Slavoj Å½iÅ¾ek is part philosopher, part international phenomenon. And if that seems impossible in this day and age, consider: Å½iÅ¾ek, a Slovenian cultural theorist, has published more than 40 books in English, has starred in four films, and even has an academic journal (International Journal of Å½iÅ¾ek Studies) dedicated to his work. Renowned for his gymnastic thinking and mastery of counterintuition, Å½iÅ¾ek has been called "the most dangerous philosopher in the West" by the New Republic and "one of the world's best known public intellectuals" by the New York Review of Books.
Out this week, his latest book, Refugees, Terrorand Other Troubles With the Neighbors is an urgent and entertaining diagnosis of the ongoing refugee crisis and global terror threat, highlighting the glaring contradictions in our attitudes and actions. True to form, Å½iÅ¾ek, an avowed Marxist, takes this fraught historical moment as an opportunity to apply his particular brand of bombastic, unconventional salve. His past positions have chafed liberals and conservatives alike, and this book will be no exception. (See below.) I caught up with Å½iÅ¾ek to talk about the limitations of democracy, orphan prophets, and America's ugly presidential election.
Mother Jones: What, specifically, is the biggest problem that the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, and to a lesser extent in North America, has exposed?
Slavoj Å½iÅ¾ek: It's an issue with democracy! When people complain Europe is not transparent—if, right now, you organized elections all across Europe, the first result would be to throw all the immigrants out. Unambiguously. This is the problem! I spoke with some Slovenian representatives in Brussels when they were negotiating to help Greece and immigrants. And they told me they were making deals in closed sessions, but if the debate were to be public, it would have been much worse for Greece and for immigrants, because public opinion in countries like Slovenia and Poland was much more against immigrants and against helping Greece. What shocks me is that the very same people who complain that the democratic process in Europe should be more transparent at the same time want more rights for immigrants.
MJ: And what does this mean for democracy?
SZ: The state wants to impose basic anti-racist measures, and then local communities controlled by right-wing fundamentalists block that. I am here on the side of the state, which I am ready to endorse up to the crazy end. We have to accept that the people are quite often not right. I believe in democracy but in a very conditional way. There are elections that are a miracle, in the sense that you can see that people were really, authentically, mobilized. For example, in spite of all the compromises that occurred later, the Syriza elections—this was an authentic choice. So miracles do happen, but they are exceptions. Don't fetishize the people. Don't mythologize the people, they are not right! Don't mythologize the immigrants. This is the big motive running through my book.
MJ: This is one of those positions that won't be too popular on the left.
SZ: My point is precisely that the ultimate racism is to endorse the immigrant other, but the idealized version of that other. They are ordinary, shitty people like all of us. The point is not to like them. The point is to accept them the way they are and try to help them. That's why I don't want to open my heart to the refugees. That's for liberals to do. Let's open our purses to them. Give them money! Let's not get into this emotional blackmail.
MJ: You first bring up the term "double blackmail" in the book with regard to the supposedly irreconcilable opposition between secular capitalism and Islamic fundamentalism. Please explain that.
SZ: Although I'm totally opposed to Islamic fundamentalism, I don't buy the story of stupid, radical leftists who claim Islamic fundamentalism is one of the big anti-capitalist forces. I think this is empirically not true. I read reports of Daesh [ISIS]. The nearest approximation is that they operate like a big mafia corporation, dealing with artifacts, cultural monuments, oil. Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, they are not traditional. Forget about their ideology; look at their organization! They're a brutal centralized power. They are ultramodern in their mode of functioning.
The second reason I think the opposition is wrong is that a new form of capitalism is emerging. It's a wrong, racist term, but "capitalism with Asian values," which simply means capitalism no longer ideologically perceives itself as this hedonistic individualism. More and more, you can combine a certain religious, ethnic, or cultural commitment. Like India's prime minister, Narenda Modi, my hero in a horrible sense. I am totally opposed to him. He is a neoliberal economist and Hindu fundamentalist. So again, this entire disposition of oppositions like "liberal permissive capitalism" versus religious fundamentalism is wrong—it doesn't function like that. This is not where capitalism is moving.
