Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Great Repudiation and the Return to Normalcy: Prospects for Obama’s Second Term

By Anis Shivani

I’ve been contemplating the notion of a graduated return to normalcy for about a year. A few days from election, with Obama’s chances having dimmed considerably, would seem to be the most perilous time to put this idea forward, but I’ll go ahead and propose anyway that a slow but definite return to normalcy has been under way for a while, and that if Obama is reelected, this countertendency is likely to pick up steam in the next four years.

I assert this because before Mitt Romney chose the first debate to unveil his etch-a-sketch moment—very smart, because it left little time for the obvious deceit to be exposed, and because he’d already signaled his allegiance to the extreme right for much of the campaign—he was headed for a historic loss. If Romney has any chance in the election, it’s only because he’s temporarily assumed the posture of a Massachusetts moderate, a persona relatively low-information voters partly bought into, as he repudiated every single extremist policy position of his, both domestic and international, over the course of three debates. 

Romney and the Republicans, it was clear by October 3, could not win on their terms; the Romney-Ryan agenda was dead in the water, if it was going to be presented for what it really was. Voucherization of Medicare is a loser, as is ending abortion in cases of rape and incest, or self-deportation for “illegals.”  

Well-informed voters understood Romney’s chameleon act (which would last only until election day), but a lot of voters only saw a former governor of a liberal state advocating a pragmatic rescue for the middle-class. Romney disavowed his radical tax cut aimed for the wealthiest. He—and Ryan—overnight became spokesmen for Medicare, Social Security, education, healthcare, the auto industry, and opportunity for the middle class. In other words, they adopted the Democratic agenda, because this was the only way they could salvage the election. A month more, and this disguise would have been thoroughly exposed, so the unveiling of the transformation at such a late moment was strategically brilliant.

Romney’s adoption of a “humble” international posture in the third debate was particularly evocative of George W. Bush’s similar attitude in the second debate in 2000, but memories are short, and all people care about now, in an environment where the Republicans are playing down the economy (just as they did in 2000), is that there is an alternative leadership to Obama that promises to break gridlock. Of course, it’s Republicans themselves who have created gridlock, especially over the debt ceiling and the impending fiscal cliff, and by not passing Obama’s jobs bill or any further stimulus, but the average person doesn’t understand the machinations in Washington. If Romney stood with the actual Republican line on any of these issues, he would go down in flames.

I’ve always been doubtful when it comes to the belief that demography is destiny. I was openly skeptical when Ruy Teixeira and John Judis, a decade ago, presented the most cogent argument to date that demographics favored a long-term Democratic ascendancy. Latinos, Asians, other minorities, gays, suburban women, affluent professionals, these were all natural democratic groups, according to Teixeira and Judis. Yes, but. I thought Republicans had a real opportunity—had they presented an optimistic economic and social program, a la Reagan—to get these constituencies over to their side. They not only failed—the Republican rejection of Bush’s immigration reform proposal was probably the turning point—but continue to profoundly alienate these voting blocs with their premodern ideas on rape and abortion, their opposition to the most minimal humanity on immigration, and their demonization of everyone who doesn’t fit the Randian abstraction of the completely self-sufficient, white small-business owner who doesn’t want government and shouldn’t have to pay taxes. 

It should be up to Democrats to expose this agenda for the cover it provides to policies that actually hurt the poor and middle-class, but obstacles to ideological clarity remain, partly due to the nature of the post-Clinton centrist Democratic party, partly due to Obama’s personal limitations, and partly due to the degree to which toxic ideas from the Bush era retain a hold. But the overall advantage accrues to Democrats—and looking beyond the party, to the larger progressive movement—barring a Romney election, which would set things back calamitously. Romney would take credit for the slow but steady economic recovery already underway (his promised 12 million jobs would be created anyway), and the obsession with deficit reduction would suddenly recede. The Republicans would again manage to throttle the voices of progressive change. 

Of course, Obama’s caution—some would say outright collusion with the wrong members of the wrong party—for his first two and a half years was maddening. Again and again he threw away the Democrats’ natural advantages in domestic policy because he blurred the language of policy to gain bipartisan consensus, which was never attainable anyway. Thus he legitimized the deficit discourse which has taken priority over full employment, when he could have articulated a convincing case for staggered Keynesian stimulus, based on economic conditions year to year. As early as the first debate with John McCain in 2008, he chose to back off a convincing rationale for Keynesian policy—such as Bill Clinton could easily have made—and went on to pass the bank bailout almost by stealth, as though no one would notice, which then created the opening for the Tea Party.

