Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Immigration/Border Spectacle Continues

Pseudo Events produce events, perceptions, beliefs. Now in the fine tradition of American Self-Help, Faith-based initiatives, and vigilantism, we have the Arizona Minutemen.
click here.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Anti-Populism of the Coen Brothers

"O Brother Where Art Thou?" Blackface Minstrelsy equivalent of Southern peasants. C'est ça. C'est tout. C'est de l'humeur "slapstick" aux dépens d'une population pauvre du Sud. C'est complètement de la nature du "blackface minstrelsy" dans laquelle les minstruels blancs ont parodiés une population noire pour rigoler et pour maintenir leur domination. C'etait une imaginaire tout à fait stéreotypique des noirs aux E-U par des blancs qui les ont représenté comme dans leurs fantasmes, avec plein d'effets sociaux. Donc, O'Brother est un film consommé par des amèricains et des Européens cultivés pour des rires au sujet d'une population qu'ils connaissent pas. J'aime bien certains films des frères Coens (Barton Fink, par exemple, ou le Hudsucker proxy) mais ils sont dans le fond anti-populaire, la plupart de ces films. Ils exploitent la figure ancienne du "agroikos" pour montrer une vision du monde dans laquelle des fois il arrive une personne d'origine populaire qui est doué, mais quant à la plupart de cette population, il faut se méfier d'elles. Le rire a des origines idéologiques une fois qu'elles sont dévoilées qui deviennent dérangentes. Les personnages de George Clooney et de John Goodman sont plus rusés que le reste, comme Ulysse, bien sûr. Quand même, leurs performances sont magnifiques comme acteurs. Donc les frères Coens construisent bien des histoires, mais leurs personnages revèlent une vision des artistes qui n'est pas très basé sur le terrain social mais dans un univers du bon et du mal (en effet, y a des fois qqch. de surnaturelle qui intervient ainsi a la fin du O Brother, sur le point de pendre. Et la plupart du temps le mal se situe dans une classe particuliere. En tout cas, je continue a adorer surtout The Big Lebowski. Ces films sont très amusants, même si on ignore souvent la question du public.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

W's Grandfather's Nazi Connection

This story circulated on the internet mostly as a rumor in the past. I did find it printed in national newspapers in 2001, but strangely, after 9/11 those stories disappeared from the Lexis-Nexis database of newspaper stories. Now, it appears, newly discovered Federal documents show that grandpa Prescott Bush continued to make big money off Nazi business investments, some of which he did not divest himself from until 1951. Read more here and here.

Canadian Rumor Bomb


Framing is what is selected as newsworthy and how it is emphasized in news reports. Take a look at how the Canadian paperThe National Post happily picked up the rumor that Iran was implementing religion-based dress codes, where Jews would be forced to wear yellow badges. Some bloggers immediately saw this for the neo-con propaganda that it was. But other papers also took up the story, even if they cited the Post as the source of the story (without, of course, calling it a rumor), and proceeded to quote partisan voices who said it wouldn't surprise them if it were true.
“Unfortunately we’ve seen enough already from the Iranian regime to suggest that it is very capable of this kind of action,” said Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister. The selected quotation continued: “It boggles the mind that any regime on the face of the earth would want to do anything that would remind people of Nazi Germany.”
What kind of sources and what kind of quotes did they select to shape this story/narrative and with what likely emotional effects for many readers? Well, they did provide space to the spokesperson from the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, who claimed this was a smear campaign against Iran. But hey, this is an Iranian's word against a prime minister's and other influential Canadian and American voices. Take this rabbi they chose to quote:
"Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, acknowledged that he did not have independent confirmation of the requirement for Jews to wear badges, but said he still believes it was passed."
Is this an explosive rumor bomb? If the text wasn't explosive enough, hey, why not give it some visual symbolic power. The same story by The Post in which they were supposedly qualifying the rumor but choosing to use all these sources that said they thought Iran was doing it anyway, would soon, or have practically been doing it all along--attached the photo above (left) with the anchor: "A yellow badge worn by Jews in Nazi Germany during the 1940s.(MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images)."
Like the Weapons of Mass Destruction rumor, scaremongering about bombs is accompanied by emotionally charged claims about human rights, this one referring to the most notorious violation thereof in the 20th century and beyond. Political strategy, speed and contagious claims play into the news market desire to spectacularize for profit's sake. Baudrillard and Debord were never so pertinent (even if their totalizations were erroneous, many of their observations, analyses, and forecasts were dead on).

