Je Suis Charlie

The assassination of French satirists and police at Charlie Hebdo resonates particularly strongly. Americans take for granted political satire’s great purpose: to unveil communal recognition of a moment’s unspoken truths. Contemporary American political satire is safely and universally anodyne. It’s not post modern, just another dreary SEO empowered brand.

Elsewhere, shared laughter can be a more purposeful political and social act. With real repercussions. Political satire at its best gives immense power and voice to the seemingly powerless. And helps societies see dangers they might otherwise willfully ignore.

Je Suis Charlie

The re-emergence of Europe’s old “New Right” (ENR) from its birth in 1968 through the 1980s to its new, more viral guise underscores political satire’s importance. Satire is a crucial part of a healthy secular society. ENR long understood extremist Het Vlaams Blok leader, Filip Dewinter when he declared “the ideological majority is more important than the parliamentary majority.”

A new novel imagining France governed by Muslims summons a firestorm. This book and other best sellers about Islam in France and the French identity create a mood that ‘the center is giving way to extremes’. Here, in the realm of fascist and racial culture fears and sub rosa warfare, satire is especially valuable. Calls for a deceptive peace through satire’s self censorship in the name of ‘responsibility’ are a chimera.

Fascism in France is a complex, evolving and active political phenomenon. It deserves more attention here soon. For today, it’s worth noting that both Le Pens built the Front National into the third largest political party in France only partly upon French fascist Alain de Benoist’s Nouvelle Droite from 1968 et les autres. Along the way they rejected many of de Benoist’s core beliefs, including his stance against racism, antisemitism and xenophobia (de Benoist consistently has been anti-clerical). Marine Le Pen, even more than her father, combines the most antidemocratic aspects of the ENR with the virulent racialist existentialism of a ersatz Duginism. In a recent mock poll, she beat Hollande for the presidency with 54% of the vote.

It would be a compound tragedy if Le Pen manages to hijack the Charlie Hebdo heartbreak to further the FN’s racist, violent intolerance and gain additional traction. Merkel recently spoke out against German ultra Rightists groups. Europe needs more active affirmation of liberal democratic values. The French political establishment waivers how to deal with the FN in the assassinations’ aftermath. The lights truly go out in Europe if the intolerance of 3 extremists with guns empower the brown barrack intolerance of the crowd.

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All You Need Is Putin, Nukes And A Sharpie

Putin, NATO, Ukraine, War, Rita, Iron Man

FADE IN:

INT. RADIO STUDIO, WASHINGTON DC – MORNING- SUNLIT WINDOWS

SOUND: Theme music, PERKY GUITAR as we see –

RADIO HOST is maybe 45. Slightly pale. Looks BUSINESS LIKE in shirt and tie. Sits at TABLE across from ASHBURY. Both wear HEADPHONES.

RADIO HOST (V.O.)
Welcome to CNMBS’ FRESH AIR.
ZYX Resident Scholar Ambrose Marius Ashbury the First is here.
Deerfield grad, Williams then an Athenian poetry PhD from Yale.

Doctor, good morning.

ASHBURY, in dark suit, black glasses. A green room WARRIOR of plastic age, demeanor is one who just UPGRADED TO FIOS.

ASHBURY
Call me Ash. All my interns do.

RADIO HOST
Sooo. Your NRO review on Christopher Nolan’s
new movie Interstellaris burning up Buzzfeed.
But first, in the Washington Post you call for general European war

Ashbury UNFOLDS SMILE.

ASHBURY
We’re already at war. I’m just saying it out loud.

Radio host reaches for a DUNKIN DONUTS coffee but pauses, picks up handwritten question LIST.


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Play Russian Apologist Bingo!

We present to you “Russian Apologist Bingo!” Do you feel that apologists for Russian aggression, falsehoods and even lunatic screeds seemingly are everywhere these days? They argue just about anything to defend the Kremlin line. Tactics range from the infamous “Whataboutism” to “change the subject” or purely speculative – such as claims Ukraine tried to shoot down Putin’s plane and hit MH 17 by mistake (never mind Putin was in South America).

All the greatest hits are here. Play, won’t you?

Russia, Bingo, Propaganda

Can you spot all the tricks?

Putin’s Sochi Spring Break

Putin’s $51 billion gamble to re-make Russians’ self-image achieves its initial, limited goals. Putin wanted Sochi to sell Russians they’re active participants in the 21st century’s pop culture meme bubble, not just observers. Sochi’s distraction and legitimization will buy crucial time for his regime.


Giving The Russian People A Chance To Escape Today

It’s beyond just Putin individually. His restive elites need him to peddle illusions of Russian global emergence. All have a stake in prolonging the faltering system’s inertia. Russia’s economic growth, once over 8% in the mid 2000s, may not break 1% in 2014. Infighting among self-dealing elites over extractive and infrastructure resources grows more public. Putin’s no longer the axiomatic arbiter. Russia fails to embrace economic innovation to replace dead dinosaurs/gas/oil in the ground. Russia’s future is bleak.

