Saturday, October 10, 2009

In Review- Capitalism: A Love Story

Michael Moore's new documentary hit theatres October 2, so we decided that the College Democrats should get together to go see it in South Bend. This Friday, eight of us went to ShowPlace 16 and watched it. Because I like to talk about Notre Dame/College Democrats activities and issues, keeping it local, I decided it would be a good idea to give a review of the film. So here it is...

Presentation: B+

Evidence: A-

Fairness: B+

Relevance: A


In general, Moore does an excellent job nailing a timely problem in a way that is effective and persuasive. It was hard not to be teary-eyed during the FDR speech during this film. When you realize that you're watching a movie about things so recent and so painfully real, this movie really hits you. The movie probably only loses a few point by being overly abstract and preachy in the beginning. After about 30 minutes, though, it starts to get very real. I really love the parts of the film that try to emphasize that capitalism is inherently anti-Christian and anti-Catholic. It's time to realize that you must pick one or the other. Money or The Lord? Who is your God? Some of the other Lefty's writers and I thought it would awesome if we could get some conservatives to go watch this film. If anyone has any brilliant ideas on how to do this (pay for their tickets?) let us know. I would love to see this happen.

 Finally, about the message of the film:

I'm going to make an assumption and give our readers credit for being an intelligent bunch. Many of you are college-educated or successful professionals. In this same light, I hope that you will be fair and realize that what I am about to say is actually NOT elitist, as much as it may seem so at first. 

The reality, that Moore shows us, is that capitalism has erased that which democracy had achieved. Before democracy, there was aristocracy/monarchy/plutocracy. Only the smartest and most privileged ruled. Democracy meant "1 man, 1 vote" and tried to defy this inequality. Capitalism, on the other hand, disproportionally rewards those who are smart and privileged, far beyond what is deserved for being smart and privileged. So for people like ourselves, in the most basic self-interested sort of way, capitalism is excellent. Most of you will probably do well. There is no guarantee, of course. The problem is, that for the other 95% of people, capitalism is mostly shitty.

Think about it like this. We all love to play a game that we know we can win. Even if the rules aren't the most fair, we will find enjoyment in competition and victory. Fairness only becomes a serious issue when we are less sure we can win or when we know we will lose. No one wants to play a game that seems rigged against them.

And this is the problem. Intelligent people try (successfully) to export their enthusiasm for this whole "capitalism" idea to the rest of the bunch- the 95% that probably won't win. They're so smart in fact that they actually persuade all those people that the game is fair after all. "You can win, too." Our enthusiasm is contingent on the high that we get from winning. This is fine and dandy, then. We can keep playing this game and keep winning. I mean, if it makes us feel good, and we're winning, who really cares, right?

We should care. We should realize that the people who already hate capitalism can't afford to watch Michael Moore's film, don't have the power to ever really do anything about it (this is debatable), and really don't have as much to gain from seeing it. THIS MOVIE IS FOR PEOPLE LIKE US. It is a wake-up call for those who are winning at this game called capitalism that maybe winning isn't everything. Maybe there are other virtues that matter- like equality/shared prosperity (everyone having some fun playing), fairness, democracy, accountability, and for God's sake, maybe some humility. Let's think about who we serve sometimes. Maybe if we weren't always feeling the high from winning we would realize that it is money who we serve. Let's get sober, Lefties.

Another Take on the Nobel Prize

Barack Obama, President of the United States, won the Nobel Prize for peace. When I woke up yesterday morning and flipped open my laptop to check the news I was honestly as shocked as anyone. "What the heck? What did they decide to do that for already?" was my honest, initial reaction.

I wasn't upset by it or anything, but then I saw all the usual suspects on the right start freaking the fuck out over it, I sighed, and said to myself, "really? Again? Like it wasn't enough to get all uppity about the Olympics nonsense?" It's just pathetic the level of outrage the right has for anything the President tries to do (or in this case, has happen to him beyond his will!).

Then I read some comments by people on the left, as well as some friends who I typically agree with on most issue. Their concerns weren't hostile like the right. They express legitimate concerns and criticisms that the President hasn't yet accomplished enough to deserve such a prestigious award. This is understandable. I agree with some of the sentiments of Blakey and JD in their earlier posts. And I especially sympathize with those who are concerned about what the President may do next in Afghanistan. But read these words from the President's remarks where he says that he will accept the award:
To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures who've been honored by this prize... But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans want to build. A world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement, it's also been used to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action. A call to all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.
Many previous recipients of the Nobel Prize for peace received the award before actually accomplishing what it was they fought for. I see this award as deserved and beneficial on two fronts. One, despite the President's flaws, and all of the criticism he deserves from those of us on the left who must hold his feet to the fire, his election did transform the country, and transform the world.

American favorability in the world has significantly increased since President Obama took office. One of the most damaging aspects of the last eight years has been how image of the United States was tarnished among the rest of the world, significantly impeding our ability to conduct successful diplomacy. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was a guest on the Rachel Maddow show last night to talk about this, and she read a quote from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which sums this up beautifully:
It confirms, finally, America's return to the hearts of the people of the world.
Furthermore, as Rachel Maddow points out, his speech calling for the reduction of nuclear weapons was a significant moment. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and 2005 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize had this to say:
I cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honor ... President Obama has provided outstanding leadership on moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
The reduction of nuclear weapons hasn't gained much publicity here in the U.S., but nuclear proliferation has been a consistent theme in this administration so far, and small but significant steps are being taken in the right directions. A dramatic break from previous administration policy, which not only improves our credibility abroad in working on this issue (say with Iran and North Korea) but is also a giant step towards a more peaceful world.

