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This is possibly the funniest video of the 2008 election season since the Paris Hilton ad:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0r8hhShMyZw

He’s as happy as a father whose kid marveled in her role as a “tree” in a third grade play. (Did you see how she didn’t fall, she stood there like a real tree!) Not so surprisingly, in the next video, he states how “proud he is with Sarah Palin”. 

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/27011545#27011545

Being proud of your VP pick… isn’t it kind of funny? Think of all the presidents and VPs, can you picture one where the president could say he’s proud with his VP in such a joy? (For sanity purposes, don’t try Bush and Cheney, if anything reverse could be the case there: I’m so proud of you George, and oh, why don’t you sign this energy bill, I’ll then take you out to play.)

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After the vice presidential debate last night (October 2, 2008), one thing became clearer:

The Republican party does not take citizens of the United States of America seriously, which at certain points, like the debate last night, turns into almost insulting Americans.

Let me spell out what I mean…

When Sarah Palin was announced as the VP pick, I immediately thought that this was an insult on the intellect of the women of this country. The thought that she could get the votes of former Hillary Clinton supporters was nothing short of offensive for those people who had supported Hillary because her political views and her inspiring political trajectory as a woman (not solely because she had one extra chromosome). Even though Palin had possibly swung some potential votes during her glamorous introduction to national politics, later on, it became clear that women did not buy her argument. The demos showed that they can tell the difference between the original and the fake. A splash of lipstick on Palin’s face was not enough to make her Hillary (much, much more is needed for that and I don’t even think a comparison between the two is fair to Clinton). From there on, the appeal to women dimension of the Palin candidacy was slowed down, if not muted totally.

As we watched the debate yesterday, we saw, once again, that the Republicans are trying this failed formula, this time designating the electorate at large as the constituency they would like to insult. Even if we leave aside the insulting choice of Sarah Palin, who does not have even a basic knowledge of the economy (or foreign policy), the debate last night, as well as John McCain’s performance in the last two weeks showed that the Republicans are out there offering nothing but platitudes about the economy and how they both are mavericks. We are in the midst of one of the worst crisis in the US economic history and they cannot / do not talk about what they will do if elected. Despite repeated questions, Sarah Palin could not/did not speak about deregulation. All she said about the economy was to continue the party line, a blind belief in “trickle down” theory of economics, that has been unsuccessful or damaging for the working classes over the past 8 years. In effect this is exactly like trying to swing woman voters by telling them, “hey we are of the same sex, vote for me. I may oppose your right to choose, I will try to make abortion illegal even if you are raped but hey we are all women, vote for me!”  

What I call an insult at this point is to try to cover their lack of genuine solutions with a fake appeal to the people’s values, everyday American way of life, etc. It is the old “lipstick” problem, put on the last 8 years a lipstick (whatever flying colors you’d like to) and it is still the same. Telling to people that you are the agents of change without giving them any clue about how you will change things and telling them instead, “hey buddy you can have beer with me or sit around the same kitchen table” is a plain insult. This is like saying, “hey vote for me men, I’m against everything that’s good for you, but I can tell you all about that around a kitchen table, or in a diner booth. I can even use a northern small town accent and wink at you with my folksy (foxy?) manners as a treat.”

 When the economy is in good shape, this may work, which is what we have seen in the last two elections in the United States. But when the economy is in bad shape and when the things to put on that kitchen table is diminishing each day, people may not care about sitting down with you on that table or listening to your oh so American remarks about the economy you don’t know. They care more about how you plan to change it and they care about knowing that before the election day. I believe, hitting this note of “I’m a hockey mom”, “I’m a Joe Sixpack” too much as an alternative to offering solutions to people’s problems risks more and more making those people angry, an effect which is totally opposite what the McCain camp would want.  

What distinguishes Obama /Biden ticket is this point. They try to lay out their plans. They say, they are going to do X, Y and Z. They tell people, this is the plan. To be clear, their plan is not great. The available room for maneuver in a system like this is rather small –and bad for the working classes- anyway. But they seem to take seriously the people and offer them with their plan, rather than, saying, hey let’s have beer and I will pull a rabbit out of my hat later to fix the economy. If the “ideal” of democracy is about communicating your solutions to the public in a reasoned discourse, then Obama and Biden come closer to this ideal way more than McCain and Palin. Their position in this sense is much more respectful towards the people, they are seeking to lead.

