Monday, December 31, 2012

Adios, 2012


(via @AlUCanEatShrimp)

A matter of shared sacrifice

Speaking to The Middle Class today, Barack Obama made a promise, pledging not to pursue spending cuts "that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle- class families." Such is the state of liberal politics today: the most our recently reelected progressive president is willing to offer his supporters is a pledge not to actively harm them.

Of course, being the head of an empire that feeds on death and consumer debt, the president didn't even really offer that. Instead, the sentence containing his grand promise continued, clarifying that Obama only meant he wouldn't harm the middle class "without asking also equivalent sacrifice from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists, et cetera."

"[I]t’s going to have to be a matter of shared sacrifice," he added.

So, in exchange for cutting your grandmother's already inadequate Social Security, a Fortune 500 CEO will -- no, let's go with "may" -- be bumped up to a higher tax rate, which could require as many as two to three additional billable hours for their accountant to successfully evade. No one, least of all our secretly Marxist commander in chief, will point out how the middle (and lower) class already sacrifices its claim to the country's abundant resources to the capitalist class, which the state grants monopoly privileges over what ought to be our shared abundance.

Seems about right.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Me irl


Off to see The Pharcyde (with Fatlip) and Souls of Mischief tonight. I have a better life than you.

Ha Ha: This is what I get for being a jerk.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

'The System'

I recall something Miguel Littín told me five or six years ago. He had just filmed La tierra prometida in the Ranquil valley, a poor region of Chile.

The local peasants were "extras" in the scenes where there were masses. Some of them played themselves. Others played soldiers. The soldiers invaded the valley, and with bloodshed and fire, threw the peasants off the land. The film was the chronicle of the massacre.

The problems began on the third day. The peasants who wore uniforms, rode horseback, and shot blanks had become arbitrary, bossy, and violent. After each day of filming, they would harass the other peasants.
-- Eduardo Galeano, Days and Nights of Love and War

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A defense secretary of their own

How bad has it gotten for the US antiwar movement? After the president its most prominent leaders supported in 2008 took George W. Bush's war on terror and institutionalized it, they have been at a strategic loss, unable to kick their dogmatic, electoral-minded tactics to the point that they are now engaged in an awkward campaign to get a conservative Republican appointed to administer Barack Obama's wars. Indeed, after getting a commander-in-chief of its own, the down-and-out antiwar movement is now angling to get its own defense secretary.

The logic behind the leftists for Chuck Hagel campaign -- sometimes unstated -- is not so much that he's a great guy, but that the people attacking him are even worse. And to be fair, they're right. Most of the people blasting the former Nebraska senator hail from the belligerent far right, primarily employed by neoconservative media outlets like the Weekly Standard and Washington Post. Their critique is that Hagel is no friend of the Jewish state, and perhaps even anti-Semitic, because he once made comments critical of its influential lobby in DC and opposed Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon (an undeniably good thing). He's also talked about giving diplomacy a shot with Iran, when the proper line is supposed to be "nah, fuck those guys."

Hagel has also come under fire from military lobbyists for his stated desire to cut bloat at the Pentagon, though it's worth remembering that Bush/Obama secretary of defense Robert Gates pledged the same thing while burning through the biggest military budgets in world history. In other words, the usual sky-is-falling crowd is making much ado about nothing with respect to a guy who, outside of a few maverick-y speeches over the years, adheres to the Washington consensus as much as the next old white guy. Their goal? Maybe a nice little war with a third-rate power and a bit larger share of the GDP. But like executives at Goldman Sachs, they know they're going to be pretty much fine no matter who is in office.

It would be one thing to simply point this out; that yes, some of the charges against Hagel can politely be called “silly.” One can disagree about the wisdom of Israeli wars, for instance, without being a raging anti-Semite, and indeed much of the Israeli establishment would privately concede their 2006 war was a bust. And with politicians talking of slashing Social Security, you damned well better believe it's not a gaffe to say maybe we ought to take a quick look at where half the average American's income tax goes: the military. Such a defense might have some value.

Unfortunately, that's not what the pro-Hagel campaign is doing. Instead, they're billing the fight over Hagel's nomination as a defining battle of Obama's second term. If Hagel wins, the argument goes, AIPAC loses, opening up the foreign policy debate in Washington and increasing the possibility of peace in our time. If his nomination goes down, however, that reinforces the idea that the hawkish foreign policy consensus in Washington shall not be challenged and that even the mildest criticisms of Israel cannot be tolerated. Some even suggest that who administers the Defense Department could decide if there's a war with Iran or not, perhaps forgetting the chain of command.

Indeed, most of Hagel's defenders aren't defending his occasionally heterodox views on Israel and unilateral sanctions (he's cool with the multilateral, 500,000-dead-children-in-Iraq kind), but rather trumpeting his commitment to orthodoxy. The Center for American Progress, for instance, has released a dossier detailing “Chuck Hagel's Pro-Israel Record,” noting his oft-stated verbal and legislative commitment to the “special relationship.” Some of his former staffers have also issued a fact sheet showing that all of Hagel's alleged heretical views are well within the hawkish mainstream.

Further left on the spectrum, it's not much different. The Washington-based group Just Foreign Policy, for instance, has revived Democratic rhetoric from 2004 to pitch the fight over the potential Hagel nomination in black and white terms of good and evil.

The Obama-hating Neocon Right is trying to 'Swift Boat' the expected nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense,” the group states in a recent email blast to supporters. Neoconservatives have been “making up a fantasy scare story that Hagel . . . is 'anti-Israel,'” it continues, helpfully informing us that the Hagel the neocons make out to be such a reasonable guy is indeed a fantasy. Finally, it ends with an appeal: “We cannot stand idly by as the neocons stage a coup of our foreign policy,” followed by a petition supporting Hagel's nomination hosted by MoveOn.org sure to defeat any military coup.

In a blog, the group's policy director, Robert Naiman, likewise pitches the battle over Hagel's nomination in terms of Obama vs. The Warmongers. “Hagel represents the foreign policy that the majority of Americans voted for in 2008 and 2012: less war, more diplomacy,” he writes, pointing to past statements he's made about the wisdom of a war with Iran.