After the debt ceiling impasse in the summer of 2011, however, Obama chose to reformulate his language. Unfortunately, instead of a truly progressive agenda the middle-class could get behind, he chose the language of populism. Populism is always a loser in American politics. It’s not really redistributive so it generates insufficient enthusiasm among liberals, but at the same time it leaves itself open to charges of class warfare by right-wingers, and swing voters are likely to buy into that accusation. This is the Bob Shrum strategy, which cost Al Gore the 2000 election. Don’t say you’re going to fight for the middle-class, then offer small-bore policies, do something real. The language of populism, with shades of protectionism, turns off Wall Street, without gaining enough of a payoff from voters. It costs Democrats elections every time, because it blurs distinctions, and lets Republicans off the hook. 

After the summer of 2011, Obama decided on his campaign rhetoric for the duration. It wasn’t going to be bragging about a debt deal with Republicans—the grand bargain which would have cut Social Security and Medicare in return for modest tax increases on the rich—but instead it would be a series of trivial populist measures, familiar from past campaigns. The latest incarnation is Obama’s “new economic patriotism,” part of which assails corporations for shipping jobs overseas, a familiar nostrum. This is meant to appeal to the undecided voter in Ohio, but it is not a message, it is not a philosophy, it is not a policy, and it is not a winning strategy. Obama never campaigned whole-heartedly for his 2011 jobs bill; that was always intended as an eventual campaign issue, though he hasn’t made much mention of it in the campaign anyway. 

Another initiative, from earlier this year, is minimal concessions on student loans, making them a little more affordable, when what is needed is a large-scale reform of higher education, undoing its ability to scalp unsuspecting students, just as was true of the mortgage industry prior to the collapse. Such tiny measures are fine as far as they go, and they help real people, but they leave a palpable sense of absence of message, so that a shape-shifting Romney, newly turned moderate, can easily step in and claim the mantle of leadership.

This year, Obama had to be dragged kicking and screaming into acknowledgment of gay rights after Biden jumped the gun. What happened afterward, did the skies fall? Even in North Carolina, where it was supposed to hurt Obama the most, electoral victory was in sight until Romney’s latter-day conversion. But it was partly an election year gambit, to secure funding from liberal coastal elites, rather than the vigorous campaign for human rights, framed in the right context, that it should have been. 

When it looked like Marco Rubio was going to outsmart him by proposing a modified Dream Act in the senate, Obama allowed temporary deferments to some young undocumented immigrants who had arrived as children. Compared to the scale of inhumanity in the immigration system—where millions of people suffer in limbo due to no fault of their own—the concession amounted to pulling a few precious items out of a burning house. 

Yet did the skies fall after that? In fact, as Obama acknowledges, if he does pull out this election, it will in no small part be due to Hispanic support, which will make the difference in Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. Obama, however, never got behind immigration reform in his entire term. When Congressman Gutierrez of Illinois presented a humane plan early on, there was complete silence. It’s all too little, too late, yet because it is something substantial—a small down payment on the Dream Act, through administrative measures—it is translating into real electoral gains. 

What would be the future for Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and many Midwestern states too, if Obama ever had the nerve to get behind a humane immigration policy? Even rhetorically he took a pass, never speaking up for immigration in principle. For the first three years of his administration, Obama did nothing but deport people at higher rates—as Janet Napolitano boasted—than even George W. Bush, at a time when net immigration was rapidly declining. 

And mocking Republican extremism on abortion, contraception, and rape is fine and necessary, but as Clinton showed with his DNC speech which shifted poll numbers, women, like everyone else, respond to bare knuckles policies that actually alleviate poverty, a visionary economic philosophy that goes beyond day-to-day skirmishes. Clinton had such a philosophy, although a sustained critique of his neoliberal tendencies is certainly possible. Romney pretends to have one and gets away with it. Obama, at the last moment, in danger of losing, cobbles together a booklet, and gives an “off the record” interview to the Des Moines Register, where the grand bargain on debt—the one that already failed—and a compromise on immigration are presented as the thrust of his second-term agenda seeking common ground.

