Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Passion of David Letterman

Apparently, making light of a departed al-Qaeda leader joining his predecessor makes you an anti-Muslim, according to al-Qaeda.

David Letterman Targeted With Threat From Jihadist Website

Group lashed out at late night host over his jokes about an Al Qaeda leader.

David Letterman is currently on hiatus, but that hasn't stopped the late night legend from angering some people with comments he made before taking off for summer vacation.

According to reports from SITE Intelligence Group, which scans the Internet for terrorist activity, Letterman has been marked for death by a jihadist group for comments the "Late Show" host made on June 5 about Al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri, who was killed earlier this summer during a U.S. military strike in Pakistan.

The threat on the Shumukh al-Islam web forum, which called for followers to "cut the tongue of the lowly Jew and shut it forever," said that Letterman -- who is Protestant -- should be punished for his comments about the man who had been considered a possible replacement for late terror leader Osama bin Laden.

"He showed his evil nature and deep hatred for Islam and Muslims, and said that Ilyas Kashmiri was killed and he joined bin Laden," wrote someone calling themselves Umar al-Basrawi on the site, according toEntertainment Weekly. "We ask Allah to paralyze his tongue and grant the sincere monotheists his neck."

The FBI is reportedly investigating the threat and Letterman has been informed of the posting. The incident appears to have been inspired by a joke Letterman made in which he announced the death of Kashmiri, which involved the comedian making a slashing motion across his throat.

"He said that Kashmiri was killed in an airstrike in Pakistan ... then, he showed his evil nature and deep hatred for Islam and Muslims, and said that Ilyas Kashmiri was killed and he joined bin Laden. Then the despicable one put his hand on his neck and demonstrated the way of slaughter!!" wrote al-Basrawi.


What I do not understand is that if it is blasphemy to note that your replacement leader (killed by the same people) is joining his predecessor, does that mean al-Qaeda thinks that Kashmiri is not in paradise with Osama, or vice versa?  And if it means that one of them is not in paradise, how does that reflect on our holy warrior friends to pick a leader (Kashmiri or bin Laden) who is not currently enjoying the afterlife with his 72 virgins?  And taking offense at making a symbolic choking reference!  Dave, welcome aboard the heretic camp.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Of Riots and Dispossession

For those who thought the British government might reassess its budget cuts, or the impact of austerity, have their answer in the response of British PM Dave Cameron.  His days of appealing for respect and understanding of youngsters with hoodies are officially over.  Cameron understands the same principle as any other conservative politician in Europe or the US.  Hating young people, especially young people of color, sells and sells very well.  I suppose it should not shock anyone, but it never ceases to amaze me to see the love of property exceed the love of our fellow species, even if it means relativizing the impoverished as being less than full members of society.  If inequality was a crime, high treason would not be enough to punish those who have turned people under the age of 25 in Great Britain into a generation of disposable garbage.

This is not to endorse the rioting, self-evident is the fool's errand of attacking shops owned by those with barely more money than the folk parceling up their goods, or even burning down and attacking your own neighborhood (punishing no one except yourself and your peers, instead of the banks, corporations, and the media outlets centered on keeping Europe and Great Britain of, by, and for the wealthy).  The greatest sin of the youth rioters was not replicating their energies at the gates of Buckingham Palace and parliament.  I can think of fewer states in the West, other than my own, more unjust in the way it has decided to destroy the lives of an entire group of people with poverty, unemployment, and debt as the current Cameron government.  Say what you will about the French, but they knew who to go after when they 'rioted' in 1789.  For some reason, young and poor people in Europe and the U.S. have a difficult time collectively realizing who their real enemies are (and it is not a small shopkeeper).  It could be the cumulative effect of the utter brainwashing of our culture that diverts, privatizes, and individualizes our common experience to such extremes that we prefer simulated lives over real ones.  

Even the Romans, the empire that so many neo-conservatives, classic liberals and their fellow denizens at the CATO Institute base themselves on, knew the importance of the bread and circus in maintaining social peace.  What we have, the real crime scene in England, all across Western Europe, and North America (where conservative governments have become predominant in the last several years) is a divorce from the reality of our society, the belief that we have nothing to keep, no obligations, no values (unless you are a fetus, naturally), etc.  That all we have are individuals, but what this philosophy fails to recognize (and willfully so) is that we no longer reside in a world of individuals, or at least since the pre-industrial age.  The banks that have moved towards electronically monetizing our lives, the employers that drug test us and treat us like a cost and commodity to be processed, to the descent of our largest employer becoming a global corporation that refuses to hire most of workers full-time, give them benefits, and compels almost a fifth of those employees (in the US) to take public assistance, while selling over 70% of its stocked items from a country that can be best described as a wage haven.  We live in a world of power, and that vacuum has been filled, replacing the civic culture we once had, and the social capital we no longer use.  It is in that environment that the unconvicted felons we elect tell us to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps.  It is in that world the elected criminal class of our society have turned themselves over to the old patronage system by becoming repositories for lobbying influence and accompanying campaign cash from the very interests we are prohibited to mention or question without having our citizenship questioned, the very same entities who diminished our real estate and banking markets, amassing trillions of dollars of debt, stealing hundreds of billions of our money (trillions if you count the monies that the Federal Reserve decided to manufacture for the purpose of toxic asset consumption).  Those very same criminals who now tell us we are out of money (surprise), and that we need to pay the bills for the society they have wrecked, devalued,  and want to continue to cheapen so they do not have to be inconvenienced with things like paying taxes for young people to go to college, receive an education or, dare the thought, get a decent paying job.

