Monday, October 17, 2011

No wonder Rush Limbaugh loved Palin

Many better writers than me have already covered the monstrosity of Rush Limbaugh reflexively supporting the Lord's Resistance Army because they are "Christians" and Obama is against them, but looking past that, what's actually slightly surprising about this is how literally ignorant Limbaugh actually is about the world.  He'd really never heard of the LRA:
Is that right? The Lord's Resistance Army is being accused of really bad stuff? Child kidnapping, torture, murder, that kind of stuff? Well, we just found out about this today. We're gonna do, of course, our due diligence research on it. But nevertheless we got a hundred troops being sent over there to fight these guys -- and they claim to be Christians. 
I think we usually assume that people like Limbaugh are worldly, knowledgable and extremely cynical, so, say, when Limbaugh is trying to rationalize Sarah Palin's serial of geopolitical ignorances, we figure he's well informed, but simply doesn't care.  This is too much credit.

Not knowing who the LRA are is not quite on the level of many of Palin's exposed ignorances, but for a middle aged man who does politics for a living, it's a remarkable testament to the self-imposed insularity of conservatives that he's really never heard of them.  I don't doubt if you did a poll, far less than a majority of the general public would have heard of them, but those people don't have internationally syndicated radio shows.  The LRA are not obscure, they've been at this for decades and as someone who doesn't pay particular attention to Africa or Uganda, I have heard of them multiple times over my years (and I'm much younger than Limbaugh).  Probably because they are just so extraordinarily awful, they get media coverage.  See this Google News query from 1 Jan 2008 to 30 Sept 2011 (before Obama's troop deployment).  The LRA are at the level of that old cliché that if you wrote a fictional book about a group like them, no one would believe it.

I'd like to see Katie Couric ask Rush what newspapers he reads or what the Bush doctrine was.  I'm beginning to doubt he would do much better under the glare than Palin did.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Conservatives to downtrodden: Let them eat jobs

I remember learning about the French Revolution in high school, and my history teacher scoffed at the idea that Marie Antoinette had really ever said "let them eat cake" ("Qu'ils mangent de la brioche") upon being informed that the peasants had no bread.  Wikipedia's writers on this subject evidently agree, and it seems unlikely that Antoinette herself actually uttered the words.  Some think it was invented by revolutionary radicals of the day as a propaganda tool against the monarchy.  After all, it is a pretty outrageous thing to say.  Either the speaker is hopelessly deluded about how the poor live, or is simply malicious in their scorn for the suffering of others.  Could anyone have really said it?

Having observed the collective conservative/top 1% response to the Occupy movement, and to the economically downtrodden in general over these past few years, I have to say I am quite certain that someone in the French nobility said it, or something very like it.  Things just as bad are said routinely today.  One can start with the dreary "get a job, hippies!" jabs at any and all protests, to this vile litany, and this, and of course, let's throw in Rick Santelli's Tea Party inspiring rant:
Why don't you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages; or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?
Really, being shocked that some rich twit in the 1700s might have actually thought that the poor could just switch to cake when bread was unavailable, or was so unconcerned with their hunger as to derisively mock it is just a luxury of the post WWII societal consensus that has now broken down.  It was nice to think that we all basically want a society where everyone has enough to survive, but just differ on how to bring that about, but it just isn't so.  Many people don't believe this is possible, or actually don't want it to happen even if it could.

Versailles never really shut down.  It lives on in the hearts of many of the privileged.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Conservative Distaste For Democracy

I'm watching the twitter feed for the #occupyToronto protest and one of the people in the thick of it (perhaps even an organizer, I don't know) says, to my complete unsurprise:
Dan Speerin
Thanks to all those on twitter who have suggested we here at should get jobs...I'll bring it up at general assembly
This is a timeless conservative response to protests. At least, protests they view as left wing.  Like most if not all conservative "humour" it relies on mocking the weak for being weak, as bullying is about the only thing conservatives are able to generate humour from.  It's also deeply and disturbingly undemocratic.

