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Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons

[Briefly: Hooray for an Election Day that delivered some genuine victories for liberals and progressives, with: 1) a lot of very important local issues breaking the way I hoped they would (California propositions, local races, etc.); 2) some defining cultural/social issues being resolved in a few states in favor of equality (marriage rights) and sanity (moving away from the failed Drug War); and 3) a fairly sweeping national rejection of the Republican brand, which, though badly damaged by the Bush/Cheney years, was really done in by the GOP’s outrageously shameful conduct during the Obama era, including the party’s near-total capitulation to its most bigoted and extreme, “You lie!” raging, partisan id.  This hate-pandering to “paleoconservatives” explains why the GOP fared so very poorly among women and minority voters in 2012 and so decisively lost the race for president as well as key senate races.  As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) recently observed, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business” …though it’s certainly not for want of trying (I’m frankly elated to see this vile strategy fail; America is truly better off for the GOP’s bruising defeat yesterday — only that doesn’t necessarily help us on the policy front, where the two parties largely agree.  The devil’s name invoked, let’s proceed to business…]

Limp, quack-quack, and slash, slash, slash…

A LAME DUCK CONGRESS (and stealth radical-conservative president) IS COMING A-SLASHING FOR ENTITLEMENTS… RIGHT NOW. This is no conspiracy theory, but a well-telegraphed and much ballyhooed (if quietly, in coded language), long-orchestrated event: the “grown-ups” in Washington are going to do what it takes to “balance the budget.”  Of course, balancing the budget is not Job 1 in the world of actual grown-ups (who know something about economics, anyway); Debt Reduction should follow Job Creation (the real Job 1, as Americans well know) and also Campaign Finance Reform/Democracy Restoration (Job 2 in my book, accomplished with a strong public campaign finance system along the lines Lawrence Lessig has suggested).  It should also be noted that the establishment’s entitlement-slashing austerity will only shrink the economy while shifting increased healthcare and living expenses onto the populace (while preserving billions of dollars in corporate welfare and tax preferences for the rich — partisan gridlock is a sham, and here comes the proof, “The Great Betrayal,” as William Black has described it).

NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL PATRIOTS TO RESIST AUSTERITY! (And put a stake through its demon heart, to make doubly sure it won’t return.)  However, I can see only one way we can accomplish this feat (and the path is a gnarly and unlikely one): joint mobilization of the grass-roots, right and left, working in coordination: NOW.

It’s time to put our differences aside and offer every olive branch on the ranch to the other side.  The establishment bastards are coming for Medicare and Social Security, RIGHT NOW, and together we’ve got to stop them. If for no other reason than because they’re doing so under cover of darkness (or trying to, anyway) in clear contravention of the wishes of the vast majority of the public, spanning America’s political center, left, and right.  We just reelected 90% of a body that we approve of, per polls, only 10% — the least we can do now is stop these clowns before they sabotage our most successful remaining government institutions (they’ve already sandbagged the USPS and waged an all-out assault on public education, but that was just the warm-up act).

H O W    T O    W I N :

We need to get the heart of the Ron Paul right — and the people who initially came out for the Tea Party in 2009 (before they were co-opted by the Koch brothers and the Republican establishment) — to make common cause with the core of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Organized labor needs to jump in, too, behind a national unifying call to: PROTECT SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE FROM WASHINGTON TODAY!

As in RIGHT NOW.  Unless we act immediately, this lame duck session will almost certainly see entitlements slashed (for no good reason, and in particularly regressive ways).  Cenk Uygur knows it.  Glenn Greenwald has warned us.  Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) has been increasingly sounding the alarm (and 28 Democrats have co-signed his letter to President Obama, asking in vain for the President’s commitment to defend entitlements).

NOW is the time to do as Mr. Obama has often counseled us: it’s time to make him do the right thing and PROTECT SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE from the obscene recommendations of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles (two austerity-hawking corporatists who propose that we balance the national budget on the backs of the middle class and poor, leaving the plutocrats untouched).

