October 04, 2012

Damn That Lincoln-Douglas Thing Anyway

A few inchoate reactions to the debate:

My own "format" for watching/listening to the debate was a little haphazard because of evening chores, but it went like this: I watched it live on TV for about a half hour, then drove somewhere and listened on the radio for about half an hour, then came home and watched the end of the debate live and then the general pandemonium among the MSNBC panel of Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, et alia as they tried to come to terms with what a terrible debater their champion, Barack Obama, actually is. Then I watched the 20 minutes or so I had missed while performing my St. Francis of Assisi duties in San Rafael.

Impressions gained by my multi-media encounter:  Barack Obama does better if you're only listening to him and not watching.  Mitt Romney does pretty well either way.  If you're watching and listening to Barack Obama, you get the full effect of his overall weakness.  The fidgeting, the downcast eyes, the lame hand gestures, and (his true Achilles Heel) that dreadful insertion of the long, drawn-out "Aaannnnnddddddd" between phrases as he tries to think of what to say next.

Paul Krugman, on his mysteriously-named "Conscience of A Liberal" blog, had this to say:

The hard-hitting and effective campaign against Romney led many people to believe that this wasn’t going to happen again. But in the first debate, there was Capillary Man once again.
I really don’t know what this is about.
Actually, Krugman knows exactly what this is about and doesn't want to say it because his conscientious liberalism won't allow him to.  Barack Obama doesn't have what it takes to argue his positions successfully.  He doesn't know how to marshal facts on the fly, synthesize them into a forceful, cogent argument, and go for the jugular of his opponent's many weaknesses (as opposed to the capillaries, as Krugman notes).  How the the rich scion of a prominent family, who dismantled American businesses for a living, who serially evades taxes, who won't disclose how little he pays to the government each year although he's seeking to become chief fiduciary of the country, who stashes money in the Cayman Islands, and who stated on videotape that he has nothing but contempt for about half the American public too broke to pay federal income taxes - how a guy with all these liabilities (we're talking about Romney here) could escape utterly unscathed after an hour and a half of discussing almost nothing except taxes and entitlements - I really don't know what that is about.

Except to avoid Krugman's disingenuous posing: the same fecklessness in Obama was evident in the Obama - McCain debates, but John McCain was such an inconceivably lousy candidate, crotchety, incoherent, often nonsensical, that it didn't matter.  Now it matters, and the Democrats have a huge problem on their hands.

It's only too bad that Obama wasn't debating Jim Lehrer.  Actually, what I'd really like to see is a Jim Lehrer versus Bob Schieffer debate, one-on-one.  The winner would be the first guy to remember why he was there.

October 03, 2012

The Hep Cat & The Bag Man

It occurs to me that in Portuguese, the native language of Brazil (I note for those of you unfortunate enough to have been educated in America's schools after about 1980 or so), that "BumBum" might well be pronounced "BoomBoom."  I don't know that for a fact; I just think it's a nice touch.  A less scrupulous man than myself might use such an intro to post another rearview photo, but I will refrain.

No, instead I turn to tonight's Presidential Debate.  I feel it is my responsibility, being a blogger who focuses on political, economic and, above all, philosophical questions.  The Debates are the major league baseball playoffs of American politics, although, it's true, the field has already been narrowed to the final two teams.  We will not see, for example, Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party or Gary Johnson of the Libertarians in tonight's contest.  The inclusion of such parties would knock the dyad all out of kilter, and introduce a lot of issues and viewpoints that would confound the media format.

No, we can't have Jim Lehrer talking to Dr. Stein about genetically modified foods or the relocalization of agriculture, or global warming, or any of these other irrelevant distractions. There are only a couple of issues that really matter to the American people: (1) When do I get my check?; and (2) Are we safe yet?

It will be very difficult for the corporate Bag Man, Mitt Romney, to outflank Barack Obama, the Hep Cat, to the O-Man's right.  How can you do that at this point?  Would Romney have killed bin Laden twice?  And you can't blame Obama for leaving Iraq, as Romney has nevertheless tried to do.  George W. Bush got snookered by the Ungrateful Nouri on that one.  Al-Maliki refused to give Bush the Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed American servicemen to remain safely in Iraq, that is, to stay there without being subjected to the whimsical judgments of the mullahs in Islamic courts. So it's not Obama's fault that Obama had to bring to a close a war which Obama called a dumb war but then wanted to keep going because, as in the case of surging the troops in Afghanistan, it looked all Presidential and war-like, and thus bankable at election time.