MJ: An interesting illustration of this contradiction is Uber, which recently caught flack for taking $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia. So we have the technological vanguard of Silicon Valley in bed with one of the world's most infamously regressive Islamic regimes, and yet Uber's services in the kingdom have been portrayed as a social justice issue, since women aren't allowed to drive.
SZ: So let me play the devil here. As Saudi Arabia I will tell you, "Fuck you. You preach multicultural tolerance. Such a role of women is an immanent part of our culture. Where is your tolerance for different cultures?" And in a way, I would be right! Because you cannot say, "We will correct women's role in society and otherwise we leave to Saudis their culture." A shameful story is how American feminists supported the invasion of Iraq, claiming it would bring liberation to Iraqi women. They were totally wrong. Saddam was still, with all the horrors, a secular leader. Women held public posts in Saddam's Iraq. If anything, now the role of women is much lower. They are much more oppressed now. Isn't this a beautiful irony?
The main social effect of the American occupation of Iraq was to worsen the position of women and, because of the rise of more orthodox Islam, most of the Christians left Iraq. Christians were a considerable minority there, a couple million of them for thousands of years. It took American intervention to see them thrown out. Tariq Aziz, Saddam's foreign minister, was an Iraqi Christian. We should never forget this. The two states which are disappearing now in the Middle East, Iraq and Syria—are you aware that these are the only two states which were formerly secular? Assad was also horrible, but neither Syria nor Iraq defined themselves as Islamic states. They defined themselves as secular states.
MJ: Yet in your book, you focus as much on the impact of economic policy in creating these problems as you do on the impact of military intervention.
SZ: Economic trade agreements are more destructive; they're even worse. I'm not even a priori against military interventions. Take the Republic of Congo. The state is simply not functioning—it's the closest you can get to hell on earth. But of course nobody wants to intervene there because Congo's local warlords all make deals with big companies who get minerals—like coltan for electronics—much cheaper. I would have nothing against a nice military intervention into Congo to simply establish it as a normal functioning state with basic services. But this I can guarantee will never happen. Big powers become interested in human rights violations only when there is some economic interest behind it.
MJ: Let's talk about the American election.
SZ: When I was young, decades ago, my leftist friends were saying that those in power speak the official polite dignified language. To provoke them we should be more vulgar with words. But today it's the opposite. Right-wing populism introduces vulgarity into public space. Trump is obviously a pure ideological opportunist. You know he makes the move to the right, then a little bit to the left. At some point he supports raising minimum wage, then he's lowering it. At some point he said we should have more understanding for Palestinians; now he says we should recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel. He is an opportunist, and I think that even with his provocations, he is nothing extraordinary. I don't think there is anything remotely radical in his position. I am infinitely more afraid of people like Ted Cruz. Trump is a vulgar opportunist. Cruz is a monster. Do you think Ted Cruz is human?
What I find problematic about this demonization of Trump is that through this demonization, Hillary Clinton succeeded in building a common front. This is the only time I sympathize with Trump. When Bernie Sanders supported Hillary, Trump said, "It's like Occupy Wall Street supporting Wall Street." Hillary succeeded in building this totally ideological unity, from [Clinton Foundation donations from] Saudi Arabia to LGBT, from Wall Street to Occupy Wall Street. This consensus is ideology at its purest.
MJ: What do you make of the argument that, beneath all the racial animus we're seeing toward immigrants and refugees, there's some vague, misdirected frustration with neoliberal policy?
SZ: This is always how racism works. Take anti-Semitism: The Jew was always the ersatz for the capitalist. The big achievement of anti-Semitism was to take class resentment and rechannel it into race resentment. Here we come to the true greatness of Bernie Sanders. Instead of just despising the ordinary farmers who fell for [racist rhetoric], he got them on his side. He got those who by definition are conservative fundamental Republicans to the moderate left. This is a mega achievement. He is the answer for the left. To get this infamous silent majority on your side should be our strategy. The left should reappropriate things like public decency, politeness, and good manners. We shouldn't be afraid of this. Capitalism has become an extremely vulgar space.
