Clinton-Trump debate: A degrading spectacle

donald-trump-hillary-clinton-debate

By Patrick Martin
27 September 2016

The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was a political and cultural abomination. It demonstrated, in both style and substance, the thoroughgoing decay of American capitalist society over many decades.

It says a great deal about the US political system that, out of 330 million people in America, the choice for president has been narrowed down to these two individuals, both members of the financial aristocracy—they last met face-to-face when the Clintons attended Trump’s third wedding in 2005—and both deeply and deservedly hated by a large majority of the population.

There was not the slightest intellectual substance or reasoned political content to the so-called “debate.” No topic was addressed with either intelligence or honesty. Both candidates lied without effort or shame, slinging insults and prepared one-liners against each other while posturing as advocates of working people.

The capitalist two-party system in America has never put a premium on intelligence or truth. It has always been based on politicians who represent the interests of a narrow stratum at the top of society, while pretending to speak for all of the people. But by 2016, this pretense has lost all credibility.

Trump is the personification of business gangsterism, a billionaire who built his fortune on swindles, bankruptcies, the theft of wages and deals with the Mafia. When Clinton charged him with profiteering from the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, which touched off the 2008 financial collapse, he retorted, “That’s business.” When she accused him of paying no taxes on his vast fortune, he boasted, “That makes me smart.”

Clinton is the personification of political gangsterism, deeply implicated in the crimes of American capitalism over a quarter century, from the destruction of social welfare programs, to the criminalization of minority youth, to the launching of imperialist wars that have killed millions. At one point in the debate she declared that her strategy for defeating ISIS was focused on the assassination of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She alluded to her role in “taking out” Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and said she would make such killings “an organizing principle” of her foreign policy.

Clinton came into the debate as the favorite of the media and the American ruling elite, a tested servant of the financial aristocracy who can be relied on to serve as the political figurehead for the military-intelligence apparatus. She found her voice in the event as the representative of identity politics in the service of imperialism, making repeated appeals along racial and gender lines while threatening Russia with war and presenting the crisis in the Middle East as something that could be resolved by killing the right people.

Trump has attracted support by appearing to give voice to anger over the catastrophic decline in the social position of working people, citing plant closings, mass unemployment, rising poverty, the deterioration of roads, schools, airports, etc. But he offers no solution except the elimination of every restraint on the operations of big business: slashing taxes on corporations in half and scrapping business regulations.

The fascistic billionaire made perhaps the only truthful statement in the debate when he declared that American capitalism faced disaster after a “recovery” that was already the worst since the Great Depression. “We are in a big fat ugly bubble that’s going to come crashing down as soon the Fed raises interest rates,” he said. This recalls the remark by President George W. Bush during the financial meltdown of September 2008, when he blurted out, “This sucker’s going down.”

The media apologists of the Democrats and Republicans blabbed both before and after the debate about the need for fact-checking of the candidates. But the entire debate was a lie, from beginning to end. The falsehoods uttered by Trump and Clinton are picayune compared to the overarching lie that these candidates offer a genuine choice to the American people.

Whatever the outcome of the election, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton replaces Barack Obama in the White House, the next administration will be the most reactionary government in the history of the country, committed to a program of imperialist war, social austerity and attacks on democratic rights.

The task of the working class is to prepare itself politically for the struggles that will be generated by the drive to war and the deepening crisis of world capitalism.

WSWS

Socialism in one galaxy? Star Trek.

Fifty years after it debuted on network television, Nicole Colson considers the legacy of Star Trek–and the idea of a society that meets the needs of the many, not just the few.

Uhura and Kirk during the classic Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren"

Uhura and Kirk during the classic Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”

ON SEPTEMBER 8, 1966, a new show debuted on American television.

Billed by creator Gene Roddenberry as “Wagon Train in space,” for its loyal viewers–and legions more to come over the following five decades–the voyage of the starship Enterprise and its 23rd century crew, as it carried out its mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no [one] has gone before,” would permanently alter the landscape of popular culture.

Star Trek‘s cultural staying power came despite its failure to last on television. The “five-year mission” of the Enterprise lasted just three years–until 1969, when the show was canceled by NBC because of low ratings after 79 episodes.

In fact, the show barely made it to the air at all: In 1964, NBC passed on the first attempt at a pilot, declaring it “too cerebral.” A second attempt was filmed in 1965 when comedy legend Lucille Ball, who owned the studio that employed creator Rodenberry as a producer, personally intervened to persuade NBC to give the series another shot.

Despite its cancelation, the series–which was worked on by some of the premiere science fiction writers of the day–became a hit in broadcast syndication, firing the imagination of a wide audience.

Today, the original series continues to inspire legions of Trekkers, one of the most rabidly loyal fandoms in all of popular culture. It has spawned four syndicated spin-offs (with a fifth planned for next year)–and endless debates about the relative merits of each show’s captain in comparison to William Shatner’s James Tiberius Kirk.

Along with 13 movies (and counting), a complete language, and a rather unique brand of fan fiction, Star Trek stands as a testament to the desire of people for a vision of the future which is both recognizable to them, and better than the present.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

STAR TREK’S vision of the future was, in a word, cool. Geek toys and tech like tricorders, replicators and transporters suggest a future where technology has been harnessed to make life vastly better for the majority of people.

But as Wired.com noted, the reason Star Trek continues to inspire such devotion 50 years after its premiere is because of what it says about people, not technology:

The original show’s most visionary aspects were social, not scientific, and that had everything to do with the times. The country was in turmoil, embroiled in Vietnam and the growing civil rights movement. Roddenberry said later that these events influenced many of the themes, as well as the multicultural makeup of the crew.