Besides, it keeps us safe.  No, I'm not sure which parts of the preceding paragraph have to do with national security, but that's been true for eleven years now.  Thus turning us to domestic politics, that is, the Entitlements, Social Security and Medicare, since the federal government is an insurance company with an army and we've already covered the army part.  The Hep Cat won't touch the Entitlements now, of course, because it's election time and they're sacred.  Red or Blue, skinny or (far more likely) obese, Deep Southern or Yankee Northeast, everyone wants their check, and they need to be reassured that the federal budget (60% taxes, 40% borrowed) will be used to support the old folks (those so likely to vote, in Florida and Ohio, for example), and what isn't used for that can be sent to the weapons manufacturers and the Predator drone pilots.  Whatever the President wants, just give me my cut. Romney is in enough trouble with the "47%" so he's in zugzwang on that one, too (a chess term - see the games of Garry Kasparov).

It's simple really, this debate.  A simple agenda for a simple country.  A broke-ass country with its head up its broke-ass.  It should be riveting.

October 02, 2012

The Desk Set

A few years ago, in these very pages and while still possessed of a capacity for patriotic outrage over the systematic debasement of the core Constitutional principles on which the country (according to my study of history and law) was founded, I quoted Hannah Arendt's brilliant coinage "Desk Murderer" to describe certain highly-placed government officials who carelessly, wantonly destroyed human lives in distant countries and could not even be bothered to respond to methodical counts of the death toll. Professor Arendt used the term to describe monsters like Adolf Eichmann, who sat calmly and methodically at their desks and worked out the logistics of the Holocaust - train schedules, food supply, payroll, as if he were simply engaged in running a railroad whose end product happened to be death.  There were many Germans working in this "business" in the Third Reich, and for many of them the limited range of their function shielded them, to a large extent, from a daily appreciation of the true horror of what they were engaged in.

So the term occurred to me when considering the death toll in Iraq, now generally accepted to have been a "mistaken" war, or a "dumb war," in Barack Obama's phrase (when he was campaigning in 2008 and before he tried negotiating an extention of the American occupation beyond 2011). To wit, the Johns Hopkins/Lancet study which had concluded, using standard epidemiological approaches to such questions,  that something on the order of one million "excess deaths" (over and above what would have happened under Saddam Hussein had there been no invasion) had occurred in Iraq following the American occupation.  When "confronted" with this finding (at some Rose Garden White House/media love fest), George W. Bush simply dismissed it as "flawed methodology."

And that was that.  When the Obama Administration not only adopted all of the Bush era "modifications" of civil liberties (end of habeas corpus for American citizens; free-for-all domestic spying; use of the "state secrets" defense in court to end any and all attempts to win compensation for illegal detentions and torture; maintaining Guantanamo as a due process-free concentration camp; and, the Crown Jewel, assassination of American citizens by Presidential diktat), I knew we had undergone a paradigm shift that we're not likely to recover from while the nation remains in its current form.  Which is to say - never.

But the young, the idealistic young...along come research groups from the Stanford and New York University Law Schools, in a combined report called "Living Under Drones," and the problem of becoming a militaristic empire resurfaces all over again.  As noted by The Australian (you didn't think this report would get much play in the States, did you?):

A NEW study by researchers at Stanford and the University of New York has found that American drone strikes in Pakistan are killing far more civilians than advertised, taking out few high-value targets, and have become the primary recruiting tool for the terrorist groups the policy is aimed at combating.The report, "Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan", is based on "more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting" conducted over nine months.
The research found that in the past eight years drone strikes have "killed 2562 to 3325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474 to 881 were civilians, including 176 children". Meanwhile, only 2 per cent of those killed were "high-level" targets. This means the strikes have killed three times as many children as terrorist leaders.
The report also shows that the impact of the drone war isn't limited to those directly affected by strikes because the constant presence of drones overhead "terrorises men, women, and children".

