October 29, 2008 archive

We Can Make History

On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, we can make history.  Yes, we can.  I am absolutely thrilled at the possibility before us.  I cannot wait to walk across the road– maybe I’ll go in my pajamas– to the polling place at the Spencertown Fire Department and pull a lever for Barack Obama.  I will then smile, and I will continue to smile.  I’ll smile because I never thought this could happen.  I never thought we’d actually get out of the Bush years alive.  And I never thought a candidate, a black man no less, could unify the forces of light in America.  And I think that by voting and getting out the vote in this election we can actually restore the rule of law, fairness, equality, justice, peace, and even prosperity in this country.  Yes we can.    

As I’ve said before, if Barack Obama’s presidency is one tenth as effective as his campaign, if his presidency is one tenth as creative as the musical explosion the campaign has brought about, we’re all, all of us, going to be just fine.

And so, with less than a week to go, let’s go back to this and let’s get it done:

Please vote.  Please help to get out the vote.  Please talk to your relatives, children, friends, colleagues, associates and urge them to vote.  This election can make history and it can bring hope and it can change the course of the nation. Yes we can.


Four at Four

  1. The LA Times reports Defense War Secretary Robert Gates calls for modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons. “Unless the United States modernizes its inventory of nuclear weapons and develops a replacement warhead, the atomic arsenal’s long-term safety and reliability will deteriorate,” according to Gates.

    “No one has designed a new nuclear weapon in the United States since the 1980s, and no one has built a new one since the early 1990s,” he said…

    “To be blunt,” Gates said, “there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without resorting to testing our stockpile or pursuing a modernization program.” …

    “Currently, the United States is the only declared nuclear power that is neither modernizing its nuclear arsenal nor has the capability to produce a new nuclear warhead,” Gates said…

    “Let me be clear: The program we propose is not about new nuclear capabilities — suitcase bombs or bunker-busters or tactical nukes,” he said. “It is about safety, security and reliability.”

    Gates also endorsed the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Four at Four continues with Pakistan and Syria demanding apologies from the U.S., movement to negotiate with the Taliban, and Spanish dominance of U.S. wind energy.

Too Big to Jail

The current global economic crisis has taken us into an extraordinary new realm of irresponsibility. It is being depicted as a man-made calamity so vast and complex that nobody can be held accountable for it. This makes sense only to those who are afraid of being held accountable. As James Howard Kunstler puts it in his current blog post:

In the typhoon of commentary that’s blown around the world a step behind the financial tsunami that’s wrecking everything, two little words have been curiously absent: “fraud” and “swindle.”

The usual suspects in the authoritarian, “conservative,” and libertarian precincts of the blogosphere are united in proclaiming that this global meltdown, which may end up costing taxpayers trillions of dollars, is one big accident, in which no punishable acts have been committed. The reason for this strange claim of global amnesty is that that the most powerful players in government and business committed so many potentially punishable breaches of trust that nothing less than a wholesale turnover of the world’s leadership elites is called for. Because the commentariat works for these elites, they have declared that the guilty parties are effectively too big to jail. Here is a summary of the sophistries that are being deployed.

1. No individual/company/government is fully responsible.

2. The global financial system is too complicated for a cause to be found.

3. All political parties were implicated.

4. Everyone was doing it.

5. Nobody could have predicted the magnitude of the disaster.

6. Punishing people will not do any good.

The Vision Thing…Part One

You can’t get where you want to go ….unless you know where you want to go. Everyone knows now that there must be change, and again we can thank the Conservative Movement and its monumental failure under Bush for driving that point home in unequivocal, unmistakable, undeniable real world terms.

So where do we want to go?

It takes a vision, to paraphrase Hillary. And to achieve effective and implementable change, it takes a vision that is broad enough to become a shared vision. But among the many things the Republicans have destroyed is the ability to even describe a vision, without some FoxNews type smearing of any and all Progressive visions. Thus Obama has not been able to fully articulate where HE wants us to go, what his vision is….and still be electable. Thus until after the inauguration we will not know where he wants to take us. We will not know where we agree and disagree. Until then, our task is to attempt to articulate our vision, and to try to be as clear as we can in this muddied and still fearful political environment. As Obama then articulates his, we will know where to support, where we need to try to bend it to ours, and where we need to oppose.

