Kurdish Comedy Music Video About ISIS

Kurdish ChildrenWe in America love the Kurds, even though the only thing we know about them is that they aren’t Muslims. Fun fact: the Kurds are actually Muslims. What’s more, they are predominantly Sunni, so I guess Saddam Hussein didn’t gas them because of their religion. In fact, that whole thing just makes no sense. We all know that all Muslims are exactly the same, agreeing on everything including that they hate the United States because of our freedom. (Joke’s on them! We’re getting rid of our freedom fast!) So okay, I guess we have to all agree that not all Muslims are the same. Or continue to believe that the Kurds are some kind of exotic Christians like the Ethiopian Catholics.

My reason for loving the Kurds is that they are a trusting people. When Bush the Elder (the “good” Bush), told them to rise up against Saddam Hussein, they did! And they were rewarded the way American allies are often rewarded: by us doing nothing as they were destroyed by Saddam Hussein’s forces. Fun fact: it does not appear that chemical weapons were used against the Kurds at that time, as was reported with certainty in the American press at that time. Hussein did use chemical weapons against the Kurds in the late 1980s, as was not reported in the American press at that time. And we certainly didn’t go to war over that because, hey, they had no oil and weren’t royalty.

But now we all have an especially good reason to love the Kurds. Last week on the Kurdish television station KurdSat, they aired a humorous music video lambasting ISIS. People are calling it a parody, but I don’t know what it is a parody of. I must admit to being woefully ignorant of Middle Eastern music. It seems to me just straight comedy — comedy of an extremely political and pointed nature.

It shows five men with long, comically fake, black beards as members of ISIS. They play their assault rifles like they were guitars (Saz?) and cellos. They swing swords around. And they generally act very silly with a skull and a zurna. It is a welcome bit of humor in the middle of the whole ISIS situation:

It does bring up one serious question. The Kurds are clearly not cowering; why are so many Americans? ISIS actually does represent an existential threat to the Kurds. They are going head to head with the group. Yet the Kurds do not partake in overstating the threat of ISIS. And here we see some of them openly mocking ISIS. Here in the United States — most especially among the chickenhawk Republicans — the group is presented like the second coming of the Third Reich.

Mostly, the video is just meant to tweak the noses of the ISIS leaders, who I can only assume are as full of themselves as any other military leaders. As Mediaite noted, “Beheadings are one way to taunt your geopolitical enemy. But a parody music video is a much lighter, cleverer way to get a point across, as some Kurdish people recently demonstrated.” But there is one line in the song that was wonderfully blunt, “Our pockets are full of Qatari money.” Yep.

The video is very charming. It also has an extremely catchy melody that is now going through my head. Basically, it is just three notes but it works really well. I suspect it is a classic tune, but as I said, I don’t know the music of that region very well. Regardless, it is a video that should make America fall in love with Kurds all over again. And it doesn’t even involve us watching them die. Maybe it will even make the conservatives come out from under their beds.

2014 Election Will Be No Mandate

Get Out the VoteEd Kilgore wrote a good article over at Talking Points Memo that really can’t be repeated enough, Looking For a Mandate In November? Good Luck. Of course, it won’t matter. Regardless of what happens, pundits will claim that there was a mandate. It’s what they always do. What is most likely to happen is that the Republicans will get a small majority in the Senate. And this will be portrayed as a backlash against Obama’s “liberal” policies.

It’s curious. Pundits are supposed to exist to provide insight into the news. So you would think that the natural thing for a pundit to do would be to note that this election is six years after the huge Democratic wave election of 2008. There are 21 Democrats in the Senate up for re-election — 8 in Romney states. There are only 15 Republicans up for re-election — only one of which is in a state that Obama took in 2012. So what we should expect is that the Republicans would gain 7 seats. And that is exactly what we are looking at, although right now, Nate Silver is giving almost as much chance that they will gain 8 seats.

But I don’t expect to see much of this nuanced view during the evening of the first Tuesday in November. Instead, there will be lots of conjecture about what “the people” think. And it will say a lot more about what the pundit thinks. But the main thing is that we can depend upon the pundits to do whatever is simplest. We can’t have news analysis that’s any more detailed and honest than campaign ads!

Here’s Kilgore’s take on it:

So no matter what happens, 2014 is likely to be a sui generis election with little or no predictive value with relatively low immediate consequences. Logically, then, no national party should be able to claim the results as a fresh mandate, particularly since the issue landscape of Campaign 2014 has been so diffuse and unstable.

