Sunday, June 26, 2005

"Fascism": Sesame Street's word of the day

After the election, my father, uncle and I debated about what the totalitarian regime that Bush would try and create would look like. My father and I were thinking "fascism," playing on the fear of the American people to create a mostly secular, corporate-backed, kleptocratic fascist state. My uncle was betting on theocracy, demanded and managed by the evangelist Christian right. Obviously, the debate was premature. But it seems less hasty every day.

In his latest editorial, Frank Rich tells the emerging story of how the administration is harnessing public radio and television as propaganda outlets. Some highlights:
  1. Kenneth Tomlinson, the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, paid someone $14,170 to watch Bill Moyer's "Now" and listen to programs on NPR like the Diane Rehm show, in order to rate every guest as either C for conservative or L for liberal (liberal meaning anti-administration).
  2. Patricia Harrison, the new president of the CPB is a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee who, as assistant secretary of state, praised the fake news stories that her department produced as "good news" stories.
  3. Tomlinson today is head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees all of the United States' non-military propaganda outlets. So he is simultaneously the head of our propaganda efforts oversees and our domestic public broadcasting effort.
So the corporate MSM has no problem cementing pseudo-fascist ties to the administration, and now the public broadcasting infrastructure is at risk of becoming another branch of the administration's propaganda machine. Good luck, democracy. It was nice knowing you.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Chickenhawks rationalize

Everyone who's ever wanted to see rationalization at work should read this story about young Republicans explaining about why they don't want to go fight in a war that some of them consider a "moral imperative." The thing that bothers me most about these young, dumb Republicans is that some of their reasoning runs like this: "I can do more to help the troops by working for the Republican party." Huh? You mean the same Republican party that has failed to provide our troops with the armored vehicles and equipment they need? The same Republican party that has been so ineffectual with supplying our soldiers that young Marines are told to buy $600 worth of equipment on their own if they want to survive? Hey, Chickenhawks, you're not doing the troops any favors by playing patty-cake with US congressional aides, raising money for the Republican party, or planning your K-street careers. I'd really like to have a reporter go up to a Marine who's just finished a day's hard slog through a Baghdad slum and ask: "Excuse me, son. How does it make you feel to know that so many young Americans are supporting you by going door-to-door for the Republicna party?" He'll be like, "A-wha?! Ex-fucking-scuse me?" If the war in Iraq is a moral imperative, helping a political party does not constitute coming to the aid of your nation. And, believe it or not, there are soldiers who are not Republicans! Oh well. Listen, it's as simple as this: If you're going to spew rhetoric about why the war in Iraq is a "moral imperative," you had best have a better excuse for not enlisting than your own political ambitions.

Oh, and a special note to one Vivian Lee, who said: "Frankly, I'd like to be a politician. I want to live to see that." Frankly, Vivian, you have no career in politics because of that comment. Ahhh, the irony. But it's okay; you'll make more money as a lobbyist anyway.

Letter writing

Here's the email I wrote to my congressman, Randy Kuhl (R-NY):
Dear Mr. Kuhl,

I write to ask why you have not yet signed Representative Conyers' letter to President Bush asking him to answer critical questions about the Downing Street minutes. The Downing Street minutes present direct, legitimate evidence of a usurpation of government power that has driven us into a costly war, with 20,000 American soldiers killed or wounded. Given the seriousness of the issue, I would have assumed that a responsible and intelligent representative such as yourself would have eagerly signed the letter, regardless of political allegiance. Sometimes, party-lines must take a backseat to doing the right thing, defending our democracy, and holding the executive branch to the level of scrutiny that our founding fathers envisioned when they designed our government. To do otherwise is to fail our country, our citizens, and your constituents. I am looking forward to graduating from Yale University next spring. I hope that I will not have to spend my summer working furiously to unseat a congressman who ignores the most serious threats to our democracy in a mistaken sense of loyalty to his political party. Please sign Representative Conyers' letter and ensure that our country is as free and democratic as it can be.

Yours sincereley,
Nathan Huttner
I think my favorite part is the threat. Truth is, I'll probably work to unseat him no matter what. Woot woot! It'll actually be a blast to be done with college and kicking some ass.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Writing for an election

Of late there have been a lot of people hinting at a run for the presidency, and in NYS a run for the governor's mansion. It is rather laughable, to be honest, to see these people become such products of the nasty system of distorting candidates to fit some prewritten mold; not even compromise or accomodation of agendas, but rather complete reversals, and awkward press conferences make this new batch of presidential hopefuls as whitewashed as Rochester in the winter time.

