Archive for July, 2011

Islamophobia and Propaganda at the New York Times

As a disciple of Ed Herman’s and Noam Chomsky’s Propaganda Model I thought a predictable result could be taken from the New York Times coverage of Anders Breivik’s terrorist attack in Norway last Friday.

What I wanted to see was how many items mentioned Breivik and how many also used the phrase “terrorist.” My prediction was that Breivik would be “unworthy” of the title as the term is applied towards “worthy” Muslims.
Here is what I found: out of 43 items that mentioned “Anders Breivik” only seven items also used the phrase “terrorist.” That is 1 in 6, or 16%.

Okay, what about Osama bin Laden following the first week of the September 11th attacks?
Of the 114 items that mentioned “Osama bin Laden” we see that ninety-three items also used the phrase “terrorist.” That is a bit more than 4 in 5, or 81.578% to be exact. Worse, this received nearly three times more coverage.

The conclusion is that if you’re a white Christian terrorist you can expect the NYT to call you a terrorist 1 in 6 times, but if you’re a Muslim you can expect 4 in 5, and at 3x the volume. It is this kind of behavior that brands Muslims with the archetype of being a “terrorist” that fuels Islamophobia, while folks like Anders Breivik get easier treatment due to white supremacy.

For the NYT, and no doubt the same is true for all other media outlets, there are those who are “worthy” of certain coverage, and there are those who are considerably more “unworthy,” and how these two are filtered through the five filters of ownership, advertisement, sources, flak and ideology is very instructive to how propaganda functions in a “free press.”

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Polyculture: Getting Culture Right

It was pure coincidence that at the time I happened to be re-reading Vijay Prashad’s Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity that some right-wing Christian would carry out a horrific terrorist attack in Norway that killed nearly one hundred people. Since the attack which targeted a government building and a political summer camp (both being labeled “Marxist-multiculturalists” by the attacker), many of Anders Breivik’s writings have been translated and published all around the world. They give an insight into some of the cultural struggles we face today.

The relevance of Prashad’s book is his criticism of multi-culturalism (as well as color blind racism) and advocacy of polyculturalism. Prashad’s argument—and I agree with him—is that multi-culturalism is divisive. Multi-culturalism leads us to believe that there are these clear, distinct cultures that are different from one another, and that we should respect these differences. In fact we should celebrate these differences.

But there are problems.

For one, we are more alike than we are different, which means we have more common ground to explore than differences . . . in which to attack each other from. Maybe I am wrong but it seems that we haven’t really done well at celebrating our differences. More than anything, we hype our differences to escalate it and drive unnecessary tensions (sometimes to serve ulterior motives).

And the idea that cultures exist in clear boundaries is just not accurate. Furthermore, cultures are not static. They are fluid. They are constantly in the making, and are holistically related to other cultures (as well as other facets of social life like politics, kinship, ecology and economics). Even as individuals our identities are the product of many cultures, often supposedley conflicting ones. As a white man in a white supremacist society I am of course a part of “white culture” but my tastes in music, food, language, art and more also links me to “black” and “hispanic” and “Asian” cultures.

Is it any wonder that when we base our cultural identities off of our perceived, and sometimes real, differences from others, and then call for tolerance, that some groups (usually the dominant ones) feel threatened and lash out? It can’t just be me who notices that we often define ourselves by what, or who, we are against; that we create groups in which to identify with and that the confines of these groups are, at best, unclear, and at worse, counter-productive since, again, we are one species with various cultures that are inter-related and alike in more ways than not. Perhaps it would be better to view what we currently call “culture” as a “subculture”—that is, variations of the common, wider culture we all share (and what these commonalities are, I think, should be a focal point if we are to improve social relations). This kind of approach is called “polyculturalism,” and was surprisingly advocated (though not directly referred to) with a Jerusalem Post paraphrased Amartya Sen as saying, “Without a shared cultural foundation, no meaningful communication among diverse groups is possible.”

