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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

what novels are for (according to conservative columnists)

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Slightly unfair to throw one columnist’s words from 2011 up against another’s from 1988. But this is, it seems to me, interesting to think about. Ross Douthat today in the NYT:

But chances are that Loughner’s motives will prove as irreducibly complex as those of most of his predecessors in assassination. Violence in American politics tends to bubble up from a world that’s far stranger than any Glenn Beck monologue — a murky landscape where worldviews get cobbled together from a host of baroque conspiracy theories, and where the line between ideological extremism and mental illness gets blurry fast.

This is the world that gave us Oswald and Bremer. More recently, it’s given us figures like James W. von Brunn, the neo-Nazi who opened fire at the Holocaust Museum in 2009, and James Lee, who took hostages at the Discovery Channel last summer to express his displeasure over population growth. These are figures better analyzed by novelists than pundits: as Walter Kirn put it Saturday, they’re “self-anointed knights templar of the collective shadow realm, not secular political actors in extremis.”

George Will in 1988 on Don DeLillo’s Libra, via here, and its presentation of Lee Harvey Oswald:

DeLillo says he is just filling in “some of the blank spaces in the known record.” But there is no blank space large enough to accommodate, and not a particle of evidence for, DeLillo’s lunatic conspiracy theory. In the book’s weaselly afterword, he says he has made “no attempt to furnish factual answers.” But in a New York Times interview he says, “I purposely chose the most obvious theory because I wanted to do justice to historical likelihood.”

History, says a DeLillo character, is “the sum total of all the things they aren’t telling us.” Of course. “They.” That antecedentless pronoun hants the fevered imaginations of paranoiacs. For conspiracy addicts like DeLillo, the utter absence of evidence, after 25 years of search, proves not that there was no conspiracy but that the conspiracy was diabolically clever.

It is well to be reminded by books like this of the virulence of the loathing some intellectuals feel for American society, and of the frivolous thinking that fuels it.

Of course, neither of them are wrong about what novels generally and reflexively do when it comes to ethical questions. Contextualization and the relativism that comes of it, speculation to fill in the holes in the story where the assignment of goodness or evilness might otherwise fill the blank – all very much a part of the game, and you basically have to derange the form a bit in order to do otherwise with them.

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January 10, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Posted in america, novel, Politics

recession chic: own-brand politics

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Interestingly zeitgeisty subsumption of recession chic Walmartistic marketing * into politics, this “No Labels” campaign. Even more interesting that it seems to be either a product or an opportunistic ally of MSNBC, the no-name name of television news. While the members of this movement, as I understand it, are involved for a variety of reasons, if it’s primarily a vehicle established to support a presidential run by Michael Bloomberg in 2012, then here “store brand” = “post-ideological plutocracy.” Obviously ‘post-ideological’ needs to be in scare quotes, but that’s the idea, and really just a consolidation of a long-held (and eighty-percent perverse) American instinct about the relationship between politics and money.

* Part of Walmart’s very very tacit come-on is that such is its buying power that it could force name-brand companies to make or bake items for its store brand simply in order also to have access to its shelves for stuff under their own labels. Somehow this seems similar to what these “No Name” people are up to.

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December 21, 2010 at 6:44 am

Posted in ads, america, Politics


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Is a good thing. Have been re-radicalized, as opposed to mope and more mope, by getting involved with the students’ occupation of my university. Gave a talk yesterday, the only faculty member to do so so far. Proud of myself in a rare sort of way…. Even more proud of the kids. Headed back down there now….



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November 27, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Posted in academia, Politics


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Nicely done, Professor Krugman.

The money-shot: "It’s perverse but true that this system, which insures only 85 percent
of the population, costs much more than we would pay for a system that
covered everyone."

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April 22, 2005 at 2:17 am

Posted in Politics

“So calm and gracious about it…”

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StorysmithapStoryfondanewlineap_1Wow, a spontaneous enactment of the entire story of US politics! The whole story in a nutshelll, played out on the aisles on Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas – a suburb of Kansas City. From CNN:

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) — A man spit
tobacco juice into the face of Jane Fonda after waiting in line to have
her sign her new memoir.

Capt. Rich Lockhart of the Kansas
City Police Department said Michael A. Smith, 54, was arrested Tuesday
night on a municipal charge of disorderly conduct. He was released on
bond and is due to appear in court on May 27.

