'/> Uncommon Hours: March 2010
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Responding to 'The Hurt Locker': Is the Left losing its sense of irony?

Is the Left losing its sense of irony?
Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

A few responses to the movie The Hurt Locker suggest that may be the case:

Here’s John Pilger in the New Statesman (a review later endorsed in the way of the Web by its inclusion at Socialistworker.org):

“This film offers a vicarious thrill through yet another standard-issue psychopath, high on violence in somebody else's country where the deaths of a million people are consigned to cinematic oblivion.”

Robert Scheer calls the movie “an endorsement of the politically chauvinistic view that the world is a stage upon which Americans get to deal with their demons, no matter the consequence for others.”

Several comments following his essay reinforce that judgment, like these two:

“Hollywood is still addicted to the glorification of war and the sublimation of the vulgar truth about war.”

“Not only is the movie outright pro military propaganda, but the movie itself is shit. I fast forwarded through 70% of the film, because i [sic] found it so offensive and blatantly supportive of US imperialism. I would not at all be surprised if major funding came from the military.”

The latter is especially disturbing. The commenter could be a Tea Partier at a townhall meeting on healthcare. He didn’t bother to watch the film but pronounces on it, and all he can offer are a vulgarity and ungrounded paranoia. It may be worth noting here that some right-wingers believe Stephen Colbert is literally a conservative.

I’ve written elsewhere about The Hurt Locker, so I won’t get into a long commentary here, except to say that I found it a profoundly anti-war movie.

Take one common criticism – that the movie doesn’t show the Iraqi point of view, that Iraqis are depicted one-dimensionally. It’s the nature of irony that we should see the people of Iraq this way because the story is told primarily through the eyes of soldiers. That is, it would be unfaithful to the narrative viewpoint if these characters saw Iraqis differently. But most importantly – and this is where the above writers miss the point – the film creates the conditions for us (the viewers) to recognize that distinction, and to recognize that this a consequence of war, of the ways it alters reality, justifies the unjustifiable, abandons morality for the surreal dimensions of amorality, in essence, dislocates everyone in ways that deprive them of reason, of compassion, indeed, of their very humanity.

Turning men (infantry soldiers are still exclusively men) into soldiers, sending them where they don’t belong to do things that violate their own moral codes, inducing a constant state of fear by the conditions of war, which, as the movie aptly suggests, are the result of criminally bad policy decisions, result in the consequences we watch played out in this film.

It would be difficult for any critic of this movie to suggest that the scene in which Sgt. James invades the (note!) very middle-class home of an Iraqi professor and his wife is anything other than a violation of that family. Would the critics above have us believe that the wife’s untranslated dialogue, clearly expressing her rage at this invasion, is somehow stereotyped because we don’t understand it? Note how successfully the scene establishes that us and them mentality and breaks it down through the professor's character, who, we should also note, spoke several languages. He addressed James calmly, reasonably. He welcomed him as a visitor. How many languages could James have responded in?

James is a drug addict. His drug is war. The Chris Hedges quote at the movie’s outset makes that perspective clear, but even without it, the story did its job. Its faithfulness in portraying the character of Will James is anything but an endorsement of American exceptionalism and war – rather, it’s an indictment.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

War Is Over (If They Mean It)

By David Swanson

Sixty-five congress members, including 60 Democrats and 5 Republicans, voted to end the occupation of Afghanistan on Wednesday. But 356 congress members, including 189 Democrats and 167 Republicans voted to keep the war going. The vote followed three hours of debate created by Congressman Dennis Kucinich's introduction of a privileged resolution.

The debate featured three leaders from three groups of congress members: the war opponents (almost all Democrats), the pro-war Democrats, and the pro-war Republicans. Given this alignment, which has existed for nearly a decade now, is there any reason for supporters of peace and justice to take heart? I think so. Here's why: If the 60 Democrats acted in good faith and would have voted the same way even if the bill had a chance of passing, or even if that could be said of only 38 of them, then we may very well see funding of the wars dry up. If the leadership includes unrelated measures in the next war funding bill ($33 billion coming in April or May), measures that lead all the Republicans to vote No (as happened last July), then only 38 Democrats have to vote No to block the bill.

