He’s not suddenly Paul Krugman: Let’s not morph Obama into Elizabeth Warren quite yet

Populist State of the Union with a fiery tone has liberals excited. They’d be wise to remember Obama’s true nature

He's not suddenly Paul Krugman: Let's not morph Obama into Elizabeth Warren quite yet
Paul Krugman, Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren (Credit: AP/Reuters/Bob Strong/Junko Kimura-Matsumoto/Charles Dharapak/Photo montage by Salon)

Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech capped an epic political makeover. In two months he went from the living avatar of the political and economic establishment to a self-styled populist scourge. It’s as if he walked into a plastic surgeon’s office after Election Day and said “make me look like Bernie Sanders.” No president has ever tried to alter his image so drastically or so fast. I wonder if he’ll pull it off.

His campaign began emphatically on Nov. 5. Instead of the ritual submission the media demands of defeated party leaders, Obama used his post-election press conference to renew his vow to enact substantial immigration reform by executive order. Days later, he announced a major climate accord with China and finally came down foursquare for net neutrality.

These were big moves, but Obama was just warming up. In December, he announced the surprising end of our miserably failed Cuban trade embargo. Earlier this month, he unveiled a bold bid to make community college free for millions of students all across America.

Still not impressed? On Tuesday night he called for paid family leave, equal pay for equal work, a minimum wage hike and a tripling of the child tax credit to $3,000. He’s also pushing a $500 “second earner” tax credit and wants to give college students up to $2,500 apiece to help with expenses. The best part is how he’d pay for it all, mostly by taxing big banks, raising capital gains rates and closing loopholes that allows rich heirs to avoid capital gains taxes altogether.

A not-so-subtle shift in tone followed. Gone, for now, is Obama the ceaseless appeaser. He’s been replaced by a president with a more combative stance, as befits a true people’s champion. At times on Tuesday Obama even seemed to taunt his tormentors. In the last two months he has threatened five vetoes. In the previous six years he’d issued just two; that’s the fewest since James Garfield. Garfield, by the way, was president for six months.

What should we make of this new Obama? Are he and his new agenda for real? For liberals, these are tender questions. When Obama first appeared, their response was almost worshipful. Even today, many liberals treat Obama’s progressive critics as apostates. Given their deep investment in him, the vitriol of Tea Party attacks and the looming specter of GOP rule, it’s easy to understand why. But it’s crucial now for his liberal critics and defenders alike to see him as he is.



Obama’s new program seems real enough. We can’t gauge its full impact without more numbers, but this much is clear: Do it all — equal pay, minimum wage hike, community college tuition, family leave, middle-class tax credits and taxes on big banks and the superrich — and we’d make a very big dent in income inequality. Add the financial transaction tax Ralph Nader and Rose Ann DeMoro’s California nurses have long been pushing — and that some House Democrats now embrace — and you have enough money on the table to reverse decades of wage stagnation.

It may seem a big claim but the numbers are close to consensual. The transaction tax would raise a trillion dollars in 10 years, in which time a modest minimum wage hike would put $300 billion in the pockets of the working poor. Equal pay for equal work could do as much. Even without Obama’s numbers, we know the ideas gaining ground among Democrats could solve one of our biggest problems. As the president said apropos of just about everything, “this is good news, people.”

So what’s not to like? The bad news is there’s quite a bit. The problem is that Obama’s deeds so often contradict his words. Indeed, examine his actions over these same two months and one could also construct a compelling counter-narrative to this tale of populist transformation.

Consider climate change. While negotiating his China deal, Obama was also busy auctioning off drilling rights to 112 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico. As soon as the deal was done, he was on the phone urging Democrats to back a bill that cut EPA staff, let the Export-Import Bank fund coal-fired electric plants and blocked enforcement of new rules for energy-efficient light bulbs.

In his first term Obama passed the word to his top hires to quiet down about global warming. He likes fracking and brags about increasing oil production. He won’t let Congress approve the Keystone pipeline, but he may approve it himself. In short, he’s a study in mixed climate messages.

The net neutrality story is even more confounding. The statement Obama released was one of the more thoughtful of his presidency. But he’d already made Tom Wheeler, CEO of the most powerful lobby opposing net neutrality, head of the Federal Communications Commission. And they decide the issue. It’s an independent commission that does what it wants. Its members may be moved by Obama’s eloquent words, or just confused.