To take it a step further, it seems that the only thing that matters in politics these days is turnout. So regardless what happens to the polls, we can’t much say what “the people” think or want. We can say that people are disaffected from politics. And we can say that we make voting far harder than it needs to be, even apart from Republican attempts to stop people from voting.

But part of the problem is just us liberals. The Pew Research report I discussed earlier showed that less than 70% of consistent liberals voted in primaries as consistent conservatives. I continue to grasp onto the hope that some day all my fellow liberals will realize that we have such a bad government that is so disinterested in the concerns of the people because we don’t vote. And not voting in primaries, makes it easier for Democrats to nominate economic conservatives like Clinton and Obama so that even when the Democrats win, liberals lose.

But this election? It means nothing. It looks very much like it is going to turn out exactly as the fundamentals predict. The geography itself is against the Democrats. And the politics are against them this year. If we end up with 48 or even 47 seats, it will be a neutral year. But don’t expect to hear that from the pundits.

Ben Bradlee and the Washington Post Today

Ben BradleeIt seems that Ben Bradlee has died. He is, of course, the legendary Washington Post executive editor who made the paper into something really great once upon a time. To me, he will always be Jason Robards in All the President’s Men. But otherwise, as usual, I don’t especially care. Celebrity deaths are just like the deaths of other people. Those who knew him grieve, but his death is hardly important. For the last couple of decades, he was better known for his wife Sally Quinn’s very inside-the-beltway cocktail parties.

I don’t mean to suggest that Bradlee doesn’t deserve respect. Not at all! A couple of years ago, I wrote an article, Ben Bradlee and Integrity. It featured a quote from Eric Alterman about Bradlee in his glory days, when he had just started his job as executive editor:

In his engaging portrait of Bradlee, Yours in Truth, Jeff Himmelman recounts an incident from 1969 in which two young Post reporters, Leonard Downie and Jim Hoagland, had worked for months on a story about racial discrimination in the Washington savings-and-loan industry. Titled “Mortgaging the Ghetto,” it was scheduled to run over a ten-day period. Just before that happened, a group representing the industry went to Bradlee’s office and told him that if the series ran, they would pull all their advertising from the paper—representing, even then, about $1 million in revenue. What did Bradlee tell Downie? “He puts his hand on my shoulder and he says, ‘Just get it right, kid,’ and walked away.”

That’s pretty awesome. I understand the economics of newspapers were different then, but I don’t think most editors would have acted as he did. In fact, I don’t think many people have a single example of such integrity and strength in their whole lives. So that’s a fitting obituary for the man.

Martin Longman has a different take on this from the “Bradlee was God!” obituaries that are streaming out. He called it, A Contrary View of Bradlee’s Death. It is contrary, but I think a better word would be “nuanced.” His concern is not Bradlee as a man so much as Bradlee as a symbol:

Personally, for all Bradlee’s accomplishments, and he had many, I find it impossible to divorce him and his salon from some of the worst pathologies of our nation in the postwar era. It’s hard to express how much contempt I have built up over the years for the Beltway consensus on American power and American politics, and Bradlee was literally the eye of that hurricane, the figurative lodestar around which that consensus condensed and revolved…

The permanent leadership in Washington has been failing us on a pretty consistent basis for so long that I can only wish that the passing of Bradlee might mark some kind of end point for hubris and banality.

Sadly, the Washington Post is a shell of the paper that Bradlee created, meaning that things have devolved far beyond the point that Bradlee could even be justly held responsible. Everything good he built has died, leaving us with a legacy of only his worst contributions.

I do wonder how long we are all going to look at the Washington Post and think of the great work they did on Watergate 40 years ago. Yesterday, I was marveling at the Pew Research report, Political Polarization & Media Habits. It contained the ideological makeup of the readers of 36 different news sources (including anti-news sources like Fox News and The Rush Limbaugh Show). It contained a tool that allows you to see the results for each source. And I was shocked to see that the Washington Post had an overwhelmingly liberal readership.

Why then is it that the Washington Post editorial page is so conservative? Well, I think it is that the paper doesn’t froth at the mouth the way the Wall Street Journal editorial page does. It is the very definition of Very Serious Thinking. So very much like Andrew Cuomo, the Post can claim that it is telling hard truths, just as it did during Bradlee’s early days. But then it was more interested in telling truth to power. Now, the Washington Post is all about telling the powerful’s truths.

