Archive for September, 2013

Edginess and Its Discontents

September 24, 2013

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Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, is producing a TV show called Dads. A recent episode has produced a good deal of controversy. In it, an Asian-American woman who works for a gaming company is forced to dress up in a school girl uniform in order to please some Chinese investors. (The latter stupidly take photos of her. Hey, those Orientals love cameras, don’t you know?) Critics have called this racist, which is true. What really strikes me about this sitcom, however, is that this is precisely the sort of inane, unfunny situation comedy that Family Guy mocks from time to time. The characters and situations are uninteresting. The dialogue is unconvincing. (Note from the following clip that the writers thought that simply tossing in a movie reference would provoke a laugh.)

While listening to Seth MacFarlane tell unfunny jokes on this year’s Academy Awards, I began to wonder if perhaps he had received more credit than he actually deserved for the success of Family Guy. His involvement with a show like Dads makes me wonder even more.

One thing that the two shows do have in common is that both try to shock people in an effort to appear “edgy”. Having a woman dress up in a school girl uniform serves the same purpose as the jokes about disabled people on Family Guy. The assumption is that being mindlessly offensive is somehow hip.

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Obama’s Speech on Syria

September 11, 2013

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The speech that President Obama just gave on Syria was a depressing example of the empty rhetoric and hypocritical moral posturing that make up the political discourse in this country. He begins by saying:

    Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement. But I have resisted calls for military action, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits — a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.

Images of people killed by conventional bombs are every bit as sickening as the images described here. So what is it that makes chemical warfare a “crime against humanity”? It’s not until the middle of the next paragraph that Obama tries to give an answer to that question:

    Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant…

Conventional weapons can also kill on a mass scale, and they also do not distinguish between soldier and infant. The idea that chemical weapons are more inhumane than other weapons has no basis in fact. If there is anything peculiarly destructive about chemical weapons, it is the fact that some chemicals, such as Agent Orange, can linger in the environment and do long-term damage. (Although I’m guessing that Obama doesn’t consider Agent Orange to be a chemical weapon.)

Obama cites two examples from history of the use of chemical weapons:

    In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.

Obama conveniently neglects to mention that Saddam Hussein used poison gas against the Kurds and Iranians, back when he was still a U.S. ally. The president at that time was Ronald Reagan, a man for whom Obama has expressed great admiration. (I think it worth noting here that during World War I, more people were killed by artillery and machine guns than by deadly gas.)

The President goes on to say:

    When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. [Uh, you mean like Saddam Hussein?] But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it. Because what happened to those people — to those children — is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

    Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.

This is a sophisticated reformulation of the “if we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them over here” argument that was wildly popular back when G.W. Bush was in the White House. First of all, our troops already face the prospect of chemical warfare, which is why they are trained in the use of gas masks. I think it a fair guess that many governments – dictatorships or otherwise – possess chemical weapons of one kind or another, regardless of any treaties. As for terrorists getting a hold of chemical weapons, that is a real possibility, I’m afraid, but it would be naïve to think that bombing Syria is going to prevent any possibility of that happening.

    If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran — which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon [which is not against international law], or to take a more peaceful path.

So, this is really about Iran? Obama thinks that if he kills a bunch of Syrians, this will convince the Iranians that they shouldn’t build any nuclear weapons? Might not the Iranians draw the exact opposite conclusion? They might decide they need nuclear weapons so the U.S. won’t attack them the way it did Syria.

The President’s speech ends on an optimistic note. He tells us he has decided to postpone asking Congress to authorize the use of force, so he can pursue a proposal by Russia to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons so they can be destroyed. It appears that Putin has saved Obama from the humiliation of Congress voting down the authorization. Bullshit can only get you so far in this world. Obama has once again benefited from dumb luck.

The Democratic Party and the U.S. Left

September 9, 2013

Democraticjackass

Salon has an interesting article by David Sirota about the current state of the anti-war movement in the U.S. In it, he writes:

    So what happened to that movement? The shorter answer is: It was a victim of partisanship.

    That’s the conclusion that emerges from a recent study by professors at the University of Michigan and Indiana University. Evaluating surveys of more than 5,300 anti-war protestors from 2007 to 2009, the researchers discovered that the many protestors who self-identified as Democrats “withdrew from anti-war protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success” in the 2008 presidential election.

This confirms something I have long suspected. I remember talking to people at anti-war demonstrations during the 2000’s. Many of them seemed to me to be motivated by a visceral hatred for Bush and Cheney rather than by an actual opposition to war and imperialism. During the run-up to the 2004 election, they would tell of their intention to vote for one of the two anti-war Democrats, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. When Dean and Kucinich lost in the primaries, these people simply transferred their allegiance to John Kerry, a staunch supporter of the war. It was no surprise to me, then, that these people dropped out of the movement when a Democrat was finally elected to the White House.

Many Americans seem to have an emotional commitment to the two-party system that defies logic and common sense. For them, being a Republican or a Democrat is more than merely a matter of which party one votes for, it is an existential question, something that determines their very sense of identity.

I was at the Oregon Country Fair a couple of years ago, and I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that had pictures of George W. Bush and Hitler on it. It said: DIFFERENT NAMES, SAME SHIT. I was tempted to say to him, “Since Obama has continued many of Bush’s policies, does that mean he is also just like Hitler?” I didn’t ask this, but I suspect that if I had, the question would have made no sense to him. For a certain type of person, the mere fact that Obama is a Democrat means that he cannot be anything at all like Bush.