Worse, Putin’s bag of tricks is almost empty. He’s tapped Russia’s Reserve Fund and also guaranteed Sochi expenses. His extravagant but ineffectual re-armament plan forced his earlier Finance Minister, Kudrin, to resign. Putin adds promises for grandiose Soviet-mega projects to develop the desolate and decrepit Far East. His $15 billion bribe to Ukraine in December 2013 drains reserves still more.

It’s understandable the regime naturally turns up the AgitProp. Putin’s State-controlled media is doing everything it can to manufacture artificial “us” versus “them”.

What is the regime promoting? A toxic blend of revanchism added to ethnic and religious chauvinism that trumpets a “Russianness” brutalizing the needy and marginal. Even the Kremlin is concerned about how how to keep this environment sustainable, fearing a slide toward nihilism or spontaneous ‘chaos’ (organization) without something more.

Enter Sochi. Its essential mission — sell Russians that Putin’s noxious mixture is internationally mainstream. Revanchism with a patina of glossy, Daft Punk-loving globalism. The squalor and bigotry of Russian daily life hidden by Euro disco hip sheen.


Why Sochi Is Not Berlin

Comparisons to 1936 and Berlin miss this critical point: Putin needed Sochi because he and Russia are weak. His elites increasingly tempted to think past or through him. 1936 by contrast? The Corporal, 2 years after the famous Nuremberg rally memorialized on film, totally controlled his elites and populace. Germany’s economy boomed.

1936 declared the regime to the world. 2014 asks the world for help to make Putin’s regime look cool.

Of course, global perceptions matter. World leaders boycotting Sochi hurts. But the regime is adept turning real and imagined hurts into daily AgitProp fodder. Watching and reading the regime’s lieutenants and sycophants’ reactions to the games instructive. Not just their unhinged anger over a U.S.-Russia hockey game. Day in and day out while the games unfold the regime can’t mask its true psychology of petty resentment or rages that few Americans will ever see or care to see.

Two questions today: How long will Putin enjoy a post-Sochi halo? And was it worth the cost?

On the latter, our answer is clear. The regime faces a looming, possibly severe crisis at home with a faltering economy. Sochi may help distract by buttressing Russian self-identity and vague global legitimacy. Sochi’s reprieve – if it’s real – for Putin is worth its weight in gold. For a little while.

2014 And Limits Of New Romanticism

2014 And The New Romantics

We’re witnessing another New Romantic historical moment end. We see it wind down in domestic American politics, including L’Affaire Snowden. And in Kiev’s Streets. We turn our gaze from Syrian killing fields. Spontaneous, unorganized mass sentiment failed to create real change anywhere.

1848 Europe’s revolutionary, democratic moment and its lessons come to mind. Europe saw its widest ever democratic revolutionary wave quickly collapse into a Continental reactionary resurgence. Historical analogies should always be suspect, especially here. Yet, we can’t help but ask, “What comes next, now?”


The New Romantics Aren’t A Pop Group

Our last 15 years constitute a Romantic Moment. First it flourished with the Colored Revolutions’ early promise. Even elements of Americans’ manipulated arc in Iraq and Afghanistan floated on misguided sentiment. Mass sentiment erupted in Tehran, ignited the Arab Spring, Syria, rock both Thailand and now Ukraine, again. Obama’s improbable 2008 presidency and aftermath are part of the tableau, too.

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A Day In Edward Snowden’s Moscow Life – The Secret History

Cut to scene: Ed Snowden flees to Hong Kong, spending his 30th birthday there at the Russian consulate. Yet we are told his immediate run to Moscow was both unplanned and caught the Russian government completely by surprise. Some tabulate the cascading coincidences intertwining Snowden and Russian operatives or their known consorts. The sheer weight of incidents is non-trivial.

As with all things, data by itself is not information. The key questions remain unanswered: (i) when did Snowden decide to be an adversary of the U.S. government?; (ii) how did he reach that decision – by himself or did Others recruit or encourage him?; (iii) carrying out his actions, did he have help and from whom?

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Snowden’s Pyrrhic Victory? *

Episode Recap

State of play so far since our last episode. Putin bemoans now being stuck with an unwelcome Christmas present (Snowden). Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia offer Snowden asylum but can’t get him there. The man of the hour meanwhile finally seeks asylum in Russia yet’s vague about ceasing public ‘anti-U.S. activities’, a pre-condition set by Putin.

Greenwald in turn threatens the U.S. with the worst disaster in history should anything ever happen to Snowden – while decrying that people pay too much attention to Snowden. And the U.S. hints about canceling a tete-a-tete with Putin after the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg.

So we ask you to join in our poll:

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Thoughts On Boston’s Crisis, The New Tribalism And Participatory Meaning

Events in Boston last week illustrate how technology shapes our personal identity. And how little we understand the process. Boston shows us a foretaste of the new tribalism that relies on ephemeral situations and adrenalin to create a sense of belonging. It will change what it means to be an American.

Boston Is Saved By An Angel

What Is The New Tribalism?

First, the definitions. We’ll start with new tribalism is an individual’s sense of self, belonging and loyalty. That sense of self is defined by participating in communal activity responding to an ad hoc event or crisis. Here, it’s a new tribe following a terrorist bombing. This new ‘tribe’ is interesting because its values can supplement traditional ones, at least temporarily.

