Friday, July 24, 2009

Yet Another Hiatus... Sorry!

I've been unnaturally busy this week, and for the next week I will be in Montana. I will be back August 1 but will have to take some time to read and catch up as I will not be able to keep up with news or really get on the internet much at all during the next week. Thanks for being understanding. FreZno is still around, so bug him on Facebook if you need reading material!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Anti-Immigration, Pro-Invasion?

Does it strike anyone else as a bit oddly hypocritical that it is the same people who tend to be anti-immigration as tend to be all for the US starting wars of aggression in the "Third World"? Leave aside for the moment that anti-immigration in many cases simply means anti-Mexican. (It is always interesting to subtly steer the loudest immigration opponents into talking about Canadians or white Europeans. The so-called "immigration debate" has become an all-too-convenient way to euphemize and institutionalize racism.) If we were to assume a coherent across-the-board dislike of immigration on principle, then it would be reasonable to say that a person who holds such a belief thinks that the natives of a country have an inherent right to determine who should and should not be allowed in their country. (I take for granted that American exceptionalism is indefensible.)

And yet, all over the world, America has been and continues to be guilty of starting wars, building military bases, and outright invading sovereign countries. More amazing still is that in general, it is people who lean to the so-called "right" of our political spectrum who support both of these things most fully. Right-wing pundits demagogue the immigration issue incessantly for a reason: it fits their target audience. Similarly, right-wing news organizations like Fox tend to be the loudest promoters of any new war.

It is completely obvious which is worse. On the one hand, you have people entering a strongly capitalist country with the desire to become wage-laborers, the most essential parts in any capitalist system, comprising the foundation of its money-making pyramid. What's more, the issue with these laborers in general is that they are willing to work for far less than Americans. While this offends many (especially "middle-class") American laborers, it is absolutely beneficial to the capitalist power structure, since it allows the owners of the means of production to increase their profit margins by lowering their labor (overhead) costs. Meanwhile, we send droves of people to foreign countries to wreck infrastructure and forcibly colonize (that's what building a military base on foreign soil uninvited is, whether you like it or not), all the while not even participating in the local economy. Soldiers, "advisers", and private contractors (the armed forces and their massive entourage, in other words) all work for US companies or the US government. They don't go over there and force soldiers to support themselves by becoming dishwashers in Iraqi restaurants. So isn't this obviously worse? Forced colonization coupled with demolishing infrastructure as opposed to the migration of wage-laborers to a more stable economy (all of which is driven by our capitalist class, not theirs)?

The only way to defend this position is to rest on the dried, withering laurels of American exceptionalism, which is nothing more than an unexamined form of unacceptable moral dualism. This is a blatant double standard which is meaningless at best and totally disingenuous at worst, and repugnant in any case. I defy anyone to assert a meaningful, valid reason for its existence. And considering its application to so many areas of discourse, and its undergirding of so many arguments, that would have to be a damn broad reason.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wendell Potter


WENDELL POTTER: You know, I didn't, because for most of the time I was there, I felt that what we were doing was the right thing. And that I was playing on a team that was honorable. I just didn't really get it all that much until toward the end of my tenure at Cigna.

Wendell Potter used to be a really well-paid PR guy/lobbyist for Cigna, one of the largest US healthcare corporations. That is, until he came back home to Tennessee and saw the results of his work.
WENDELL POTTER: I did. I borrowed my dad's car and drove up 50 miles up the road to Wise, Virginia. It was being held at a Wise County Fairground. I took my camera. I took some pictures. It was a very cloudy, misty day, it was raining that day, and I walked through the fairground gates. And I didn't know what to expect. I just assumed that it would be, you know, like a health-- booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that.

But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they'd erected tents, to care for people. I mean, there was no privacy. In some cases-- and I've got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement.

And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care. People drove from South Carolina and Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee-- all over the region, because they knew that this was being done. A lot of them heard about it from word of mouth.

There could have been people and probably were people that I had grown up with. They could have been people who grew up at the house down the road, in the house down the road from me. And that made it real to me.

There are people like this all over the world. Fighting the wrong fight, busily doing their everyday job without ever considering the terrible consequences of what they do. They go to work for some giant corporate machine, of which they are a happy and well-paid little cog, and they are totally separated from the awful consequences of their corporation's profit margins. Profit is almost always made at the expense of other human beings. Wars, profiteering, Republicans, all these terrible things are the result of dehumanization and total separation of actors and their consequences.
BILL MOYERS: What did you think?

