Friday, December 30, 2005

Decisive action + no casualties= Sure thing.

Raw Story, who you should all check all the time, has been linking to the interesting developments in the German press regarding the U.S. striking at Iran. The latest in Der Speigel (english), is very specific. Airstrikes soon, because of recent anti-Isreali rhetoric.

This "reason why" has the ring of truth to it. From der Speigel:
The DDP report attributes the possible escalation to the recent anti-Semitic rants by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose belligerent verbal attacks on Israel (he described the Holocaust as a "myth" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map") have strengthened the view of the American government that, in the case of the nuclear dispute, there's little likelihood Tehran will back down and that the mullahs are just attempting to buy time by continuing talks with the Europeans.
George seems like the kind of guy who would think that talking tough is serious business. This kind of thing might be enough to get his dander up. If he feels like going on the offensive is a good way to reclaim the initiative in the domestic political debate, this would be one way to do it.

Another factor weighing in favor of W. taking this step is the looming State of the Union Address. The man has to talk about something, you know? What good news does he have?

So, lets just say it looks like 5:4 in favor, since it's still a very drastic step. If they take it, what would this mean?

Well, for starters it would hugely affect the domestic political equation in Isreal, where the last I read, Sharon is not really doing well after his stroke. Regardless of how coherent Sharon is, however, the military is certainly quite ready to go after Iran. The polis in Isreal has, of course, been finally easing a bit to the left. Bad news for W. and the neocons. If they can start something with Iran, it's a lot more likely that the yahoo Netanyahu will end up back in power.

The wider gulf states would probably stand to benefit in the short run, depending on how the strike goes. Shi'a populations in the Gulf have of course been very attentive to the goings on in southern Iraq. If the media in the Middle East can play it right, the Gulf State Shi'a will be both somewhat chastened and more loyal to their own governments. This would likely involve some combination of loudly declaiming the U.S. action (what I think of as 'diplomatic outrage') while also finding some way to criticize Iran for destabilizing the region. So far so good. The appearance of these opportunities might be enough to earn tacit approval (read: encouragement) from some of the Gulf States named in the der Speigel article.

The problem, of course, is that Iran would not be incapacitated and would probably strike back. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard are a higly independent, initiative oriented elite force. I would look for something really nasty to go down in Iraq, probably in the Green Zone. The U.S. troops have likely gotten used to being able to somewhat trust Shi'a Iraqis. Typical of any Bantustan, the locals are needed to staff basic amenities. My guess is that there are several Iranian intelligence assets working in the Green Zone. If our guys weren't constrained by ideological blinders, they would take this into account. Of course, if that were true, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.

Furthermore, I would not expect the general populace of Shi'a Iraq to be very happy with a U.S. airstrike in Iran. Many Iraqi Shi'a have family living in Iran, after all.

Also, there is a huge potential for bizarre nastiness with the Iran/Turkey/Kurdistan situation, should this strike take place.

At the very least, it would really complicate things. At worst we would be looking at the wider regional conflict that we have all been dreading (except the Christian "End Times" fanatics, of course, they would be thrilled). No matter what, it would make a smooth withdrawal of U.S. troops all but impossible.

Basically, this would be an idiotic move certain to lead to terrible developments; in other words, par for the course.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Okayness-ing

-Or, What I saw at the movies-

Once upon a time there was a little cartoon character with the perfectly goofy name of Spongebob. Spongebob was a humble little guy in shirt and tie, and though he worked at a fast food joint, he also championed the temporary victories of staying young in the face of impending adulthood. While this sounds at first blush to be just another push towards the elongation of childhood, it is in fact very much more.

Spongebob, you see, has the distinction of being very successful. He also has a best friend, and their relationship earned their movie a heaping ton of outcry from the carping culture-crappers of the religious right.

The fun thing is that the movie earns it. Especially if you are a guy, I strongly suggest seeing this movie. What a wonderful warping and playful twisting of the half-knowledge of incipient sexuality. What a really, really gay-and-straight-friendly film. What a bunch of very bizarrely adult visual gags. What a feel good film, and in all the borderline ways implied!

-------

There are three big thematic movements that I see shaping the development of our culture (may be more, but these three at least). Number one is the very dangerous and dramatic gyrations of political form that accompany the late stages of empire. It's the one I usually write about. Number three is the curious and oft-underestimated persistence of spiritual emergence throughout the populace. That's for another time. Second, though, is the ever increasing tolerance and understanding prevalent within our culture.

Not sure about that last one? Consider, my lady love and I recently watched Notorious, the 1946 Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. A wonderful movie. There was so much wrestling with and suppressing of emotion that you could have mapped the waves of psychic energy had you sand to dance across the space between those actors. They were that tense. Of course, Hitchcock, 1946, etc.. but still, have you heard of the Eisenhower years that followed? Notoriously repressed, haha.

Today, consider, I work (in produce at a goofy, high-end, natural foods grocery) with a fellow, a family man, a few years older than me, quite the character. He tells this story one day, about the neighbor girl who comes over because her family ignores her, watches TV a lot with his family. Says to my friend that she thinks she might have an STD (she's 14). He kicks his kids (11 and younger) out of the room and goes through this very dense, emtionally laden territory in a sensitive, caring way, takes her to the clinic. A gut wrenching story, but in a big way it's really about the neglect the girl is suffering at home. I bring it up here because later on, while there's nobody else in the cooler, I take the moment to tell him I think he did exactly the right thing, and he just opens up, starts talking, sharing his worries and cares. We talk it over a bit, and later he thanks me. This would've been all but impossible in 1985, much less 1945. In 1905 our middle class jobs barely existed. Our liberal bourgoise clientele certainly had no equivalent as sizable or prominent.