The writer goes on to state that it's "stunning" that this issue is not a bigger feature of the current presidential campaign.  Well, I don't know, mate - is it really as stunning as all that?  How exactly are President Barack Obama and the Carpetbagger supposed to talk about this one?  Granted, perennial troublemaker Glenn Greenwald, who writes for an English newspaper (The Guardian), is a graduate of NYU Law, and resides in Brazil (where the 2011 winner of the Miss BumBum contest is pictured above-I hope this answers your question, Willy, about my marketing ploys) has been all over this story.  
So what are these legal upstarts suggesting?  That President Barack Obama is another Desk Murderer?  Just because the drone campaign has, you might say, a 98% failure rate?
Well....not in context, when you think about it.  It is true that, in the first place, we're not even at war in Pakistan.  We're just killing people there, mostly by remote-controlled drones (which are operated, quite literally, by guys at desks in Langley, Virginia [CIA drones] and by the military at bases in Texas and Nevada).  Well, what are you gonna do?  Washington, D.C. has it in its collective head that the American people will only support a warmonger, and to be a warmonger you have to remain continuously at war.  President Obama has internalized that, and the Carpetbagger, given half a chance, would double down on our military adventures and start bombing whatever Muslim country might be left that we're not currently bombing.  
What is kind of funny is to watch the polemical gyrations of the Liberal Desk Murderers, such as Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Paul Krugman and lots and lots of Hollywood's glitterati. For in an ethical universe, to support a Desk Murderer, one who these idealistic students claim is "terrorizing" the indigenous population of Pakistan through systematic commission of war crimes, such as bombing rescue operations and targeting funerals of Pakistanis already killed by missiles, is, through moral accountability, to be a Desk Murderer yourself.  We're not too far gone to see that still, are we? Well, for the Liberal Desk Murderers, there is no doubt that Barack Obama is most definitely their guy - he's the cool brand, and what Obama actually does in office is not nearly as important as how he does it. Plus, maybe both Barack Obama and the Carpetbagger are Desk Murderers, but Obama is the Desk Murderer with the more equitable tax plan and the greater commitment to Medicare and Social Security.  Sorry about all the dead kids, but first things first.  It's important to keep our focus where it belongs, on our short list of self-involved topics.
Yes, I know what you're thinking - when the Liberals champion their own Desk Murderer, we have crawled into a hermetically-sealed madhouse and locked the door behind us. You won't get much of an argument from me.  


October 01, 2012

Now that the election is out of the way

No Republican candidate has won the presidential election without carrying the electoral votes of Ohio for the last eleven elections.  Ohio is the swingiest of the swing states.  Mitt Romney is getting positively creamed in Ohio - as many as 10 points back in the popular vote, which is an enormous deficit in this day and age.  In all the other swing states, where the election is decided (you can color in huge blocks of the country in red and blue even before anyone is nominated for President), Romney is not doing much better.  Romney could save us all a lot of trouble by giving his concession speech now.

He's a dull and irritating candidate, prone to smug and derisive remarks about anyone not born into privilege the way he was.  The people who will vote for him are those who see the "R" next to his name and check the box.  That's it.  He generates no excitement whatsoever.  He looks like a guy who should be wearing a fishing vest in an L.L. Bean catalogue. 

In Brazil they're holding the annual Miss BumBum contest.  This is a beauty pageant which focuses on the best butt in Brazil, a nation known for fabulous backsides on prominent display at all their beaches and carnavals.  One gifted gal from each of the 17 federalist states of Brazil is nominated for the final runoff (back off?) in Sao Paulo.

In the United States this week, the nation will rivet its attention on a contrived "debate" between Barack Obama and....the aforementioned Mitt Romney.  This will be the dullest debate in the history of the known world.  President Obama can be articulate when he is reading a speech or reciting one from memory.  As an extemporaneous speaker arguing on the spot, Obama makes used dishwater look positively incandescent.  He is halting, banal, predictable, play-it-safe, and yet still manages to say absurd things that make no sense.  Romney, apparently, has put together a bunch of "zingers." Oh God, please spare us.  I am sure these will be delivered in a natural, flowing way, and won't look at all contrived.

I think two old-line WASPS (McCain, Romney) getting steamrolled in a row by a gifted minority politician marks a decisive turning point in the history of the country.  James Kunstler at Clusterfuck Nation says that Romney is the Millard Fillmore of the Republican Party, playing the same role as the hapless Millard (Romney is Willard, don't forget) played to the Whig Party; namely, ushering them into extinction.  The remnants of the Republican Party will then scatter into ultra-Right Tea Party and White Supremacist factions, with Wal-Martians moving into the power vacuum.  That sounds about right.  It was primarily white trash that formed the operative legions of the Third Reich.

Maybe Barack, with no future election to hold him back, can start to boogie - have some fun, go a little crazy.  Get street, you know?  Sure hope so.  If we can't have a Miss BumBum, we should at least be allowed that.