It is in that light I introduce the reasoned perspective of what could be considered as an unlikely source, comedian Russell Brand.

Big Brother isn't watching you

Dismissing rioters as mindless is futile rhetoric. However unacceptable the UK riots, we need to ask why they are happening

by Russell Brand

I no longer live in London. I've been transplanted to Los Angeles by a combination of love and money; such good fortune and opportunity, in both cases, you might think disqualify me from commenting on matters in my homeland. Even the results of Britain's Got Ice-Factor may lay prettily glistening beyond my remit now that I am self-banished.

To be honest when I lived in England I didn't really care too much for the fabricated theatrics of reality TV. Except when I worked for Big Brother, then it was my job to slosh about in the amplified trivia of the housemates/inmates. Sometimes it was actually quite bloody interesting. Particularly the year that Nadia won. She was the Portuguese transsexual. Remember? No? Well, that's the nature of the medium; as it whizzes past the eyes it seems very relevant but the malady of reality TV stars is that their shelf life expires, like dog years, by the power of seven. To me it seems as if Nadia's triumph took place during the silver jubilee, we had a street party.

Early in that series there was an incident of excitement and high tension. The testosteronal, alpha figures of the house – a Scot called Jason and a Londoner called Victor – incited by the teasing conditions and a camp lad called Marco (wow, it's all coming back) kicked off in the house, smashed some crockery and a few doors. Police were called, tapes were edited and the carnival rolled on. When I was warned to be discreet on-air about the extent of the violence, I quoted a British first-world-war general who, reflecting on the inability of his returning troops to adapt to civilian life, said: "You cannot rouse the animal in man then expect it to be put aside at a moment's notice."

"Yeah, that's exactly the kind of thing we want you to say the opposite of," said the channel's representative.

This week's riots are sad and frightening and, if I have by virtue of my temporary displacement forgone the right to speak about the behaviour of my countrymen, then this is gonna be irksome. I mean even David Cameron came back from his holiday. Eventually. The Tuscan truffles lost their succulence when the breaking glass became too loud to ignore. Then dopey ol' Boris came cycling back into the London clutter with his spun gold hair and his spun shit logic as it became apparent that the holiday was over.

In fact, it isn't my absence from the territory of London that bothers me; it's my absence from the economic class that is being affected that itches in my gut because, as I looked at the online incident maps, the boroughs that were suffering all, for me, had some resonance. I've lived in Dalston, Hackney, Elephant, Camden and Bethnal Green. I grew up round Dagenham and Romford and, whilst I could never claim to be from the demographic most obviously affected, I feel guilty that I'm not there now.

I feel proud to be English, proud to be a Londoner (all right, an Essex boy), never more so than since being in exile, and I naturally began to wonder what would make young people destroy their communities.

I have spoken to mates in London and Manchester and they sound genuinely frightened and hopeless, and the details of their stories place this outbreak beyond the realms of any political idealism or rationalisation. But I can't, from my ivory tower in the Hollywood Hills, compete with the understandable yet futile rhetoric, describing the rioters as mindless. Nor do I want to dwell on the sadness of our beautiful cities being tarnished and people's shops and livelihoods, sometimes generations old, being immolated. The tragic and inevitable deaths ought to be left for eulogies and grieving. Tariq Jahan has spoken so eloquently from his position of painful proximity, with such compassion, that nearly all else is redundant.

The only question I can legitimately ask is: why is this happening? Mark Duggan's death has been badly handled but no one is contesting that is a reason for these conflagrations beyond the initial flash of activity in Tottenham. I've heard Theresa May and the Old Etonians whose hols have been curtailed (many would say they're the real victims) saying the behaviour is "unjustifiable" and "unacceptable". Wow! Thanks guys! What a wonderful use of the planet's fast-depleting oxygen resources. Now that's been dealt with can we move on to more taxing matters such as whether or not Jack The Ripper was a ladies' man. And what the hell do bears get up to in those woods?

