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Archive for October, 2008

pomo

Think Culture has a brief yet thoughtful explanation of our contemporary post-racial climate.

Postmodernity has become an horror show of lazy irony. I indulge in the aethetic because of my place and time; education economics but find the stagnant nihilism and laissez faire just-for-lols approach to things that are worth earnestness overwhelmingly problematic. That isn’t to say there aren’t thinks about the pomo that I don’t adore–the playfulness with narrative structure in literature, the damn-near anarchical splintering of personal taste spurn on by consumerism. The common people seek the refuge of solid things, nationalism, patriarchy and racial superiority, built on a false notion of tradition to escape the overarching anomie that has plagued the western world since the epoch of modernity began. As individuals, we must competantly navigate between absurdity ad nauseum and, yea fuck it, the straight up fucking fascist. It is your responsibility not because of it was ordain from on high but because it can foster a more cohesive, well ordered system of thought and living–a romantic dream in a world of ambiguity and chaos that is perhaps impossible but worth striving for. That is my concept of the progressive, my reason for caring about politics.

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  • Former leader of the lunatic-right Austrian Freedom Party Jorg Haider died in a car accident on October 11.  Today, the new party leader confirmed in a radio interview that he and Haider had been lovers.  Sadly, Bruno could not be reached for comment.
  • It’s not a put-on, it’s not faux-populism, it’s not political, self-conscious anti-intellectualism.  Nope.  Sarah Palin is just a straight-up idiot.
  • The financial crisis is the result of a number of complex processes.  However, this instant message exchange among Standard and Poors analysts (revealed in testimony to the House Oversight Committee,) goes a long way towards explaining how we got here:

Rahul Dilip Shah: btw: that deal is ridiculous

Shannon Mooney: I know right … model def does not capture half of the risk

Rahul Dilip Shah: we should not be rating it

Shannon Mooney: we rate every deal

Shannon Mooney: it could be structured by cows and we would rate it

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Republican Congressman Scott Garrett is not used to close races.  The north Jersey conservative has been elected 3 times by double-digit margins.  Even in the coming Democratic onslaught, Garrett was generally considered a safe seat.  Until early October, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had left its quixotic candidate Dennis Shulman off the target list for national-level funding.

Very few public polls have been run in NJ-5, with one from the end of September giving Garrett a comfortable but not overwhelming 49%-34% lead.  (“Safe” incumbents generally break 50%.)  For reference, the same poll gave McCain a 52%-37% lead in the district.  In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Garrett’s position as a GOP leader on the banking committee may have softened his support, and this poll also pre-dated all three of Shulman and Garrett’s debates.  Combined with the district’s style of Republicanism, (we’re talking rich folks, not snake-handlers,) NJ-5 began to look like a long-shot worth fighting for, and the DCCC officially added Shulman to their “Red to Blue” program on October 14.

The New York Times has an excellent article on Shulman from September.  He’s a blind Rabbi, PhD in clinical psych from Harvard.  (His mother must be so proud!)  Shulman has proven an outstanding fundraiser for someone in a district that hasn’t been competative in years, and between his compelling life story and Obama’s coattails could make a real race of this sleeper district.  So how does Garrett respond?

Stay classy, asshole.  For real, that’s a blind Rabbi they’re pairing with Iranian President Ahmadinejad.  But wait, there’s more!  New Jersey political reporter Matt Friedman writes:

Today, the Dennis Shulman campaign decried a mailer from incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) that put a small picture of Shulman, a rabbi, in front of a much larger picture of a Hamas member carrying an AK-47.

“Should we be talking with terrorists,” it reads in large, blood red letters. “Dennis Shulman thinks so.”

Oy. Fuck. Vey.

Shulman is a great candidate running against a real nasty dude, so show him some love even if it isn’t your district.  Because something good has to come from Bergen County besides a world-class drum corps that decamped to Pennsylvania anyway.

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The London bus system sells advertising, and they aren’t terribly picky who they sell to.  In June, ads on London buses carried a link to a website explaining that non-believers would “spend all eternity in torment in hell.”  In response, journalist Ariane Sherine wrote in The Guardian that atheists should counter with their own bus advertisement.  So they (we) did.  Donations from individuals are pouring in, almost GBP 50,000 compared to the organizers‘ modest goal of raising 10,000.  The British Humanist Society is also ponying up, while the world’s most prominant atheist has promised GBP 5,500 of his own.  All this money will help put the following on the streets of London starting in January:

Roll on, Atheism Bus

Roll on, Atheism Bus

It’s a fun, cheery message.  Good for Dawkins, Sherine, and all involved.

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Where’d Palin come from?  Lost in the bad press, McCathyism, and populist chicanery is the fascinating story of how Little Miss Wasilla charmed the pants off the Republican intellectual establishment*

*(Take the phrase under advisement when this fool is allowed onto the reservation.)