Today, I still hear people use the the word 'gay' as a derogatory adjective for things or actions, and of course the hate fest of the 2004 elections is another topic entirely. However, my gay family members are not only tolerated, they are openly integrated into many folds of society. Friends and relatives who are inter-racial couples are met with nothing worse than infrequent glares, at least in my fair northern clime (another co-worker just went to visit in-laws down south and said they were not served at a restaurant on the road). What I'm getting at is that I know that prejudice and bigotry are not dead, but they are losing, and have been, steadily, for quite some time.

Once upon a time (the 1990's) I liked to reflect on how powerful I thought it would be that a whole generation was being raised without any cultural endorsement of bigotry. From "The Real World" to "Will and Grace," "American History X" to "The Bird Cage," amazing work was going on, culturally. And everywhere bigotry was a shameful thing. There were no notable examples of a proud bigot other than the extremely marginalized, for example David Duke. Then came Karl with a K, and well, the rest is recent history. All the same, though, this recent blip of backlash cannot come close in real power to the trends that have shaped popular entertainment since the birth of mass media.

There are a lot of reasons for a lot of different parts of this that I would love to get into here (and bore my one or two readers,) and I should loudly note that the popular acceptance of misogyny is profoundly, disturbingly and puzzlingly harder to combat, but I try to limit my rambles to two major topics at a time at most. Enjoy the good mood, friends, and go rent the Spogebob Squarepants Movie.

Peace,
-swift

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Silently

All the faces of the Goddess are real
aware of the answers we move about our dreams
awake or in denial we conduct our dealings
Love or dross, we spin our fables of meaning
and All our histories are real

The potential for language generation on blogs

Over the holiday madness (an empire built on the backs of retail employees), I had an opportunity to reply to this very good guest post by poputonian over at Digby's Hullabaloo. Poputonian compares the liberal blogosphere to the social environment and pamphleteering in revolutionary era Boston.

Poputonian's rumination on the variety of groups working in loosely associated fashion during Paul Revere's time was apropos. The feeling of revolution is very much in the air out here on the blogs. The people of late 18th-c. New England, however, were involved citizens in a way that is vastly different from our contemporary info-polis. Today, there is little indication that Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry or any of their friends really know what a blog is.

Congressional leadership amongst the Democrats must very much feel the point of our semi-revolutionary fervor is directed at them as well as at the corrupt heart of Washington's halls of power. And they are right to feel this. I doubt that any of the prominent, socially climbing bloggers like Markos or Josh Marshall were happy when Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This is the sort of anti-democratic legislation that will haunt the United States for generations to come, and a lot of it came during the Clinton years.

I think I have written before about how happy I am that there is a thing called the Thirty-Something Dems Working Group in Congress. That is a good place to start. However, sooner or later we will need to address issues within the leadership of the party. The first ten minutes of Bulworth, where the senior Senator from California is hogtied by lobbyists and his own chief of staff, remain one of the most trenchant critiques of modern politics ever to see mainstream exposure. There has been no real change to this dynamic.

The locally prominent, reform minded Democrats that I talked to at a Howard Dean rally were all very cognizant of this problem. The closest any of them would get to a clear discussion of the problem, however, was to call out "special interests" and demand vague reforms. This abysmal abandoning of effective use of language was on prominent display throughout the Kerry campaign as well. Kerry was very good at talking in code words to try to indicate that he was far more liberal than he had ever really shown publicly. For my part I believe him. So what? Who knows it? Nobody. Even within the party, people are unable to speak plainly about the problems that this country faces.

Out here in flyover country, people outside of the political system are more able to talk to each other about politics than the Democrats are because the Dems realize at a subconscious level that in order to talk plainly about the systemic biases in this country they will have to explose their own indenture to the financial/insuance/medical, military/industrial/communications and marketing interests that have always had an overwhelming interest in the operation of this "democracy." The plain language that people want to hear from their politicians is difficult to manage when you are at risk of stepping on the toes of giants. Consequenty, voters are turned off by Democrats because it is clear that there are too many circuitous thought patterns and coded meanings going on when they talk.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are starting to wake up to the fact that they are fighting for their lives. They are also not from among the Beltway in-crowd who have far too much a penchant for the hierarchies of their own society. Nancy Pelosi in particular, with her recent proclamation that there will not be one party-wide position on Iraq is opening the door to the plain use of language by Democrats.

What needs to develop now is a sense that this variety of opinion and subsequent plain language is a basic principle of the party. The Repuglicans have, after all, been crazy good at promulgating very specific memes. The Democrats can differentiate themselves from this by using widely varied, but direct language. There is an army of think-tank language engineers working for them in this capacity right now. It's us, out here in the blogoshpere. The question is whether any will notice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

This is a very exciting time for our country.

Once upon a time a very rigorous thinker, alarmed at trends within his culture, set out to make a differnce by writing books. Fortunately for him books were still a good way to make an impact in wider society. His major works, 1984 and Animal Farm did make a difference. Millions of people have read them and perhaps as many as tens of thousands have taken their warnings to heart.