Perhaps the most troubling contradiction lies in foreign policy. Obama began his speech on Tuesday by saying “tonight we turn the page.” As evidence he cited our newly reduced role in Afghanistan. As he put it: “For the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman… who has served to keep us safe.”

Obama’s relative restraint is such an improvement on George W. Bush’s bellicosity that we can’t help but judge him on a curve. That he’s bogged down in Afghanistan is no surprise, as these wars are always easier to start than finish. (It’s why they call them quagmires.) But in fact there are more than 15,000 Americans still left there. There are, for instance, the private contractors, whose number tripled under Obama. In early 2014, the last time figures were reported, there were 24,000. Obama says the “combat mission” is over — but the combat isn’t finished and neither is the mission.

On Wednesday, Mother Jones ran a story by Nick Turse of TomDispatch.com reporting that in 2014 Obama deployed U.S. Special Ops forces to 133 countries. That’s more than two-thirds of all the countries in the world; it’s a disturbing number and one that also grew exponentially on Obama’s watch. Even more disturbing are the drone strikes Obama has authorized, more than 10 times the number authorized by George W. Bush. American drones have now killed an estimate of more than 4,000 people. At least 20 percent of them were innocent civilians; less than 2 percent were high-value military targets.

In case you thought our combat mission in Iraq ended, buried in Obama’s speech was a call for Congress to pass a “resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.” That was it — no explanation of vital interests at stake or limits to set. It was strange coming from a man who wouldn’t be president but for a speech he once gave against a war into which we were tragically conned.

Our war with ISIL proceeds under cover of our original Iraq war resolution, the exhaustion of which Obama concedes by implication. Someone should tell him the same resolution is used to justify drone strikes in nations we’re not at war with. Someone might also mention that use of “private security contractors” — the word “mercenary” stirs indignation — ill befits a democracy; that sending special ops forces to 133 countries also requires authorization and that if you declare an end to combat operations in two wars, your next budget should declare a peace dividend.

Obama’s failure to reconcile words to deeds detracts mightily from the grab bag of ideas he offers under the catchy title “middle class economics.” As noted, these policies could really improve people’s lives. But while he’s out thumping for them, he’s in hot pursuit of what he hopes will be his last coup, approval of the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership. It’s such a popular idea he chose not to breathe its name in his speech. What he did say was worth sampling if only to savor its cleverness: “China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. We should write those rules… That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”

He doesn’t want another free trade fiasco like that awful NAFTA, just “trade promotion authority to protect American workers.” Surely we can all be for that.

Nearly all left-leaning Democrats oppose the TPTP: Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Bob Reich, Elizabeth Warren. One can’t imagine Obama changing his mind on it any more than one imagines him asking any of them to help craft his new populist agenda. As he likes to reassure his donors, “I’m a market kind of guy,” meaning he comes as close as a Democrat can to being a market ideologue. And yes, there is such a thing.

Market ideologues aren’t the sort to throw bombs or ruin dinner parties but they’re ideologues nonetheless. Their solution for every problem known to mankind is to adopt “market principles.” Their influence on Obama’s generation of Democratic elites has been profound. It’s why so many of them apply market theory to issues to which it is ill-suited, such as carbon reduction, health care and public education.

Obama doesn’t get that free trade can be as good as he says for business and still be a terrible deal for workers. He doesn’t get that markets by their nature do a great job of creating wealth and a poor one of distributing it; that absent a strong government to encode and enforce a social contract there is no middle class; that pitting our workers against those lacking such support will eventually impoverish them. It’s why he opposed raising the minimum wage when he had the votes to do it in his first term. It’s why he bailed out banks but not homeowners, and abandoned the public option.

Missing from Obama’s speech, as from his presidency, was any mention of public corruption. Countless polls attest to the depth of public revulsion at the domination of government by moneyed interests. Obama’s silence allows the Tea Party to fly the flag of “crony capitalism.” Most progressives miss the criticality of this issue that social change movements the world over put at the very top of their agendas.

It makes it really hard to enact new government programs, which is one reason Obama didn’t propose any new federal programs, just tax cuts, private sector mandates and grants to states. There are things the federal government does better, but voters won’t hand over the keys to a car with a cracked engine block. A real populist would fix what we all know is broken.

Betting on what a politician truly thinks is a high-risk business. Some say Obama has changed. Perhaps so; maybe a friend gave him a Krugman book for Christmas and midway through it he had an epiphany. Others say he feels liberated; that’s a popular hope among liberals in that it implies he really did love them all along. Still others say he wants to shape his legacy or the next debate.