Still, Obama was forthright when he told Univision that change comes from outside Washington. The partial Dream Act compromise was due to the lasting effects of the campaign immigrant rights activists mounted a few years ago, and the electoral necessity of winning over this bloc. Obama is clearly telling us that he won’t go to bat for progressive causes unless the pressure is so great that personal risk for his legacy is minimized. That’s an honest admission. 

Here the failure of the Occupy movement is palpable in terms of not offering any policy agenda to hang onto. I’m a political junkie, yet I can’t tell you anything about what Occupy wants. Maybe I have to go to certain websites to find out? But if that’s the case, then the failure of their message to break through media noise speaks for itself. I should know, in a few bullet points, like with the Tea Party, what policy measures Occupy stands for. Personally, I would opt for a $15 living wage (that seems about right to me, given 2012 conditions), massive student debt forgiveness, and general lenience toward indebtedness of all kinds. That would seem to be a positive start. Absent such a message, we’re back to deficit reduction as the default.

Despite the caveats I’ve listed above, I still say that the turf being contested now is all Democratic, everything favors progressive causes, and we seem to be returning—the 2011 Occupy movement and the 1999 Seattle protests have close parallels—about where we were on the eve of the Bush presidency. The war on terror meme can be easily reactivated at any time, however, and it is the biggest threat for progressives, because it gives license to every kind of economic injustice. If Romney becomes president the war on terror meme would be back in full swing, and all bets would be off. There would be perpetual noise about war preparations, and once again we would be living in a “war presidency,” as the war in Afghanistan, for one, would continue unabated, and perhaps new wars would start as soon as the economic situation permitted. 

However, let’s give Obama credit where he deserves it. The 10th anniversary of September 11 seemed to me a turning point, a brake on active mourning, a signal to move forward. The eleventh anniversary was much more muted than I expected. This shows clear progress.

I would hazard that the fundamental reason the economy collapsed—more than financial shenanigans, which to some extent always go on—is that we became a security-oriented nation, and innovation and productive investment, made possible by tolerance and optimism, were crushed, as policy became hostage to risk-aversion. 

Obama’s first act as president should have been restoration of civil liberties, but within the first few days there was tremendous pushback on such initiatives and he backed off for good. The pushback against the closure of Guantanamo and the trial of terror defendants on American soil put an end to that chapter. A possible advantage of a second Obama term would be a gradual return to normalcy on these fronts, if enough outside pressure is applied. Without the end of the terror climate, there will be no real return to sustained economic growth. 

The constraints on Obama—both real and self-imposed—are great. Much has been made of Romney’s 47 percent secret video, but Obama’s fundraisers, like any presidential contender’s, are full of kowtowing to his donors. David Samuels’s recent Harper’s article is very revealing on this count, showing that Obama realizes the firm checks on his Middle Eastern policy. Obama’s hawkishness in the foreign policy debate was so extreme that all Romney had to do was agree. Over his entire presidency, Obama has continued the informant-driven foiled domestic “terror conspiracies,” to keep fears inflamed, and thus satisfy the security apparatus.

The Benghazi episode clearly reveals the push and pull. The administration at first correctly downplayed it rather than inflaming the situation. Focusing on the role of the offensive movie was the right course of action. But then pushback began, until now we’ve reached a position where it has been framed as al-Qaeda terrorism, exactly as the national security bureaucracy would like it. In a Romney presidency, this would have been the starting position. On this, as on so many security-related issues, Obama has little support from the media, from the intelligentsia, from any prominent voice. He cannot fight these battles alone.

There has never been a rational discussion of the costs of terrorism. No American politician can concede that a single life can ever be lost to terrorism even if it means that we squander our entire GDP to defend against imagined monsters. If engagement with Afghanistan substantially declines, and if Obama ever lets up on his drone war in Pakistan, perhaps there can be a discussion about the tragedy of permanent war. That would suck the air out of the Rand Paul “libertarians.”

I planned this as an accounting of the various ways I want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, but it has turned into what sounds like a post-mortem. The best we can hope for is that the economy will continue its moderate recovery—although a more aggressive response, such as preventing government layoffs, and helping people with underwater mortgages and crushing student debt, would accelerate it—and that this will create space for a different discourse to substitute for the one we’ve lived with for the last dozen years. It’s a small hope, yet at the same time it’s very great, because the alternative, the silencing of the emerging discourse of normalcy, is so frightening. 