Unfortunately, books are not what they once were in the great cultural debates. It seems likely that Our Hero, George Orwell's writings, were in the end too dated and too British to prevent the emergence of dangerously totalitarian trends in the
United States.

Up until the Bush II years, I thought that Brave New World was far more relevant to our contemporary doldrums of democracy. Certainly it remains as relevant as it ever was. There has never before been a society as saturated by the anaesthetizing vicarious pathos of popular drama as ours is today. And as changes in culture have become more drastic, uncertainty in the wider existential environment has increased. People seem to always relate to their society and culture for existential cues and anchors. Who am I to question whether this is right or wrong. It is the way it is.

As these turbulent changes increase in their frequency and magnitude, however, there are born several complementary urges within the polis of culture. Huxley wrote in Brave New World about the urge to escape and immerse oneself in diversions. I know that, for example, I have become much more a sports fan in the past several years than I was as a younger man. I have watched democracy crumble and my fellow citizens endorse the new order in various ways, and it has been comforting for me to have some drama in which the resolution was not of such great consequence. Plus, sometimes in sports my team would win.

There is another cultural movement, however. The one that Orwell wrote about. For a long time I thought it far less applicable in modern times. Not because of any great progress in the tapestry of our culture, but just because the "soft fascism" of celebrity worship and popular branding were so successful that the more draconian methods were being rendered unnecessary.

Then, of course, following the great corporate putsch of vertical integration and neo-liberal economics, there came the demogogic onslaught of the late Clinton years. The consolidation of power had begun in earnest. The inclination towards dominance was in full flower, but there was still no need for these other methods. After 9/11 it was not about need, but rather about opportunity and inclination.

What can be said of this authoritarian type of political dominance? First and foremost is a reaction against an "other," who is "causing" these disruptions. If there is no convenient other outside of the body politic (the Hun, the Jap, Osama/Saddam Hussein), then otherness will be projected internally on some subculture or opposition political party or even a personality type or psychological trope.

Hyper-masculinity is usually promoted as a virtue, espcially in western (Apollonian?) cultures. We recently had the cultural experience wherein the intellectual allowance of nuance was openly ridiculed. Disgust and a queasy form of amusment mingled in the awareness of my fellow "liberal elitists" as we whispered in horrified tones of atavism and its perils. Loudly, many pondered leaving the
United States for Canada or Western Europe, where the virtues of civilization are not so casually discarded.

Another common tendency in this authoritarian expression of the play for dominance is one that Orwell expressed so well that we now call it after him. The idea of internally contradictiry language and constellations of ideas was also expressed by an American author, Joseph Heller, who wrote interestingly not of a hypothetical country in an abstract timescape, but rather of his experiences in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His insights are also enshrined in our language, of course, as we call Catch-22's after the book he wrote. In either case we can clearly see the dominance oriented ego work to overcome rationally expressed objections by denying the validity of the rational framework itself.

The dominance oriented ego is then unfettered by common sense in its exercise of Force. This is because common sense is dependent upon language and language (again in the Apollonian west especially) is most often overdependent upon development of rationality. Poets, preachers and other charismatic leaders, of course, are imprisoned or simply shot.

The Bush II administration, in all its Orwellian glory, has proffered us a new form of this internal contradictoriness. Today, this use of intentionally irreconcilable pardigms has been extended to the philosophical arena. For example, the GOP rose to power claiming a mandate for "states' rights" but quickly acted to impose federal authority over medical marijuana and assisted suicide laws. Some of this is mere hypocrisy, or in the case of states' rights, synecdoche for racism. It is a widespread and pesistent trait, however. The idea that there is a "strict constructivist" core of legal philosophy driving the current administration sounds good when explained: as the Constitution is written!! However, there is no doubt that even the more authoritarian and aristocratic of the framers of the Constitution would argue vociferously against the ability of the Executive to usurp the power of the Legislature and Judiciary regarding torture and spying, and they would likewise be horrified at the all but endoresement of a State Religion.

This form of argument, utilising a philosophical context for one basis of action and then acting clearly against that philosophy, short circuits the ability of any opposition politics that does not come from a well founded philosophy. In a day such as ours, when the dangers of hypocrisy have been irrelevant to the well being and comfort of most citizens for multiple generations, there is almost no cultural traction available to those who would argue against such brazen plays for dominance. What can be done is to call out these bastards for lying, call them out for having despotic aspirations, call them out for corruption and sleaze. In short, what must be done is to speak plainly.

I wrote previously about the tensions involved in challenging the underlying premises of a culture (to wit, why Hillarycare was more politically difficult than engaging in torture). There is a reason that the Democrats have had a much easier time challenging Repuglican corruption than they have challenging their despotic aspirations. To challenge the existence of corruption reinforces the idea that corruption in business and politics is the exception rather than the rule. To challenge the despotic tendencies of the juggernaut that is Bush II/Rove/Cheney calls into question the will to power that is the underlying premise of modern business practice.


This is a time when the existence of philosophical distinctions of great import is much closer to the surface than usual. Hypocrisy is categorically dangerous because it is always oriented towards freeing the will to power. In order to challenge hypocrisy, a politician would have to implicitly challenge the lying about social and economic reality that frames debates like international movements of labor. They would be challenging the pervasive disparity in CEO pay to the well being of median wage citizens. It is, in short, very difficult to do.

