Polizeros Radio. Domestic Terrorism. The Pakistan assassination

The Tuscon shootings and its ramifications. Does extremist talk create violence? Is there more violence coming or will we start to moderate? Also, the Taseer assassination in Pakistan, which was praised by religious extremists. With Bob Morris of Politics in the Zeros, Steve Hynd of Newshoggers, and Josh Mull of Firedoglake & Rethink Afghanistan.

With Steve Hynd of Newshoggers, and Josh Mull of Firedoglake & Rethink Afghanistan and myself.

Listen to the show on BlogTalkRadio.

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Sorry, Jon Stewart, but I was just way too busy to make it to your rally

As we all know, there was a rally in Washington, DC on Saturday.  It’s gotten tons of attention in the media and had some high profile guests, like The Roots, Jeff Tweedy, the Mythbusters and, of course, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Its aim is…well, nothing.  Just to get together on the national mall, have some laughs, and get the Viacom-sponsored duo some attention.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But my previous enthusiasm for the rally and for the brave master satirists hosting it has been tempered lately.  It seems not to be any kind of beneficial political activity, but, as Irregular Times put it, a promotion of “inactivism.”

The Rally to Restore Sanity was corporate-sponsored, televised, tweeted, and perhaps a strikingly accurate (and sad) reflection of what America is today.

The website Irregular Times has done a good job of writing about this over the past few days.  Here are a few choice cuts:

Fuck you, Kid Rock

“I can’t stop the war, shelter homeless, feed the poor
I can’t walk on water, I can’t save your sons and daughters
Well I can’t change the world to make things fair
The least that I can do is care.”

– Kid Rock, Rally to Restore Sanity

The hell you can’t:

Kid Rock,
who lives in one mansion in Malibu
another mansion in Michigan
and voted for John McCain
to keep his capital gains taxes lower

The man is filthy rich. Kid Rock can do a lot of the things he says he can’t do. He chooses not to. If we work together, we can stop the war, shelter homeless, feed the poor and change the world to make things fair. Will we choose to?

Jon Stewart’s Rally To Help Corporations Outsource American Jobs To Overseas Sweatshop

Unlike a genuine political rally, Jon Stewart’s Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear was full of corporate advertisements. People attending the rally were handed pre-made signs to show whether they stood with Sanity or with Fear… and on the back of every sign was an advertisement for Yahoo.

In another bit of advertising, free hand towels were handed out to people attending the rally, because… well, I have no idea why they were handed out. What do people attending a rally on the National Mall need with a hand towel? The hand towels featured the official logo of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and the logo of Reese’s, which makes candies with chocolate that’s harvested by child slaves in Africa. The towel itself was manufactured not in the USA, but in India, where textiles factories have a long and consistent history of using child labor, paid pennies a day to work in dangerous sweatshop conditions, if the children are paid at all.

Jon Stewart Fans Go To D.C. To Watch TV And Laugh At Old Jokes

The most surreal moment came before the official start of the rally, when the TV screens were turned on and tuned in to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Huge crowds of people fell silent, and gazed up at the screens en masse.

Then, the crowds were shown old clips from the Daily Show and Colbert Report. The clips were from the shows in which Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced that they would hold a rally in the first place. Almost everyone in the crowds had already seen these clips, if not once, many times. Yet, they laughed.

The crowds laughed at jokes they had already heard about a rally that was being planned, but which they were actually attending in the present. The rally was a re-run even before it was over.

That’s when it hit me: These people had all come to Washington D.C., not to participate in any rally for anything, but just to watch television.

Even Jon Stewart’s big final speech that focused on the role of the media was incredibly frustrating.  The lack of depth seen in the media is precisely because of control of corporate conglomerates like Viacom, which sponsored the rally.  And instead of focusing on breaking up the big media companies or something like that, Stewart took a very superficial view of politics, calling only for “moderation,” which is an ambiguously beneficial quality in politics.

