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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 03:48 PM
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Thos. Frank: How liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street

From Salon.com . . .

[font size=2 color="gray"]SUNDAY, JAN 11, 2015 07:00 AM EST[/font]
[font size=5]It’s not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street[/font]
[font size=3]Center-left pundits have carried water for the president for six years. Their predictable excuses all ring hollow[/font]


As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one of the era’s greatest peculiarities: That one of the most cherished rallying points of the president’s supporters is the idea of the president’s powerlessness.

Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of Congress and it’s easy to make the case for the weakness of the White House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that presidents are merely “buoys on the tides of history,” not “mighty frigates parting the waters,” he scarcely made a ripple.

But the pundit fixation on Obama’s powerlessness goes back many years. Where it has always found its strongest expression is among a satisfied stratum of centrist commentators—people who are well pleased with the president’s record and who are determined to slap down liberals who find fault in Obama’s leadership. The purveyors of this fascinating species of political disgust always depict the dispute in the same way, with hard-headed men of science (i.e., themselves) facing off against dizzy idealists who cluelessly rallied to Obama’s talk of hope and change back in 2008.

It is, in other words, a classic apologetic. The pundit, a clear-thinking, reality-based fellow (and yes, they are almost always fellows), knows that if you paid attention back in 2008 you understood that Obama wasn’t promising anything great. Plus, the president has delivered all kinds of subtle but awesome stuff that his soft-headed fans overlook. Besides, there are those awful racist Republicans. Good Christ! Would we rather have one of them in the Oval Office?

< . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jan 30, 2015, 09:43 PM (1 replies)

Must-see film: Ross Caputi, "Fear Not the Path of Truth: a veteran's journey after Fallujah"

I posted this yesterday in Video & Multimedia, but am posting here because this film deserves wide exposure. Caputi is the former Marine who posted the article discussed in the thread, "American Sniper . . . from a Marine who was there." It is this young man's attempt to expose the truth of, and to come to grips with his own participation in, the second siege of Fallujah.

Near the end, Ross Caputi eschews the label 'hero' as applied to his time in Iraq. I would argue that in his fearless willingness to confront the truth, he is indeed heroic.

Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Jan 28, 2015, 03:44 PM (3 replies)

Documentary: "Fear Not the Path of Truth: a veteran's journey after Fallujah"

This is a must-watch. It is a documentary by a former Marine, Ross Caputo, who served in Iraq and participated in the second siege of Fallujah. In it, Caputo attempts to come to grips with the criminality of what was done to that city, as well as that of the war in Iraq more broadly, and his own participation in it. It is astonishingly unflinching. This is the same Marine who penned the essay about "American Sniper," referenced in a current thread in GD. If you really want to understand why "American Sniper" is such an obscenity, then watch this film.

Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Jan 27, 2015, 05:05 PM (2 replies)

That Time Badass Feminist Queen Elizabeth II Gave Saudi Arabia's King a Lesson in Power

Even if one isn't a fan of the British monarchy, you gotta hand it to the old gal for this particular stunt!

[font size=5]That Time Badass Feminist Queen Elizabeth II Gave Saudi Arabia's King a Lesson in Power[/font]

Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is known to have a wicked sense of humor, and some mean driving skills. One day back in 1998, she deployed both spectacularly to punk Saudi Arabia's late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Back then, Abdullah was a Saudi crown prince visiting Balmoral, the vast royal estate in Scotland. The Queen had offered him a tour of the grounds—here's what happened next, according to former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles:

The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle. As instructed, the Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the Land Rover, with his interpreter in the seat behind. To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off. Women are not—yet—allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen. His nervousness only increased as the queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.

Royal custom discourages repeating what the Queen says in private, Cowper-Coles explained, but the anecdote was corroborated by Abdullah, and became, in the diplomat's words, "too funny not to repeat."