For a 1960s audience, the 23rd century world envisioned aboard the Enterprise was immediately notable for the fact that it was multiracial and included women in positions of importance among the crew.

In the original series, despite the roles for women being somewhat limited–with the exception of Lt. Uhura, they are primarily nurses, junior officers and scantily clad alien and human love interests for Kirk–a vision of the future in which women are defined primarily through their work as opposed to their husbands, children or home-making abilities was rare on television.

(It has to be admitted, however, that the female crewmembers’ uniforms were utterly sexist, as even Roddenberry’s partner Majel Barrett would later concede.)

At the height of the civil rights movement and the Cold War, the fact that a show could assert that a superior, advanced human society was one in which white Americans lived and worked side by side on a mission of peaceful exploration with not only aliens, but Russians (Chekov) and people of Japanese descent (Sulu), as well as African Americans (Uhura), mattered in the larger cultural context.

According to Whoopi Goldberg, who would later play Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the impact of being able to see Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Uhura was life-changing. “[W]hen I was 9 years old, Star Trek came on,” Goldberg said. “I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a Black lady on television, and she ain’t no maid!”

Martin Luther King himself considered Nichols’ Uhura to be “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history.” When Nichols was thinking of leaving the show for Broadway, it was King who convinced her to stay with Star Trek. As Nichols recounted:

Dr. Martin Luther King, quite some time after I’d first met him, approached me and said something along the lines of “Nichelle, whether you like it or not, you have become a symbol. If you leave, they can replace you with a blonde-haired white girl, and it will be like you were never there. What you’ve accomplished, for all of us, will only be real if you stay.”…I saw that this was bigger than just me.

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ONLY THE willfully ignorant could pretend not to see the message Roddenberry was intent on sending, as he frequently and gleefully pushed buttons. In “Plato’s Stepchildren,” an episode broadcast in 1968, Nichols and Shatner shared what is widely cited (though the matter is hotly debated) as the first interracial kiss on U.S. television.

Skittish network executives worried about the audience reaction and tried to squash the kiss, but Shatner hilariously ruined all of the alternative takes with his famous! punctuated! delivery! and even, in one take, crossed his eyes to ruin the shot. Nichols recounted in her autobiography:

Knowing that Gene was determined to air the real kiss, Bill shook me and hissed menacingly in his best ham-fisted Kirkian staccato delivery, “I! WON’T! KISS! YOU! I! WON’T! KISS! YOU!”

It was absolutely awful, and we were hysterical and ecstatic. The director was beside himself, and still determined to get the kissless shot…

The last shot, which looked okay on the set, actually had Bill wildly crossing his eyes. It was so corny and just plain bad it was unusable…I guess they figured we were going to be canceled in a few months anyway. And so the kiss stayed.

Critics today sometimes declare the scene a “cop out”–since the kiss isn’t a result of genuine desire, but of aliens telepathically forcing Kirk and Uhura to kiss against their will. But that misses the larger context of what it took to even get it on the air at a time when the Supreme Court decision striking down bans on interracial marriage had only just been handed down the year before.

Other episodes, like “Space Seed,” which introduced the character of Khan Noonien Singh–a genetically engineered “ubermensch” who, the show tells us, was part of “Eugenics wars” that broke out on Earth in the late 20th century–raise the specter of racism as a threat to the continued existence of humanity.

(While Kirk fails the “of course you should kill Hitler if you have the chance, you dummy” test, since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan gifted us with one of the best moments of scenery-chewing ever committed to film, however, he can perhaps be forgiven.)

Another episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” famously featured Frank Gorshin (the Riddler on TV’s Batman) in a story about a species divided into two races–and mortal enemies–by skin color. Resembling alien black-and-white cookies, one race has a left side that is white and a right side that is black. The colors are reversed for the other race.

As Roddenberry explained, “Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT IF Star Trek’s vision of an inclusive society, in which various races live and work side by side without the specter of racism, is one of its main strengths, its conception of race overall is, paradoxically, sometimes also a weakness. Often, Star Trek–not only the original series, but spinoff series as well–slips dangerously close to essentialist notions of race.

In the 23rd century, racism no longer exists in the advanced civilization of the United Federation of Planets–yet time and again, species like the Klingons are portrayed as “naturally” warlike and violent; the Ferengi are “naturally” greedy; Romulans are “naturally” calculating and contemptuous of difference.

These species-wide characteristics are then used to set the species up as villains–and, more troubling, the audience is told in several instances that such “differences,” whether culturally ingrained or biological, should be respected.

This is where the contradictions at the heart of the Star Trek universe become most pronounced. (Though in the case of Deep Space Nine series, later seasons did at least examine this when it came to the characterization of the Ferengi and the Klingons.)

If Star Wars movies are essentially about the threat of space fascism and the resistance to it, then Star Trek is, at heart, about the hope for a sort of “space socialism”–a liberal, military-style socialism, but nevertheless one in which society is so technologically advanced that the material needs of the Federation’s inhabitants are met, allowing for the free and full development of individuals.

In the world of Star Trek, the availability of replicator technology generally means that anything you need can be beamed into existence. Yet because of the “Prime Directive”–the guiding principle of the Federation, which prohibits its members from interfering in the development of technologically backward alien societies–the Federation ostensibly ignores oppression, slavery and other horrors in less-developed societies, on the theory that working through these processes is part of a society’s internal development.

Since our heroes would never actually condone such oppressions, episodes often hinge on finding a way to skirt the letter of the Prime Directive–or in some cases, to justify inaction when individuals and even entire races, societies or planets face extinction.

