Category Archives: Politics

Marginalia

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?

Violence and capitalism

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 on Iran

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.