Thursday, June 21, 2007

simply put 

Paul Street sums up nicely why it's nearly impossible to read 'mainstream' news anymore, or for that matter liberal blogs:

Dominant (“mainstream”) U.S. media coverage and commentary on Iraq continues to be hopelessly crippled by doctrinal observance of taboos against discussing five basic and intimately interrelated aspects of so-called “Operation Iraqi Freedom”:

1. The monumentally criminal nature of the invasion, which involved (in the words of the 2005 Istanbul Declaration) “planning, preparing, and waging the supreme crime of a war of aggression in contravention of the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg Principles.”

2. The brazenly imperialist and colonial nature of the occupation, which is richly continuous with earlier U.S. behavior within the beyond the Middle East and provides critical context for understanding why U.S. soldiers die on a regular basis in Iraq (where Americans are understandably seen as unlawful invaders).

3. The racist nature of the occupation, expressed in the false conflation between al Qaeda and a small group of predominantly Saudi hijackers on one hand and the broad Arab and Muslim worlds on the other hand. This racism has found expression also in U.S. ground forces’ recurrent description of Iraqi civilians and resistance fighters as “hajis” and “towel heads”(among other terrible designations) and in many Americans’ insistence on describing the entire Middle East as a den of primitive, barbarian and enemies of modern “civilization.”

4. The full and overwhelming extent of Iraqi civilian casualties, including more than 700,000 dead by now. The Iraqi body count dwarfs the U.S. death toll in Iraq , but dominant U.S. media remains primarily and narcissistically obsessed with U.S. fatalities in Mesopotamia . The mostly civilian Arab victims of U.S. imperial violence (a lovely expression of America ’s noble commitment to “civilization”) are unworthy victims of the Iraq War as far as dominant U.S. media is concerned.

5. The critical role of the American Empire Project’s longstanding core concern with the control of Middle Eastern oil in shaping the decision to invade Iraq and in ensuring that the U.S. will not completely or truly withdraw from that illegally occupied nation or indeed the region anytime soon, whichever corporate-imperial party happens to hold power in Washington.


As a result, dominant coverage and commentary on the war is childish, chaotic and nonsensical. Reading the leading papers and watching the corporate talking heads speak about “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is like listening to a deranged psychotic talking gibberish. The assumption of benevolent intention, the denial of criminal and imperial intent, the inability to grasp the role of petroleum, and the denial of racist and mass-murderous realities makes taking in “mainstream” war/occupation coverage and commentary like hearing a baseball game being called by a blind man.

Good things to keep in mind in case you get caught up in the endless nattering about 'withdrawal' or the depressingly gullible outrage of those who were 'shocked, shocked!' to find out that the US is now funding Sunni militants. Even Needlenose, who I usually find palatable, characterized this news item as an example of US being "hoodwinked" into supporting Iraqi sectarians. Please, wake the fuck up.

Occasionally the Times will let the truth slip through, as in this editorial by a Hamas spokesman. But out of context, and coming from an official enemy, this little bit of truth will either be ignored in the deluge of bullshit or ironically dismissed as propaganda.

Yes Men strike again 

The Yes Men sandbagged an oil expo. The press release:

June 14, 2007

Conference organizer fails to have Yes Men arrested

Text of speech, photos, video: http://www.vivoleum.com/

Contact: mailto:fuel@theyesmen.org

Imposters posing as ExxonMobil and National Petroleum Council (NPC)
representatives delivered an outrageous keynote speech to 300 oilmen
at GO-EXPO, Canada's largest oil conference, held at Stampede Park in
Calgary, Alberta, today.

The speech was billed beforehand by the GO-EXPO organizers as the
major highlight of this year's conference, which had 20,000
attendees. In it, the "NPC rep" was expected to deliver the long-awaited
conclusions of a study commissioned by US Energy Secretary
Samuel Bodman. The NPC is headed by former ExxonMobil CEO Lee
Raymond, who is also the chair of the study. (See link at end.)

In the actual speech, the "NPC rep" announced that current U.S. and
Canadian energy policies (notably the massive, carbon-intensive
exploitation of Alberta's oil sands, and the development of liquid
coal) are increasing the chances of huge global calamities. But he
reassured the audience that in the worst case scenario, the oil
industry could "keep fuel flowing" by transforming the billions of
people who die into oil.

"We need something like whales, but infinitely more abundant," said
"NPC rep" "Shepard Wolff" (actually Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men),
before describing the technology used to render human flesh into a
new Exxon oil product called Vivoleum. 3-D animations of the process
brought it to life.

"Vivoleum works in perfect synergy with the continued expansion of
fossil fuel production," noted "Exxon rep" "Florian Osenberg" (Yes
Man Mike Bonanno). "With more fossil fuels comes a greater chance of
disaster, but that means more feedstock for Vivoleum. Fuel will
continue to flow for those of us left."

The oilmen listened to the lecture with attention, and then lit
"commemorative candles" supposedly made of Vivoleum obtained from the
flesh of an "Exxon janitor" who died as a result of cleaning up a
toxic spill. The audience only reacted when the janitor, in a video
tribute, announced that he wished to be transformed into candles
after his death, and all became crystal-clear.

At that point, Simon Mellor, Commercial & Business Development
Director for the company putting on the event, strode up and
physically forced the Yes Men from the stage. As Mellor escorted
Bonanno out the door, a dozen journalists surrounded Bichlbaum, who,
still in character as "Shepard Wolff," explained to them the
rationale for Vivoleum.

