“The Frankenstein monster you created/Has turned against you, now you’re hated.”

by matttbastard

Mary Riddell:

London’s riots are not the Tupperware troubles of Greece or Spain, where the middle classes lash out against their day of reckoning. They are the proof that a section of young Britain – the stabbers, shooters, looters, chancers and their frightened acolytes – has fallen off the cliff-edge of a crumbling nation.

The failure of the markets goes hand in hand with human blight. Meanwhile, the view is gaining ground that social democracy, with its safety nets, its costly education and health care for all, is unsustainable in the bleak times ahead. The reality is that it is the only solution. After the Great Crash, Britain recalibrated, for a time. Income differentials fell, the welfare state was born and skills and growth increased.

That exact model is not replicable, but nor, as Adam Smith recognised, can a well-ordered society ever develop when a sizeable number of its members are miserable and, as a consequence, dangerous. This is not a gospel of determinism, for poverty does not ordain lawlessness. Nor, however, is it sufficient to heap contempt on the rioters as if they are a pariah caste.

Peter Oborne:

A great deal has been made over the past few days of the greed of the rioters for consumer goods, not least by Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who accurately remarked, “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.

Yesterday, the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman asked the Prime Minister to consider how these rioters can be “reclaimed” by society. Yes, this is indeed the same Gerald Kaufman who submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, which included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television.

Or take the Salford MP Hazel Blears, who has been loudly calling for draconian action against the looters. I find it very hard to make any kind of ethical distinction between Blears’s expense cheating and tax avoidance, and the straight robbery carried out by the looters.

The Prime Minister showed no sign that he understood that something stank about yesterday’s Commons debate. He spoke of morality, but only as something which applies to the very poor: “We will restore a stronger sense of morality and responsibility – in every town, in every street and in every estate.” He appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well.

Russell Brand:

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

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

These young people have no sense of community because they haven’t been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron’s mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there’s no such thing.

If we don’t want our young people to tear apart our communities then don’t let people in power tear apart the values that hold our communities together.

Matthias Matthijs:

The 1980s were marked by a more traditional struggle between the state and organized labor. The present moment, however, is defined by a more disorganized class politics of reaction, propelled by huge inequalities and a perceived injustice and indifference by the state to the fate of those involved. This time it is also not about race. The looting youngsters in London are a mixture of both immigrants and English natives, and they have quickly and deliberately made their way into the fancier neighborhoods of the city. An incident from the much-gentrified Notting Hill neighborhood in London is particularly telling. Hooded rioters armed with bats invaded the Ledbury, a two-star Michelin restaurant, demanding that diners hand over their wallets and wedding rings. As two female rioters told the BBC, “We’re just showing the rich people we can do what we want.”


So class politics are back in what many political scientists see as their most traditional home: the United Kingdom. Most of the country perceives Cameron’s policies as the poor paying for the mistakes of the rich. Thatcher’s neoliberal medicine was equally unpopular in 1981, but she was under no illusions as to what was required to enforce austerity and remains famous to this day for having argued in a 1987 interview that “there [was] no such thing as society.” Cameron’s assumptions have been challenged by these riots, and it is not at all clear that he has an alternative to offer. The rest of the world should take notice: After all, the perverse experiment of high inequality, low growth, and now fiscal austerity is hardly a uniquely British phenomenon.

Iran: Dreams Underfoot

by matttbastard

(Image: sterno74, used under a Creative Commons licence)

Following the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, Tom Regan’s Terrorism and Security Briefing for the Christian Science Monitor became a must-read for anyone who wanted a daily general analysis of counterterrorism/counterinsurgency developments around the world. Unfortunately, Regan no longer compiles the briefing. But, late last week, he quietly emerged from an undisclosed location to pen this must-read take on the ongoing post-election turmoil in Iran.

Regan notes that the West may be projecting its own collective desire for transformative political reform in the region onto a murky, still-fluid situation that is not quite the widespread democratic uprising that the mainstream media and Western political establishment would have us believe:

…I strongly believe that what are seeing in Iran is something like a reality based TV show. It’s based on a real incident, but it’s still being shaped by the show’s writers and director (ie, the western media) to be the most interesting to a Western audience. We’re only seeing the bits of tape that conform to what the western media ([which] represent us) want the story to be. It’s real but it’s not reality.

