It didn’t take long before Iran was in the news again. A US drone surveillance plane was apparently fired upon by Iranian planes on November 1. The Pentagon assures the public, after the election, that the drone was flying over international waters at all times. How can we verify this info, given it’s certainly part of a secret program? Ok, we’ll take their word for it. Now, for a moment only, let’s imagine China or Iran having drones over international waters West of San Diego or East of Florida… A nightmare… So, let’s go back to the role media like the NYT play as bed fellows of the Pentagon, as in “embedded” media. Under the politico-rhetorical pretext of questioning the propriety of revealing a bit of delicate military information only after the election, both the Pentagon and the media are showing again how willing they are to keep the war against Iran going. I call it a war, because this is what we’d call it if we ourselves were subject to a punishing financial stranglehold, a commercial and technological blockade, and surrounded by hostile forces (in the Persian Gulf, in Irak, in the Indian Ocean, and in Afghanistan). Iran is an enemy since the hostage crisis of 1979-81. When Iran was under the Shah regime and its police surveillance, an Iranian nuclear program didn’t look like a problem. How will the US back off without losing influence, and especially without denting the basis for its huge military budget?
Question on plan to reduce all taxes in all brackets and eliminate deductions (mortgage, child, education, etc.): what would be your position on those things?
Romney [reaganesque]: Let’s simplify, yes! middle income class people need to see reductions. [Then crocodiles’ tears, and promise of reductions] And tough tax policies on the top incomes, that is, no change. I want to help people in the middle class [oh? what of raising of health fees, education fees? follow up question please?]. And balanced budget plus less taxation on everyone.
Obama responds with essentially the same tune. Attack on tax breaks for the 2%. Attack on Romney and the plan to reduce taxation on top incomes and capital. Top down economics is not going to work.
Romney retorts with: wealthy people will continue to pay high rates [? but doesn’t their income come from financial instruments taxed at 15% max. More crocodile tears on lower class and the poor; if voters swallow that one, good luck to them]. Wants to give a tax cut to the middle class.
Obama: Romney is proposing 8 trillion dollars bleed while proposing a future balanced budget, without telling people where he will cut the budget…
Question: if the numbers don’t add up, would you be willing… [question not completed by moderator, who pretends to be tough but is actually very tame]
Romney: of course the numbers would add up. I’m a magician: Bain, Olympic games in Colorado, etc.
Next question: how do you plan to rectify gender imbalances in the work place?
Obama: I know the problem well. We have been doing it. We’ll continue to push on this.
Romney [sounding more and more like Reagan]: I did work on this as a governor. Flexibility of schedules, I know everything about all of that. Women have been losing jobs, many in poverty [how many times did he use the word by now?], we’ll correct that. I know what a good economy looks like and I know what to do.
Obama: Romney previously was not forthright on this issue. What of health care? contraception? funding for planned parenthood?
Question by undecided voter to Romney: much of US problems and foreign problems due to Bush’s decisions. How do you differentiate yourself from Bush?
Romney: [flip flops and goes to contraception] Says Obama is wrong. Bush and I are different people. My five-point plan is different. For instance, energy security. Trade: I’ll crack down on China. Budget deficit: it was wrong under Bush but Obama didn’t change anything. Small business: I am a small business person [isn’t that the song they all sing?]. My priority is jobs.
Obama: when we came in in 2008-9, we were losing 800K jobs. Now job growth and more are coming. Center piece of Romney’s plan is tax breaks for the rich. Re China: Romney invested in companies that do good business with China. Then some good jiu-jitsu: Bush was different, indeed, but in some ways, re. social policies for instance, Romney is more extreme.
Question: I voted for you (Obama) in 08. What have you done to earn my vote in 12?
Obama: I cut taxes for middle class, stopped war in Irak, got Osama bin Laden, reined Wall St in, created 5M jobs, saved the auto industry. Yet, many are still struggling. So need to support education, control energy, etc. But look at Romney: his plans do not include any of this.