I suspect that only a massive and mobilized (phone-calling, letter-writing, rally-organizing) and non-ideological coalition can accomplish this task.  I know that many of you just organized, but, folks, it’s time to re-organize (this is why most of you organized in the first place, to prevent precisely what’s about to happen to Social Security and Medicare!).  ACT NOW. And remember that civilization requires civility.  Bridge that divide (lest we be conquered).

This blog is unplanned… and possibly ill-considered.  The planned blog was a simple call to “VOTE” and not much else.  But I haven’t been able to post that blog — since I haven’t been able to convince myself that I am going to make it to the polls today.  I’ve been wondering if I’m just too angry and demoralized to vote, this time around.  (I’m reminded of the instances in my youth when in games or sports, I basically stopped trying to win once I realized that the other side was cheating or the game was fixed; I wouldn’t call it strength of character on my part, maybe the opposite…)

Mind you, I’m genuinely terrified about the possible consequences of this day: I’m very concerned that CA Prop. 30 will not pass (if only through competition with CA Prop. 38, which needs to fail in order for Prop. 30 to win) — and local schools and public safety funds will be cut by $6 billion over the next ten years (after $20 billion in devastating cuts over the last decade — a catastrophe!); I’m also worried that San Francisco Measure F could pass and pave the way for an all-out assault on the Bay Area’s (30 cities’) water supply — under the banner of “environmentalism” (but financed by the usual Republican suspects, hinting at commercial development opportunities and, my guess, water privatization); and, finally, I’m alarmed at the possibility that CA Prop. 32 will pass and corporate money will utterly dominate future elections in America (as California goes, so will the nation on this one), with organized labor’s ability to participate in elections eviscerated.

Compounding my fears and grief, there’s the presidential election: the lesser of two evils (Barack Chamberlain, who, past being precedent, will continue to soberly/stealthily surrender most everything to the corporate fascists) vs. the more evil of two evils (Adolf Mittler, who will proudly take most everything for the corporate fascists, as their smiling robot leader)…  Either way, get ready for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to be unnecessarily slashed in the lame duck session following today’s contest… and don’t hold your breath waiting for the return of civil liberties or for America’s middle class to rebound (our next president will be well-positioned to put the final nails in both of their respective coffins).

Yes, it’s a special kind of bitter impotence I’ve been feeling this election season after my last vote for President unexpectedly helped end habeas corpus and due process and transferred the bulk of $16 trillion to America’s most serious enemies: the criminal banks who have crashed our national economy and defrauded hundreds of American polities along the way (knowingly selling toxic/junk securities to countless cities/counties/states and pension funds across America).  These are the same government-shielded criminals who’ve illegally kicked millions of Americans out of their homes over the last few years with “robo-signers” and falsified mortgage documents (I highly recommend Charles Ferguson’s excellent documentary about Wall Street’s criminality and control of Washington, “Inside Job”).

But anger and despondency aside, listening to Amy Goodman’s “DemocracyNow!” program today seems to have had a positive effect on me (as it often does).  Hearing about the millions of people who are apt to lose their votes this year to intimidation, fraud, and plain old voter suppression efforts (especially in Ohio and Florida) — and factoring in the local issues that I feel strongly about — I believe I’ll vote today, after all, both in the name of the disenfranchised and, also, to at least try to make a difference on those issues on my ballot that I genuinely care about (hoping for the best, even while fearing the worst). 

Otherwise I’ll be voting to REGISTER MY DISSENT.  It’s the least I can do, I suppose: participating in one of my former democracy’s slightly more democratic (if largely rigged) remaining customs, in the year of the Super-PAC.  I remind myself that this voting ritual hasn’t lost all meaning — and my non-participation would probably represent the ultimate victory of the fascist corporatocracy I’ve spent so much time and energy resisting.

So, yeah, VOTE.  While there’s still time…  While it still means something.

I. Personal Reflections: “Cassandra complex” acknowledged…

Over the roughly 15 years that I have been obsessively (more or less) following news and politics, I’ve gone from being alarmed at the metastasizing corruption and polarization in the American body politic to being convinced that the United States of America is essentially committing economic and societal suicide on the world stage (with easily manipulated/generally misinformed Americans either turned off/tuned out or, conversely, at each other’s throats, spewing “Teabagger” and “Socialist” invective, while trillions of dollars are looted from the U.S. Treasury and our Constitution is overwritten in a way that would make Orwell’s pigs blush into bacon bits: “Two legs awesome — and since when does ‘due process’ require a judge or, you know, charges? JUST KILL ‘EM.”  Thanks, Mr. President, now I don’t miss John Yoo at all!).

