Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why Obama Is Right About Fox News

It's been a real interesting week, watching you guys from across the pond. President Obama points out something that everyone in their right mind already knew, that Fox is a Republican propoganda mill and people would be wise to keep that in mind, and suddenly the freakin' world's coming to an end.

First came the lie that this was in some way a violation of freedom of the press. Satan save me from sanctimonious conservatives moaning about freedom of the press. Have the Obama admin pulled Fox's license like Hugo Chavez (and what a disappointment he's turning out to be)? No. Have they shut down FNC? No. Have they even shut off access and kicked Fox's guy out of the Whitehouse press pool? No, they haven't. The closest they got was trying to refuse to give an interview to Fox. Wow, truly a draconian act. Here's a newsflash for the idiots: Freedom of the press does not equal automatic access. If I start up a podcast, does the president automatically have to come on when I invite him? Of course not. He's the president, he's a busy guy. He has every right to refuse to give interviews to any media outlet he likes (and, incidently, they have every right to report that)

Then there was the lie that this was an "unprecedented" move. Horseshit. DimBulb's admin used to call out NBC and MSNBC all the time, they all but accused the New York Times of treason! Conservatives like to use that to try and claim that MSNBC and Fox are equivelent. Bzzz, sorry, you're still fucking wrong. First off, MSNBC isn't half as liberal as you like to think. Yes, Olbermann and Maddow are liberals and Ed Schultz tends to lean to the left. Chris Matthews doesn't have an intellectual stance consistent enough to be called a leaning but he seems to have a crush on Obama right now so let's throw Tweety in there too. MSNBC also has Joe Scarbrough, a guy who has been seriously mentioned as a Republican candidate for president in 2012 (and the GOP could do a lot worse) every morning for THREE FREAKIN' HOURS! OK, Joe's not a batshit conservative like most of the GOP right now but he's a pretty conservative guy. Does Fox put an avowed, outspoken liberal (say, Mike Malloy) on for three hours every morning? Of course they fucking don't. Watch MSNBC for a day and chances are, you'll see Pat Buchannon at least a couple of times. Now, Pat's a weird guy, he's very right-wing and he also happens to be rampantly racist (contrary to some opinion on the left, the two don't automatically go together). But you see him on MSNBC and he's usually treated respectfully. Hosts might disagree with him (I have yet to understand why Pat and Rachel Maddow are good friends when they agree on precisely nothing) but he's treated in a respectful fashion. Pat's so reactionary, he could be nicknamed Paleolithic but he gets treated nicely by this supposedly liberal network.

Recently, Fox has tried to draw a dividing line between their "opinion" shows and their "news" shows. That's bullshit too, there is no division. Fox's "news" section is just as biased as their prime-time line-up. This has been proven so many times that you have to be either indescribably stupid, insane or stubbornly resistant to reality to ignore it. Every story, on any show is slanted in a conservative direction. Look up the "Moody memo", go and do some fucking research, they admitted this in fucking court! On MSNBC or CNN, their news shows are straight-up news. If they have a slant, it's slightly to the right (most US news has a rightward slant) but they genuinely try to report on things objectively. On Fox, everything is actively slanted to favour the Republicans and attack Obama. And spare me the outrage about Fox breaking the ACORN or Van Jones stories. I don't carry a flag for either of them but both of those were complete non-stories that Fox went hysterical over until the Whitehouse gave in (I wish they'd stop doing that). From Hannity (who makes no pretence at neutrality) to Bill O'Lielly (who's relationship with the truth has only ever been accidental) to Glenn Beck (I want to stop picking on Glenn because he's so obviously ill), these guys are vastly further to the right than Olbermann, Maddow or Schultz are to the left. Hannity is about two steps from being an outright fascist; Beck is so far gone that he appears to be channeling the ghost of Joe McCarthy and trying to cope by mainlining LSD. Olbermann's a liberal, sure, but he's not sobbing on tv and calling people every name he can get away with (barring George Carlin's famous seven words). There is no equivelency between the two prime-time line-ups. MSNBC's is centre-left, FOX's is frothing right-fringe. And their straight news shows are just as bad, they're just slightly more subtle. Media Matters (yes, I know Bill-O says they're an extreme-left outfit but he says that about anyone who disagrees with him) has loads of stuff on this, showing how Republican talking points get endlessly repeated by Fox in both their opinion AND news shows.