Romney: we can’t afford 4 more years like the last ones. Attacks Obama on health plan, deficit cutting, immigration. [nice touch, coming from a party that paralyzed all action]. 23M still looking for jobs. What of poverty [4th or 5th time he talks about this]? Mentions Reagan’s times. [he is sounding more and more like him: hear the lilt]. Whoa, at the end, cherry on the cake, defense of employment by someone who made money making companies “lean”!!
Question for Romney about immigration policy?
Romney: first a little song on this, a nation of immigrants. My dad born in Mexico [an immigrant? emigrant?]. We should give green cards to people with professional training [in other words, let’s steal people who have cost nothing to this country for our companies here]. No amnesty for those coming here illegally. I’m tough.
Obama: variant on the song, we are a nation of immigrants. And a nation of laws. We need to fix the system. Teaching mode again. Then something about people who are here illegally: only go after criminals. We should make sure we give a path to citizenship to the many. [a real difference between the parties here]
Romney on China becomes a bit heated, good! Makes a mistake in attacking president on his own pension, how it has investments in China. Obama says that he doesn’t look often at his pension which is smaller than Romney’s and segues into a plan on work. Made a point here finally.
Question about Lybia, the tricky question. How come enhanced security was denied a few weeks before the Bengazi incident?
Obama provides the presidential, incumbent’s answer, a bit of fog about the White House process. Followed by an attack on Romney, the press release issued by the Republican campaign. Look, I delivered what I promised: Irak, Iran, bin Laden, etc. I mean what I say.
Romney: important question. The buck stops at the president’s desk. Feels sympathetic for the families. Goes a little into the detail. Attack on Obama who goes to a money-raising event on the next day. This was an attack by terrorists, for god’s sake, not a demonstration! Look, Syria, Israel, Iran. The president’s strategy is unravelling…. [should be easy to throw out of court but there is no real discussion of what our defense system and diplomacy is doing in that part of the world]
Obama reminds everyone he is the president… [God, do we need to go there?] We go into the detail again, grieving with the families…
Question on AK47 and limits on assault weapons…
19H20 PST: I am ready to give up. Questions and answers are very limited and I don’t see much daylight between the candidates.
Finally, at the very end, we get (almost) to brass tacks. The last question on China triggers a couple of comments not only on fairness and currency manipulations—the usual attacks on China—but on the real reasons for the transfer of manufacturing capacity: cheaper labor! Romney is clear on his old-school capitalist faith and god: we want to create the conditions here that will create good jobs. [read: we want cheaper labor, less health and social security protections, which he actually connected to the topic]. Obama is a new-school capitalist defender: better jobs, more education, the second- and third-tier jobs aren’t coming back from China or India.
I’m waiting for the debate. Fixed. Forgeries in ancient history are a side interest, so I’m preparing to track the modern equivalent, fake debates. I listened to Amy Goodman this morning on local public radio—what’s left of it—and learned that the debates used to be organized by the League of Women Voters. Now, it is the highly secretive Commission on Presidential Debates, which is essentially a private organization parading as a public-interest group, supported by the two main parties, dodo and roro, and a variety of private players, like the king of foam, Anheuser-Busch. Read Glenn Greenwald on how fixed these debates are and why the League of Women Voters lost control of the organization of those debates to the two main parties. See, the League of Women Voters wanted genuine debate and was not prepared to eliminate real questions. Now, don’t expect such. On the contrary, expect the sold out moderator to assume we must go to war with Iran (the only question: how, when?), to present Medicare and especially Social Security as being budgetary catastrophes. Assume no questions will be asked about the rationality of our collection of health feudalities, no question on how much defense is presently needed, on civil liberties, on the need for a much higher minimum wage (which can be decided only at the national level), on public education, and of course on the lockout on debates and media organized by dodo, roro, and their friends. Look at the 21-page memorandum of understanding between the two campaigns, signed on October 3. Candy Cowley will be asking only pre-approved questions. But I must go and listen.
