Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How Should the Next President Deal with the Bush White House's Crimes?

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!

Amy Goodman:The dominant role of corporations is one of a number of issues fueling skepticism around the 2008 campaign. Criticism has also mounted recently over presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama's perceived shift to the right.
In an apparent reversal, Obama backed a new bill authorizing the Bush administration's domestic spy program and granting immunity for the telecom companies that took part. He also supported a Supreme Court decision to overturn a D.C. handgun ban. On foreign policy, Obama said he'd be open to revise his pledge to withdraw US troops from Iraq and also called for a major increase to the size of the US occupation of Afghanistan. And like all top Democratic leaders, Obama has refused to support calls for the prosecution of President Bush and top White House officials for war crimes and other abuses of power.
The criticism of Obama's stances has come as part of a larger debate over whether efforts to hold the Bush administration accountable would jeopardize an ostensibly higher goal of ensuring a Democratic win this November.

I'm joined right now, in addition to Glenn Greenwald (r.), who blogs at, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who's an informal adviser to Barack Obama, professor at Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School. He is co-author of the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness and is cited as one of the most-cited legal scholars in the country.
Cass Sunstein, your response to those who talk about -- particularly concerned about Barack Obama, for example, shifting on the FISA bill, saying he would filibuster and now actually voting for the bill that granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms.
Sunstein: Yes, I think it's -- this is widely misunderstood. What the bill isn't is basically a bill that -- whose fundamental purpose is to give immunity. It's a bill that creates a range of new safeguards to protect privacy, to ensure judicial supervision, to give a role for the inspector general. So it actually gives privacy and civil liberties a big boost over the previous arrangement.
It also does contain an immunity provision, which Senator Obama opposed. He voted for the substitute bill that didn't have that. But he thought that this was a compromise which had safeguards for going forward, which made it worth supporting on balance, compared to the alternative, which was the status quo. So there's been no fundamental switch for him. He's basically concerned with protecting privacy. And this is not his favorite bill, but it's a lot better than what the Bush administration had before, which was close to free reign.
Goodman: Glenn Greenwald, you've written a lot about this, as well.
Greenwald: Well, you know, it's one thing to defend Senator Obama and to support his candidacy, as I do. It's another thing to just make factually false claims in order to justify or rationalize anything that he does.
The idea that this wasn't a reversal is just insultingly false. Back in December, Senator Obama was asked, "What is your position on Senator Dodd's pledge to filibuster a bill that contains retroactive immunity?" And at first, Senator Obama issued an equivocal statement, and there were demands that he issue a clearer statement. His campaign spokesman said -- and I quote -- "Senator Obama will support a filibuster of any bill that contains retroactive immunity" -- "any bill that contains retroactive immunity." The bill before the Senate two weeks ago contained retroactive immunity, by everybody's account, and yet not only did Senator Obama not adhere to his pledge to support a filibuster of that bill, he voted for closure on the bill, which is the opposite of a filibuster. It's what enables a vote to occur. And then he voted for the underlying bill itself. So it's a complete betrayal of the very unequivocal commitment that he made not more than six months ago in response to people who wanted to know his position on this issue in order to decide whether or not to vote for him. That's number one.
Number two, the idea that this bill is an improvement on civil liberties is equally insulting in terms of how false it is. This is a bill demanded by George Bush and Dick Cheney and opposed by civil libertarians across the board. ACLU is suing. The EFF is vigorously opposed. Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd, the civil libertarians in the Senate, are vehemently opposed to it; they say it's an evisceration of the Fourth Amendment. The idea that George Bush and Dick Cheney would demand a bill that's an improvement on civil liberties and judicial oversight is just absurd. This bill vests vast new categories of illegal and/or unconstitutional and warrantless surveillance powers in the President to spy on Americans' communications without warrants. If you want to say that that's necessary for the terrorist threat, one should say that. But to say that it's an improvement on civil liberties is just propaganda.
Goodman: Cass Sunstein?
Sunstein: Well, I appreciate the passion behind that statement. I don't see it that way. And Morton Halperin, who's been one of the most aggressive advocates of privacy protections in the last decades, is an enthusiastic supporter of this bill on exactly the ground that I gave. My reading of it, just as a legal matter, is that it ensures exclusivity of the FISA procedure, which the Bush administration strongly resisted, it creates supervision both on the part of the inspector general and the legal system, which the Bush administration had said did not exist previously. So the view that this is an improvement over the Bush administration status quo, I believe, is widely accepted by those who have studied the bill with care.