Fonda covers a wide
range of topics in "My Life So Far," including her 1972 visit to Hanoi
to protest the Vietnam War, during which she was photographed on a
North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. She has apologized for the photo,
but not for opposing the war.

Smith, a Vietnam veteran, told The
Kansas City Star Wednesday that Fonda was a "traitor" and that her
protests against the Vietnam War were unforgivable. He said he doesn’t
chew tobacco but did so Tuesday solely to spit juice on the actress.

consider it a debt of honor," he told The Star for a story on its Web
site. "She spit in our faces for 37 years. It was absolutely worth it.
There are a lot of veterans who would love to do what I did."

who flew to Minneapolis Wednesday for another appearance on her book
tour, issued a statement through Jynne Martin of Random House.

spite of the incident, my experience in Kansas City was wonderful and I
thank all the warm and supportive people, including so many veterans,
who came to welcome me last night," she said.

Fonda drew a crowd
of about 900 at Unity Temple, said Vivian Jennings, whose Rainy Day
Books of suburban Fairway, Kansas, sponsored the event.

said the 67-year-old actress never got up from her seat and continued
autographing books after the tobacco juice was wiped off.

"The important thing is that she was so calm and so gracious about it," Jennings said. "She was wonderful."

So let’s see. A bumblefuck, set on a romantically inflected mission (a la Civil War, a la Walter Scott, the whole shebang) by anti-Fonda rantings of the usual wingnut blogs, takes his stand by splurrting on a Hollywood leftist.

This is the best part of the whole show: "He said he doesn’t chew tobacco but did so Tuesday solely to spit juice on the actress." He self-consciously performs the part of the rednecked neanderthal – that he perhaps isn’t in real life… Sound familiar? Will and Grace watching moral values voters? Tech working drones of hypercapitalism in Atlanta settling into the pews of their suburban megamadrassa, all-medieval laserlight show of anti-modern veiled and not so veiled disgust with the new… And come election day, do they vote neo-liberal or for God’s other son?

But it’s not just the spitter but also the spittee that’s playing out the script.

Let’s see: a former "radical" that’s devolved into Oprahistic memoirism. Once Hayden’s wife, but broke with Ted Turner because she found religion and he couldn’t… And best of all, there’s her reaction to the whole thing: a gob of Red Man running down her face, she "never got up from her seat… she was so calm and gracious about it."

Sounds about right, oh so familiar, to me…

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April 21, 2005 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Politics

Badiou: from Worker to Immigrant

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WebaA paragraph from a brilliantly lucid piece by Peter Hallward on Badiou’s Politics.

The void left by
its disappearance [the term "workers], of course, has been filled by the obscure category of
‘immigrants’. Badiou has little trouble showing that ‘the hatred of immigrants
was established massively, consensually, at the level of the state, from
the moment when we began, in our representations of the world, to omit
the workers, the figure of the workers’ (LDP, 1.12.91: 3). It is obvious
that ‘the immense majority of immigrants are workers or people looking
for work’ (LDP, 1.12.91: 3) – hence the absurdity of current distinctions
between ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘economic migrants’. It is no less obvious
that the invention, as pseudo-political labels, of the terms ‘immigrant’,
‘foreigner’ ‘étranger’, ‘clandestin’, and so on, coincides
with the swing in global political economy over the 1980’s against organised
labour and popular movements generally.16
In France, Badiou points out, this movement can be dated quite precisely.
One of Mittérand’s first prime ministers, Pierre Mauroy, justified
the repression of a strike at Renault-Flins in 1983 on the basis that the
striking workers were ‘foreign to the social reality of France’ (LDP, 3.05.92:
12). The violent repression of another strike at Talbot later in the same
year confirmed the trend (LDP, 26-27.02.98: 18). Two years later, the socialist
Laurent Fabius confessed that it is ‘Le Pen [who] is posing the real questions’
(LDP, 19-20.04.96: 2), an admission effectively confirmed by Michel Rocard
(‘France cannot open its doors to the misery of the world’) and Mittérand
himself (‘we must struggle firmly against illegal immigration’) (LDP, 7.07.93:
6). The resulting consensus is indeed consistent, as the OP is at pains
to stress, with the general approach of the Front National. On the issues
of economic liberalism, immigration, crime, drugs, the banlieues,
the FN is ‘internal to the consensus’ established over two decades
of Mittérandisme (LDP, 22.06.97: 3).17
Hence the conclusion: ‘strengthen the workers, and thus limit Lepenism’
(LDP, 1.12.91: 3). Without a strong figure of the worker there can be no
effective response to the so-called ‘immigrant question’.

