An Idiotarian Without Imagination

Little Green Footballs named Glenn Beck their Idiotarian-of-the-Year for 2009, which is a fitting, if obvious, selection. It made me wonder about the Idiotarian-of-the-Decade. My nemesis, G. Walker Bush, is perhaps a too-easy candidate. I’ve ultimately decided that such a ignominious award should go to Francis Fukuyama.

Fukuyama is best known for “The End of History,” a 1989 paper based on a lecture that eventually became a full-length book. 20 years after the fact, I’m calling Fukuyama out because the 2000’s saw the clearest implementation of policy based on Fukuyama’s theories, and, simultaneously, the total refutation of these same moronic theories.

Big events in 1989 inspired small ideas in Fukuyama’s head. As you recall, these were the times when the Berlin Wall fell, when the USSR broke up, when the Cold War ostensibly ended. For Fukuyama, these events represented the total triumph of liberal democracy and free market capitalism. Politically speaking, mankind was now at the end of our ideological evolution having successfully reached our “final form of government.” Like all good Modernists, Fukuyama craved a “homogenous state” characterized by “easy access to VCRs and stereos.” It’s very revealing that he considers consumerism to be a hallmark of an advanced society, and not, for example, easy access to healthcare or employment.

Fukuyama is not as well-known in the mainstream as, say, Milton Friedman (or Thomas Friedman for that matter), but he had a profound influence on neo-conservative ideology. If we are literally living at the end of history, if everything from here on out are merely trifling footnotes, what do we make of those who are resisting this history? How do we handle the “various provinces of human civilization” who need to be “brought up to the level of its most advanced outposts?” You wouldn’t be far off if you guessed perpetual war to secure perpetual peace in order that free economies might ineluctably spread to every corner of the globe. In Fukuyama’s old-fashioned metanarrative, those with the wrong ideology are literally backward-looking people, old-fashioned savages stuck in another age. You can justify all sorts of brutal behavior in the name of Progress. Hence the reason, in part, that nuking the shit out of the Japanese was legitimate: for Fukuyama, the nukes literally bombed ideology (not simply, or even primarily, people) so as to permanently erase fascist ideology from their culture. (more…)

It Felt Like a Trap

I’ve spent the last couple of days of soaking up more films by Adam Curtis, one of the best living documentary filmmakers. Last year I watched The Power of Nightmares; earlier this year I saw The Century of the Self; lately I’ve been working through his two most recent: The Trap (2007) and It Felt Like a Kiss (2009).

It Felt Like a Kiss is an experimental film that is a haunting evocation of the essence of life during the Cold War. Its cast features “Rock Hudson, Saddam Hussein, Lee Harvey Oswald, Doris Day, Enos the chimp, and everyone above Level 7 in the CIA.” The excellent soundtrack was composed by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, etc) and performed by the Kronos Quartet, with loads of additional pop tracks from the period. There’s no real semblance of a plot or, unlike Curtis’ other films, any sort of thesis. It Felt Like a Kiss is quintessential Curtis in terms of look: heavy use of montages (including some dizzying works of editing genius) and heavy use of archival footage, proving that Curtis probably spends 8 hours a day poring through old film reels. Yet this is also a new Curtis — less documentarian, more artist. The result is a trippy hour-long exploration of the ironies, oddities, and ambiguities of 3 or 4 of the most pivotal decades in American history. Were the U.S. a psychotic individual, this film would be its deranged subconscious bubbling up, exposing some of the roots of our modern American madness.


In the Name of Jesus I Waterboard Thee

How’s this for some cheery Memorial Day reading?

Some true believer sez:

“It’s likely even Jesus would have OK’d water boarding if it would have saved his Mom. He would’ve done the same to save his Dad, or any one of His disciples. For that matter, He even died to save all humans.

It’s obvious He would not be happy with those who voted for the candidate who kills because it’s above his “pay grade” to know if they’re alive. Checking the Commandments, killing innocents is against the 5th. Because pro-aborts don’t know for sure life does not exist at conception, they are still willing to risk that it’s not killing.”

The whole post is a confused muddle of half-truths & fuzzy logic, but this part takes the cake. 

It reminded me of those intelligence briefings Rummy used to give to Bush. Nothing says ‘love of God’ like a clusterbomb to the face.

I think one of the worst parts is that all this accomodation to macabre war theology is contingent on a higher allegiance to the Republican party. Torture never looked so appealing ’til Dubya told us it was God’s will.

Books Read in 2008

I tried to read a book/week again, which seems very reasonable, but fell short once again. I’m about halfway through a dozen other books, which I’ll probably just finish & count for ’09. Under each category, they’re listed in the order I read them. Incidentally, the first book I read in 2008 was The Audacity of Hope by Mister Obama. (more…)

Messiahs & Monomyths

One of the most interesting pre-election interviews I saw was of arch-conservative Bill Kristol with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show just a few days before the 4th. One of the striking things Kristol said was that “I don’t think [Obama] would be a very radical president. I think he’ll disappoint a lot of people on the left, because he’ll be a conventionally liberal president.” I’ve thought a lot about this quote, especially as Obama’s picked his staff and proven Kristol exactly right so far. But I’m unsure just how “radical” anybody on the left ever expected him to be (we had Nader, Klein, Chomsky, et al to keep our expectations low).