The various Star Trek series broadly offer a critique of war and militarism even as they extol the Federation’s brand of liberal military intervention–a kind of United Nations in space. (In fact, the Charter of the United Federation of Planets actually drew text and inspiration from the UN Charter, as well as other sources.)

Though its internal logic is often convoluted or inconsistent–while replication technology has eliminated the need for money, there still are outposts, like that depicted in Deep Space Nine, which are run on a partially capitalist basis and where small businesses thrive, for example–Star Trek presents a vision of the future that is hopeful in its inclusivity and its suggestion of the possibility of a society free of deprivation and want.

As Captain Picard of The Next Generation series explains to several cryogenically frozen survivors of the 20th century when they are awoken onboard the Enterprise in the 24th century: “A lot has changed in the past 300 years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy…We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

In the Star Trek universe, without capitalist class relations to put the same kinds of strictures on people, individuals are free to develop themselves as they see fit. It’s one reason why the Borg–the most compelling villain from the Picard-era series–are so frightening. The Borg also provides for the material needs of its collective component worker members–but extinguishes all individuality among them. Individuals are assimilated, reduced to their work function as part of the hive–and nothing more.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AS RODDENBERRY once explained, the show’s creators resisted the idea that TV audiences were too stupid or backward to appreciate the show’s message:

We believed that the often ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world’s petty nationalism and all its old ways and old hatreds, and that people are not only willing but anxious to think beyond most petty beliefs that have for so long kept mankind divided. So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient that many people keep seeking and many of them keep missing is really not in Star Trek. It is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television, too…

What Star Trek proves, as faulty as individual episodes could be, is that the much-maligned common man and common woman has an enormous hunger for brotherhood. They are ready for the 23rd century now, and they are light years ahead of their petty governments and their visionless leaders.

But that creates a problem: How to create compelling characters and stories when the foundation of so much drama is precisely the kind of petty conflict that supposedly doesn’t have a place in the Star Trek universe?

As Manu Saadia, author of the recent book Trekonomics, explained to Wired’s “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” podcast:

[The characters] are consistent with the economic circumstances in which they live. Imagine yourself growing up in a society where there is never any want or need or financial insecurity of any sort. You will be a very different person. You will be absolutely uninterested in conspicuous consumption…You will probably be interested in things of a higher nature–the cultivation of the mind, education, love, art and discovery. And so these people are very stoic in that sense, because they have no worldly interests that we today could relate to…

I usually say that they’re all aliens, in a way. My friend Chris [Black], who wrote on [The Next Generation], said it was really hard for the writers, because it’s a workplace drama, but there’s no drama.

That’s similar to what Karl Marx wrote in The German Ideology about the ways in which capitalism constrains human activity by alienating workers from their labor:

For as soon as the distribution of labor comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society…society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

In the Star Trek universe, I can be a ship’s captain in the morning, a detective in the afternoon, a winemaker in the evening, and a flute player after dinner (assuming my ship doesn’t get attacked by hostile Romulans that day, that is).

As the eminently logical Mr. Spock might have put it, the Star Trek universe is one in which humanity has determined that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one” (percent, that is).

“The human race is a remarkable creature, one with great potential,” Gene Roddenberry said, “and I hope that Star Trek has helped to show us what we can be if we believe in ourselves and our abilities.”

It’s up to the audience to go boldly–and make it so.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/09/15/socialism-in-one-galaxy

Taking a knee with Kaepernick

Several NFL players have joined in the “quiet insurrection” started by Colin Kaepernick, but the impact is getting louder and louder, writes Nation columnist Dave Zirin.

Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots raise their fists during the National Anthem

Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots raise their fists during the National Anthem

ON SUNDAY, a small group of National Football League players risked their careers, their endorsements, and their livelihoods. They did so through the simple act of refusal. They refused to be a prop for the cameras. They refused to swallow their concerns about racism and police violence in order to please the needs of their employers. They refused to be intimidated by sports-radio talkers bashing their character or an online army of shameless thugs threatening their lives with the casual click of someone ordering a book from Amazon. They stood in the proudest tradition of athletes who have used their platforms for social change, and they have already felt a backlash that would ring familiar, almost note-for-note, to anyone acquainted with what that last generation had to endure.

Before naming the players who chose to stand against the current, it is worth setting the stage. Sunday was less a current than a red, white, and blue tsunami. This was opening day for the NFL–by an exponential degree the most popular sports league in the United States–and it was also September 11, 2016, the 15th anniversary of the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those attacks killed thousands of innocent people. They also launched an unprecedented assault on civil liberties, the scapegoating of an entire religion, and an illegal war in Iraq that continues to produce an unfathomable body count. The leader of these atrocities, George W. Bush, should have had to answer for his actions. Instead, he was there on Sunday in Arlington, Texas, tossing the coin for the nationally televised game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. The Cowboys were not alone in bringing out–literally–the big guns. President Obama spoke over the Jumbotron in Seattle and Vice President Joe Biden was live in Philadelphia. Every stadium had troops march onto the field with flags roughly the size of Rhode Island. Warplanes flew overhead. Bald eagles–actual, real-life bald eagles–were even set free to soar for the cameras.