The basic notion underlying the sentiment is that those without jobs aren't entitled to complain about anything in society.  Let's leave aside the rank stupidity of hurling "get a job" at people who are in large part protesting because of the rotten economic conditions (and yes, conditions are rotten in Canada, less rotten than the US, but still quite bad) that leave many of them unemployed or underemployed, it really is an open admission that you think society should only be run by those with money. They used to be a lot more open about this:
Those who own the country ought to govern it. - John Jay (a US Founding Father)

I don't think conservatives get called out for their distaste of democracy often enough, but if you read between the lines of many of the things they say, it's right there. It's important to understand why they're often not even interested in engaging with the substance of protester complaints, as they don't accept their fundmental right to complain.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

CBC: It's time to fire Kevin O'Leary

Tonight on CBC News Network's Lang and O'Leary Exchange, conservative host Kevin O'Leary needlessly insulted the American award winning journalist and social activist Chris Hedges who had been invited to the show to offer analysis on the Occupy Wall Street protests.  The exchange (about 5 minutes) can be watched here.

Here's my transcript, starting after a brief exchange where O'Leary was merely generally snide and rude, but not specifically offensive to Hedges, the guest host (Amanda Lang was off) asks Hedges what the protestors want:
Host:  What is the sense you have of what this movmement would like to see happen?
Hedges:  They know precisely what they want, they want to reverse the corporate coup that's taken place in the United States and rendered the citizenry impotent, and they won't stop until that happens.  Frankly if we don't break the back of corporations we're all finished anyways since they're rapidly trashing the ecosystem on which the human species depends for life.  This is literally a fight for life, it's that grave it's that serious.  Corporations, unfettered capitalism as Karl Marx understood, is a revolutionary force.  It commodifies everything; human beings, the natural world, which it exploits for profit until exhaustion or collapse.  The bottom line is that we don't have much time left.  We're on the cusp of perhaps another major banking crisis in Europe, defaults in Greece, followed by Spain, Portugal.  There's been no restrictions, no regulations of Wall Street, they've looted the US treasury, they've played all the games that they were playing before and we're all about to pay for it all over again.
O'Leary:  Listen, don't take this the wrong way, but you sound like a left wing nutbar.  if you want to shut down every corporation and every bank, where are you going to get a job?  Where's the economy going to go?
It really must have been Hedges mentioning Marx that set him off and like Pavlov's dog, O'Leary just can't help but go for crude insults (and what is the "right" way to take a comment like that?).  Hedges manages to keep his cool in the small exchange the follows (which I didn't transcribe) until the guest host interjects to refer back to O'Leary's offensive comment, and starting with Hedges, they get back into it:

CH:  I don't usually go on shows where people descend to character assassination, if you want to discuss issues, that's fine, but this sounds like Fox News, and I don't go on Fox News.  I mean, either you discuss the issues, and look, you have had eloquent writers, people like John Ralston Saul in Canada, who have laid this out with incredible lucidity, and to somehow attack this critique by calling someone a nutcase, engages in the kind of trash talk that has polluted the corporate airwaves.

KO:  Excuse me, let's debate the issues then.

CH:  Well you were the one who started it.

KO:  I didn't call you a nutcase, I called you a nutbar.

CH:  You said [I] sounded like a "left wing nutcase."

KO:  Yes--"bar."

CH:  Well, that's an insult.

KO:  (interrupts) Hey, are you left wing leaning at least?  Would you say?

CH:  No, I would say...

KO:  (interrupts) You're a centrist?

CH:  Can I finish?

KO:  Please.

CH:  I would say that those who are protesting the rise of the corporate state are the true conservatives because they're calling for the restoration of the rule of law.  The radicals have seized power and they have trashed all regulations and legal impediments to a reconfiguration of American society into a form of neofeudalism.
What exactly is the importance of the difference between calling someone a "nutcase" and a "nutbar"?  Notice too how he again tries to derail the discussion into a comfortable venue where he can just write off Hedges as a "left wing extremist" and thus ignore his commentary.  I don't necessarily like talk of "true conservatives" but it is a nice way of turning O'Leary's attack on him by pointing out the very reasonable and non-radical goals of the protests, in terms comfortable to conservatives, the rule of law.

But here's how the interview ends:
Host: (upbeat) Well thanks so much for joining us...