Fox's apologists (and Bill-O, who's viciousness hides some deep insecurities) like to point to their ratings as proof of their accuracy. I'm sorry, what? First off, how does the fact that people like your product prove it's accurate? There is no connection between the two. Secondly, yes, Fox has very impressive numbers. So did Jerry Springer. Ratings have nothing to do with quality. Springer did bonanza numbers, Oprah still does. Is anyone really claiming that Ford make better cars than, say, Rolls-Royce? Or that Dell make better computers than Alienware? Of course not. Sales (and ratings are, in the end, sales) have nothing, zip, zero to do with quality. All Fox's numbers prove is that there is a market for news (and sometimes outright lies) with a heavily conservative bias. And Fox isn't just reporting the news with a rightward slant. They're actively making news with a rightward slant. The Teabagging parties were pushed endlessly on Fox, complete with links on their website of where to go. Beck's 9/12 march of the morons was created, promoted and owned by Fox. The Van Jones non-story was "broken", pushed and promoted by Fox, created by Fox. Obama isn't calling out Fox because they "ask the tough questions". He is calling out Fox because they have been attacking him 24/7 over bullshit charges since before he was even in office. Fox have made barely any pretence that their mission is now to destroy Obama by any means necessary. And I do mean "any", the word is an absolute in this instance. Beck is already about one step away from outright treason. He might not have fulfilled all the technical legal requirements to be charged with treason under the letter of the law but under the [i]spirit[/i] of the law, he's guilty as hell. But there I go again, picking on the ill. Incidently, anyone remember Fox's Half-Hour News Hour, their conservative answer to The Daily Show? Does CNN have comedy shows on it? That show was Fox's admission that they have a conservative slant. As comedy shows go, I thought it was hit-and-miss. Had some very funny sketches (Lorenzo Lamas defending the Bush line on 9/11 was a hoot) and an awful lot of dross. Shame they didn't get longer to work out the teething problems. But the important point is that Fox felt an obligation to "balance" the liberal slant of The Daily Show by putting on a conservative comedy show. Fox is a conservative propoganda outlet, case closed.

And that's fine. Advocacy journalism has a long and honourable history. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle led to the creation of the FDA (not his intention but we'll take results here). The British Daily Star was founded as a crusading socialist newspaper, specialising in exposing abuses of power (sadly, it's now fallen to tabloid status). There is nothing wrong with advocacy journalism. But don't lie about it. Be out and proud. Say up front that you are a conservative news outlet and you cater to a conservative audience and we wouldn't have this problem. You say openly that you come at things from a particular direction and there's no problem with that, we take that into consideration when we decide whether to watch your shows. That way, you're the conservative network, MSNBC boots Joe Scarbrough across to you guys and rebrands itself as the liberal network and CNN returns to calling it right down the middle. Everyone's happy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Now, Let's Do Communism

Having set the record straight on Naziism, it seems an obvious next step is to do Communism and to talk about communism, one must talk about socialism as the latter grew out of the former.

The basic premise of socialism is that the capitalist system concentrates wealth and power within a small ownership class which exploits the worker. That much is undeniable to anyone with functioning eyes but socialism then posits further that, by common or communal ownership of the means of production and distribution, the abuses of the capitalist system can be eliminated or, at least, minimised. The idea is that if the community (usually via the state) owns and operates a service and has no internal competitors (that part's important), then the state, as representative of the people, can allocate wages and rewards fairly. Over time, as these roles become ingrained, the need for the state to administer them gradually withers away and the state itself becomes redundant (as in, both unnecessary and out of work). One may agree or disagree with it but that's the theory.