But because of the in-your-face egregiousness of the Bush II administration, this is a time when the dangers of hypocrisy have been exposed. The surrounding cultural context is well developed enough that an aspiring politician could sieze this opportunity and draw critical connections within the popular awareness. Not between hypocrisy and the surrounding culture of corporate dominace, that would still be political suicide. Rather, the foul smell of incipient despotism that emanates so powerfully from Dick Cheney and Karl Rove can be named and repudiated. Likewise the disengenuous obliviousness of modern Repuglican politicians who act as if social reality had no practical reality or consequences can be called for what it is. These simple, forceful acts of language could form the basis for a new examination of what we, as a culture, are all about.

It is very unlikely, however, that this will happen. Democrats are rarely bold, and never brave in the face of criticism from within the ranks of their own party establishment. If they disregard this opportunity, however, we will face a time when the premises of our culture are redefined to categorically include the right of power to act unilaterally.

Since this cannot happen in a vacuum there would be significant social and political turbulence. Do not relish in this thought. Whatever the outcome of this upheaval, it would not play out quickly, nor would any outcome recognizable as victory be very likely for anyone.

Update: According to Defensetech, agents of the type asked to do this spying are upset (via Josh Marshall). One of the problems we would face as a country if things do continue to go bad, is that there will be considerable fallout within the intel and defense communities. More than there already has been. Also in that post, apparently Sen. Rockefeller has been taking the extreme nature of the White House's policies very seriously. If he sent and kept hand-written copies of his letter protesting the program it's because he did not want to use his computer. Also, Digby has been working hard to demonstrate why the White House must've wanted to go beyond the reach of the courts in the first place.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Ariel Sharon Hospitalized for Stroke

Well, if he wasn't 77, I'd say it sucks to throw the Isreali Right-Wing party into dissarray. You make a lot of enemies, definately some of whom could arrange for you to have a stroke.

Given his age, it's no sure thing, but it is an interesting coincidence.

In the Guardian aritcle on the topic this paragraph near the end cought my eye. (via True Blue Liberal)

Mr Sharon has never spoken openly about how he moved from being a major supporter of Jewish settlement in Palestinian areas to being the first premier to withdraw from settlements. He has also not spelled out the political direction he wants his new party to take so he would leave no clear legacy for the party he created. "Sharon is driven by the late recognition of the necessity of fixing Israel's borders as a matter of vital national importance. He has not disclosed the reason for his change of heart because he felt that it would incur too much political resistance to his plans," said Mr Ezrahi.


Well, I hope he's got it down in his journals. Sharon is clearly no peacenik, but by his recent change of heart on this issue, he has become a very interesting political figure. Remember that he could almost certainly be tried for war crimes for his role in Lebabnon in the early 80's, if anybody had the guts and resources to do it, and he swept into office by provoking the second intefadah. Vacating Gaza (and subsequently splitting Likud) was a bold, clumsy move, and it will etch Sharon's name deeply into the history books. I hope he is well.

To Protect and Serve

There is a relationship between a free press and democracy that famously goes back to the American Revolution. Today there is a court-endorsed precept that advertising consititutes free speech. In fact it is not free speech, it is paid for. Neither is it freely available to those able to pay. Advertising may be rejected for any reason, of course, but the only real reason to do so is content, and that means politics whether it is party politics or simply that other advertisers (or a parent company) may be offended.

There has been a growing sense in the meta-media environment that the Democrats do not act in a focused, savvy way when presenting ideas to the public. The Republicans on the other hand, especially since the Reagan administration, have made media management a calling and a craft. No story is accidental or uncoordinated. Ratings hooks abound and good meals are served. A sense of camraderie is fostered.

The Democrats, agrue sympathetic media foot soldiers, aren't doing their part. There needs to be, offer Lakoffian tacticians, a bigger picture and coherent language. (That much is true, of course, but can we please talk also about content? Where are the cries for a coherent philosophy from Dems? Oh, yeah, right-wingers ask that question. Think about it.)

The issue today, though, is the idea that the Dems need to appproach news like the R's do. By this logic, the wiretap story would be argued on cable news (on stations where management is anywhere from sympathetic to partisan in favor) by armies of heretofore unknown talking heads trained by billions of dollars in contributions from degenerate, rabid plutocrats. The same catchy phrases would be used by many of these message transmitters, and letters and editorials would appear in scattered news outlets across the country arguing the very same points. Soon, drama would ensue. People would tune into cable news a little more often, to catch juicy developments and heated rhetoric. Advertising revenue would be plentiful. Then, answering "the will of the people," Democratic pols would offer concern alternating with indignation, win elections and cheat on redistricting plans to make sure they can never lose again. At least, I'm pretty sure that's how it goes. Did I miss anything?

What it all amounts to is that the media reps want to be spoon fed. As the newsrooms around the country have gone more and more to budget management ala the Harvard Business School model, there have been precious few resources for investigative shoe leather and patient building of backstory. We all know this. This is why the sympathetic foot soldiers of the media horde wish the Dems would act more like Republicans, because they know that otherwise there is little excuse to tell another side of a story.