Like those majestic eagles, the NFL has ascended to new heights these last 15 years by pinning the image of their league to our permanent state of war. The Pentagon has made sure that this has been a mutually beneficial relationship, tying military recruitment,staged “salute the troops” events, and a hyper-militarized form of patriotism to the NFL’s brand. Journalist Shaun Scott wrote a masterful excavation of this last week on Sports Illustrated‘s website, in an article titled “How the NFL sells (and profits from) the inextricable link between football and war”:

It didn’t matter that NFL players such as Cardinals safety Pat Tillman and Rams center Jason Brown criticized the war; or that actual veterans detested insulting comparisons between the vicissitudes of combat and the triviality of sport.

What mattered was that subcultures like tailgating, fantasy football, and gambling helped the NFL become more popular than ever, and that this popularity coincided with – and exploited – the escalation of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN OTHER words, nothing that happened Sunday, with its big-budget patriotic pageantry, should have surprised anybody. It was business as usual. The true shock and awe was the presence of a small group of players who took that moment to instead express dissent. To be clear, these were not gestures against war or the national-security state. They were acts of solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s anthem demonstrations against police violence. They were protests aimed at stating the simple idea that there is a gap between the values that the flag claims to represent and the deadly realities of racism. They were also–whether intentionally or not–declarations that they would not be intimidated by the backlash felt by Kaepernick or Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, who took a knee on Thursday and promptly lost an endorsement deal.

As “The Star-Spangled Banner” played around the country, two players on the New England Patriots: Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty; three players on the Tennessee Titans: Jurrell Casey, Wesley Woodyard and Jason McCourty; and Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs raised their fists during or immediately after the Anthem played. In addition, four players on the Miami Dolphins–Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas, Arian Foster and Jelani Jenkins–took a knee during the National Anthem. The Dolphins’ gesture was all the more dramatic because it took place across the field from the Seattle Seahawks, who linked arms in a gesture of “team unity and solidarity” after their efforts to make some sort of statement about police brutality were snuffed out because, according to the reporting of NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, “#Seahawks originally planned to kneel together, hand over their hearts, during the anthem. But some players close with military objected.”

Never mind that these protests have had nothing to do with the military. But that mere perception was enough to suppress a small group of proudly outspoken Seahawks players who wanted to show Kaepernick that they were on his side. The endless howl that any action on Sunday should be interpreted as being “against the troops” and disrespectful to the memory of 9/11–no matter the words of actual troops or 9/11 families–stretched from a sector of the Seahawks locker room to anonymous Twitter bigots to celebrities Rob Lowe and Kate Upton. It’s an absurd argument, meant to derail and delegitimize the actual issue that’s being raised: the extrajudicial killings of black people.

The best response to this came from Kaepernick last month when he said:

I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.

The pressure to fall in line was strong enough to compel a group of political players in Seattle to back down from their planned protest. But the capitulation of the Seahawks was overshadowed by these other gestures, which defied not only the political agenda of the league but also its top-down corporate structure. They are gestures that stand as a rebuke to those in the NFL audience who cheer for Black bodies on the field, but rage against Black voices. Jay Busbee at Yahoo! Sports called Sunday’s events a “quiet insurrection.” It is an apt description, with one caveat: This is an insurrection we can only see if we get beyond the noise.

First published at TheNation.com.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/09/14/taking-a-knee-with-kaepernick

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the Aleppo gaffes show we have learned nothin

The foggy aftermath of Gary Johnson’s “What is Aleppo?” gaffe revealed how little U.S. policymakers know about ISIS

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the Aleppo gaffes show we have learned nothing
Men inspect a damaged site after double airstrikes on the rebel held Bab al-Nairab neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, August 27, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail)

The 2016 campaign story of the week seemed to be Gary Johnson’s blunder during an MSNBC interview when he shockingly asked, “What is Aleppo?” That story, though, is really only the tip of the iceberg. The real story is the response to his gaffe. Quick to jump on the third-party presidential candidate for being woefully unprepared, political insiders and the media made a far worse error — the exact sort of error that led to our disastrous response to the 9/11 attacks.

Johnson couldn’t answer the question about what he would do about Aleppo. It’s bad news that a presidential candidate, even one from a third party with no shot of winning, could not recognize the name of one of the major cities in civil war-stricken Syria. This suggests that Johnson simply isn’t following the news related to one of most significant international crises today.

He later corrected his gaffe by saying he thought Aleppo was an acronym.  But the good news, is that Johnson didn’t pretend to know what it was. He didn’t just make something up or blather something incoherent as we might expect Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to do.

Johnson confessed ignorance, which shows a degree of integrity.

Not so with the corporate media and political insiders.

The New York Times committed the most egregious of the media mistakes. It chided Johnson for being wrong, then got it wrong itself. It started by describing Aleppo as the “de facto capital of ISIS.” (That would be Raqqa.) The Times then corrected that gaffe to state that Aleppo was the capital of Syria. (It is actually Damascus.) The Times finally changed its description of the city to simply be a “war-torn Syrian city.” As Salon’s Ben Norton reported, “There were five revisions to the Times story from 9:18 a.m. to 12:18 p.m. EST.”

On corporate TV news media, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC brought on Christopher Hill, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who had fun mocking Johnson but also incorrectly identified the city: “But the capital of ISIS — very much in the news, especially in the past two days, but for last two years. And for him to draw that kind of blank — and, by the way, boy was that a blank stare on his face.” To make it worse, he wasn’t corrected.

And Richard Grenell, formerly the longest-serving U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations, also got it wrong and implied that Aleppo is controlled by ISIS, even though the organization doesn’t have a strong presence there. Norton pointed out Grenell, who has also become a prominent pundit, served as the national security spokesman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.”

Both the corporate media and the political insiders it covers were simply wrong about basic facts regarding ISIS and the Syrian civil war. Not a little wrong — completely wrong. What’s worse is that these mistakes then go on to shape public perceptions. They fuel ideas about whether we should have “boots on the ground” in Syria and how we should handle the threat of ISIS.