MJ: Back to the question of refugees. Nowhere do you advocate opening borders, or posit that everything will work itself out.
SZ: There are real cultural problems. You know in Cologne, Germany, the New Year's scandal. This was of course not a rape attempt—if you want to rape you don't go to the place full of light and people at the center of the city. This sort of thing happens all the time. It was happening at the anti-Mubarak protests at Tahrir Square. This is a typical lower-class Arab carnival ritual. You dance around women; you maybe pinch them a little bit, but you don't rape. Of course, this is unacceptable for us. But we need to talk openly about this, because if we don't talk about this we feed the opponents, the right-wing paranoiacs, Islamophobia. An open, honest debate should be risked here. And the first mistake we make is if we think we understand ourselves, we definitely don't. Yes, criticize Islamic fundamentalists. But at the same time analyze ourselves.
MJ: So can progressive values and Islam be reconciled?
SZ: If you look at the Muslim tradition, there are terribly progressive elements of it. Islam is not a religion of family; it's a religion of orphans, which is crucial—Muhammad was an orphan and so on. There is tremendous emancipatory potential in that. The Haiti revolution, the key ideologist was a guy named John Bookman, a slave who knew how to read, that's why they called him Bookman. But you know which book he was reading? The Koran. Islam played a key role in mobilizing slaves in Haiti. Right now, I think we live in dangerous times. Who knows what turn it will take. But I think there is a chance for the left.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has added his name to a growing list of Republican figures disavowing Donald Trump, announcing on Thursday that he will not be voting for his party's presidential candidate next month.
"I will not be voting for Clinton," Steele said at the Mother Jones 40th anniversary dinner. "I will not be voting for Trump either."
He singled out Trump's first remarks disparaging Mexicans as rapists and criminals as the moment that party leaders such as current RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan should have stepped in to oppose Trump's views.
"The chairman has the responsibility to provide law and order, in the sense that you want to inflect party discipline and instill party discipline where you need it," he said, speaking from his experience as the party chair from 2009 until 2011.
He went on to describe Trump as the voice of the frustration of the "racist" and "angry" underbelly of America and noted, "I was damn near puking during the debates."
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A number of websites—including Twitter, Netflix, and PayPal—were disrupted today by an early morning cyberattack against a key company responsible for routing internet traffic. The company, Dyn, has been posting a series of updates throughout the day, claiming that it came under multiple Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. A DDoS attack floods a website or server with traffic from multiple sources, slowing the targeted site or shutting it down altogether.
In this case, the target was Dyn, a major provider of Domain Name Servers (DNS), which allow internet traffic to get routed properly. (Gizmodo has an excellent breakdown of how DNS servers work, and why an attack on a major provider of them would impact so many sites at once.) The attack started at about 7:10 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States, and the company was initially able to restore service. But later in the morning a second and more widespread attack ensued, and service disruption might have spread to Western Europe, according to Reuters.
Today's attack is being investigated by the US government as a "criminal act," Reuters reports, and it could be just the latest in what the Department of Homeland Security has characterized as increasingly powerful DDoS attacks. In an October 14 message posted on the DHS Computer Emergency Readiness Team page, the agency warned of "increased risks" of massive DDoS attacks because of poorly secured internet-connected devices such as cameras and home routers. "Recently, [Internet of Things] devices have been used to create large-scale botnets—networks of devices infected with self-propogating malware—that can execute rippling distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks," the warning read.
Although it's unclear who is behind the attack, in an early Friday evening tweet, WikiLeaks told its supporters:
Mr. Assange is still alive and WikiLeaks is still publishing. We ask supporters to stop taking down the US internet. You proved your point. pic.twitter.com/XVch196xyL
As our own David Corn noted just this week, Donald Trump loves nothing more than seeking cold revenge. It turns out billionaire Richard Branson has a Trump story that illustrates Trump's obsession with vengeance perfectly.
Branson, the billionaire owner of the Virgin Group, wrote a post on his company's website on Friday afternoon describing an out-of-the-blue lunch the two men shared "some years ago." Branson says it was the first time he and Trump had met, but Trump had only one topic he wanted to discuss.
