Category Archives: America

Quote of the Day: “A warning sign here in Canada”

Waiting for Superman trailer

Bill Gates, who’s retired from Microsoft and is donating billions of dollars to promote education, is at the TIFF for the premiere of his film Waiting for Superman.  Here’s an excerpt from an article in the Toronto Star:

The candid panel discussion that followed — which included Guggenheim, superstar educational activist Geoffrey Canada, and Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates — turned up the voltage on an already powerful film.

“The power of this movie is partly why I’m optimistic about change on this issue,” Gates, who is interviewed in the film, told the crowd at the packed Winter Garden Theatre.

“Waiting for Superman” follows a handful of children and families in public schools across the country. Despite decades of promises by politicians that no child will be left behind, drop-out rates are sky-high and many children fail to learn even the basics. The film details how the system has been paralyzed by complacency, a bloated bureaucracy and powerful teachers unions. It also follows activist educators who are desperate to make changes, especially in inner city schools.

In 2006, an international survey ranked the U.S. at 25th out of 30 developed nations when it comes to teens’ proficiency in math and science. Canada took the fifth spot on the same assessment.

“Use us as a warning sign here in Canada,” producer Lesley Chilcott said. “My understanding is things are starting to slip here.”

Quote of the Day: “Do we think no Muslims died in the towers?”

Alissa Torres, a 9/11 widow, on the “Ground Zero Mosque” in today’s Salon.

Money quote:

What did I think about the decision to construct a “mosque” this close to ground zero? I thought it was a no-brainer. Of course it should be built there. I sometimes wonder if those people fighting so passionately against Park51 can fathom the diversity of those who died at ground zero. Do we think no Muslims died in the towers? My husband, Eddie Torres, killed on his second day of work at Cantor Fitzgerald while I was pregnant with our first child, was a dark-skinned Latino, often mistaken for Pakistani, who came here illegally from Colombia. How did “9/11 victim” become sloppy shorthand for “white Christian”? I wish someone would put out a list of all the ethnicities and religions and countries and economic levels of the victims. For all the talk of “remembering 9/11,” I wonder if we’ve missed the patriotic message entirely.

For the record, hundreds of foreign nationals from 90 countries died in the twin towers; Canada alone lost two dozen citizens.  It doesn’t mean that this was not primarily an American tragedy.  It simply means that this was a shared tragedy.  No one included in the loss should be excluded from the possibility of reconciliation, whatever the shouters who wrongly insist that “3000 Americans died that day” have to say about it.

Seven Minutes of Silence

This is of course a terrible anniversary.  Above is Michael Moore’s recounting of the seven minutes of silence which captures both the negligence and the ineptitude of the Bush administration on all fronts.

Remember: the administration’s national security team, Condoleeza Rice most especially, spent that entire spring and summer ignoring repeated and increasingly urgent warnings. As then FBI Director George Tenet put it, “The system was blinking red.”  Just a month before the attacks, Bush dismissed his CIA briefers after being presented with the infamous August 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief, saying, “Okay, you’ve covered your ass.”

What were the priorities of the Bush administration between January and September 11, 2001?  More than a trillion dollars in tax cuts heavily favoring the richest 1% of the population.  The convergence of those tax cuts and the events of 9/11 led directly to an unfunded “war on terror” which has left the U.S. staggered and a significant portion of its population on the verge of blind rage for the hardship that has befallen it.

This is why non-partisan reporting matters.  You’d be unlikely to know any of this if your primary source of information were Fox News.

Leni Riefenstahl

From Olympia, (Riefenstahl’s documentary about the 1936 Berlin Olympics): the closing of the games.

On this date in 2003 German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl died (born 1902).  Riefenstahl, of course, was the most artistically proficient of all Nazi filmmakers, providing the most memorable propaganda images of the Nazi state, and during her long life represented the problematical relationship between the artist and tyranny.  (The excellent documentary, The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, here.)

Christopher Hitchens has noted that the default setting for social organization among humans seems to be fascism.  To advance beyond such a state is difficult, rare and not to be taken for granted.

In the spring of 1943 Frye composed an unfinished, never published essay under the title, “The Present Condition of the World,” which includes some startling observations about the universal Fascist that remain disconcertingly relevant.