The common cause forged between the Front National and Mitterandisme found a precise mirror during the previous US election – in particular, during the process of determining the Democratic nominee. John Edwards’s economic populism, while not heading straight at immigrants, spoke the same code-words (tariffs, China, "free trade, but fair trade") that are aired nightly on Lou Dobbs’s show on CNN. (If you’re not familiar: a popular business tv-talking head from the (first) bubble period who tacked xenopopulist post-9/11 with recurring, actually almost complusive attention to "America’s Broken Borders."

Anyway, the issue of immigration is one of the many issues where US politics is distinctly in flux, with every side on the wrong side for the wrong reasons. The Democratic Party, pressured by the appeal of the North Carolinian Edwards (North Carolina has both been particularly hard hit by Chinese furniture imports and is facing up to their first wave of latin american lawn cutters and busboys) is lilting towards an anti-immigration, xenophobic stand. While Bush, against the grain of his patriotic rhetoric and against the wishes of his bubblefuck constituency, seems to have come to grips with the fact that the American economy instantly crumbles without the downward wage pressure of our hard-working uninvited guests… (The socially conservative lean of second generation latino voters doesn’t hurt either…)

At any rate, things have only gotten more complicated since the initial collation Badiou, via Halliward, describes above… In a certain sense, it’s not just the name "workers" – but their reality – that’s been taken over by the "immigrant," especially in New York, but actually nearly everywhere in the USA today… But Badiou’s point nonetheless holds: there’s something (everything) lost in the translation…

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April 20, 2005 at 1:34 am

Posted in Politics


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Democracy seems either to be ending or beginning in Mexico today, tonight, tomorrow…

MEXICO CITY, April 7 (Reuters) – About 150,000 Mexicans poured into the
streets on Thursday to support Mexico City’s leftist mayor, who
furiously decried a drive to knock him out of the 2006 presidential
race as an assault on democracy.

Take a look here or here or here.

(Of course, CNN’s doing an excellent job tonight preparing us to be prepared for tomorrow morning’s papal funeral and rehashing a random street-crime murder on the lower east side two years ago…)

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April 8, 2005 at 12:36 am

Posted in Politics

Chavez Next?

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Take a look at this very thorough post at Critical Montages on Venezuela, Chavez, and the gathering clouds of US intervention. (Found via Charlotte Street…)

The piece is centered on this ominous little number that I had missed in the FT this week:

Senior US administration officials are working on a policy to "contain"
Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, and what they allege is his
drive to "subvert" Latin America’s least stable states.

strategy aimed at fencing in the government of the world’s
fifth-largest oil exporter is being prepared at the request of
President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state,
senior US officials say. The move signals a renewed interest by the
administration in a region that has been relatively neglected in recent

Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant secretary for
western hemisphere affairs at the US Department of Defense, said the
Venezuela policy was being developed because Mr Chávez was employing a
"hyena strategy" in the region.

"Chávez is a problem because he
is clearly using his oil money and influence to introduce his
conflictive style into the politics of other countries," Mr
Pardo-Maurer said in an interview with the Financial Times.

"He’s picking on the countries whose social fabric is the weakest," he added. "In some cases it’s downright subversion."

Chávez, whose government has enjoyed bumper export revenues during his
six years in office thanks to high oil prices, has denied that he is
aiding insurgent groups in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia and
Peru. But a tougher stance from the US appears to be in the offing, a
move that is likely to worsen strained bilateral relations.

policy shift in Washington, which a US military officer said is at an
early stage but is centred on the goal of "containment", could also
have implications for the world oil market.

Mr Chávez has
threatened to suspend oil shipments to the US if it attempts to oust
him. He and Fidel Castro, the Cuban president, have alleged, without
offering proof, that the Bush administration was plotting to
assassinate the Venezuelan leader, an allegation that US officials have
dismissed as "wild".

Suggestions that Mr Chávez backs subversive
groups surface frequently, although so far also with scant evidence.
Colombian officials close to President Alvaro Uribe say Venezuela is
giving sanctuary to Colombian guerrillas, deemed "terrorists" by the US
and Europe.