“This is how corrupt Washington has become… Billionaires are giving very strong support to elected officials who will do exactly the opposite of what the American people want.” — Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent (VT)

I admit it seems a rather dismal conclusion to “The Great Experiment,” but near as I can tell, our leading institutions are anxious to cede, once and for all, America’s economic future and national sovereignty to a clearly pernicious (habitually reckless, criminal, anti-democratic, and ultimately destructive) global corporatocracy.  And why not?  It’s the same corporate mob that generations of Republicans and Democrats worked their little, nest-feathering brains out to establish in the first place as the only truly preeminent world power, under the deceptive label of “capitalism” (spelled “F-A-S-C-I-S-M” and predicated on endless violence and ethnosectarian conflict — with millions of dehumanized people filling its prisons, dying in its wars, and toiling in its fields/quarries/factories for pennies a day).

[I’ll take a moment to note the post-WWII road not taken (the empire-eschewing route which would have honored the millions of victims of WWII by making the world a safer place for generations to come): promoting a robust international regime of treaties and inclusive, multilateral institutions — including a credible, democratic United Nations as the central star in this firmament (one without the rigged, war-mongering “Security” Council).  But unfortunately, like Eisenhower’s famous warning — that Americans needed to vigilantly guard against the Military-Industrial-Complex’s potential to “endanger our liberties and democratic processes” — such a course was dismissed out of hand by a war-ravenous, unilateralist, MIC-corrupted Washington: always ready for military adventurism (unlike the populace), no stranger to state terrorism, disdainful of international law, and insatiable for corporate advantage/PROFIT$.]

And while our current national catastrophe has indeed been decades in the making, I would say that America’s self-destructive turn began in earnest with GEORGE W. BUSH — particularly in the post-9/11 presidency of Mr. Bush, when imperial overreach and an unmistakable lurch toward fascism both shocked the world and signaled that America’s days of dominance were numbered.

“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” — Princess Leia Organa (Okay, I couldn’t resist inserting that quote from my favorite childhood movie… but the principle is sound, no matter the source: Imperial despotism breeds rebels.)

*          *          *

Returning to my “Cassandra Complex” — so named for the doomed seer of Greek mythology cursed with perfect foresight coupled with the inability to convince anyone of the truth of her prophecies — let’s briefly revisit those heady, carefree days back when I was merely alarmed

In the year 2000, after a few years of rapidly intensifying interest in “current events,” I was absolutely convinced that NO ELECTION IN MY LIFETIME HAD EVER BEEN (would ever be?) SO FRAUGHT WITH CONSEQUENCE as the race for president that year (and that still seems about right to me).  Ralph Nader had made some excellent points, but George W. Bush simply had to be stopped. I’d studied his record in Texas and found it appalling, telegraphing every bit of the nightmare to come.

In short, I had never seen anything as heinous as GWB coming down the pike for the presidency, and I did a fair amount (though hardly enough) to prevent that outcome.

[Here I would like to reproduce a photograph of me in 2000 going door to door in my dorky sweater vest, handing out hundreds of copies of my single-page plea to fellow Missourians (an entreaty amounting to “ANYONE but Bush”)… only I can’t, because that photo belongs to The Columbia Daily Tribune — which dubbed me the “One-man campaign waged against Bush”.  Sigh.]

Regardless, you know how this story ends: I failed to convince enough of my fellow Missourians to change the outcome of that election.  I’d gone door-knocking with my literature and lucked into having those efforts written up in the local newspaper.  I’d published several letters to the editor and done my best to get my questions asked at the third presidential debate in St. Louis… all to no avail.