Now, there are two weak points in this plan. One is that the war funding could be brought up on its own without anything displeasing to the Republicans attached to it. But that would be the smart thing to do, so don't count on it. The moving of Guantanamo to Illinois has already been proposed for inclusion in the bill. The other weak point is that, of course, very few of the Democrats who voted Yes on Wednesday did so in good faith. Look back to July when 51 Democrats voted no on the funding when it was guaranteed to pass, and only 32 were willing to vote No when they had a chance of actually blocking the bill. Look at Congressman David Obey who voted to end the war on Wednesday and will write and shepherd the bill to fund it next month.

Yet we are in a greatly strengthened position from which to pressure 65 congress members to vote No on the next funding. They just went on record officially acting to end the war. And many of them went on video on the floor of the House speaking passionately in favor of ending the war. Constituents can now play back the videos, praise the anti-war commitments, and demand that none of these officials put our money where their mouth isn't. This whipping operation is being tracked at http://defundwar.org/

These are the Republicans who voted to end the war in Afghanistan: Campbell, Duncan, Johnson (IL), Jones, Paul. These are the Democrats: Baldwin, Capuano, Chu, Clarke, Clay, Cleaver, Crowley, Davis (IL), DeFazio, Doyle, Edwards (MD), Ellison, Farr, Filner, Frank (MA), Grayson, Grijalva, Gutierrez, Hastings (FL), Jackson (IL), Jackson Lee (TX), Johnson E. B., Kagen, Kucinich, Larson (CT), Lee (CA), Lewis (GA), Maffei, Maloney, Markey (MA), McDermott, McGovern, Michaud, Miller George, Nadler (NY), Napolitano, Neal (MA), Obey, Olver, Payne, Pingree (ME), Polis (CO), Quigley, Rangel, Richardson, Sánchez Linda T., Sanchez Loretta, Schakowsky, Serrano, Speier, Stark, Stupak, Tierney, Towns, Tsongas, Velázquez, Waters, Watson, Welch, Woolsey.

A special focus on Obey would be appropriate. If he claims he wants to continue the Iraq War, he can fund that one separately. He cannot, however, claim that his vote on Wednesday was sincere while he continues to fund the war in Afghanistan. An additional special focus on Grijalva and Woolsey makes sense as well. If they want to end the war and understand it as a matter of life and death on a large scale, they must use the progressive caucus they chair to whip their colleagues to stand with them against the funding.

Whether we are able to block the funding this year or not, the central issue facing our government has been raised, and a debate has been aired. We've identified 356 congress members who need to be sent packing. And we've identified another 65 who need to demonstrate their lack of hypocrisy. I liveblogged the debate at http://afterdowningstreet.org/afghanliveblog and there were many highlights, including a lot of love for President Obama from a lot of Republicans, and a lot of debunking of pro-war nonsense from progressives -- including some really passionate cries for peace that sounded almost, you know, like they meant it.

First published at:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chris Hedges: 'Ralph Nader Was Right About Barack Obama'

Ralph Nader Was Right About Barack Obama
By Chris Hedges

Posted at Truthdig on Mar 1, 2010

We owe Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney an apology. They were right about Barack Obama. They were right about the corporate state. They had the courage of their convictions and they stood fast despite wholesale defections and ridicule by liberals and progressives.

Obama lies as cravenly, if not as crudely, as George W. Bush. He promised us that the transfer of $12.8 trillion in taxpayer money to Wall Street would open up credit and lending to the average consumer. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), however, admitted last week that banks have reduced lending at the sharpest pace since 1942. As a senator, Obama promised he would filibuster amendments to the FISA Reform Act that retroactively made legal the wiretapping and monitoring of millions of American citizens without warrant; instead he supported passage of the loathsome legislation. He told us he would withdraw American troops from Iraq, close the detention facility at Guantánamo, end torture, restore civil liberties such as habeas corpus and create new jobs. None of this has happened.

He is shoving a health care bill down our throats that would give hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the private health insurance industry in the form of subsidies, and force millions of uninsured Americans to buy insurers’ defective products. These policies would come with ever-rising co-pays, deductibles and premiums and see most of the seriously ill left bankrupt and unable to afford medical care. Obama did nothing to halt the collapse of the Copenhagen climate conference, after promising meaningful environmental reform, and has left us at the mercy of corporations such as ExxonMobil. He empowers Israel’s brutal apartheid state. He has expanded the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where hundreds of civilians, including entire families, have been slaughtered by sophisticated weapons systems such as the Hellfire missile, which sucks the air out of victims’ lungs. And he is delivering war and death to Yemen, Somalia and perhaps Iran.

