Monday, August 23, 2010

Elections for Sale

Last week we heard that Fox was giving $1,000,000 to Republicans to help win the midterm elections. Now the magnanimous folks at the Chamber of Commerce have committed to spending $75 million to support candidates who are ""supportive of the free enterprise system" (  Most of those candidates are, unsurprisingly, conservative Republicans. Since Obama's election, the group has spent $190 million on pro-business lobbying and elections, including helping to elect Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts:

The group is claiming itself as a veritable "third party" in American politics today, now that spending caps have been lifted. One could argue instead that they are "the party" in American politics today, spending so much money directly or through its powerful members that they essentially own much of DC. Less than seven years after McCain and Feingold tried to limit the power of corporate money in politics, we are going to the other extreme. And whose cause are they supporting? The very actors who have been instrumental in the financial crisis and growing gap between rich and poor.  Democracy cannot function when the powerful can buy elections, spending so much money they shout out the voices of everyone else. This is particularly true when the media is bought by those same interests, supporting their causes most of the time. Democracy is supposed to be participatory, with everyone having a voice. But where are the voices today? The only group garnering any real interest from the media at present is, ironically, the Tea Party, a supposedly populist movement that just supports the very tired conventional wisdom that created the current mess. Where can a real opposition come from? It's hard to say when the majority party seems unable or unwilling to offer a real challenge to the corporate/conservative juggernaut. The people have to reclaim the government, just as we did at the birth of the nation.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What Good for the Goose . . .

Republican logic generally has little to do with fact or rationality. In the latest example, they are now arguing Saudi Arabia would never allow a Church to be built in Mecca: And what's good for one of the most repressive societies in the world is obviously good enough for America. The stupidity of the argument would be appalling, if it hasn't been at the heart of our actions post 911 -- including unconstitutional (and anti Geneva Convention) torturing, the Guantanamo Bay fiasco and detention centers in the country, the illegal war in Iraq and a whole host of other morally contemptible actions supposedly justified by the "war on terror." This latest campaign, to stop a mosque from being built too close to the World Trade Center site, continues this faulty and dangerous logic. Will we soon have a second constitution specifically for Muslims? Or why not make them wear stars on their sleeves? This is not to say that the extreme elements of Islam are not still a profound danger to the world -- just that showing conciliatory side on something as innocuous as this could create goodwill and assist those who are fighting to suppress and defeat that more radical element from within. Of course, that's merely the mad ramblings of a radical lunatic who doesn't realize we are in a clash of civilization that will define our collective future.

P.S. On a related note, the idea of the big lie appears to continue to dominate certain ranks of the GOP post-Bush. Why do 1 in 5 people believe Obama is a Muslim? Well, maybe it's all those Republicans saying so (before correcting themselves, after they get the quote in the press):

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Where Are You? . . . Just Check Facebook

Facebook has just launched Places a new application that allows you to check in at various places across the city:, letting anyone with access to your page know where you are. While the idea might appeal to some -- friends can quickly find you or know if you are close by and that random guy or girl you've been flirting with might just show up unannounced, one wonders if it really does anything but keep you under surveillance by parents, jealous mates, exes and anyone else who wants to spy on you (in addition to the criminals that could also take advantage of the information). Not only does it tell people where you are, but can also tell them who you're with. Isn't it easy to just text or call someone you are going to meet up with? Are the chances of a chance encounter really worth meeting back up with that stalker who hacks your page or you forgot to defriend? What do we really gain from announcing to the world everywhere we go? And how many relationships will end under the paranoid delusions of a jealous partner? In the latest attempt to completely undermine privacy, the site might actually succeed. The odd thing is how many people will openly embrace this intrusion -- I already know one friend on Facebook who must have been part of the beta version -- increasingly living their lives out loud for all to witness; in real time! It is odd for those of us that still value our privacy, but the inversion of the public and private spheres Zygmunt Bauman argued for in the End of Politics only appears to expand endlessly outward. And unlike 1984, people are openly choosing to be monitored now.