People identifying with the candidate is also greatly important of course. Of course, in today’s elections, issues are much less important compared to the past and choosing someone you feel close to is a motive that leads people to vote for candidates who they would like. Palin is obviously trying really hard to hit that note. But as I said, at a time when identification (with the politician) means nothing more than the continuation of (economic) misery, politicians trying to play that game risk being seen as “out of touch”, “arrogant” and BSing, despite their belief that they are doing the opposite. (Especially if one of the guys on the ticket cannot even remember the number of houses he has. Well all that lipstick thing all over again.)

 

 

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I think it is no news anymore that right/Republican party is greatly hypocritical politically speaking. Just watch, as an example, a Jon Stewart segment that nails the issue.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/index.jhtml?episodeId=184082

It is OK, just another example, to “use” your kid with down syndrome to get votes of other Americans, to showcase him as a proud example of your pro life views, yet your other kid’s pregnancy is an off limits “private family matter”. Not to mention of course marketing yourself as an average/good (hockey) mom when you knowingly throw your teen daughter in the nasty national spotlight for your political ambitions (when she least needed that).

It would take pages, maybe a book, if we’d like to go on and on about the republican brand and its politics of hypocrisy and I don’t want to write about that, other people already do. I am apalled, nonetheless, to see that the right politics of hypocrisy is actually right (at least sometimes). It works, it gets votes.

What is as interesting is that exactly same thing is happening in Turkey. The religious right, which I believe is the exact counter part of Sarah Palin type evangelist, are terribly hypocritical. They (not all of them of course) are corrupt, yet they say they’re totally clean. They ask for more tolerance for religious signs and views in the public sphere, yet whenever the Ramadan, the holy month for Islam, comes, they beat up people who do not follow Islamic rituals (of the month). 

One other similarity is the use of God. It turns out god is a very useful tool in politics. Here a NYTimes from today. The story goes:

“Shortly after taking office as governor in 2006, Sarah Palin sent an e-mail message to Paul E. Riley, her former pastor in the Assembly of God Church, which her family began attending when she was a youth. She needed spiritual advice in how to do her new job, said Mr. Riley, who is 78 and retired from the church.”

A governor asking advice from a pastor on how to do her job? What? But no, it’s not over, the story continues:

“In the address at the Assembly of God Church here, Ms. Palin’s ease in talking about the intersection of faith and public life was clear. Among other things, she encouraged the group of young church leaders to pray that “God’s will” be done in bringing about the construction of a big pipeline in the state, and suggested her work as governor would be hampered “if the people of Alaska’s heart isn’t right with God.””

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/06/us/politics/06church.html?hp  

“pray[ing] that “God’s will” be done in bringing about the construction of a big pipeline in the state”? What the hell, where are we? I can’t decide which is worse: If she’s using god’s name for political reasons (to make herself popular), or if she truly believes in it. Yeah, I’m sure god wants a pipeline in Alaska.

How similar, or the same, this is with what some religious fanatics in Turkey said after the great earthquake of 1999, which killed more than 30.000 people: “This is how God punishes”, they said “a people who went out of his way”. 

Worst of all is, and Obama was 100% right, with more and more inequality in distribution of wealth and with more people being unable to afford to learn what really is going on in the world, they cling to the religious idioms, or media stupidity in making their decisions in elections. In this system where people don’t have time or energy (because they’re worked to death with very little pay) to understand what really is going on, they vote on the grounds that “oh he/she’s just like me”. (I heard a woman yesterday saying on TV that “Sarah Palin showed that every American citizen could become the VP” and that’s why she’s voting for Palin – Very well said!)

I think up until Bush’s presidency maybe these marginal small town tendencies in American administration could be kept at bay. But with Bush the evangelists took the Republican party and now that spirit continues with Palin. (Mc Cain, the maverick, could not resist their pressures and instead of choosing his preferred VP candidate, Liebermann, caved in and picked Palin). If this narrow minded small politics (Sarah Palin got her passport in 2007, she has never traveled outside of US until then) get the white house once again, America in world political economy will be doomed big time. Not just because those small town folks do not know how the world works, but because religion and easy answers from god replaces science and diplomacy in their administration. (Not that America in the world politics today is great, but it’s yet another nightmare to think another republican term in the white house.)

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http://www.dailymotion.com/relevance/search/paris%2Bhilton%2Bmccain%2Bresponse/video/x6cz38_paris-hilton-for-president-response_shortfilms

Since Stephen Colbert had stepped out of the race, I was anxious to find a good candidate to support. Thank God, Paris Hilton bravely stepped in! I endorse her candidacy wholeheartedly.