CH:  Well, it will be the last time. (removes earpiece with expression of disgust)
This interview was disgusting and a travesty of CBC programming.  I'm barely able to tolerate O'Leary's Gordon Gekko meets Jim Cramer meets Rick Santelli routine on the best of days, but when he succeeds in getting an imporant and insightful commentator like Chris Hedges to swear off appearing on the CBC (and most likely depriving Canadians of his voice) I really have to draw a line.  CBC, fire this asshole.  I'm sick of this him polluting the airwaves and it's time for him to be shown the door.  He's not entertaining, insightful and the only value the show ever has are the moments where the normal co-host, journalist Amanda Lang amusingly bats down his radical right wing nonsense, are definitely not worth the price of having this guy. 

There's no excuse for treating an invited guest to the show like that, particularly one who has no particular reason to come on Canadian TV and has no particular agenda in Canada.  There was no reason for an openly hostile line of questioning and badgering, trying to make the issue about Hedges rather than the behaviour of the Wall Street elites.  I think the CBC's attempt to placate Canadian conservative complaints about the network's supposed liberal bias by having a guy like O'Leary "balanced" by a mostly straight journalist in Lang is pointless and counterproductive (it pisses off people who like the network while doing nothing to persuade critics who will call for its defunding no matter what) but fine, if you insist on having a conservative, find a better one who at least doesn't drive off useful and interesting guests from coming back.

A more worthwhile right wing host might have asked Hedges a useful line of skeptical questioning about the statement quoted above, what does Hedges mean by "breaking the backs" of corporations?  O'Leary jumps to the conclusion that it means "shutting them down" but it isn't clear what Hedges meant exactly, what did Hedges mean by "unfettered capitalism" and did that mean he thinks some form of "fettered" capitalism would be viable?  I think I know the answers to these questions since I'm fairly familiar with Hedges' work, but CBC's audience was denied any useful clarification by O'Leary's boorish attempt to caricaturize Hedges rather than explore his position.

It should be said too that the guest host was useless, where I think normally Lang might have intervened to some extent, but still the primary fault is O'Leary's.

There's also the serious issue that O'Leary runs an investment fund company while holding a major media platform with which to talk up and down stocks that his funds may hold or want to buy.  It's a huge conflict of interest and I have never once seen O'Leary swear off buying or selling any of the companies discussed on the air.  At least let's get an analyst who isn't also an active player in the game.

CBC, it's time to end Kevin O'Leary's run.  In his own harsh view of the business world, an employee is either an asset or a liability, and O'Leary is not an asset.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

I'll start by saying I'm supportive of what is happening in New York.  I am particularly unconcerned with the lack of a concrete set of demands by the protestors as some sort of mark of a "legitimate" protest.  It might be nice if they had a unified goal or set of goals, but it doesn't preclude them being an effective force for change that they don't have this (yet, at least).  It's enough for me to see some brave souls coming together to at least say the status quo isn't working.  I'm very glad to see them protesting at the real seat of power in the world, the financial districts rather than political centres.

It also strikes me that the elite obsession with understanding the demands of the protesters (like this AP piece in the WaPo) actually somewhat reminds me of the media and Republican demands that the Democrats present their own plan to dismantle Social Security back when Bush was pushing his end of SS plan in 2005.  Forcing the protestors to coalesce around a set of demands could easily divide and destroy them.

It also strikes me that in no real way did the Tea Party have any such concrete set of demands, and they still don't, and no "smaller government" is not a meaningful or specific demand.  I suppose opposition to death panels was specific enough, except there never were any death panels so it was a demand that something be ended that never existed.  Still, it's not surprising that the DFH's get a different set of standards for their protest movement than did right wingers, but it's still worth exploring how these differences manifest.

Lastly I think the media demands for a list of demands is reflective of the elite discomfort at seeing this movement form in front of them, where their models and PR says they shouldn't.   It was one thing to see these sorts of movements start in Egypt or Syria, but this one is in the United States.  They simply don't understand it, and that makes them more afraid of a few thousand hippies than they were of the millions who marched in direct opposition to the Iraq War in 2003 (which of course had a specific demand, that was easily ignored).  In that sense, it might even be a mistake for the protestors to articulate a specific list of demands.

P.S.  I really really love this:
There are twice-daily meetings called general assemblies, where anyone can make a brief announcement. The assemblies draw everyone together in a tight huddle. To avoid violating a ban on bullhorns, the crowd obediently repeats in unison every phrase uttered by the main speaker, to ensure everyone hears.
I actually heard them doing this on the live feed, and didn't understand what it was about until I read that.  "This is what democracy looks like" indeed.