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker magazine, (now with more racism!) uncovers the gory details:

“During her gubernatorial campaign, (policy advisor John) Bitney said, he began predicting to Palin that she would make the short list of Republican Vice-Presidential prospects. “She had the biography, I told her, to be a contender,” he recalled. At first, Palin only laughed. But within a few months of being sworn in she and others in her circle noticed that a blogger named Adam Brickley had started a movement to draft her as Vice-President. Palin also learned that a number of prominent conservative pundits would soon be passing through Juneau, on cruises sponsored by right-leaning political magazines. She invited these insiders to the governor’s mansion, and even led some of them on a helicopter tour.”

Although the McCain-Palin campaign has trashed the media and coastal elites, the governor spent tens of thousands of dollars on east coast PR firms to promote her pipeline projects to such small-town main-street publications as the New York Times, Washington Post, and Fortune.  The blogger Brickley, who originally registered the PalinforVP website, is a similarly textbook product of the big right-wing institutions:  He’s attended workshops at the Young America Foundation and interned for Heritage.  While Brickley was passing word around the internet, the conservative establishment was trekking north to the realm of the moose queen:

“Shortly after taking office, Palin received two memos from Paulette Simpson, the Alaska Federation of Republican Women leader, noting that two prominent conservative magazines—The Weekly Standard, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.—were planning luxury cruises to Alaska in the summer of 2007, which would make stops in Juneau.”

This motley band of assholes included National Review editor Bill “the smiling assassin” Kristol, Weekly Standard editor Fred “the dead-ender” Barnes, and Bush speechwriter Michael “Axis of Evil” Gerson.  The group met with Palin for lunch at the governor’s mansion, as well as a “flight-seeing trip” along the Alaskan coast.  Barnes recalled “being struck by how smart Palin was, and how unusually confident. Maybe because she had been a beauty queen, and a star athlete, and succeeded at almost everything she had done.”  He also added that she was “exceptionally pretty.”  Gerson called her “a mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.”  Paulette Simpson of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women described the all-male, all-over-55 group as “very enamored of her.”  Shortly after, Barnes’ Weekly Standard ran the first major national article on the governor.  Policy Advisor Bitney attributed this first step towards national prominance to the group’s lunch date.

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Crime) later noted that “Kristol was really pushing Palin” around the DC cocktail circuit before McCain picked her.  Two months before her selection, with Palin still far from the national radar, Kristol told Fox News Sunday that she would be the VP pick. In fact, Kristol harped on Sexy Sarah so shamelessly that moderator Chris Wallace asked him “Can we please get off Sarah Palin?”  (Later, Kristol referred to the governor as “my heartthrob.”)

Palin also entertained other conservative elites on a second National Review cruise.  Guests included the Review’s Rich “starbursts” Lowry, failed Supreme Court nominee Robert “Colonel Sanders” Bork, and Fox News’ Dick “toe-sucking” Morris.

Conservative historian* Victor Davis Hanson recalled Palin “in high heels, walking around this big Victorian house with rough Alaska floors,” and described her as “striking.”  Review senior editor Jay Nordlinger was admirably direct in referring to the governer as “a real honey” in an online column.

*(I’m using “historian” guardedly.)

Two days after Palin’s selection, the excessively sleazy Morris wrote of the event:  “I will always remember taking her aside and telling her that she might one day be tapped to be Vice-President, given her record and the shortage of female political talent in the Republican Party.  She will make one hell of a candidate, and hats off to McCain for picking her.”  Attendees recalled that Morris warned the governor that she would have to “stay an outsider” to be successful after campaigning as one.”

This was all groundwork for handing her to McCain.  McMaverick wanted Lieberman, but his advisors vetoed the pick.  Rove wanted Romney, but McCain and Romney never got along.  Choices such as Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former U.S. Trade Rep Rob Portman were boring and added little to the ticket.  Without any good options, advisors congealed around Palin.  According to David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, super-lobbyist Charlie Black told McCain: “If you pick anyone else, you’re going to lose. But if you pick Palin you may win.”  (Black is a nasty, nasty character fwiw.)

The story of Palin really isn’t small-town-girl-makes-good.  Rather, it’s a classic example of the Washington elite converging on a popular person and creating her via money and influence.  The whole New Yorker feature is here and worth a read.

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The RNC has spent $150,000 on clothes for her in less than 4 months.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in the middle of the collapse of our nation’s financial institutions the party that claims the right to call themselves the only ‘true’ Americans thinks its perfectly acceptable to  swaddle its cultural populist  mouth peace in the equivalent of 15 people’s annual health care cost.

Disgusting.