I do appreciate the concern about retroactive immunity. Senator Obama did oppose that, voted for the opposing bill. But I don't share the extreme negativity about this compromise that the speaker endorses.
Goodman: Glenn Greenwald?
Greenwald: Well, again, Senator Obama made a promise and then betrayed it. The idea that the bill is an improvement on civil liberties, like I said, is demonstrated by the fact that all civil libertarians, virtually across the board, vigorously oppose it and are suing over it. And I think --
Goodman: Glenn Greenwald, let me move on to another issue, and that is the issue of holding Bush administration officials accountable. This is also an issue, Professor Sunstein, that you addressed this weekend in Austin at the Netroots Nation conference. And on Friday, the House Judiciary Chair John Conyers is going to be holding a hearing around the issue of impeachment, with those for and against impeachment speaking through the day. Your assessment of the whole movement and your thoughts on this, Cass Sunstein?
Sunstein: Well, I speak just for myself and not for Senator Obama on this, but my view is that impeachment is a remedy of last resort, that the consequences of an impeachment process, a serious one now, would be to divide the country in a way that is probably not very helpful. It would result in the presidency of Vice President Cheney, which many people enthusiastic about impeachment probably aren't that excited about. I think it has an understandable motivation, but I don't think it's appropriate at this stage to attempt to impeach two presidents consecutively.
In terms of holding Bush administration officials accountable for illegality, any crime has to be taken quite seriously. We want to make sure there's a process for investigating and opening up past wrongdoing in a way that doesn't even have the appearance of partisan retribution. So I'm sure an Obama administration will be very careful both not to turn a blind eye to illegality in the past and to institute a process that has guarantees of independence, so that there isn't a sense of the kind of retribution we've seen at some points in the last decade or two that's not healthy.
Goodman: I recently spoke to Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who's been a leading congressional voice against the Bush spy program. This is some of what he had to say.
Sen. Russ Feingold: The President takes the position that under Article II of the Constitution he can ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. We believe that that's absolutely wrong. I have pointed out that I think it is not only against the law, but I think it's a pretty plain impeachable offense that the President created this program, and yet this immunity provision may have the effect not only of giving immunity to the telephone companies, but it may also allow the administration to block legal accountability for this crime, which I believe it is.
Goodman: Cass Sunstein?
Cass Sunstein: Well, there has been a big debate among law professors and within the Supreme Court about the President's adherent authority to wiretap people. And while I agree with Senator Feingold that the President's position is wrong and the Supreme Court has recently, indirectly at least, given a very strong signal that the Supreme Court itself has rejected the Bush position, the idea that it's an impeachable offense to adopt an incorrect interpretation of the President's power, that, I think, is too far-reaching. There are people in the Clinton administration who share Bush's view with respect to foreign surveillance. There are past attorney generals who suggested that the Bush administration position is right. So, I do think the Bush administration is wrong -- let's be very clear on that -- but the notion that it's an impeachable offense seems to me to distort the notion of what an impeachable offense is. That's high crimes and misdemeanors. And an incorrect, even a badly incorrect, interpretation of the law is not impeachable.
Goodman: Glenn Greenwald?
Glenn Greenwald: You know, I think this mentality that we're hearing is really one of the principal reasons why our government has become so lawless and so distorted over the past thirty years. You know, if you go into any courtroom where there is a criminal on trial for any kind of a crime, they'll have lawyers there who stand up and offer all sorts of legal and factual justifications or defenses for what they did. You know, going back all the way to the pardon of Nixon, you know, you have members of the political elite and law professors standing up and saying, "Oh, there's good faith reasons not to impeach or to criminally prosecute." And then you go to the Iran-Contra scandal, where the members of the Beltway class stood up and said the same things Professor Sunstein is saying: we need to look to the future, it's important that we not criminalize policy debates. You know, you look at Lewis Libby being spared from prison.