Over the last decade of renewed Culture War, one of the successes of the Conservatives has been (as I mention above) the smearing of the very word Liberal, let alone a true Liberal/Progressive vision of the world. Our attempts at vision have been labeled “soft on…’ and ‘unrealistic.’ Now however, their ‘hard’ vision of using force to solve every problem has led us here, to their version/vision of ‘reality.’ Which as even they (the non-delusional parts of they, at least) must admit, just plain does not work, AND has some truly morally reprehensible and downright vicious (torture) aspects. They have set the narrative, and their one true achievement has been to discredit our narrative. Heck, they don’t even really believe in having a vision, in their world, Real Men (Real Americans) Don’t Think. They have smeared even the concept of vision and imposed their ersatz philosophies instead, all centering around on central premise…I’ve Got Mine. That is what passes for their vision, what they have attempted to destroy our vision for. Even though ours….works.

Author Jack Shaheen on Election 2008 Arab and Muslim Stereotypes

Here’s my last dispatch before the election. Hope you enjoyed. – ctrenta

Crossposted at Huffington Post’s Off the Bus.

Photobucket   Photobucket

Jack Shaheen, a sort of one-man anti-defamation league, is the author of the groundbreaking work “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People,” which is also the subject of a documentary film. A former CBS News consultant on Middle East Affairs, Shaheen is one of the world’s foremost authority on media images of Arabs and Muslims. Other works include “Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture,” “Nuclear War Films,” the award-winning “TV Arab,” and his latest is “Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11.” In “Guilty,” Shaheen examines Arab images in more than 100 post-9/11 movies, and addresses other issues at play since 9/11 that affect public perceptions of Arabs and Muslims. I caught up with Shaheen to discuss Arab and Muslim portrayals in the 2008 election and how an Obama presidency can make a positive impact.

The Comeback Kid: Kennedy’s Universal Health Care

According to Boston.com’s Political Intelligence Senator Edward Kennedy, who has been being treated at his home in Massachusetts for the past six months for a dangerous malignant brain cancer, returned to his second home in Washington D.C. Tuesday and will continue his treatment there.

“His doctors are very pleased with his progress, and he will receive his treatments here,” Kennedy spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner said yesterday. The senator plans to remain in his northwest Washington home and return to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, she added.

Aides declined to speculate on when Kennedy might return to his duties in the Senate, which is in recess for the rest of the year. But his return to Washington for the next several weeks could coincide with Democrats’ plans to call a special session of Congress after the Nov. 4 election. Kennedy is also a strong supporter of Barack Obama, and left Massachusetts to deliver a keynote speech on his behalf at the Democratic National Convention in Denver two months ago.

Since his diagnosis, Kennedy has returned to the Senate just once, in July, to cast a tiebreaking vote on long-delayed Medicare legislation. He was briefly hospitalized last month after suffering a mild seizure, which doctors attributed to a change in his medication.

Kennedy has apparently been secretly working from his hospital bed in Massachusetts the past few months to develop and “introduce a universal health care bill as soon as the new Congress convenes next year and to push quickly for its passage”, says the Washington Times, and he has been getting support for his plan from across the political spectrum:

Open Thread


To err is human; to Thread is divine.  

How an umbrella can win the election.

A two dollar umbrella.

Or a few of those ratty old scarves.

Or a twelve pack of water or a dozen granola bars or maybe even your guitar.

Oh… oh… that ratty lawn chair that you haven’t used in ten years.

Y’know… the one that acted as a “sofa” in your college apartment.

These odd objects could be the difference between just “victory” and a mandate… between fifty-nine seats and a filibuster-proof majority… between winning and, what do the kids call it these days?

Drinking their milkshake?

The Morning News

The Morning News is an Open Thread

132 Stories.

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 McCain says pundits being fooled, promises victory

By MIKE GLOVER, Associated Press Writer

23 mins ago

HERSHEY, Pa. – Republican John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin told a Pennsylvania audience Tuesday that “it’s wonderful to fool the pundits” and vowed to pull out an upset win over Democratic rival Barack Obama. “I’m not afraid of the fight, I’m ready for it,” said McCain, continuing his sharp assault on Obama at a noisy rally opening his campaign day. Palin defended the campaign’s harsh attacks on Obama.