The extremists are desperate to win this election because demographics are again asserting their natural tendencies. Had Republicans not managed to shut down immigration and drive so many people underground, the demographic impact, by 2012, would have been even greater, but still it’s being felt in swing states. 

What gives me reason for hope is that Obama struck me in the first debate—though of course he should have been more aggressive in countering Romney’s lies—as presenting his liberal side for the first time since early 2008, and that this sharpening of contrasts continued in the next two debates. He’s taken a firm stand on not extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, whereas Clinton probably would have compromised. It is up to people outside Washington to push him farther, but the chance of being able to do that, and extending the debate to more fundamental reasons why positive change is blocked at every point—such as the campaign finance structure—makes all the difference in the world. Normalcy is always contingent, given the cloud of terror we still live under. It can be swept away at a moment’s notice.

Here are the facts. The majority does not want war, it does not want unnecessary intrusions, and it wants to be humane toward the poor and sick and immigrants and gays. The other side is running out of angry white men to win elections. If this historic election goes to Obama, then the Republicans will never again mount a campaign based on such extremism, because the limited electoral appeal of this repressive ideology will have been exposed. If even conditions of economic distress (though they’re much exaggerated by the Republicans) can’t secure a national election, then the Tea Party will be dead, extremism will be dead, and the Republicans might start contemplating moderation again, a la Jeb Bush or Jon Huntsman. They will pull back from the brink of extinction. 

This is why the first debate was so excruciating, because pulling North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, and Colorado into the Democratic orbit would surely have been the death knell of the abnormal politics that has been inflicted on us for more than a decade. It feels eerily like 2000 all over again. We’ll soon find out if we’ll make the same mistake again and choose fear and lies over a clear path forward.  

The halting but undoubted return to normalcy over the last four years, which has permitted discussion of economic justice, is no mean accomplishment for Obama. He deserves to be rewarded.

Anis Shivani’s debut novel, "Karachi Raj", will be published in 2013. His other books are "My Tranquil War and Other Poems" (2012),  "The Fifth Lash and Other Stories" (2012),  "Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies" (2011) and "Anatolia and Other Stories" (2009).   

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How Mark Twain might have imagined the 2012 presidential election.

Friends, I remember the time centuries back when the souls of all the deceased presidents of the United States residing in heaven had their shorts up in a bunch because God’s hands-off policy was failing America. It looked as if the country, left to its own devices, was going to elect an incompetent liar. This Mitt feller told some of the biggest whoppers they ever heard up there, and these boys could all spin a good yarn from time to time.

The presidents were shaking in their boots that Mitt’s anti-government, anti-tax agenda would send the country into a long-term recession, while enriching his cronies, making a mess of the land, taking away basic civil liberties and allowing our public infrastructure to go to potholes and outages.  God agreed that the selfish Baby Boom generation was making a botch of things praying to the false gods of the free market and cultural control.  But she was disinclined to intervene in earthly matters.

After much hootin’ and hollerin’ by all the presidents, except Hoover and Reagan who were taking their mid-morning naps, God agreed that she would allow them to concoct one plan to save the United States from Mitt Romney.

But that was the easy part. The presidents in heaven were stumped as to how to defeat Romney and his big wad of cash. How do you answer bald-faced lies that are repeated so many times that they start to sound true and feel true? The “Big Lie” worked in Germany in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, and it looked like a lot of big lies were going to work again.

After scratching their heads for days—proposing and then rejecting idea after idea, John Quincy Adams, the bright bulb of the bunch, says, out of the blue, “We need the help of the president who didn’t make it into our august company.”

Suddenly waking from a snore, Reagan intones, “You mean the one who sits at the right hand of the devil.”

“Well you can’t believe everything you hear about a president,” John Q. snorts back. Honest Abe, FDR and Big George agree with John Q., so he carries the day.

The deceased presidents summon Lyndon Baines Johnson from hell and tell him the problem.

LBJ cackles an oversized Texas laugh and says, “You just have to get these peckerwoods to where they need you real bad.”

With that, LBJ raises his hand and waves it around and a storm named Sandy forms in the Atlantic Ocean. With the aplomb of circus ringmaster, LBJ announces, “Watch now, we’re going to take this one oversized Republican peckerwood named Chris Christie and we’re going to make him do all our campaigning for us. We’re going make him say that guv’ment is good.  He’s going to praise our guy as if he were a saint.”