As the times has reported of late poking good fun at Bill Frist's rendezvous with idiocy (and failure) it seems that the elections seem to come ever sooner and sooner. It almost seems fated that a democrat should be positioning himself for office, but besides the enigmatic Hillary there is very little bombast from the left. (With Daschle deposed, Harry Reid less than magnanimous, Gephardt gone, Edwards gone -- the crowned prince of the party seems to be hiding in the background -- Evan Bayh? -- or perhaps we will find it to be an empress from yesteryear?).

But the so-called right takes pot shots at itself it isn't to say something is bad about being a republican: but it certainly isn't a good time to be in the conservative public relations junketts. The persistant bickering, internal squabbling, make handsome and intellectually inept characters pop up from the shadows (yes you Mitt Romney, if you are so smart -- then certainly the direction you've been treading...farther right than anyone else in your party and you are from Massachusetts...seems to be such a calculated move it smells of bullshit; perhaps this is who you really think you are...but what shame it would be to run for president and get destroyed in your own home state).

But this new Tom Golisano/Stephen Minarik thing over in NYS is starting to be just as laughable. Golisano attacks Pataki on something as minute as wind power plants; and then gets coronated the apparent heir? If you like my use of royal terms to describe the debacle which is our present democracy: then you shall see my cynicism is ripe and ready for another season of elections...oh wait, we have another damn year before they arrive. And the horses have already come to the gates.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Mukhtaran Bibi

I initially conceived of this blog as a way to discuss difficult questions that lacked easy answers, hence the title, which alludes to vague meandering and an absence of direction. But I have found that there are always issues with easy answers that demand attention, and I figure what little light I can shed on those issues can only do good. So today I write about Mukhtaran Bibi, the Pakistani woman whose struggles against an oppressive and near-sighted regime have slowly caught the attention of humanists and democrats across the world.

She was the victim of a village-council sponsored gang rape in Pakistan, which is also a death sentence for many women who cannot bear to live with the attached public shame. She chose a different path, "fighting back, opening schools for boys and girls to try and affect social change." The courage and nobility of her struggle caught the attention of western NGOs, one of which, the Asian-American Network Against the Abuse of Women, wanted to bring her to the United States on a speaking tour. The government, under orders from Pervez Musharraf, emprisoned her, blocked her visa, destroyed her passport, sent her back to her village. As of now, there will be no speaking tour of the United States, no chance for this strikingly courageous woman to speak to American men and women about the terror that faces women in her country each and every day.

Now that you know the story, if you didn't already, I have two points to make about Musharraf and how he is making a mockery of his own administration and a mockery of our government.

First, Musharraf apparently banned Mukhtaran Bibi from leaving the country because she would ba a blight on the good Pakistani name, a public relations nightmare unfairly portraying the plight of women in Pakistan. But, he swears, he's on her side. So two cases present themselves: Either Musharraf is lying about being on her side, or he has no fucking clue about how to use PR. I really don't know that much about Musharraf, but either seems plausible. The first case doesn't need much explanation, and it also doesn't take much to see how a savvy politician and supporter of Mukhtaran Bibi could have used her story to strengthen Pakistan's image in the west. Send Mukhtaran Bibi on a government-sponsored tour of the United States! Let her say everything she has to say without fear of reprisals. Create a public trust that will take revenue from ticket sales and donations, along with matching funds from world governments, including Pakistan's, to create education programs and outreach centers to prevent ritualistic gang rapes from ever happening again. I mean, it's so flipping obvious that Musharraf must be lying about his support for Mukhtaran, or be so cowed by the Islamist fundamentalists in his country that he's powerless. (And if that's the case, then he's really not much of an ally in the war on terrorism, is he?)

The second point I want to make is this. Musharraf and Pakistan are supposedly close allies in the war on "terrorism." What the hell is terrorism if it doesn't include the ritualistic gang raping of innocent women? Terrorism could be broadly defined as any violent or threatening act that promotes fear and disorder with the aim of overthrowing or blocking democracy. Gang-raping innocent women obviously fits that description. There is no democracy that does not promote the rights of all citizens, that does not protect them from brutalization and lawless, sadistic vigalantism. And there is no war on terror that does not root out and destroy that behavior. Men that would use autocratic, fictionalized Islamic law to rape a woman are no different from men who would reap destruction and kill innocent men and woman. They are cowardly, sadistic, cruel, and twisted. One of the less frequently heard criticisms of the war on terror, at least among main stream media types, is that it isn't broad enough. It doesn't understand terror's origins, its corrolaries, and, as Mukhtaran Bibi's shows, even ignores some of its most obvious and shocking manifestations. A war on terror that is literally a "war," and does not provide money for debt relief, economic development, the protection of women from vicious patriarchal regimes, is a sham. So we have a president who's allied himself with a man who ignores terrorism against his own citizens. This is our great ally in the war on terror.