Again, there is some substance to this criticism. At it's higest levels, the Democratic Party is hamstring by crossed lines of powerful influence and political sympathy. This is why ted Kennedy can eloquently bash Bush policy, but can not address the global reality of a viscious class inequity. He and his ilk are too indebted to high-dollar power brokers of the American (global hegemonic) aristocratic establishment.

Where we are today, however, there is no need for reporters to work long hours building a careful background on the wiretap story. A quick phone call to any major political science dean of any respectable university will quickly result in some very juicy quotes. Dinosaur moderate Republicans from the old hard-copy phone number lists can be dredged up to righteously cast scorn upon the usurpers who defile the institutions that a majority of Republicans used to believe in. These are easy stories to write.

Furthermore, if it is left to the Democrats to build a case against this gruesome disfiguring of the face of Democracy then it will be only partisan politics. If this is rendered as a partisan story, then the dramatic changes being made to the legal fabric of the United States will necessarily be obscured by the partisan origin of the story. This story is profoundly different from most politcal stories. If the writers covering the story do not convey that difference then they are failing their duty to the American people and the institutions of this Nation.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Oh goodness, where to start?

Digby has some great stuff, as usual. This is about a college senior who was visited by Homeland Security Officers after requesting Mao's Li'l Red Book through a college inter-library loan.

Josh Marshall has been blowing away every possible rationale for the NSA wiretap problem, and really getting to some investigative journalism into what might be underlying why the administration would have tried to get so extremely extra-legal regarding this issue. I reccomend checking his site regualrly over the next few days.

But what has really got my dander up is this must-read from AlterNet. Basically, beecause of what's going on in Ohio right now, we're really screwed. And I mean long term, just straight fucked.

This is the problem, as I see it: There is no motivation for any powerful information establishment organization to attempt to remedy the situation as presented by the three stories referenced above. The idea that there is an unchecked authority in the office of the President, being wielded in extremly undemocratic ways, should be newsworthy. That internal security is focusing on thoughtcrimes and wiretapping willy-nilly should be preposterous and deeply alarming.

But in fact, we have every reason to avoid looking. Keep your head down, mind your own business, don't challenge the boss when he's in a bad mood.

Furthermore, an ineffective opposition tends to promote cynicism and apathy. Unfortunately, right now the Democrats are relying on the press to be hard-nosed investigative journalists and the journalists are relying on the Dems to make a newsworthy fuss. And of course, as everyone should know, newsroom budgets have been being structured along a for-profit model since the 1970's.

So who can show us the way? What type of dramatic action will frustrated citizens gravitate towards? When, in 2006, after the Dems make disappointing gains and the Repulicans have once again started to dominate the political rhetoric of the day, what will be the impulse of the Democratic Party Leadership?

Will people start ot suddenly challenge this ever more powerful one party state? Hell no! People will hew more closely to the party line and work harder to curry favor with the Despots of Dementia, the Cabal of Morons. With no back up, no exemplar of principle, no community of noteworthy dissent, why should any one stick their neck out? There is no reason to.

Yes, I'm a wee bit cynical tonight, but there is no indication that the Democrats recognize the depths of enmity that the ideologues they are facing bear towards Democracy. And though it is an ugly truth, when we step back and consider the indications of such stories as are making the rounds tonight, it must be our conclusion that that is the dynamic at the heart of our current difficulties. And why not?

Are we to be surprised when a culture of secrecy and power turns against Democratic practice? The mistake was in imagining that with the curtailing and exposure of programs like COINTELPRO that we had somehow turned a tide. In fact we had only made temporary gains. There is no doubt that the focus of power in a militaristic society is what I said: secrecy and power. We have had ample warning that the development of information technologies could only prove too tempting to the domineering tendencies of the "domestic security" establishment. Where do we go now? We shout from the rooftops. The prevalence of this activity is what protects us. We have little else. Certainly we are unlikely to hear the Democrats defending the college student in Digby's story. Even if Paul Krugman or Frank Rich writes about this in the New York Times, it will be a story noticed by few and talked about only in passing. But here, I am telling you, is the seed of a terrible thing.

The question, of course, is how far will the authoritarian right take this struggle. Truly, there can be little thought that they would win fair elections next year. But elections are less fair today.

And let me just restate once more that the old families of wealth and prestige are complicit in these dynamics by their passive acceptance of them. There can be a reshaping of the media landscape in this country with a few high pressure meetings, and it is not happening.

Update: Mathew Gross has some very specific thoughts on the matter as well, as does Steve Gilliard, quoted on Mathew's site. I'm going to sleep now, so you can go find out what those very worth-while thoughts are for yourself.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I've been thinking about 2008.

I want to make bumperstickers like the "Wellstone!" ones that at least everyone in MN recognizes. I want to make ones that say "Hillary?" over a solid blue background. I think that most clearly sums up my feelings.

Though of course if it were to be Hillary against either McCain or Giuliani, well, I'd work my ass off for Hillary. What's that, you don't mind McCain? Give that man control of the military for one term and I guarantee you you'll take it all back. He may stand for ethics and morality within the service, but what he would do with his ethical army would be like to make Paul Wolfowitz blush. This is a man who believes in the use of military force.

Hillary, of course, would likely be just as bad, given that she would have to overcome the double toughness stigma of being a Democratic Woman. Hell, she might just nuke somebody. But I don't think so.

I don't care who it is, the Dems need to learn to be tough, and I mean in terms of facing the onslaught of the Very Conservative Media. Maybe Hil's the one to learn the lesson.