And now you have an administration that -- we have a law in this country that says it is a felony offense, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, to spy on Americans without the warrants required by law. We have a president who got caught doing that, who admits that he did that. And yet, you have people saying, "Well, there may be legal excuses as to why he did that." Or you have a president who admits ordering, in the White House, planning with his top aides, interrogation policies that the International Red Cross says are categorically torture, which are also felony offenses in the United States. And you have people saying, "Well, we can't criminalize policy disputes."
And what this has really done is it's created a two-tiered system of government, where government leaders know that they are free to break our laws, and they'll have members of the pundit class and the political class and law professors standing up and saying, "Well, these are important intellectual issues that we need to grapple with, and it's really not fair to put them inside of a courtroom or talk about prison." And so, we've incentivized lawlessness in this country. I mean, the laws are clear that it's criminal to do these things. The President has done them, and he -- there's no reason to treat him differently than any other citizen who breaks our laws.
Goodman: You've also, Glenn Greenwald, written about the President possibly granting preemptive pardons to officials involved in controversial counterterrorism programs.
Greenwald: Yeah, I think that's right. And you already see members of the right -- the New York Times reported about a week ago that certain right-wing legal analysts were already demanding that he issue a full-scale pardon of all members -- of all participants in these illegal detention and surveillance programs. And that's one of the interesting parts about what Senator Obama just did in supporting telecom amnesty, is that those lawsuits that exist, I mean, that were proceeding along, were really our only real avenue for finding out what the government did.
I think one critical thing here is that, you know, last year, James Comey, who was the number two person at the Justice Department, testified before Congress that they discovered that certain surveillance activities that the administration was engaged in, not what we end up knowing about, but other activities, were so patently illegal that the entire top level of the Justice Department had threatened to resign en masse unless it stopped immediately. And President Bush ordered that it continue for another forty-five days, even once he was told that, and it went on for two-and-a-half years.
We don't know what that is. Those lawsuits are really the only way that we would have found out and that there would have been a legal accountability, but because of telecom immunity, those lawsuits are now going to terminate, those crimes are likely to be covered up, and President Bush can simply issue pardons that would prevent any future administrations, Senator Obama's or anyone else's, from investigating it and vindicating the rule of law in this country. And that's what made it such a corrupt measure.
Goodman: Professor Sunstein, your response to Glenn Greenwald on the whole accountability issue? Also, one of the things you['ve] raised [is that] going after the Bush administration could start a cycle of criminalizing public service.
Sunstein: Right. We're talking about some pretty serious issues here, and I think it's good to distinguish among various ones. So, are we in favor of immunizing people who worked in the White House in the last eight years from accountability for criminal acts? I don't think anyone should be in favor of that. We're in agreement on the need to hold people accountable for criminal wrongdoing.
Then there's a second question, which is the impeachment question, which is analytically very different.
Then there's a third issue, which involves pardons. For the President to issue a preemptive pardon of all illegality on the part of those involved in his administration would be intolerable, and the political retribution for that should be extreme. I expect the President won't do that.
With respect to holding people accountable, the first things that's needed is sunlight. Justice Brandeis (photo, r.), the Supreme Court justice, said sunlight is the best of disinfectants. So I agree very much that we want clarity with respect to what's been done. It's important to think, not in a fussy way, but in a way that ensures the kind of fairness our system calls for. It's important to distinguish various processes by which we can produce accountability. I don't believe the courtroom is the exclusive route. Congress is our national lawmaker, and there are processes there that could have a bipartisan quality. There are also commissions that can be created, commissions that can try to figure out what's happened, what's gone wrong and how can we make this better.
When I talk about a fear of criminalizing political disagreement, I don't mean to suggest that we shouldn't criminalize crimes. Crimes are against the law, and if there's been egregious wrongdoing in violation of the law, then it's not right to put a blind eye to that. So I guess I'm saying that emotions play an important role in thinking about what the legal system should be doing. But under our constitutional order, we go back and forth between the emotions and the legal requirements, and that's a way of guaranteeing fairness. And as I say, very important to have a degree of bipartisanship with respect to subsequent investigations.
Goodman: You're cited as the most often cited legal scholar in the country. Yesterday, the military commissions trial began at Guantanamo, first time since World War II. Your take?