II. Practical advice for Nov. 6th, including an ENDORSEMENT (two, actually)!

And now that we’ve taken that stroll down memory lane, my general advice boils down to the following: 1) FIND A WAY TO SIGNAL YOUR DISPLEASURE WITH THE ESTABLISHMENT (as much as your ballot permits) and 2) WORK TO COUNTER THE ONGOING ASSAULT ON OUR DEMOCRACY (including recent efforts that threaten to disenfranchise more than three million legally registered American voters).

A. SPECIFIC RACES, PROPOSITIONS, and ONE MEASURE (I’m only weighing in here on matters I’ve researched — please don’t mistake this blog for a comprehensive voter guide):

(1) Presidential Race, Swing-State Voter: Vote your conscience, my friends — some of the savviest, most principled progressives I know seem genuinely torn over the question of whether Romney or Obama will do more harm over the next four years (yes, my GUT feeling is that Obama is preferable to Romney, but my BRAIN tells me that the CIA’s 2008 choice, Obama, may well continue on as “the more effective evil” on the foreign front, while slashing entitlements at home and continuing to move American courts further to the right (Elena Kagan for John Paul Stevens???  Why didn’t Obama just nominate John Yoo and give the Federalist Society everything it wants?)

(2) Presidential Race, non-Swing-State Voter: Is the outcome of the presidential race in your state a foregone conclusion? If so, please have the good sense to vote for someone other than a Democrat or Republican: REGISTER YOUR DISSENT. My choice: VOTE FOR Dr. JILL STEIN and help the Green Party reach 5% nationally, earning the party federal funds and increased traction in the next election (among progressive parties, I believe that the Green Party is best positioned, politically and organizationally, and has values that comport with mine far more closely than those of the current Republicrat Party).  Conversely, if you lean more to the right and you know that President Obama doesn’t have a prayer of winning your “red” state, vote for Ron Paul or Gary Johnson, if you can’t bring yourself to vote for the excellent Ms. Stein — anyone but Mittwit and the Boy Plunder…  SIGNAL YOUR DISSENT.

(3) House of Representatives: Since no credible pollster/predictor apparently sees any serious chance of the House flipping from Republican to Democratic control (especially not in the Year of the Super-PAC), I hope that every progressive-minded individual this fall will VOTE for the Green Party’s House of Representatives candidate or, barring that possibility, the next most progressive candidate on the ballot (even if he/she is a Democrat, I suppose).

(4) Senate: If the race in your state is close, vote for the Democrat (that’s my advice; with a far-right House and White House all-but-guaranteed, a Democratic Senate could provide something of a firewall against austerity’s secret partners, Obama and the Tea Party); if the race is not close, vote GREEN (or for your preferred non-establishment candidate)…

(5) California Proposition 30 (re: tax for schools, public safety): YES!!! (It’s imperfect, but BY FAR the best result we can hope for if we care about funding for schools) — all I’ve heard, from multiple, trustworthy sources, is that Prop. 30 must pass and the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

(6) California Proposition 32 (re: “special interest” money): HELL NO!!! (This one’s an industry-funded ruse to eviscerate organized labor’s voices while leaving corporate electioneering efforts unscathed; it takes an already unlevel playing field and requires the referee to approach the disadvantaged player and shoot him in the face with his starting gun… until he stops twitching.)

(7) California Proposition 34 (repeals CA’s death penalty): Yes! Countless studies have revealed that ending the death penalty would both save money and, in many cases, spare the lives of wrongly convicted innocents (my personal feeling is that it is immoral to kill a detained individual, posing no threat to anyone — and that it’s hubris of the worst sort when human beings convince themselves that they know who should live and who should die).

(8) California Proposition 36 (reforms “Three Strikes” laws): Yes! California is the only state with a “Three Strikes” law that puts people away for life on the basis of non-violent offenses; factor in the massive flaws in our justice system, and it’s an expensive farce with terrible human consequences, particularly for minorities endlessly subjected to racial profiling — END IT!

(9) California Proposition 37 (requires GMO food labels): Yes! Monsanto and friends have a slick misinformation campaign against Prop. 37, but it’s high time for America to join scores of other countries and tell consumers what they’re eating!