And that, friends and neighbors, is how Barack Obama won the 2012 presidential election. At least according to legend.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An official endorsement: OpEdge urges voters to vote party line Democratic on Nov. 6

By Marc Jampole

There are several good reasons to vote for Obama and many very good reasons to vote against Romney.  The most compelling case to be made, however, is to vote straight party line Democratic regardless of the individual candidates.

Today’s Republican Party advocates a ratcheting up of the policies that have gutted the middle class and created a nation of rich and poor, including:
  • Reducing taxes on the income and investments of the wealthy
  • Reducing programs that help the needy among us, including the elderly, poor and disadvantaged.
  • Ending job creation programs, even those that build or repair our infrastructure of highways, bridges, mass transit, sewers and schools.
  • Attacking unions and making it harder to unionize.
  • Privatizing standard government functions, which turns the middle class income of government employees into profit for government suppliers such as Halliburton and Blackwater.
One can’t help but note that in articulating these positions, many Republicans use racial code words and insinuate that their version of us-versus-them has a racial and ethnic tinge to it.  Republicans bite off these code words with a mean-spirited malevolence that advocates that we should always turn our back on our fellow humans.

Republicans also are opposed to regulations that protect workers, markets, the community and the environment.  They do embrace regulations that impede minorities, the poor and students from voting.

While worshipping at the altar of the free market, the current Republican Party wants to take freedoms away from individuals, women in particular, but also gays, Muslims and poor.  In the Republican fantasy land, there are no married gays, in fact no gays whatsoever, no abortion, homes full of pregnant wives and a landscape buzzing with houses of worship, all Christian. Everybody speaks English.

This combination of controlling private actions that hurt no one but allowing public actions that can hurt the entire community is the essence of what has led to the U.S. decline since about 1980. To reject it, we have to reject Republicans at every level of the ballot, from President on down to dogcatcher.

If Mitt Romney were a Democrat, I might urge voters to go third party, because his beliefs or lack of beliefs aside, he does not have the qualifications or capabilities to be President of the United States.

Here is my bill of particulars against Mr. Romney:
  • Romney will do anything and say anything to get elected. We don’t know if the right-wing Romney of the primaries and early election season is the true Romney, or if it’s the more centrist Romney of the first debate and beyond. We don’t know and that very fact should frighten voters.
  • Mitt lies way too much for an elected official: He lied about Obama cutting $715 billion out of Medicare; he lied about Chrysler shipping U.S. jobs to China. He lied about the impact of his proposed tax break for the wealthy on the tax payments of the non-wealthy.  He lied when he said his health care plan would cover pre-existing conditions.  He lied when he said that Obama was responsible for all the job losses of the recession (which came before Obama took office or during his first few months in office).  The idea of an apology tour is one sustained big lie. There are many lists on the Internet of Romney’s constant lying: here’s one.
  • He has proven to be a complete doofus on foreign policy issues:  an inelegant bull in a china shop, shooting from the hip, insulting allies and seemingly dense to issues of foreign protocol.
  • As Lee Fang and others are beginning to uncover, Romney is poised to turn the federal budget into a piggy bank for his supporters and cronies in the same way that Bush II did with the ill-conceived and costly Iraq War.
The case for Obama is the hardest to make. His record on protecting the environment and preparing the country for climate change is disappointing, as is his war on legal medical marijuana and his support of union-busting charter schools. From the standpoint of progressives in the George McGovern tradition, which constitute a large part of the Democratic Party, Obama has been a disappointment in foreign policy matters. When judged, however, by the centrist American imperialist and exceptionalist policies that have been in effect since World War II, Obama has been one of our most successful foreign policy presidents. He got Osama bin Laden, shut down Al Qaeda, has shown a steady hand as middle eastern regimes have toppled and has managed our complicated business relationship with China.