Of course, the unfortunate truth is that American's didn't vote for “less war, more diplomacy,” as comforting as that thought may be, because they haven't had the chance. In this past election, Obama often ran to the right of Mitt Romney, his campaign frequently suggesting the latter would not have had the guts to kill Osama bin Laden. The DNC ridiculed Romney for suggesting he'd consider the war's legality before bombing Iran. “Romney Said He Would Talk To His Lawyers Before Deciding Whether To Use Military Force,” read the press release, as if that's a bad thing. Obama, bomber of a half-dozen countries, never forgot to mention the “crippling” sanctions he's imposed.

And J Street, the group that just co-sponsored a rally with AIPAC backing the Israeli state's latest killing spree? Ask a resident of Gaza how “pro-peace” it is.

But, in order to create a sign-this-petition! narrative, one often can't do nuance. So Naiman doesn't. In another post, this one highlighting Hagel's establishment support, because antiwar activists care about that sort of thing, he casually refers to former ambassador Ryan Crocker as among the “diplomacy champions and war skeptics” backing the former senator. This would be the same Ryan Crocker appointed by George W. Buish who has said “it's simply not the case that Afghans would rather have US forces gone,” and dismissed the killing of at least 25 people in Afghanistan, including children, as “not a very big deal.”

That should give you a good idea of the obfuscation going on in the antiwar campaign for a Pentagon chief. This is a problem. If you're going to play the role of the savvy Washington activist and get involved in the inside baseball that is fights over cabinet appointments, ostensibly to reframe the debate more than anything we must defeat AIPAC! you ought not go about reinforcing adherence to orthodoxy and the perceived value of establishment support and credentials. And you ought not cast as heroes of the peace movement people that really shouldn't be. That's actually really dangerous.

Yet, some would rather play down Hagel's pro-war credentials for the all-important narrative. So we cast him as a staunch opponent of a war with Iran, ignoring his repeated assertions that we must “keep all options on the table” with respect to the Islamic Republic, including killing men, women and children. In a piece he coauthored with other establishment foreign policy figures, Hagel's opposition to war amounted merely to a call to consider its costs – and its benefits.

For instance, “a U.S. attack would demonstrate the country’s credibility as an ally to other nations in the region and would derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for several years, providing space for other, potentially longer-term solutions,” the senator and his friends wrote. “An attack would also make clear the United States’ full commitment to nonproliferation as other nations contemplate moves in that direction.” Ah, but he mentioned there could be “costs” (though none of those he mentioned were “dead people”). Such is brave, antiwar opposition in Washington.

But that's the cynical game played in DC by some of the would-be movers-and-shakers on the outskirts of the policy conversation: cynically play down a politician's faults to please funders, other politicians and one's own sense of savvy self-satisfaction. It's how the antiwar movement ended up dissolving and largely getting behind a president who more than doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan. People were presented a rosy image of a candidate who was on their side and they concluded their work was done upon his election. The same thing threatens to be the case with Chuck Hagel. Indeed, as The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg notes, “who better to sell the president's militant Iran position than someone who comes from the realist camp?”

When I privately raised some of these concerns with Naiman, he got snooty quick, just as he did with other writers who questioned whether the quest to “defeat AIPAC” should be conducted by stressing why AIPAC should love the guy. To me, Naiman wrote that if I had concerns about the antiwar movement taking ownership of a defense secretary, “There are plenty of organizations that pursue an ultra-left, ideological purist line. Why don't you give them your support and be happy?”

We live in an an age where ideological purity is defined as being uncomfortable with an antiwar organization throwing unequivocal support behind a conservative Republican to head the Pentagon. It's an amazing world.

Rather than engage in the reactionary politics of supporting what one perceives to be the least-evil administrator of war, those on the antiwar left and right ought to be truth tellers. Let's not sugar coat this: The problem isn't just AIPAC and the neocons, but the Center for American Progress and the neoliberals. Dumbing down the reality only serves to bolster one faction of the war party. And it kills antiwar movements.

The summer I became a communist

I've mentioned before how I attended a silly little summer camp in Pennsylvania once that sought to taught me about capitalism -- and in the process undermined my faith in it. Well, I've turned that experience into a proper article for VICE (all caps!) that you should go read I guess.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Naomi Watts hadn't considered that

Before I start, let me explain: I just got a new phone for the first time in years and it has this cool app that lets you listen to all these different radio stations and I thought, hey, maybe I should check one out and wouldn't it be interesting to listen to what the normals listen to and so I put on NPR. Also: screw you.

Anyway, so I was listening to NPR and I heard this interview with actress Naomi Watts about the new movie she's in, The Impossible, recounting the true story of a European family swept up in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, and I was most surprised to hear the host forcefully pursue the line of questioning: were you at all worried that people would say it's kind of gross and maybe sorta racist to do a movie about the 2004 tsunami in Thailand without having a Thai person in it, at least not one with a personality?

Naomi Watts replied by saying why, that thought never occurred to her, thank you very much, and that really the movie is quite lovely. But she did address it. "A huge portion of those people that died were tourists," Watts said. "But yes, a lot of them were Thai as well."

First, let's be fair. This is a promotional interview for a movie and come on, how many of us can make it through a normal day without saying something terribly inartful. Okay, we can stop doing that now and look at some statistics: Somewhere around 250,000 people perished in the 2004 tsunami. Of that number, less than 2,200 were tourists -- that's the number for the entire affected area -- and somewhere around 5,000 to 8,000 were Thai.

So. Armed with that information, I think we can safely call it INACCURATE to say a "huge portion" of those who died in the tsunami were tourists, much less upper-class Europeans. My suggestion is that the movie's promotional team better prep its stars for interviews like this; when asked in the future if it isn't just a little bit weird to do a movie about a tsunami in Asia minus any Asians, they should probably just say "yes."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The down dog of knowledge

“They’re not just teaching physical poses, they’re teaching children how to think and how to make decisions,” Ms. Eady said. “They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort."
And that, explains Ms. Eady, is a bad thing. Welcome to our world.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Is that you, Barack?