(10) Local Measure F (San Francisco; drain/“restore” Hetch Hetchy): No frikkin’ way! This one’s another dog — or should I say, WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING — masquerading as “progressivism” or “environmentalism” (poppycock; this sucker paves the way for a $10 billion boondoggle that costs the Bay Area 20% of its power (CLEAN power, at that!) and strains our water supply, just as water is poised to become the most prized global commodity in history (I’ve begun a blog devoted to just this issue — Measure F — which I hope to get finished and posted in the next couple of days).

(11) Fremont (CA) City Council: I heartily endorse Vinnie Bacon (Independent) who I have personally met on a number of occasions, and with whom I have discussed local and national politics, each time with the strong sense that he shares my concerns and values.

B. CALL TO ACTION (from the least you could do to the most):

(1) Work to counter the massive effort to steal this election through disenfranchising voters — The GOP has been working to deny voting rights to some 3.2 million legal registered voters, predominantly minorities, simply because they are likely to vote Democratic.  Such an effort is clearly pernicious to democracy and should be resisted on principle.  At the very least we can promote/disseminate the following tips (courtesy of muckraking journalist Greg Palast) designed to make sure that one’s vote is counted:

Beyond that, support the anti-establishment candidates while there’s still time!

(2) Spread the word that every disillusioned voter in a non-swing state should vote for someone other than Romney/Obama in the presidential race (and non-Democrats/Republicans in “down-ticket” races); more votes for the candidates of the Green and Libertarian parties will convey a strong message of disapproval of the catastrophic direction the establishment has been taking the country; again, SIGNAL YOUR DISSENT.

(3) Work as hard as you possibly can to defeat the GOP in every (legal, moral) way possible.  Today’s GOP is without question the closest thing that America has yet produced to a bona fide FASCIST mainstream political party, so their defeat should be a moral imperative — as bad as the Democrats are in terms of policy (pursuing the SAME policies as the Republicans, mostly), PERCEPTION COUNTS, and it would be salutary indeed for the world to see Americans reject these openly bigoted, anti-democratic thugs.

In an ideal world, NEITHER PARTY WOULD GET A SINGLE VOTE (this Congress has something like a 10% approval rating (abysmal and appropriate), yet Americans are on the verge of re-electing basically the whole lot of them — because our system is deeply corrupt and because Americans have been successfully divided… and all-but conquered).  Right now, the rest of the world is watching us in stunned horror, wondering what the hell happened to our morals and good sense.  They follow our establishment-dictated national discussion, baffled as America’s two leading political parties advocate that we shoot ourselves in both feet (with authoritarianism, austerity,  deregulation, privatization…) and they KNOW, even if most Americans have yet to realize it, that they’re witnessing the demise of a great nation.

Well, there you have it!  It’s a beast, I know, but today’s blog represents my good faith effort to move beyond the ideal and provide some practical advice for the upcoming election (I hope you’ll agree).

[Before reading today’s blog, please devote a few minutes to the following brief excerpts from today’s broadcast of DemocracyNow! featuring two impressive candidates for the U.S. presidency, the Green Party’s Dr. Jill Stein and the Justice Party’s Rocky Anderson, each responding to last night’s presidential debate — in real time, thanks to Amy Goodman’s innovative “expanded” coverage.  Discussing the economy, the two MSM-arginalized (and corporate debate commission-barred) candidates both strongly endorsed the single most obvious approach to ending America’s deficit woes: adopting a Medicare-for-All/single-payer healthcare system (saving nearly $300 billion annually per a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and in all likelihood dramatically improving health outcomes for Americans).]

Excerpt #1: The Green Party’s Jill Stein

Excerpt #2, The Justice Party’s Rocky Anderson

And now you know why these two outstanding candidates were prohibited from participating in the “presidential debates” controlled (more rigidly than ever, it seems) by a corporate commission created and run by the national Democratic and Republican parties.

Unlike Romney and Obama, Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson are not actually on board with the .01%’s program to privatize, outsource, and break the United States and its middle class with “austerity” over the next decade, needlessly slashing entitlements and deliberately sabotaging public institutions like the Postal Service and America’s public school system (with so-called “education reform” a Trojan horse for union-busting privatization that has broad bipartisan support across our pay-to-play government).  Unlike Romney and Obama, Stein and Anderson do not ignore sensible, proven approaches to resolving the crises in employment, education, and our crumbling infrastructure.  Nor do they share the establishment candidates’ zeal for economically suicidal trade deals that decimate American jobs and erode national sovereignty.