However, whenever I stumble upon the lunatic fringe of the far-right (say, WorldNetDaily or FreeRepublic for example) I’m sometimes surprised at how often they try to paint Barack Obama as the left’s “Messiah.” It’s unclear, of course, who actually believes this. In reality, Republicans are far more obsessed with Obama’s supposed messiahship than liberals are. There’s no doubt that a number of people have said nutty things, among them Louis Farrakhan and, to a lesser extent, Oprah Winfrey, but there’s not much evidence that most people see Obama as anything other than an inspiring figure. Obama’s election team have admitted that McCain’s “celebrity” ads over the summer had them most worried — but being a celebrity is far different than being a messiah. (more…)

Interventionism for Fun and Profit

Yesterday I came across this Congressional Research Service report listing “Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2004.” I took the data and made a graph:

It would appear Presidents Clinton & Bush enjoy playing chess with armed forces. It will be interesting to see the updated report through the present year since the first 5 years set us on pace to out-do the military extravaganza of the ’90s.

How to Ruin a Life

Gather ’round boys and girls, I have a story to share with you:
This is a story about unmitigated greed. A tragic story about obscenely wealthy people eager to fleece middle-class Americans, and how those same people had to destroy the life of one man to do so.

You see, our current mortgage & loan crisis did not develop overnight. The loan sharks were ravaging homebuyers throughout 2003 (the so-called “heyday”) and into 2006. Early on, a second-term politician found himself increasingly concerned about these predator lenders and the false or misleading mortage terms they were foisting on consumers (especially egregious rates, we later learned, if you were African-American).

Fortunately, all 50 states have laws regulating predatory lending and protecting buyers. For all their faults, these laws are remarkably successful and have widespread bi-partisan support.

This, of course, did not please the banks. They helped elect George Bush Jr, so why wasn’t he helping them pillage this country? So they — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and others — asked some obscure government officials to help out: The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, an agency under the Department of the Treasury. “Why,” they asked in April 2003, “do we have to follow state laws that restrict our powers to impose terrible loans on unwitting customers?” So in August 2003 the “OCC invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative” (WaPo). The Democrats on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee naturally told the OCC how ridiculous this all was, but they obviously didn’t care one iota.

Seeing as this was one big middle finger to each of the states from Comptroller John D. Hawke Jr, all of the state attorney generals (including both Republicans and Democrats) were pretty upset over such an obvious impositional declaration of federal power in the interest of a small cohort of banking buddies. By January 2004, the OCC was proudly trumpeting it’s right to “sole governance” in these banking matters. Our aforementioned second-term politician was one of these concerned state attorneys, and he organized everyone together and sued the OCC over their usurption of power and general asshattery. The playground for this epic battle was in the form of Michigan (backed by all 49 other states) versus Wachovia, a momentous trial that nobody’s heard about.

Aiding Wachovia, of course, were the most high-powered legal authorities around — backed by U.S. Chamber of Commerce, our country’s largest pro-business lobbying firm. The USCC decided to go on the offensive, launching attacks on our crusading attorney general (who was now governor) and accusing him of bullying. This governor, and his 50-state strong league, stood no chance against Wachovia. They lost their final appeal in December 2007. They were really fighting the OCC, of course, and to a lesser degree the Department of the Treasury.

These banks, however, couldn’t let it go. Who was this bully, elected by the people, to attempt to oversee their procedures and checkbooks? A few months after he lost the lawsuit, with the OCC ruled the henhouse and states impotent to regulate their own banks, our intrepid crusading governor made a tactical mis-step: he went public.

In February 2008 he wrote an editorial for the Washington Post, explaining the situation, predicting an impending mortage & loan disaster, and faulting the OCC for their role in this. Except he also faulted President George W. Bush. Naturally Bush and the banks look out for each other, see, and having a popular governor blast you in the conservative press didn’t look so good. Oh, not to mention that whole three-year lawsuit thing.

And so this crusading/bullying corporate-watchdog governor was taken out, a mere three weeks after his WaPo editorial appeared.

Not by bullets, you see, for these people have morals (they leave that dirty stuff to their friends in the CIA). But these people found a way to completely discredit him, a way to permanently disgrace him and get him out of their way forever. “Revenge’s a bitch” they said, tapping his phone and beginning the process of destroying one man’s life as payback for his attempt to stop, or at least slow, their fleecing of the American public.

Unfortunately for him, among his many other faults was one in particular that stood out: like so many other elite, he liked to pay beautiful women to have sex with him. And so dear friends, his penchant for high-priced hookers, including a brunette named “Kristen,” is the reason we don’t hear a whole lot from ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer these days — arguably one of the few men best in a position to tell us what’s gone on this September and how we got this terrible mess we’re in.

-> Predatory Lenders’ Partner in Crime: How the Bush Administration Stopped the States From Stepping In to Help Consumers by Eliot Spitzer, February 2008.

An Alternate History

For some time now I’ve been trying to compose the speech President Bush should’ve given on 9/11/01. Someone much wiser beat me to it:

My fellow Americans: We have been hit. The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon have damaged every one of us. We are filled with anger and rage, for in 200 years our country has never experienced such an attack from the outside.So everything in us cries out for revenge. Should we give in to this cry? It would be the easier way. And I am sure you would support me if I mobilized our troops to hunt down the terrorists and those who helped them wherever they are hiding.

But I propose to take another route. It may baffle you, even infuriate you, at first hearing. But I ask that you consider it with care. (more…)

Why I Pay My Taxes

Dear Taxpayer,

Your contribution this fiscal year was put toward the maintenance of an F-15 fighter jet, which on October 16 dropped a bomb on the town of Ramadi, in Iraq, killing, among others, Muhammed Salih Ali (age six) and Haifa Ahmed Fuad (age eight) and Saad Ahmed Fuad (age four). Little Haifa and Saad were sister and brother; you helped accomplish their deaths by a jet very similar to, if not exactly the same as, those that fly over the stadium after the American Idol winner sings “and the home of the brave” at the Super Bowl.

Thank you and congratulations.

— from “Why I Pay My Taxes” by Ben Metcalf in Harpers magazine, April 2008.