But in studying Obama, one discovers a man of markedly fixed views. His take on issues has barely budged over a lifetime. Once he sets a course he sticks to it. We saw it in 2008 when Hillary Clinton rose from the dead sporting a new populist persona. It surprised many to see her peddling her wares to the working class. It shocked them when she won the Pennsylvania primary. John McCain shocked some by running even with him up until the Wall Street crash. We don’t know if either shocked Obama, but we do know he never once changed course.

On Tuesday he devoted an astonishing 20 percent of his time not to global warming or “middle-class economics” but to a defense of his 10-year pursuit of the holy grail of bipartisanship. For six years Obama played Charlie Brown to the Republicans’ Lucy in budget battles. In December he took another crack at the football. Is his new populism such a far cry from his 2008 rhetoric of transformation, or just a bit more specific to satisfy the hunger still rising for change? Do we really think it arose from somewhere other than the usual focus groups and polls?

There’s good news in all this. Someone changed, and if it isn’t Obama it must be us. It isn’t any politician but the power of public opinion that drives this debate. Republicans feel it. Hearing just an outline of a populist message scares them. Pundits say they won’t pass any part of Obama’s agenda but if they’re smart they will; perhaps a lesser minimum wage hike and something just for women. But we’ll never win the victory we must win without a strong progressive movement because neither this system nor those who run it will ever really change.

Bill Curry was White House counselor to President Clinton and a two-time Democratic nominee for governor of Connecticut. He is at work on a book on President Obama and the politics of populism.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/01/25/hes_not_suddenly_paul_krugman_lets_not_morph_obama_into_elizabeth_warren_quite_yet/?source=newsletter

Jim Rockford Warned Us About Google And Facebook Back In 1978

Why didn’t we listen? The fourth season of The Rockford Files, arguably the greatest television show of all time, features a “futuristic” storyline about a terrible threat. What if a private corporation used computers to gather personal information on hundreds of millions of Americans? Could we trust them with that data?

I know, it’s hard to imagine such a thing ever happening — a private company, collecting private and personal data on ordinary Americans and other people around the world. It sounds far-fetched, right? But Jim Rockford, the toughest and most incorruptible P.I. ever to live in a trailer with his dad, teams up with a younger detective to investigate the suspicious death of an old friend, a private detective named Tooley, in the episode “The House on Willis Avenue.” (This episode is written by the show’s co-creator, Stephen J. Cannell, who also gave us The Greatest American Hero.)

And what Rockford finds in his investigation is baffling — a mysterious set of real estate developments, with lots of suspiciously huge air-conditioning units attached. What’s going on? Turns out that a corporate scumbag, amusingly played by Jackie Cooper, is creating a secret computer system to spy on ordinary Americans and sell the info — or ruin your reputation — for profit. It should be illegal for corporations to spy on ordinary Americans, Rockford protests. You can see the highlights above.

It all leads up to this solemn cue card at the very end of the episode:

Jim Rockford Warned Us About Google And Facebook Back In 1978

The Rockford Files really wants you to know that corporations should not use computers to collect your personal information. Those final words, “Our liberty may well be the price we pay,” seem especially prophetic nowadays.

The other amazing part of the episode is all the parts where Rockford and his temporary sidekick pretend to be computer experts, and spout ridiculously made-up computer jargon, to try and fool people in the facilities they’re sneaking into. Here are the two best examples of that:

http://www.viddler.com/embed/21c50871/?f=1&autoplay=false&player=mini&disablebranding=0;offset=0&autoplay=0

http://io9.com/jim-rockford-warned-us-about-google-and-facebook-back-i-1681231028

Turns out “Friends” treated fat people as punch lines and kind of had a homophobia problem

“Chandler’s treatment of his gay father is appalling”: Everything critics realized while watching “Friends” in 2015

VIDEO

"Chandler's treatment of his gay father is appalling": Everything critics realized while watching "Friends" in 2015

“Friends” hit Netflix for the first time in 2015, and while it’s certainly not the first time people have had the opportunity to rewatch the show since it went off the air in 2004, it has provided a handy excuse for people to ruminate belatedly on the show’s impact — and for crazy super-fans to binge-watch all 10 seasons, obviously — and perhaps learn something new about the gang in the process. And they did! Some revelations were goofy, some light, and others pretty damning. Here’s what the Internet dug up about our favorite sitcom when viewed in the cold harsh light of 2015:

Chandler is the worst, and he’s also pretty homophobic.