Abdullah went on to cultivate the image of a reformer as king. One thing he didn't change, despite the Queen's badass stunt: women still can't drive in Saudi Arabia.
Posted by markpkessinger | Sat Jan 24, 2015, 11:14 PM (56 replies)

The Contradictory State of the (Dis)union

The President said a lot of good things. Certainly his mild barbs towards Republicans were more than richly deserved, and the President was right to point to recovery in some areas. And I rather enjoyed his quick-witted, off-the-cuff response to Republicans who applauded sarcastically when he said that he had “no more campaigns to run,” by reminding them, “I know, I won both of them.” Good one, Mr. President – your rejoinder certainly shut them up in a hell of a hurry! But in a speech that purported to be all about "middle class economics," I found his renewed call for authority to fast track trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (the TTIP), both of which are currently being negotiated by the Obama administration under utmost secrecy, and his attempt to characterize those agreements as something that is in the interest of "middle class economics," to stand in rather glaring contradiction to that broader theme of middle class economics -- at best disingenuous, at worst, well . . .

We don't know the full details of these agreements, and so far, neither do members of the House or Senate. There have been some leaks, however, of portions of each, and what has been leaked is truly alarming. Trade deals such at the TPP and TTIP serve primarily one set of interests: that of multinational corporations. To accept the President's insistence that such deals will redound to the benefit of American workers is to continue to buy into the failed laissez faire, trickle-down, neoliberal [stirke]fraud[/strike] model that got us into the economic mess of 2008. And for the President to continue to act as if he can have it both ways -- as if there were no fundamental conflict between addressing issues of economic justice and kissing the collective ass of multinational corporations suggests he is either woefully out of touch with economic reality or that he is trying to sell us something we really ought not buy.

I applaud the President's community college proposal -- I see expanded access to educational opportunity as being a good thing. But I am concerned that he is selling this as a kind of ticket for working class and poor students to lift themselves into the middle class. The President seems to have bought into the myth -- a myth proffered by corporate interests -- that our unemployment problems have stemmed primarily from a lack of sufficiently skilled workers. But I know far too many people with advanced degrees, and far too many experienced, highly skilled middle aged IT professionals who remain unemployed, or who have been unable to find jobs at all, let alone jobs that pay them commensurate with their level of experience and skill, to believe that myth. And the notion that, absent some serious restructuring, working class or poor students, having completed a course of study at their local community college, will find themselves suddenly availed of significantly expanded employment opportunity, is pure fiction. (And those trade agreements, if passed, are likely, if history is to be any guide, to make it still easier for businesses to outsource American jobs.) Whatever merit the proposal may have, selling it as something it really isn't, at least at this point in time, and to promote it without a serious discussion of where, exactly, the jobs for these newly skilled workers will come from, is simply wrong.

I appreciated the President's nod to "saving the planet," but here, too, trade deals such as the Transpacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would inhibit the ability of participating nation's governments to regulate corporate practices that impact the environment, and would subject the taxpayers of the participating nations to lawsuits for alleged "damages" to expected profits incurred by these multinational corporations as a result of legislation aimed at regulating such practices. In effect, based on what has been leaked so far, these trade deals would effectively cede national sovereignty over matters such as environmental protection and occupational safety, among others. These agreements would render our government, and the governments of other participating nations, totally subservient to the profits of multinationals. This cannot be a good thing for the people of any of these participating nations, including us.

Finally, what I found most disturbing about the speech was that for all the happy talk, there was no discussion of how the President proposes to get any of the good ideas he mentioned past a Republican-controlled House and Senate. If the past six years have shown anything, it is the utter unwillingness of Republicans to work with this President in good faith on anything at all; and I have no reason to believe anything has changed in that regard. None of the ideas the President suggested has a snowball's chance in hell of passing (save, of course, the trade agreements). So, as appealing as some of his ideas may be, I'm afraid I have little patience for fairy tales at the moment. And sorry, when it comes to trade negotiations, I have little faith that this administration will do the right thing. After all, this President, if he had his way, would still be taking economic advice from the likes of Larry Summers.
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Jan 22, 2015, 05:26 PM (1 replies)

No, the police do NOT actually protect us from criminals

<Note: I originally posted this as a comment to a very good Michael Winshiop/Bill Moyers & Co. Op-Ed appearing on Truth-Out.org, titled, "You Have the Right to Remain Angry." My comment turned out to be rather lengthy, and I thought it might make for a good OP here.>


So we live a world of conundrum. We expect the police to protect and not harm us; in return, they expect our respect regardless of any transgressions.