It's worth pointing out that, on a small scale, socialism can work well. The traditional farmer's collective or British share fishermen (where each take a percentage of the collective catch) are examples of socialism working well on a small scale. They work well because there is an emotional tie between each member of the collective. One may feel that the nameless person collecting Social Security is a lazy scrounger but it's a bit different when it's Bob who you've known your whole life and know is laid up right now with a broken leg. Likewise, Bob himself probably would feel some guilt about ripping off his friends and/or family if he didn't attempt to make up his end of the collective bargain.

No-one really knows who first came up with socialist theory but the term was coined by Henri de Saint-Simon who, along with Friendrich Engels, laid the foundations of modern socialist theory (earlier forms, such as the aforementioned farmer's collective, go back to the Medieval Period). Various governments have experimented with socialism on a limited scale, generally with regard to the essential services too important to be left to the whims of the free market (something I extrapolate on in other essays). Sometimes, they have worked (Social Security in the USA, prior to it's demolition by George W. Bush; the NHS in Britain), other times they have not (the EU's Common Fisheries Policy is still a sore spot for many). Now, few of those are truly socialist as most have internal competitors which force the state-run option into a battle with private industry. For example, while the NHS covers the health needs of all Britons from birth to death, other companies offer health insurance in Britain and some operate entirely private hospitals. The result may be seen as an improvement on pure socialism. Pure socialism, due to it's lack of competitors, has a noted tendancy toward waste and abuse while the whims of an unopposed free market will always operate to maximise profits at the expense of the consumer (see the current health insurance situation in the USA, which resembles a lottery system for health). By having both socialised and private industries compete against one another, one forces the socialised industries to eliminate waste to remain competative but also forces the private firms to minimise the worst abuses to maintain their customer base.

Socialism is an economic theory. It has little to say about politics as the founders of modern socialist thought considered politics merely an extension of economic issues (and one can see their point). When you extend socialism beyond economics, you end up with Communism.

Communism is, in the simplest possible definition, an attempt to create a classless (meaning, lacking social classes rather than just crude), stateless, egalitarian society through the common ownership of not just the means of production and distribution, but all property and, unlike socialism, accepts that revolution may be necessary to bring this about. Whereas, in a socialist system, the worker would get paid for his endevours and then spend his wages on, say, a new pair of shoes; the worker in a Communist system would simply go and request a pair of shoes from the warehouse filled with shoes made by other workers. Again, the state required to administer this would gradually wither away as people adjusted to their roles and, eventually, the state would become entirely unnecessary and disappear. Far from wishing to expand government, communism regards government as simply a short-term necessary evil on the road to an anarchist collective utopia. If you're thinking that avowed Communist states have never worked out that way, you'd be entirely right. For that reason, this form of theoretical Communism is known as "pure Communism" or, more often, simply as Marxism.

Karl Marx was the man who, in conjunction with Friendrich Engels, essentially invented Communism. Contrary to popular belief, Marx wasn't some cackling psychopath but a man with a rather kindly, if also naive, view of human nature. Marx believed that the primary motivator in human history had been the struggle between social classes or, as we would define them, between the Haves and the Have-Nots (Like many men of his time, Marx defined social class purely in terms of wealth). By instituting a system whereby everyone held everything in common, that cause of conflict would be eliminated and peace would reign. Or, at least, that was the theory. Marx himself would have been appalled at what his ideas led to.

No nation in history has ever achieved Marx's form of "pure" Communism. Many observers (including myself) think that vision, although noble, is utterly unworkable for several reasons. Primarily, Marxism makes no accounting for human greed or laziness. The assumption is that the worker will want only that which they require and that everyone will do their fair share and yet, all of us know someone who lives only by the goodwill of others (and I'm not talking about those who have no choice such as the severely disabled). It doesn't account for the human capacity for stupidity and bad judgement that leads a man to squander his life savings on some addictive drug. While in many ways noble, Marxism was not very wise.