Doubtlessly you are already asking, ‘So is it really new’? In the past, rallies and concerts might be seen as the forerunners to today’s phenomenon. Certainly true of the Party rallies in the 1930s, for example. And the various ideologies of the now trite ‘happenings’ and ‘sit ins’ in the 1960s, as well as mass spectacles of Woodstock, etc.

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Keeping Up With ‘The Americans’

Pop culture fascination with the covert continues to crest. Under Bush besides the torture porn of ’24’, NCIS began its long run exalting ‘warfighters’ and hierarchical obediance. We endured the Bournes’ editing and celebrated a more brutal Bond.

And it continues. “Homeland” has become a ‘Starbuckian’ touchstone. “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” pull crowds. Even lighter, sillier cable fare like the CW’s “Nikita” and USA’s “Burn Notice” name check espionage argot.

And Comrades, Remember The Paco Rabanne
And Comrades, Remember The Paco Rabanne

So what to make of FX’s new series, “The Americans”? Larval CIA employee Joseph Weisberg (1990-94, no overseas) launched it all. He runs with the 2010 ‘Anna Chapman Spy Ring’ sensationalism but places his ostensibly married Soviet ‘illegal’ couple in Reagan’s 1981 America. The producers add some “Californication”-esque gestures; within the pilot’s first hour the female Soviet spy fellates a hapless presidential confidante, ostentatiously wiping her mouth afterwards and is later shown raped brutally. She also asks said confidante, supra, if he liked her finger up his ass. Quelle shock!

If It’s Phil Collins, It Must Be The 80’s

But is it any good?

When credits rolled, we asked “What did we just see?” It’s all preposterous, of course, as it must be. A show survives if it entertains. Here, the team generously drops gratuitous and titillating details to provide a modicum of verisimilitude – beyond say, “Burn Notice”. Yet for all that “The Americans” likely will be a soap opera.

The Soviet husband likes American malls and wants to defect. The wife is fiercely opposed, clinging to a memory of Moscow in 1962. And their kids! Already their young boy seems to have the hots for the next door neighbor’s daughter. Her dad’s an FBI counter-intelligence agent (yes, really). Oh, and there’s a KGB general. He pops up somehow at the end in D.C. to tell the female spy he’s fighting off extremists in Moscow while defending the motherland.

The atmosphere is the show’s real star and asset. Like Miami Vice, the show wants us to notice the music, style and set decorating. The clothes accurately are post 70s muted browns and not the much later, stereotypical big hair, neon and mullets. (Watch for Members Only jackets in future eps). They’ve gone the extra mile recreating 1981 on a basic cable budget. The music from Phil Collins to Pat Benatar is true to that year’s charts. (The only bum note was using The Who’s ‘Eminence Front’ as the FX TV ad campaign, which was from 1982).

Still, atmosphere can carry only so far. A soap opera requires caricatures acting broadly. The show’s premise and conceit point the other way. And nothing suggests ambition to deconstruct the American self-image through the eyes of its Soviet protagonists. Leaving us with what, precisely?

We doubt we’ll stick around after initial novelty dissipates. Aside from name-check fan service, it feels like Oakland, no there, there. (For that matter, we’ve never been able to sit through a re-watching of the recent “Tinker, Tailor” remake; the original BBC show remains sublime). Many pulp series have overcome inauspicious pilots. Will be interesting to see if we’re given a reason to care in time.

Hello From The Shut Down Imperial City

We’ve always maintained that D.C. is a weird amalgamation of First World Starbuckian smugness and Third World dreariness and incompetence. Nothing makes that point better than the regional utility companies. Or Metro. But today let’s go with the utilities.

It’s true that every American is convinced that their utility is uniquely incompetent. Dominion, PEPCO et al. actually are. Once one leaves the federal enclaves the infrastructure, particularly the electric grid, is beyond feeble. It’s not that the grid failed so broadly after this violent storm. Rather, it predictably fails after almost every storm.


(Dominion, too. Bueller? Bueller?)

Right before the utilities folded like a paper napkin a TV personality friend sent an email about a DHS report detailing domestic incidents of Stuxnet contaminating U.S. computer networks. Which naturally prompts one to imagine the post-storm quasi-apocalytpic landscape (SUVs forlornly waiting outside dark Wholefoods, drivers unable to overpay for prosciutto) as D.C. under a foreign power’s decision to ‘take down the lights’. Via their version of a less discriminating Stuxnet or even kinetic fire strikes like Belgrade 1999.

It’s a stretch, of course. Only the electric grid collapsed. Other than a stray tree in the road here or there, the transportation remained intact. Communications continued; cell networks, while congested and slow, eventually did work. And psychologically, a storm as culprit is easier to process than a foreign adversary.

But only a stretch. For as sure as Dominion, PEPCO et al. will fail again soon, we will as a nation reap the whirlwind we have sown from 2001-2012.

Update
Newt on Italian vacation plugs utility incompetence as prelude to EMP attack ala Frank Gaffney.

His next tweet underscored how the storm aftermath proves the need for East Coast BMD installations but got lost in Italian packet networks.