldiers, is a positive spin with a double-standard underside. The American public is likely to look with sympathy on the U.S. soldier in Iraq, and rightly so, but is unlikely to sympathize with domestic murderers who may very well be under analogous psychological strain.

Nevertheless, I would urge those who would "normally" be against the death penalty but find themselves longing for the ritual execution of Pfc. Green, and the symbolic power of the execution of an occupying soldier, to instead direct your indignation toward the power of the state to control life and death. That's what put Green in Iraq in the first place, it also executes the innocent and the guilty here at home, and it must be confronted systemically.

Friday, May 15, 2009

update on the marginalization of Single Payer

Of course, to much fanfare, I posted this on Shared Sacrifice yesterday.
Obama is betraying his most intelligent, hardworking
and serious supporters in the worst way possible: To be excluded from the deliberative process is dehumanizing, instrumentalizing, and marginalizing. He's not even bringing it to the table to explain what's wrong with it. This is important for process-oriented reasons. Obama is kicking it off the table rather than explaining why it's "infeasible" because its infeasibility is not one of "policy logistics" or even cost. Its infeasibility is an effect of elite opposition, opposition by parties who will win because they have resources, not arguments. And that's exactly the distinction progressives need to be making
on this, as on so many other issues.

Obama prefers to appeal to tradition. Fallacy, and lots of bad traditions, but yeah...
Obama was asked why a "single payer" plan — where the government makes payments directly to medical care providers — isn't on the table.
He said the nation has a tradition of employer-based health care using private insurance companies, and that a lot of people are satisfied with it.
Congressional leaders have said a single-payer plan is politically impractical.

David U. Himmelstein's testimony before the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee is right on.
...doctors in the U.S. waste about $95 billion each year fighting with insurance companies and filling out useless paperwork.
Unfortunately, these massive potential savings on bureaucracy can only be achieved through a single payer reform. A health reform plan that includes a public plan option might realize some savings on insurance overhead. However, as long as multiple private plans coexist with the public plan, hospitals and doctors would have to maintain their costly billing and internal cost tracking apparatus. Indeed, my colleagues and I estimate that even if half of all privately insured Americans switched to a public plan with overhead at Medicare's level, the administrative savings would amount to only 9% of the savings under single payer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Best dissection of Cheney thus far

"The Truth About Richard Bruce Cheney" in yesterday's edition of the Washington Note is the most factually informed, hard-hitting commentary I have yet seen. For heaven's sake, read it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Obama's new Afghanistan commander = tool

...Obama’s new choice to lead US operations in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, suspected that former football star Pat Tillman had been killed by friendly fire but approved a Silver Star regardless.

According to military testimony acquired by the Associated Press in 2007, McChrystal went so far as to warn top US generals that Tillman’s death was suspicious. In the memo, he implored “our nation’s leaders,” specifically “POTUS” — the President of the United States — “to avoid using the award citation’s language of “devastating enemy fire” in their speeches.

read the story here. Thanks to Redjade InHungary for the link.

"I am a tool SIR!"

Monday, May 11, 2009

nice, AOL News!

So the decidedly right wing retardocon (is that somewhere between theocon and neocon?) AOL News puts up a "thumbs up/thumbs down" poll in regard to Obama's Dick Cheney jokes at the annual White House correspondents' dinner, and the self-selected, nonscientific AOL readership poll decides it's 51 point something percent "thumbs down" because they would vote for eating children if the Democrats opposed it, and THEN AOL spins from this a click-on headline on its main page: "52% Didn't Approve of President's Jab." No reference to the fact that it was an unscientific AOL poll; it was clearly being displayed in the context of a real poll, and to put icing on the cake, the fake poll result wasn't even mentioned in the article, which did no real assessment of the President's joke, or anyone else's.

"You've got mail! And bullshit fake news written in a desperate attempt to discredit anything to the left of Dracula!"


The U.S. soldier who killed five of his fellow soldiers is actually in custody now.

Middle East Update: Good news from Iran, bad news from Iraq, potentially good or bad news concerning peace process...

First the good news: Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi is free from her Tehran prison cell today, presumably headed back to the U.S., after an Iranian appeals court suspended her "espionage" sentence.

I am sure hardliners and chickenhawks are absolutely bat-mad about this. It's intuitively obvious that (a) agents respond better to a perception of openness even among adversaries, and (b) the Obama administration, however beholden it is to corporatism, is nevertheless of a far higher degree of intellectual and diplomatic nuance than the Bush misadministration.

Second, the bad news, and by "bad" I mean tragic and disturbing: The Pentagon has confirmed that an American soldier killed four fellow soldiers and then himself in Baghdad today.

Initially, reports merely said five soldiers were killed and the military was investigation what could have caused such a security breach. This suggests a great deal of initial confusion about the event. I hope we can learn more about what caused this. We need to continue to demand full withdrawal now. Whoever these people were, their deaths were NOT worth the neocon-crusaiding-oil-loving imperialism of Bush, or the confused, hubristic cowardice of Obama.

Finally, potentially good or extremely scary news. An attempted peace deal between Israel and the entire Arab world seems to be inevitable--brokered by Obama, who has the skills and the will to do it if doing so won't offend his corporate bosses--and involving many key concessions, at least according to the King of Jordan:
King Abdullah II of Jordan revealed to the Times of London that the Obama administration may attempt a comprehensive peace treaty between Israel and the entire Muslim world. The latter would recognize Israel and grant El Al overflight rights. Israel in return would have to freeze settlement activity and move smartly toward a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state, with Israeli settlers removed from the West Bank. The status of Jerusalem would be left for later negotiations.

The scary part, according to the same analysis by Juan Cole, is that there will be another war in the region in about a year if the process fails. And the process will definitely fail if the statelessness of the Palestinians is not addressed. Both Obama and the Pope (unsurprising but I guess not a bad touch) have endorsed a Palestinian state. The arrogant Netanyahu has repeatedly balked and will balk some more. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Republicans: Enough Said?

This largely speaks for itself.
Cheney Says He Favors Limbaugh Over Powell as Model Republican
By Elliot Blair Smith
May 10 (Bloomberg) -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Republicans are better served by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh than by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“My take on it was Colin had already left the party,” Cheney said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” noting that Republican Powell endorsed President Barack Obama, a Democrat, during the 2008 presidential campaign. “I assumed that that is some indication of his loyalty.”
Cheney, 68, clashed with Powell, 72, a retired four-star general, over tactics in the war on terrorism during former President George W. Bush’s administration.
Asked if he would “take Rush Limbaugh over Colin Powell,” Cheney said, “I would.”

Friday, May 08, 2009

Artist of the Week: The Residents

(The Residents)

Once when we were on a bus between some cities we discussed the things that happened in their early years.
Their youngest time was spent alone while living with an uncle only half remaining from a foreign war.
His upper half was well enough, but in the pants between his cuffs where his zipper stopped, his legs were gone.
And so he rolled around on wheels, self sufficient in a peeling little house he could not paint again.
But it was spotless to the point of two feet above the floor and warmth was in his laugh and in his smiling face.
The people that they met were few and might have been disturbed by two who looked so strange, but they were not aware.
For living with their stumpy uncle, who was unconcerned and rumpled, made them see things differently.
They thought that we were put together randomly, just like the weather, with no uniformity in mind.
But that vision only lasted for a while until he passed away and they were sent off to a home.
The children there did not have parents, were all alike and always staring, as they sat on chairs above the ground.
So they cried and then withdrew from those that shouted, laughed and who were mean because of suffering inside.
Once alone they heard some children shouting that a car had killed one of their pets out in the road ahead.
As they approached the fallen body, blood appeared and then they saw a leg that had been torn away somehow.
So they kneeled upon the ground and lifted up the leg they found and wedged it gently just below the spot where both their shoulders joined together.
Then the sun, which had been setting, winked and for a moment all was dark.
And when the sun returned above them, no one laughed and made fun of them, for the dog was licking at the joint, barking loud and resurrected and causing them to be respected by those who had avoided them before.

Beautiful, unapologetically weird stuff.

have an opinion on the drug war?

Saturday, May 9: Dr. Jeffrey Miron, Harvard University economist, on the economic cost of the War on Drugs

Listen (and call in) live Saturdays from 12-2 PM mountain time, or archived any time.

Tired of the SSM debate?

Tired of hearing people like Pat Robertson use the "slippery slope to child molestation" argument? In 2009?

Tired of conservatives' reductionism of the issue, a symptom of their willful lack of empathy?

Then read this excellent personal essay about the normalcy--the revolutionary, sublime, beautiful normality--of it all.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

should the taliban be crushed? why not???

I understand the difference, at least utilizing the language and logic of mainstream politics, between Iraq and Afghanistan. I also find it much more difficult to strive towards empathy for the Taliban than for those employed as soldiers or bureaucrats of the Iraqi government under Saddam (it's complicated but that's how it shakes down for me). That said, even if there are extremely expedient reasons to crush the Taliban, and crush them now, it's just another cycle in the folly of imperialism and the inevitability of reactionary byproducts of imperialism. So regardless of what Obama does (and he seems to intend to at least try to crush them, though I suspect he'll fail and be fodder for the right as a result), we need to have a public conversation on short term expediency versus long term policies and the foundations thereof.

Also, if I were in uniform, I probably would have had serious reservations about being deployed to Iraq (as some soldiers did); I would have far fewer reservations about going to Afghanistan to crush the Taliban. I can't think of one positive thing the Taliban contribute to human existence. They are a blight on civilization, humanity, solidarity with the oppressed, and common sense. I would personally shake the hands of the soldiers who captured any portion of the Taliban leadership. That wouldn't change my opinion regarding long view versus short view, but I would be happy they were no longer able to do what they do.

Finally, it's really the task of those who voted for Obama, knowing explicitly that he intended to step up the Afghanistan campaign, to defend his decision to do so.

Monday, May 04, 2009

More disturbing evidence of U.S. military's colonization by evangelicals

According to Jeremy Scahill of Rebel Reports, U.S. soldiers have been told to convert people in Afghanistan to Christianity.
New video evidence has surfaced showing that US military forces in Afghanistan have been instructed by the military’s top chaplain in the country to “hunt people for Jesus” as they spread Christianity to the overwhelmingly Muslim population. Soldiers also have imported bibles translated into Pashto and Dari, the two dominant languages of Afghanistan. What’s more, the center of this evangelical operation is at the huge US base at Bagram, one of the main sites used by the US military to torture and indefinitely detain prisoners.

Scahill also links to a video obtained by Al Jazeera. Here's the video:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

bah humbug, dems

Two initial reactions to today's piece by James Carville and Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza claiming that Democrats will rule for "the next 40 years."

1. BS. Remember the "permanent republican majority?" Carville just enjoys getting his rocks off on rhetorical vengeance.
2. A "permanent democratic majority" doesn't make us any less likely to fight corporate wars, demonize and marginalize the poor, or widen the net of the police state, so should progressives somehow drool and dance with joy over a hypothesized four decades of slightly-lesser-evil?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Is CEO Pay Irrelevant?

There are several things to consider in this AP article discussing the impact of the economic crisis on CEO pay.

1. The "cry me a river" cheap shot, of course, is warranted, but still pretty cheap as shots go. The fact is that there is not only still a layer of fat cats sending their kids to $5,000 camps this summer or jetting off to Bermuda; that layer of people, some of whom include CEOs, are well-insulated.

2. Corporate boards are going out of their way to protect their CEO's financially and to keep paying them as much as possible. To many people, this seems irrational. Of course, it is systemically irrational, but it makes perfect sense in the worldview and logic of capital--the competitive generation of surplus value, the competitive generation of profit. The CEO functions like a celebrity-head coach-quarterback-star forward-religious-authority. Writing for Capitalism Magazine, objectivist Elan Journo says "successful CEOs are as indispensable to their companies as Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are to their teams." Quarterbacks control strategy; their sense of that strategy needs to be quick, close to instinctual, that sort of thing.

3. The moves toward limiting executive pay for companies that receive federal bailout money are largely symbolic. The article doesn't overclaim their significance. But one should also point out that Obama's economic team places a great deal of value on the symbolic. They seem to believe that language and perception, and the resulting public confidence or lack thereof, is the key to recovery...or doom. In that sense, what Bush and Co. were to international relations, Obama and Co. are to the economy: sophistic relativists hoping to reconstruct reality through repetition, image-generation, and half-truths.

4. And #3 kind of sums up my thinking this morning on the question of CEO pay itself. It's useful, to an extent, as an example of how absurd the system is, but it's not a key component of the system; the consequences of this crisis on CEO pay are largely inconsequential, and targeting CEOs generates rhetorical capital (and can be entertaining) but makes for ineffective reformism and doesn't even begin to approach revolutionary politics.