To the positive is the Rube Goldberg machine called the Affordable Care Act.  It provides coverage for an additional 30-40 million Americans, removes the financial onus of a pre-existing condition, covers children under their parents policy until the age of 26, removes lifetime limits and begins to address the inefficiencies in our healthcare delivery system. Also to the good is the economy, which is slowly nursing its way back to health. Yes, the economy could be better, but that’s the fault of Congress for not passing the broader stimulus bill Obama wanted and for not funding this stimulus by allowing temporary tax breaks for the wealthy to expire. It is true that Obama caved too quickly on all of these issues, another reason for disappointment. I’m also dismayed that Obama has said nice things about the Bowles-Simpson report, which ignored its charge to address the deficit and instead proposed a tax overhaul that would have the wealthy paying less and all others paying more.

We can divide our vote up into three parts: Centrists and liberals might vote “no” on the Republicans, “no” on Romney and “maybe” on Obama, which computes to a positive vote for Obama on election day. But even progressives who might vote “no” on Obama in their hearts must pull the Obama lever because of Romney’s incompetence and Republican intransigence. And the same holds for traditional Eisenhower-Rockefeller conservatives as well. 

But I’m going to make it easy for everyone but the one-percenters or the 20% who are extreme social conservatives (the ones against vaccinations and abortion even if the woman has been raped): Don’t vote for Obama. Vote straight party line Democratic.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Famous for being the sister-in-law of someone whose grandma is famous for being famous

By Marc Jampole
When I saw Parade Magazine’s front cover of a semi-attractive young lady named Pippa Middleton watching a young girl eat a donut hanging by a string, I immediately thought of Miggy and A-Rod.

Miggy, Miguel Cabrera, the best pure hitter of baseballs since Mickey Mantle, only gets in the news when he does something newsworthy like wins the Triple Crown or gets flagged by the cops for drunk driving. By contrast, faded superstar Alex Rodriguez gets in the news every time he pulls out of his driveway, waves to an attractive women or yawns.

A-Rod is a celebrity and Miggy is merely a great athlete.

But at least A-Rod can still hit a little bit and is a good fielder with the best infield arm since Cal Ripken.

And at least Lady Gaga can shake that thing and pretend to sing. Although just like Madonna three decades past, many rock critics gush a little bit too much about Gaga’s tunes, which really are the musical equivalent of eating microwave-warmed KFC leftovers.

Moving along the celebrity spectrum to the less essential, we can at least point at the relatives and paramours of the Kardashian bimbas and say that they have some accomplishments, e.g. Olympic gold medalist, pro basketball player and entertainment business mogul.

But what the heck did Pippa Middleton ever do to deserve any coverage in the news media?

She is the done-nothing sister of a done-nothing who married a done-nothing whose did-nothing grandmother happens to serve a hereditary ceremonial role that symbolizes everything against which the United States is said to stand and against which we fought the Revolutionary War. The bedrock of American exceptionalism—a theory that I reject—is the principle that we have no royalty. All men and women are created equal. 

Middleton represents the pure celebrity—famous for nothing more than being famous. While the news media can find small admirable things about her life, in the grand scheme of things, she is little more than a hanger-on to royalty: a sycophant to evil. Let’s not forget that royalty is the belief that some people are inherently better and more deserving than others, and not even by virtue of doing good, but merely by birthright. To assert this belief, kings and queens through the ages have killed, maimed, tortured, stolen, raped and pillaged.  Middleton is the avatar not of evil monarchy but of the parasite, the drinking companion or the lady-in-waiting. Would we hang on the words and actions of the familial flotsam of the North Korean dictator?

When Parade first got the idea to build its Halloween issue around the celebration in another country, I wonder if a Spanish-speaking land came to mind, and was then rejected as not entirely keeping with the current anti-immigrant wave welling across the heartland. The Sunday supplement to most local newspapers wouldn’t want to appear to take a political stand over Halloween.

To make Merry Olde England the exotic foreign land whose celebration of Halloween Parade would feature makes sense since part of American consumerism is to homogenize the exotic—to reduce it to a few easy-to-identify traits that are then used to trick up the same old same old. Since we’re so British to begin with and we speak the same tongue, we start with instant homogenization.

But as usual, when Parade explores a holiday, social issue or milestone (with the strange exception of its recent excellent feature advocating vaccination), it does so through the prism of celebrity. It can’t just be British or Celtic (Irish) Halloween; it has to be Halloween celebrated by a British celebrity.  If fact, how Pippa spends her Halloween has less to do with Celtic or British traditions than it does with the high quality enrichment I associate with the best public elementary schools.