But sadly, all indications are that either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama is going to be president for the next four years: the Ultimate Soulless/Predatory “Trust Me” Charlatan or the Ultimate Wall St. Pawn/Middle Class-Civil Liberties Sell-Out.  Either prospect is genuinely terrifying and deeply depressing, representing a profound failure on the part of the American people to perceive and forcefully resist the near-total corruption of our politics and leading institutions by those who are clearly working against our interests (those trying to deftly manage/manufacture the permanent contraction of the American middle class while they shrink/eliminate/privatize public services and reduce consumer/worker/citizen protections under the law in order to further the already ludicrous advantages enjoyed by rapacious corporations, hedge funds, and the insanely wealthy, generally).

Obama and Romney have both amply demonstrated their intent to continue thinning America’s middle class with SHOCK DOCTRINE “austerity” and creating new generations of American poor while the gravy train rolls on for the MIC and Wall St. (with Obama growing the defense budget every year he’s been in office, while millions lost their jobs and homes — with his administration still bailing out the banksters, to the tune of $85 billion/month, four years after the 2008 crash).  And the economic fleecing America has endured over the last four years has been compounded with an endless assault on our civil liberties and the rule of law — all on behalf of the .01%, the corporatocracy that America helped create, but which no longer serves its interests… if indeed it ever did.

Like many a plutocrat (see Mitt Romney), nominally American corporations are starving the U.S. of revenue in myriad ways, but particularly by keeping some $2 trillion in wealth offshore (no patriots, these).  A recent study reported in Forbes indicates that some $21-31 trillion has been offshored by wealthy tax evaders the world over, depriving revenue to governments from America to Europe and beyond, even while the West’s economies are facing historic challenges (again, where are the patriotic plutocrats?).  Our government’s owners are also aggressively promoting the aforementioned trade deals that have hemorrhaged millions of American jobs.  And they are stifling (through the establishment media and politicians they control) practically all discussion of the painfully obvious solutions to America’s economic woes: KEYNESIAN investment in infrastructure, FDR-style; and transitioning to MEDICARE-FOR-ALL (not to mention revising those trade pacts and taxing the rich in a manner that comports with America’s history of fair, reasonably progressive taxation).

These remedies should be no-brainers. Only in America we are no longer allowed to discuss in establishment circles the policies most likely to actually help our economy recover in a meaningful way — because today’s discussion is focused almost entirely on AUSTERITY (which has done wonders for Europe, no?).  The establishment has clearly decided that it is time for America to recede; the country’s true owners will not tolerate any national discussion of long overdue banking reforms or non-industry-authored healthcare reforms.  With four presidential debates behind us, neither the moderators nor the candidates dared broach such topics; nor did they touch on America’s cruel, counterproductive, and fundamentally racist Drug War (so profitable for so few, so costly for the rest of us); nor did they discuss the virtual slave labor taking place in America’s prisons, making a mockery of our proclaimed values.  And they did not begin to question the wisdom of America’s grotesquely stupid national security strategy, no matter how much evidence accrues that the post-9/11 U.S. approach to fighting terrorism — global, boundless war, with ever-diminishing civil liberties (the Romney-endorsed Bush-Obama approach) — has been absolutely bankrupt, intellectually and morally, since its inception, metastasizing global terrorism and damaging America’s reputation and national interests from the very start (something that most of the nation’s voting citizenry soon realized and articulated strongly in consecutive national elections in 2006 and 2008, voting largely against torture and the Bush/Cheney approach to war, including the assault on our civil liberties… which President Obama proceeded unnecessarily to cement and expand).

…and that’s enough bitching about the status quo for now, I suppose.

NEXT: Part II, Practical Election Advice & an Endorsement!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been finishing up an art project I began in July, after my wife and I returned from the first ever Johnston summer seminar: Ovid’s Metamorphoses (my post-seminar blog can be read here).  The piece features caricatures of seminar participants transformed into characters from Ovid’s ~2,000 year-old masterpiece, and I hope my readers will enjoy this quick break from politics…

Art project completed: a seminar transformed!