Sunstein: Well, I'd be honored but surprised if the military commissions cite some of my academic articles. In terms of military commissions, there's traditional nervousness in our system about holding people criminally to be tried in a not-an-ordinary tribunal, so there's reason for nervousness about that. I think any military commission, the first requirement is to ensure that the fundamental ingredients of American justice are included -- that is, a right to a lawyer, a right to an impartial tribunal, a right to confront contrary evidence. We don't want any convictions that don't fit with all of our fundamentals.
Goodman: We're going to come back to talk about your book Nudge , but I want to give Glenn Greenwald a final comment on this issue.
Greenwald: You know, it's interesting, about the military commissions, yesterday a military judge presiding over the military commission of the individual accused of being Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan, ruled that certain evidence was inadmissible, because it was obtained by what he called, quote, "highly coercive conditions" while he was captive in Afghanistan. And so, you know, we don't need to say things like "if there was serious wrongdoing." We know that there was serious wrongdoing and serious illegality on the part of the Bush administration. But Congress, unfortunately, hasn't done its duty to investigate or oversight; what they've done instead is immunize the law-breaking and protect it and retroactively legalize it. And that's why courtrooms, unfortunately, are the only place where real judicial accountability can occur. That's where criminals are tried under a system of rule of law, is in a courtroom. And there's no reason to exempt the political class from that critical principle.

Youssef Chahine, Egypt's cinematic great, dies

It's a wrap on one of the boldest careers in the movies. Youssef Chahine was the leading voice of the Arab cinema for over half a century – and as prolific, versatile and accomplished as many a more famous western auteur – but his abiding worth, inside Egypt and out, has been in his outspoken expression of the conscience of his country. He took on imperialism and fundamentalism alike, celebrated the liberty of body and soul, and offered himself warts and all as an emblem of his nation. Egypt's modern history is etched in his life's work.
Chahine directed his first film, Baba Amin, in 1950, when Egypt was still a British colony. He second, Son of the Nile (1951), was invited to compete in Cannes, and over the following three decades he averaged more than a film a year, ranging from musicals and comedies to neorealist dramas, historical epics, self-portraits and a documentary. Chahine discovered Omar Sharif in a Cairo cafe, and gave him his first acting role in Blazing Sky (1953), as a peasant farm engineer fighting the injustices of a feudal landlord. Jamila, the Algerian (1958) adapted Jacques Verg├Ęs' book about the Algerian resistance fighter Djamila Bouhired, shortly after her torture and trial by the French.
Chahine's artistic breakthrough came in another film made the same year. Cairo Station distilled the tumult of General Nasser's new republic into an explosive love triangle between three working denizens of the city's bustling railway hub. Chahine, who had trained as an actor, himself played Qinawi, the lame and simple-minded newspaper boy whose frustrated desire for a flirty lemonade girl is fanned into tragedy; according to the director's own reminiscences in An Egyptian Story (1982), he was set to receive the Best Actor prize from the Berlin Film Festival, but some of the jury members doubted that he was merely acting the part of a cripple. Egyptian audiences weren't ready for the film's lively mix of neorealism, noir, sexuality and musical set-pieces, either, and Cairo Station went largely unseen for 20 years. (British audiences were treated to a re-release in 2002, and the film still looks groundbreaking. Evidently the flame of neorealism was blowing into shores much further afield than just France in 1958.)
Saladin (1963), a project Chahine inherited, proposed the 12th-century sultan's defence of Jerusalem against the Christian Crusaders as an epic allegory of Nasser's pan-Arab nationalism, though the Catholic Chahine and his leftist writers also cast Saladin as a paragon of peace and religious tolerance. Chahine's relationship with the post-colonial authorities soon turned more critical, however. Once Upon a Time the Nile (1968-78), a documentary of the construction of the Aswan Dam, was delayed for four years by its Egyptian and Soviet sponsors after Chahine steered away from their charter of national myth-making towards a portrait of the dam's impact on individual lives. The Choice (1970) was a murder mystery that suggested Egypt's growing intellectual schisms in the wake of the calamitous Six Day War – a defeat for which The Sparrow (1973) laid the blame squarely on corruption in the political establishment. Sadat's government duly banned the film for two years.