But if we have no clue what these threats even are, how can we possible come up with a reasonable response?

Which brings me back to 9/11.

The attacks on the United States on 9/11 were a tragedy, but our response to them was a full-blown catastrophe. Even more important, our response was based in large part on a lack of knowledge of the basic players and a mistaken sense of geographical connections.

Consider that George W. Bush — who in 1999, as the Intercept reminds us, failed a pop quiz about the names of global leaders — ordered the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq based on a series of mistaken associations and false “intelligence.” Now there seems to be significant evidence that many members of the Bush administration had been well aware that they were promulgating lies – but they were also surrounded by a team willing to accept the lies as truths.

The Bush administration was enabled by representatives of a corporate media all too happy to swallow their lies and ramp up the public for the war effort. As Raymond Bonner reported for The Atlantic, after the 9/11 attacks “journalists were swept up in the national feelings of fear and outrage — and failed to do their job.”

Recall from media coverage and political spin efforts the almost immediate association made between the 9/11 attackers, al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Afghan people.

Yet not one person on the 9/11 flights was Afghan or affiliated with the Taliban. The majority of the attackers were from Saudi Arabia. But those facts didn’t stop the association between Afghanistan and 9/11.

The rush to connect the Taliban with al-Qaida led to the worst possible outcome, since rather than negotiate with the Taliban, the United States pursued an aggressive push for war. As Foreign Policy Journal reported, members of the Taliban showed significant interest in handing over bin Laden; they just needed to be given a chance to do so while saving face.

Meanwhile, the U.S. media reported that the Taliban were intransigent. CNN, for instance, “reported that the Taliban [were] ‘refusing to hand over bin Laden without proof or evidence that he was involved’ in the 9/11 attacks.” But the truth was, as Abdul Salam Zaeef, an ambassador to Pakistan, explained, “deporting him without proof would amount to an ‘insult to Islam.’” But, “we are ready to cooperate if we are shown evidence,” he added. That interest in cooperation was absent in the media and political rhetoric because the truth of a collaborative Taliban didn’t match the desire for war.

The links between 9/11 and the Iraq War display an even greater breakdown in knowledge. CNN later reported that Bush and his team made 935 lies to the U.S. public in the two years from 9/11 to the start of the Iraq War. Those lies got media coverage, which then led to a massively misinformed public.

In 2003 the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that a significant number of U.S. citizens linked Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president, to 9/11 and al-Qaida to Iraq. There was also widespread misinformation about hidden “weapons of mass destruction” having been found in the country after the U.S. invasion, when they had not been. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed thought there was worldwide support for the war. Only 30 percent of those surveyed had none of these misperceptions.

It probably comes as no surprise that Fox News viewers scored the worst on misperceptions, with 80 percent of this group having at least one false belief about the war.

Both right after 9/11 and today political leaders and the media are too often misinformed on key facts central to issues being discussed. It’s not that they don’t know; it’s that they are wrong.

Thus, there is a significant gap between expressing Gary Johnson-like lack of knowledge and Christopher Hill-like mistakes. As scholars Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have pointed out, there’s a huge difference between being uninformed and misinformed. Folks who are uninformed can learn. Those who are misinformed are wrong. Nyhan and Reifler explained that misperceptions are extremely difficult to correct. It is far harder to change false beliefs than it is to educate someone in the first place.

As we consider the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we must realize that the problem is not just that so much public discourse is clueless; it’s that it is delusional. It’s not simply that we don’t know; it’s that we make things up then act on false information.

Before we have a chance at coming up with a good answer about we should do about Aleppo, we need to make a commitment to getting the facts right. We certainly blew it after 9/11 and could argue that those mistakes have only worsened the crisis in Syria. If we want to honor the lives lost due to the 9/11 attacks, we should start by getting the story straight.

 

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, is, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.

“Star Trek” in the age of Trump

Why we need to embrace its 50-year mission now more than ever

The doomsday pessimism and defensiveness peddled by Donald Trump could use a dose of Enterprise hope and harmony

"Star Trek" in the age of Trump: Why we need to embrace its 50-year mission now more than ever
(Credit: Getty/Alex Wong/CBS/Photo montage by Salon)

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission, no, wait, 50-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life for itself, to boldly remain relevant across space and time.

And it has. Especially today, in the age of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the message of “Star Trek” — openness, harmony and the spirit of exploration — feels more applicable than ever.

The unstoppable science-fiction franchise turns 50 tomorrow, with the first episode having hit NBC airwaves on Sept. 8, 1966. Over its subsequent half-century run, “Star Trek” has spanned 13 movies, including a new installment, “Star Trek Beyond,” which opened in July. There have been six TV series (a seventh comes in 2017), plus a handful of fan-created homages. The “Trek” phenomenon has also inspired Trekkers to dress in costume, collect merchandise, buy comic books, adopt the Vulcan salute “Live long and prosper” and quote lines from movies as daily parlance.

But unlike Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and their shipmates, who traveled to new worlds every week, Americans remain, like Khan, the show’s recurrent fictional villain, marooned on a somewhat hostile planet. Just as Khan was exiled to Ceti Alpha V, where he forged a new society, most of us — for the time being at least — are stuck on planet Earth. Here in 2016, our nation is engaged in its own terrestrial wars between alien-like political foes — Democrats versus Republicans, conservative Christians against Muslims, police supporters against Black Lives Matter activists, the haves battling the have-nots.