Fellow polyculturalist, Justin Podur, used the metaphor of a salad: “multiculturalism is a salad bowl compared to the melting pot of assimilation. In a salad bowl, vegetables retain their own characteristics, their unique identity.” He then went on to say that,

What is good about multiculturalism, and useful to retain, is the recognition that cultures, modes of communication and expression and group identification other than the dominant one are worthy and deserve a certain autonomy. It also encourages some humility in encounters with other cultures: it suggests you suspend judgment and try to understand people on their own terms, to try to understand the cultural baggage that you are bringing to the situation when you do so. What is lacking in it is a notion of what happens within these cultures and between them.

Moving on, there is one particular comment I read of Breivik’s that I wanted to remark on:

Islam has historically led to 300 million deaths, Communism has historically led to 100 million deaths, Nazism has historically led to 6-20 million deaths. ALL hate ideologies should be treated equally. 

First, I got to call out the hypocrisy of an individual railing against other “ideologies” for their “hate” that “historically led to” death. While I agree it is important to address the issue of hate in ideologies and how it fuels conflict, one must ask: How does Breivik feel “ALL hate ideologies [that historically lead to large numbers of death] should be treated”? He provided that answer last Friday with murderous hatred.

As a polyculturalist, I find it difficult to share Breivik’s view that there is some cultural divide between Islam and Christianity, something I will get to in a second. In Breivik’s writings he likes to portray Islam as violent and hateful, but his own actions reveal just how similar he is to those violent reactionary forces he tries to distance himself from.

Second, Christianity and Islam have a considerable amount in common. Their history, geographic location, being a part of the Abrahamic faiths, and a number of other things like phrases they use (i.e. Muslims syaing “asalaam ulkaum,” and Catholics saying “may god be with you”) and more show just how alike the two are. The idea there is a cultural clash between the two is mostly nonsense. I think there is a better case to be made that the clash is they’re alike.

And not only is Christianity historically and culturally connected to Islam—as well as Judaism—but it is also connected to Nazism. Adolf Hitler made the following comment within 24 hours after taking office:

The National Government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. They regard Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life.

Not to mention the “ratlines.”

Third, I just want to point out that this concept of cultural purity is part of the continued problem of racism here in the US: white supremacy. It’s a comment on white Christian terrorism in America (though no doubt it can be applied elsewhere): if you’re a caucasian for Jesus you can fly planes into IRS buildings like Joe Stack, or blow up government buildings like Timothy McVeigh, or attack abortion clinics like various pious individuals, or the pipe-bombs of Eric Rudolph, shoot/stab sinners, kill your kids, invade Iraq because God told you to like He did George W Bush, get caught with a bunch of cyanide like some Texans did, or get caught with a lot of explosives outside a mosque, and along with hundreds of other incidents over the last 40 years . . . and other caucasions for Jesus can still enjoy white supremacy and not be hassled at airports.

In fact, to highlight this hypocrisy further, when the attack in Norway first occured there were immediate claims that Muslims were behind the attack and the phrase “terrorist” was used considerably. It has become clear that noly Islam carries with it the burden of being the archetype religion of hate and violence despite the fact that Israel and the US are much more violent and aggressive. But as it became clear that a right-wing white Christian male was the culprit then, as Glenn Greenwald noted, the use of “terrorism” was employed less.

Bigots who enjoy social dominance can, and often do, talk about the depravity of others as if they have some kind of moral high ground. And when “others” carry out violence, or when there is a campaign to turn “them” into a public nuisance, we see institutional processes put in place that harass those not a member of the dominant “culture” (e.g. calls for homosexuals in Ghana to be rounded up, the so-called random security checks at US airports that target Arabs and Muslims, the abuse of Roma people in Eastern Europe, and the “show me your papers” of Arizona) but the historical violence of the dominant group doesn’t even sound alarms. It is a common feature to see those who oppress claim to do so in good intentions, usually to punish the foul hordes that threaten their precious societies.

Last, if we want to keep count of which “cultures” have a large amount of skeletons in their closet, Christians like Breivik should be very cautious. A “historical” look at the deaths caused by Christianity would make Islam and Communism look pale in comparison. In the America’s alone and just limited to the deaths of the indigenous people we are talking about 100 million lives taken. A look at the wars, inquisitions, slavery and pogrom’s of Christianity over the world would no doubt leave quite an ugly mark. The problem here, and what Breivik fails to understand, is that what are often called cultural conflicts are more than that. Many times they have more to do with economics (i.e. fighting over land and resources) than cultural differences.