Chahine's ability to link the personal and political took another step forward with his autobiographical Alexandria quartet, named after the cosmopolitan city of his birth. Alexandria… Why? (1978) recounted the filmmaking dreams of his teenage alter ego, Yehia, amidst the ambivalently received German occupation of Cairo in 1942: while locals are kidnapping British soldiers, or promising them that "Hitler will turn you into bellydancers", Yehia is dreaming of directing MGM musicals, and various illicit passions flare up between a Jew and a Muslim communist, Yehia's uncle and a young British soldier. It too was widely banned.
After a stress-induced sabbatical and open-heart surgery, Chahine dramatised the operation as a trial of Yehia's life in An Egyptian Story (1982), his most Fellini-esque film: accused by his conscience of betraying his youthful idealism, he reviews relationships and career milestones against the backdrop of Egypt's post-war metamorphoses. 1990's Alexandria Again and Forever (1990) was a musical fantasy in which the entire Egyptian film industry goes on hunger strike for democracy; the Yehia character's fantasies within the film about a young protege actor were Chahine's most forthright illustration of his own bisexuality.

Chahine continued to resist borders wherever the world raised them. His story of the biblical Joseph, The Emigrant (1994), was censored in Egypt for idolatry – representing a prophet. Chahine responded with the prescient Destiny (1997), a sensualist celebration of the Spanish-Arabian scholar Avarroes (or Ibn Rushd), and his struggles against power-mongering politicians and murderous fundamentalists in 12th-century Moorish Andalusia. It ends with a massive book-burning, and the defiant motto "Ideas have wings. No-one can stop their flight."
Alexandria ... New York (2004) brought Chahine's alter ego Yehia back to America, half a century after his first visit as a wide-eyed acting student. He finds a lost son, but the promise of the American Dream, and the charm of classical Hollywood, seem sorely mislaid.

His last movie, Chaos, returned to scrutinising contemporary Cairo. A burlesque about police brutality and bad education, it excoriates Egypt's autocracy for its choke-hold on civil society, and the country's sybaritic elite for abandoning the cause of democracy. The film was released in late 2007 – shooting was completed by Khaled Youssef, Chahine's recent co-writer, when Chahine fell ill – and it plainly anticipates this year's food riots. Islamic fundamentalists also feature in Chaos, but for Chahine the equation is simple: injustice is the incubator of violence.
Chahine's films have been released piecemeal on DVD in France and the US, but (with the exception of his contribution to the portmanteau movie 11'09"01 – September 11) never in Britain. They still await their wings.
This article was first published on on Monday July 28 2008.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The unbearable whiteness of being, or, Bobos in Paradise revisted

The author of "Stuff White People Like" skewers the sacred cows of lefty Caucasian culture, from the Prius to David Sedaris.

By Katharine Mieszkowski
Jul. 05, 2008
Stuff White People Like is a satirical blog about a particular segment of Caucasian culture. It's like an extended "you might be a redneck if" joke recast for a more upscale set. It gently mocks the habits and pretensions of urbane, educated, left-leaning whites, skewering their passion for Barack Obama and public transportation (as long as it's not a bus), their idle threats to move to Canada, and joy in playing children's games as adults. Kickball, anyone? (A list of the white stuff is here.)
It's likely I don't have to tell you about the Stuff White People Like site, because the odds are someone -- someone white -- has already forwarded it to you. Christian Lander, 29, who grew up in Toronto and now lives in Culver City, Calif., created the site to amuse his friends when he was working as the associate manager of corporate communications for an Internet agency last January. He doesn't do that job anymore, because 32 million hits and a book deal later -- "Stuff White People Like: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions" was published July 1 -- Lander's become a professional mocker of whitey and himself.
Lander is firmly in the demographic he's ribbing. By his own definition, he screams white. A grad school dropout, he studied film and literature in a master's program at the University of Arizona before bailing on a Ph.D. program at Indiana University. In his author's photo, Lander illustrates a number of things he spoofs in the book: He wears a beard, chunky glasses, shorts, a performance athletic vest, New Balance shoes and an iPod, while riding a bike and carrying a reusable water bottle, a Macintosh laptop, organic vegetables and a copy of the New Yorker.
Not surprisingly, Lander's site has been embraced by the white culture that he lampoons, complete with an appearance on public radio's "Talk of the Nation." The site's success supports Lander's theory that, as he writes in his book, self-deprecating humor is all a part of whiteness. Lander's site has also inspired copycat sites, such as Stuff Asian People Like, as well as hate mail accusing him of racist stereotyping and critiques that he's pretending to poke fun at white people while actually giving them new ways to feel superior.