US officials say Mr Chávez financed Evo Morales, the
Bolivian indigenous leader whose followers last week unsuccessfully
tried to force President Carlos Mesa’s resignation. In Peru allegations
emerged suggesting that Mr Chávez financed a rogue army officer who
tried to incite a rebellion against President Alejandro Toledo in

Mr Chávez has dismissed such claims as fabrications
designed to undermine his attempts to foster greater political and
economic integration in Latin America.

Mr Pardo-Maurer said
Washington has run out of patience: "We have reached the end of the
road of the current approach." (Andy Webb-Vidal, "Bush Orders Policy to
‘Contain’ Chávez," March 13, 2005)

I really hope that if this one comes to a head, I won’t be having the same conversations that I had with left-interventionist friends as I did in the run up to Iraq… Seems ridiculous now to think that it could go the same way, but the world’s gone funny somehow…

Hard not to see Latin America as the last best hope nowadays. The Bush administration’s attention only ratifies that sense, no?

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March 17, 2005 at 9:55 pm

Posted in Politics

Iraqi Ordinary

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A highly selective anthology of passages from reviews of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11:

Christopher Hitchens, "Unfairenheit 9/11," Slate:

In this peaceable kingdom,
according to Moore’s flabbergasting
choice of film shots, children are flying little kites, shoppers are smiling in
the sunshine, and the gentle rhythms of life are undisturbed. Then—wham! From
the night sky come the terror weapons of American imperialism. Watching the
clips Moore uses, and recalling
them well, I can recognize various Saddam palaces and military and police
centers getting the treatment. But these sites are not identified as such. In
fact, I don’t think Al Jazeera would,
on a bad day, have transmitted anything so utterly propagandistic. You would
also be led to think that the term "civilian casualty" had not even
been in the Iraqi vocabulary until March 2003.

Ann Hornaday, "Presidental Pursuits," Washington Post:

But he’s Michael Moore, after all,
and sometimes he goes too far. His prewar portrait of Iraq as a garden spot of happy families and kids flying kites would no doubt strike
thousands of former Iraqi prisoners and their families as risible, if not

Jonathan Foreman, "Moore’s the Pity," The New York Post:

The most offensive sequence in “Fahrenheit 9/11“‘s long two hours lasts
only a few minutes. It’s Moore’s file-footage depiction of happy Iraq
before the Americans began their supposedly pointless invasion. You see
men sitting in cafes, kids flying kites, women shopping. Cut to bombs
exploding at night.

What Moore presumably doesn’t know, or simply doesn’t care about, is
that the building you see being blown up is the Iraqi Ministry of
Defense in Baghdad. Not many children flew kites there. It was in a
part of the city that ordinary Iraqis weren’t allowed to visit — on
pain of death.

And if Moore weren’t a (left-wing) version of the fat, bigoted,
ignorant Americans his European friends love to mock, he’d know that
prewar Iraq was ruled by a regime that had forced a sixth of its
population into fearful exile, that hanged dissidents (real dissidents,
not people like Susan Sontag and Tim Robbins) from meathooks and
tortured them with blowtorches, and filled thousands of mass graves
with the bodies of its massacred citizens.

Yes, children played, women shopped and men sat in cafes while that
stuff went on — just as people did all those normal things in Somoza’s
Nicaragua, Duvalier’s Haiti and for that matter Nazi Germany, and as
they do just about everywhere, including in Iraq today.

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January 29, 2005 at 1:31 am

Posted in Politics


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Headlines in today’s Financial Times:

1) "Congress targets Iran for Regime Change"
2) "White House remains wary as neocons turn their attention to Iran"
3) Pentagon hits at Tehran claims

Headlines that mention Iran in today’s NY Times:

Sorry, none…

Hmm… News black out. Weird that I first saw the word "Iran" this week on the cover of one the free dailies they hand out at subway stations here in NYC. Someone was reading the paper on the train. Then checked the tabloids at the bodega. "Iran" and "Iran." But the paper of record, no dice.

Have they cut us out of the loop on this one? Has it already started?

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January 18, 2005 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Politics

Starve the Beast: Pell Grants

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From the NYT today, two paragraphs down deep in "Students to Bear More of the Cost of College":

Painful though it may be, supporters of the new rules say, trimming
back on awards has its benefits, especially for future students.

and lawmakers on all sides have long agreed that the maximum Pell
Grant, currently set at $4,050 a year, is wholly inadequate given
today’s college costs. But, supporters of the changes say, unless there
is a serious effort to scale back the program, whose costs have been
exceeding lawmakers’ appropriations for it, Congress may never be in a
position to give larger awards to the poorest of students, who need
them the most.