Who did Parade not feature? Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Prime Minister David Cameron, Christian Bale, Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins!), Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. These Brits are all celebrities and have also done something, although I don’t want to conflate acting in a few popular action hero movies with making major contributions to the science of evolution.  

For Parade and the American mass media, the celebrity sets the tone for a celebration, trend, idea, holiday or event. The celebrity defines and upholds the standard as to what is hip, new, chic, stylish or socially acceptable. The celebrity tells us what to do, what to eat, and most importantly what to buy.  The celebrity sells not just products, services and actions but the very idea that social interaction reduces to buying.

As it turns out, much of the Pippa Middleton article consists of a hodgepodge of interesting ideas to expand Halloween beyond dunning neighbors for treats that the children then consume in a sugary orgy. Parade suggested activities like leaf rubbing and pumpkin bowling that actively engage children in imaginative play and easy crafts but which aren’t really British, English or Welsh.  Reading Halloween books with children is also a good idea.

Setting aside the relative lack of authenticity in Pippa’s Halloween, what corrupts these excellent suggestions for a Halloween party is the very fact that the context is the celebrity, and not just any celebrity, but the pure celebrity, known for nothing more than being famous.

Parade consciously decided to build its celebration of Halloween around a celebrity. That they found one who represents an inherent evil is merely a lucky bit of symbolism, since the very concept of celebrity is as detrimental to the human body and soul as royalty is. Royalty enslaves us to other, more powerful people who can never lose their power (until we overthrow them), whereas celebrity enslaves us to the marketplace and the concept that all human expression revolves around buying and consumption.

The actual suggestions in the article eschew marketplace solutions for the quaint, old-fashioned and many would say enduring values of imaginary play and crafty activities. Parade validates these values through the vehicle of celebrity, as if to say that even though leaf rubbing and cutting spooky place cards has nothing to do with vacationing at a fancy resort or wearing designer dresses, they’re still okay because a celebrity does them.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mitt Nears 900 Lies

Lies may be in the eyes of the beholder. During the week from Oct. 20-26, Steve Benen of counted 36 lies told by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, including 21 lies told during his third and final debate with President Barack Obama on Oct. 22. Igor Volsky of tallied 24 "myths" told by Romney during the debate. 

We view Benen to be the official scorer of Mitt's Mendacity, as he has recorded the misstatements of facts by the former Massachusetts governor and former CEO of the Bain Capital vulture capitalist fund since the Republican presidential campaign heated up in January. Since then, Benen has counted 893 instances of Mitt's Mendacity, as of the 40th installment posted on Oct. 26. 

This is a remarkable achievement by a man totally unhinged from personal integrity. Romney lies effortlessly, with no other ideal than to win the presidency by whatever prevarication is necessary. For example, Benen noted, at an event in Defiance, Ohio, on Oct. 25, Romney told voters, "I saw a story today, that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China."

Benen noted, "Even by Romney standards, this was a rather brazen falsehoodAs Chrysler itself explained, the company intends to build Jeeps in China to be sold in China, but isn't moving American jobs abroad.

Greg Sargent of explained why this matters: "Romney may very well be the next president. That's a position of some responsibility. Yet he and his campaign rushed to tell voters a story designed to stoke their fears for their livelihoods without bothering to vet it for basic accuracy. This is not a small thing. It reveals the depth of Romney's blithe lack of concern for the truth -- and the subservience of it to his own political ambitions."
Benen noted that Romney also specifically urged business leaders to give their employees voting instructions -- many bosses took Romney's suggestion seriously -- and as a consequence, workers in a growing number of businesses are being told their jobs may be dependent on the outcome of the election.

"Romney's comments in Defiance are part of the same kind of fear-based argument: vote the right way or you'll be unemployed. Your livelihood is at stake, so support the candidate who opposed President Obama's successful rescue of the auto industry and got rich laying off American workers.

"For additional context, it's worth noting that the Detroit News reports today that Chrysler is adding an additional 1,100 new jobs. Why? To build more Jeeps right here in the United States."

With 893 lies in the official count as of Friday, Romney is virtually certain to break past 900 lies next week. When it comes to lies told by an active political candidate, he is in a class by himself. Yet, if the polls are to be believed, nearly half of the electorate is willing to hand over the executive power of the presidency to him.  (Maybe they're lying to the pollsters. We can only hope.)