First, this is most definitely NOT a national revolution. This is a protest largely based, as I said, in northern Tehran, the more affluent and prosperous area of the city where most of the universities are located as are (surprised) the hotels where most western journalists stay. As Time’s Joe Klein (who just got back from Tehran) noted in an interview on CNN yesterday, there is no protest at all in southern Tehran, the largest part of the city where the poor and less-educated live. This is Ahmadinejad ’s base. And there is almost no protest at all in rural areas. The regime is firmly in command in most of the country, and the more repressive elements like the Revolutionary Guard have yet to really make their presence felt.

You know, this beginning to sound like Beijing 20 years ago.

Now, there is always the chance that a revolt driven by a relatively small number of the country’s population will succeed in overthrowing the country’s regime. Especially in Iran, where one revolution has already done that. But that was a revolt approved by the large majority of the people against a hated despot. This is not the same situation. If there is hatred of Ahmedinejad it comes no where near close to the hatred felt for the Shah. It’s just not going to happen.

As they say, read the whole damn thing.

h/t Karoli via Twitter

Related: Patrick Martin provides a history lesson on Mir-Houssein Mousavi, a most unlikely champion for Western-style liberal democracy, while John Palfrey, Bruce Etling and Robert Faris of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society share an informative survey of the overall Iranian web presence (which–surprise–may not conform with what we’ve been voyeuristically observing via Twitter). Elsewhere, Dana Goldstein gives us these two mustread posts on the role Iranian feminists have played in the uprising (h/t Ann Friedman). Also see the one and only Antonia Zerbisias (taking a welcome respite from blogging about her thighs and pention [sic]) for more on how–and why–the women of Iran have taken the lead in demonstrations.

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The 2008 VP Debate: Winking and (Nearly) Nodding Off

by matttbastard

(h/t Top of the Ticket for the vid)

To quote the always-quotable John Lydon, “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”  After generating an inordinate, unprecedented level of manufactured hype and controversy, I find myself fully in agreement with Melissa McEwan: last night’s highly anticipated political reality show vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden proved to be, for lack of a better word, unbelievably boring.  As Liss memorably puts it, “I may have fallen asleep if Palin’s mispronunciation of nuclear didn’t keep compelling me to jam pencils into my ears.”

Defying expectations (duh), Palin was serviceable if unspectacular in her role, no doubt due in large part to the favourable follow-up-free format, coupled with a novel “ignore the question” non sequitur strategy. She managed to achieve the bare minimum of what she was supposed to do: climb over the inch-high bar that had been deliberately erected in the sub-basement of collective public and pundit expectations, to the prefabricated delight of dime-turning conservative ‘critics’ like David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, both of whom, as Daniel Larison says, proved themselves to be intellectually incurious, easily impressed hacks:

She is not a person of thought but of action. ~Peggy Noonan

On Thursday night, Palin took her inexperience and made a mansion out of it. From her first “Nice to meet you. May I call you Joe?” she made it abundantly, unstoppably and relentlessly clear that she was not of Washington, did not admire Washington and knew little about Washington. She ran not only against Washington, but the whole East Coast, just to be safe. ~David Brooks

Noonan and Brooks actually fall over themselves trying to compliment Palin on the modest success of being coherent, but these excerpts are striking in that someone might have written them as withering, sarcastic criticism and instead they are supposed to be a celebration of her virtues. Noonan complains that Biden showed too much forbearance, but this is exactly what Noonan and Brooks show in their efforts to tip-toe around the obvious that for all her mastery of the non-answer and glittering generalities, to borrow Halcro’s language, she did not do very well.  Incredibly, her fans don’t seem to mind debasing the meaning of excellence if it allows them to call what we saw last night excellent.

Roger Simon of The Politico earnestly sums up the conventional wisdom circulating throughout The Village:

Sarah Palin was supposed to fall off the stage at her vice presidential debate Thursday evening. Instead, she ended up dominating it.