Secondly, as President Obama is a young president in a young administration leaving much to still be desired, I see this award as a raising of the bar for the Obama administration. It is a tremendous statement that the international community is behind him, and supports him in his goals of creating a more peaceful world. And, it will no doubt weigh on the President's mind and conscience when he is making critical decisions in the oval office that he carries the expectations of the entire world with him in his pursuit of peace.

I recommend watching Rachel's take on this issue:

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Nobel Prize

My first thought when I learned that Obama got the award was that it was just politics. Because in some ways that is all the Nobel Peace prize has been about, Kissinger got the award back in the 1970's for instance, and he is one of the biggest war criminals of our era. The Europeans are just sending a message that they don’t like Republicans. But it really does cheapen it more, for people who actually deserved it like Mandela, King, and Carter. It takes a lot of balls to give the Peace prize to someone who is currently presiding over two wars and escalating one of them. Someone who supports indefinite detention, refuses to prosecute torture, and has basically kept most of Bush's draconian "anti-terror" laws. Of course he doesn’t deserve it.

I don’t care that the DNC says those who oppose it are terrorists, or that the Right Wing is also against it. Some of the comments from the Left are so servile and pathetic. They just want to clap for their leader even if it doesn’t make sense, because they are happy "their" team scored a point. Imagine how many people truly deserved this award, who are out there in the trenches every day that could have used this recognition and exposure, real peace activists. This also neuters peace activist in this country who are opposed to the Afghan war, because Obama can just wave his award at them. This is absurd.

Big Mistake, Barack

Barack. Buddy. We gotta talk.

Listen, I know you're doing everything you can to engage with other nations and lay down some real diplomatic roadways so that the US can crawl its way out of the international relations morass your predecessor created. Really. We all get it. We know you're working hard out there.

But this Nobel Prize thing? Honestly? Not a good move.

Sure, many of my friends on the left will look at me askance here. We (in general) love our President and want him to succeed. On the surface, the Nobel Prize for Peace looks like a giant win. It looks like affirmation from the world that Barack Obama is respected and a positive change from The Last Guy.

Unfortunately, the local ramifications are troublesome. Let's face it: the guy is in the PROCESS of accomplishing things, but there isn't a whole lot to hang a Nobel Peace Prize on yet. I am willing to wager that he'll have accomplished a lot of good by the end of his term (hopefully two terms), but he's not there yet, and the awarding of the prize is embarrassing.

If, on the other hand, the President had graciously refused the prize, he would have earned himself an ENORMOUS amount of political capital. Can you imagine the speech? "I cannot accept the honor of this accolade until we have accomplished what we've set out to do." I mean for God's sake, it practically writes itself. The Republicans would have been falling all over themselves trying to find some way to criticize it.

And yet here we are with a Nobel awardee President and massive amounts of fodder for conservative attacks, with no additional "oomph" for the President's agenda.

Bad form, Barack. Bad form.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Unacceptable Policy

In response to Sean Mullen's letter, "Don't ask, don't tell," (Oct. 7) I would like to begin by questioning how he can possibly say he has nothing against gay people. As students at Notre Dame, I would hope that we know enough about the policy of "don't ask, don't tell" that we would never want to widen the group of people to which that policy applies. To suggest that we subject gay students at Notre Dame to the shameful, condescending and homophobic policy that our military unfortunately still employs is something a person who has nothing against gay people would never consider.

Mullen's letter suggests that we use a "don't ask, don't tell" policy to avoid including gay students, staff and faculty in Notre Dame's non-discrimination clause. I sincerely hope Mullen is not implying that it is acceptable to tolerate discrimination against members of the Notre Dame community who are openly gay. How does that fit in with the Catholic nature of our University? As a Catholic, you should respect the inherent dignity of every human being, and that means rejecting all forms of discrimination. Furthermore, being openly gay does not necessarily mean practicing homosexuality any more than being straight means that you are actively engaging in sexual activities.

Does Mullen believe that the University should exclude unmarried sexually active heterosexuals from the non-discrimination clause as well? While I'm in no way an expert on Catholic social teachings, I believe it is your responsibility as a Catholic to strive to love everyone, regardless of sexuality. It is detestable to try to hide behind Catholic social teachings to justify a tolerance of discrimination when in fact I believe it calls on you to do the opposite.

Mr. Mullen, I'm horrified that you would like to force our gay friends, neighbors and classmates into the closet just because homosexuality makes you uncomfortable.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Why Wait On "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

About 10 months into the Obama presidency, and the policy that prevents openly gay personnel from serving in the military still stands. Sure, there are important issues taking priority, like healthcare and the increasing mess in the Middle East, but common sense and decency would seem to dictate that a reversal of this policy would get rushed through the legislative system. Unfortunately, common sense and decency are in short supply in Washington D.C. these days.

A petition was sent to Congress last spring by about 1,000 (homophobic) military officers stating that "We believe that imposing this burden on our men and women in uniform would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the all-volunteer force." Apparently, these officers believe that having to serve with - or god forbid, under - an openly homosexual person would constitute a "burden" on our military. Go ahead, Congress, turn your heads while America's bravest get stuck in an unconstitutional quagmire in the desert, but please, please keep the gays away from them! Meanwhile, the Pentagon is looking for ways to continue "humanely" instituting the policy. Sorry Pentagon, there is no way, because it's an inhumane policy. These people are volunteering to protect the rights we believe in, but we are denying them theirs.

My father is a colonel in the United States Army who has served in both Iraq conflicts. I can assure you that whether deployed or on home turf, the least of his worries is the sexual orientation of the people who work for or with him. We insult the intelligence and fortitude of our men and women in uniform if we assume that they will be unable to perform as they are asked to if they have to work with somebody who is openly gay. This repulsive policy has to be repealed, and it has to be repealed now.