Last week delivered another grim marker in the decline of a once great nation: the first of the 2012 presidential debates (if my response is a tad belated, please note that I had to wait until I stopped vomiting).

I have listened to Debate #1 in its entirety — twice: once in the standard format, and again with Amy Goodman’s expanded, “sound barrier-breaking” format, inserting the responses of presidential candidates from the Green and Justice parties (the Libertarian Party’s candidate was also invited to participate in the DemocracyNow! forum, but declined that invitation).  I’ve also read the transcript of the Romney-Obama debate, just to make sure I’d heard what I thought I’d heard (unfortunately, I had – urp.).  Lastly, I’ve poured over several post-game dissections of this ghastly mess, including Glenn Greenwald’s latest, which I recommend highly.   And after doing all of these things (and taking something to settle my tummy), I think I have my response/analysis together, so here goes!

1. Poor Player, the First: Jim Lehrer (The Empty Chair) — The cartoon on the cover of The New Yorker, depicting Romney debating the empty “Obama chair” that Clint Eastwood made famous, actually gets it wrong (as does most of the coverage that says Obama “failed to show up” or was “unprepared”).  The truth is the empty chair was Jim Lehrer’s.  The venerable PBS mainstay, the absurdly deferential dud, Mr. Lehrer, has been the subject of many scathing attacks — most of which have been pretty well-founded, actually (performing the most high-profile job he ever does, the man was invisible).  The only defense that Lehrer has offered is the tidbit that he and the candidates had decided beforehand that he would be more or less irrelevant to the proceedings.  That was the agreed-upon format: Lehrer would take a back seat and just let the two candidates engage in a conversation…  Great.  Only what does such an agreement do to the role of the JOURNALIST who is supposed to be present at these kinds of affairs? It obliterates it, obviously, leaving no moderator/referee to call fair balls and foul, resulting in a fact-free, free-for-all.  And that’s why, in my assessment, Jim Lehrer really screwed the pooch on this one.

2. Poor Player, the Second: Barack Obama (The Cautious/Ingratiating Wonky Doll, with Pull-string) — As I noted in the previous paragraph, the problem with the president’s performance isn’t that he failed to show up or prepare.  The problem was that Barack Obama showed up as himself: Mr. Conciliator, Mr. I’m One of You, Mr. I know policy like the back of my hand, if you’ll just give me a few more minutes to explain.  The president was well-prepared, dazzling even Romney with his knowledge of the details of his (Romney’s) policies — that is, when Romney wasn’t brazenly and FALSELY calling the president a liar, “not entitled to (his) own facts,” for accurately describing the Republican’s proposed policies.  The president clearly went into this debate intent on playing the Cautious Game: I’m winning, all I’ve gotta’ do is show up and not soil myself. The problem was decidedly not with his command of the facts/policy, but with his strategy, which is one-fold: try not to offend anyone. He professorially tried to correct Romney’s falsehoods in such a manner that no one would think he was being disagreeable.  It was “Rope a Dope,” I guess, but only if Ali had never thrown any punches and spent most of the fight trying to convince Foreman that he liked him and they had a lot in common (“Hey, guy, your Social Security position and mine are virtually identical, don’tcha’ think?  And my healthcare reform was really just conceived as an homage to your brilliance!  Love me!  Love me!  I bent Uncle Sam over for Wall Street!  I ended habeas corpus! I’m one of YOUUUUUU!!!”).

3. Poor Player, the Third, Mitt Romney (the Reprogrammable Man) — Actually, I think that the consensus opinion on Romney’s performance is about right: It was a triumph of style over substance.  Mr. “Etch-o-sketch” did just what his campaign promised and flipped another flop, “re-setting” his Etch-o-campaign’s message for the general election by driving hard back to the middle (why, he’ll even cover pre-existing conditions now, just like “Obamacare” does! …Only he won’t — that was one of several bona fide WHOPPERS that Romney told at the debate).  Romney has done just what his campaign telegraphed when his pollster asserted that it would not let the “fact-checkers” dictate their talking points (clearly, they have not).  Just as Cheney determined in George Bush’s first term that “deficits don’t matter” (when Republicans are in the White House), the Romney 2012 campaign has determined (accurately, unfortunately) that FACTS DON’T MATTER.