Paris Hilton for president!

Rihanna for vice president!

 

[I also have to say that I sincerely admire the way this ad makes fun of the political campaign machine that I tried to analyze (oh so seriously) in three previous posts a while ago. Maybe celebrities have that special thing after all (!)]

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Today, I was watching the Sunday morning news show of George Stephanapoulos, This Week, and during the round table (of so called political pundits) I heard a concept that  struck me as very, very funny: “arugula eating liberals”!

I remember hearing various times phrases such as “latte drinking”, or “volvo driving” to describe liberals in a way to picture them as elitist and detached from the rest of the society. I always thought these labels are funny, but maybe I got used to them over time. But just this morning I heard a new one and could not help but think that it’s ridiculously funny. From now on, if I ever use arugula in a salad, that salad will be properly named as “liberal salad”.

Except laughing to this yet another stupid label coming from not so smart republicans, I did a search the web to come up with a list of phrases used by repuclicans to describe and demean so called liberals. I came up with some pretty funny stuff such as:  

(Soy milk) Latte drinking,  Sushi eating,  Volvo driving, Arugula eating, White wine sipping, Tax hiking (rising –loving), Government expanding, Birkenstock wearing, NPR listening, New york times reading, Tofu eating…

I even came across one coming from ultra conservative Justice Scalia’s, “sandal wearing, bearded, flag burner”. Well, Scalia was using this in reference to someone who actually burned a flag, but as you see, flag burning can sit perfectly well next to the sandal wearing and bearded. (Remember they, Barack Obama, did not wear flag pins either). There are now polls on internet where you can test your degree of “liberalness” by determining how many of these things you do. (I tried myself: eat sushi, check; drink latte, i luv it; eat tofu, not only that but an aspiring vegetarian these days; eat arugula, hell yeah, i’m mediterranean; wear sandals, of course bro… i am such a liberal oh my god, how can i be forgiven? Thou shall eat three pounds of american burger three times a day, you shall drive a gas drinking truck to your work, get out of the grad school and get your plumbing license, watch (awfully boring) baseball, etc. Ok I’d rather stay liberal. That hurts less.)

As I was comparing the United States with Turkey on this issue, the “right” always seems to be better at utilizing slogans and labels, and thinking of writing my blog column for this week on this topic, I came across Geoffrey Nunberg’s book entitled, “Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax Raising, Latte Drinking, Sushi Eating, Volvo Driving, New York Times Reading, Body Piercing, Hollywood Loving, Left Wing Freak Show.” In this book Nunberg argues that the liberals lost the language war. Hijacking political language, the conservatives labeled democrats as liberals and sufficiently demonized the word “liberal” that democrats try to stay away from it now. He gives the example of Howard Dean in the primary season of 2003, qualifying his liberalness by saying things like, “if wanting a balanced budget is being liberal, then I’m a liberal.”

Another shift that Nunberg points at is the separation of the word liberal from the political and economic ideology behind it. When the conservatives set out to define liberalism and therefore get the upper hand, so to speak, in the electoral language wars, one of the things they did was to designate liberals by looking at their consumption patterns (hence, volvo driving, sushi eating, new york times reading, etc.) The conservative strategy of undermining the important points voiced by the democrats seems to be labeling them as elitist and out of touch with America, or man on the street, by reducing their ideas to mere consumption patterns.

In the last couple of months, we’ve seen more than ever how this strategy has worked. In an attempt to discredit Barack Obama, first Hillary Clinton, now John McCain has pointed to nothing but his liberal persona, which reveals itself in the latte drinking, arugula eating self of the first black candidate for presidency. The funny thing is this we don’t even know if the guy likes arugula, maybe not; or whether he likes sushi. But this is exactly how the so called republican attack machine works. It doesn’t matter who the person is, just stick the label. or even better keep it unknown because god forbid if he doesn’t like sushi, that may be bad for republicans. So just stick the label on him and it stays there. Next thing you know (as a democrat) is you have a candidate who is (labeled as) elitist, out of touch, etc.

Meanwhile of course, it is perfectly normal to be a gun-loving American (even though the gun craziness leads to major social problems in the country), or a burger eating guy (even though obesity is becoming the biggest health problem in the country), or an SUV driving suburban (even though global warming, partly caused by crazy spending of fuel in those cars, has become a major threat for America and the world) . Seen from this angle, there is nothing to do except applaud conservatives on their success in twisting issues and winning a war (the language war) that they must, in the normal circumstances,  have no chances of winning. Then comes the stage where you get filled with anger: how could this be possible? 