Those nations which have attempted to reach Marxist Communism have given birth to several variations. The form which most of us are most familiar with is the form which arose in the Soviet Union during the 1920s: Leninism or Bolshevism. Leninism may have been a genuine attempt to use violent revolution to achieve Marxist ends. It is primarily remembered for Lenin's belief that socialism was merely a middle form which would inevitibly lead to Communism. In this, he was entirely wrong but we'll get to that later. It's difficult for us to say how effective Leninism might have been because that period of Soviet history led directly, in 1928, to Joseph Stalin and the ideaology named after him. Stalinism had very little in common with Marxist thought. Rather, it embodied the worst excesses of both Communism and capitalism: An opressed working class kept deliberately ignorant; cults of personality and an intrusive police state. In every practical sense, Stalinism was an enlightened (for a given value of "enlightened" anyway) dictatorship. Far from the egalitarian vision of Marx, Stalinism led to an ever deepening chasm between rich and poor; the only difference was that the rich were also now the elite of the only political party allowed to exist. Some commentators have described Stalinism as a form of left-wing fascism but that's a perversion of the word. While both were highly authoritarian, fascism and communism are specific and quite different sets of reasons for being so.

There were and are many different minor variations of Communist theory; from Trotskyism to Maoism and Luxemburgism (named after Rosa Luxemburg and nothing to do with the country) to even forms of Christian Communism (contrary to popular belief, athieism, while the official position, was never a very major part of Marxist thought), but to spend much time dealing with them would be folly. Communism has been proven by history to be unworkable and to lead to undesireable and unpleasent results when it is employed on any kind of mass scale. The vision of Marx and Engels can be marked down as a classic case of "did not think this through enough".

I mentioned earlier that Lenin was quite wrong in his assertion that socialism was merely an intermediate step between capitalism and communism. I say this because history has proven it to be the case. In my own Britain, the Labour Party was explicitely socialist for most of it's existence. Clause Four of the Labour Party manifesto called for collective ownership of the means of production and distribution, a section that was only removed with Tony Blair's leadership of the party in 1994 (Blairites described it as the "new" Labour Party for exactly this reason). During it's time as a socialist party, Labour ruled Britain several times. Some administrations were good (Clement Attlee), others were bad and one (that of James Calaghan) was a disaster, but none turned Britain into the UKSR or even attempted to do so. The NHS ticks along year after year, decade after decade but it's staff have never mentioned a Bolshevik uprising. In the USA, Social Security operates as a partially socialised system. As does the Veteran's Association but neither have ever led to tanks in the streets and an all powerful police state (and, as mentioned above, that would be a perversion of Communism anyway). In fact, given the Constitution of the USA, it's citizens general attitude of "live free or fuck off" and the prevelence of firearms, it's difficult to see why the average American citizen is so terrified of socialism. Americans tend to treat socialism as something akin to a zombie-causing virus; a nightmare which, once admitted even slightly, will inevitibly transport the entire nation to 1955 Moscow. History, and the attitudes of most Americans say that not only will that not happen but that, absent a sea change in public values and morality, it cannot happen. And yet, we have, at time of writing, a whole cottage industry in the USA dedicated to describing the current president as a Communist. This is not just a perversion of the term but such wilfull and deliberate stupidity that one is tempted to suggest steralisation to avoid further pollution of the gene pool. Taking equity in a miniscule part of the economic structure cannot be described as socialism in any rational way, especially when there are still competing private companies. Rather, this assertion seems to be based entirely on the very short memory of many Americans and the fact that the administration preceding (that of George W. Bush) was inarguably the most right-wing in US history. Over the eight years of Bush's reign of error, the centre of political discourse seems to have been reset to somewhere around Attila the Hun. When the standard for political discourse is set by Dick Cheney, a man so cartoonishly evil that parody becomes impossible, even the moderate Obama looks like a raving radical of the left.

Finally, a brief word about the author's own preferences. I am not a socialist. I consider socialism to lead to waste and abuse. Nor am I anti-capitalist. I am anti-corporatist. I believe that corporations are, as Bierce said, "an ingeneous device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility". I shan't speak further on that here, see my other essays for elaboration. Which I am, in relation to this essay, is a believer in a socialised option in certain essential services (again, defined further elsewhere) whereby, the competition between private and socialised options benefits the consumer and keeps the abuses of both to a minimum.