“Our opponent is not being candid with you about his tax plans,” said Palin. “It is not mean-spirited, and it is not negative campaigning to call out someone on their record.”

Obama backers waving signs briefly interrupted the rally, a move Palin dismissed.

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning

Random Poem

Art Link



There must be a spark

to which tinder

can be judiciously applied

to get a smolder

(Or is the spark

applied to the tinder?)

With skill the smoldering tinder

gives rise to a flicker

and then a flame

to which the kindling is added

leading to creation

of a real fire

with the introduction

of the hard wood

How delicate is the the process

that it can so easily be derailed

I am a teacher

It is my job

to nurture the fire

There is rarely

a second chance

if this flame dies

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–December 6, 2005

Forget Guantánamo

Originally published by

Monthly Review and crossposted to The Crusty Polemicist

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.

-George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

In March 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in Pakistan. Much of the information on his movements and whereabouts is believed to have come from interrogations of his two children, aged six and eight. The children are known to have been held in an adult detention facility for at least four months while they were interrogated. During this time, according to one witness, “the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs, and were denied food and water by other guards. They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.” After that, they disappeared into the system and nothing more was heard about them. Their current whereabouts and condition are unknown. The United States has sunk to kidnapping, imprisoning, torturing, and then “disappearing” children in order to get at their parents. What were once dark and unlikely rumors have gradually proven to be true: many men, women, and yes, children have been abducted around the world and fed into the maw of the American system.

The extrajudicial prison complex at Guantánamo is nothing much to look at, really: a small collection of steel cages and isolation cells that hold roughly five hundred human beings. In many ways, it is a showpiece, a little Potemkin village, the public face of the system. When people speak of “Guantánamo,” they often refer not to the physical site, but rather to the system as a whole and what that system represents: decisions made, Rubicons crossed, illusions embraced.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre devoted enormous energy to analyzing the question of the individual’s remarkable ability to live “as if” certain demonstrably true things were actually nothing of the kind. He gives us the immortal example of the waiter who denies his human freedom-and thus, by implication, his human culpability-by shaping his behavior and demeanor so that he is seen, not as a free human being, but as “a waiter.” As such, he bears no responsibility for any of the consequences of any of his actions. He is, after all, merely “a waiter.” This phenomenon is given the label of mauvais foi-usually translated as “bad faith,” though some translators prefer the more descriptive term “self-deception.” One denies one’s total freedom by choosing to behave as if something was or was not true. We try to convince ourselves that we are compelled (by circumstances, our nature, an external threat) to behave as we do. We simply have no choice, you see. Moreover, thanks to our unswerving fidelity to our own individual bad faith, we are able to some extent to rewrite our histories as our situations evolve.*

*Jean-Paul Sartre, “Being and Nothingness (New York: Washington Square Press, 1993).

Sociologist Stanley Cohen’s work offers us a way to bootstrap Sartre’s insight from the realm of the personal into the realms of the social and political through his use of the deceptively simple concept of “denial,” the idea that, like individuals, entire societies “arrive at unwritten agreements about what can be publicly remembered and acknowledged.” An entire society can “pretend to believe information that they know is false or fake their allegiance to meaningless slogans and kitsch ceremonies.” Cohen’s concept of denial enables us to take hold of Sartre’s bad faith and use it as a powerful tool for analyzing how an entire society can suffer from self-induced amnesia about important aspects of its own history.†

† Stanley Cohen, States of Denial (Cambridge: Polity, 1971).

The United States made a moral choice after 9/11, and some day it will have to answer for the choice it made-not to the world, but rather to its own collective conscience and its own collective sense of what “America” means. Cohen explains how nations, like individuals, will manufacture alibis to deal with the reality of their actions, and it is inevitable that someday the United States will try, through various means, to convince itself that it never committed the outrages it has plainly committed since 9/11. Other nations have also struggled to forget their crimes and rewrite their own histories. Turkey with its Armenian genocide, France with its widespread collaboration with the Nazis, Japan with its many horrific acts during the Second World War, Israel with its displacement and slow-motion genocide of the Palestinians-all have manufactured and deployed their own national alibis. Germany, in stepping up to its criminal responsibility, is the rare exception, and one suspects that a large part of the reason for Germany’s openness is that the evidence of its crimes was too widespread and obvious to deny or rewrite.