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Your Turkish judiciary update

Yesterday, 86 people went up on trial in Turkey in what the Telegraph called the country’s “most important political trial in a decade.”  The mass of defendants, including journalists and former generals, are charged with assassinations and bombings in an effort to overthrow the government.  The case focuses on a shadowy ultra-nationalist organization called Ergenekon, allegedly made up of police, military officials, and businessmen.  The first journalist to report on the network described Ergenekon as above the general staff, the MIT (national intelligence organization) and the prime minister.”  The ultra-nationalist gang is at the core of the 2,400-page indictment, which includes charges for killing a judge, priest, journalist and three Christian publishing house employees in an effort to destabilize the government.

It’s been a busy few years in the Turkish judiciary.  Last year, three teenagers with alleged ties to nationalist groups were charged with the murder of prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.  Dink was best known for his articles about the Turkish mass killings of Armenians in 1915, still a central issue in Turkish political culture.  In 2006, Nobel winning author Orhan Pamuk was tried under the controversial Article 301, “insulting Turkishness,” for raising the Armenian issue in an interview.  (The case was dropped.)

All of this brings us to the bigger question of Turkish political culture.  The country is currently governed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP,) which the Turkish Daily News helpfully summarizes as a “liberal party…with ‘Islamist roots,” a “pro-Western mainstream party with a ‘conservative’ social agenda but also a firm commitment to liberal market economy and European Union membership.”  AKP is currently an observer member of the European People’s Party, and while this is a rash oversimplification, it helps to think of the AKP as a Muslim version of a European-style Christian Democratic Party.  Critics of AKP, however, compare it to the now-banned Welfare Party, the last major Islamic-oriented political movement in the country.  AKP has already faced the courts repeatedly on allegations of promoting an Islamist agenda.  Despite this, the party remains popular and recently won elections by a large margin.  Groups like Erganekon, as well as any number of better-meaning secularists, still have doubts about AKP’s intentions.

The main opposition is the Republican People’s Party (CHP,) founded by national hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.  CHP is the heir to Kemalist secularism, and while it historically billed itself as social democratic has moved to embrace free-market positions in recent years.  CHP’s base is urban areas, the western part of the country, and Istanbul, and it has always been most popular with the educated classes and white-coller workers.  The party’s Kemalist perspective places it neatly in line with the military, traditionally the strongest defender of secularism in the country and author of the awesomely-named “post-modern coup” against the Welfare Party government in 1997.

Party politics take place under the dual clouds of the military and the “deep state,” a unique Turkish phenomenon.  Multiple former presidents have referred to the deep state, which consists of some combination of the military, the intelligence services, and the bureacuratic structure.  Political leftists claim that the deep state is hyper-nationalistic, corporatist, and anti-democratic, while supporters of parties like the AKP accuse this shadowy entity of promoting secularism through force.  This may sound a bit paranoid, but most Turks believe it exists in some form and its existence holds a regularized place in the political discourse.  President Erdogan claimed that the deep state has its roots as far back as the Ottoman Empire.

What makes all of this so fascinating is the way that this entire political dialogue seems to clash with the ways that left and right, democratic and authoritarian, secular and religious work elsewhere in the Middle East.  The AKP is an Islamic-oriented party, with huge constituencies among the poor and working-classes, including the legions of headscarf-wearing women in rural areas, while the CHP’s secularism is built around a coalition of well-educated urbanites in a way resembling a sort of Turkish laïcité. But despite all manner of allegations about a hidden sharia agenda, it is the AKP that has been the strongest supporter of European Union integration and shown the best commitment to democratic practices.  It’s also hard to find a modern regional parallel for CHP.  Despite its anti-democratic tendencies, CHP has also peacefully ceded power a number of times and hardly resembles the outright authoritarians of something like the Ba’ath Party family.  CHP also has historically decent relations with Israel (downright sunny for any ruling party in a Muslim country) including recognizing the state in 1949; while the radically nationalistic military has direct ties to the Jewish state.

The Ergenekon case arises from this unique atmosphere. Prosecutors are comparing the organization to the Italian Gladio network, an anti-communist organization that carried out assassinations and bombings through the 1970s.  Interestingly, many of the alleged crimes were not targeted at the government directly.  Attacks on the offices of the pro-military newspaper Cumhuriyet, as well as plans for”shock assasinations” of Greek, Jewish, and Armenian religious and business leaders, were intended to discredit the regime and move public opinion towards a stronger enforcement of secularism.

So here we have a country where the state’s chief prosecutor accuses the government of attempting to implement Sharia; while radical secularists themselves try to discredit the regime by assassinating non-Muslim religious leaders.

But here’s the good news! As weird as it all looks, Turkey actually has a very successful model of blending religion with modernism compared to many other Muslim-majority countries, and they’re working on exporting it.  So read up on the Turkish schools in Pakistan, as well as the most important man you’ve probably never heard of — especially as Turkey begins to expand its role in regional diplomacy.

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