ADDENDUM: In contrast to the delusional theories which Foxwood replied to my last entry with, Communism hasn't been "fashionable" in the USA since the mid-sixties and wasn't all that popular then. The hippies and flower children of the Sixties weren't Communists (unless, like Foxwood, you consider Joe McCarthy to be a role model), they were just pissed off with a political system which alternatively marginalised them or tried to send them to Vietnam to be killed. Contrary to the McCarthyite ramblings of Foxwood and his overlord, Glenn Beck, the president isn't a Communist, a socialist or even especially liberal; there aren't hordes of "godless commies" in the Obama administration or the schools, colleges or universities; the overwhelming majority of teachers and students at any level of education in the USA hold fairly conventional political beliefs and your country is about as far from Communism as it's possible to be and still be a functional democracy. Newsflash guys: McCarthy is dead, he was an evil monster when he was alive and he was and you remain, just plain wrong about absolutely everything.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Nazis - Let's Get This Straight

OK, I'm now officially wanting to execute conservatives who keep rewriting the historical record with regard the the Nazi party, usually in hopes of proclaiming them far-left. This is both wrong and a lie. Normally, I'd allow the option of being misinformed but our history has been so heavily influenced by the Nazis (via WW2) and the history is so freely available that someone would have to go out of their way to avoid know the basic facts. Ergo, anyone who tells you this is lying, either explicitely or by omission.

First off, let's deal with the political ideaology of the Nazi party, since this might explain how an extreme-right party came to have the word "Socialist" in it's name (which is the one and only reason to even entertain the idea that the party was on the left). Essentially, the party was founded as the German Worker's Party in 1918 as a unification of the various German nationalist groups that grew up in the chaotic end of World War I. The original leader, Anton Drexler, formed a party platform which included social support to middle-class Germans of Aryan origin (which was the ONLY socialist part of the agenda), nationalism (which included, at that time, anti-semitic views), fierce opposition to both lasseiz-faire capitalism and communism and the glorification of the common "volk" (German for "folk" but carrying connotations of noble farmers and rural manual labour. The way Michelle Bachman uses "real Americans" has similar connotations). While explicitly opposed to communism, the DAP (German Worker's Party) also considered international capitalism as a tool of "international Jewry". From the very beginning, the DAP was opposed to any political ideaology which was non-nationalist and especially those on the left and fought bitterly with the DSP (Social Democrat Party) and KPD (German Communist Party).

Initially, the DAP was tiny. Perhaps to attract new members, the group changed it's name to the "National Socialist German Worker's Party" in 1920. Adolf Hitler was the 55th member. Through a combination of fiery oratory and ruthlessness, Hitler quickly became the dominant figure in the party and became chairman in 1921 whereupon virtually the entire socialist aspect of the party's ideaology was dropped. Thereafter, the party would be governed by the furherprinzip ("leader principle"). In short, what Hitler said was what happened. And Hitler was uninterested in the social welfare aspect of the platform (although it was left in the party manifesto to attract working-class members). Hitler's interests were German nationalism and Antisemitism. When the National Fascist Party rose to power in Italy under Mussolini, Hitler promptly stole a lot of their schtick, such as the brown shirts (the Italian's wore black) and the straight-arm Roman salute. The party continued to grow until they launched the disastrous "Beer Hall Putsch" (an attempted coup) in 1923, after which Hitler was imprisoned and the party was banned.

Hitler was released around Christmas of 1924 and the following year, he refounded the NSDAP. This time around, the party made a great pretence of disavowing force (although, like the British BNP, this was a transparent charade) and admitting women. It was around this time that the SA (stormtroopers") and SS (originally Hitler's personal bodyguard) were formed. Eventually, due to a coup in 1932 and the splintering of the opposition, the NSDAP essentially held power in the Rechstag (although not a majority, the intricacies of Reichstag politics meant that if the Nazis acted in conjunction with other nationalist parties, they could excercise power). In 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg and the rest is history.