Tom Delay, Colbert, Greenwald

(Yes, I'm on a two-day posting roll)
So Republican Rep. Tom Delay has been indicted in Texas for campaign fund-raising violations. But who would've guessed that he's using the Colbert Report as support for his legal-defense fundraising campaign? In this clip, Colbert interviews Robert Greenwald about his film"The Big Buy: How Tom DeLay Stole Congress,"which may be used as evidence in court against Delay. But Greenwald doesn't hold up well against Colbert's parodic, domineering, O'Reilly-like questioning. What does Delay and co. do but appropriate the clip for their cause! See also the NY Times article on Greenwald and his film, where the Times refers to Greenwald as "the Hollywood producer and liberal provocateur Robert Greenwald." They can't just address the claims of the films or even report that someone called Greenwald a "liberal provocateur." What superior entertainment to just reduce opposing voices to liberal and conservative provocateurs.

Bush admonishes the name-callers

Right, Mr. "With us or Against Us." Be considerate of views with which you disagree. That is what Bush claimed in a speech yesterday. Yes, that would be a first step, respecting your political opponents and fellow citizens. But if you stop there that's just another facet of this hyper-irrationalist faith-based, multicultural politics where you've got your beliefs and I've got mine, so let's just respect one another. Meanwhile, behind the screen of mutual respect for "beliefs" powerful forces are at work undermining the policy implications of those others' disagreeable beliefs and enacting their own "belief agenda." You "believe" that condom-based sex ed. prevents pregnancies, based on your studies and facts. I believe you cant trust them, produced by liberals, highly biased. I believe abstinence is more moral and ultimately effective. Belief trumps data. But oh yeah, I was talking about respecting different positions. How about we take that one step further and actual engage different positions and their ARGUMENTS? Now that would be a novel experiment.

P.S. U.S. Immigration "Debate"

Unmentioned in my last post and dialogue in the comments section is the fact that Mexican-American voter turnout is quite low. Thus, the rumor bomb-type strategy to occupy the media-public-legislative agenda with a subject that will cause spectacular conflict is of very little risk to those in the Republican party who wish to shore up dissent in their ranks. As usual, the Democrats are unable to counter these attempts to highjack the media agenda, which leads to their support of this newly constructed public and legislative agenda. Hey, they don't want to miss this train come election time, because it's not the Mexican-Americans who will be doing the re-electing. Or have they underestimated their possible backlash? Though they historically are a potentially large voting bloc that doesn't turnout, will this legislation about to be passed end up mobilizing them?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Variations of the Rumor Bomb: Bush, Immigration, and the management of focused critique.

Immigration is a pseudo-crisis, driven by pseudo-events, in a theater of pseudo-politics.

Bush's call for $1.9 billion to send 6,000 troops to guard the border with Mexico and stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. is "interesting." People are arguing about it on the level of American ethnic identity or purity; citizenship, jobs and benefits for American citizens; history and justice, since much of the current U.S. was annexed from Mexico and Native Americans(such as this: click); the cost of such a project when billions of dollars and lives have already been siphoned to a disastrous war in Iraq, in a country with serious socio-economic rights issues like healthcare--among others. But I think getting caught up in any number of these particular debates is precisely the goal of the Bush PR-government strategy. It is a strategy of preoccupation and deception, and the evidence is the long string of such tactics that have been uncovered over the last several years--e.g., WMD, Swift Boat Veterans, Valerie Plame leak, threat of Syria and Iran, not to mention France, and a host of little but impactful deceptions and misdemeanor lies, such as fake news and reporters. There's also a curious reversal of his "position"from the beginning of his presidency, on the issue of (for Bush's quotes on record click the following link) Mexican immigrants.