Why is this so, so to speak, why are conservatives better in shaping the language than liberals, could this be a universal phenomenon or is it specific to america or to our times? These are the questions for the next post.

(In the below link, you can see how liberal you are and depending on the results, you can go in your closet and secretly cry,

http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=105×2243738)  

 

 

 

 

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“I want to dedicate this award to Turkey, my beautiful and lonely country I love with passion” said Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Turkish film director, as he received the best director award in Cannes Film Festival of 2008. This was in May. And two days ago, on July 27 2008 to be exact, two bombs exploded in the Güngören neighborhood of İstanbul, killing, so far, 17 people, and leaving more than a hundred wounded. Since I learned the explosions, I can’t help but repeat the phrase “my beautiful and lonely country”. It keeps floating inside my head, hitting occasionally the walls of my perception but mainly remaining in that territory which is between understanding and intuition.

“my beautiful and lonely country”…

Bombs and/or terror related attacks are hardly news for Turkey anymore. Just two weeks ago some people who the police claimed were members of Al Qaida, wanted to attack the US embassy in Istanbul, leaving three cops dead. Killing and the language of war is no news either. Not a month passes without the military proudly expressing how many terrorists it killed by its super technological killing machines. Bombs, killings, terror, military operations, Islamists and seculars, the lost piece in the puzzle of mild Islam, a stage for the overdose kemalists to display and put into action their bloody plans… and amidst all these, a country who lost its soul, if it ever had one, lost that “it” that makes a country lovely, rather than lonely. Amidst all the fanfare, a country which is so lonely, yet still beautiful.  

I have been living in the US for the last 7 years and it seems I will be here for the immediate years to come. I am an in between soul who would miss turkey a lot when I’m in the US and would start to complain about it big time as soon as I land on Turkish soil. I do want to go back one day however. There is the place that feeds me, that is the place I feel I belong ultimately. Is it not sad, and in some ways weird, that the urge to go back to my homeland hits its peak in such days as July 27, 2008; on such days when the land bleeds, so to speak. On this type of days, I remember, and despise more than ever, my relatives’ and friends’ friendly “warnings” that Turkey is no good and I should stay in the US as much as I can.

There is no easy explanation for this. From the perspective of the “rational man”, this does not make any sense. Dying due to an explosion is much more likely in Turkey than in the US. I’m not even talking about more mundane stuff such as academic freedom, or the problem of scarce resources in the academia. Whatever comparison you come up with, Turkey comes short. And so it is clear that this desire to go back is not “rational”. Even though I can think of moments where it could be more rational for some people, It is about something else in my case.

It may be about guilt. The guilt that arises from the subtle innuendo placed in those friendly “warnings” urging me to stay in the US. “you saved yourself” they would say, “don’t come back, we’ll take care of ourselves here.” That guilt is nothing, of course, compared to what I feel towards myself and my loved ones. In certain ways, here I’m depriving of myself of my language, culture, codes, etc. But more than that.. The thought of death frequents my thoughts on these issues of staying or leaving. And it is in these days of “terror” that we see, most shockingly, that death is near. It’s around the corner. For myself, for my family, for my friends… It could be anytime. The relatively well protected lives of ours are in many ways an illusion. Especially in a place like Turkey, it could be anytime… That moment when you realize this is the hardest and that moment is the one that pulls you so strongly to where you call home. As cold as it sounds, you want to be next to them when that happens.

One other thing however is that the more you stay away, the more you start to look at your country from outside. You start comparing it with others. I start noticing, since I came here, that Turkey as an exception in the middle east is not quite the point. The attacks in Lebanon, which remain unsolved forever, are not in fact very much different from what has just happened in Istanbul. A game is being played, messages are being given, but there is no way to understand for the lay people to understand. Welcome to the foggy landscape of the middle east (featuring turkey!).

On the one hand, there is of course great virtue in this. What, after all, is social science if you cannot take a distance from your object of analysis? If I am a sociology student studying Turkey, I of course need that type of a distance. But you also lose something in that process. Part of me, as someone who constantly looks himself from outside, does just not want this to happen. Let’s not lose it, let’s keep it as it is. Let’s despise the country, hate from it, and love it at the same time. Let’s feel all these but not surrender to the cold blooded outsidedness of an outsider. Because what it slowly chips away from you is the passion, the desire to do something, even if you know that that something is utterly meaningless.

