The House has (unbelievably) rejected a bill providing $7.4 billion in medical treatment and compensation to first responders sickened in the 9/11 attacks, with Republicans calling it a “slush fund” and “entitlement program” for deadbeats. The indecency of it all prompted a furious Rep. Anthony Weiner to lose it on the floor, entirely justifiably.
Mayor Bloomberg called the vote an “outrage” to those workers “whose health has fallen apart because they did what America wanted them to do.”
“I like how honest it is that sometimes Barry gets so incapacitated that he has to change the subject or beat up the bathroom or leave the room. I like when he says he doesn’t have a crying problem, then later admits he does. I love that as soon as they get together they start to confess weirdnesses to each other, truths about their motivations. I like that when one of his sisters asks, “Are you gay now?” he says, “I don’t know.” I love when normalcy intrudes on this movie. I love the quotidian absurd: the shots in the supermarket, the mountains in the background of warehouse panoramas. I love that he says, “It really looks like Hawaii here,” when they go to Hawaii, because it does, and although that sounds stupid and strange, it is also just right.”—
Many old sci-fi stories, like politics and advertising of the past, subscribed to the “Clockwork Orange” theory that says blatantly propagandistic repetition is the best way to pound concepts into the human brain. But as “Inception’s” main character, Cobb, posits, the “most resilient parasite” of all is an idea that individuals are subtly led to think they discovered on their own.
These laws of cognition, of course, are brilliantly exploited by a 24/7 information culture that has succeeded in making “your mind the scene of the crime,” as “Inception’s” trailer warns. Because we are now so completely immersed in various multimedia dreamscapes, many of the prefabricated-and often inaccurate-ideas in those phantasmagorias can seem wholly self-realized and, hence, totally logical.
The conservative media dreamland, for instance, ensconces its audience in an impregnable bubble-you eat breakfast with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, you drive to the office with right-wing radio, you flit between Breitbart and Drudge at work, you come home to Fox News. The ideas bouncing around in this world-say, ideas about the Obama administration allegedly favoring blacks-don’t seem like propaganda to those inside the bubble. With heavily edited videos of screaming pastors and prejudice-sounding Department of Agriculture officials, these ideas are cloaked in the veneer of unchallenged fact, leaving the audience to assume its bigoted conclusions are completely self-directed and incontrovertible.
As writer Joe Keohane noted in a recent Boston Globe report about new scientific findings, contravening facts no longer “have the power to change our minds” when we are wrong. “When misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds,” he wrote. “In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs.”
A group of oil companies including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Citgo, Chevron and other polluters are using a front group called "America’s WETLAND Foundation" and a Louisiana women’s group called Women of the Storm to spread the message that U.S. taxpayers should pay for the damage caused by BP to Gulf Coast wetlands, and that the reckless offshore oil industry should continue drilling for the “wholesale sustainability” of the region.
Using the age-old PR trick of featuring celebrity messengers to attract public attention, America’s Wetland Foundation is spreading a petition accompanied by a video starring Sandra Bullock, Dave Matthews, Lenny Kravitz, Emeril Lagassi, John Goodman, Harry Shearer, Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees and others.
"Shell Oil, worried about its offshore drilling platforms, put up several million dollars for a PR campaign to rebrand Louisiana’s marshes as ‘America’s Wetland.’"
A quick look at the sponsors of America’s WETLAND Foundation reveals the oily underpinnings of this greenwashing campaign, with Shell serving as “World Sponsor,” and a long list of oil companies, the American Petroleum Institute and other polluting interests who back the group financially as well.