Friday, June 17, 2005

My speechifying Downing Street Memo post

Here's my added comment to Ted Kennedy's petition:
As a young American who believes strongly in the highest ideals of this country, it pains me to see the forces of greed, corruption, and cynical power-mongers bring our country into disrepute. Our country is founded on core principals—they define it as much as apple pie, baseball, and white picket fences. Those principals were enshrined in the Constitution by our founding fathers, where they would be protect immutibly. Yet this president has repeatedly flaunted his power, made a mockery of the Constitution, and in so doing fundamentally victimized our country. Please take this opportunity, with the evidence presented by the Downing Street Minutes staring us in the face, to defend our country. I know that you have our country's best interests at heart. Good luck.
I should be a speech writer. Or take humility classes.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Oil in Darfur—Just what the doctor ordered?

According to Ken Bacon, the president of the American non-profit advocacy group Refugees International, the discovery of oil in Darfur will "lubricate the peace talks," and may lead to the end of conflict there. After all, now that there's oil, the stakes of the conflict are higher.

Wait. So now that the stakes are higher, violence will stop? That analysis strikes me as a bit muddled. Bacon's opinion rests on the past settlement in the south of Sudan, where conflict was assuaged thanks to an agreement that split oil revenues fifty-fifty between the government and rebels. The government could not exploit the oil without an agreement with the rebels in place. Bacon believes that if the sides are smart, they will come to a similar agreement. But he also admits that the government does not seem interested in any division of oil profits.

Even if both sides were operating from a rational place of game theory analysis, weighing different strategies and playing best responses, it is not clear to me that peace would be the logical outcome. After all, if the Sudanese government has the rebels on the run in Darfur, and if they can maintain that situation efficiently while drilling for oil, there is no reason to pursue peace. We do not know for how long the Sudanese government has known about the oil, and experts, including Bacon, speculate that the rebels never knew about it, and were rebelling for other reasons. So the conflict started for non-oil related reasons—both sides saw other potential gains. And now Khartoum is pursuing a scorched-earth strategy of slaughter against the rebels. While the oil could offer rebels a bargaining chip in negotiations, it also offers further incentive to Khartoum to pursue complete eradication or displacement of the rebels, a costly strategy, but one that might be justified now that there is oil at stake. If anything, oil raises the stakes in a way that enflames the forces of genocide. If this were an even conflict, it might spur negotiation and peace, but from what I've read, the situation is not even, but heavily favors Khartoum. Oil gives them a reason to pursue a final, devastating victory over the rebels, speeding them along the course of genocide.

* * * * * *

But who knows. Maybe the oil reserves will be large enough to finally picque the interest of western governments. After all, it's long been obvious that, to the Bush administration, oil wells are far more worthy of military intervention than human slaughter. And if Americans and Brits get involved, they will aim for peace, and a nice steady flow of western civilization's lifeblood.

Monday, June 13, 2005

What's the deal with Iran?

On Tim Russert's Meet the Press, Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania started to decry Iran as the real reason why we're having so much trouble in Iraq. But that confuses me, so let me think through it. Iran is a Shi'ite religious state. The dominant political force in Iraq right now is the alliance between secular and Shia politicians. Sunni agitators represent the major source of the insurgency, according to most non-Weldon analysts. Here's Weldon's description of the situation:
In fact, as we talked with the Iraqi officials and we met with the speaker of the parliament, the prime minister, the defense minister, the two generals in charge of the Iraqi military, the chairman of the constitutional writing authority, we heard a common theme, that Syria may have the largest number from outside of Iraqi country, but Iran overwhelmingly has the quality behind the insurgency. And we've got to come to grips with that.

So is Iran's strategy: "Bog down American forces in Iraq with an insurgency"? That would make sense. Actually, this is making more and more sense as I think about it. You give aid to a "Sunni" insurgency in order to bloody the United States, but keeping the insurgency small enough to prevent it from ever posing a serious threat to the incoming Shi'ite government. Then, once the United States is out, you pull the plug on the insurgency in a way that makes the Shi'ite government seem more effective at protecting Iraqis than the Americans. That's a huge propaganda victory, and fuels anti-American feelings coupled with pro-Iraqi back-patting, the kind of nationalism that can really cause problems for us big super powers.