Of course, the immigration issue is not new; it's cyclical. The question in this brutally calculating political theater is why now? And Why this issue for the media and public agenda? Immigration is not a rumor per se, but it functions like a RUMOR BOMB. It is a strategy of preoccupation/deception, a red herring that exploits ravenous news market appetites for/values of conflicts and scandal. It offers a scapegoat in a time of great upheaval and increasingly focused criticism on the dishonesty of the Bush regime. The many debacles of the Bush regime have resulted, finally, in Bush and co.'s lowest approval ratings to date. Interestingly, some stories accompany these reports of low approval by emphasizing that Bush's conservative base is driving the disapproval. Polls like this were reported May 5, 2006. On May 15, Bush made a televised address to the nation calling for the thousands of troops and billions of dollars to be sent to the border with Mexico. In the context of his approval ratings and history of rumor bombs, this is an attempt first to distract a wing of the Republican party from a more focused critique of his failure in Iraq, and with more convervative pet issues such as gay marriage. The response is to shift their attention to another issue to which this political sect remains fervently devoted--immigrants, race, nationalism. It's imperative that Bush serve the Republican elite who delivered him this presidency in the first place, so he lends his beaten office to the effort to keep the rank and file in check. Right now they're in trouble. These are tactics in response to a disastrous political climate and bleak future for Republicans. And as Oldfield noted in The Right and the Righteous (1996), "The social issue concerns are not those of the Republican party a whole; defense of subcultural family values underlies the movement s differences with other elements of the party" (p. 68). Polls "show that opposition to immigration tends to be greatest among social conservative and less-well educated Republicans, but that upscale, well-educated, pro-business Republicans tend to be more ambivalent." That's the wing that is causing trouble for the PNAC wing. Better give them something again that they can be proud of and simultaneously get the rest of the country to think this is a major crisis worthy of public deliberation.

Second, Bush and his puppetmasters construct a crisis for the news media and their desire for cycles, for the latest dramatic conflict. This is also a pseudo-event designed to create a drama that will be self-propellingly spectacular. The news report it, people organize rallies to protest it, and the news media keep covering it, which drives more (not necessarily well-reasoned)expressions of outrage and free speech for and against, which is exactly what this regime wants. It's not mainly about the issue of immigration itself. It's about managing audiences to maintain partisan power and derail focused critque and discussion. So, the U.S. is ablaze with its most recent pressing re-politicizing issue, immigration. As coach used to say, "Keep your eye on the ball, Harsin."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Colbert Speaks

Stephen Colbert, formerly with the Daily Show and now with his own show the Colbert Report, is more evidence of the topsy turvy media world we inhabit. Like Jon Stewart, he goes where the mainstream news fears to tread and makes comedy the last bastion of watchdog media.

Saturday night he gave a speech at the White House press correspondents dinner, and it was mainly addressed to Bush, seated a few feet to his right, and also to the press themselves.
A snippet:
"But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years, you people were so good over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew. But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know...fiction."

And...
"I believe that the government that governs least governs best, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq."

How has this been received by conservatives? Is this "inside" humor? See Dan Froomkin's column on it in the Washington Post, in which he claims the news organizations responded by claiming Colbert just wasn't funny.
Watch it here. See the whole event on CSPAN here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day: To the Folks who Brought us the Weekend

I used to think "May Day" was a distress signal uniquely reserved for hapless pilots and captains. In fact, it wasn't until graduate school while taking an American rhetorical history course that I learned about the Haymarket Riots/Massacre and that Labor Day for many people around the world (International Workers Day), except for Americans, is May 1, in memory of those who died in Chicago on May 3 and 4, 1886.