I've always thought it out like this: In the NBA, when opposing teams play against the L.A. Lakers in Los Angeles, they know ahead of time that they're just going to put up with certain calls made by the refs on behalf of the home team. It is unlike any other relationship in the league, and it has everything to do with TV ad revenue when the Lakers win. The Democrats are always playing against the home team. It's all about the power of the country club power lunch and pleasing your boss. I cannot imagine a circumstance where the Dems would be t liely to be treated fairly by the mass media group-think. There's just too much culture clash and steroetyping.

The sooner the Dems realize this, and start playing for the win and not for the refs, the sooner they will have a chance to win real popular approval. Because from outside the bubble, many Americans have an intuitive sense of this dynamic, and of how the Dems should respond.

The question is, who will take on Citibank? And by Citibank I mean the whole financial/insurance/pharma/agricultural/international trade sector of the economy that gives contributions and poer to the Joe Bidens and John Kerrys of the world. Because if that's the coaching staff (to extend the metaphor), then what does it mean to play for a win?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Here's a thought you may not have had.

The big two reasons the U.S. won the Cold War were that citizens of the eastern bloc nations wanted reliable access to foodstuffs and that the young people wanted to partake of the mythically sexy culture of the West. These reasons are exactly why we are not likely to "win" what clash of civilizations does exist between the West and the Muslim East. Citizens of these nations are not starving and they do not want rock'n'roll or blue jeans.

Just what this "other citizenry" does want seems unlikely to be a common variable given the very different historic experiences of countries such as Egypt, Iran, Algeria, Qatar, Lebanon, Pakistan, etc. Regardless, whatever is wanted in each locale is almost certainly tied to historic validation, and we cannot provide that except by losing.

However, there is another kind of historic trend brewing very slowly in the greater Islamic culture. A friend of mine maintains that Islam needs to experience its enlightenment, akin to Europe throwing off the reigns of the Catholic Church in the 16th century. I think he is wrong, for a variety of reasons, but importantly, I think something else is happening.

As Muslim citizens acclimate in particular to Western Europe, a new sense of identity and a new set of desires are forming that will in time mutate into a form that is relevant to the experience of Islamic peoples in the desert countries of their origin. Viewed in this light, the recent civic unrest in France is the most encouraging that could possibly have happened. I say this because that rioting signified a desire for cultural acclimation, validation and fulfilment in a way that is very dissimilar to, say, unrest in the streets of Egypt promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood during recent local and parliamentary elections.

In any case, these are the movements that matter. Military operations and metaphors serve mostly to obscure what is really at play, and of course to consolidate power for demagogues around the world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

giants climb the stairs of heaven
carry us
as offerings
to the fell gods of history

the dying moans of thousands are but shadows
in the greater works of genius

and our remarkable efforts to change this vast world
matter when we are walking, carrying a load

Friday, December 09, 2005

Happy Holidays!!

So this has been getting under my skin a bit, but the lovably anonymous posting ricky.zee over at Bottle of Blog hits the nail on the head with this one:

I could rant. But this "War On Christmas" defies any rant. It's so goddammed stupid, if you started mocking it, today, you wouldn't even be halfway done by the time God, Almighty blew the sun out of the sky for once and for all.

It really should be the final--and this time we're serious!--knife in the heart of modern conservatism. I mean, if the record setting deficits of the last three fiscally conservative presidents weren't enough, if the expansive ginormous government of the last three "small government" conservative presidents weren't enough, if the total lack of accountability and personal responsibility from the last three conservative presidents weren't enough...

...and we won't even mention the entire philandering, profiteering, and prison bound conservative leadership in Congress...

...then this really ought to do it. I mean, it really should.

The War On Christmas???

There's no War On Christmas, you fucking morons. Not by Soros. Not by the ACLU. Not by your major department stores.

None. Not now. Not ever. None.

And, contrary to his honorable protestations, he does go on to rant. And he should, he's very good at it.

What he doesn't mention, and what no one seems to have mentioned, is that the supposed "defense of Christmas" crowd are really, in fact, spouting anti-Semitism.

Now, it seems very obvious to me that this whole drama is just a red herring to keep the fanatic base from noticing that there is actual news happening all over the place these days. After all, one Congressman has resigned and another seems poised to fall soon, and Tom DeLay is in deep doo-doo, and Karl Rove is not much better off... Better whip up something nice and juicy, right?

Well, ok, but, what exactly are we saying here? Only Christmas is a legitamate holiday this time of year? Leaving aside the glaringly obvious fact that New Years' Eve is something everybody outside of Mormons and cultists celebrate, what's left? Oh yeah, Hannukah. Not acceptable, apparently.

As much as the ugliness regarding gay marriage around the election in '04, this shows the brutal ugliness that lies not far under the surface of the modern evangelical movement.

Shalom.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

You probably already knew this, but

...the end of the world is beginning in a remote corner of Pakistan.

Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone:

The best-case scenario for the aid effort is to get everyone a tent and some food and hope the majority of them make it. But few believe it is going to go well. Back in Tariqabad, a young aid worker named Raja Faisal Majeed is wiping his forehead in exhaustion. Just behind him, a bunch of tent-city residents have killed a bull, and people are walking up to the fly-covered carcass which is half-buried in mud, hacking off bloody bits, carrying them away. This place is filthy, unlivable, no one here will have a bath until spring . . .