WENDELL POTTER: It was absolutely stunning. It was like being hit by lightning. It was almost-- what country am I in? I just it just didn't seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States. It was like a lightning bolt had hit me.

Thank you, Bill Moyers, for being one of our country's only functioning journalists. You're truly an American hero and I will truly mourn your passing some day.

Watch the whole thing.

WENDELL POTTER: Yeah, it was. You know, certainly, I knew people, and I talked to people who were uninsured. But when you're in the executive offices, when you're getting prepared for a call with an analyst, in the financial medium, what you think about are the numbers. You don't think about individual people. You think about the numbers, and whether or not you're going to meet Wall Street's expectations. That's what you think about, at that level. And it helps to think that way. That's why you-- that enables you to stay there, if you don't really think that you're talking about and dealing with real human beings.

My point exactly.

Cultural Degradation Starts At The Top

The US Corporate Media (the only media that really matter because such a huge majority of people get their news from so few corporations) figured out long ago that it can strongly influence public opinion (and therefore, to some extent, political reality) by simply endlessly repeating a claim until it's taken as true. This is especially damaging when the claim is racist or sexist, as so many of the attacks against Sonia Sotomayor have been.

Please take some time to watch the Women's Media Center's new action alert and video regarding the Sotomayor appointment, and so many of the ad hominem attacks that have been hurled in her direction by major news players, including CNN which is all too often touted as one of the top examples of the "Liberal Media" at work.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Read This.

Just Read It.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Status is NOT Quo

From a larger discussion of strategies for opposing war at the grassroots level at ADS:
The House of Representatives is supposed to represent us and yet, on matters of war as on most other things, does not. Why not? Well, many flaws weaken our elections system, but on any given vote three major corrupting factors can usually be pointed to: party, media, and dollars. On an issue like healthcare, as on many issues, these factors should be listed in the opposite order. It is the dollars of corporate interests that do the greatest share of the corrupting. But on matters of war, party is the greatest corruptor. Of course, political parties are the largest funders of campaigns, so money is still right at the top. Members of Congress in both political parties have voted to fund these wars, over the wishes of their constituents, because their party leadership has told them to do so. Parties can promise money, committee memberships, chairmanships, votes on bills and amendments and earmarks, and press events in a member's district with cabinet members and presidents. Parties can threaten to withhold money, back a challenger, block measures from reaching the floor, and withhold chairmanships. It is very difficult and very rare for Congress members to oppose their parties' strong demands. But it is also rare for citizens to press them to do so, in part because many citizens and the groups through which they approach activism also take their orders from political parties.

Political parties are an impediment to real democracy, and especially having only two of them is a corrupting influence on the system. Remember this next time you vote or advocate for a political issue: vote for your strengths, your preferences, because the parties are powerful enough. Voting for a party (rather than supporting an individual candidate's platform, or voting based on an actual issue) is the only real way to "throw your vote away".

Friday, July 03, 2009

Airport Gestapo

I have often told people that I do not wish to fly on commercial airlines in the US because I resent the TSA and their invasive security. Most people do not understand why this bothers me. I am, first and foremost, a civil libertarian. This is not a "pet peeve" of mine or an annoyance at how much it affects me personally. It is a principle that bothers me to my very core, and a very pressing symbol of a whole host of things wrong with our culture. The TSA is, to my mind, essentially a paramilitary organization. They operate with impunity, enjoying the full support of our federal government, including its massive security apparatus. Knowing how many times the full force and brutality of the police and even the military (usually the National Guard) have been used to quell simple street protests, I cannot imagine anything being "off the table" for resisting the TSA after September 11. Since the "enhanced security measures" we have been enjoying since 9/11 have been implemented (and copied throughout the world), the TSA has been racking up horror stories about destruction of private property and invasive searches. Many airports now feature giant transparent plastic bins that show off all the private property stolen from individuals passing through airports for not following myriad ridiculous elements of bureaucratic policy minutia, such as the totally absurd ban on liquids.

Rather than researching all day and coming up with evidence to support all these claims (which I'm either recalling from reading or, more often, firsthand experience, having flown several times in the last three years), I offer this story, which infuriates me as a classical pianist, of "Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman, who is widely admired for his virtuosic performances and who famously tours with his own custom-altered Steinway" [h/t Arthur Silber]:
Just a week ago, before an appearance in Seattle, Zimerman expressed frustration about the hassle and expense of touring the U.S. with his piano.