How much does a presidential race cost business interests these days in comparison to what it costs the US Treasury? A whole lot more. Circa one billion dollars per candidate according to Joe Nocera in today’s NYT (A 23). And this is without counting super PACs and 501(c)4s, which I (we) can’t even estimate. The latter probably involve several billion dollars more for each presidential candidate (please correct me). Money laundering on a big scale. What do big interests (whose scale is tens and hundreds of billions) get in return for those modest amounts? Well, one of the people mentioned by Nocera is clear on the issue: a product. Bopp Jr. Esq. from Terre Haute speaks of politics as a market. He speaks of spending money as he sees fit as exercising freedom of choice. He, the buyer, is of course discriminating, which he sees as the essence of democracy. The more money, the more discriminating in his choices. Indeed. Democracy as a product, presidents for sale—not only congress—and 47% of us, soon more, as dead weight. The Supreme Court agrees.
The real issues are not debated. The rationality of universal health care, in terms of general budgeting for a nation? Will we spend 20% of GDP soon on health? And how much health, if life expectancy is dramatically dropping for instance for people working for unsecured, temp, low-paid jobs? The answer is given on the same page of the NYT by the new pro-Romney Brooks who giddily applauds the continuation of massive capital transfers to insurance, banking, hospital, and pharmaceutical industry, in the guise of a hypocritical call to moral conscience. Regulation of the banking industry? A better-supported public education? How much defense spending, and what do we call defense? None of this gets debated at all. Health and defense, particularly, are complete irrational constructs at the moment. Yes, they are a most important source of employment and great wealth. But how long can a modern nation sustain this kind of distortions before it all comes crashing down?
Like many people, I was puzzled by Clint Eastwood’s twelve-minute performance last Thursday at the Republican convention. I searched for analysis of what I took to be a revealing moment but found nothing in the media so far. So I am giving a closer look at some of my feelings after watching those twelve minutes on the web. He didn’t follow script, if there was one, and this fact made the moment fascinating. I was ill at ease the whole time and watched it only once, partly because the dignity of an old person was in play (other old people were on my mind, including myself), partly because the grudging admiration I have for the professional quality of Eastwood’s later films, no matter my distaste for their political and ethical message, clashed with the discombobulated performance.
I presume that the Republican grandees and masters of ceremonies expected the images—if not the values themselves—of rugged individualism and proud rejection of timid government, epitomized by his violent films, to be the undergirded messages suggested or delivered by the actor-director. I say images, and not the values themselves, because the political establishment—of both parties—depends in one way or another on real governmental institutions to arrogate to themselves and their interest groups health insurance, financial protection—including huge risk-abatement programs by the Treasury—, projection of their own image, derivative access to the heroism of young people, its leveraging for political self-aggrandizement, and especially thoroughly militarized industrial support and aggressive defense of their economical interests rather than those of the people.
He did echo those images, but not in the darkly threatening, understated, wise-cracking way one could expect from a meticulously, professionally prepared script. The vulgarity, obscenity, and appeal to violence were all too obvious, palpable, and miserable. A sort of botched “Get off my lawn” that was meant to convey danger, and perhaps is very dangerous, very much as empires sur le retour d’âge can be, when they hang on to dreams of past grandeur and all pretense of rational discourse has been abandoned. He accepted to play a role in an event not staged by him, and to be part of this large lying machinery even though, or because, his movie characters have a strange relationship to institutions like city halls and suggest that order and institutions are built on cruel, vengeful, pitiless acts.