However "unacceptable" and "unjustifiable" it might be, it has happened so we better accept it and, whilst we can't justify it, we should kick around a few neurons and work out why so many people feel utterly disconnected from the cities they live in.

Unless on the news tomorrow it's revealed that there's been a freaky "criminal creating" chemical leak in London and Manchester and Liverpool and Birmingham that's causing young people to spontaneously and simultaneously violate their environments – in which case we can park the ol' brainboxes, stop worrying and get on with the football season, but I suspect there hasn't – we have, as human beings, got a few things to consider together.

I should here admit that I have been arrested for criminal damage for my part in anti-capitalist protest earlier in this decade. I often attended protests and then, in my early 20s, and on drugs, I enjoyed it when the protests lost direction and became chaotic, hostile even. I was intrigued by the anarchist "Black bloc", hooded and masked, as, in retrospect, was their agenda, but was more viscerally affected by the football "casuals" who'd turn up because the veneer of the protest's idealistic objective gave them the perfect opportunity to wreck stuff and have a row with the Old Bill.

That was never my cup of tea though. For one thing, policemen are generally pretty good fighters and second, it registered that the accent they shouted at me with was closer to my own than that of some of those singing about the red flag making the wall of plastic shields between us seem thinner.
I found those protests exciting, yes, because I was young and a bit of a twerp but also, I suppose, because there was a void in me. A lack of direction, a sense that I was not invested in the dominant culture, that government existed not to look after the interests of the people it was elected to represent but the big businesses that they were in bed with.

I felt that, and I had a mum who loved me, a dad who told me that nothing was beyond my reach, an education, a grant from Essex council (to train as an actor of all things!!!) and several charities that gave me money for maintenance. I shudder to think how disenfranchised I would have felt if I had been deprived of that long list of privileges.

That state of deprivation though is, of course, the condition that many of those rioting endure as their unbending reality. No education, a weakened family unit, no money and no way of getting any. JD Sports is probably easier to desecrate if you can't afford what's in there and the few poorly paid jobs there are taken. Amidst the bleakness of this social landscape, squinting all the while in the glare of a culture that radiates ultraviolet consumerism and infrared celebrity. That daily, hourly, incessantly enforces the egregious, deceitful message that you are what you wear, what you drive, what you watch and what you watch it on, in livid, neon pixels. The only light in their lives comes from these luminous corporate messages. No wonder they have their fucking hoods up.

I remember Cameron saying "hug a hoodie" but I haven't seen him doing it. Why would he? Hoodies don't vote, they've realised it's pointless, that whoever gets elected will just be a different shade of the "we don't give a toss about you" party.

Politicians don't represent the interests of people who don't vote. They barely care about the people who do vote. They look after the corporations who get them elected. Cameron only spoke out against News International when it became evident to us, US, the people, not to him (like Rose West, "He must've known") that the newspapers Murdoch controlled were happy to desecrate the dead in the pursuit of another exploitative, distracting story.

Why am I surprised that these young people behave destructively, "mindlessly", motivated only by self-interest? How should we describe the actions of the city bankers who brought our economy to its knees in 2010? Altruistic? Mindful? Kind? But then again, they do wear suits, so they deserve to be bailed out, perhaps that's why not one of them has been imprisoned. And they got away with a lot more than a few fucking pairs of trainers.

These young people have no sense of community because they haven't been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron's mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there's no such thing.
If we don't want our young people to tear apart our communities then don't let people in power tear apart the values that hold our communities together.

As you have by now surely noticed, I don't know enough about politics to ponder a solution and my hands are sticky with blood money from representing corporate interests through film, television and commercials, venerating, through my endorsements and celebrity, products and a lifestyle that contributes to the alienation of an increasingly dissatisfied underclass. But I know, as we all intuitively know, the solution is all around us and it isn't political, it is spiritual. Gandhi said: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

In this simple sentiment we can find hope, as we can in the efforts of those cleaning up the debris and ash in bonhomous, broom-wielding posses. If we want to live in a society where people feel included, we must include them, where they feel represented, we must represent them and where they feel love and compassion for their communities then we, the members of that community, must find love and compassion for them.

As we sweep away the mistakes made in the selfish, nocturnal darkness we must ensure that, amidst the broken glass and sadness, we don't sweep away the youth lost amongst the shards in the shadows cast by the new dawn.