On May 1, labor unions had organized a strike there for the eight-hour day, better working conditions ("The Jungle" is hard to beat on this), for an ideal of international proportions: that one's labor and the person from whom it issues must be respected. For some people such respect meant that laborers deserved certain rights of negotiation and safety to avoid a new feudalism in the age of mass production.

On May3, they organized a strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co., where a fight broke out on the picket line; police intervened, killing two workers and wounding several others. Workers across the city were enraged. Anarchists then distributed flyers for a labor rally at Haymarket Square the following day. Reports vary in this highly politicized event, but many note that people listened peacefully to anarchist leader August Spies's address. Then apparently someone threw a bomb over the crowd, which landed on the police line killing a police officer and wounding other policeman who died later. Policeman fired into the crowd killing a number of people (there are no uncontested counts). Eight German immigrants associated with anarchism were rounded up and convicted on no evidence. The motive was that they were anarchists. Seven of them were sentenced to death. One committed suicide. One's sentence was commuted to life in prison. And five were hanged publicly.

The trial produced some of the most eloquent criticisms of American industrial society and its political butresses. Some, such as George Engel's, even provide an explanation/argument for how one came to be a socialist/anarchist. Here is an excerpt from George Englel's address to the jury, which I recommend reading in its entirety by clicking on this link.

[...]On the occasion of my arrival at Philadelphia, on the 8th of January, 1873, my heart swelled with joy in the hope and in the belief that in the future I would live
AMONG FREE MEN,
and in a free country. I made up my mind to become a good citizen of this country, and congratulated myself on having left Germany, and landed in this glorious republic. And I believe my past history will bear witness that I have ever striven to be a good citizen of this country. This is the first occasion of my standing before an American court, and on this occasion it is murder of which I am accused. And for what reasons do I stand here? For what reasons am I accused of murder? The same that caused me to leave Germany-
THE POVERTY-THE MISERY
of the working classes.
And here, too, in this "free republic," in the richest country of the world, there are numerous proletarians for whom no table is set; who, as outcasts of society, stray joylessly through life. I have seen human beings gather their daily food from the garbage heaps of the streets, to quiet therewith their knawing hunger.
I have read of occurrences in the daily papers which proves to me that here, too, in this great "free land," people are doomed to die of starvation. This brought me to reflection, and to the question: What are the peculiar causes that could bring about such a condition of society? I then began to give our political institutions more attention than formerly. [...]

"I came to the opinion that as long as workingmen are economically enslaved they cannot be politically free. [...]
Of what does my crime consist?
That I have labored to bring about a system of society by which it is impossible for one to hoard millions, through the improvements in machinery, while the great masses sink to degradation and misery. As water and air are free to all, so should the inventions of scientific men be applied for the benefit of all. The statute laws we have are
IN OPPOSITION TO THE LAWS OF NATURE,
in that they rob the great masses of their rights "to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I am too much a man of feeling not to battle against the societary conditions of today. Every considerate person must combat a system which makes it possible for the individual to rake and hoard millions in a few years, while, on the other side, thousands become tramps and beggars.
Is it to be wondered at that under such circumstances men arise, who strive and struggle to create other conditions,
WHERE THE HUMANE HUMANITY SHALL TAKE PRECEDENCE
over all other considerations? [...]

This speech is an interesting argument (well there are at least a couple of big arguments in it) about freedom in a materialist positive, not negative, economic sense (or positive rights). My dissertation analyzed the story of this rhetorical struggle (positive/negative economic rights with regard to understandings of democracy) in U.S. history, which is more or less erased from popular memory (for more on that, scroll down to the bottom of the blog's page to the last entry).

