The American Bear


Born Losers | Corey Robin

When the Left is doing its work, it’s going to be engaging in the business of dispossession, and there are going to be winners and losers. The Left used to understand that. Now, that doesn’t mean you temper your project—quite the opposite. But it does mean you are aware that there are real power interests at stake and that people don’t let go of those interests without a fight.

I think a lot of people on the Left think that somehow or another they’re going to persuade everybody that we’re right. That’s never going to happen.

The more liberal types say, “You have to trim your sails, and be careful what you say and do; we can’t alienate people.” But you couldn’t have a feminist movement without alienating a good part of the population. If we think feminism was a serious project, which I think everybody on the Left believes, how would it have been possible to dispossess men of their standing and privileges (which were quite real) without them screaming in rage? It just doesn’t happen.

… There are those who say, “Well, we have to be realistic,” etc. I’m not sympathetic to that argument, but I at least understand it. But there’s a brand of intellectual journalist who thinks that because there was a backlash against the Democrats coming out of the ’60s, the Democrats were doing something wrong, and that they could’ve done it differently to avoided that backlash. I think that’s just not possible.

Hospitable Zeus | Yannis Hamilakis

Since the weekend, the Greek police have rounded up around 6500 immigrants in Athens. About 1500 have been found to be without documents and are currently imprisoned awaiting deportation, in overcrowded detention centres where conditions are ‘dire’.

More than three-quarters of the people targeted by the police are completely innocent. But most of the media (even the Guardian) have described it as an operation against lathrometanastes or ‘illegal’ immigrants. They also seem to have reproduced verbatim police reports which claim that indiscriminately pouncing on immigrants is a way to crack down on all sorts of criminal behaviour, from drug use and prostitution to breaches of health regulations in shops.

The official codename for the operation is ‘Xenios Zeus’. The name of Zeus, usually invoked only by hoteliers and the Greek tourist board, has struck many people as an odd choice, especially with the epithet xenios, which denotes his role as the god of hospitality, the protector of foreigners. Some critics thought it outrageous, offensive sarcasm, a direct and blatant provocation. Others thought it unintentionally ironic. But ancient mythology, classical figures and monuments have often been deployed by authoritarian regimes to justify or mask repressive policies. During the Greek Civil War (1946-49) the prison-island of Makronisos, used by the government for the ideological ‘rehabilitation’ of left-wing citizens and soldiers, was known as the New Parthenon.

Most of the immigrants rounded up this week came to Greece from Asia or Africa. Calling the operation ‘Xenios Zeus’ is an appeal to classical authority, part of an attempt to assert a perceived difference between ‘western civilisation’ and ‘oriental barbarity’ going all the way back to Ancient Greece. According to the public order minister, Nikos Dendias, ‘the country is being lost. Not since the coming of the Dorians, 4000 years ago, has the country seen an invasion of such scale… This is a bomb at the foundations of society and of the state.’ Never mind that there’s no archaeological evidence for the ‘coming of the Dorians’; never mind that 4000 years ago there was no Greece as such; never mind that ethnic labels such as ‘the Dorians’ are seriously questioned today by archaeologists and historians. The rhetoric of ‘invasion’ echoes the language of neo-Nazi groups. A couple of months ago, in the run-up to the elections, another minister described immigrants as a ‘health bomb’. This was presumably an attempt to undercut the Golden Dawn, who asked Greeks to vote for them in June so that they could ‘clean up the dirt’. The far right makes extensive use of classical antiquity, staging ceremonies at archaeological sites such as Thermopylae. These are the same people who organise blood donations for ‘Greeks only’, and who make a big show of distributing food to the needy in Syntagma Square but ask for ID to make sure that no foreigner receives any.

It seems that the government wants to occupy the same rhetorical ground as the most extreme and openly xenophobic groups in Greek society. ‘The problem of immigration is perhaps even more serious than the financial one,’ Dendias has said, as another package of severe austerity measures is waiting around the corner.

Walking into the Iran Trap: Mythic War, and Endless Enemies

[During the runup to the Bush-Kerry election, Matt] Taibbi went to work as a volunteer for Bush for Florida, to try to get a better understanding of what motivates many Republicans. Here is the most important part of what he came to understand:

The problem not only with fundamentalist Christians but with Republicans in general is not that they act on blind faith, without thinking. The problem is that they are incorrigible doubters with an insatiable appetite for Evidence. What they get off on is not Believing, but in having their beliefs tested. That’s why their conversations and their media are so completely dominated by implacable bogeymen: marrying gays, liberals, the ACLU, Sean Penn, Europeans and so on. Their faith both in God and in their political convictions is too weak to survive without an unceasing string of real and imaginary confrontations with those people — and for those confrontations, they are constantly assembling evidence and facts to make their case.

But here’s the twist. They are not looking for facts with which to defeat opponents. They are looking for facts that ensure them an ever-expanding roster of opponents. They can be correct facts, incorrect facts, irrelevant facts, it doesn’t matter. The point is not to win the argument, the point is to make sure the argument never stops. Permanent war isn’t a policy imposed from above; it’s an emotional imperative that rises from the bottom.

In a way, it actually helps if the fact is dubious or untrue (like the Swift-boat business), because that guarantees an argument. You’re arguing the particulars, where you’re right, while they’re arguing the underlying generalities, where they are. Once you grasp this fact, you’re a long way to understanding what the Hannitys and Limbaughs figured out long ago: These people will swallow anything you feed them, so long as it leaves them with a demon to wrestle with in their dreams.

… The key lies in these two sentences from Taibbi’s piece: “Permanent war isn’t a policy imposed from above; it’s an emotional imperative that rises from the bottom.” And: “These people will swallow anything you feed them, so long as it leaves them with a demon to wrestle with in their dreams.” What I want to emphasize is that, although it is certainly true that the most zealous of Bush’s followers exhibit[ed] this approach in a dangerously extreme form, the underlying perspective is one that influences Western thought generally: the idea that we represent Absolute Good, in the form of “universal” values that everyone ought to live by, and that our enemies represent Absolute Evil, bent on destroying all of those “universal” values, without exception.

This is a perspective that, by necessary implication and at its most dangerous, must have opponents and enemies, and that requires “permanent war” to ensure its own continuing survival. It is a perspective that all too frequently courts Armageddon — because it must have “a demon to wrestle with,” and an enemy to vanquish.

The characterization of Hitler which would have him as a bad guy, responsible for the death of millions, but nonetheless a man with balls who pursued his ends with an iron will is not only ethically repulsive, it is also simply wrong: no, Hitler did not ‘have the balls’ really to change things. All his actions were fundamentally reactions: he acted so that nothing would really change; he acted to prevent the Communist threat of a real change. His targeting of the Jews was ultimately an act of displacement in which he avoided the real enemy—the core of capitalist social relations themselves. Hitler staged a spectacle of Revolution so that the capitalist order could survive – in contrast to Gandhi whose movement effectively endeavored to interrupt the basic functioning of the British colonial state. Slavoj Žižek Responds to His Critics

Diva of Disdain: Justice Scalia in Three Parts | Corey Robin

Scalia’s conservatism, it turns out, is less a little platoon than a Thoreauvian counterculture, a retreat from and rebuke to the mainstream, not unlike the hippie communes and groupuscules he once tried to keep at bay. It is not a conservatism of tradition or inheritance: his parents had only one child, and his mother-in-law often complained about having to drive miles and hours in search of the one true church. “Why don’t you people ever seem to live near churches?” she would ask Scalia and his wife.  It is a conservatism of invention and choice, informed by the very spirit of rebellion he so plainly loathes—or thinks he loathes—in the culture at large.

In the 1970s, while teaching at the University of Chicago, Scalia liked to end the semester with a reading from A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt’s play about Thomas More. While the play’s antiauthoritarianism would seem at odds with Scalia’s conservatism, its protagonist, at least as he is portrayed by Bolt, is not. Literally more Catholic than the pope, More is a true believer in the law who refuses to compromise his principles in order to accommodate the wishes of Henry VIII. He pays for his integrity with his life.

Joan Biskupic, Scalia’s biographer, introduces this biographical tidbit with a revealing setup: “Yet even as Scalia in middle age was developing a more rigid view of the law, he still had bursts of idealism.” That “yet” is misplaced. Scalia’s rigidity is not opposed to his idealism; it is his idealism. His ultraconservative reading of the Constitution reflects neither cynicism nor conventionalism; orthodoxy and piety are, for him, the essence of dissidence and iconoclasm. No charge grieves him more than the claim, rehearsed at length in his 1995 Tanner Lectures at Princeton, that his philosophy is “wooden,” “unimaginative,” “pedestrian,” “dull,” “narrow,” and “hidebound.” Call him a bastard or a prick, a hound from hell or a radical in robes. Just don’t say he’s a suit. [++]

We choose to see ourselves as innocent victims of an escalating right-wing fanaticism. But too often we serve as willing accomplices to this escalation and to the resulting degradation of our civic discourse. We do this, without even meaning to, by consuming conservative folly as mass entertainment.

Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One. | Steve Almond

Almond continues:

This slavish coverage of conservative scoundrels does nothing to illuminate policy or challenge our assumptions. On the contrary, its central goal mirrors that of the pundits it reviles: to boost ratings by reinforcing easy prejudices. These ratings come courtesy of dolts like me: liberals who choose, every day, to click on their links and to watch their shows.

But the real problem isn’t Limbaugh. He’s just a businessman who is paid to reduce complex cultural issues to ad hominem assaults. The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right. Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One (via azspot)

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The church insists it’s an argument about religious freedom, not birth control. But, really, it’s about birth control, and women’s lower caste in the church. It’s about conservative bishops targeting Democratic candidates who support contraception and abortion rights as a matter of public policy. And it’s about a church that is obsessed with sex in ways it shouldn’t be, and not obsessed with sex in ways it should be. The bishops and the Vatican care passionately about putting women in chastity belts. Yet they let unchaste priests run wild for decades, unconcerned about the generations of children who were violated and raped and passed around like communion wine.

Maureen Dowd, writing for the New York Times. (via purogallopinto)

Close to home, this one.

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Greece opens detention camp for immigrants as election looms | Reuters


Greece opened its first purpose-built detention centre for illegal migrants on Sunday in Athens, a week before a national election where illegal immigration has emerged as a key issue.

About 130,000 immigrants cross the country’s porous sea and land borders every year, the vast majority via Turkey, and the authorities are forced to release those who are arrested because of a lack of permanent housing.

With Greece in its fifth year of recession and worries over rising crime levels, illegal immigration has become a major issue in the run up of the May 6 election.

The once-obscure far-right Golden Dawn, which wants to deport all immigrants, is among the parties that has benefitted most from the mood among voters, and is expected to win its first seats in parliament.

Greece’s ruling Socialist PASOK and conservative rival New Democracy parties have also pledged to crack down on immigration to try to win over voters.

On Sunday, the first 56 immigrants were brought to the Amygdaleza detention camp in western Athens, a police official said. Dozens more are expected at the camp in the next few days, which can house up to 1,000 people, the official said.

Amygdaleza is the first of about 50 camps that Greek officials say will be built by mid-2013. It consists of dozens of containers that were originally set up to house people hit by natural disasters such as earthquakes.

“We are sending a message in every direction that the country is not unfenced anymore,” Civil Protection Minister Mihalis Chrysohoidis said at a rally in Athens.

(via brosephstalin-deactivated201212)

A marker has been laid down. Heed it well. Universal healthcare is the Trojan Horse in Obama’s radical religious crusade to undo orthodox religion. Could a notion so crazy possibly have legs? Crazier things have penetrated the fog before — and this one has the advantage of tickling the most abiding anxiety of conservative-minded citizens: that liberalism is contributing to the sexual dissolution of their very own homes and hearths. Romney’s recycling of the smear may already have helped him assuage the doubts of the religious right that he is one of them. And Democrats losing their nerve, backing away from defending desperately needed reform out of fear stepping on mysterious “deeply held” beliefs that are actually the invention of hucksters with right-wing agendas? Well, that’s happened before, too. Rick Perlstein (via azspot)

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If I wanted America to fail…


If I wanted America to fail, I would encourage homogeneity.

I would give in to the Christian Right and back their agenda of making this a truly Christian country. I would discourage other faiths by offering up exclusively Christian prayers at every civic event and meeting, recruiting primarily Christian chaplains for the armed forces, and prohibiting tax-exempt status to non-Christian or non-credal churches. I would base our foreign and domestic policies on a narrow interpretation of the Bible.

I would give in to the nativists and back their agenda to discourage immigration. Legal immigration should be strictly limited to acceptable ethnic groups who will be most easily assimilated: Christians and Europeans (or those of European descent). I would round up all of the illegal immigrants, using every law enforcement and military resource at my disposal, and repatriate them en masse. They can “appeal” from where they came from. I would block those who cannot prove their citizenship from medical care, education, jobs, and housing. I would make the stigma of being illegal something that carries over to their children: no more citizenship by right of “jus soli.”

I would give in to those who want traditional roles for men and women. I would end programs that encourage women to pursue unnatural careers and vocations, such as Title 9. I would encourage a two-tiered pay system for men and women to encourage men to appreciate and embrace their devalued role as Breadwinners, Fathers, and Heads of Households. I would end public support for early childhood education, preschool, and childcare to encourage women to perform their primary function: stay-at-home moms. I would outlaw contraception, divorce, and prohibitions against domestic violence. I would reinstate the term “bastard” on the birth certificates of the illegitimate and work to stigmatize them and their mothers. I would reinstate sodomy laws and restore the ability of employers, landlords, and social institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation to force homosexuals back into their closets. I would repeal anti-bullying legislation so that kids can keep their potentially-homosexual classmates in line.

(via slacktivist)

[Ted] Nugent, who delivered his foaming-at-the-mouth peroration at a National Rifle Association convention, earned a visit from the Secret Service with his promise that “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” That might or might not constitute an actual threat to the president of the United States. More chilling, to me, was the way his audience of gun enthusiasts applauded in agreement as Nugent compared the Obama administration to a bunch of “coyotes in your living room” who deserve to be shot. Nugent ended by exhorting his listeners: “We are Braveheart. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November. Am I — any questions?” Eugene Robinson (via azspot)

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It was pretty clear to most of us that the GOP had gone bye-bye after they impeached Clinton. If it wasn’t clear by then, the nomination of a world-class simpleton like George W. Bush to the White House, Bush v. Gore, Iraq, the War on Terror(TM), running to amend the US Constitution to keep out teh geys and Terri Schiavo should’ve been further clues. If by 2008 you still hadn’t gotten it, with Sarah Palin being touted as the next Reagan, you must have been focused on other things. Blue Texan on Instaputz (via liberalsarecool)

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Nature of Self-Defeating Convictions | Phil Rockstroh

[If] capitalism, by the very nature of the system, allows a swindlers’ class to not only legally exist — but to thrive — then it follows that there must be something flawed about the nature of capitalism itself.

Accordingly, a depressing revelation waits at the margins of […] the downtrodden true believers in the existence of free-market fairy dust) sense of awareness: that the energies of one’s life have been devoted to the maintenance of an elaborate lie; not only have your labors been for naught — but your sacrosanct convictions have laid the groundwork for the crime that was committed against you. You have spent your life as an accessory to your own robbery.

Your faith in capitalism has left you in a similar position to the followers of a fanatical cult who were instructed to stand upon an isolated hilltop, so that, at midnight, as prophesied by their charismatic leader, their ranks will be lifted to heaven upon chariots of glinting gold … but who now stand stoop-shouldered before the breaking dawn, shivering into the cold light of day.

Rather than admit error, one’s pride can compel one to blame phantom enemies for humiliating circumstances. Thus, as [my friend] Vince’s prospects shrank, his gun collection grew to mini-armory proportions. [++]