Majeed, who has been living here on behalf of a group called Muslim Hands, shoots me a look as if to say, "You have no idea . . ." When asked about the winter, he shakes his head and looks ready to cry.

"Without shelter, they will suffer greatly," he says. "Suffer greatly. It will be very hard on the children and the old people."

He pauses. "Just look at this place."

Pakistan is an uncomfortable place for a Westerner. The poverty is so extreme that it hovers as an accusatory fact under every human interaction. In the capital, Islamabad, a Westerner is treated with extreme deference and obsequiousness on the surface, but there is something underneath as well, a defensiveness and readiness to take offense that borders on menacing. It is a country that feels sneered at and surrounded by enemies and would-be colonizers -- which it is -- and there is plenty of fuel here for crippling national complexes.

Before the rubble had even settled, it was firmly expecting to be left behind by the West at the aid-donation party. Even at the level of the individual earthquake victims, there was a perception that the West was uninterested in helping Muslims. Time and again I was asked by quake victims why America hates Muslims, is always making war with Muslims, etc. Two refugees insisted that Osama bin Laden did not exist; one college-educated Muslim aid worker asked me if it was true that Americans called Muslims "dogs."


Taibbi is a veteran of the Moscow Times whose carreer has been marked by a certain cynicism. I have followed his writings ever since he dissd the Clark Campaign with unusual vigor. That he has gone to Pakistan to report increses my respect for him.

Go. Read. Worry.

We are swimming in culture.

The political juggernaut of the right seeks always to move the currents of our culture, and thus to influence the body politic. This is very much a matter of creating subconscious associations. When we see speeches made in front of military uniforms, it is as much to maintain the popular association of the Republican Party with the military as it is to play to a political strength in a time of challenge.

The reason that the emergence of torture as a politically acceptable practice is likely to be a long term rather than a short term development is that no one is demonstrating the ethical failing that torture represents. Sure, there's a few academics here and there, maybe some bloggers. But what voices in the mass media are clearly arguing the very well known arguments against these practices? None, really. There is no uproar, no hue and cry that an average citizen can refer to in their media landscape.

This means many things, but first and foremost is that for lack of wider cultural precedent, there can be little in the way of a political argument made along those lines. A Democrat, for example, would thus sound "out of the mainstream" for opposing torture. Combine this with the fact that it sounds "weak" and we can rest assured that no Democrat who is going to succeed will ever even raise the point.

What is lost here is that this cultural reality does not have to be ethically or practically sound. It does not have to jive with any external fact, it is a reality at the level of cultural perception, and that is enough for it to persistently affect human decisions and assumptions.

The contemporary model for this is based apparently on an envelope of stability. The dominant political discourse is allowed to persist so long as it stays within a range of deviation from known reality. This range is established by whether or not a political act does not destabilize the cultural status quo to the extent that underlying assumptions are put too closely to the test.

By my lights, it is for this reason more than any other that HillaryCare was derailed so forcefully. There were far too many underlying assumptions of the social status quo that were being challenged. Obviously first among them is the great "Libertarian" premise of absolute individual accountability, but also there is the idea of Government competency or incompetency and not far behind is the idea of a wife's intellectual, executive and administrative role. Each of these ideas are incredibly challenging to the general model of society as promoted by business, banking and marketing interests.

In fact, if we compare torture and changes made to legal practice by the "PATRIOT ACT," to HillaryCare, we can see very easily that the values of uncertainty, the rights of authority, fear of the other and ruthlessness are far more in keeping with the value sets of business, marketing and banking than, say, collective accountability, care for the well being of others and interconnectedness in general.

This is why there is no argument made against torture. And considering that the major player Dems rely heavily upon marketing and banking for election cash, this sort of seals the deal, so to speak, on them not speaking out.

This is also why one of the most powerful political acts we can make right now to is to state, as clearly and loudly as possible, the precise arguments against torture and in favor of the rights of the accused.

Monday, December 05, 2005

And when the foot comes down...

...you better know where you're at.

The really ugly follow up (or kicker, sorry) is this: With a dominant Air Force and a dominant Navy, but a vastly weakened Army, it is ever more likely that we would have to resort to a draft in a crisis.

It's easy to say that it could never happen, but a Democrat could do it. A Democrat would be pressured to do it if there was, say, an eruption of the much ballyhooed Wider Regional Conflict in the Middle East.

And how could that happen? Well, you have a new group of combat fanatics and torturers with tons of private money backing them (who, as Digby wisely points out, aren't going anywhere, no matter how many troops leave Iraq), and a small but vociferous community who think we should've won, and a group of completely unscrupulous political operatives who hate not being in power and could very easily see an opportunity to work something.

It's a scenario. I'm not a tin-foil hat paranoiac, nor do I belive the tides of history can be that easily scryed. I am very concerned, and I want to underscore just how unstable a set of political factors we're going to be faced with.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Evil is a Foot...

...and the foot comes down.

So I am watching the television. It's PBS, they're doing me a favor by showing me this foot-faced bastard who is apparently arguing in favor of torture, and I'm thinking, fuckin' A, this guy dresses like a Nazi. I mean, he's ugly in a way that few of the Nazis were, his nose and head shape are not Germanic, really, so he doesn't look like a Nazi, but he's definately dresing like one. He's wearing a very severly cut black pinstipe suit with a silver tie and matching pocket kerchief, and just somehow the whole thing just shouts of the very obvious and well known Nazi aesthetic. Quite frankly, I've seen it a few other times recently, but this was just off the charts.