In these contentious times, the spirit of “Star Trek” still speaks to us.

What the show has always boldly declared is this: Disregard the doomsayers, those who predict our species’ demise, those who look to disharmony. Instead, the goofy, awkward optimism of the “Star Trek” franchise suggested, Aim forward into a future of cooperation and harmony.

Sure, if you’re gold-shirted officer Kirk, you get to sleep with wayward crew and alien species from time to time. If his bedroom shenanigans were a bit self-serving, didn’t that amorous touch also foster interspecies understanding? By and large, he came in peace.

This fall as the presidential race hits warp speed, “Star Trek” still offers a vision of how we could and should be. (Depending on which Romulans or Changelings you speak to, Hillary Clinton is either one of the gold-shirted good guys or a nefarious Orion slave girl bent on revenge; Trump is either a warmongering Klingon or a disposable Redshirt who doesn’t survive the episode.)

“Star Trek” first launched during a time of great unrest: the 1960s. The ground war in Vietnam had been launched in an effort to stop Communist expansion in Asia. On the homefront, racial tensions flared and violence erupted. Fears about overpopulation and environmental destruction haunted Americans. Yet here was a show whose multiracial, multiethnic, multinational and, yes, multispecies crew worked together. From Spock to Uhura, Chekov to Sulu, “Star Trek” proposed a melting pot of humans, male and female, white and black, Asian and Russian — and even Vulcan — who all work together toward a common goal. In “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the diverse crew even included a robot, Data, and a member of a onetime enemy species, the Klingon Worf.

That mission was the exploration of space, “the final frontier,” in the spirit of knowledge and science.

This vision is a powerful counter to Trump’s demagoguery, which places the problems of our country at the feet of “bad people” from foreign lands, who have darker skin, who practice alien customs and who, we are told, mean us harm. For Trump and the supporters he engages, our differences aren’t outweighed by what we share. Trump’s vision of the future depends on having enemies to attack — Hillary Clinton, Mexican immigrants, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. What would make America great again, in his mind, is more mistrust and taller walls.

This hive mind-like approach is not unlike that of the cybernetic Borg of “Star Trek” who want to assimilate every foreigner they encounter.

Imagine a son or daughter of an undocumented immigrant on Trump’s crew. That’s not the galaxy Trump that lives in. Perhaps in an alternative universe, he might embrace these ideals, and the legions of white nationalist, neo-reactionary, alt-right nativists might be less afraid of “the other.” But until we invent a way to travel through a wormhole — or send Trump and his ilk through one — making his supporters feel less paranoid and less likely to blame anyone but themselves for their problems isn’t going happen anytime soon.

Meanwhile, walls keep rising between African-Americans and police, veterans and civilians, Wal-Mart workers and billionaires.

We must remember the immortal words of Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.”

The four-year mission of the U.S.S. Trump could not be more opposed than the original five-year “Star Trek” mission of cooperation, adventure and hope.

Let us hope that it is Trump who is the alien species, not those of us who believe in science, exploration and a peaceful universe. After all, you can’t build a wall in space.

Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks.” He can be reached atethangilsdorf.com and onTwitter.

“Stranger Things” is a show about the internet’s dark sides

We’re all living in the “Upside Down”

Under the irresistible ’80s pastiche, “Stranger Things” explores the monstrous capabilities of digital technology

We're all living in the "Upside Down": "Stranger Things" is a show about the internet's dark sides
Winona Ryder in “Stranger Things” (Credit: Netflix/Screen Montage by Salon)

“Stranger Things” is hotter than Kayne’s Twitter feed right now and Netflix just announced that a second season is on its way. A trailer recently posted online reveals that when 2017 arrives, fans pining for more ’80s pop culture references will be returning to Hawkins, Indiana, in the fall of 1984 as the town faces the aftermath of its first contact with the alternate universe known as “the Upside Down” and the predatory “Demogorgons” that dwell therein. [Note: Spoilers ahead.]

Right now most reviews and discussions about “Stranger Things” focus on its aesthetics: how the Duffer brothers crafted such an eloquent piece of pastiche that takes the best elements of 1980s pop culture and reassembles them into something fresh and entertaining. Of course, that’s worthy of discussion in and of itself. Who wouldn’t jump at a chance to spot a “Goonies,” “Evil Dead” or “Stand By Me” reference and gush adoringly to their friends about it? But then again, there’s a lot of TV, music and film doing the same thing these days. So it’s worth asking — especially while we wait for the next season to arrive — if there is something more to “Stranger Things” that accounts for its popularity and the mass amounts of speculation surrounding its mysterious aura. I think the answer is yes, and I think that’s worth talking about, too.

Even by the end of the first episode, one gets the sense that the Duffer brothers are more than just writers and directors who have an extensive knowledge of ’80s gold. They seem to be filmic philosophers who emerged out of the shadows with this series to deliver an intriguing commentary about a world like ours, a world rife with communication technologies that can harm us just as much as they can help us.

“Stranger Things” is set in small-town America in the 1980s. On the fringes of this town is a mysterious Department of Energy compound conducting weird experiments somehow related to the U.S. military and espionage. People are not really worried about this organization, though, until they have to start worrying about it because technology, espionage, militarism, fear, surveillance and such things were all staples of the Cold War era. (But, in fact, without the Cold War, much of the technology we have today — like the internet and personal computers — simply wouldn’t exist.)