So, weird: Someone from the White House apparently just got to this little website by searching another website called Google for "Senator Kerry on Iran enrichment," bringing them to a piece I wrote in 2009 about the current candidate for Secretary of State suggesting Iran has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful energy purpose.

I'd say that's as good an indication as any that Kerry's past statements on Iran are of concern to the Obama administration as they seek to get him past the Senate and into the State Department, especially since they conflict with public suggestions from the White House that they're pushing for Iran to eliminate its nuclear program altogether, be it for weapons or energy.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I like this tweet


I like this tweet. I like it for a couple reasons. Here they are:
  1. I like the notion of a writer for Slate mocking a column idea for being predictable and trite.
  2. I like that the only time cool Beltway liberals really acknowledge the victims of drone strikes is when signalling that they are too savvy to much care about the victims of drone strikes.
  3. I like that this tweet got giggles from more apolitical, "straight reporter" types such as Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski. Opponents of state-sanctioned murder abroad are objectively insufferable.
  4. I like that dead children in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen can at least get a smirk out of an American journalist.
  5. I like that, for all their cynicism, more-pragmatic-than-thou progressives get all earnest when their president -- and he is their president -- displays anything approaching basic human emotion, necessitating displays such as this. You will not ruin this moment. You will not.
Postscript: I wouldn't write such a column for the simple reason that the murder of 20 children in Connecticut should not be about Barack Obama, though some liberals would like it to be.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Feminism, fully loaded

Over at Salon, film critic Andrew O'hehir takes a look at the new White House-endorsed film depicting the hunt for Osama bin Laden and in doing so ponders a couple of hard-hitting questions:
Does a society that produces female CIA agents (and reelects a black president) gain the right to commit atrocities in its own defense? Is torture justified if the torturer is a university-educated woman, and the tortured a bigoted Muslim fundamentalist? 
The "predictable left-libertarian response," O'hehir writes, is to say absolutely not, that such acts are "immoral and unjustifiable in almost every instance." Oh, but how boring! Morality is relative: isn't that something we lefties go on about? And once you throw in all the "shades of gray" of right and wrong, who's to say a liberal, multi-cultural society with strong, empowered women shouldn't be allowed to attach electrodes to the testicles of some savage who hasn't even read any Betty Friedan?

Or, put more succintly: liberal apologists for mass murder can't be satirized.

(via Oh Tarzie)

Friday, November 16, 2012

God hates Russell Brand

Before the show, Steve Drain of the Westboro Baptist Church asked me just how long I'd been working on BrandX with Russell Brand as I led him from his car to the bare-bones green room we were sticking him in until the taping started.

"Since the beginning," I replied.

"Oh, cool man," Drain said, appearing completely genuine. "That's cool."

And then he went on TV:

 

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

It can't happen here

The year is 2036. Packs of feral dogs roam the streets of Denver, scouring the destitute downtown for their next meal: probably some poor vagrant bastard, if Those Who Dwell Below haven't beat them to it. A lone scream in the distance pierces the eery silence.

"What happened here?" a young girl asks her father, scanning the hellscape. "Where did all the people go?"

Nothing.

The father turns a dial on the hovercraft, appearing to have not heard the question, his face expressionless. As he brings the vessel to a stop, he takes a deep breath, sighing as he wipes the sweat from his brow. How to explain?

"They -- they legalized marijuana," he says flatly, pressing his temples. "Reefer, Annie. The bloody fools!"

Monday, November 05, 2012

Pam Geller vs. her own words


Pamela Geller doesn't much care for Islam (or, after being interviewed by Russell, BrandX). On her blog, Atlas Shrugs, she daily reports on crimes allegedly committed by Muslims – and only Muslims – wherever in the world they might be, painting a picture for her largely white and scared suburban audience of a world where swarthy Others are hell bent on the global imposition of Sharia law. Fathers, watch your daughters: Muhammed's coming to town and he wants her to wear a burka.

The odd, weird, curious thing about Pamela's Islamophobia, though, is that while she'll own it in front of a bunch of flag-waving Tea Partiers protesting a mosque, she'll back away from it in front of a crowd of young Hollywood liberals. Indeed, the way she spoke during her appearance on BrandX, you'd almost think she didn't want to turn the Middle East to glass.

Here are a few examples of how Hollywood Pamela differed from the attention-seeking jingo we've all come to know and love:

Russell: “Do you believe America would be better off without any Muslims?”
Pamela: “No.”
ACTUALLY. In her book, Stop the Islamization of America – a-fucking-hem – Pamela argues that the threat facing America is posed “not just [by] immigrant Muslims, the problem is the doctrine of jihad and the ideology of Islamic supremacism, which any Muslim anywhere can hold.”

Russell: “Pamela, should we have a war . . . with Iran? Should we do a war right at them?”
Pamela: “No.”
ACTUALLY. On her blog, Pamela has written, “Iran should be attacked today and their people liberated from their misery.”

Russell: “Do you believe President Obama supports jihad against America?”
Pamela: “Only in Libya. . . . [He's] not pro-jihad.”
ACTUALLY. On her blog, Pamela has written that “one thing is for sure: [Barack] Hussein [Obama] is a muhammadan. He's not insane ...........he wants jihad to win.”

SPECIAL BONUS FEATURE: When asked about Anders Breivik – “that bloke in Norway who was a bit mental and he killed children to express himself,” as Russell put it – Pamela, one of Breivik's favorite bloggers, called him a “madman.” However, on her blog Pamela described the summer camp targeted by Breivik as an "Antisemitic Indoctrination Training Center” with a “pro-Islamic agenda,” arguing that the 77 people murdered there were not entirely innocent:
“Breivik was targeting the future leaders of the party responsible for flooding Norway with Muslims who refuse to assimilate, who commit major violence against Norwegian natives, including violent gang rapes, with impunity, and who live on the dole... all done without the consent of the Norwegians.”
Nice lady.