Even before the starters arrived he began telling me about how he had asked a number of people for help after his latest bankruptcy and how five of them were unwilling to help. He told me he was going to spend the rest of his life destroying these five people.
He didn't speak about anything else and I found it very bizarre. I told him I didn’t think it was the best way of spending his life. I said it was going to eat him up, and do more damage to him than them. There must be more constructive ways to spend the rest of your life. (Hopefully my advice didn’t lead to him running for President!)
I was baffled why he had invited me to lunch solely to tell me this. For a moment, I even wondered if he was going to ask me for financial help. If he had, I would have become the sixth person on his list!
Branson wrote earlier this month that "Mr Trump's temperament is irrational [and] aggressive," and added on Friday that those character defects are perhaps the scariest part of this election. "What concerns me most, based upon my personal experiences with Donald Trump, is his vindictive streak, which could be so dangerous if he got into the White House," Branson wrote.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Mother Jones.
With less than a month to go before Election Day, several state level marijuana legalization campaigns have rolled out messaging that pitches weed as an alternative to deadly opioid painkillers.
This week, groups backing recreational legalization in Arizona and Massachusetts launched ads arguing marijuana should be an option for pain patients. Arizona's Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol campaign ran its ad during Thursday night's NFL game, featuring former pro quarterback Jim McMahon, whose career included a stint with the Arizona Cardinals, talking about the painkillers he was prescribed for injuries.
"I was using them daily pretty much the rest of my career," he says in the ad. "It takes its toll."
Framing marijuana as an alternative medical treatment is of course not a new argument for pot proponents, but the strength and prominence of the country's opioid epidemic has given marijuana activists a new chance to argue that cannabis offers a safe, overdose free option to fight pain.
Legalization activists are pointing to recent studies to make their case. One paper that came out last month found that states with medical marijuana saw fewer suspects in fatal traffic accidents test positive for opioids. And earlier this year, researchers at the University of Michigan found chronic pain patients who used medical marijuana were able to reduce their use of opioid drugs by 64 percent.
"It's not just an argument, it's an argument based on solid data," said Jim Borghesani, communications director for the legalization campaign in Massachusetts, a state with one of the higher rates of drug overdoses in the country.
Earlier this month, Nevada backers of recreational marijuana legalization ran an ad showing a marine veteran who says he was prescribed OxyContin, Percocet, and Hydrocodone. After taking so many pills, "You're addicted; You know you're addicted," he said. With marijuana, he says he can treat his pain but "I can also live."
Proponents of a Florida bill legalizing medical use are running an online ad similar to the TV spots from the recreational legalization campaigns, showing a doctor who condemns prescription painkillers as "dangerous narcotics that have significant risks."
The death toll from opioid painkillers is staggering, rivaling that of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the late '80s and early '90s. In 2014, there were nearly 19,000 opioid painkiller deaths, along with more than 10,500 heroin overdose deaths, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Painkiller abuse has ravaged communities across the country, and opened the door for a heroin addiction crisis in some towns.
Marijuana advocates have long pitched the drug's promise to bring relief to people diagnosed with serious diseases, highlighting an evolving series of conditions.
"For years, it was all about cancer and AIDS and glaucoma and these things, and then all of a sudden in 2013 with Sanjay Gupta it became about epilepsy and kids with intractable seizure disorders," said Ben Pollara, head of the pro-medical-marijuana campaign in Florida. "What you're seeing with opiate use and abuse and addiction as a rationale for marijuana reform has come about it a similar way."
Just about three weeks out from the election, a new Gallup Poll shows 60 percent of Americans support legalization.
Hillary Clinton events are a master class in stagecraft, each as perfectly choreographed as the next, but every once in a while the barely controlled chaos of her rival's campaign intrudes. At a Clinton rally last week at the Kendall, Florida, campus of Miami-Dade College, that moment came a few minutes into her speech, when a young man in an American Eagle T-shirt began shouting "Bill Clinton's a rapist!" The protester was escorted out, and Clinton resumed discoursing about climate change and rising sea levels in Miami Beach until, a few minutes later, another protester shouted the same thing. He, too, was ushered out, and Clinton returned to her stump speech.