As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate: “Chandler’s treatment of his gay father, a Vegas drag queen played by Kathleen Turner, is especially appalling, and it’s not clear the show knows it. It’s one thing for Chandler to recall being embarrassed as a kid, but he is actively resentful and mocking of his loving, involved father right up until his own wedding (to which his father is initially not invited!)… his continuing discomfort now reads as jarringly out of place for a supposedly hip New York thirtysomething — let alone a supposedly good person, period…. When it comes to women, Chandler turns out to be just as retrograde as Joey, but his lust comes with an undercurrent of the kind of bitter desperation that I now recognize as not only gross, but potentially menacing.”

Although, this, of course, is not the first time the show’s homophobia has been addressed:

Refinery29, meanwhile, delved into the issues with the show’s use of “Fat Monica” as a punchline.

“In the show’s storyline, Monica loses weight in college after overhearing Chandler make fun of her size. Shamed into thinness, Fat Monica becomes just Monica — desirable and (finally) human. Monica is many things: funny, uptight, loving, competitive. Fat Monica is just fat… and always hungry. I was grateful for Fat Monica as a kid. She was proof I could overcome my disgusting plumpness and be seen as lovable, too. True, I would always bear the shame of my inflated past, just like Monica did, but I was willing to live with that if it meant I’d be a person instead of a punchline.”



The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle, meanwhile, asked if nostalgia for “Friends” is all about white privilege.

“The issues of race and ‘white privilege’ make some Americans deeply uncomfortable. Maybe, at a time when mainstream U.S. TV is finally airing shows with ensemble casts that look like the ensemble that is America, and after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and after the shooting and rioting in Ferguson, Mo., and all the attendant questions raised, there’s an instinctive need on the part of some to return to the bubble of white-bread America that is epitomized by ‘Friends.’”

Yet while some griped about the show’s retrograde identity politics, others were able to find a feminist message.

Refinery29 picked out 21 of “Friends’” most surprising feminist moments. Meanwhile, Bustle listed the nine most feminist things about “Friends,” such as:

“When Rachel got pregnant, she turned down marriage proposals from both Joey and Ross. Being married and having a family don’t necessarily have to be connected, and Rachel was the hottest single mom on network television, and everyone respected (and applauded) her decision.”

In an interesting morsel of critical theory, Maggie Wheeler — aka Janice —  suggests her character is a stand-in for the viewer. As she tells EW:

“This crazy girl who is not particularly self-aware who still gets to be at the party. This interloper, this outsider managed to find her way into this little community of friends, and I think that was a vehicle for a lot of viewers who were sitting around in front of their televisions going, ‘Well, how do I hang out with those people?’”

There were also some novel discoveries on a more micro level — like the fact that the Friends intro without music is super creepy:

Perhaps the biggest revelation of all: Some geniuses at Bustle discovered the answer to the age-old question — How was the gang always able to get a seat at Central Perk?

While, as part of their comprehensive friends countdown — which is full of gems —Vulture reminded us that “Friends” actually invented the term “friend zone.” 

There was much discussion about why the Netflix episodes were shorter than the DVD episodes.

Turns out that, back in 2012, co-executive producer and director Kevin S. Brightexplained that the DVDs had a few minutes of extra footage: “The deleted footage was, frankly, added specifically for one home video release,” he said. “If fans are particularly interested in additional footage, those versions are still available. But for this, we wanted something that we, the creators, felt represented the show as we always wanted it to be remembered, which is the original NBC broadcast versions, which have never before been released as that, combined with fantastic new picture and sound, a new documentary and other new features.”

Still, just remember, no matter how these revelations may make you see “Friends” in a new light, it’s still okay to love the show (albeit with a grain of salt”).

As Vulture’s Margaret Lyons wrote in her “Stay Tuned” TV advice column, in response to a reader expressing discomfort with the show’s homophobia: “You can still love ‘Friends,’ but why would you want to love it like you did before? Love it the way you see it now, with the things you know now and the values you have now. I love ‘Friends,’ but I do not love its body or queer politics. Those things can be true at the same time.”

State of the Union: Twenty Pounds of BS in a Ten-Pound Bag

Wednesday, 21 January 2015 11:11

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address, in the House Chamber of the Capitol Building in Washington, Jan. 20, 2015. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address, in the House Chamber of the Capitol Building in Washington, Jan. 20, 2015. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Let me be perfectly clear from the jump: It was a fine speech, one of the best of President Obama’s political career, which makes it automatically one of the best in the State of the Union’s august history. The last fifteen minutes, in particular, were absolutely soaring, not just in rhetoric, but in the delivery as well. The man parked it as deep as it can be parked, like a majestic David Ortiz line drive deep into the bleachers at Fenway, thanks for coming, turn out the lights when you leave. No one does it better that Barack Obama when the bright lights are on.

