Ted Koppel is as far left as they get (on tv)

Last week I watched Ted Koppel's Discovery Channel special on Iran called "Iran: The Most Dangerous Nation". While the show was far better than what the American media usually manage on Iran, since it featured Iranis as humans rather than only as demons, it still managed to serve the US government agenda and present a deeply distorted picture of Iran. Of course we had to learn about the ancient Persian heritage of Iran - how else could we understand the essence of this proud people? We also learned that, being Shi'a, Iranis glorify martyrdom. For example, during the Iran-Iraq war, some Irani soldiers actually sacrificed their own lives in service to the nation. Combined with Hizbollah suicide bombers who attacked innocents like the Israeli soldiers occupying Lebanon and dark suggestions that Ahmadinejad believes in the apocalyptic Mahdi, it all sounds very sinister. Guess there's something unique about Shi'a that causes them to resist occupying forces or die in battle to save their fellow soldiers.

Simply by going out and talking with a wide range of Iranis, the program largely undermines these ridiculous generalizations about the Irani national character. Koppel et al make gestures toward examining key issues in Iran, like class, gender, and political authority (altho oddly they completely ignore minorities, which have been prominently featured in neocon plans to destroy the regime). The effort is superficial, but still better than the yawning black whole in the other media.

The presentation of Iran's relationship with the USA is a bigger problem. Unlike other media, the program does bring up the various crimes the USA has committed against Iran - most prominently the overthrow of the democratically-elected government in 1953, decades of support for the brutal dictator that the CIA put in power (including training the secret police in torture and murder, a detail the program didn't mention), and giving extensive support to Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, including coordinating intelligence and agreeing to Iraq's use of chemical weapons. But these crimes are positioned merely as part of the tit-for-tat relationship between Iran and the USA.

This is false moral equivalence - the destruction of an entire country's democracy and complicity in Iraq's aggression and killing of hundreds of thousands of Iranis is equated with Irani revolutionaries taking several hundred Americans hostage in the late 1970s or Lebanese Hizbullah (which is cast as continuous with Iran) killing several hundred Marines in Beirut in 1983. Koppel evinces no understanding that using massive violence to dominate a foreign region might in some way be different from shouting slogans of "Death to America". It's all just part of cycle of hostility.

In the end, after examining the likelihood that a military strike would fail, Koppel calls for dialogue and diplomacy. But he adds, "If that fails, there's still the military option." He doesn't explain why Iran is not allowed to have nuclear weapons but the USA - which is manifestly a more "dangerous nation" - gets to have as many as it wants (in violation of the NPT, also unmentioned). He doesn't explain why America has a right to unprovoked attack. And he doesn't even raise the real reason for Irani-American tension: the US obsession with crushing those few countries that resist its hegemony.


Speaks for itself

From Toilets Underused to Fight Disease, U.N. Study Finds:
it would cost $10 billion a year to halve the percentage of people without access to safe drinking water and to provide them with simple pit latrines. But that is less than half what rich countries spend annually on bottled water.

Election highlights

Even tho I don't actually believe in the system of American so-called democracy, I've always found watching the election returns to be a lot of fun. So here's some random observations.

1) Almost unnoted, the Green Party candidate for governor of Illinois won over 10 percent. Now would be a good time to put pressure on the Illinois Democrats to implement instant runoff voting in their own interests, since ballot access is now easier for the Greens and there's no similar third-party threat to Republicans. And, after the coming four years of Blagojevich scandals, the next election won't be quite so easy for the Democrats.

2) Greens elsewhere did badly, even where we might have expected some hope. In California the Democrat running for governor had no hope of winning and the Democrat running for Senate, Dianne Feinstein, had no hope of losing - and is a well-known shill for big-money. Yet only two percent of supposedly liberal Californians voted Green in the two races. In New Mexico, once a stronghold for Greens, the party didn't even run candidates in the Senate or governor races, which Democrats ran away with. Does anyone know what happened to the New Mexico Greens?

3) Completely unremarked upon, the first self-proclaimed socialist (so far as I know) won a Senate seat. Bernie Sanders of Vermont took the open seat in a blow-out. Sanders strikes me as more of social democrat than a socialist, but I also don't know much about him. Regardless, you'd expect the media to notice. Instead they didn't even bother to acknowledge that Sanders was running as an independent and colored Vermont blue for Democrat.

4) MSNBC commentators Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough at one point argued that the American people were demanding more nationalist policies. And I'm not using that word polemically like I usually do - they actually said "nationalist". I don't think I've ever heard mainstream types say "nationalism" when they mean nationalism.

5) The commentators were falling all over each other advising the Democrats to pursue a course of "moderation". The American people are tired of partisan gridlock, they said, and many of the newly elected Democrats are less ideological than the Congressional leadership. It's funny, because I read the exit polls as saying voters wanted to get out of Iraq, raise the minimum wage, and end government corruption. Why do the media make a fetish of moderation? Why did Harold Ford, who almost certainly lost his race for the Senate in Tennessee because of a series of racist advertisements, call for "healing" in his concession speech?

6) My favorite quote of the night comes from Rod Blagojevich, reëlected to governor of Illinois: "[when I first came to office I found] a state government more interested in serving itself than the other way around." Presumably Blagojevich has been hard at work setting things right - ie, making itself serve the state government.


If you vote, vote Green

Voting is awkward for every radical. You can cast your ballot and implicitly register a vote of confidence in a system that is deeply undemocratic. Or you can abstain and be counted as one of the "apathetic" half of the population who doesn't vote. If you do vote, you get to choose between a big-money Democrat who might win or a third-party candidate whose voters barely register in the statistics.

The amount of time progressives waste debating these choices is already far too great, so I won't belabor my point. If you feel you have to vote for Democrats, go ahead - but check the polls first and if your Democrat has a solid lead, don't waste your vote. Vote Green. Send the Democrats a message and help build a real progressive electoral alternative.

I haven't changed my mind about electoral politics - I think it's a waste of time for progressives unless they use the elections to organize locally and for longer-term battles. Right now the left is too weak to waste its energy in an electoral system that is rigged against it. There are some key issues worth working on - campaign finance reform and instant runoff voting would immediately increase the power of progressives. But until we can boast popular support and financial power, in the guise of grassroots organizations and democratic businesses, voting is going to remain awkward.