Salon spoke with Lander by phone from his home office, where his fixed-gear bicycle hangs on the wall, near the shelves of books, proudly displayed.
What led you to launch your site Stuff White People Like?
My friend Myles Valentin and I were both at work, and we were just having an IM [instant messenger] conversation. We were talking about "The Wire." We're both huge fans of the TV show "The Wire." And then my friend Myles, who is Filipino, said he didn't trust any white people who don't watch "The Wire."
From there we ended up talking about what are white people doing instead of watching "The Wire"? And we threw back a few responses, like doing yoga, getting divorced, going to therapy. And I thought it was funny.
So I went to Word Press, and I just started writing, never expecting it to be popular, just expecting Myles to read it, and maybe a few more friends back home. And that was it. It wasn't any more of a grand scheme than that.
Obviously you're not talking about all white people. Which white people are you talking about?
I think it doesn't take long reading the site to figure out which white people I'm talking about. It's mostly left-wing, upper-middle-class.
In the book, you also occasionally mention "the wrong kind" of white people. Who are the wrong kind of white people?
There are a lot of the wrong kind of white people. You have, obviously, poor, right-wing white people, and rich, right-wing white people.
Yet a lot of the stuff you write that white people like, obviously many other people like, too.
When you create a site called Stuff White People Like, it's easy for people to make an assumption that it's actually about stuff only white people like. It's not meant to be exclusionary but rather a focus on the things that, well, white people like.
Let's talk about some of them. What is the significance of bottles of water?
It's all about ranking. It's essentially a contest. It used to be that bottled water was a status symbol. You drink Evian, or you drink Fiji, or what is the most expensive water.
But advanced-level white people, the higher-ranking white people, realized that they were creating a lot of waste, and so they switched over to the Nalgene bottle. That also reminded them of going camping. So then they could take a stance of superiority over the people who were drinking bottled water. And then, that whole story came out about Nalgenes leaching I don't know what the exact toxin is [Bisphenol A]. So then super-advanced white people went even further and got those metal Sigg bottles, and now you have this really solid hierarchy and ranking of white people of commercial bottled water, Nalgene bottle and either the glass or metal, twist-top bottles.
What's the significance of an eco product, like the Toyota Prius, the carbon offset or the reusable shopping bag?
That again is another way to claim superiority over regular-level, or subpar, white people. You're saving the environment, you're making a difference. It helps remind you and others that your lifestyle is making things better.
Why is it important to hate evil corporations, except for Apple, Ikea and Target?
That's one of the great contradictions of white people. For the most part, all the world's ills are based on large, evil corporations -- government corruption, American expansion through the use of corporate contracts, pollution, globalization, every bad thing that's happened. But if it happens with nice design, it's acceptable.
What happens if you point out these exceptions?
You're going to really annoy white people. They do not need to be reminded. It's like with the Prius. It's not a good idea to remind Prius owners that the car still burns gasoline. That really pisses them off.
You are a graduate school dropout. What is the significance of graduate school?
Graduate school -- it's very important, because you sort of get this impression in the rest of the world that getting advanced degrees helps you get a higher-paying job. But interestingly, within white culture it actually gets you lower-paying jobs.
Why is that?
A Ph.D. in English isn't going to get you a higher-paying job than, say, a Ph.D. in chemistry or law, but it does give you one important thing, which is academic credibility at cocktail parties.
But obviously, there are a lot of white lawyers.
Oh, yeah. Some of the white people, who are not quite advanced enough white people, have sold out.
What does going to law school represent?
It's what you do when you finish with your liberal arts degree, and you start to panic about realizing that the careers available for someone who knows a lot about Proust are very limited, and you realize that you still want money. So you end up going to law school. There are people who enjoy law school, because then you can work for a nonprofit organization, and you can be very helpful.
Why is working for a nonprofit important?
White people have the constant and unabiding need to feel as though they're helping, and because this gives them the ability to hold it over other people.
Who are the whitest celebrities?
Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rosie O'Donnell.
Is the whitest TV show "The Wire?"