As this article demonstrates, the radical democratic history of May Day has been coopted in a few places in the world (in an attempt to rob it of its radical history as a resource for current politics), namely the U.S. Like other rights and practices many people hold to be sacred today, the eight-hour day was the result of social struggle and bloodshed (I'm just testifying about it; don't try this at home). Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were radicals, revolutionaries. Moreover, when a gang of patriots doing Native American minstrelsy snuck aboard a tea-heavy ship in Boston harbor and started throwing bags of Earl Grey overboard, they were breaking the law. Other patriots tarred and feathered Tories. Less delicate fates met others loyal to King and country. Radicals, revolutionaries. So was Jesus, as his fellow radical Martin Luther King observed:

"But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist -- "Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice--or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

Why would one resist these analogies about radicals and the progress of justice? If one finds the elision of King, Jesus, Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, Debs, Parsons, Spies, Engel (Haymarket convicts et al.), it must be due to an ideological resistance, a resistance toward their understandings of justice. Jesus resisted in the name of love and to make earth as heaven. King claimed to be following Jesus, Socrates, Jefferson and just about every other positive Western icon that ever lived. Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton justified their rebellion on natural rights that the Creator intended for everyone. The labor movement justified their protest of the 8-hour day in "real" democracy, natural rights, the bible ("Am I not my brother's Keeper?"), and a variety of critiques of captalism as selfish human exploitation. People will resist that there's an equivocation of "justice" in this set of equations. Really?

I don't have the time-space to defend the thread of justice that runs through these "extremists," and I'm aware of how perilous such discussions are in a post-9/11 and -Oklahoma City era. I'll stick with the Christian tensions for a moment, if for no reason than that many of the extremists who use violence in the U.S. do so in the name of God, but none for economic justice today. Here are some lines that speak to the idea of justice for which the Haymarket protestors died.

Leviticus 25:23: "But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me."

Deuteronomy 24:6 "A handmill or an upper millstone shall not be taken in pawn, for that will be taking someone's life in pawn."

Acts 4: 34-5: "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of land and houses, sold them and brought the prices of these things that were sold. And laid them down at the apostle's feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."

Leviticus 25:36 "Do not exact from him advance or accrued interest, but fear your God."

Jeremiah 5:27-29 "As a cage full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen rich. They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked; they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy they do not judge. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?"

There are many more like this in that Book. But just as the contents of May Day are systematically emptied out into a day merely to splurge at the florist (and Labor Day's date is shifted), so the Bible's fuller contents and tensions have been emptied by those in charge of preaching it. No wonder people become cynical about such religions when they actually read the holy texts on which they are based.

In that same graduate school class where I learned about the history of May Day, a Polish student who had grown up in the last days of the Soviet Empire told an interesting story. Apparently on May Day, a Polish TV news correspondent was sent to Chicago to report on May Day. He went to the site of the Hay Market, where a monument to the police had been constructed then vandalized. (Only in 2004 was one constructed to acknowledge the workers who died there too. The politics of memorializing this event is quite a story in itself--see "Haymarket Square in the Aftermath"). The Polish reporter went around Chicago asking citizens if they knew that May Day was an international holiday in memory of the Haymarket riots and massacre. No one knew what he was talking about. He responded on their Communist state-run TV broadcast, "This is how capitalism perpetuates itself. Citizens here are robbed of their own history and live in a dreamworld." You don't have to like the Soviet Union to find truth in his observation.

The testimony of Engel and others at their fateful trial is also a causal argument about what desperate human beings will do when they suffer political exclusion to work out conflict peacefully. The fact that this event is largely a ghost in American history speaks to how unwilling some people are to look at the ugliness of our history (not that forgetting isn't best in some situations from a certain point of view), the struggles of citizen against citizen because such knowledge is threatening to myths of nation and its tenuous coherence. It's also threatening to those whose interests invested in criminalizing critiques of a consumer society that is killing our planet, not just its people. Part of the reason why it may continue is the suppression of other knowledges of the past and critiques of the present. Just as many wounded laborers were afraid to go to the hospital for fear of being arrested when police opened fire on the crowd on May 4, 1886 (after the bomb exploded) , so today one faces being branded an extremist, a radical, a revolutionary, merely for remembering this past.

Today (yesterday for some people reading this) is May Day. Today, let us remember these people who brought us the weekend.

JH