What police receive in return for "protecting us" (which, by the way, they actually don't -- more on that in a second) is the salary and other benefits they get for doing their jobs. If police are unhappy with that arrangement, they can bargain for a better one. Or, if police and the city cannot arrive at terms that are acceptable to some officers, those officers have the "right" to do what any private sector employee must do in such a circumstance: either deal with it or find another job. Personally, I would favor paying police officers a significantly higher salary, paying for it by thinning the bloated ranks of the NYPD.

Now, as to this oft-repeated notion that police "protect" us. Most of what police officers do, besides routine patrols, consists of investigating and apprehending people for crimes that have already been committed. To the extent a criminal is taken off the streets when apprehended by police, sure, to an extent that may provide some protection from that person's ability to commit crime again, at least for a period of time. Also, their mere presence on routine patrol likely deters a certain number of mostly petty crimes of opportunity. But to hear police officers tell it, every single day, every single officer intervenes in a a crime in progress by a would-be Green River Killer. That sort of thing may happen from time to time, but to suggest the frequency of such occurrences is anything other than pretty rare is the stuff of fiction.

What's more, in the 2005 Supreme Court case, Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, the Court ruled that police do NOT have any duty or obligation to protect a specific individual from a specific crime, even in cases where there was a protective order in place, and the person purportedly protected by that order has notified police of an imminent threat or violation of that order in progress. Police cannot continue to have it both ways: either they have a duty to protect citizens from crimes in progress (when possible), or they don't. And if, as the Supreme Court held, they have no such duty or obligation, then it is time to drop the notion that they "protect us" in any way other than indirectly. Certainly, they don't actively protect us.

Finally, with regard to the 'respect' police officers demand, of course they should be entitled to respect -- as should every human being. That includes the public whom the police (purportedly) serve. But police around the country have conflated respect with unquestioning deference and almost no independent accountability for wrongdoing by police. And so long as this country even pretends to be a representative democracy, no person and no position is ever entitled to such exalted status.
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Jan 19, 2015, 12:52 AM (7 replies)

About that "context" (re: Charlie Hebdo)

In response to a couple of OP's of mine which have apparently been insufficiently uncritical of the "Je suis Charlie" campaign, I have been accused of being ignorant of, failing to "educate" myself about, or too lazy to investigate links to articles the provide the "context" for the Charlie Hebdo cartoons (along with being accused of purporting to be an expert on France and of being part of the same kind of thinking that underlay the absurd "freedom fries" nonsense of some years back). For the record, yes, I have read those links, and have considered what is in them. But the question of whether that context stands as justification for the nature of the cartoons is, in the end, a subjective determination, about which reasonable people can and will disagree. I have no problem with anyone who wishes to express disagreement. But I call foul on the repeated rude, snide insults and other attempts to bully those of us on DU who hold a different view of the response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks into acquiescence to a single read of the events in France.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jan 16, 2015, 11:27 PM (17 replies)

So I finally got around to looking at the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons . . .

So, I finally got around to looking at the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I am pretty absolute in my support for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, including, and especially, when what is said or published is offensive. So yes, I support Charlie Hebdo's right, as a matter of law, to publish what it published, and it goes without saying that no one deserves to be murdered for it.

But having said that, I gotta say that much of the Charlie Hebdo material is really vile, racist, bigoted stuff. Calling it 'satire' is a bit of a stretch, for me at least. When I think of satire, I think of something that may indeed offend some who see it, but at least makes a point while doing so. Many of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons have no larger point to make. They seem to have been calculated to offend for the sake of offending -- truly lowest common denominator stuff. So the spectacle of a million people marching through the streets of Paris under the banner of "Je suis Charlie" strikes me as being akin to a million people marching on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in support of a company that produces minstrel shows.

It just seems a shame to me that a country like France, which has long taken such pride in the high level of intellect and sophistication of its public discourse, could not find a more constructive way to respond to the attacks. And it seems sad that in a conversation has been all about the belligerent assertion of rights, there seems to be no room for any discussion of the responsible exercise of those rights.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jan 16, 2015, 09:42 PM (136 replies)

The Glaring Hypocrisy of France Posing as a Beacon for Free Speech

I was as horrified by the attacks in Paris as anyone else. And I have long been a firm believer in our own Constitution's protection for freedom of speech. But please count me not among those who were deeply stirred or moved by images of the Unity March in Paris. Oh, some of those images gave me goosebumps alright, but not the good kind. It was rather the frisson one experiences when he suddenly realizes he is witnessing something very dark and sinister passing under the guise of something noble and pure.