The point is all the more striking when we compare the Nazi psychology with our own.  Nazi lynchings of Jews are matched by the Ku Klux Klan and the lynching of Negroes; and anti-Semitism itself has greatly increased over here since Hitler came to power, a clear indication that the Nazi persecutions of the Jews have aroused far more sneaking sympathy than contempt on this continent.  German trumpetings of the superiority of Germans to all other people are obviously attempts to exorcise an inner demon of disbelief in it; to raise an earthquake and fire to roar down the still small voice of self-ridicule.  The average Anglo-Saxon has an inner conviction of the superiority of his race and his institutions which is the despairing envy of the purple-faced bawling Nazi, and which the latter would give anything to possess.  The American tendency to stampede under mass emotional pressure is as marked as that of the Germans.  The labour record of the great German industrialists who backed Hitler can hardly be worse than that of Ford or the steel and coal capitalists here; nor is the willingness of the latter to support a would-be Fascist dictator less in evidence.  The ferocity of capital and labour warfare and the prevalence of gangsterism and thuggery in politics, however bad in Germany, have significant parallels in America.  In both countries there has been a very powerful but easily frightened and bamboozled middle class.  The Germans have had less experience of democracy, but much of our democracy is a rationalization of oligarchy or the opportunity of the lobbyist and ward heeler.  Given the right conditions, we could develop on this continent a Nazism of a fury compared to which that of the Germans would be, in American language, bush-league stuff.  And if it has not occurred, and even if the danger of its occurring has perhaps passed its meridian, our escape is due to the anodyne of prosperity and to certain economic and geographical features in our favour, not to any special virtue in us, any innate love of liberty in our people, or any invincible power in our democratic institutions.  With regard to the last, the general level of political education and insight is even lower here than in Germany before Hitler.  American Fascists, or Defenders of American Democracy as they would doubtless call themselves, if in the first place they could achieve power, would find even less difficulty in rounding up and shooting the leaders of what organized resistance there would be than the Nazis had in Germany, where nearly half the population, in 1932, belonged to well-disciplined revolutionary parties. (CW 10, 216-17)

Thoreau Leaves Waldon Pond

Thoreau’s reflections on Walden Pond

On this date in 1847 Henry David Thoreau left Walden Pond and moved into Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s home in Concord, Massachusetts.

Frye on Thoreau in “Varieties of Literary Utopias” in The Stubborn Structure:

Man obviously needs far less to live the best life than he thinks he needs; and civilization as we know it is grounded on the technique of complicating wants.  In fact, this technique is widely believed, in America, to be the American way of life par excellence.  Thoreau says: “The only true America is the country were you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state may not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery, and war, and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly contribute to such things.” The pastoral revolutionary tradition is still at work in this remark, still pointing to the natural and reasonable society buried beneath the false one.  (132)

Sarah Barracuda

A segment people might commit to memory if it made any sense.  (Tina Fey comes closest by quoting Palin verbatim here.)

Vanity Fair has an article on Sarah Palin this month, which she has used as an excuse to accuse the “lamestream media” of being “impotent” and “limp” — which actually confirms how she is portrayed in the article: snarling, thin-skinned, and incapable of accepting anything but adoring praise without going immediately on the attack in an effort to bully opponents into silence.  And with Fox News behind her, she can afford to stomp around noisily, swinging a big stick the entire time.  She is the anti-Obama.  No cool.  No control.  All drama.  All the time.

A sample from Vanity Fair:

Palin has been a national figure for barely two years—John McCain selected her as his running mate in August 2008. Her on-the-record statements about herself amount to a litany of untruths and half-truths. With few exceptions—mostly Palin antagonists in journalism and politics whose beefs with her have long been out in the open—virtually no one who knows Palin well is willing to talk about her on the record, whether because they are loyal and want to protect her (a small and shrinking number), or because they expect her prominence to grow and intend to keep their options open, or because they fear she will exact revenge, as she has been known to do. It is an astonishing phenomenon. Colleagues and acquaintances by the hundreds went on the record to reveal what they knew, for good or ill, about prospective national candidates as diverse as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. When it comes to Palin, people button their lips and slink away.

Palin’s rallying cry is “We’re taking America back!”  Back?  Where did it go?  And back from whom?  Oh. Right. It starts with Obama and extends to everything that does not rise to the Palin standard of representing the “real America.”  For her followers, who are well-polled on the issue, these include non-whites, non-Christians, Christians not Christian enough to believe in the End Times, city dwellers, gays, lesbians, liberals, and voters under 30.  In other words, taken all together, most of the country.

“Conservatives” like Palin revere Ronald Reagan as the most perfect president for a more perfect union, even though he raised taxes every year after 1982 (including what was then the largest tax increase in American history), and increased government spending more than twice that of the Ford and Carter administrations combined.  He did this while also running record deficits (tripling the national debt), a feat surpassed only by George W. Bush.  He was moreover responsible for the collapse of the Savings and Loan industry through irresponsible deregulation.  And — does this sound familiar? — $160 billion in losses had to be picked up by the American taxpayer.  But these inconvenient and verifiable facts are simply thrown down the memory hole.  It only matters the legend persist that Reagan brought down Communism with one well-placed judo chop, so there can’t be much reality to the perception of him from any angle.  Frye, however, saw it very clearly.  Here are two of his observations on Reagan from Denham’s Frye Unbuttoned:

Television brings a theatricalizing of the social contract.  Reagan may be a cipher as President, but as an actor acting the role of a decisive President in a Grade B movie he’s I suppose acceptable to people who think life is a Grade B movie. (249)

The Soviet Union is trying to outgrow the Leninist dialectical rigidity, and some elements in the U.S.A. are trying to outgrow its counterpart.  But it’s hard: Reagan is the great symbol of clinging to the great-power syndrome, which is why he sounds so charismatic even when he’s talking the most obvious nonsense. (250)

Which brings us back round to Sarah Palin.  She can’t speak in unscripted grammatical sentences, and she’s as mean and flinty as Reagan was genial and reassuring.  But apparently she’ll do for a “great-power syndrome” now in such a delusional state that empirical evidence and the historical record are swept aside by a policy of reckless lies delivered with indifference to the damage they do– such as Palin’s infamous “death panels,” which reduced reasoned debate about health care reform to paranoid hysteria.