This isn’t a bait and switch, right? I mean, don’t think I’m not thankful that you’re saving Social Security for us, and that I got such a proportionally huge-tax cut like you promised, and it makes me feel better that the War on Terror for Universal Freedom… that the War is almost over, right after Baghdad transitional government Falluja the elections come in January. But would it just be possible to get this in writing – the fact that the current Pell Grant rollback is only a stepping stone to a new and improved Pell Grant system, targetted at those who need it most???

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December 23, 2004 at 9:00 am

Posted in Politics

Wrong Time to Lose the Auto-Pen

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Tough week for Rummy… First this

In a statement first issued to Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper, Rumsfeld said he would begin signing the letters himself. Defense Department officials said Monday that Rumsfeld’s initial use of an automated signature machine, a tool commonly used by public officials for mass mailings, was only to assure that the families received their letters quickly.

..then this:

A guerrilla attack on a dining tent at a U.S. base in Iraq killed 19
American soldiers and three other people on Tuesday in the deadliest
strike on U.S. forces since last year’s war to oust Saddam Hussein.

Wrong time to get your auto-pen taken away, no? I’m sure he’ll soldier through all 19 signatures, though, since, as his Boss says, in full non-sequiturial aploom: "I know Secretary Rumsfeld’s heart."

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December 21, 2004 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Politics

The Schmitt Hits the Fan

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Excellent paper by Simon Critchley that I found at pas au-dela. The paper’s on the "Crypto-Schmittianism" of the Bush administration. (Short version of what this means: they know that politics is politics (i.e. is war), (here comes the "crypto" part) but they act as if the political is never political…

(My wife tells me that it was probably from a special faculty seminar
in the wake of the election that went on at the Graduate Faculty of the
New School…)

Not a Schmitt expert. But here’s my question – as Schmittianism ever not been crypto, even in Schmitt’s eyes? Was in an advocate of transparency in all of this?

(Funny – after all that’s been said about Schmitt – like Critchley’s paper, for instance – hard for me to call to mind the tone of the actual works. Is The Concept of the Political descriptive or pragmatic? Why does it have the shimmer in my mind of Machiavelli for the Modern Age.)

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December 8, 2004 at 11:42 pm

Posted in Politics

Think I’m Finally Starting to Get It

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Matt Yglesias, linking to a Sullivan post, discusses here the "’secret sin’ theory of politics."

People become social conservatives because they worry that without the
long arm of the state holding them back, they would instantly turn into
degenerates. Or, at least, "red America" is disproportionately
interested in state enforcement of traditional sexual norms because
these are actually the areas most plagued with sex-related social
pathologies. It’s an idea that can be turned around. According to the
"secret sin" theory, people become liberals because they worry that
without the long arm of the state reaching into their pockets, they
would instantly turn into selfish bastards who never lift a finger (or
spare a dime) for the poor. And, indeed, it’s true that the red states
are more charitable than the blue ones.

And then today, this astounding passage in the Times’s How to Sell a Candidate to a Porsche-Driving, Leno-Loving Nascar Fan.

The data also yielded unexpected insights. One of the shows most popular with Republicans, especially Republican women ages 18 to 34, turned out to be "Will & Grace," the sitcom about gay life in New York. As a result, while Mr. Bush was shoring up his conservative credentials by supporting a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, his advertising team was buying time on a program that celebrates gay culture.
The Bush team broadcast commercials 473 times on "Will & Grace" in markets across the country from Jan. 1 to Nov. 2, according to the Wisconsin project. (The Kerry campaign broadcast commercials 859 times on the show.)

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December 6, 2004 at 9:23 am

Posted in Politics

The New York Times > International > Asia Pacific > China’s Textbooks Twist and Omit History

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Thank God we live in a free country. In China, it seems, they aren’t even honest with themselves about the difference between defensive and offensive wars.

From today’s Times: China’s Textbooks Twist and Omit History.

Most Chinese students finish high school convinced that their country has fought wars only in self-defense, never aggressively or in conquest, despite the People’s Liberation Army’s invasion of Tibet in 1950 and the ill-fated war with Vietnam in 1979, to take two examples.

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December 6, 2004 at 9:06 am

Posted in Politics