It's not the whitest TV show. It's just a TV show beloved by white people, because it was really well done, and it got low ratings. These are two very important characteristics for white people to like a TV show. In order to be known as an ultimate white TV show, you have to make sure that you don't last more than five seasons.
But isn't it kind of a contradiction, because isn't bragging about not having a TV also a sign of status?
Yes, because do you know how white people consume "The Wire"? Netflix subscription watched on their MacBook.
What do you think is the whitest TV show ever?
"Twin Peaks" is a contender. "Mr. Show" is definitely on that list. "The Simpsons" is on there, although in recent years it's also declined a little bit.
A very important concept when you're dealing with white people is this idea of "jumping the shark." And "The Simpsons" is one of the best examples of that. You have to make sure that when you talk about "The Simpsons" you know exactly the appropriate moment to say when you stopped liking it.
If you say you stopped liking it too early, you look too snobby. If you say you stopped liking it too late, you kind of look like an idiot. So, the best answer is you say the "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" episodes.
What's the whitest movie ever?
This one is a challenge. "The Royal Tenenbaums" is up there. "Garden State." "Donnie Darko" is on there. "Fight Club."
The problem is that whatever is liked by white people, advanced-level white people have to hate it, because it was popular. The advanced levels have to have some sort of French film in there from Godard. Some people need a Japanese film that hasn't been translated yet. You'll get some white people who are like, "I only watch silent film." It's difficult.
What about the whitest band?
Right now? I have to say Vampire Weekend all the way. They're pushing it to levels unseen.
Let's talk about food.
Food is another important area of competition, and being able to show up other white people. Some white people get their status based on how much they know about food, like expensive ingredients or foreign cuisine. Whereas other white people gain their status based on how many things they've cut out of what they eat, like gluten and sugar and refined things and dairy and meat, trying to reduce as much as possible.
But universally, throughout, shopping at Whole Foods is considered the best way to go.
But what about farmers' markets?
Unless you're in California, where you have year-round farmers' markets, you need consistency throughout the year, and Whole Foods provides that.
Definitely organic, when you're talking about fruits and vegetables?
This isn't even a question.
What meals are important?
Breakfast on the weekend, I guess you'd call it brunch, too, is one of the most important white meals, because it allows white couples to get together. Some people even bring their dogs, if they have outdoor patios. During the week for working white people, the expensive sandwich lunch is essential.
What do you mean by the expensive sandwich?
Anywhere you will find a predominance of white businesses, such as advertising agencies, nonprofit organizations, hedge funds, there will undoubtedly be a store nearby that sells sandwiches that cost between $8 and $12.
You've already mentioned eating outside. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of the outdoors?
It's just where white people want to be. From the time white people are raised, they're taught that being indoors is a bad thing, and that it's always better to be outside. So they're always on this constant quest to be camping or bicycling or eating outside, whatever it takes to get outside. The more time you spend outside the more credibility you have to dump on other people for not going outside.
And even if you're not outside, you might be wearing what you call outdoor performance clothes. Why is that?
White people need to know that if someone calls them up, and says: "You want to go camping?" they're ready at the drop of a hat. Bam, out they go. You could be in the Ikea, just leave the cart in one of the aisles, head up to some campsite.
Can you talk about the deep love of David Sedaris?
It's hard to talk about it. It's like talking about a love of oxygen. It's just there.
Why David Sedaris?
They love him, because he's funny, and he lives in France, and he's gay. He's like everything you could possibly want in the ideal friend. Oh, he also writes for the New Yorker. He hits so many things on the list it's unbelievable.
On the site, I've been getting all these e-mails from people who have gone to his signings, and they said that it's just like this sea of white people and huge lineups usually reserved for rock stars.
You have this quiz in your book to calculate how white you are. So, how white are you?
It's tough for me to say this, because there is the answer based on my quiz, and then the fact that I wrote the book gives me like a bonus score. So, I'm going to say 91 percent.
So, are you like the ultimate, advanced, elite white person, because you are categorizing all the rest of them?
I think, but I know that people are gunning for me, and I don't think that it's going to last much longer.
Do you see yourself as critiquing this white culture, or are you kind of celebrating it?
I think I'm critiquing it, as well. I make fun of myself a lot on the site. That's why I put my photo on there to let people know that I'm making fun of myself. It's been a great chance for me to call out so many of my pretentious leanings.