Hopefully, that's somewhat clear now. Fascism is slightly difficult to define but some of the traits which are always included are that it always starts as a working-class, populist phonomena preaching a return to a glorious (and often mythical) past. It usually makes heavy use of whatever the dominant religion is and it is always violently nationalist. Naziism is right-fringe, is that clear?

Right, now for the religious element. This one has two main offenders: Christians who claim that the Nazis were athiests and athiests who claim they were Christians. The truth, as always, is rather more complex. There were four main strands of religious thought within the NSDAP. The first thought of themselves as "good Christians". To do this, they reimagined Jesus as an Aryan, threw out the entire Old Testament as a "Jewish book" and had some very creative interpretations of the New testament but nevertheless, they thought of themselves as good Christians. That faction was probably the majority of the parties rank-and-file, it's functionaries and pavement-pounders, it was certainly the majority of the German army under Nazi control. The second faction, which was probably the majority of the party elite, felt no real religious faith themselves but were more than happy to manipulate the faith of the masses to their advantage. It was probably this faction which was responsible for things like trying to "Nazify" Christmas by putting swastikas atop the tree and on ornaments (yes, that really happened; no, it didn't have much success outside the party). A third faction wished to destroy Christianity and replace it with a kind of pot-pouri paganism, stealing elements of Germanic and Nordic mythologies and relics and collecting and performing rituals with no real understanding of the underlying belief structure of those rituals. Finally, there was a faction of athiests who thought religion was a refuge for the weak. This lot were somewhat influenced by the philosophies of Nietzsche although those philosophies were twisted to adhere to Nazi ideaology (sadly, Nazi propoganda on this front has led to the majority of the public misunderstanding what Neitzsche was actually saying).

Now, Hitler himself made a great many remarks. Some (especially those in "Main Kampf" which was intended for public consumption) were supportive of the Nazi interpretation of Christianity. Others seemed to support paganism, attack Christianity or attack religion in general. Hitler never consistently supported any of the religious factions, instead manipulating and supporting whichever one fitted his purposes best at the time. The upshot is that we now have little idea what, if anything, Hitler actually believed. For every quotation one can find showing a disdain for Christianity, one can also be found supporting it. In the end, we have no idea.

So neither the Christians nor athiests are right to blame the other for Naziism. Both also fail to consider that, as in any fascist structure, understanding of Christianity or athiesm was always filtered through the lens of party ideaology.

EDIT: To reply to Foxwood's dimwitted comment. Obama is neither a Communist or a socialist. The only way to call him either is to completely ignore the actual meanings of the bloody words. Obama isn't even especially liberal, let alone a communist. And it isn't "in" to be a communist or even a socialist (Michael Moore no more represents the left than Ann Coulter represents the right). Fox News and Rush are lying to you. Obama is a very slightly left-of-centre moderate.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Did It Come To This?

America was a healthy baby,
born in blood and pain but then,
aren't all babies?
Healthy but like all young life,
she was fragile,
and her parents worried.

As she grew, America struggled,
with redskins and blackskins,
and with herself.
And as she grew, she dreamed,
she imagined goals for herself,
and her parents worried.

Soon, she left her home to learn,
she met the one who shared her heart,
her name was Liberty.
And for a time,
the two were happily inseperable,
But still, her parents worried.

Her parents went to their grave,
the way all flesh must go,
and America mourned.
Her safety shattered, her innocence gone,
a feeling we all share eventually,
and her parents still worried about her.

For years, they grew and prospered together,
America and Liberty,
taking the world by storm.
They went to the stars and then to the moon,
they made all equals,
and her parents worried.

So how did it come to this?

America's children lie dying,
murdered by the suits they paid for their care,
she lies cold each night.
America has done things,
she never thought she could,
and her parents worry.

She has tortured bones and torn flesh,
squeezed the lifeblood from the earth she walks,
sold everything she believes in.
She doesn't know herself anymore,
doesn't recognise the life she leads,
and her parents worry.