Shortly after Sept. 11, his instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. Thinking the glue smelled funny, the Transportation Security Administration decided to take no chances and destroyed the piano. Since then he has shipped his pianos in parts, which he reassembles by hand after he lands. To get from city to city within the U.S., he hires a driver to take the shell of the piano, and he drives another car that holds the precious custom-designed keys and hammers.

You read that right. They destroyed a CUSTOM FREAKING STEINWAY belonging to a world-class concert pianist because... "the glue smelled funny". (Guitarists should be imagining something akin to one of Les Paul's personal guitars or car enthusiasts one of Carroll Shelby's favorite personal vehicles in order to get the full magnitude of how jaw-droppingly ignorant and infuriating this is to a pianist. A Steinway... custom-designed... belonging to a famous concert pianist on tour...)

This is why I don't understand "small-government" Republicans. They seem to have no objections to this kind of establishment. It's "far-left liberals" and DFHs and progressives like me that object to the hyperactive militaristic security state, which came to full maturity under Republican Hero Bush. (This is not to say that Uber-Progressive Conciliator-in-Chief Obama is doing anything but expanding and cementing the Worst of the Worst Bush practices, of course.) Why isn't this news? Why are voters and citizens so oblivious to this? Is there any sanity left out there?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Symptom of the Disease

I like this post over at ATR for a number of reasons. The main one is that I've carefully chosen my news sources to balance my news intake in a certain way, which includes among other things minimizing celebrity content (which is why I don't tend to read things like HuffPo or The Nation). Despite this, I did pick up a few fleeting mentions of MJ's death in my feeds, and this is the best example. It's amazing, insightful, and thought-provoking, quite unlike any celebrity reporting you will encounter elsewhere. It makes me proud of my blogroll.
For his entire adult life, Jackson was ridiculed in public by the best in the business. Think about that for a second. He knew what everybody thought of him--he must've known. At what point did all that weirdness change, from something inside of him, to something caused by all of us? Only he could know, if he ever did, and now he's dead.

Some portion of this ridicule was earned: the compulsive plastic surgery, the persistent whiff of child molestation, the bizarre marriage to Elvis' daughter--these were, if not earth-shattering events, deviations from the norm reasonably worthy of a satirist's attention. But I think anyone not getting paid on a 13-week contract has to admit that at a certain point it became a peculiar kind of public torture. Most of the time that Michael Jackson made the monologue, he hadn't done anything genuinely newsworthy. Yet there he was, the butt of another joke about gayness, or pedophilia, or plastic surgery, or germophobia...I could go on, but there's no point. There never was.

One of the biggest changes in American pop culture has been the demise of humor based on stereotypes (or at least its widespread concealment). This is a good thing, but as the humor of stereotype has waned, other things have had to step in. The things that have filled the void are

a) celebrity humor; and for those intellectuals among us
b) absurdism about "inhuman autopilots"--zombies, pirates, robots, ninjas, etc.

Add in reflexive taboo-busting--sex and drug jokes--and you have described 99% of what passes for comedy in these United States. Most political humor is celebrity humor with a veneer of importance; it comes from no political viewpoint, only comments on behavior. Most of the NPR/New Yorker brand is absurdist autopilot humor, with enough celebrity to satisfy their timeliness fetish.

All that is another post, so I'll leave it and finish this one. Unlike say, Cary Grant, Michael Jackson had the ill fortune to be a celebrity when nightly scrutiny of a pop singer's personal habits became what passed for incisive commentary. Precisely when American power needed all the restraining that satire could throw at it, satire became obsessed with celebrities. Coincidence? Surely not. Part of this was the entertainment industry's self-aggrandizing belief that nobody in the audience knows about anything but entertainment--which, after fifty years, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But even more powerful was simple risk-aversion. Any Jackson joke was risk-free. Since he was both celebrity and inhuman autopilot, the material flooded forth; and in that flood was protection, safety in numbers. That's why it all felt strangely impersonal, as if this "Michael Jackson" we were all laughing at didn't exist as a person. To the extent that anybody I knew spared a thought for the guy, the human being, they decided he deserved it for being so weird. Such is the compassion of the herd. (emphasis original)

I'd recommend reading it, as there's not much more to it. It touches on a theme that's been a subject here at TSP before, which is dehumanization. And for everyone who's absolutely sick of hearing about MJ, here's something that is actually a fitting tribute to a human being, rather than just celebrity-obsessed mourning.