“After watching True Stories, it’s impossible to tell whether Byrne is saying 20th century humanity sucks because we are so in love with our boxed fried chicken and our gray shopping malls and our cookie-cutter houses or whether he is saying we 20th century humans are in love with our boxed fried chicken and our gray shopping malls and our cookie-cutter houses, but that doesn’t diminish the genuine happiness and joy and overflowing love we feel when we’re holding the hand of someone we can’t take our eyes off of, even though we’re all lumbering fat idiots. Which I guess is the same double-sided coin he gives us in his music.”—Elizabeth Wilcox’s extraordinary review of True Stories (1986) via the extraordinary Tragos
A small minority of Senators robbed America of a cleaner, more prosperous future last week. In the middle of the biggest oil disaster in American history, the hottest summer on record, and a war with an oil-rich nation, this group of cynics blocked efforts to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation. So therefore, the Senate is left to vote on an anemic energy bill of such remarkably limited scope that it could have been passed during the Bush era.
The Republican Senate leadership has fought against every clean energy and climate measure simply because their political opponents were for it. But the GOP wasn’t the only force acting on its own behalf. A handful of moderate Democrats were so worried about being tarred by the Tea Party or losing reelection campaigns that they failed to show their support — even those who are on record saying we must fight global warming. When elected officials act as bystanders to a crisis, they reveal their deep cowardice.
Stronger leadership from the White House could have helped burst through political obstructions. President Obama has certainly done more than any other president to advance clean energy, yet he never seemed to roll up his sleeves, bring lawmakers to the table, and work to rally the American public behind it. If he thought his move earlier this year to approve new offshore oil drilling for the first time in decades would pay off last week in the form of GOP support for this bill, I guess he got his answer.
“The United States appears to be nothing more than a pitiless and punitive giant, to paraphrase and revise Richard Nixon’s famous reference. Foreign critics of the declining U. S. global hegemony, such as Emmanuel Todd, decry the “theatrical micromilitarism” that “is pretending to remain the world’s indispensable superpower by attacking insignificant adversaries.” Todd claims that “this America - a militaristic, agitated, uncertain, anxious country projecting its own disorder around the globe - is hardly the indispensable nation it claims to be and is certainly not what the rest of the world really needs now.”—Imperial Overkill and the Death of US Empire
Among the ninety-one thousand or so documents from the Afghan war released by WikiLeaks Sunday is an incident report dated November 22, 2009, submitted by a unit called Task Force Pegasus. It describes how a convoy was stopped on a road in southern Afghanistan at an illegal checkpoint manned by what appeared to be a hundred insurgents, “middle-age males with approx 75 x AK-47’s and 15 x PKM’s.” What could be scarier than that?
Maybe what the soldiers found out next: these weren’t “insurgents” at all, at least not in the die-hard jihadi sense that the American public might understand the term. The gunmen were quite willing to let the convoy through, if the soldiers just forked over a two- or three-thousand-dollar bribe; and they were in the pay of a local warlord, Matiullah Khan, who was himself in the pay, ultimately, of the American public. According to a Times report this June (six months after the incident with Task Force Pegasus), Matiullah earns millions of dollars from NATO, supposedly to keep that road clear for convoys and help with American special-forces missions. Matiullah is also suspected of (and has denied) earning money “facilitating the movement of drugs along the highway.”
That is good to know. And the checkpoint incident is, again, only one report, from one day.
One of the Times’s prime concerns was whether the files caught this or the previous Administration, or the American military, in any outright lies. While it did find “misleading statements” on matters such as the Taliban’s use of heat-seeking missiles, and much that had been “hidden from the public eye,” the Times decided that:
Over all, the documents do not contradict official accounts of the war.
One should pause there. What does it mean to tell the truth about a war? Is it a lie, technically speaking, for the Administration to say that it has faith in Hamid Karzai’s government and regards him as a legitimate leader—or is it just absurd? Is it a lie to say that we have a plan for Afghanistan that makes any sense at all? If you put it that way, each of the WikiLeaks documents—from an account of an armed showdown between the Afghan police and the Afghan Army, to a few lines about a local interdiction official taking seventy-five-dollar bribes, to a sad exchange about an aid scam involving orphans—is a pixel in a picture that does, indeed, contradict official accounts of the war, and rather drastically so.