So I watch him for a minute, his face and voice are imapassive, affectless. He's rather ugly. But who is he? Ah, there, they put it on the screen for me: Neil Livingstone, Terrrorism Expert. Hm, computer's on, Google will tell more.

(sigh) I've seen websites for curious little above-board covert-ops outfits before, basically by doing this exact same thing. Yes, they are usally just exactly this up-front about what they do. Only in this case they don't come right out and say that they torture people, but come on, they're gonna get your information for you, right? I'm sure the only "customers" finding this website will know what they're looking for. Note also, however, a new wrinkle, at least as far as I've seen before: presidential speech writers. Okie-dokie. (sigh)

That last bit just came up, something mostly unrelated that I've been thinking about lately is just how damaging this little adventure is going to turn out to be for our military. But lots of people have been talking about that on and off for a while. What I've been thinking about is the way that our military is set up, and what Iraq may come to mean for the future of the over-all thesis of the military.

To wit, my basic thought is this: since the Cold War, the prevailing doctrine has been that we are set up to be able to fight a two-front war. Well, that's obviously hooey. During Korea we could've opened up another front if we had to, WWII was still so fresh in the cultural memory. During Vietnam, maybe up until, what, late '68? By mid '69 there was so much craziness going on internally that I'm not sure even a European land war against the Soviets would've held enough sway to allow us to muster a sufficient fighting force. Certainly I don't think we had several battalions of standing troops stationed in Europe at the time. I don't think the public would've been as sanguine as they generally were up to that point, regarding the draft. It doesn't make sense.

After Viet Nam, the services were a mess, so far as I've been told by those who served at that time. Reagan of course oversaw the great rebuilding, and Rambo finally won us our pride back, etc. etc. We might've been able to fight a two-front war then. But now? No. I will long carry this very clear memory of sitting in a dingy St. Paul apartment with this poor fellow, a passionate, somewhat cynical but still very patriotic Gulf War I vet who had later been medically discharged after a training accident (more common than you think), and we were "watching the war on TV," that is, our drive up the Tigris and Euphrates valleys on CNN, and I had been reading the very detailed Russian intel reports/anti-American propaganda dispatches from Venik's Aviation website, and so we were having a fairly lively conversation of it. In the course of this, at one point he pauses and says something to the effect of, "Y'know what I just can't help thinking? I hate it, but, damn, what if this is all we got?"

What if, indeed? The real problem we have faced now ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is that we have an armed forces terribly poorly configured to act against any real world opponent we are likely to face off against. In ironic, illustritive fact, we are most well equipped at the moment to go to war against the rest of NATO. Before this Iraq fiasco, we would've been in really good shape against Iran, another demon of our own failings, of course, but still, actually a quite unpleasant place politically, and much more apt to make trouble for us and others in the region than Saddam was after a decade of sanctions and bombing. Right now, though, we could not very easily go against Iran for two big reasons. One, we would have Iraq at our backs, and what little stability we've had would utterly evaporate once the Shi'a turned against us in force (which they most certainly would if we invaded Iran). Two, we would have far too many troops in one spot, geographically. Assuming we couldn't use the troops we have there (something about trying to advance while being attacked with IEDs and RPGs from behind), we would have to bring in the very few we have left in Germany, the small chunk sitting in the US, the medium chunk in Korea and frankly, that's all, folks. Hm, North Korea getting any ideas yet?

We do not now, nor are we likely to again soon have a highly funtioning military. This is almost a completely done deal. When the troops do come home, most of them are going to be a little fucked up. Those who stay in will be either absurdly really warped or they will be decent folk truying to make sure the Army they love doesn't make the same mistakes again. Unfortunately, for factors I simply don't have time to get into now, I think it will be more of the former who stay in.

So where exactly does this leave us? Well, clearly the slavering hordes of the right wing are in fits trying to figure our how to make this all the Democrats' fault. But, beyond that, it leaves us a by necessity very isolationist country for the forseeable future. There will also very likely be an increasing tension within military ranks, as those demagogues that are within the military establishment stir up yet more passions reminiscent of Viet Nam, saying, just as some other yutz on The News Hour was pushing, "We could've won! If we'd've only stayed in there we could've won!!" Well, that was horseshit with Viet Nam and it's triple or quadruple horseshit now. And most military families know it's horseshit, otherwise Congressman Freedom Fries from Camp LeJeune would not be being critical of the war effort. (He is, look it up.)

Where else it leaves us is with unelected people such the torturer Livingstone with a much more established place at the table within our cultural landscape. There will certainly be small tectonic shiftings within the Power Elite after the next few elections show us more clearly the National mood, but not many shiftings, and not big ones. It is quite painfully clear that what rejection this claque of vacuous thugs has recieved has come due to their failures, not their aims.
There is no viable cultural foundation for a response to this crisis of our values at this time. There is only what we make. It is important to realize that the Cabal of Morons was not wrong about being the actors of history, they were wrong about being immune from it. We are the actors of history also, if on much smaller stages, but perhaps we can learn more intelligently from our history, and thus act in accord with its various and nuanced floes.

Shalom.