…and when it was over, my immediate thought was of Steven the Irishman, the self-declared madman from the film Braveheart. Mel Gibson had just given his rousing speech to keep the Scots from fleeing before the battle at Stirling Bridge.

“Fine speech,” said Steven. “Now what do we do?”

Indeed.

You see, apparently we’ve “turned the page” on the economic wasteland created by our Neo-Con/Neo-Liberal brain trust in Washington. The shadow of crisis has passed, and we’re on a new foundation.

How many people do you know who actually feel that way?

Just about everyone I know is economically scared to death, and most of them are living paycheck to paycheck…and brothers and sisters, I know a whole hell of a lot of people, in all fifty states and most of the territories. I ain’t Pew or Gallup, so take this with as many grains of salt you need to choke it down, but here’s the hard truth: No pages have been turned, and the new foundation is just as porous as the old one…because it’s the same old God damned foundation. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The President of the United States gave a speech on Tuesday night that would, in parts, have gone over like gangbusters at any Occupy rally in the country, and then he turned on a dime to brag about our massively impressive oil and gas production, i.e. fracking and maybe the Keystone XL pipeline, and then went on further to give an impassioned aria about climate change, at which point my brain crawled out of my ear and slithered into the bathroom, where it wept piteously into the cold porcelain truth of the base of the toilet.

Stephen King, in several of his books, deployed a line I’ve never forgotten: “So full of shit you squeak going into a turn.” Between his cheerleading for fracking and his full-court press for the Trans-Pacific Partnership – which he championed again on Tuesday night out of the other side of his mouth – I honestly don’t know how the president sleeps at night, especially after coughing up so many demonstrably phony hairballs about protecting the environment.

It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function,” but gods be good, this is a bridge too far.

And then it got worse.

“Now America thrived in the 20th century,” said the president on Tuesday night, “because we made high school free, sent a generation of G.I.s to college, trained the best workforce in the world. We were ahead of the curve. But other countries caught on.”

Caught on?

Caught on? To what? To this nation’s deliberate defenestration of its manufacturing infrastructure and loyal Union work force, all in the name of a quick buck? Never mind the implication that other nations are incapable of their own innovations, but have to “catch on” to what we do. Yeah, that’s exactly how we wound up in this ditch.

No, you serial apologist, we signed on to trade pacts like the TPP you’re begging for and sold our economic strengths to the lowest bidder. We gave away the best of what we were to serve the people paying your bills and cut our guts out in the process, and you don’t have the courage to tell it like it really is.

It was a fine show on Tuesday night, a masterful performance, and a comprehensive waste of time. Leaving aside everything I’ve said, there is the stone-cold fact that absolutely none of the progressive ideas President Obama proposed on Tuesday night have the vaguest chance of seeing daylight in this new GOP-dominated congress…which begs the question:

Why did he wait until now – when everything he proposed was demonstrably doomed before the words even passed his teeth – to uncork the kind of rhetoric so many of his voters have been waiting for? Was it to poke a stick in the eye of this new assemblage? Perhaps to lay some rhetorical groundwork for the 2016 presidential race?

Or did he never mean any of it in the first place, and said it on Tuesday night secure in the fact that none of it would ever come to pass?

As I said, it was a fine speech. Soaring at points, in fact.

Now what do we do?

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

WILLIAM RIVERS PITT

William Rivers Pitt is Truthout’s senior editor and lead columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know, The Greatest Sedition Is Silence and House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation. His fourth book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with Dahr Jamail, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in New Hampshire.

 

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28649-twenty-pounds-of-bs-in-a-ten-pound-bag

France Arrests 54 People for Offensive Speech

Observers warn that government reaction in wake of Charlie Hebdo killings reminiscent of post-9/11 fear campaign

Dieudonné, the controversial French comic pictured here in 2007, was arrested Wednesday morning for a Facebook post mocking the Charlie Hebdo attack. (Photo: Alexandre Hervaud/cc/flickr)

Dieudonné, the controversial French comic pictured here in 2007, was arrested Wednesday morning for a Facebook post mocking the Charlie Hebdo attack. (Photo: Alexandre Hervaud/cc/flickr)

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre last week and just days since the historic Parisunity rally when world leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder and declared their support for freedom of speech, French authorities have arrested 54 people on charges of “glorifying” or “defending” terrorism.