And Liberty's a whore,
raped in an alley and left to die,
expiring in the smell of piss and beer.
America hasn't room left in her heart to care,
too frightened of what she can do to do anything,
and her parents worry.

When she feeds the poor, they call her a saint,
when she asks why her children are hungry,
they call her a commie.
And the man in the window,
sobs and weeps at phantoms,
and her parents fear.

They tell her she's mad or bad or worse,
for wishing her children,
a better life than she had.
America is old now and she cannot remember,
a time when she dared to hope for something else,
and her parents shed tears.

Cold and alone and jumping at shadows,
America slumps defeated, not by others,
but by herself.
By her arrogance and her carelessness and her denial,
that she had failed those dreams of long ago,
and she asks out loud,
to no-one in particular,
"How did it come to this?"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ever Get The Feeling, You Just Can't Win?

It's been an interesting week in politics. First off, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize For Peace. While it's fair to say that the award came as a surprise to pretty much everyone except possibly Bo Obama, the right's attack on, well, everyone, went totally beyond the pale. One suggested renaming it the "Yasir Arafat Prize", many suggested Obama should turn it down (it's unclear if that was even possible); a great many made the claim that since the Nobel Committee had awarded the prize to Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, that the prize was now meaningless. The presumptions here need to be dealt with in order.

Firstly, let's deal with the "questionable" awards of the past. Yasir Arafat won the award in conjunction with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres for their attempts to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine mess. So if one is going to decry Arafat's award, one also has to decry the award going to Rabin and Peres. I could at least respect such a "pox on both their houses" approach as intellectually consistent. Jimmy Carter won the award for decades spent promoting peace and alleviating poverty. Both these concepts seem to be anathema to the right these days but those of us in the sane world tend to think they're good things. Many of the right-wing attacks on Carter pointed out that he was an ineffectual one-term president. To which, the only reasonable response is"So what?". It's an example of the kind of blinkered US-centrism that has made the American right so despised in the rest of the world, that we should be expected to disregard Carter's other achievments because he failed in the presidency. Outside the United States, Jimmy Carter enjoys near-global love and respect and has for years. The Nobel Prize, while much deserved, was only the icing on the cake. So Carter eminently deserved the award. And yet, it was interpreted as an award for being Not Bush. Then came the slams at Al Gore. Now, again, I'm aware that the US right prefers to deny the fact of global warming but in the sane world, we accept that it is happening, that humans are largely to blame and that we desperately need to do something about it. Al Gore has spent decades trying to get the world to wake the fuck up about global warming. While he never claimed to invent the internet, he did champion the legislative tools which expanded DARPAnet into the modern internet (along with the technical achievments of Tim Berners-Lee and the guys at MIT), something which has transformed life more than anything since the invention of the automobile. So again, we have someone who throughly deserved the award and again, we have someone whose award was interpreted as being Not Bush. Then there was the argument that the Nobel Committee are biased because they've awarded the prize to more liberals than conservatives. Really, this says far more about the mindset of conservatives: That they deserve equal prizes just for showing up.

Was the Peace Prize ironic, given two ongoing wars? Absolutely and that irony was lost on no-one. Was the Nobel Prize premature? Certainly. However, the intention seems to be that, by giving Obama the award at this point, he will be forced to act in a way which makes him worthy of it. Also, the hypocracy of Republicans who cheered when the US lost it's opportunity to host the Olympics and booed when the president of the USA won the Nobel Prize has been lost on no-one except them.