P.S. For those who want to disable this feature, the following article provides all the infomration you need to restore a modicum of privacy:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mosque Melee

The ongoing controversy of a Mosque being built by the site of the World Trade Center seems to highlight a fundamental disconnect between conservative and liberal notions of freedom. To conservatives, who tout freedom as if it was their theme alone, freedom is just another word for following their worldview blindly. They believe freedom exists for corporations, white Christians, those who have blind allegiance to the flag and media outlets that support their ideas. When it comes to gays, those who critique America, immigrants, liberal professors, Muslims and anyone who disagrees with conservative orthodoxy, freedom must be limited. This includes those who, in what some might consider a conciliatory move, want to build a mosque not at the World Trade Center site, but a few blocks away (and by the way, there already is a mosque close by). What is the real issue? Respect for the victims of 911? Or is this yet another example of realpolitik? I'm leaning toward the latter. Religious freedom is at the heart of the constitution they love, unless it disagrees with their desire to end that pesky separation of church and state, allow equality to all (the 14th amendment), give due process to all citizens or a host of other issues that contradict their worldview. What is interesting is that the framing of the issue again appears to be working. Ignorance may very well be bliss, but not to those of us that believe the constitution serves to offer all Americans access to real, positive freedom.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Be Stupid

You may have seen the 2010 Diesel advertising campaign somewhere around town, on a billboard, in a store and or in some other instantiation. It all revolves around "Being Stupid." Among its many mantras include "Smart Critiques. Stupid Creates," "Smart May Have the Answers, But Stupid Has All the Interesting Questions," "Smart Has the Plans, Stupid Has the Stories," "Smart Listens to the Head. Stupid Listens to the Heart," "Smart Says No. Stupid Says Yes," "Stupid is Trial and Error. Mostly Error," "Smart Had One Good Idea and That Idea Was Stupid," "If We Didn't Have Stupid Thoughts We'd Have No Thoughts at All," "Only the Truly Stupid Can Be Truly Brilliant" and "Smart May Have the Brains But Stupid Has the Balls." Usually it is a series of billboards that end with the "We're With Stupid." (

While the ad has a certain resonance, attempting to argue for the freedom of the human spirit, creativity and a certain joi d'vivre, it also captures one of the deepest problems in America today. Essentially, do we really need advertisers to implore Americans to be stupid? Aren't we succeeding on that score without the necessity of reinforcement? A troubling trend that has developed is a firmly entrenched belief that actually thinking, critiquing, being creative outside the largely delimited scope of consumer culture and thinking outside the business language of "thinking outside the box" may actually lead to something truly radica or innovative. Wrapped around a relatively cynical veneer is the continued triumph of the conservative idea that certain knowledge is dangerous, that elites are those that are actually educated and question conventional wisdom and that accepting things as they are is a more pragmatic and realistic approach to life. This is fortified by a ahistoricity that demands short term and long term amnesia. They thus accept American exceptionalist ideology, fully believe that corporations and the market are somehow de facto superior to the government (even in the midst of the financial crisis), that the poor and minorities are to blame for their own situation (even if they work 60 hours a week) and that teachers somehow define all that is wrong with education. A deeper problem appears to revolve around a certain laziness of thinking across the political spectrum. I find many liberals as bad as conservatives at accepting party or ideological orthodoxy without any real thought or critique. The immanent critique of critical theory or perpetual deconstruction of Derrida seems like the only way to get out of the current intellectual malaise, but one wonders whether people have the will or training to actually inspect their own ideas with any rigor. In fact, schools seem to be teaching students the opposite most of the time these days (under the auspices of passing tests and keeping knowledge "neutra").

A new poll reinforces our adherence to stupidity, or maybe just not thinking at all. Apparently one in five Americans now believe that Obama is a muslim: Um, he isn't! And this follows a series of misperceptions of the public in recent years, from a belief that Saddam Hussein planned 911, to the idea that it was Iraqis on the planes, that there were weapons of mass destruction there, that we later actually found them and that our mission in Iraq was to spread democracy once the other reasons proved false.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