To be fair (to being outside), this feeling also has to do with beginning to understand politics in a multidimensional frame. It is about learning politics and gaining that vision that the discipline gives you. But it is also about understanding that that lonely country is not so lonely after all, which is also something a sincere course on the history of the middle east would tell you. So many different global powers are interfering with the people and so many different and slippery coalitions are forged and so many of them fail everyday. It’s a total mess. But Turkey is still lonely, because she is trapped in various chains, her history, her ultra nationalist vibes, the repuclic’s fear of religion and Kurds and non muslims… Is loneliness not, after all, a state of entrapment? But this is exactly the point: part of what makes this country beautiful is this feeling of loneliness.

I tried to find an ending for this essay, which indeed is more like a stream of thoughts than an essay, but I failed. There is no end in sight (anyway).

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This is both a follow-up on the previous post here by my dear co-blogger turem and probably the first in a series of entries I would like to make about private military firms from U.S. and elsewhere operating in various parts of the world. This issue came to my attention for the first time when I watched the documentary Private Warriors four years ago. At that time, even though I was aware of the fact of military outsourcing in U.S., I was amazed by the extent of this phenomenon especially in the context of the invasion of Iraq. I followed up on this topic by reading Jeremy Scahill’s book “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army“. (This book helped me seeing the ways in which a small firm that has entered -I have to say- the “business of security” with the provision of military training has risen to unprecedented levels of political clout and how it has been involved in a number of military operations around the world, including but by no means limited to Iraq. Another book for those of you who can read in German would be Rolf Uesserl’s “Krieg als Dienstleistung” (which can be translated quite tellingly as ‘War as a Service Sector’) which has a more general coverage of the private military firms doing business in various parts of the world.)

In the later posts, I will talk more about these books and the scary stories in them; but today I just wanted to point out to and focus on the fact that just as elections are being considered as a matter of expertise and technique in the U.S. and that this understanding of elections is being marketed around the world, the field of security has also been under attack by the same mentality of private expertise and of business techniques. A chilling quote from one of the executives of Blackwater that immediately comes to my mind fits perfectly well here. His claim was essentially the following: “When you have to ship a package overnight, do you use USPS or Fedex? So, that is exactly what we aim in the field of security.” Another quote that I remember from one of the spokespersons of Blackwater was that just like the newspapers and doctors are making money from the sufferings of other people, it is perfectly acceptable that some military firms make money out of military operations that might cost people’s lives.

Right? It is that simple. Well, for these people, maybe; at least on the level of their public discourse. However, as turem makes this point clearly in the context of elections, one of the fundamental problems here is that the whole idea of leaving the job of security provision to the experts of the field opens the way to allowing them to decide where and when a security problem exists and in what ways that problem has to be solved. If the provision of security becomes a business matter -or to allude to the title of Uesserl’s book-, if it becomes a service sector in itself where certain clients are being served for their need of the provision of security, then this means essentially that it becomes perfectly legitimate to try to expand the markets for the provision of security which is exactly what is happening in the field of international peace keeping operations, for instance. The private military firms have been lobbying for this in various peacekeeping operations in the recent past by pointing out to the incompetencies of the NATO operations. In a sense, this is almost inevitably so, because the way these operations are decided upon is never as smooth as the analogy with FedEx would imply: If you have to ship something overnight, it is essentially your private decision to send a package somewhere as quickly as possible. FedEx is not in the capacity to lobby you or to fund you for some other purpose so that you would be more wiling to use them instead of USPS or any other private shipping company. There is essentially no interaction between you and FedEx in deciding what to send, where and why. However, in the case of the military outsourcing, it is certainly not the case the politicians as the representatives of the people, alone and in total isolation from these military firms, decide on what kinds of security needs have to be served for their country. It should suffice to remind you of Dick Cheney and Halliburton, I guess. Besides, these firms present themselves as the experts of this thorny issue called security. They advise you on the meaning, the necessity and the techniques of security. Hence, we end up with a field where the definitions, the meanings and the boundaries of private and public, economic and political, political and military, technical and ethical get totally blurred. It is exactly this blurring of vision in many issues in the field of politics today that allows one to move on with a business mentality of expertise that turns out to be totally shallow with a little bit of scratching its surface.

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