Our two main political parties originated in the nineteenth century, and both have radically evolved away from their original platforms. Many people simply can’t conceive of a world without them. Karl Marx once said, “The dead weight of the past weighs like a nightmare upon the brains of the living.” The older I get, the more convinced I become of the profound truth of that observation.

Paul Craig Roberts

September 7, 2013

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Paul Craig Roberts is a former Reagan Administration official who, during the past decade or so, has reinvented himself as a populist, an outspoken critic of the banksters whose interests he once faithfully served. Roberts is also a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.

The September 6-8 edition of CounterPunch has an article by Roberts entitled Will Congress Now Save Obama’s Face By Selling Out Democracy and the Syrian People?. In it, Roberts writes:

    The presstitute media and the House and Senate “leaders” who report to the military/security complex and to the Israel Lobby keep talking about Assad’s “own people,” but Assad’s own people support him. Polls of Syrians show that Assad has more support from the Syrian people than every head of every Western country has from their citizens. Cameron’s, Hollande’s, Merkel’s and Obama’s poll numbers are dismal compared to the Syrian peoples’ support for Assad.

I clicked on the link that Roberts provides with this paragraph. It took me to a website called World Tribune.com. The editor of the site, Robert Morton, is a former editor of the right-wing Washington Times. The site lists Breitbart.com, which smeared ACORN and Shirley Sherrod, as a “content partner”. It featured an article titled “NATO data: Assad winning the war for Syrians’ hearts and minds”. It says:

    The data, relayed to NATO over the last month, asserted that 70 percent of Syrians support the Assad regime. Another 20 percent were deemed neutral and the remaining 10 percent expressed support for the rebels.

    The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts.

Clearly, this was no systematic poll, but simply a collection of opinions from various unidentified “activists and independent organizations”.

In the next paragraph, Roberts writes:

    Just as there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” but the facts did not stop the Bush regime from telling its lies that resulted in massive deaths and destruction of Iraqis, deaths and destruction that continue as I write, Assad has not used chemical weapons “against his own people.” All of the evidence points to a false flag event that Obama could seize upon to launch America’s 7th war in 12 years.

I googled the words “Gouta false flag event”, and all I found were articles based on an article on the Mint Press News site titled “EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack”. However, the article never uses the term “false flag event”. Instead, one of the authors interviewed some Syrians who claimed that what actually happened was that some rebel soldiers accidentally set off some chemical weapons. If the gassing was accidental, it was not a “false flag event”. The article ends with a disclaimer: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”

Roberts accuses the government and the media of making false claims about Syria, yet he makes false claims himself. This crank is not worth our time.

Conspiracy-mongering and the Syrian Revolt

September 6, 2013

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Ellen Brown

Experience has taught me to be wary of conspiracy theories, but many of my comrades on the Left can’t get enough of the damn things. Even when it’s quite plain what is going on, they must look for a hidden agenda, or a grand, over-arching scheme outlined in a Goldmann Sachs memo.

CounterPunch and AlterNet have both posted an article by Ellen Brown, in which she writes:

    In his August 22nd article, Greg Palast posted a screenshot of a 1997 memo from Timothy Geithner, then Assistant Secretary of International Affairs under Robert Rubin, to Larry Summers, then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner referred in the memo to the “end-game of WTO financial services negotiations” and urged Summers to touch base with the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Citibank, and Chase Manhattan Bank, for whom private phone numbers were provided.

    The game then in play was the deregulation of banks so that they could gamble in the lucrative new field of derivatives. To pull this off required, first, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the 1933 Act that imposed a firewall between investment banking and depository banking in order to protect depositors’ funds from bank gambling. But the plan required more than just deregulating US banks. Banking controls had to be eliminated globally so that money would not flee to nations with safer banking laws.

Brown then goes on to tell how the U.S. pressured countries around the world to loosen their banking regulations. Most eventually gave in, but there were some hold-outs, one of which happened to be Syria. Brown’s article implies that this is what is behind Obama’s recent call for an intervention in Syria. I don’t buy it. I’m expected to believe that Obama waited two and a half years for Assad to gas his own people* so he could finally carry out Timothy Geither’s master plan? If Syria were that important to Obama, he would have found (or invented) some excuse for intervention before now. The fact that Geithner wrote something in a memo sixteen years ago doesn’t mean that must be the reason why the government is doing something right now. (*I know there are some who claim that a rebel group did the gassing, but in these situations the burden of proof is always on the conspiracy theorists. Unless I see some hard evidence indicating otherwise, I’m going to assume it was Assad who did it.)

Brown also writes:

    These seven countries were named by U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.) in a 2007 “Democracy Now” interview as the new “rogue states” being targeted for take down after September 11, 2001. He said that about 10 days after 9-11, he was told by a general that the decision had been made to go to war with Iraq. Later, the same general said they planned to take out seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

Again, this doesn’t prove anything. Just because somebody said something to Wesley Clark in 2001, it doesn’t necessarily follow that that is the reason why Obama is doing something today.

There are valid arguments that can be made against what Obama is proposing to do. We don’t need to confuse matters by putting forth dubious conspiracy theories.