I know Stewart said that he wasn’t trying to insult people who are passionate and active in politics.  But that is exactly what he did.  He mocked us and he encouraged people to do anything else before they join our ranks.  His rally – with a rallying cry of “I can’t change the world” – served only to justify servile passivity and guiltless obedience to the ruling order, one which nourishes itself through war profits, oil profits, and sadistic practices like state-sanctioned torture.

And I know it wasn’t supposed to be a political rally!  But that’s beside the point that’s being made here.  Over 200,000 people showed up for what was essentially a big concert.  When I went to the nation’s capital in March to protest against the war, there were, at most, about 10,000 people there.

We have become a corporatized people, and that can perhaps be demonstrated by both this rally and the rally which preceded it.  Glenn Beck’s disgusting perversion of Martin Luther King’s rally was indeed a corporate-sponsored event.  Corporate donors are what fuels the Tea Party, not any kind of grassroots effort, which is mild at its strongest.  The rally this Saturday, on the other hand, was more blatantly passive and corporate-sponsored.

This might sound ridiculous at first, but Stewart’s rally was, in a way, a kind of tea party of the Democratic Party (I would have said “American left” there, but the left is mostly outside of the Democrats and maybe too small to merit a role in Stewart’s rally).  It was a timid gathering of misguided individuals who have legitimate anger toward the status quo (and of course not all of the attendees came because of politics), but are only reinforcing it through their actions.

Even our activism is corporatized these days.  We’re raising money for candidates along with corporations or we’re attending corporate-sponsored rallies or we’re tempering our criticisms so we don’t offend the corporate-sponsored media or we’re buying products “for a cause.”  We’ve been turned off, tuned out, and dropped into a culture of consumerism, and even our activism is now following.

So, yes, I was too busy to go to the rally on Saturday.  I was spending a few hours working for a local Green Party candidate, making my voice heard, not content to merely laugh away the nation’s troubles.

Individual acts and the collapse of Pakistan

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Earlier this week, I wrote about an impending civil war in Pakistan, projecting a possible “complete collapse of Pakistan as a recognizable entity,” referring not to its geography (it has survived breakaway provinces before, with national identities still intact) but rather to its structure as a modern, democratic society.  Some readers were understandably skeptical.

Beyond the violence and anti-Americanism we see in western press, Pakistan is actually very recognizable to us as foreigners. They have powerful military and civil society institutions much like the West, but it’s also Pakistan’s fervent patriotic pride, their struggles with women’s and minority rights, and their constant battle between secular progressives and conservative fundamentalists that will be instantly familiar to any American. Far from the alien, failed state portrayed on television, Pakistan is a vibrant cosmopolitan society dealing with the same grand cultural questions as the United States, or most other countries for that matter.

So how then do you get from that to the complete collapse? How could their painstakingly constructed democracy just disintegrate away, and how could their powerful, western-backed military fail so miserably to protect the nation in the face of what seems only to be illiterate, fascist hill people and their sickeningly backward superstitions?

The problem is not only one of perception, that we take both the Pakistan we love (liberal, educated patriots) and the Pakistan we hate (wicked, violent Taliban) for granted – always there, never changing. But more than that, Pakistan’s uncertain future is the direct result of deliberate policy choices, by the United States, Pakistan, and certainly many others. The collapse will not be sudden and spectacular, it will be the slow culmination of years, decades, of decisions and policy actions, both large and small, from the enormously important to the pathetically insignificant. Continue reading “Individual acts and the collapse of Pakistan”

All politics is local: Al-Qa’eda and the Afghanistan War

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

In our latest video from Rethink Afghanistan, we close it by asking a question. “Afghanistan got your attention now?” The answer is apparently a resounding yes.

As the president’s so-called “emergency” war supplemental funding finally hobbles onto the floor for a vote in congress, months after it was requested, it is facing furious opposition right up to the last moment.  Republican and Blue Dog members of congress are already being publicly exposed as hypocrites on fiscal responsibility, and that will only get louder if the money goes through. President Obama himself has faced a stinging rebuke from congress for his comments about lawmakers’ “obsession” with the war, and the Out of Afghanistan Caucus continues to chip away at what little apatite for war remains in congress.