Thanks to the War on Terror (which should really be called the War of Terror) there is a vicious cycle where pious Muslims attribute the political and economic hardships they endure (because of the US capitalist empire) as a division between them and non-Muslims (i.e. the War on Islam), and likewise, non-Muslisms see a similar division where Muslims are trying to takeover and undermine their Western (Christian) societies. When in fact the real problem is imperialism and capitalism, not the mythical clash of civilizations!

And while there is something to say about the skeletons in the closets of various cultures the real issue as I see it is how to go about resolving them. The multi-culturalism approach is flawed. However, just because it is flawed doesn’t mean we should seek assimilation under a mass culture of nationalism, like right-wing fanatics. Clearly whatever flaw we can attribute to a culture we can likely find it in almost all others, highlighting the absurdity of a proponent of one religion (or “race”) accusing another of being violent and hateful. I find it hard to believe that various cultures can constructively and productively influence each other in order to transcend their shortcomings by relying on violence, oppression, or walling themselves off and creating, or exasperating, differences. Instead, recognizing the inter-connections of our cultural heritages—how, we, not only as individuals, but, as cultures are related—and how our cultures are fluid and ever-changing, influencing and being influenced by one another, we should be building a foundation of common ground that centers around how “the fact that we have multiple, overlapping identities and belong to multiple communities, [in] a world more interconnected in so many ways.” (Justin Podur)

This blog piece may be a bit cluttered with thoughts and ideas but my ending comment is that unless we reconsider what cultures really are and how they have shaped events, from the past to the present, then, and much like George Santayana said, we “are condemned to repeat it.”

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What’s the Big Deal? : Obama cashes in Bush’s "political capital"

“Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.” ~ George W Bush, upon “winning” the 2004 presidential election


The best way I can explain President Obama’s policies as president is as a third term of George W Bush’s, and while that sounds very hyperbolic, a sober look at his policies reveals it is very accurate. He has prostrated before Wall Street and escalated the imperial wars in Asia, while moving them south into Africa. He has continued the policies of torture (even that of American dissident Bradley Manning), refused to prosecute Bush and his cronies, shields and protects Israel from justice, favored a military coup in Latin America, taken a hard stance against Iran (we still cannot tolerate the idea of them as an independent player in the region), and the list goes on and on. But when George W Bush uttered those words above he was talking specifically about eviscerating Social Security.

And that is what Obama’s Big Deal is all about. Rest assured, it is not about balancing the budget or lowering national debt. When you consider that the deficit and debt has been higher in the past and resolved without controversy, or that the real problems that underlie the national debt is Empire & War, tax cuts for the rich, our trading deficit (which is largely the result of outsourcing our manufacturing base), and the Great Recession (or how our government’s response has not been to actually resolve the root of what brought it on) it should be clear as day that this is about class war, not sound fiscal policies.

Social Security does not have anything to do with the debt. In fact, not only is it taxed separately it takes in more revenue than it gives out and will continue doing so for another 26 years, even with no changes to the program. What problems exist in the program are that it is taxed regressively. Remove the cap (which is currently set at less than $107,000) and tax all income, not just earned, and there will be plenty of money to resolve the TRUE problem of the program: benefits are not enough for recipients to actually live on.

Medicare also does not have anything to do with the debt outside of the superficial. The problem of Medicare is not that the poor and elderly get help. The problem is that the program is tied to the private system whose costs are out of control due to profiteering. The government has made it a law NOT to negotiate fair drug prices, which tells pharmaceutical companies that they can charge what they want and literally make a killing. Now that the government has allowed this public service to be wrecked by Capitalism they say it needs cuts. The only thing that needs to be cut is the private system. Throughout the rest of the developed world spending is twice as less per capita and the results are better.

Obama’s Big Deal is totally in line with something Hunter S Thompson once said: the rich get richer and the poor eat shit and die.

The Big Deal is that the Rich have tanked our economy and the government looks to the working poor to offset their damage via cuts in social spending. For decades now we have lubed the War Machine and Wall Street, and now Uncle Sam looks to the working class to bend over and take it.