The French Justice Ministry said that of those arrested, four are minors and several had already been convicted under special measures for immediate sentencing, AP reports. Individuals charged with “inciting terrorism” face a possible 5-year prison term, or up to 7 years for inciting terrorism online. None of those arrested have been linked to the attacks.

Why is one view permissible and the other criminally barred—other than because the force of law is being used to control political discourse and one form of terrorism (violence in the Muslim world) is done by, rather than to, the west?
-Glenn Greenwald

Controversial comic Dieudonné was one of those taken into custody Wednesday morning for a Facebook post in which he declared: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”—merging the names of the satire magazine and Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who killed four hostages at a kosher market on Friday.

Since last week’s multiple terrorism attacks that left 17 people dead, “France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism,” AP reports.

The irony that the west was rallying to defend a magazine that was attacked for its alleged slander of Islam, while at the same persecuting individuals for voicing their views was not lost on many.

“As pernicious as this arrest and related ‘crackdown’ on some speech obviously is, it provides a critical value: namely, it underscores the utter scam that was this week’s celebration of free speech in the west,” journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote on Wednesday.

Greenwald went on to question the charge of “defending terrorism” brought against Dieudonné and others. Greenwald continued:

If you want “terrorism defenses” like that to be criminally prosecuted (as opposed to societally shunned), how about those who justify, cheer for and glorify the invasion and destruction of Iraq, with its “Shock and Awe” slogansignifying an intent to terrorize the civilian population into submission and itsmonstrous tactics in Fallujah? Or how about the psychotic calls from a Fox News host, when discussing Muslims radicals, to “kill them ALL.” Why is one view permissible and the other criminally barred – other than because the force of law is being used to control political discourse and one form of terrorism (violence in the Muslim world) is done by, rather than to, the west?

Also Wednesday, Ines Pohl, who runs the German satire magazine die tageszeitung,published an op-ed in Politico warning against the exploitation by political leaders in the wake of such an attack or crisis, which in this case is the European right pushing an agenda of closed borders and general ethnocentrism.

“The blood in Paris wasn’t even dry when the first German politician, Alexander Gauland, one of the top candidates from the Alternative für Deutschland party, claimed this killing as a proof that Germany has the right to fear the influence of Muslim culture and that Germans have the right, and the obligation, to defend their Christian heritage,” Pohl writes.

Drawing a line between the current climate since the Paris attacks and the post-9/11 crackdown, Pohl goes on to note that next week the CIA torture reports are to be released in German and adds: “This report is the proof of how a country can be misled when it becomes ruled by fear.”

Torture victim Maher Arar and others shared their reactions to the French crackdown online.

Doctor Who turns toward militarism

By Bryan Dyne and Christine Schofelt
9 January 2015

Christmas 2014 marked the end of the eighth season of the rebooted British science fiction television series Doctor Who (the program first went on the air in 1963). It was also the end of the first season for veteran actor Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It, In the Loop) in the role of “The Doctor,” the twelfth incarnation of the time-traveling humanoid alien.

Doctor Who

The most recent season brought the military almost immediately into the foreground. Given the state of the world, this was perhaps not entirely surprising, or even inappropriate. But what is the program’s attitude?

Much of the focus is on Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a war veteran turned math teacher and boyfriend of The Doctor’s companion Clara (Jenna Coleman). Questioned as to whether he killed anyone in the war, Danny demurs, troubled by what he has seen and done. He disabuses his students of the idea that war is anything to be glorified or celebrated.

The issue of what it takes to be a “good man” dominates this season. The Doctor repeatedly queries Clara about this, trying to reconcile his role in the Time War, on the one hand, and his attempts to be a “healer” and “wise man,” on the other. Danny asks himself the same question indirectly, and tries to respond positively that he is a decent person. One started viewing the season with a certain optimism.

Given this motif, it is worth tracing the course of The Doctor’s relationship with and attitude toward militarism and war. In earlier episodes of the renewed show, there is an open hostility towards soldiers, guns and war. An arms factory is destroyed and replaced with a banana grove because “bananas are good” (in “The Doctor Dances,” 2005). Mechanical Cybermen are not defeated with force but by restoring their emotions, incapacitating them (in “The Age of Steel,” 2006). Intergalactic police are introduced as “interplanetary thugs” (in “Smith and Jones,” 2007). The shooting of The Doctor’s daughter is used as a lesson to demonstrate that killing, even in vengeance, should never be an option (in “The Doctor’s Daughter, 2008).