Before I go any further, let me state unequivocally that nothing in this post is intended, nor should be construed, as justifying or excusing in any way the terrorist attacks in Paris. I'll state it another way: I am not in any way suggesting that the killings in Paris by terrorists were in any way justified or that those killings are in any way excusable. But for the people of France to refuse any nuance in their understanding of the attacks, to permit themselves to indulge the temptation of simplistic, self-righteous, Manichean narratives that reduce the events in Paris as being explainable in terms of a barbarians-at-the-gate myth, while disingenuously (and somewhat dishonestly) holding their own country out as some kind of bulwark of free speech against assaults by those who hate France because of its freedoms (sound familiar?), is for the people of France to fall into the same delusion that overtook many Americans in the wake of 9-11, when a criminal President, relied on an identical narrative in order to lead this country down the rabbit hole that was (and is once again) the war in Iraq.

France, it should be remembered, actually regulates speech in very significant ways -- ways that would be unthinkable to most Americans. Among other restrictions, there are laws in France against:

  • insulting the national anthem or the French flag, under penalty of a 9,000 euro fine or six months in prison;

  • the wearing of burkas or niqab's in public, and even the wearing of hijabs in government buildings (including schools), which is certainly an infringement on the freedom of expression by Muslims;

  • offending the dignity of the public, which includes prohibitions against insulting public officials or employees; and

  • presenting illicit drugs in any kind of positive light (which has been used to prosecute and levy repeated, heavy fins against organizations that have published articles critical of France's drug laws, including, ironically enough, Charlie Hebdo itself). Just think about how laws such as those would have impacted the legalization debate if they had been in effect in this country.

Je suis Charlie, mon derrière!

Coming, as all of this does, at a time when there has been a significant rise in xenophobic and right-wing nationalist movements, as will as in anti-Muslim acts of violence, in France and across Europe, this kind of nationalist self-righteousness should be a cause of grave concern for anyone who doesn't want to see the West go off the rails once again in the way that the U.S. went off the rails after 9-11. And I applaud President Obama for not getting sucked into it.

I'll close this with this brief clip of Noam Chomsky from 2013, in which he calls out the "fakery and fraud" of France's self-congratulatory promotion of itself as a beacon of free speech:

Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Jan 14, 2015, 03:11 AM (119 replies)

A comment I just posted to a NY Times article about de Blasio's "missteps"

The three reporters who wrote this article (In Police Rift, Mayor de Blasio’s Missteps Included Thinking It Would Pass) seem to be carrying water for the NYPD. Here is a comment I just posted to it:

Mark Kessinger

“You can’t just say, ‘Look, I’m saying I support you, so change the way you feel,’ “ one police officer said. Invoking a failed marriage, he added: “Even if you go through the motions of trying to reconcile, the feeling isn’t there.”

Oh, good grief! To this statement, I can only quote Bill Maher, from his show on Friday, Jan. 9:

"Seriously, if our deal with the police is that we have to constantly reassure them how much we love them, or else they throw a tantrum, we aren't supporting them, we're dating them!"

The notion that there must be some special "feeling" between the NYPD and the mayor, absent which there can be no healing or reconciliation, demonstrates just how absurd and delusional the mindset of many in the NYPD has become. Police officers are employees of the city, and the Mayor is the elected chief executive of their employer. Cops need not love their chief executive, nor agree with him. But they should still be expected to do their jobs and to do them professionally, and to respect the chief executive's office, even if they may not be fond of the current holder of that office -- in the same way that employees of any corporation need not love their CEO personally, but are still expected to do their jobs and to be respectful towards the CEO, or else find alternative employment!

As for the Mayor's "missteps" and "gaffes," while we may quibble about one or more of these issues, they are not "missteps" or "gaffes" merely because the NYPD doesn't like them.
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Jan 12, 2015, 11:15 AM (57 replies)
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