Modern cognitive theories are deeply Socratic, and as such are deeply flawed. They take as their central premise the idea that if you distort the external world it is because your faculties of information processing and decision making are faulty. In other words, distortion of reality is the result of some more or less mechanical defect or mistake, never the result of a conscious, fundamental decision. As it happens, we know from history that countries choose to deny their own histories all the time, and it is obvious that the United States is in the early stages of manufacturing its own set of national alibis. What does it take for an entire country to lie to itself? And what shape will this bad faith take in the United States? As citizens of a democracy, the U.S. people will submit to the self-deception because of a willing identification with the country’s manufactured history, not because of any fear of “arbitrary imprisonment, commissars or secret police.” The complicit U.S. citizen is no Winston Smith, driven to that level of madness where 1+1=5. We must never forget that, for the last several years, the American people have willingly identified with the Guantánamo project, and with all the implications and consequences of that project. As willing participants, the citizens of the United States can be expected to defend their decision with exceptional ferocity.

Nations, like individuals, “negotiate their realities,” and Washington has already begun the process of utilizing all the usual techniques of bad faith as it wallows deeper and deeper in its manufactured “post-9/11 world.” These techniques for enabling self-deception on a national scale are well known, and would seem almost childishly simple were it not for the fact that they have proven so effective so often.

The first technique of denial is also the most obvious: simple, unadulterated denial. The horrible things that those bad people are alleging are simply not true. They never happened, nor would America ever allow them to happen. The United States does not operate secret CIA-run “black sites” in Eastern Europe. None of the reports of significant civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan are true. Everything is normal, nothing to see here. A variation on this theme is what one might call “denial of injury.” Yes, perhaps some of those so-called “bad” things are happening, but no one is being hurt. The United States of America “does not torture” and the detainees scattered among the system’s secret places are merely being subjected to “vigorous interrogation.” Indeed, the Guantánamo detainees live under conditions much more pleasant than those of the average inmate in a stateside prison. This denial of injury thus demands a radical renaming, a systematic refusal to call things by their real names. After all, real names bring with them real consequences, and can bring with them a real obligation to act.

A technique that has found particularly fertile ground in the United States is to deny the reality of the victim as victim. After all, “they started it on 9/11,” and their actions prove that they are incorrigible evildoers, undeserving of any civilized treatment. This technique requires the total dehumanization of the “evildoers,” the better to enable the jailers and torturers to commit their outrages. Even the most degraded and brutish torturers need this salve for their consciences, because they realize that if this squealing piece of meat they are defiling is actually human, then they themselves must be monsters for doing what they do. But since these evil monsters-who, one must constantly remind oneself, “started it on 9/11”-are obviously something less than human, anything is permitted. The inevitable result of this refusal to acknowledge the reality of the victim as victim was Abu Ghraib, where the naked detainees were not victims, but simply masses of unfeeling meat that could be shaped and posed to satisfy the porn-addled imaginations of their tormenters.

Right-wing elements in the U.S. media and political system have perfected the technique of “accusing the accuser.” The person, organization, or nation that questions any action is either gullible or biased. The accusers are either brainless dupes, or else they are active, malevolent terrorist sympathizers. They cannot be anything else, because to entertain such a possibility would force a confrontation with the idea that the accusers’ claims might actually have some legitimate merit. When John Ashcroft appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2001, he brushed aside any concerns about the erosion of constitutional safeguards, proclaiming that critics who raised such concerns were “aiding the terrorists” and “giving ammunition to America’s enemies.” These critics were, in other words, traitors.

The technique of “denial of responsibility,” so popular in more hierarchical societies, has not really achieved a lot of traction in the ruggedly individualistic mythos of America. While the government has made some pro forma declarations in this area-certain actions were the result of a few “bad apples” or were required by harsh necessity-the simple fact is that the American psyche wants to be proud of doing these things. Rather than denying responsibility, Americans instinctively seek to apply the technique of “justification,” proclaiming that, whatever is being done, there is nothing to fear because it is being done within the law, protected by the Constitution, and most importantly of all, “morally justified.”