Democracy and the Modern American Conservative

More Guns!This morning over at Washington Monthly, Jim Sleeper wrote, On Election Day, Let Texas Voters Tip Their Hats to Hong Kong. That headline is a reference to the fact that the Hong Kong protesters — and those at Tienanmen Square before them — made symbolic gestures to American democracy. It is interesting that destroying democracy should be the primary goal of one of the two major American political parties.

Most of the article is about the obsession with guns on the right. Guns are not a sign of liberty. They are a sign that if you have enough power, you can do what you want. And that has always been true. If you listen to people on the right, you will hear a constant refrain about taking the country back — as if the United States is somehow not valid if it isn’t doing exactly what they want. This dates back at least to the 1950s and the John Birch Society, as well documented in Wrapped in the Flag. And the whole point of the ostentatious love of guns is the not-so-subtle message, “If you don’t do what we want, we will make you do what we want.”

You can forget about everything else. The one defining feature of modern American conservatism is that it doesn’t believe in democracy. Yesterday, Bruce Braley quoted a conservative complaining about the politics in her state, “If Iowa gave power based on land ownership, the state would swing 180 degrees.” Indeed it would! And if only we just anointed Ted Cruz King of America, things would swing pretty far in her direction too.

All of American conservative politics eventually leads to Sharron Angle. She said what the majority of conservatives are thinking. Forget the “Second Amendment remedies” quote. In one interview after talking about how sporting goods stores couldn’t keep ammunition in stock because people were arming to fight the government for their “liberty,” she said, “That’s why I look at this as almost an imperative. If we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?” Someone who believes in democracy would think the next step would be organizing, educating, and generally sucking it up. But that’s not the fantasy of the conservative mind.

Notice how authoritarian this is. There are despots all over the world who are all for democracy as long as it keeps them in power. If they lose the election, well, that just means there was vote tampering and they have to declare marshal law until the situation is stabilized. This is no different than the conservative claim that they will try to “Take our country back!” at the ballot box, but if that doesn’t work, “Armed rebellion!” I don’t think they will actually do this, of course. They are mostly a bunch of chickenhawks who dream of their great guerrilla war. (I’ve got an idea: fantasy guerrilla warfare leagues!)

But these same people who complain that they are losing at the ballot box are the ones that are working so hard to suppress the votes of other people. So even their tepid support for democracy is anti-democratic! But it is based on the same thing that is behind, “Take our country back!” Just as the current America — Now and sixty years ago! — is not valid, many Americans are not valid. High on their list would be people like me and the kind of people who read this site. But it is pretty hard to stop us from voting without going full “King Ted Cruz.” So they go after easier targets — people even weaker than we are.

We have had this democratic republic for 226 years. It is sad that we now have to argue over the very idea of democracy.

American Revolutionary John Reed

John ReedOn this day in 1887, the journalist John Reed was born. I suppose at this point, he is best known from the 1981 Warren Beatty film Reds. But he really ought to be known for his firsthand account of the Russian revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World. It was used as the blueprint to Sergei Eisenstein’s masterpiece, October: Ten Days That Shook the World. Reed died in Russia a year after the book was published in 1919. He was a hero of the early days of the Soviet Union and buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis with much pomp and circumstance.

Reed was a political radical and it is generally hard to separate his journalism from his activism. It is easy to dismiss him. The Soviet Union was hardly a bastion of freedom and equality even when he died. And under Joseph Stalin, whatever dream remained died forever. But given the excesses of capitalism through the time and increasing now, it is hard to see Reed in a bad light. I think the right path was the one we were on until about a half century ago: progressive income taxes, strong unions, a strong social safety net. These are the things that stop young idealists like Reed from thinking a workers’ revolution was necessary.

What I find most interesting about Reed is how he continues to fascinate people. He did lead an amazing life that is very much in keeping with his Romantic hero reputation. The film Reds didn’t much exaggerate what he did — including his treks between Russian and Finland. And he just happened to be at the center of the biggest political event in more than a century. And then he died young, still in the middle of it all. It’s impressive to me, because it is so different from any life that I could ever imagine living. And I’m fine with that.

Happy birthday John Reed!