There is such a strong belief among this type of people that you're right, of being unwilling to listen to anything else, and I think that's one of the things I'm trying to point out. There is a critique in there, but the top priority is to be funny.
But don't you say that even self-deprecating humor is a marker of the white culture?
Yeah. I was trying so hard to sound smart there, and you totally called me out on it.
White people figured out an awesome way to use self-deprecating humor to compliment themselves. Like, when you talk about being "broke," what you're really saying is that the people with money are sellouts.
Haven't you gotten a lot of hate mail about the site?
Yeah. I used to read all the comments on the site, when it was getting like 30,000 hits a day, and I was getting comments every couple of minutes. I was reading them all, because it was fascinating to me, and there are so many funny people out there. But as it got bigger, people left a lot of mean comments about me, about the site, so I stopped reading them entirely, because I was trying to write the book, and I just wanted to stay positive. Reading the comments broke my spirit. I'd just feel so down. But I still read every e-mail that comes in.
Are the angry commenters mad about the idea of the site, or do they feel like you're making fun of them?
A lot of them just hate me for the fact that the site got popular. A lot of people just hate it because they think I'm being racist, but they don't really think it through. The people who write in think that I'm perpetuating hate, and that all stereotypes are evil, and I think that they're kind of missing the point.
The white people who like your site -- are you just giving them another way to feel self-congratulatory?
Possibly. That might be part of it. It's a funny concept that is open-ended. A lot of people can add their things that I'm missing.
To some extent I'm sure there is some self-congratulation in there, and that's fine. I'm not a performance artist here. I'm really trying to make people laugh more than anything. If it leads to questioning, that's great, but I think a lot of people are quite proud with how white they are, which is certainly an unintended consequence.
-- By Katharine Mieszkowski

Thursday, July 03, 2008

World Bank Challenges US position, Biofuels are prime cause of food crisis, says leaked report

The World Bank refutes claims that biofuels are benign, rather, their production and incorp0rating them into the industrial world-wide fuel mix has been catastrophic on the cost of food. Turns out they are making the pollution problem, worse, the food riots predictable, and the self-vested industry lobbyists further protected and getting richer while the common person pays and pays and in more cases, starve, with over 100 million more pushed below the poverty line. Not a pretty picture. So much for the vaunted 'green fuel" solution. This story, leaked to the Guardian in London. - MS

Thursday July 3, 2008
Aditya Chakrabortty
Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% — far more than previously estimated — according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian. The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.
The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.
Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush. "It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House," said one yesterday.
The news comes at a critical point in the world's negotiations on biofuels policy. Leaders of the G8 industrialised countries meet next week in Hokkaido, Japan, where they will discuss the food crisis and come under intense lobbying from campaigners calling for a moratorium on the use of plant-derived fuels.
It will also put pressure on the British government, which is due to release its own report on the impact of biofuels, the Gallagher Report. The Guardian has previously reported that the British study will state that plant fuels have played a "significant" part in pushing up food prices to record levels. Although it was expected last week, the report has still not been released.
"Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises," said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. "It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat."
Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as "the first real economic crisis of globalisation".
President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: "Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases."
Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.
Since April, all petrol and diesel in Britain has had to include 2.5% from biofuels. The EU has been considering raising that target to 10% by 2020, but is faced with mounting evidence that that will only push food prices higher.
"Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate," says the report. The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.
It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.
Other reviews of the food crisis looked at it over a much longer period, or have not linked these three factors, and so arrived at smaller estimates of the impact from biofuels. But the report author, Don Mitchell, is a senior economist at the Bank and has done a detailed, month-by-month analysis of the surge in food prices, which allows much closer examination of the link between biofuels and food supply.
The report points out biofuels derived from sugarcane, which Brazil specializes in, have not had such a dramatic impact.
Supporters of biofuels argue that they are a greener alternative to relying on oil and other fossil fuels, but even that claim has been disputed by some experts, who argue that it does not apply to US production of ethanol from plants.
"It is clear that some biofuels have huge impacts on food prices," said Dr David King, the government's former chief scientific adviser, last night. "All we are doing by supporting these is subsidising higher food prices, while doing nothing to tackle climate change."