In one especially moving sequence, The Doctor is faced with the dilemma of saving Earth through committing genocide against the enemy. He hesitates and is tauntingly asked by the Emperor Dalek, “What are you, coward or killer?” He struggles, obviously torn by the question of just how far one should go, no matter how murderous the enemy. Ultimately he answers, “Coward, any day,” and refuses to take part in the destruction (“The Parting of Ways,” 2005).

Doctor Who

Ongoing antagonists have been various Earth-based military forces, including Torchwood and UNIT, both vast and well-funded armed state agencies. By and large, they are portrayed as ruthless organizations The Doctor and his companions are obliged to resist.

And yet there have been some cracks. In one episode (“Doomsday,” 2006), the leader of Torchwood is “upgraded” (forcibly transferred into a metal body), but then saves The Doctor and his companions, declaring she “did her duty, for queen and country.” Is this retrograde sentiment the only one that might withstand mechanical brainwashing?

Despite such exceptions, the first four seasons of the show advocated a refreshing rejection of violence in general, instead using the abilities, equipment and even the life of The Doctor to save people.

In the fifth rebooted season Steven Moffat took over as head writer and show runner after the previous head, Russell T. Davies, stepped down. In considering the Moffat era as a whole, one is forced to reflect on the other works he has overseen, particularly Sherlock. In that show, whatever its strengths (including the participation of Benedict Cumberbatch), the main character is constantly glorified as a “high-functioning sociopath” who goes out of his way to assist British imperialism.

Moffat’s Doctor Who episodes reinforce this turn. Far more than previously, they are turned inward. While this inwardness is something the lead character deals with, especially given that he is “the last” of the Time Lords, it has reached an unhealthy level. No longer do the seasons culminate in some great potential catastrophe for humanity that must be opposed and defeated, but rather in some personal problem for The Doctor. One used to feel something beyond a vague voyeurism when watching the season endings of Doctor Who—there was a sense of shared struggle, shared destiny and ultimately hope.

There is also The Doctor’s constant interaction with the future army, which involves the integration of the church and the military. (Is this intended to be satirical?) There is confusion in many directions here. On the surface, it seems in some of these episodes that the militarization of every aspect of life is being questioned, but in the end, The Doctor works with the military more than he does against it.

When he does take on the army, it is with an army of his own (“A Good Man Goes to War,” 2011). Companions who in a previous era would have been shown the wonders of the universe are now merely draftees. Mass murder is committed in search of a kidnapped companion. With a cavalier attitude about knocking the enemy out, exploding things and leading an army, The Doctor goes to war.

Doctor Who

And so we come to the most recent episodes, in which Capaldi’s Doctor is at odds with Clara’s boyfriend Danny. His insistence on calling the young man “P.E.” (for “physical education”), dismissing Danny-the-former-soldier’s intellect, rankles.

The Doctor’s relationship with UNIT, a military organization carried over from the show’s earlier days, comes to a head here. Kidnapped and forced into the position of President of the World by members of the organization, The Doctor is then given an army by his current foe, who declares they are more alike than not.

The Doctor then turns to Danny, who, as the Torchwood director in an earlier season, has been rendered into a Cyberman. His transformation is not yet complete, and The Doctor gives him control of the army, with which he is to embark on a suicide mission. Danny’s rousing pre-mission speech and his declaration that “This is not the order of an officer. This is the promise of a soldier!” are meant to rally the audience behind the idea of sending in the troops.

The scene in which The Doctor salutes a returned UNIT soldier—something he had refused to do in previous years—is a capitulation. For generations, he had not saluted because the military had nothing to offer but destruction. The Doctor’s rejection of aggressive methods and his frequent refusal to cooperate as long as guns were being pointed, his outrage at the needless deaths of even the most bumptious of aliens who had attacked Earth, all this appeared to be a thing of the past as he stood at attention to pay tribute to the Brigadier.

Moffat’s aim seems to be to gratuitously knock this hero down, as if to say, peace is all well and good in theory, but when push comes to shove, strike first and shoot. Something about the belligerent mood of the affluent middle class in Britain, the US and elsewhere makes itself felt here.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/09/dwho-j09.html

The boggling mixed signals of “Peter Pan Live!”

Why on earth did NBC decide to do this show?