She not only kept Joe Biden on the defensive for much of the debate, she not only repeatedly attacked Barack Obama, but she looked like she was enjoying herself while doing it.

She smiled. She faced the camera. She was warm. She was human. Gosh and golly, she even dropped a bunch of g’s.

“John McCain doesn’t tell one thing to one group and somethin’ else to another,” she said. “Those huge tax breaks aren’t comin’ to those huge multinational corporations.”

She went out of her way to talk in everyday terms, saying things like “I betcha” and “We have a heckuva opportunity to learn” and “Darn right we need tax relief.”


True, a lot of her statements were of the fortune cookie variety. “At end of day,” she said, “if we are all working together for the greater good, it is going to be OK.”

But a lot of people like fortune cookies.

Politics as Chinese food–there’s an apt metaphor in there. Winking, “Joe Sixpack”, and “drill, baby, drill” may play well among the celebrity-obsessed Us Weekly constituency who, as Matt Taibbi noted in a recent Rolling Stone feature, “simply consume [candidates] as media entertainment”. But, after ninety minutes of being force-fed insubstantial talking points like “you betcha!”, “a pair of mavericks” and “hockey mom” wisdom, I was left feeling intellectually malnourished (and rather besotted).

One wonders what might have been, had Palin been thrust into a rousing, demanding debate format similar to the round-table free-for-all here in the Great White North that also took place last night, where, pace Simon, simply being warm, human and fact-free wouldn’t provide the same amount of superficial rhetorical traction.

One also must question whether Palin went too far in attempting to establish her outsider cred. According to Steve M, rather than cementing her populist bona fides, Palin’s (self) indulgent one-sided rap-session with the American people “points up the other huge problem with Palin, beyond her Bushite policy positions and her utter lack of qualifications for the job — her unbridled narcissism”:

Politicians tend to be narcissistic, obviously, but I think Palin’s self-obsession is the purest I’ve ever seen. Bill Clinton, for instance, can radiate narcissism, as can, say, Joe Biden (though not last night), but when Clinton and Biden are self-regarding, it’s because they think they’re masters of the task at hand — politics or statecraft. Palin’s self-regard is most nakedly obvious when she’s landed a zinger. The insufferably smug look she gets on her face makes clear that all she cares about is Sarah Palin winning. The reason she can’t master the policy proposals, or even describe them in any detail, is that her ego isn’t invested in doing anything except advancing the cause of herself.

Regardless, Lola Adesioye doesn’t think the folksy, Reaganesque appeal to middle America will have much of an impact beyond Palin’s hardcore support base:

The over-use of buzz word such as “hockey moms” and “Joe Sixpack” did give the impression that Palin is an ordinary person. But when you’re in the running to be vice-president of the most powerful nation in the world, that is not necessarily a good thing. Biden, on the other hand, came across as commanding, highly knowledgeable and statesman-like – someone you could trust in a crisis.

This impression is further buttressed by the results of last night’s CNN/Opinion Research Corproration instant reaction poll, which found that although a majority of respondents found Palin to be “more likable” than Biden, “87 percent of the people polled said Biden is qualified while only 42 percent said Palin is qualified [to assume the presidency].”  Oh, and speaking of Biden, he too defied expectations, avoiding any gender-based condescension or embarrassing verbal slip-ups.  Nor did he attempt to draw blood from his opponent.

Instead, Biden seemed content directing his most vigourous attacks towards John McCain, reining in his legendary self-satisfied verbosity and allowing Palin to directly appeal to her rural right-wing base (although, as Joan Walsh observes, Palin missed an opportunity to temporarily suspend the lipstick pitbull routine and display some genuine–or feigned–non-partisan compassion after Biden emotionally referenced the tragic deaths of his first wife and daughter).

All of which is fine; by next week, this largely–and, considering the by-default also-ran stature of its participants, appropriately–negligible debate will have been forgotten, as all eyes will once again be focused on the lead protagonists in the edge-of-your-seat prime-time contest that is the 2008 presidential election, which is proving to be the best damn reality TV program since season three of America’s Next Top Model.

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