The result: a sham debate, where no hard questions were asked and many of the answers were 100% false (starkly contradicted in many cases by Mr. Romney’s own words, including core campaign promises made repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the debate) — with no adult on the scene to sort out the truth/mendacity of such claims for the audience of some 70 million viewers.  Such a “debate” represents an insult to the electorate and a canny nod/brazen F.U. (on the part of the Romney folks) to a broken and dysfunctional media elite, incapable of calling out the GOP ticket for the unprecedented and truly stunning level of contempt it has shown for facts in this U.S. presidential election season…  This conduct is very similar, I should note, to the canny nod/brazen F.U. (on the part of the Obama folks) to those same media losers, knowing that they’re too on-board with the .01%’s agenda to endanger it by pointing out that the “Democrat” in this race has already committed himself — with equal vigor — to draconian, totally unnecessary austerity and entitlement slashing!

The unavoidable conclusion: Now more than ever, American elections and debates amount only to empty theater, bereft of substance, subject only to critiques on style, body language, forcefulness, and zingers.  Facts and histories can be easily distorted (even inverted, as Romney proved last Wednesday) with none the wiser in our current funhouse of a political milieu.  Partisan news sources on the MSM’s faux margins (Fox and MSNBC) tell the faithful what they want to hear, and ever-equivocating ditherers at supposedly credible journalistic institutions (like Mr. Lehrer, Brokaw, Blitzer, etc.) assiduously muddy the controversies and toe the official line, eschewing all talk of $16 trillion bailouts and ongoing official U.S. rendition and torture.

Meanwhile, the country’s elites and oligarchs have offered us two nearly identical candidates whose policy prescriptions not only mirror each other’s (“I have the same advisors you do,” asserted the president last Wednesday, referring to a POLICY matter), but whose alleged “remedies” (GOP-Democrat) are tantamount to national economic suicide: a permanent contraction of the middle class with jobs continuing to move overseas while our infrastructure rots and tens of millions of people remain un-/underemployed, with millions more underwater or facing foreclosure from a bunch of unreformed, recidivist criminal banking giants…

IT’S AS IF OBAMA AND ROMNEY NEVER HEARD OF FDR, THE NEW DEAL, OR JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (but of course they have — only it’s not time for America to recover from its economic woes, as it was in the late 1930s; it’s time, in 2012, for AUSTERITY, for America to recede and get outsourced to death, bound-up with “free” trade pacts, and chopped into little pieces for global corporations to devour, making way for booming China and India and the REAL “new world order” — the global Corporatocracy/surveillance-police state that America has helped create over the last few decades).

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Finally, as promised, here’s PROOF THAT INTELLIGENT DEBATE EXISTS:

1. The aforementioned expanded debate on DemocracyNow! featuring presidential candidates Jill Stein (The Green Party) and Rocky Anderson (The Justice Party) — brace yourself for actual issues of significance to be broached (civil liberties, the global climate crisis, the soaring healthcare costs behind America’s projected deficits…);

2. The always excellent Prof. Mahmood Mamdani debating the militarist/colonialist agenda and propaganda of the “Save Darfur” organization with John Prendergast; and

3. A fascinating debate between Glenn Greenwald and former Bush speechwriter David Frum (the committed neocon who, along with Michael Gerson, coined the immensely stultifying phrase “Axis of Evil” in 2002, paving the way for Bush to invade Iraq).  This riveting debate features one man arguing for the principles of Western civilization (Greenwald) and another who is clearly battling monsters and wants to cheer unabashedly when the state murders one (Mr. Frum, clearly having failed to appreciate Nietzsche’s warning against turning one’s human enemies into “monsters,” thereby degrading one’s own humanity and increasing the likelihood that one will commit monstrous acts oneself — TORTURE, for instance — in the pursuit of conquering that “evil”).

Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.”Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche