Monday, December 21, 2009

The Orwellian World of Laura Ingraham.

"I'm saying with great respect closing with this :

First they came for the rich,
And I did not speak out because I was not rich.
Then they came for the property owners,
And I did not speak out because I did not own property.
Then they came for the right to bear arms,
and I did not speak out because I was not armed.
Then they came for me and denied me my medical care, and there was no one left to speak for me…

If you think there’s something wrong with this poem, that's because…. there is.

The original version is as followed:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I
did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

… and it is about the apathy of German intellectuals following the round up of targeted people in Nazi Germany.

The new version comes from Laura Ingraham [radio host and Foxnews star] during a Tea Party gathering in Washington DC this week.
[Tea parties, for those of you who might not have been in the US for the last year, are gatherings of conservatives who protest against possible future tax increases or healthcare reform.]
And yes, you read it right, Ingraham compared the healthcare reform and raising the marginal tax rate to…. the Holocaust! As Jon Stewart pointed out, she didn’t have to say ‘with great respect’, it is… implied!
And it wasn’t just a few fringe demonstrators at this tea party, there were elected officials too, like former House majority leader Dick Armey, or Republican senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia or Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann. (CBS)

Of course, the Hitler comparison is nothing new and should not be a surprise. Hitler is the epitome of the villainous monster and the perfect boogeyman who gives people a simplified binary view of life down to good v. evil, and allows them to overlook the differences in the present situation.
It is called Reductio ad Hitlerum, a term first used by Leo Strauss as early as 1953. Reductio ad Hitlerum has been used ever since the very end of WWIIar. It has also been used in American political discourse for a long time: during the Gulf Crisis in 1990, or in the war in Kosovo in 1999 to name just a few examples. However irrelevant the parallel was, it usually meant that the ‘enemy’ (in war) was compared to Hitler and it was used in the context of genocide and tyranny.

But there have been variations of the Hitler metaphor like when in the 1990s, the pro-life movement (Operation Rescue) started comparing abortion to the Holocaust. Little by little the semantics started to shift towards the domestic sphere. Other Americans become the Nazis.
Of course, you always had some extremists who compared US presidents to Hitler, but they were seen as lunatics on the fringe.

Things probably started to change even more under George W. Bush, mostly because of Gitmo, the disregard of his administration for the rule of law and for international institutions, and the use of torture which seemed to make the comparison to the Nazi more relevant for some people. As in any other instance, the Hitler/Nazi metaphor was ludicrous there as well of course.

Meanwhile, as the use of the internet became more widespread so did populist forms of hate speech. Of course, on the Internet, anything goes. In fact, that may be the most important reason why the Hitler comparison has become so widely used in the last decade as we have grown accustomed to online extreme rhetoric and it has seemed to become more acceptable. In fact, it has been observed that
"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches”.
This is called Godwin’s Law. Although it originally referred to Usenet newsgroup discussions, it has gained relevance for other online communication: electronic mailing lists, message boards, chat rooms, blog comment threads, wiki talk pages, or social networking sites.

On top of that, the influence of Fox News, right-wing radios and the Christian far-right within the Republican Party, along with Lyndon La Rouche has increased the acceptability of extreme rhetoric in the regular media and for politicians. In the meantime, the more moderate elements of the Republican Party have been sidelined, leaving room to extremes. (see our posts)

Finally, the election of Obama unleashed the fury of those on the far-right who, as Jon Stewart put it, are confusing tyranny with losing elections to the point that it has become okay to make all sorts of comparisons between totalitarian regimes and the Obama administration, including the Hitler or the Stalin metaphor, and who cares about historical accuracy!

So here we go now in this Orwellian world in which someone like Laura Ingraham can get away with actually changing the meaning of words, turning the rich into the oppressed, the gun owners into victims, and healthcare reform or raising the marginal tax rate into Nazi oppression.
Thank God for Jon Stewart for making it look all so ridiculous that it actually becomes less scary, and for reassuring us that he’ll be there no matter what:
"If the government begins to round up and kill the rich and the landowning and those who choose to exercise the right to bear arms...I'll speak up.".


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tiger Woods in Puritan America?

The Europeans often criticize the Americans for their Puritanism. They find it hard to understand why for instance American politicians have to repent of their sins in public whenever they are caught cheating or lying.
That’s partly because the line between private and public is generally much more blurry in the U.S. than in Europe. That’s also because politics in America is as much about values as it is about ideas. Politicians are expected to live according to the values they claim to support and to show respect for their office.

A good case in point is that of Mark Sanford the staunch conservative governor of South Carolina who not only cheated on his wife after declaring Clinton's behavior to be "reprehensible" and voting for his impeachment, but also used public money for expenses with his mistress.
As for Bill Clinton, most Europeans did not get that it was the lying in a deposition as much as his cheating in the White House that shocked the Americans. As the nation's highest elected official the president in America is not just a politician, he embodies the nation. The French tend to think that the president is a man like any other and the separation between public and private is enforced by one of the toughest libel laws in Europe. (and Sarkozy’s public display of his private life has damaged his popularity in France).
Still, there is no doubt that in America, morals play a more crucial role in politics than it does in Europe.

What is much harder to understand is why someone who is neither a public official nor a high-minded preacher should be expected to make his private life public? After all, Tiger Woods did not win his fame for being a moral champion but a golf champion. He has broken no law, has done no physical harm and has never said anything scandalous in public. Yet, he was forced into making a public confession. His statement is extremely well worded:

I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. ... Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. ... Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions. (Tiger Woods' Website)

Public repentance of one’s sins is most certainly a feature of American life that is unique and set the US apart from the rest of the Western world. This of course is often blamed on the Puritans. But puritan New England was a different society. The family was the basic unit of society and in a world without police; everyone was expected to supervise each other. The word ‘puritan’ in Europe only has negative connotations, but the puritans were not only self-righteous, they were also hard-working and egalitarian.
Unlike today’s America, they would have never turned a mere mortal into a god. Tiger Woods has been made a secular god and he is now a fallen idol. And what lies behind such worship is not the desire for morals but greed and the love of money thanks to a multi-million dollar system of contracts and commercial deals with “morality clauses”, the 24-hour news-and-entertainment media , the tabloids that have an appetite for sex scandal and finally the people who buy and watch them.
Tiger Woods is probably the greatest golfers of all time and we can revere him for that (as well for breaking another racial barrier) but as for the rest, it is his own business and he should not be expected perfection. As far as I can see, he has behaved in a dignified manner and simply refused to play the role expected of him.

It is about time that people should stop making moral judgment on people they have never met, and Americans should stop enjoying the sick pleasure of the public humiliation and torment of others.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Healthcare International Comparison.

I will spare you the commentary - the following OECD figures really speak for themselves :

(Source : The Economist)


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Immigration, Islam and Minarets.

The following figures are somewhat interesting, given that all the countries in this comparison have similar numbers of immigrants (roughly about 10%).

(from The Economist)

It is interesting to note that once again perception matters more than reality :

Roughly 10% of peope in Britain are imigrants; the average Briton believed the
figure to be 27%.

It is too bad Switzerland was not part of the poll, given their recent vote for the ban on building Minarets, it would be interesting to analyze their views (although polls did not predict the vote).

The Minaret question is linked to the immigration in Europe. It has been the center of discussion in the rest of Europe this week, fueled by far right-wing parties.

However, it does not seem to catch on in France. As for the United-States, I have seen a few more or less large mosques with Minarets in large cities but I don't think that they have ever caused controversy. (although the number of Muslims in the U.S. is smaller, compared to the population and also of different socio-economic background than in Western europe)

It must also be noted that there is already about a dozen Minarets in France, compared to four in Switzerland. The oldest one was built in Paris in 1922 with the Great Mosque of Paris "as a sign of France's gratefulness to the Muslim tirailleurs from the colonies who fought against Germany" during WWI. No Minaret in Europe is used for the prayer call, they have no purpose other than architectural. (interestingly and somewhat paradoxially the first Minarets were originally inspired by Christian churches)

Islamic Center of America, Dearborn, Michigan.