It is a sad world when a comedian sounds rational by comparison to the average British politician.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thief Fest 2011: The Unconstitutional Disaster of the Congressional Super Committee

The fact we are where we are at right now with the budget deal, the resulting market collapse and downgrade, even though the administration used those possibilities to browbeat us into agreeing to a deal the week before, is symbolic of what has become of the Democratic Party in the US.  Imagine a 3-inch elephant holding to heel and herding an entire flock of donkeys (and the donkeys emanating with pride at getting the miniature beast to stop scaring them by caving in to all of its demands and then following it with a mass display of hari-kari).  In my adult life, and this goes back to the Clinton years, I have never witnessed such a gutless display by the national Democratic Party towards its voters as I have seen these past two weeks.  You would almost think that we should be thankful to the House Republican caucus for even allowing us to live.  I am sure if the Democratic leadership could negotiate that away, they most certainly would.

And it is not just the budget deal, which was a Republican budget ‘compromise’ (i.e., everything the Republicans want with nothing in return for progressives).  Worse than even that, our beloved Senate Democrats have come to the rescue of the Republicans in the House by appointing its newly minted members of the vaunted ‘super committee’ that will deal with budget cuts.  And of course, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not going to appoint members who represent the views of what the Democratic base is like, minus possibly Sen. Patty Murray (Sen. John Kerry has a much more moderate voting record than anyone likes to give him credit for).  Understand, one non-progressive member with a slew of conservative Republicans means that there will be a conservative majority and cuts that only conservatives will want to have included in the future for the budget (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, and anything else not related to the Department of Defense).

Enter Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s last pick, Senator Max Baucus, probably the most odious Senate Democrat since Joe Lieberman (before he finally quit the party back in ’06).  The same Max Baucus who has been a longtime recipient of corporate campaign money, the result of which was his influence in killing the public option in Obama’s health care bill back in ‘09-10 (with the full support of the Obama Administration). 

Max Baucus has never met a corporate interest he could say no to, or an intern or lobbyist for that matter.  Putting this waste of Senatorial space on a right-wing-contrived committee (which goes outside of the scope of what Congress is supposed to be doing in Article 1 of our Constitution), a committee that is designed for the sole purpose of destroying Social Security and Medicare (and giving every last dime of our tax money to the upper 1% income tax bracket), is a crime of immense proportions.  Essentially, the Democratic Party has declared war on its voters and gone in league with the Republican Party to gut every last vestige of the New Deal and Great Society programs that once made the Democratic Party worth voting for.

At this point, there is only one solution, the defeat of every last anti-progressive Democrat in the US by electoral non-cooperation.  There would be no Max Baucus, Lawrence Summers, or Timothy Geithner without us.  They have to come to us, the progressive base, to get votes.  The Republicans (Attila the Hun types who view anyone to the center of Jefferson Davis as Satanic) will deem all non-Republicans as socialists (just as they red-baited Bill Clinton in the ‘90s, even while he was signing NAFTA, GATT, the Welfare Reform Act, and the Defense of Marriage Act).  That is what Republicans do, or at least the incarnations since the Reagan era, and when you negotiate with Republicans this is what you get (i.e., Republicanism).  If you want to stab us in the back (the people who put you into office) then you should be replaced, and if that means allowing by omission the Republicans to win then so be it.  That is the fate we deserve for having a party filled with jellyfish leaders.

And when we are in the minority, for which we truly deserve to be right now, we should waste no time whatsoever in assigning the blame and holding to account the Obamas and Reids for what they have done to us, as a party and a country.  

Give the conservatives in the GOP credit.  They know and understand that much in their party, and they have no quandary about seeking ideological purity, and have done so to the point of getting what they want (and winning elections in the process).  There is no reason why we should avoid doing the same.  And if it means being a permanent minority to prevent our backs, knees, and throats from being slit by DLC-third way corporatists then we do not deserve to win to begin with.  I will take that, and losing to an honest person who is wrong, over someone who pretends to care by waiting for the first opportune moment to throw me to the ash heap.

And, lastly, before I leave the fine reader, I would like to ask, where is the Constitutional challenge to this committee?  Where in Article 1 of our Constitution does it give Congressional leadership the right to negotiate away the budgetary process, which is supposed to be under the control of Congress (as a body), over to a White House-brokered special committee with 1/45ths of the US Congress in it?  Could anyone reading this imagine what James Madison would think to see his entire article in our Constitution rescinded by a 'compromise' with a branch of government that is not even supposed to be writing our budget or acting as a legislature?  With the notable exceptions of Rep. Ron Paul (to give him his due) and Dennis Kucinich, very few members of Congress have spent anytime addressing this issue, to the media or the public.  Of course, you will not see this type of objection from our Congressional leaders, Republican or Democratic, never mind the White House.  No, so long as you give them what they ideologically want (cutbacks in social spending), the Constitution and the entire budgeting process be damned, to which I say, damned you, Congressional Democratic leaders and the White House for what you have done to our party and this country.  It will take a generation to undue the damage you have done with this deal.  This is the poison pill you have given us, and may it come back to haunt you all.