Then we had the ongoing healthcare clusterfuck. There is a scene in the film adaption of "Interview With The Vampire" where a helpless and naked victim is surrounded on a Paris stage by a dozen or more hungry vampires. They pause for a moment, letting us register her terror and vulnerability. Then they fall on her, a dozen vampiric rats strugging for a spare inch of flesh. That's the image that comes to mind when I think of healthcare in the USA. The free market only works when you're free to walk away from it. When walking away from the market means great risk to your life and/or health, the market isn't free. That's basic Keynesian economics. And so, when it came to reforming healthcare, we got... what? I'm still not entirely sure wher this disgusting process of sausage-making is going. For reasons best known to Obama, the single-payer option (true universal coverage, which works pretty well here in the UK) which was the genuinely left-wing option was taken off the table before negotiation even started which has allowed the right (and their Big Insurance paymasters) to paint the limited incremental Public Options as something to the left of Stalin. And I'm not just talking about the Teabag crown here (the latest is that Glenn Beck claims the Million Moron March totalled 8.2 million people and was led by Moses. Then he cried). Mainstream Conressional Republicans are arguing that a Public Option would amont to government takeover of healthcare. Oh, and Big Insurance has already effectively promised that rates will continue to skyrocket regardless. Only in the USA are the people so terrified of their government that they won't let it do anything.

Then there was Orly Taitz. The US's most high-profile racist and queen of the (racist) Birther Movement was fined twenty grand, essentially for contempt of court and wildly unethical practice in violation of all legal standards. Orly effectively told the judge to shove it and accused him of being part of a conspiracy to surpress her. I'm starting to think this woman is clinically ill, the accusation that any detractor is part of a conspiracy against them. Orly actually presents a problem to us. The problem is that, the more we point out that the Birther Movement is entirely founded on the racist assumption that a black man can't possibly be a "natural-born citizen", the more it allows the right, always eager to nail itself to the cross, to claim that we are painting any criticism as racist. It's absurd, naturally. We know that not all criticism is race-based and most of us are getting pretty adept at spotting the code words these days ("welfare", "community" and these days "ACORN").

Then there was Obama's pondering whether to put more troops into Afghanistan. Um, why are we fighting the war in Afghanistan again? Yes, I know it was a response to teh horror of 9/11, I'm actually not going to criticise Bush for that as I think any nation capable of responding militarily would have done so but what is the objective supposed to be here? Are we trying to get Al Queda or the Taliban or both? Are we going to try turning Afghanistan into a western-style democracy? Since we are fighting a war in a country which has ever been the graveyard of empires, what is the final END > IF here?

Finally, there was President Obama's address to his gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans supporters. I'm not sure what to say about this one. It was a largely form speech, the kind where you only have to change a few particulars to fit the occasion. Given the cavalcade of catastrophes dumped on Obama's lap by the previous administration, I suspect most are willing to give him a little time to get to gay issues (specifically, rather than genpop issues which also affect gay people, such as healthcare) but, at the same time, they would also like to see some movement on those issues, no matter how slow it has to be to accomodate the president's busy schedule. Personally, I want the asinine Don't-Ask, Don't-Tell policy repealed or nearly so by the New Year. That's my personal benchmark. While I know Obama is not a supporter of equal marriage rights and so a push for those rights shouldn't be expected from him, I also want DOMA repealed or overturned by the end of his first term. I suspect Obama would like to leave the choice of whether to push for DOMA's overturn until after the midterms but DC's move to legalise same-sex marriage may force his hand. The problem Obama has here is that there really is no upside for him. I can sit here and say that I believe legalising same-sex marriage to be a legal and moral imperative (yes, I think it is immoral to deny same-sex couples the rights of marriage, conservatives don't have an exclusive claim on morality) but I'm not trying to be re-elected and wouldn't stand a chance if I ever stood. For Obama, if he comes out strongly against overturning DOMA, he pisses off the LGBT activists and allies who worked so tirelessly to help elect him. They won't jump to the Republicans but they might well stay home in 2012. On the other hand, if he comes out too strongly in favour of repealing DOMA, he alienates the moderates (forget the Religious Reich, they already want him dead). In addition to that, Obama's DOJ has argued in favour of DOMA (their obligation, as I understand it) and done so in the most reprehensible terms (certainly not their obligation). How Obama intends to square this circle is anyone's guess.

And we haven't even had time to get to Oklahoma attempting to brand a scarlet A on the foreheads of those seeking abortions; the increasingly chance of war with Iran; Mike Moore's latest film; Alan Grayson's gobsmacking counter-attack on right-wing smears or Tom Delay leaving Dancing With The Stars. What a wild week!