Well, if that's the Iranian strategy, then I'm impressed—that's a complex waltz of tactics to put in motion. If Rep. Weldon's blowing smoke up our collective asses in order to foment American feelings against Iran, then he's pretty jam stupid. Somehow I don't think that's what he's doing. And maybe Iran doesn't have the long-term strategy in mind that I laid out. Maybe they just enjoy screwing with us.

P.S. I'm going to be posting regularly now.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Ethical Illegality

At our age, the border between legality and illegality is as blurred as ever. Between drinking underaged, getting fake ids, sharing music, there is an obvious tendency to do things that are illegal. At which point we have to question the effectiveness of these laws, and more than that, the necessity of these laws. It would seem, through simple inspection, that if our ethical minds tell us that sharing music is okay, that drinking at 19 is okay, then we ought to do it. This of course does not include abuse of anything, but if we are to be truly true to ourselves and our society, would it not seem logical for us to follow our ethical decisions in our neo-utilitarian way?

I have heard many people say that utilitarian moral philosophy has won out and as a result this is who we are. And as Nietzsche says this and Rawls and others, I believe that in terms of reality we have another player at hand. The economic-legalistic framework that stands contrary to the utilitarian perspective. As the RIAA meddles in favor of maintaining its profit share, it honors this relatively new-American concept of intellectual property. They proclaim that a person's art is owned and operated by them alone. This of course is absurd, actually, and a recent suit brought against Al Franken involving the terms 'Fair and Balanced' has proved that the kind of intellectual property rights garnered through words are in no way protected. Moreover, intellectual property rights do not protect if I am to film a piece of work (e.g. a picture of a painting is considered in itself a new artisitic creation, the MPAA then would be faulted in attacking bootleggers, and any law against bootlegging should be struck down (in the name of intellectual property rights)). If I rearrange, slightly, the notes in a song it has become in itself a new song -- if I cover the song, it can be considered my own. There are a wide array of faults in making this low form of art intellectual. Art has in the past garnered its fame because of its excellence and its originality. Art in its intellectual escape is not the popular misfits that are put out today -- we look at a Monet and not a copy of a Monet because we can say it is a Monet, and we can enjoy its aging grace. We look at new art today that excites us and label it great because it reminds us of how we feel when we look at other great works of art [and this is me simply summarizing -- and definately not bringing to justice -- the art history philosophy of Danto]. Ciara's 1,2 step, however, doesn't breed a similar kind of appreciation. It ought to fall under the category of Pleasure Property where its primary focus is inciting pleasure in the subjects. It is within us that the satisfaction is garnered and is transfered to the 'artist' through a back-channel of economic success. The reason why true phenoms don't exist in the pop music business is because in truth the RIAA and the record executives mass produce these relatively worthless talents into catchy poppy personas that we just can't get enough of listening to, but 10 years down the line wont give three shits about. Does anyone care about Juvenile? Anyone read the recent NY Times article on the decay of Limp Bizkit? The ought not be protected on anything besides the sentiment of greed that ingratiate these business maestros who commondeer our attention and our cash. When in truth the artist is undeserving of attention, they only sustain the very shifting taste and pleasure of a person, and in that regard the business of suing people shall only serve to deflect the real issue. People will continue to push the quick fix until either music becomes good again, or the RIAA stops hiding behind this unsuitable veil of intellectual property rights.

We are also confronting an equally evil danger: the parental-authoritative impulse where our elders presume to know more of life than us and wish to eliminate our sentiments legalistically. When we of course know at 19,20 and the like that the desire to drink far outweighs our personal obligation to law. It is but a farce written down on a whim to please the moral values of a select few americans [concerned parents]. The same people who unknowingly ruin school for their children through the incessant badgering of teachers and administrators have popped their little heads in order to redefine an ethical relationship on the basis of a this confuscian non-americana perspective. What is agreeable to all is that people learn to drink responsably, and more so that we do not with a signature on a piece of paper make 15 million Americans instantly criminals for having impulsive and still legitimate, assuming excess is not involved, desires. This would be the utilitarian determination. It would be Aristotlelian. It would be good. But in imposing personal beliefs on others we have lobbied for a law that stands directly in contrast to the national benefit, and personal excercise. If we said that a majority of college students did not drink, perhaps we could stand on the slippery slope and still hold our ground, but as this is not the case America just seems to be falling into denial, self-delusion and a bunch of other neurotic conditions that force it to pretend as if all is well, when it really isn't.

And thus, if we hold this truth to be evident that the moral philosophy for which we believe in is to be utilitarian: then by the goodness that is in our young hearts may we remain ethical in our lives, albeit contradictory to our backwards laws.