We Don't Want No Subway Restaurant

Springdale Utah is fighting an interesting battle at the moment -- trying to keep chain resaturants out of their quaint little town of 500, located near the foothills of Zion National Park. And the chain restaurants that are itching to disrupt the local charm of the town are hopping mad about it: In yet another test of how much power corporations wield, the fundamental question is whether their interests trump those who would gain, or suffer, at their expense. Does a town really need to allow businesses to open within its borders? Los Angeles, as an example, has kept Wal*Mart out for many years, arguing they would cause too much harm to local businesses. Other towns across the country have also controlled access to their populations, for economic, moral or aesthetic reasons. And shouldn't they have that freedom? Religious groups have kept out porn and stripper clubs, conservatives are trying to block a Mosque from being too close to the World Trade Center (even though one already exists within four blocks) and the list goes on endlessly. We have given first amendment rights to corporations and more recently allowed them to spend as much on elections as they like (Fox just gave Republicans a $1,000,000, maybe finally putting to rest the silly "fair and balanced" moniker they have been touting for years -- though I'm sure the "no spin" zone will continue to keep the oxymoron-rich station happily sequestered from reality). The fundamental question we never seem to ask is whether corporations should really have so much power over our lives. Sure there are towns like this, academics and "special interests" that seek to limit corporate power, but a national debate on whether they should have free reign over our lives is largely missing. And yet corporate excess is at the heart of so many of our problems today, from global warming and income distribution problems to the current financial crisis and real concerns about privacy, safety and our control over our own bodies and future (as they buy up the very essence of our being -- the genome). This debate is necessary, but one wonders where it will come from in a country where politicians are essentially corporate sponsors, selling their votes to the highest bidder. Et tu, Subway?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jetblue Blues

Steven Slater appears to be the latest media spectacle to become a household name, after he told off a cabin full of JetBlue customers, grabbed a beer and slid out the emergency exit. While many across America are lauding him as a working class hero -- a redux of the 80s mantra "take this job and shove it" -- I wonder if some of these may realize they themselves are the reason he took a leap off the plane's ledge toward momentary freedom (he was arrested when he got home and could face up to seven years in jail). Hating our jobs used to be an American pasttime, though it appears many were pretending to like theirs while secretly reading Dilbert or watching Office Space with great relish until the latest financial crisis. Now we appear back to open contempt and can celebrate Slater as not a buffoon, but a hero. Yet to return to my point, one reason he did this is because too many passengers are unbearable. They don't listen to exhortations to turn off their cellphones and pagers, get out of their seats early, try to ignore any and every rule on getting water, going to the bathroom and even giving the person sitting next to them a tiny little sliver of the arm rest. One reason jobs may suck in America is because of the way we treat those we are in contact with. But that's just crazy talk. Everyone else is a jerk and I am perfectly well-mannered. Sing Slater's praise and then headbutt a stewardess for fun next time you fly!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Lame Duck Congress?

So Republicans are now passing out oaths to Congressmen asking them to pledge not to engage in any lame duck Congress activity. Ironically, one of those leading the charge is presumptive presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who12 years ago led a lame duck Republican House to impeach Clinton, even as they seemed to lose a number of seats because of the investigation: Rumor has it Dems are poised to use the lame duck to pass unpopular legislation like cap and trade, card check and tax increases. Are Republicans right? I have always been troubled by the lame duck sessions myself. The will of the people is enacted primarily through the vote and the fact that legislators and presidents often use those last few months to pass unpopular bills seems to undermind that will. I wish Democrats had the will to pass some of this legislation before the election (except cap and trade, which seems to be a bad idea in its current form -- another windfall for banks), but afterwards it simply seems cowardly at some level. On the other hand, without the ability to steer public discourse in a positive way, one wonders if it would cost them even more seats in the interim election cycle? What continues to confound me is how effective conservatives have been at arguing for essentially returning to the path that got us into this mess, even as unemployment lingers at 10%, the mortgage crisis continues and the economy seems nowhere near a real recovery that positively affects most citizens. Myopia, cynicism and fear seem to define the heart of the problem and why Obama has essentially abandoned the message that won him the election (particularly hope and change) is probably the most upsetting aspect of where we stand today.

On a related note, Target has gotten in trouble in Minnesota for spending large amounts of money to support a far-right candidate that culminated in their stock dropping $1.3 billion in value. But the tone-deaf CEO is listening to Wall Street and ready to keep the engine of corporate greed pushing forward undaunted. At least American companies are thinking in the long term. Unfortunately the long term seems to be about their interests alone, leaving the rest of us out in the cold -- particularly those who allowed Bush to stack the court with conservatives in constitutionalist sheeps clothing offering more and more rights to corporations while taking them away from the average citizen (as with the backtracking on Miranda, among other things). The conservative juggernaut can be relied on for one thing -- hypocritical consistency of message.