The scene in Kendall could have been a metaphor for the race itself: a by-the-book campaign sticking relentlessly to the script while a crazed man keeps shouting about rape. As the presidential contest lurches toward Election Day, both candidates are throwing everything they can into Florida, a state Trump must win and Clinton would really like to. The former secretary of state's visit to Miami-Dade, where she was joined by Al Gore, preceded a three-day, four-stop swing by Donald Trump from the Panhandle to Palm Beach County. Sen. Tim Kaine flew in for a Saturday block party in Miami's Liberty City and a Sunday morning visit to a Spanish-speaking church. Gov. Mike Pence held a Pensacola rally Friday and attended a Miami-Dade Republican dinner that night. Earlier in the week, former President Bill Clinton stopped in three cities to push voter registration. Yesterday, President Barack Obama rallied voters in Miami Gardens.
But the two campaigns may as well be operating in parallel universes, differing wildly in style and substance. Clinton events are displays of total solidarity. In Kendall, she was joined by Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is challenging Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in one of the year's most important Senate races. Former Rep. Joe Garcia, who is challenging Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in one of the year's most expensive House races, lingered in the back of the gym, posing for photos and gabbing with press and supporters. Even Gore showed up to deliver a rambling speech in a county he could be forgiven for refusing to visit ever again. You couldn't sit in traffic for very long in South Florida without hearing radio ads from a stable of Clinton endorsers, including former CIA director Michael Morell, first lady Michelle Obama, and Miami Rep. Frederica Wilson.
As Clinton herds her party, Trump is still fighting with his. His rallies in West Palm Beach and at Lakeland in central Florida were notable for how few Republicans of note attended. Rubio is supporting Trump, at least in theory, but has not been in the same building as the man he once mocked for having a small penis since their final primary debate in March. Curbelo, like numerous other South Florida Republicans, rejected Trump last spring. The absences did not go unnoticed: The campaign itself brought them up as evidence that party leaders were undermining Trump's candidacy. A state representative who spoke at Trump's West Palm Beach rally was introduced as "the only elected official who showed up today," to jeers from the crowd. When it was her turn to speak at the event, former Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll—who resigned in disgrace midway through her first term in 2013 amid state and federal probes relating to her ties to a veterans charity—admonished the state's elected Republicans for choosing to "cut tail and run" from the nominee. Instead of denouncing Trump's comments about women on a decade-old Access Hollywood tape, she said, conservatives should have saved their criticism for the corrosive morality of Hollywood culture.
In his Florida swing, Trump brought a message as insular as his movement. As he reeled from a flood of allegations of sexual assault over a period spanning several decades, he seemed to cede the entire universe of undecided or persuadable voters to his opponent, preferring instead to retreat into the frenzied and paranoid style that got him into this mess. In West Palm Beach, Trump devoted the first 22 minutes of his speech to a series of attacks on the journalists who reported those sexual assault allegations and mocked the physical appearances of the women who made them. He railed against the "international banks" and charged a "conspiracy" between "corporate" journalists and the Clinton campaign to undo the very fabric of democracy through a rigged election.
His audience, in "Deplorable Lives Matter" T-shirts and clutching "CNN Sucks!" signs, ate it up. At a time when most campaigns would throw every resource they have into leveraging volunteer work and candidate visits into real votes, Trump rallies were an end unto themselves. The importance of voting was explicitly downplayed by the message onstage; why bother if the election will be stolen anyway? This in a state where Trump didn't even open a second field office until September, and where Republican candidates elsewhere have a vested interest in turning out independent-minded Clinton supporters. Although a few speakers at Trump events did mention the looming voter registration deadline, which a court had extended over the wishes of Trump-backing Gov. Rick Scott, it had less the feel of an earnest get-out-the-vote event than of a frustrated, fatalist protest.
Even the opening prayer at Pence's Miami speech carried a whiff of paranoia: "Father we declare a turnaround in the elections. Father we pray that there will be an exposure of the corruption in government as it is today, and that the media will no longer be able to silence the truth."