Glen Ford, editor of the Black Agenda Report, recently said this of Obama,

President Obama says he’s determined to make the “big deal” with the Republicans – not like the little, piddling deals he has been cutting all along to benefit the corporate classes, but the BIG deal, the grand consensus he believes he was born to forge with the GOP […] The real Obama is a cold, cynical bastard. He is not a wimp, but rather, has plenty of spine to face down and brow-beat the remaining defenders of the social safety net in his own Democratic Party, who have always been the most immediate dangers to his grand center-right coalition.

Another relentless critic of President Obama, and author of two books on the President, is Paul Street, who wrote that,

Obama was willing to support an end to Medicare’s longstanding availability to all Americans, regardless of income. As the leading liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman notes, Republicans weren’t even suggesting cuts to Social Security; “this is something Mr. Obama and those he listens to apparently want for its own sake.”

Paul Krugman, who Street quotes above, has also said that Obama’s Big Deal is “a bit to the right of what the average Republican voter prefers.”

Elsewhere (i.e. Greece) where similar mesaures are well underway Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has praised such policies as “strong medicine.”

Where Bush intended to spend his capital, Obama is likely to finally cash it in.

Rather than ending the wars, closing the foreign military bases, dramatically cutting military spending, disarming our nukes, reinstating taxes on the rich to the levels they were in the 1950s, passing singlepayer healthcare reform, negotiating fair drug prices, bringing back our manufacturing base, and using that money to spend on getting American workers back to work creating a carbon-free, solar economy, Obama is escalating the wars and going after the working poor to make “sacrifices” to the Lords of Capital whose sole god is Mammon.

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Enough is Enough; Organize!

The world is overwhelming. I feel claustrophobic when thinking about all the dire issues we face. My heart swells with grief and my body is numbed by anxiety. It’s as if you no longer need to be caught in the crossfire of war to be afflicted with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. All you have to do is open your eyes and look at the state of the world.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza sickens me. How we allow a people to be imprisoned in their own evershrinking land so it can be gobbled up with a people who arose from the ashes of Auschwitz is a riddle. Despite whatever misgivings you or I may have about Hamas the simple fact of the matter is that they are the popularly elected political party. They won in a free and fair election and Israel, with Unkie Sam’s blessing, responded by punishing the people of Gaza for voting the wrong way. Last year, as we all know, the Mavi Marmara was ruthlessly attacked in international waters as humanitarian activists tried to break the illegal and immoral embargo of Gaza. The activists were beaten, kidnapped, tortured and some executed. A year later more tried to break the siege only for Israel to sabotage their efforts while Unkie Sam was up to his eyeballs in complicity, refusing to talk about the illegality of the embargo or to specify what is so wrong with activists delivering food and medicine through Gaza’s ports.

Whereas the above crisis sickens me, the food crisis affecting the poorest nations is downright horrifying. This crisis is not about production or scarcity. It is not as if there is not enough food to feed the hungry. Rather, it is the intrinsic qualities of market systems. What determines what goes where is not by accounting for need, but greed. The crisis is the limitations of access due to costs. Speculation, the profit motive and how these two forces drive the allocation process to send foodstuff places other than the bellies of the starving is a living nightmare for more than a billion people “living” on this planet. Thanks to the Church of Marketheism, whose god is Mammon, food is sent not to where it is most needed but where it is most profitable—even if it is wasted. In the grocery stores of the developed world more than enough food sits on shelves to be bought and the access tossed in dumpsters. Or, food is turned into grain to feed animals to be slaughtered to fuel our meat-based diets. Or, food is turned into grain to feed animals to be slaughtered to be turned into food to feed our pets! Those in Haiti or Africa or India are starving because the market system of the rich has no care for their welfare, but only the profits of capitalists.

Climate Change is just as real as it was the day before, but today it is worse. And considering the absence of a popular green movement to turn the tide, tomorrow will be worse than today. We have probably already passed the point of no return. I remember as a young child in the mid-1980s hearing about the threat of Global Warming in schools and here it is more than half way through 2011 and nothing was done. This is surely one of the biggest human catastrophes. Like the food crisis, markets have driven us to devour natural resources with no regard for the effects to our ecosystem or climate system but only that of how the capitalists stand to gain more and more wealth. We have had plenty of time to abandon King Coal and build a carbon-free energy system (i.e. solar), or to slow deforestation and the various assaults on Mother Earth. But we have done nothing. Our successors have the moral right to spit on our graves.