"We've got to get ready. After all, fossil fuel development like that
of my company is increasing the chances of catastrophic climate
change, which could lead to massive calamities, causing migration and
conflicts that would likely disable the pipelines and oil wells.
Without oil we could no longer produce or transport food, and most of
humanity would starve. That would be a tragedy, but at least all
those bodies could be turned into fuel for the rest of us."

"We're not talking about killing anyone," added the "NPC rep." "We're
talking about using them after nature has done the hard work. After
all, 150,000 people already die from climate-change related effects
every year. That's only going to go up - maybe way, way up. Will it
all go to waste? That would be cruel."

Security guards then dragged Bichlbaum away from the reporters, and
he and Bonanno were detained until Calgary Police Service officers
could arrive. The policemen, determining that no major infractions
had been committed, permitted the Yes Men to leave.

Canada's oil sands, along with "liquid coal," are keystones of Bush's
Energy Security plan. Mining the oil sands is one of the dirtiest
forms of oil production and has turned Canada into one of the world's
worst carbon emitters. The production of "liquid coal" has twice the
carbon footprint as that of ordinary gasoline. Such technologies
increase the likelihood of massive climate catastrophes that will
condemn to death untold millions of people, mainly poor.

"If our idea of energy security is to increase the chances of climate
calamity, we have a very funny sense of what security really is,"
Bonanno said. "While ExxonMobil continues to post record profits,
they use their money to persuade governments to do nothing about
climate change. This is a crime against humanity."

"Putting the former Exxon CEO in charge of the NPC, and soliciting
his advice on our energy future, is like putting the wolf in charge
of the flock," said "Shepard Wolff" (Bichlbaum). "Exxon has done more
damage to the environment and to our chances of survival than any
other company on earth. Why should we let them determine our future?"

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Michael Moore's Sicko is now available for torrent download and Google Video. What follows are some thoughts. Spoilers ahead.

Probably the most interesting part of Sicko was imagining the right-wing response to it. When it opens on June 29th the ambient cliche will probably be that the film is Fahrenheit 9/11 about Healthcare. In fact though, Sicko is more closely analagous to Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight than it is to Fahrenheit 9/11.

While F9/11 focused primarily on the venality and corruption of the individuals in the Bush Administration, Sicko's view of the healthcare problem is less concerned with individual actors and focuses primarily on the system as a whole. This is one of the elements of the film that I suspect will really tie the wingers in knots. Most of the vitriol directed at Moore for what he said in F9/11 stemmed from his attacks on the person of Bush and his deconstruction of the Dear Leader image. Moore offers his detractors no such target here. If he's not jamming a hot-poker into the Strong Daddy Cortex of the lizard-brain, how will they know what to froth about?

Of course Moore is aware of this. For all his faults as a filmmaker, his omissions, manipulativeness & disingenuousness, he's one clever motherfucker. Indeed he even baits his enemies with a hagiographic portrait of Hillary Clinton circa 1993. "Smart. Sassy. Sexy", he intones over flattering photos and celebratory footage of the early Clinton years. As he portrays her as a noble crusader for justice you can practically hear the steam coming out of conservative ears while they scribble furiously in their notebooks that he's just made a campaign commercial. Disgusting! Partisan! Propaganda! But not five minutes later he pulls the rug way the fuck out from under them by showing the Republican defeat of Hillarycare and her subsequent sell-out to the insurance industry. Now the wingers are in a bind: should they break out the smug smirk and gloat that Hillary has been unmasked as a sellout to corporate interests? But then they'd have to admit that our politicians are bought and paid for...wait a minute...Damn you Mooooooore!!! Cue fist-shaking.

On it goes as Moore continues to smash the shibboleths and bugaboos of the Right: the French, Canadian healthcare, Cuba, the sacralization and betrayal of 9/11 heroes. Not only that, but all the while he's making appeals to patriotic sentiment by comparing the US to other countries and explicitly calling for our nationalistic feelings of solidarity to trump our individualism. What's more he even takes pains to show that socialist policies will actually lead to the fulfillment of the American Dream. Showing comfortable middle-class everyfolk in countries with socialized medicine he makes it clear that every desire of our inner consumer will be satisfied once we bring the corporations to heel. Watching consumerist propaganda turned against its creators is truly a beautiful thing to behold.

This is far and away the most overtly socialist film to hit wide release in my lifetime. If I had to guess I'd say that this is what will be most aggravating to the Right and even to Liberals. He's not just stealing their language and using it to talk about liberal ideas, he's treading firmly into leftist territory. Not only that, but he's doing it very skillfully using humor and compassion to put his detractors in the awkward position of having to reveal themselves to be the callous grim predators that they are. Who doesn't want Mom to have a new kidney? Clearly, only very bad people. After 16 years of "support the troops" it's a singular delight to watch these rhetorical guns turned back on their masters.

Even more subversively he suggests that we can actually do something about it. It's not a central point of the film, but there are enough shots of ordinary folks fighting back to take it out of the realm of the usual lefty diatribe that leaves the viewer more exhausted and depressed than hopeful and emboldened.

I've been taking a look at some radical sites that are critical of some of the choices Moore makes in the film, in particular his cringe-inducing portrayal of Guantanamo as a playground. Overall though its really heartening to see something that's relatively radical get such wide play. Although Fahrenheit 9/11 wasn't enough to sway the election after watching Sicko I actually (foolishly?) felt some hope that the national discussion and policy might change on this issue. The jury's out for now, but Moore definitely deserves props for pushing the boundaries not only of what can be portrayed in a mainstream film, but how much a film can actually affect politics.


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