The reason I always put “conservative” in quotes when talking about such people is because they’re not conservatives.  They’re oligarchs.  Conservatives accept change while promoting social stability.  Conservatives respect tradition and do not seek the radical overturning of it.  Disraeli was a conservative (“Upon the education of the people of the nation the future of the nation depends”).  Palin is not.  She’s more like a narcissistic personality disorder with a political action committee.

Glenn Beck: “There will be rivers of blood”

A mashup by Media Matters for America of Beck’s appropriation of the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech on Saturday, including a long string of incendiary lies and provocation from his radio and Fox News shows.

A taste of those lies and provocation: “I can tell you there will be rivers of blood.” “Very dark dudes are coming for us.” “There are Satan worshipers who are in office.” “That’s when the arrests start . . . that’s when the shootings start.” “Drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsucker.”  And much, much more.

He’s no Martin Luther King.

Where I come from, we call that “eliminationist rhetoric.”

You decide.

Quote of the Day: “Conservatives and ‘Limited Government'”


Tim Lee adds a much-needed dose of sanity to the anti-big-government movement.  Full post here.

Is the Tea Party “the most dynamic anti-big government political movement in modern American politics?” I think it’s helpful here to unpack the concept of “anti-big government,” because the right uses it in a peculiar and rather perverse fashion.

In the conservative (and fusionist) worldview, government activities are evaluated using a simplistic “size of government” metric that treats every dollar of government spending as equally bad, regardless of how it’s used. This has some unfortunate results. It means that cutting children’s health care spending is just as good as cutting a dollar from subsidies for wealthy corporations. And since wealthy corporations typically have lobbyists and poor children don’t, the way this works out in practice is that conservative politicians staunchly oppose the former while letting the latter slide.

Worse, mainstream conservatives give programs involving the military and law enforcement a free pass. Conservatives vociferously (and correctly) oppose giving the FCC expanded power over the Internet, but they actively supported the NSA’s much more comprehensive and intrusive scheme of domestic surveillance. Conservatives support a massive expansion of government power at our southern border to restrict the freedom of Mexican migrants. They seem unconcerned by the fact that we have more people in government-run prisons than any other nation on Earth.

This distinction makes no sense. When American soldiers gun down Iraqi civilians and blow up a van that comes to rescue the survivors, that’s a government program. When a SWAT team conducts a military-style raid on the home of an innocent Maryland mayor and kills his dogs, that’s a government program too. Obviously, law enforcement and national defense are important functions of government, but these highly coercive government programs should be the subject of more public scrutiny, not less.

In-depth investigation of plutocratic interests behind the Tea Party and global warming denialism movements here.

Yeehaw! Still More Craziness from Texas Republicans in the House of Representatives

Gohmert’s Pile: Rep. Louie Gohmert (R – Texas) on the floor of the House of Representatives explaining the danger of “terror babies.”  That’s right. Muslim. Terror. Babies.

A month ago it was Rep. Joe Burton (R – Texas) apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the alleged “shakedown” his company received from the White House.  Or – more accurately – a negotiated fund to be held in trust to compensate those who have lost their livelihood by way of a massive oil leak from a BP deep drilling site that has destroyed the Gulf fishing industry.  Corporations, after all, according to people like Barton, are not to be held accountable for their behavior.  That’s only for suckers who actually pay taxes at a rate commensurate with income but can expect either non-existent or inadequate social services in return.  Nausea-inducing video here.

A couple of weeks ago it was Rep. Kevin Brady (R – Texas) declaring that the 9/11 heroes who ran into burning buildings and then dug through the toxic rubble at ground zero looking for survivors, did so to save lives, not to raise the taxes required to fund their subsequent chronic illnesses. You’re an asshole!” explained Jon Stewart. Video here.

This past week it’s been “terror babies,” offered in a kind of Dadaist display of extra crunchy nuttiness by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R – Texas).  That term, once again, ladies and gentlemen, is terror babies.  Here’s how it (cough) “works”: Muslim women “drop and leave” an “anchor baby” (still more made up terminology provided by Republicans and then hysterically disseminated by Fox News) who qualifies as an American citizen so that he can grow up to become a suicide bomber 15 or 20 years hence. No, you do not misunderstand.  That’s really what he means.

After the jump, a much more plausible source of domestic terror.

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