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 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.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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)