But then all of a sudden the worst thing happens that could possibly happen to a mother, older brother and a small community. A young boy is stolen away in the night to . . . where exactly? Will Byers, like other characters both major and minor in the show — #TeamBarb! — has been kidnapped and possibly eaten by a predatory creature that his friends have dubbed the Demogorgon, after a monster in their Dungeons & Dragons game. The Demogorgon travels through numerous gates between our world and another dimension — the Upside Down — that is sort of like our world but way darker and scarier. The alternate dimension and the Demogorgon are somehow connected to electricity, wires, appliances and communication devices. And they all go nuts whenever the monster lurks about in the real world.

Likewise, people trapped in the Upside Down can reach the real world only through electronic devices like telephones and radios, and the bigger the device, the better the contact. We see this clearly when Will’s mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) creates a primitive codex-like thing by painting a wall with the alphabet and assigning a light to each letter, which allows her to use it as a keyboard to communicate between dimensions with her missing son. She asks questions and Will spells out answers by flashing lights above the appropriate letters. It seems like magic, but it’s just primitive computing technology.

All of this sounds like the foundations of the internet, doesn’t it? A network of electricity, phone lines, communication devices and flashing lights that work together to connect distant worlds so that disconnected people can meet and dialogue with each other. I would wager that this intriguing little detail represents a key theme in “Stranger Things.” It also explains why the show has become so popular. Just like now, the ’80s was a paradoxical time of both hope in technology and fear of it. Deep into the Cold War by 1983, both the East and West knew that technological development was both their biggest threat and their biggest hope.

The race to space known as Star Wars — Reagan’s missile defense program, not the films — and the mass ramping up of innovations in personal computing, information technologies, communication devices and consumer entertainment systems, all combined to simultaneously strike people dumb with awe and cower in fear. Sure, an atomic bomb could hit a town at any moment and a commie spy could be running a local grocery store, but at least people had some newfangled digital devices and entertainment while they waited for all that horrible stuff to go down. Meanwhile, the military would be using all this technology to gain the upper hand on the enemy.

All of this explains why the Demogorgon and the sinister Department of Energy lab are secondary issues in “Stranger Things.” The primary issue is the Upside Down, the alternate dimension that the Department of Energy accidentally discovers. If this gate had not been opened up by Eleven, a mysterious child with telepathic and kinetic gifts who is forced to go into that world and inadvertently make contact with the Demogorgon, the monster would have never shown up in Hawkins to kidnap people in the first place. So it’s the Demogorgon’s network, the world it lives in and connects to, that enables the monster to be anywhere at any time to snatch poor Will and Barb away to the Upside Down. That is the real threat to everyone in Hawkins.

Which is to say, the Upside Down starts looking very much like an analog for the internet. Yes, the internet allows people to connect everywhere at every time, but this is not always a good thing. Just look at Kayne’s Twitter feed. Or, on a more serious note, consider the devastating social-media harassment campaign that has targeted actress Leslie Jones. Or reflect on the degree to which even our most banal online activities and conversations are being watched and collected by government agencies.

This explains why there are more seasons to come because by the end of the first season, it appears that the Demogorgon is dead. But the network itself, as well as its effects, remains. Will Byers might be back in the real world to go on D&D quests with his buddies and be bullied at school, yet the network has made an impression on him that he can’t shed. Now he is a part of the Upside Down network and he’s brought it back to Hawkins. We see this when he coughs up a little Demogorgon slug in the concluding episode. The network and its demons are taking root and growing. Pikachu is in our world now and we’d better watch out.

Once you start pulling at these thematic threads, you begin to see a deeper philosophical discussion at play in “Stranger Things.” Of course, some fans love this show because it captures several of their favorite memories of the ’80s. But at the same time, and perhaps more important, we’re intrigued by the experience of watching characters in “Stranger Things” encounter the consequences of rapid technological advancement.

There’s no better example of this than the scene when Joyce Byers finally makes semi-physical contact with Will through an opaque window that appears behind the wallpaper in the Byers’ living room. For a glimmering moment Joyce is able to reach out to Will through a translucent screen to see that he’s alive. And Will reaches back. But that window evaporates as quickly as it appeared. So Joyce takes an ax to the wall to break through to the young Will trapped in the Upside Down. She chops right through the wall and finds . . . nothing — just the world outside. Will is gone. The network escapes Joyce’s grasp, her son is still kidnapped and her life is still in shambles.

It turns out that technology can’t bring Will back, only humans can. And humans eventually do. This draws out a key thesis of the show: We don’t need more or better technology to solve our greatest problems. What we need is more courageous people — like Joyce and Sheriff Hopper; Elle; Will’s friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin; Will’s brother Jonathan, Mike’s sister Nancy and (eventually) her boyfriend Steve.

It may be difficult for some younger viewers to think about what the world was like before digital technology and the internet arrived on the scene and developed into what it is and does to us today. But artistically and philosophically “Stranger Things” helps fans get to (or back to, depending on the viewers’ age) that place. And once we’re there, we’re pressed to explore ethical questions similar to those encountered by the kids and adults of Hawkins. Will we or won’t we make contact with the Upside Down and dimensions and technologies of that kind? And if we do, how will we act when things get strange, volatile and perhaps even violent?

Michael Morelli is a PhD student who studies theological ethics, culture, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @mchlmorelli

Lady Dynamite and other Netflix comedies

By Ed Hightower
6 August 2016

There is plenty of room for satire in American life.

“On the nightly television news, after all, one is confronted with politicians and government officials, hirelings of finance and industry, who preach ‘moral values’ with a straight face. Cabinet ministers and generals, responsible for violence and terror around the world, praise peace and global harmony. None of this meets with a challenge in the media. The present situation is unreal, and almost unbearable.”

So wrote WSWS arts editor David Walsh four years ago.