“Peter Pan” wasn’t a technical disaster or a racist cringe-fest — but man, was it weird

The boggling mixed signals of "Peter Pan Live!": Why on earth did NBC decide to do this show?
Allison Williams as Peter Pan (Credit: NBC/Nino Munoz)

“Clap your hands if you believe!” a girl dressed unconvincingly as a boy implored the camera, breaking the fourth wall in a moment that is probably supposed to be really touching. Tinkerbell, a tiny blob of CGI, is dying in a faux-mossy lantern. The girl-boy — Allison Williams, playing Peter Pan — is dressed in studied scraps of fishnet and green leather breeches, and she is directing her concern at a camera that we have spent the whole evening dutifully pretending doesn’t exist, as it follows her around cavorting on wires hanging from the ceiling.

NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!” promises to be my next holiday tradition (and when NBC says holiday, it means Christmas), so it looks like I’m going to have very depressing Decembers from here on out. But before I wrap myself up in blankets on my easy chair and resign myself to a lifetime as Ebenezer Scrooge, please allow me to complain a little.

I understand that this live musical thing is a huge success for NBC — “The Sound Of Music” netted a cool 18 million viewers, which is an insane number for any programming that isn’t a sporting event in this day and age. For cast and crew, it’s a thrilling opportunity to make something that can’t be improved upon by a second take; for audiences, it’s a chance to come together for some appointment viewing (read: group snarking). Something could happen, is the exciting, fun part of live television; it’s what draws audiences to “Saturday Night Live,” the Super Bowl, and the Academy Awards, for different reasons.

But NBC’s production of this 1904 musical did nothing different, interesting or risky. (It wasn’t even really live! The singing was all pre-recorded tracks. What was the point, NBC?) Aside from a few changes to Tiger Lily’s song to make it slightly less racist, “Peter Pan Live!” was “Peter Pan,” more or less intact. Which is mind-boggling. If Disney had produced this, audiences would be asking: Why is it so overwhelmingly white? Why wasn’t Tiger Lily’s role rethought or cut entirely?

And the most obvious response to all of this, naturally, is that “Peter Pan” isn’t meant for television, because it’s a play, and it’s not meant for modern audiences, because it was written in 1904. But then that leads to the most obvious question that struck me as I was watching last night: Why on earth would anyone make this show in 2014? As the fabulous and opinionated Tom and Lorenzo wrote this morning: “There’s a difference between ‘old-fashioned entertainment’ and ‘offensive minstrel shows’ and this falls somewhere in the middle.”



We live in a world where a feminist retelling of the book of Genesis is a bestselling book and an upcoming miniseries on Lifetime. Where children’s fables are being unpacked and retold to include more female and minority perspectives. The “Hunger Games” franchise and the Marvel and DC universes are engaging with complex, dystopian themes in their storytelling. We are not shrinking violets in our American living rooms, and neither are our children, and yet this version of “Peter Pan” is like a time capsule from 1904, unwilling to do anything to disturb the fragile social norms of a bunch of long-dead white Brits.

NBC hewed with the standard set by Mary Martin in the ‘50s and went with Peter Pan being played by an adult woman, and a classically feminine-looking one at that. The result was a lot of hilarious queer subtext — hilarious not because a bunch of women in a love quadrangle is inherently funny, but because it was so obvious that NBC had no intention of creating that subtext. The plot has something to do with all women wanting sex from Peter while he calls them “Mother”; also hilarious, but also depressingly unintentional.

“Peter Pan Live!” was, to be fair, executed adequately. It’s competent, and not a lot more than that. Allison Williams didn’t make a mistake on live television, but didn’t exactly win the hearts of thousands, either. Christopher Walken seemed to understand how cheesy it was, and went for it with glee; he’s not exactly hamming it up, but he’s mincing up a storm during the dance numbers. The camerawork couldn’t quite decide if it was going to follow the actors around or sit back and watch them, the way an audience would; the tension between the two made for some seasickness. And all of the delightful shortcuts of theater — which require your willing suspension of disbelief in exchange for the thrill of watching players act out a story live, right in front of you — looked terrible on-screen, particularly if you happened to be watching in HD. (The comb Peter gives Wendy was tacky spray-painted plastic, and they knew it, and we knew they knew it.)

“Peter Pan Live!” was mediocre, bland and depressingly safe, and because Wal-Mart spent millions of dollars tying in advertising throughout the whole thing we’re likely to see dozens more musicals brought boringly to life around the holidays. I’m not looking forward to it. But Scrooges, fortunately, are comforted by all the great tweets.

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