War. That one word, which should be the last victim, dead of disuse, is still a plague. Even now our leaders talk about a prolonged military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, while it widens to encompass Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Space will soon be fought over. The broken bodies, mangled hearts and minds of those who get to experience the effects of our advanced weaponry is a haunting image.

Which brings me to the supposed deficit crisis, which isn’t really a crisis at all: insofar as there is a crisis it is not one brought on by food stamps, public education, student loans, pensions for blue collar workers and so on, but rather the financing of the American military juggernaut—the nuclear-armed imperial police state that is preying on the world and its own citizens. More than 80% of our individual income taxes is consumed by the Pentagon. The US is 5% of the world but accounts for more than half of global expenditures. Coupled with the historically low taxes for the rich and how we have outsourced our manufacturing base to be more profitable to the Lords of Capital (which has had the result of lowering wages and increasing our trading deficit) that is the bulk of the deficit crisis. One hears we are living beyond our means and must cut spending. But what we cannot afford is tax cuts for the rich and empire. By putting the tax rates for the rich and corporate and excise taxes back to where they were in the 1950s—the so-called “golden age of capitalism”—that alone would be enough to turn the deficit into a surplus. And if we dramatically scaled back our “defense” spending we would have plenty of money to invest in going solar, public transportation, improving the quality of education in this country and providing affordable housing.

And of course we still have a health care crisis in this country. Obamacare resolved almost nothing. So insurance companies cannot deny coverage to existing problems. All that means is that the costs will be pushed off on to everyone. The crisis was always costs and Obamacare did nothing to resolve that. The root of the crisis is private insurance. Simply put: we need Medicare for All. We need the government to negotiate fair drug prices, rather than the current practice of having it be a law that the government cannot. We would save more than $1 trillion a year by doing this.

A personal issue that is close to me is Social Security. I cannot believe this highly successful program is in danger because of lying fearmongers who claim it is insolvent. The program will continue to take in more revenue than it gives out until 2037 and that is assuming no changes are made. If there is a crisis it is more than 25 years away. We have plenty of time to resolve this far-off dilemma. And to the extent that there is one it is that the rich are getting a break. No surprise there, right? The problem is that (a) only earned income is taxed for the program, leaving investment income untouched—and since only the wealthy have the means to make money via investments this is a big break for them; and (b) there is a cap on what earned income is tax so that only $106,800 is taxed. This means whatever you make beyond that figure is not taxed. If you make $213,600 in earned income then only half of your income is taxed for Social Security. Compare that with a single-mom working double-shifts at IHOP who will see 100% of her income taxed for the program. The clear solution is to tax all income, not reduce benefits or raise the retirement age. And one last thing, some say we should be able to opt out of the program because to them it is “theft” to have their hard-earned money taken from them without their consent. The problem with this argument is that the economic and social benefit of the program has external effects, meaning even though I am currently not a recipient I benefit from the program. For me to opt out of paying but continuing to enjoy the externalities of it would present a classic example of “the free rider problem.” In essence, the real theft is opting out, not being taxed.

I can go on and on about many other social issues but, Dear Reader, you already know about them. I am likely not telling you anything you don’t already know. Like me, perhaps you too feel suffocated by these problems. Something must be done. We need to stop the apathetic, inactive, complacent, passive-aggressive bullshit. I make execuses too. I hold out for others to do something, or I fear losing my job. We don’t need to just cope with our problems, or deny them. We must resist. But more than that, because resisting is reactionary; it’s defensive. We also need to be on the offensive. That is, we need to begin building a new world. We have to organize ourselves, our communities, our workplaces, our schools, our homes, etc. We have to go door-to-door and talk to our neighbors and ask them, “Are you fed up?” We have got to do something, and quick. We need to begin carrying out small and massive acts of civil disobedience. We have to. It’s imperative. We have to address what it is about modern society that is so wrong and what needs to be done to transfigure it. Take a break from your telescreen (i.e. facebook), because Big Brother is using it to spy on you; go outside and get busy. We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.

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