Robert Naiman writes:

While press reports suggest that when the dust settles, the Pentagon will have the war money, it’s likely that a record number of Representatives will go on the record in opposition to open-ended war and occupation.

That’s a big deal for those members of congress, but we have to remember where this is coming from. These may be progressive warriors and heroes of the peace movement, but they’re also still craven politicians who spend every second of their free time begging folks (either you or a lobbyist, depending on who takes the initiative) to support them so they can remain in office.

And this is Democratic President Barack Obama’s war in Afghanistan, so the massive, highly-coordinated anti-war push in congress can’t be pinned on the machinations of the Democratic party. No chance in hell the president’s partisan apparatchiks would be managing this kind of opposition to the White House, which means this is entirely the work of grassroots citizens’ movements. Even though we’re talking about a massive war thousands of miles away in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “all politics is local,” and it is average citizens who are making a difference.

Put bluntly, Americans are pissed off about the war, and congress has absolutely no choice but to act upon that anger. But rest assured, supporters of the war aren’t just going to quietly wind down their endless war because of a little congressional pushback. And if the past is any indication, when popular anger with the war reaches the levels its at now, war-makers will play the strongest, most sacred card they have: Al-Qa’eda. Continue reading “All politics is local: Al-Qa’eda and the Afghanistan War”

“Democratic Discourse”: Reflections in the Pakistani Mirror

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Glenn Greenwald has a fascinating post up about “tribalism” in our political discourse on Israel. I’ll leave the particulars of that issue alone here, but I thought this piece was particularly revealing [emphasis mine]:

Doesn’t the most minimal level of intellectual awareness — indeed, the concept of adulthood itself — require that re-analysis? And, of course, the “self-hating” epithet — with which I’ve naturally been bombarded relentlessly over the last week — is explicitly grounded in the premise that one should automatically defend one’s “own group” rather than endeaveor to objectively assess facts and determine what is right and true.

This is true in almost any political debate. As he says, it is entirely natural that he will be attacked for not automatically supporting his own group. In his case, it’s a religious identity, but we see it repeated time and again across the political spectrum. If you don’t support the purest of perspective, you are the enemy. If you refer to the Tea Parties instead of “teabaggers,” that makes you a secret Republican. If you think the stimulus might have saved a few jobs, that makes you a pinko communist infiltrator. Or if you support legislating a timetable for withdrawal in Congress instead of magically making Obama decide to leave tomorrow, well that makes you a closeted war-monger (if you’re lucky, they’ll use the word “incrementalist”).

But lest we think this is some sad state of affairs caused by rampant hyper-partisanship and a dysfunctional media, both of which plague the US, it is in fact merely the price of a free and open debate. Anyone who holds an extremist view necessarily fears an honest debate because they know facts invalidate extremism, no matter what side of the debate they ultimately come down on. Extremism thrives on victimization, and facts present options to escape (Change?) the very victimization that gives them purpose. What’s the point of being Glenn Beck if you don’t believe that the Obama administration is a secret fascist conspiracy? You’d have no reason to exist.

Not only do Americans struggle with this, but we see the same thing in Pakistan. There the citizens also struggle for progressive and liberal policy advancements, and while we most often hear about the extremism of the Taliban and their ilk, it is important to see that the purist, victimized crowd exists in all corners of their political discourse. I’d also be happy to argue that the Taliban push ideology far beyond the relative blandness of “extremism” and safely into other categories like “criminal,” “fascist,” and “psychopathic,” but again this isn’t about the Taliban. No, we’re looking at progressives in Pakistan, and we’ll see what happens when they attempt to engage in an open and honest debate. Continue reading ““Democratic Discourse”: Reflections in the Pakistani Mirror”