When all else fails, a nation can always fall back on one of the most reliable methods of denial: the “appeal to higher loyalties.” Cohen formulates the principle behind this technique succinctly: “your nation is exalted, extraordinary, and possessed of a higher wisdom and morality that permits-even demands-any means towards the higher good.” The  fact that the United States perceives itself as the exceptional nation lends itself to an enthusiastic acceptance of this technique of denial. One need only remember its long-running love affair with “Manifest Destiny” to realize how much it will deny about its own behavior when pursuing its unique world-historical mission. But when the alarm is sounded-“The Homeland in Danger!”-the United States embraces the idea of a higher loyalty with a fervor that is blatantly religious. One tries to pretend that people like Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales-who placed loyalty to their mission and their leader above their duty to the Constitution-are exceptions, aberrations, “bad apples.” In fact, millions of otherwise ordinary Americans have proven more than willing to put aside everything that makes them Americans in the name of these new, post-9/11 “higher loyalties.”

After all this hard work-and make no mistake, self-deception on a national scale is very hard work indeed-what is it in aid of? What is to be accomplished? Nothing less than the normalization of criminality. Horrors and atrocities are to be ignored, or made to seem normal-even beneficial. Normalization is achieved when the citizens demonstrate their embrace of the national alibis in a number of ways.

Accommodation, committing the many small daily compromises and betrayals that allow one to accept the situation as “the new normal.”

Routinization, rendering the horrors mundane and banal, thus draining them of their emotional content.

Tolerance, understood in the same sense of the word that is used to describe an addict’s capacity for more and more of the drug without experiencing any noticeable effect.

Collusion, the active participation by more and more of the population in the criminal activities.

Cover-up, the active participation by more and more of the population in hiding the evidence and consequences of the criminal activities.

The rhetoric of normalization is institutionalized and made public, both formally (through press briefings) and informally, through the constant background hum of precisely shaped news as well as the more strident rants emanating from hate radio. With these tools for propagandizing and educating, it is almost too easy to convince an entire society to be complicit in crimes and atrocities.

The neighbor who looks the other way when an immigrant is harassed is culpable in the normalization of criminality. The lawyer who buries evidence because it would cause too much extra work and generate too much controversy is culpable in the normalization of criminality. The journalist who avoids writing certain stories, and the editor who avoids running such stories, are culpable in the normalization of criminality. And to the extent that they know but persuade themselves that they do not know, the people of the United States as a whole are culpable in the normalization of criminality.

Denial, dehumanization, normalization: given these three, I could turn your maiden Aunt Estelle into an enthusiastic torturer and she would have no problem sleeping like a baby at night.

Sartre tells us that we can never escape total responsibility for our actions. Any alibi we manufacture is itself a choice that we make and thus endorse, and for which we must accept full responsibility. If we allow the present American reality to be denied, then we will surely allow it to be forgotten. The United States will-it must-try to forget Guantánamo, because to face up to everything that Guantánamo means would reveal to all Americans what they have become. Guantánamo is rapidly becoming not the repudiation but the product of the American soul, in the same way that the Holocaust was the product of the German soul and the tormenting of the Palestinians is the product of the souls of those who survived the Holocaust. To pretend otherwise is to make oneself complicit in their bad faith.

Those of us who still possess a rational conscience-and our numbers are dwindling, make no mistake-must bear witness so that the United States will never be able to look back on its past (our present) and pretend it was something other than what it was. We U.S. public intellectuals-if such a phrase can even be used unironically any more-must step up to our one remaining unambiguous duty: to testify plainly. We cannot allow the United States of America to deny Guantánamo, because to deny Guantánamo is to forget Guantánamo and then eventually to write Guantánamo out of U.S. history. As Cohen warns us, “the passivity of those who watch, know and close their eyes becomes a form of complicity.”

In Which Al Franken Steals My Act, Yo

Two posts in 48 hours? Hey, when a comic-turned-Senate-candidate throws down, hell yes. Watch our favorite carpet-bagging SNL alum and Minnesota U.S. Senate hopeful Al Franken do his thing that is my thing-drawing maps freehand. Oh, it’s on:

Nice job, Al. I mean that sincerely. But as long as I’m around, you’ll always be second best. Why? This is why:

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