In the cultural or entertainment sphere too, one could rattle off many examples of hypocrisy, the worship of wealth and privilege and a general inclination toward escapism, conventionality and intellectual fraud. A brief flipping through the channels on television indeed confirms the painful fact that “the present situation is unreal, and almost unbearable.”

Such an environment creates a contradictory atmosphere for artists. On the one hand, the pressure to conform, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, can be irresistible at times, as can a certain tendency to create only for the most narrow, insular layers, writing off any possibility of mass appeal. At the same time, and particularly in regard to the art of comedy, the present situation presents tremendous opportunities. The venal corporate executive, the corrupt layers around the legal system, the brazen insincerity of religious charlatans, the banality and brutality in Hollywood—all of these virtually beg for ridicule.

W/ Bob and David

This reviewer welcomed the news last year that Netflix had signed on for a five-episode sketch comedy program called W/ Bob and David, a reprise of the critically acclaimed 1990s series Mr. Show with Bob and David (with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross). Maybe some of the irreverent, anti-corporate satire that marked the old HBO program would emerge to meet the challenges of this decade?

A more detailed review of Mr. Show with Bob and David is beyond the scope of this writing, but this reviewer places that program among the healthier developments in popular culture in the 1990s. A reader so inclined should watch it, if only in clips available on YouTube. The sketches lampooning the right-wing attack on federal arts funding, the phoniness of “gangster rap” music—mimicked with an East Coast versus West Coast ventriloquism rivalry—and even the pseudo-biographical film Amadeus will make lasting impressions.

Sadly, there is almost nothing humorous or healthy in W/ Bob and David. The program feels slapped together, lacking the nuanced dialogue and genuine creativity of its predecessor. Some sketches are recycled from the original program, without improvement.

This alone would be disappointing to a Mr. Show fan, but W/ Bob and Davidalso bears the signs of a movement to the right on the part of the comedians. One episode begins with a faux prohibition on images of the Prophet Mohammed, with imams controlling Hollywood. This display—more in line with propaganda à la Geert Wilders—is painful to watch.

In the same vein, one sketch follows a would-be police misconduct investigator. The big joke is that the police are extremely polite, leaving him dumbfounded. Aside from the “Blue Lives Matter” fanatics, who comprises the audience for this insensitive claptrap?

A retrograde drift also plagues comedian Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None, where the main character, Dev, is a 30-year-old actor making his way in New York City.

Ansari earned fame on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, playing an insecure young government employee who aspires to hip hop mogul glamour and excess. This reviewer always found his stand-up comedy more impressive. However, even in his best routines, Ansari’s criticisms of certain hedonistic lifestyles never goes very deep.

Master of None

Master of None exists almost entirely on the surface, depicting the unremarkable, often clichéd ins and outs of middle class life. Episodes concern quests for the ultimate burrito in New York, breakups, and relationships with friends and parents.

If the show has anything that resembles a saving grace, it is the boldness with which Ansari portrays the self-centered and privileged character of identity politics. This plays out in an episode where a producer makes a double entendre to Dev about curry—an Indian dish and a verb. Dev later feels he is offered a role by the producer as something of an apology. He explains to rapper Busta Rhymes: “I don’t think you should play the race card; charge it to the race card.”

“Everybody’s depressed … it’s called being an adult”

In Lady Dynamite, Netflix has created something more meaningful. Comedian Maria Bamford stars as herself, struggling to maintain a career in Hollywood without destroying her fragile mental health.

Lady Dynamite

The show treads a fine line between comedy and tragedy. In the face of the protagonist’s panic attacks, depressive bouts and fits of bipolar mania, one can laugh at the circumstances and still feel deeply for her even when she is screaming into a sponge. The illness is funny, but it is frightening. The craftsmanship here exceeds expectations.

Maria Bamford successfully mocks the superficiality and excesses of upper-middle class life. In one scene, she humors her best friend who is eager to show off her new luxury condominium. Maria tries to be enthusiastic for her friend’s new purchase, even though she has to use a virtual reality headset to tour the place, which is physically located inside a hot-shot realtor’s office. The illusion makes Maria ill. What a healthy metaphor!

Other notable scenes feature Maria’s cutthroat, foul-mouthed agent and her many mental health professionals (she has a psychologist, a life coach, and even a “loaf” coach to keep from being overwhelmed by all her treatments). The various professional helpers, medicines, self-help groups, etc., are not much aid in a cold, calculating world. The slogan on one of Maria’s tee shirts, “Wake up, be amazing, repeat,” has a welcome irony to it.

The most satisfying and daring scene finds Maria concerned about her ability to interact with African American fellow cast members. She attends a 12-step program for this called PURE, or People United for Racial Equality. Instead of introducing themselves as alcoholics or gamblers, PURE members simply say “I’m so and so, and I’m white.”

Other members nod when Maria confesses to having few minority friends, but desiring to be “more cognizant of racism and white privilege.” When Maria says she does not understand why she is racist simply for being white, the group leader explains, “We believe that interfering or even trying to relate is an implicit insult to people whose struggles we couldn’t possibly understand.”

PURE uses the slogan, “If you’re white, keep it light,” to remind whites not to burden minority people with more suffering by asking them questions about race. Instead, talk about the weather, sports and so forth.

Lady Dynamite has limitations. Bamford’s protest outlook pervades some scenes. Thus, a dull instrument is raised against big corporations, consumerism and so on. One wonders what powerful comedy would result from turning her craft against the union bureaucracy or the left fraternity around the Democratic Party. We can hope that if she does not, others will.

WSWS