By not being true to his image of slick performer and executioner, he revealed the truth of the political show. Part of this is the myth of the white savior at the center of modern history. Eastwood is known for his portrayal of individualistic, violent, quietly threatening or domineering and often (subtly or not so subtly, depending on the observer’s point of view) racist characters. For the exercise of power over minority characters, see the last scene of The good, the bad, and the ugly, or Gran Torino. People from other countries or minority groups tend to be portrayed as either evil or subservient to the great white savior. His more recent movies still feature violence as the main aspect of human behavior (in the name of fighting evil, the usual ploy used by all powers) but frame it within a darker vision of a world where males pursue their macho perversions, make tragic mistakes, and occasionally sacrifice themselves.
So, I assume that the form and content of his appearance mirror the ideas of the Republican party. Paul Ryan seemed uneasy in the “make my day,” applauding crowd. He had good reason to be. The party’s destructive budget ideas, its attacks on labor and immigrants, contempt for electorate, posturing about mythic self-making, and a missionary view of the world that serves as foreign policy were shown to be what they are: an obscene, masochistic, pitiless, confused, view of a world that self destructs. The emperor naked.
Obama cautioned against “loose talk of war” today at AIPAC but still assured war-loving and short-term-thinking supporters of Israel (or rather of a certain idea of Israel) he would use US military force if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Lots of ifs in that last sentence fortunately (what kind of military force, how, what would constitute necessity, and how would “obtaining a nuclear weapon” be defined?).
What is going on?
On one side, intelligence and military specialists, both in Israel and in the US, saying very different things from the politicos, mostly about the absence of evidence not only of a nuclear weaponization program, but even of a decision to pursue one. And of course Ayatollah Khamenei, top of the theocracy in Iran, who was even more clear on Feb 22, 2012, in a meeting with Iranian nuclear scientists, about why the Islamic Republic of Iran is not going after nuclear weapons.
On the other side, all kinds of people calling for military action now: Israeli right, pro-Israel US right, many Republicans, and the usual collection of Christian millenarians. Happy to talk about something much more serious than tackling something they could really do, namely peace with the Palestinians. Worried too, many of them, that Obama really means to follow up on his eminently reasonable call, at long last, for a return to 1967 borders with swaps, and an implementation of the known details of a difficult peace, including the Jerusalem question. Especially worried now that it looks since the end of 2011 that he might win by a landslide given the wonderful incompetence and complete vacuity of Republican candidates. Four years (one of real potential at least, the first one), perhaps more power than he had in the first mandate, and an agenda (or so I hope). And so taking Obama to task. Those are the same politicians and war-mongers of every stripe who didn’t hesitate to sink 2 or 3 trillion dollars—who is counting?—in pursuit of a folly: transform Iraq into a democracy by force, and so get a bulwark against Iran on its western flank, and keep watch on Iran from the East (Afghanistan). It ended up eliminating Iran’s natural enemy and local competitor, Iraq, for a long time. So, they think it’s time for plan B. But I’m doing too much thinking for them. To see them calling Obama on the carpet and be ready to spend more money and lives after this fiasco is rich. And the media have been helping. For instance, no chance that the US papers are going to print Ali Khamenei’s 2/22/2012 address, even with the usual provisos, as Juan Cole says in his blog. It’s one thing not to believe the pope or the leading, hard-line, ayatollah in Iran, say, but how about printing at least a summary of what they say?
Obama says he doesn’t have a containment policy in store regarding Iran (meaning, a nuclear Iran). He does have a containment policy regarding AIPAC, however, or so it seems to me, and it’s a good thing. We need someone with a head here. Kind of sad the White House felt they had to have the president speak at AIPAC, however.
I’ll have to go back to the stream of articles on Iran-Israel-US, pretty much daily for weeks, by the *NYT*, blowing hot mostly, rarely cold (even with Dennis Ross a week ago, playing good cop in a timely opinion piece. More on this later). Because even if it’s pretty clear the White House and Obama are playing a pretty good game of hide and seek now with the likes of AIPAC and Netanyahu, and I hope they don’t leave too many feathers in it, I still find our foreign policy in the Persian Gulf, in the Middle East and in South East Asia hard to understand. I hope to get back to it.