Friday, November 02, 2012

NEWS OF THE FUTURE

Politician Seems Sort of Human, Actually
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ – Stunning onlookers, a prominent politician actually hugged a distraught commoner, displaying a rare and fleeting glimpse of basic decency and even, according to some observers, a capacity for normal human emotion.
Ugggghhhh,” commented MSNBC political pundit Chris Matthews, ejaculating. "Uggghhhhh."

Monday, October 29, 2012

News of the Future

Some stories from the not-too-distant future: 
Obama Unveils a Stiff(y)

WASHINGTON, DC – In an election-eve address from the Oval Office, President Obama shocked the nation by revealing that the bullet-ridden corpse of Osama bin Laden wasn't dumped into the ocean after all. And then he fucked it.
Apple Releases Something

CUPERTINO, CA -- Computer giant Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) revealed an electronic device that is as sexy as it is pricey – and includes one new killer, must-have feature: the power to assuage liberal guilt. Indeed, when started for the first time, the device asks users to sign a Change.org petition decrying every aspect of the way it was built and sold.
The device, the iSomething, is expected to hit store shelves later this year and retail for $329, a remarkably affordable asking price considering the irreparable emotional and physical damage inflicted upon the poor Chinaman who built it.
Liberals Blame Nader

EVERYWHERE, SIGH -- In comments posted on Internet message boards, liberals placed blame for the Democrats' loss of the White House / win of the White House but loss of the Senate / win of the White House and both Houses of Congress but no filibuster-proof majority / win of the White House and both Houses of Congress including a filibuster-proof majority but fuckin' a man still nothing changes, on long-time consumer rights activist Ralph Nader.
"Boo!" wrote one user, "Markos Moulitsas," in a post accompanied by a .gif of jangling keys.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Liar, liar

"Early this week I got a request from Charlie Davis, Russell Brand's booker for his new show (and soon to be old show) Brand X," writes Pamela Geller, a professional anti-Muslim bigot who sees jihad under every hijab. To make a long story short: "Charlie is a liar."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Behind the headlines

Each week, we at BrandX pore over all the weird, horrifying and occasionally sexy stories the world has to offer in a quest to make weird, horrifying and occasionally sexy observations about the world in which we live. Often these stories involve butts or some form of penetration – the jackpot is both – and very often they are silly. But often enough, they're only silly in a superficial way; once you dig a little bit, you find there's actually something serious going on.

Take this story out of New Hampshire:



According to the report, a “woman who described herself as an exotic dancer” called police “when a resident ordered a dance, but refused to answer his door when she arrived.” The hilarious thing is that, instead of helping the working woman in question, police mocked her.

“She never danced, so I would be hard pressed to say it was theft of services,” said very funny local police chief Mike Schwartz, who presumably has a podcast. “Now if she was a professional doorbell ringer . . . .”

Wipe the tear from your eye and, just for a moment, imagine you're the woman in question. Maybe the rent's due in a week and you're coming up short. Maybe you have some student loans to pay off. Maybe you have a kid. Maybe you're just like millions of other Americans: working a shitty job so you can pay the utilities on time. But thanks to a client who ordered your services but gets cold feet, instead of getting some extra cash in your g-string, you've just wasted two hours and a gallon of gas. Distressed, you do something stupid: you call the police, thinking they might help.
Instead: “I guess there are some people who would have a better dance than others,” the local sheriff tells the press. “Maybe you were expecting Mikhail Baryshnikov and you got someone looking like Mike Schwartz. I wouldn't answer the door either.”

Know why that's funny? Because the woman in question isn't an opera singer or a plumber or a wedding DJ, in which case ordering her services and then failing to pay for them would indeed be viewed as a crime without controversy. No, she works a job that makes people smirk. She's just a stripper; just a woman who “described herself as an exotic dancer.” And there's no need to show much respect to a person like that, the subtext goes.

What the headline ought to be:

Monday, October 01, 2012

The West goes to pot

In my latest piece for Al Jazeera, I recount how a trip to a Hollywood plastic surgeon led to me embracing alternative medicine and Adult Swim. Check it out.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Naked Capitalism

Hello friends, readers, lovers: This week I'll be doing the daily link round-ups over at Naked Capitalism, so if you come across any interesting news items, commentary, cute animal pictures or whatnot, feel free to leave a note in the comments or send me a tweet or a carrier pigeon or whatever.

Thanks. And stay safe out there.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How I could just bite a man

A few months back, my dog bit an old gringo in Granada, a colonial city in Nicaragua popular with old gringos, many of whom one can't help but think are here largely because there's no extradition treaty with the United States. I don't want to spin this: it was bad thing. My dog, the cuddly bastard, was a very bad dog. A very bad dog.

But.

The thing is, my dog is maybe 20 pounds soaking wet -- and given a choice in the matter, he'd never be soaking wet because, while he puts on a tough act, large bodies of water frighten the little guy. Though he has a big dog's bark, he does not have the bite to actually back it up. Like a canine Victor Davis Hanson, but with less metaphorical blood on his paws.

So while, again, my dog biting an old man can't be spun as an okay thing to do, in my opinion a bite from a little Lhasa Apso that doesn't so much as leave a mark didn't warrant the response it received: the old gringo screaming "you fucking asshole" at me over and over in the middle of a crowded cafe. A curt "watch your fucking dog, man"? Yeah sure, that's fine. I get it. Let the steam out and let's move on.

Now, as a person who sometimes struggles with embracing deescalation tactics when I'm personally involved in a conflict -- follow me on Twitter! -- I probably didn't handle the situation as well as I should have. Already having a strong bias against all the old creepy white men in Nicaragua whose legions I am destined to someday join, I decided quoting the breed profile back to the man would be a fun thing to do: "He probably bit you because he's a very good judge of character," I said. "He could probably tell you're a shitty person." I believe I also made an ageist comment regarding hips and the relative chance of my breaking mine compared to him breaking his.

Was I right to say that? No, of course not. Did it feel right saying it? Of course it did.

And that brings me to something that, thanks to the mental clarity provided by Flor de Caña, hit me last night like a bag full of Lhasa Apsos: this guy is my new neighbor in San Juan del Sur -- "new" as in I've been living right next to him for the past month now. This perhaps explains why I have not been able to get so much as an "hola" from him. As I told my dog after I got home from the bar, equipped with an ephiphany and a buzz: at dawn we finish this.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Our Road Warrior world

Victor Davis Hanson protects his peaches.
Conservative author and big-time war-enthusiast-from-afar Victor Davis Hanson, like a lot of pasty, self-styled masculine archetypes of a certain age, is preparing for the end of the world -- and he wants you to know about, for how else would everyone know how much of an alpha male he is in our fallen age of metrosexuality and womyn's rights.

Spurred in part by a passer-by trying to get all up on his fruit ("[He tried to] steal the peaches from my trees; he honestly thought not only that he could, but that he almost was obligated to."), Hanson has come to believe that society is collapsing around him. The blame for this, for the "ubiquity of tattooed, skin-pierced tribal people with shaved heads and strange clothes," says Hanson, of course lies with the obvious, most influential segments of society: poor people and immigrants, and especially poor immigrants. But let's also not forget the "whiny, pampered, influential elite on the coast," Handson reminds us -- and you know the type, the self-parodying sort that rather than Man Up take to the Internet to complain about some meanie picking their Prunus persicas.

This terrifying new reality that Hanson describes, one where people think they can just go around enjoying the earth's blessings willy-nilly without so much as a hint of respect for some old white asshole's claim to monopoly privilege, requires preparation -- a new code by which to live. Have you seen The Walking Dead? Think that, but instead of zombies there's Obamacare. And our leader is a contributor to the National Review:
I find myself insidiously adopting the Road Warrior survival code. Without any systematic design, I notice that in the last two years I have put a hand pump on my grandfather’s abandoned well in the yard and can pump fresh water without electricity. I put in an outdoor kitchen, tied into a 300-gallon propane tank, that can fuel a year of cooking. I am getting more dogs (all vaccinated and caged); for the first time in my life I inventoried all my ancestors’ guns in all the closets and found shotguns, deer rifles, .22s etc.

I have an extra used pickup I chose not to sell always gassed in the garage. For all sorts of scrapes and minor injuries, sprains, simple finger fractures, etc., I self-treat — anything to avoid going into the local emergency room (reader, you will too, when Obamacare kicks in). And the more I talk to neighbors, the more I notice that those who stayed around are sort of ready for our Road Warrior world.
As a white dude, let me be the first to say: fucking white people.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Texas justice

Ex-teacher gets 5-year prison term for student sex:
A former North Texas high school teacher was convicted Friday and sentenced to five years in prison for having sex with five 18-year-old students at her home.
#####
Three former students who testified Thursday said that they did not consider themselves victims and did not want to see their former English teacher prosecuted. The three were football and track athletes.
Arlington police Detective Jason Houston testified that charges were filed because ‘‘18 or not, it’s a crime’’ for a teacher to have sex with her students.
Ex-cop who molested underage teen gets prison:
A former San Antonio Park Police officer was sentenced to four years in prison Thursday, nearly five years after he was accused of molesting a teen and giving her a sexually transmitted disease.
#####
The victim, now 21, said she was repeatedly molested by [Officer] Rodriguez for two years starting when she was 14. She tested positive for the same strain of genital herpes that Rodriguez has, according to court documents.
If you're a cop and you sexually assault a kid in Texas, you will serve less time behind bars than if you are a woman who has consensual sex with adults; you're better off having a badge and a rape conviction than a vagina and consent. In summary: America.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A picture's worth a thousand votes

Barack Obama, far right, permits a commoner to touch His hair.
This is a real thing:
There is a now iconic picture of Obama and a young boy in the Oval Office. The president of the United States is bowing, bent at the waist so the young boy can touch his hair, so the young boy can feel that he and the president have something in common. When I first saw the photograph I knew I had finally voted for someone who would affirm my faith, who would live up to the audacity of promising hope.

Sometimes, all hope requires is one moment and that moment, that photograph of the president and a young boy is what I most needed to believe my hope in Obama was well placed, to believe that while the president is just one man, the presidency is so much more when held in the hands and heart of the right man.
That's from "90 Days, 90 Reasons," a website that aims to rekindle the magic of 2008 by reminding voters that Barack Obama is the cool dad you always wish you had; a man who is better than us, yeah, but benevolent and loving enough to make us believe we are almost one and the same. Like an American Jesus.

Seeking to connect to the average voter by way of mostly rich and usually white men, the site also provides a platform for the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie to declare, as a privileged hipster who believe me sucks in concert is wont to do, that "Marriage equality is undoubtedly the most important civil rights issue of our generation." The most important; like, more important than every other civil rights issue. That's what he's saying.

It's almost as if all those hundreds of thousands of poor brown people locked up in cages for non-violent drug offenses don't even exist -- because in the day-to-day lives of most liberal Democrats, and indeed most Americans, they don't. Out of sight, out of mind, like all the other poor and oppressed people you won't find chiming in on the Internet about the greatness of Our President.

Update: The most insufferable case for re-electing Barack Obama you will read all day, courtesy McSweeney's. Spoiler alert: Ralph Nader makes an appearance, as do naive, "disappointed" progressives who are just angry because "Obama hasn’t addressed their particular pet issue."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Telling You What to Do (1st edition)

Dear Chuck,

I met a girl who works at the State Department, studied under Marty Lederman at Georgetown, and is big into control play. Should I go for it, just to take out my frustrations, sexual and otherwise?

Sincerely,

DC Deviant


DC Deviant,

First things first: Don't call me Chuck. Second: Googling “Marty Lederman” is way more work than I'm willing to undertake for an advice column.

As for the important stuff, it's clear you need to stop thinking so much about your god damn self and open your eyes to the world around you. For fuck's sake. What's important here is not you taking out your frustrations (sexual or "otherwise"; cute), but her taking out hers.

Ninety percent of U.S. foreign policy, probably, is just pathetic, power-mad people in Washington working out their deep-seated sexual issues by treating the world like one big, poorly maintained fuck doll. By letting her literally do to you what she would otherwise metaphorically be doing to some poor nation on the other side of the globe – and yes, this may involve novel-to-you goings-on with your butt – you could by being a slave to one ultimately be a hung-but-unsung hero to millions.

I say go for it. Lives are at stake.


Know any guaranteed successful pick up lines? 

-- BroadSnark


BroadSnark,

I sure do. These always seem to do the trick for me:
– You're reasonably attractive. I'm reasonably attractive. Let's say you and I head back and have a reasonably enjoyable time at my perfectly adequate studio apartment.
– You must be Palestine and I must be Israel because I'd really just like to occupy your territories right now. Fuck what the world says.
– I'm a virgin.
– We are anatomically constructed in such a way that as rational, intelligent beings I believe we should consider engaging in a physical, potentially romantic act that would bring at least modest amounts of pleasure to all parties. Hey.
– I can see in your eyes that you believe any uprising against the capitalist state must be led by the working class, acting through a class-conscious revolutionary vanguard party.
– Here, let's get that gag on you now.
Other tips:
– Be famous. It doesn't matter what you're famous for, but rest assured someone out there will fuck you because of it. Be Twitter famous if you have to.
– Be rich. Studies have shown that having a trust fund enlarges primary and secondary sexual characteristics in men and women, respectively. I'm saying it makes your tits and/or cock bigger.
– Start a blog, but that's just plain common sense.

Need help? Submit your questions to davischarles 84 (AT) gmail (dot) com. And just so you know, the working title of this column is to be pronounced like so.

Preying on the prayerful

The attack came early. Like any coward, the killer wasn't interested in a fair fight, and chances are he didn't even know whom he was killing. Having stalked his prey for reasons that even now aren't entirely clear, he struck when his victims were most vulnerable: as they prayed in their house of worship. Within minutes, a once-peaceful place became a war zone, blood-smeared floors littered with the lifeless bodies of worshipers. And for what?

Read the rest at Al Jazeera.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan was right

While I was at the beach enjoying my last few days here in Nicaragua before heading back to the center of All That Is Wrong With America (Media Division), I guess -- at least judging by all the liberal-sense-of-superiority fellating coverage -- that Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan became president of the world or something? By the law of the blogosphere, then, that means I am duly bound to share some sort of anecdote about the man. So.

Back when I was trying to be a respectable reporter in Washington -- up there with blacking out in Tijuana as one of my top five terrible life decisions -- I used to cover Ryan's doings on Capitol HIll as a freelance correspondent for Wisconsin public radio. One-on-one, he was unremarkable; just another white dude doing his damnedest to leave a world for his offspring more shitty than the one he was born into. But I'll give him this: after the Democrats took over Congress in 2006 on the back of promises -- oh, the promises -- to end the war in Iraq, Ryan was a fuck-of-a-lot more honest about the political reality than any "anti-war" progressive in Congress, Dennis Kucinich excepted.

At a hearing I attended in October 2007, Ryan -- who was arguing in favor of more war spending; that is, he's an asshole -- noted that despite all the lofty promises from the likes of Nancy Pelosi, a certain unjust, immoral war continued to be consistently funded to the tune of whatever the hell George W. Bush demanded that month. As Ryan put it:
"[Since Democrats took over Congress] we’ve heard comparisons about how much we are spending on the war as opposed to children's health insurance or education programs or what have you. But nothing has really changed. The president continues to send his war funding requests to the Hill and, in the end, he continues to get what he asks for.”
This comment came around the time that my suspicion the Democratic Party was nothing more than a marketing scam designed to put a liberal veneer on the corporate state became an article of well-supported faith. While I never had any doubt that the party was terrible, its leaders cynically exploiting the hopes and fears of their base just as much as the GOP, I had thought that maybe -- ya never know -- that they would choose to withhold funding for the war in Iraq if only for cynical, political purposes, the only reason anything is ever done in Washington. I even voted for one of the bastards under that assumption.

And then reality happened and I saw firsthand how the Democrats passed bill after bill funding a war they claimed to oppose with but weak, base-placating provisions attached meekly requesting that the president maybe get around to outlining a plan for withdrawal, which Bush of course threatened to veto. And then I witnessed Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin go on television and say straight up that, well, if the president vetoes our weak-ass request for a plan for withdrawal, then why of course we'll pass a no-strings-attached bill funding the war. We don't want to play politics with the lives of our brave men and women in uniform, after all, so we'll support them the only way we know how: by spending billions of dollars more to send them off to kill and be killed in an unjust war of aggressession.

Word.

At the time, I remember thinking: Wow -- I mean, gosh -- I'm only a half-decent poker player and even I know you're not supposed to show your cards before the turn. These are professional politicians! They should be better at bullshitting; it's what they do. And then it occurred me: The Democrats weren't playing cards with the Bush administration, they were playing with the dupes who voted for them.

Sorry, got off message there. Where was I again? Oh yeah: Paul Ryan is arguably the worst man to have ever walked the Earth, a Randian racist who'd rather curb stomp your grandma than provide her affordable access to medical care. And the role of vice president is really important!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Yes, but what about Mitt Romney?

I guess my biggest problem with liberal pundits these days is their single-minded, almost religious focus on the issues that matter -- to the exclusion of almost everything else. Wherever you turn, it's always systemic injustice this or bipartisan embrace of extrajudicial murder that.

It's like, I get that the United States has placed more than 2.3 million human beings in rape cages thanks largely to a Democrat and Republican-approved racist war on the poor that takes the guise of fighting narcotics, but do we really have to dwell on it so much? Yeah, innocent people are being murdered every day as part of a war on terror that no one outside of the Washington, DC, suburbs thinks is doing anything but manufacturing even more terror, but what, for instance, does Mitt Romney's lunch order tell us about who may be his pick for a running mate? And do we even have any good jokes ready to go based on that selection? (If it's a dude, I suggest digs about same-sex couples are in order.)

And I haven't heard from Sarah Palin in a few weeks. Has any writer for The American Prospect even bothered to check her Twitter feed lately? It's time those of us on the left got our priorities straight.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Telling You What to Do

I would like to start an advice column because, while I have no idea what I'm doing with my own life, I quite like telling other people what to do with theirs.

From sex to relationships to moral dilemmas to sex, go ahead and email your questions to me at: davischarles84 (AT) gmail (dot) com. Your requests for anonymity will be respected, but that's probably about all that will be.

Still kicking

Last time I took an extended break from the Internet, the only clue I left as to my whereabouts was a cryptic reference to the disappearance of Ambrose Bierce that could reasonably have been, and indeed was, interpreted as a suicide note. So, just to be clear: I have only killed my Twitter account. I'll be back, maybe in a week, maybe in a month, but for the time being it's too much of a distraction as I deal with trying to move my life from Nicaragua to Los Angeles. And while I've met a lot of beautiful souls on the Great Social Media Satan, all it takes is one disagreeable person in my "mentions" tab to sour me on life and so -- since I don't have any sage to burn -- I think signing off is the best way to get rid of all that negative energy.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Don't try this at home, kids

Barack Obama speaking on the act of terrorism in Wisconsin:
At this difficult time, the people of Oak Creek must know that the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded. My Administration will provide whatever support is necessary to the officials who are responding to this tragic shooting and moving forward with an investigation. As we mourn this loss which took place at a house of worship, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.
Barack Obama, three months earlier, committing an act of state terrorism:
A U.S. drone strike hit a village mosque in northwest Pakistan Thursday morning, killing at least 10 people, a Pakistani official and witnesses told NBC News.
Local tribesmen said ten bodies were pulled from the debris and that efforts were underway to retrieve others, NBC News reported.
"The drone fired two missiles and hit the village mosque where a number of people were offering Fajr (morning) prayer," local tribal elder Roashan Din told NBC News.
The message here: Whether or not massacring people in a house of worship as part of a self-styled "war on terror" is morally right or wrong depends on geography.

Update: And, of course, Romney:
“Ann and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims of today’s shooting in Wisconsin. This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Documented gang members fuel riot in Anaheim

Residents of Anaheim, California, are justifiably outraged after police officers in their city shooting an unarmed man in the back of the head. Here's how the Associated Press reports what took place last night at the community-led protest against police violence:
Authorities say as many as 1,000 demonstrators surged through downtown in the Southern California city Tuesday night, smashing windows on 20 businesses and setting trash fires. Police and patrol cars were pelted with rocks and bottles. Hundreds of police used batons, pepper balls and beanbag rounds.
It's interesting, isn't it, that while police "were pelted with rocks and bottles" by protesters, there's no mention of those protesters in turn being "hit with batons and shot with pepper ball and beanbag rounds." The police, according to the reporting, simply "used" those weapons. Who they used them against is implied, certainly, but spelling out that they used them against living, breathing people puts the state-sanctioned violence against the community they claim to protect appear on par with the violence reportedly undertaken by members of the community against the state-sanctioned perpetrators.

Meanwhile, here's the official explanation of why Anaheim police felt the need to execute an unarmed man in broad daylight:
According to the police union, officers saw "the documented gang member" who was holding a "concealed object in his front waistband with both hands." Diaz then took off running, only to pull the object from his waistband and turn toward the officers.
"Feeling that Diaz was drawing a weapon, the officer opened fire on Diaz to stop the threat," said Kerry Condon, the association's president.
Officers reported that Diaz tossed away items as he ran, but no gun has been recovered.
In summary, it's basically okay to murder a man by shooting him in the back of the head so long as he's a "documented gang member." But don't get any ideas: not all gangs are created equal.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Drones for Obama

It's time for the left -- professional, anti-war and otherwise -- to put aside their purity and become President Obama's domestic drones this election season, or at least that's what I argue in The New Inquiry. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Police dogs as divining rods


A local couple has been murdered in their own home. You, a respected officer of the law, are responsible for tracking down their killer. But leads are short and public pressure to solve the case is building by the day. Your career’s on the line here. What do you do?

If you were a cop in 17th century France, the answer would have been: find a guy with a magic stick. Indeed, in 1692 French police enlisted a peasant named Jacques Aymar-Vernay in the search for the perpetrator of a double homicide. And it paid off. Aymar-Vernay, who had gained a national reputation for his claimed ability to use a y-shaped stick, a “divining rod,” to locate sources of water, claimed his divine branch had fingered a 19-year-old man with a hunchback as the killer. The man was tortured to death.

A few years later, not surprisingly, Aymar-Vernay was outed as a fraud.

Today, we laugh at our primitive ancestors and their naive belief that a divining rod -- shown by study after study to be no more reliable than chance -- could actually be used to track down criminals. But the joke’s on us: we’re still using those magic sticks, except now they have four legs and are covered in fur.

In last week’s episode, we highlighted one case out of Virginia where the reliability of a drug-sniffing dog named “Bono” was called into question after it was found that, of the 85 times the dog had signaled there were drugs in a vehicle, drugs were only found 22 times. What we soon figured out, though, is that it wasn’t the fault of poor Bono but his human handlers, just as it wasn’t the stick that was at fault for sending a French hunchback to his death.

As researchers at UC Davis observed, police dogs will often signal that there are drugs in a car not because there are, but because that’s what they think their handlers want. And that leads to a lot of false positives. In Australia, one analysis found drug-sniffing dogs (or rather, their handlers) got it wrong 80 percent of the time. And the Chicago Tribune found that police dogs were wrong in 56 percent of the cases it analyzed -- and in 73 percent of cases involving Hispanic drivers, indicating that the dogs are being used to rationalize racial profiling in the war on drugs.

But that hasn’t stopped the police from relying on dogs for a simple reason: like the divining rod of old, the dogs lend a pseudo-scientific rationale to whatever it is one wants to do, be it finding a suspect to pin a murder upon or allowing one probable cause to search a vehicle. Indeed, in the “Bono” case a judge ruled that it didn’t matter the dog was wrong 74 percent of the time, according to one news account, because of “other factors, including the dog’s training and flawless performance during re-certification sessions” -- and, presumably, because ruling the other way would mean throwing out a whole lot of other cases. And we wouldn’t want something as silly as scientific evidence to get in the way of a conviction, no matter the century.