If Trump's pitch to voters was that reporting about his alleged sexual assaults represented an existential threat to the republic, Clinton preferred to focus on actual existential threats. Her campaign ads warn about Trump's stated affinity for nuclear weapons, and onstage with Gore she launched into perhaps the most intensive discussion of climate change by any presidential candidate ever—a full hour, between the two of them, on such minutiae as oyster bed rehabilitation and turning landfills into solar farms. Climate change would expand the habitat of mosquitoes carrying Zika and of ticks carrying Lyme disease, she said. She mentioned the California drought and wildfires out west. She brought up, to mockery, Trump's charge on Twitter that the climate change hoax was created by the Chinese—a tweet he subsequently denied writing but, as she noted, had still not deleted. But mostly she talked about the economic impact of those projects, in states such as Alaska and South Carolina, which were once thought to be out of play for a Democratic nominee but which she now has as good a shot of winning as Trump does of, well, Florida.
Boring was the point. With a million absentee ballots cast and early voting in South Florida four days away, Clinton's campaign is seeking to run up the score, while Trump seems bent on settling one.
The Clinton campaign released a powerful ad on Friday featuring Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father whose speech at the Democratic National Convention in July became the defining moment of the convention—and prompted Donald Trump to smear him and his wife, Ghazala Khan.
The new ad features Khan in his home, recounting how his son lost his life as a soldier in Iraq by sacrificing himself to save the rest of his unit from a suicide bomber. "My son was Captain Humayun Khan, he was 27 years old, and he was a Muslim American," Khan says at the end of the ad. Then, fighting back tears, he continues, "I want to ask Mr. Trump, would my son have a place in your America?"
The one-minute ad will run in Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Hillary Clinton and her allies are sensing that the election could turn into a blowout—and they want to make sure the electoral map reflects it, putting resources into states so solidly red that Democrats typically ignore them. First there was Utah, which delivered Mitt Romney his largest margin of victory in 2012, but where the Clinton campaign senses it has a shot. Then came Arizona and evenTexas.
Now add another deep-red state to the list: Georgia.
With Donald Trump faltering in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, the Clinton campaign and the powerhouse super-PAC supporting Clinton are looking to win in traditionally Republican strongholds in order tobolster Clinton's claims to a mandate and demonstrate to Republicans that Trumpism is not a viable path to the White House. On Monday, the Clinton campaign announced a $2 million investment in Arizona (and sent Michelle Obama to campaign there on Thursday night)as well as an ad buy in Texas.
And on Thursday, pro-Clinton super-PAC Priorities USA Action made the latest surprising investment, putting $2 million into ads in Georgia.
It's a startling turn in a race that just four weeks ago looked like a dead heat. Polling analysts haven't moved Georgia into toss-up territory yet, but Justin Barasky, communications director for Priorities USA Action, says the super-PAC's internal polling shows a race that Clinton can win. On Friday morning, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution released a poll showing the race within the margin of error in the Peach State.
The super-PAC chose what it believes is one of its most powerful ads for Georgia. Called "My Daughter Grace," it features parents whose daughter has spina bifida reacting to footage of Trump mocking a disabled reporter. So far, the ad has run in the Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah media markets. It will run through Election Day.
"I think it's one of our most powerful ads," says Barasky. "There was nothing that brought the vitriol and disapproval [more] than a 70-year-old billionaire mocking a disabled person did. So that really does—I don't know if appeal is even the right word—but it certainly turns off virtually everyone."
But that didn't stop Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) from saying the real estate magnate's remarks were justified. "You know what, she's saying some nasty things," Babin told radio show host Alan Colmes on Thursday.
When pressed by Colmes if the insult was appropriate, the Texas congressman answered, "I'm a genteel southerner."
"So that means no?" Colmes asked.
"No, I think sometimes a lady needs to be told when she's being nasty."
Babin was speaking in generalities, of course, and tried to avoid describing Clinton in those terms. But Colmes kept pressing and Babin finally relented. He agreed Clinton is, in fact, a "nasty woman."
After all, "sometimes a lady needs to be told when she's being nasty."