The illegal wars and occupations, the largest transference of wealth upward in American history and the egregious assault on civil liberties, all begun under George W. Bush, raise only a flicker of tepid protest from liberals when propagated by the Democrats. Liberals, unlike the right wing, are emotionally disabled. They appear not to feel. The tea party protesters, the myopic supporters of Sarah Palin, the veterans signing up for Oath Keepers and the myriad of armed patriot groups have swept into their ranks legions of disenfranchised workers, angry libertarians, John Birchers and many who, until now, were never politically active. They articulate a legitimate rage. Yet liberals continue to speak in the bloodless language of issues and policies, and leave emotion and anger to the protofascists. Take a look at the 3,000-word suicide note left by Joe Stack, who flew his Piper Cherokee last month into an IRS office in Austin, Texas, murdering an IRS worker and injuring dozens. He was not alone in his rage.

“Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours?” Stack wrote. “Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies. Yet, the political ‘representatives’ (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the ‘terrible health care problem’. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.”

The timidity of the left exposes its cowardice, lack of a moral compass and mounting political impotence. The left stands for nothing. The damage Obama and the Democrats have done is immense. But the damage liberals do the longer they beg Obama and the Democrats for a few scraps is worse. It is time to walk out on the Democrats. It is time to back alternative third-party candidates and grass-roots movements, no matter how marginal such support may be. If we do not take a stand soon we must prepare for the rise of a frightening protofascist movement, one that is already gaining huge ground among the permanently unemployed, a frightened middle class and frustrated low-wage workers. We are, even more than Glenn Beck or tea party protesters, responsible for the gusts fanning the flames of right-wing revolt because we have failed to articulate a credible alternative.

A shift to the Green Party, McKinney and Nader, along with genuine grass-roots movements, will not be a quick fix. It will require years in the wilderness. We will again be told by the Democrats that the least-worse candidate they select for office is better than the Republican troll trotted out as an alternative. We will be bombarded with slick commercials about hope and change and spoken to in a cloying feel-your-pain language. We will be made afraid. But if we again acquiesce we will be reduced to sad and pathetic footnotes in our accelerating transformation from a democracy to a totalitarian corporate state. Isolation and ridicule—ask Nader or McKinney—is the cost of defying power, speaking truth and building movements. Anger at injustice, as Martin Luther King wrote, is the political expression of love. And it is vital that this anger become our own. We have historical precedents to fall back upon.

“Here in the United States, at the beginning of the twentieth century, before there was a Soviet Union to spoil it, you see, socialism had a good name,” the late historian and activist Howard Zinn said in a lecture a year ago at Binghamton University. “Millions of people in the United States read socialist newspapers. They elected socialist members of Congress and socialist members of state legislatures. You know, there were like fourteen socialist chapters in Oklahoma. Really. I mean, you know, socialism—who stood for socialism? Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Upton Sinclair. Yeah, socialism had a good name. It needs to be restored.”

Social change does not come through voting. It is delivered through activism, organizing and mobilization that empower groups to confront the hegemony of the corporate state and the power elite. The longer socialism is identified with the corporatist policies of the Democratic Party, the longer we allow the right wing to tag Obama as a socialist, the more absurd and ineffectual we become. The right-wing mantra of “Obama the socialist,” repeated a few days ago to a room full of Georgia Republicans, by Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. speaker of the House, is discrediting socialism itself. Gingrich, who looks set to run for president, called Obama the “most radical president” the country had seen in decades. “By any standard of government control of the economy, he is a socialist,” Gingrich said. If only the critique was true.

The hypocrisy and ineptitude of the Democrats become, in the eyes of the wider public, the hypocrisy and ineptitude of the liberal class. We can continue to tie our own hands and bind our own feet or we can break free, endure the inevitable opprobrium, and fight back. This means refusing to support the Democrats. It means undertaking the laborious work of building a viable socialist movement. It is the only alternative left to save our embattled open society. We can begin by sending a message to the Green Party, McKinney and Nader. Let them know they are no longer alone.