Friday, July 13, 2012

LAPD takes on the Chalk Bloc

What started out as a night of art, fun and food trucks ended with Los Angeles police creating a riot scene, assaulting unarmed protesters and firing rubber bullets seemingly at random into a crowd of bystanders, all -- ostensibly -- because people were "vandalizing the sidewalk and privately owned buildings [by] writing in chalk," according to a spokeswoman for the LAPD.

That, friends, is what the LAPD says justified the department deploying helicopters with searchlights and more than 140 officers in riot gear. That is what justified officers shoving protesters and random pedestrians and firing potentially lethal "non-lethal" rounds into a crowd of civilians: people drawing in public spaces.

The message to the proles: Don't bring chalk to a gun fight.

Like a lot of people caught up in the commotion Thursday night, I didn't intend to get involved in a standoff with police. With the hours I work, I figured I had already missed all the subversive chalking, so I went straight from my office to an Occupy LA bail fundraiser instead -- except when I go there, I found it was just me and the woman taking donations at the door. After milling about and staring at my phone for 15 minutes, I headed back outside and saw a helicopter shining a spotlight a few blocks away. I put two and two together.

With the police helicopter as my guide, I walked over to the scene of the crime. What I saw was a typical-looking LA crowd milling about an intersection, some people drawing things on the street, others passing joints and doing their part to maintain the constant sweet wafting smell of marijuana that seems to be omnipresent in California. Surrounding this crowd were lines of police menacingly wielding batons and rifles.

Within minutes of my arrival, the police started moving their line, pushing people out of the intersection with reckless macho abandon, roughly pushing people (like me) in the back even as they tried in the midst of all the confusion to comply with the order to leave. Several officers also started firing their weapons into the crowd, which is not a terribly great way to deescalate a situation, particularly when the "non-lethal" rounds one is firing sound exactly like the lethal rounds members of the LAPD are notorious for firing at the people they purport to protect. One man named Charlie (pictured) said he was shot just walking down the sidewalk and that he had no connection to Occupy LA or the dangerously subversive chalking that preceded the tiny cock-waving show of police force. Another man was jumped by police right in front of me, tackled and tasered as they moved the police line. Again, without any apparent cause.

Corporate media coverage will, predictably, focus on injuries allegedly suffered by police from bottles thrown at them by people in the crowd. The people the police attacked will be ignored or, like other victims, blamed for inviting the attack. But there's a plus side: every time a cop brutalizes an innocent bystander, more people are made aware of the sort of state-sanctioned brutality that is a regular feature of life for the lesser privileged in American society. Last night, a lot of people who left their homes expecting a good time full of art and white wine ended up finding themselves in the middle of a police state dodging rubber bullets. That's an experience that can't be replicated by reading a radical political pamphlet.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The myth of America


Like any organized religion, America comes with its own creation story, a beautiful, inspiring myth used to lend legitimacy to our modern priestly class in Washington. But there's another story worth considering: the actual one of how the founders of the United States saw their new government as a protection against democracy -- as a means of safeguarding privilege and elevating the right to property over the rights of the people.

During the debate on the US constitution, the founders were pretty explicit about this, making it abundantly clear that protecting property – the large estates gifted to them by the British crown, the men and women sold to them by slave traders – was a driving force behind their push for a more powerful central government. James Madison, for instance, who would serve as the young republic's fourth president, warned his fellow founders of the perils of democracy, saying too much of it would jeopardize the property of the landed aristocracy. “In England,” he observed, “if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure.” Land would be redistributed to the landless, he cautioned. Without the rich exercising monopoly privileges over the commons, the masses would be less dependent on elites like them.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Is the Democratic Party a vehicle for radical change?

Los Angeles, CA - By this fall, the two major political parties in the United States will have spent around $10bn this election cycle to persuade an increasingly sceptical US public that there is more than just a stylistic difference between a Republican and a Democrat. Naturally, this campaign will focus primarily on the superficial (is Mitt Romney too weird to be president? Is Barack Obama too cool? And who loves America/Israel more?), as maintaining the facade of electoral choice requires obscuring the broad areas of bipartisan agreement: bailouts for the rich, prisons for the poor, and drone strikes for the poor and foreign.

Read the rest at Al Jazeera.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

That city edge

An unnamed NBA executive commenting on Moe Harkless, a player just drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers:
"He's a good kid. And he's one of those guys where, even though he's from New York City, he doesn't have that city edge to him. He's really polished."
And very articulate.

(via NBA.com)

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Santa-ization of MLK's legacy

By Matt Stoller and Charles Davis

The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around.”
Martin Luther King’s final speech, Ive Been to the Mountaintop

In the first episode of BrandX, Russell Brand talked about meeting the Dalai Lama. Why did we choose him as the subject for our first show? Because the Dalai Lama’s preaching of peace, anti-consumerism, spirituality and nonviolence is radical, a stark contrast to the message of war and consumption one usually hears on television.

In the writer’s room, as we were talking about who the Dalai Lama is, we hit upon a question that none of us could answer: who is the American Dalai Lama? And we realized, there isn’t one. The last great spiritual figure in American history was Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, though, King has been turned into a Santa Clause figure. There’s a holiday commemorating his life and works and his likeness appears in ads for Apple Computer, Alcatel, and McDonald’s. King’s legacy, if commercial interests had their way, would be the nonthreatening “Think Different” campaign, an encouragement to purchase luxury electronic goods made by exploited foreign workers.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Police brutality's so hot right now

The Boston Police Department has a union. This union has a newsletter. This newsletter is uproariously terrible, full of diatribes against liberals and multiculturalism that would feel right at home in an AM radio show in 1993. Interestingly enough, it also includes advertisements from those corporations seeking to curry favor with their enforcers, which also functions as a useful list of corporations whose office windows a liberal multiculturalist might -- wink-wink -- want to a throw a brick through.

Here, for instance, is Converse praising the police state with an ad featuring, curiously, the sort of insufferable hipster whose skull the uniformed dipshits producing the newsletter would probably kick the shit out of if they saw him at an Occupy protest:
If you hate yourself and want to extend that hate to the world around you, check out the rest of the issue (the final stab to the gut: it's a PDF).