Election Year

So we still have about 10 months of the election cycle left to deal with before Obama is re-elected.  I’m not sure whether people are watching the Republican debates as a form of sport or whether it’s out of a desire to maintain the rituals of the democratic process, though I’m thinking it’s the former because there’s been almost no discussion of the Congressional races, which I consider to be far more important.  After all, Congress is polling at, what, 9% approval?  And has been overtaken by corporate personhood and super PACs and invisible lobby donors?  And which controls the purse strings and momentum for all the reforms that the U.S. desperately needs right now?

What the Republican Nominee Would and Should Look Like?

I really thought Rick Perry would do better (I picked him as the dark horse GOP nominee), although I guess he’s not officially out yet.  He shot himself in the foot more than a few times, though I still think in terms of maintaining the image of a more Jacksonian GOP, he’d be way better for Republicans than Romney.  Perhaps someone like Romney crushing Perry says something different about the GOP, not that the GOP stands for any values but that it pushes through a milquetoast mitten that is closer to the middle, but which has neither the respect of even a mildly left or mildly right voter.  Perry, a governor of Texas (which dwarfs Massachusetts), who is an actual veteran, etc.  You’d think he’d attract the Republicans who want a bit more brawn and bravado.  This was not the case though (unless there’s some miracle turn-around), so we’re left with Mittens, who I’d expect to get destroyed by Obama in a general election, especially if jobs numbers continue to improve.  Maybe Dubya put such a dent in the Jacksonian personality (even after the massively Jacksonian Tea Party Movement) that Perry never had a chance.

It’s worth noting, with all the constitutional reinterpretations underlying modern-day politics, that it’s been a real joy watching Stephen Colbert be one of the few to address these issues.  From an excellent bio of him published in the NYTimes:

“In August, during the run-up to the Ames straw poll, some Iowans were baffled to turn on their TVs and see a commercial that featured shots of ruddy-cheeked farm families, an astronaut on the moon and an ear of hot buttered corn. It urged viewers to cast write-in votes for Rick Perry by spelling his name with an “a” — “for America.” A voice-over at the end announced that the commercial had been paid for by an organization called Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, which is the name of Colbert’s super PAC, an entity that, like any other super PAC, is entitled to raise and spend unlimited amounts of soft money in support of candidates as long as it doesn’t “coordinate” with them, whatever that means. Of such super-PAC efforts, Colbert said, “This is 100 percent legal and at least 10 percent ethical.”

“Just as baffling as the Iowa corn ads — at least to the uninitiated — were some commercials Colbert produced taking the side of the owners during the recent N.B.A. lockout. These were also sponsored by Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, but they were “made possible,” according to the voice-over, by Colbert Super PAC SHH Institute. Super PAC SHH (as in “hush”) is Colbert’s 501(c)(4). He has one of those too — an organization that can accept unlimited amounts of money from corporations without disclosing their names and can then give that money to a regular PAC, which would otherwise be required to report corporate donations. “What’s the difference between that and money laundering?” Colbert said to me delightedly.”

I remember in the last election, Rolling Stone put out a piece on John McCain which I thought really destroyed his entire career reputation.  Tim Dickinson (I admit, he’s pretty lefty) wrote the piece, “Make-Believe Maverick”.  It took his superficial reputation, a Navy aviator who was a valiant POW and who gave service to his country, and hollowed it all out:

“McCain’s admittance to Annapolis was preordained by his bloodline. But martial discipline did not seem to have much of an impact on his character. By his own account, McCain was a lazy, incurious student; he squeaked by only by prevailing upon his buddies to help him cram for exams. He continued to get sauced and treat girls badly. Before meeting a girlfriend’s parents for the first time, McCain got so shitfaced that he literally crashed through the screen door when he showed up in his white midshipman’s uniform.”

and

“He was a huge screw-off,” recalls Butler. “He was always on probation. The only reason he graduated [from the Naval Academy] was because of his father and his grandfather — they couldn’t exactly get rid of him.”

“McCain’s self-described “four-year course of insubordination” ended with him graduating fifth from the bottom — 894th out of a class of 899. It was a record of mediocrity he would continue as a pilot.”

and

“Off duty on his Mediterranean tours, McCain frequented the casinos of Monte Carlo, cultivating his taste for what he calls the “addictive” game of craps. McCain’s thrill-seeking carried over into his day job. Flying over the south of Spain one day, he decided to deviate from his flight plan. Rocketing along mere feet above the ground, his plane sliced through a power line. His self-described “daredevil clowning” plunged much of the area into a blackout.”

and

“Soon after McCain hit the ground in Hanoi, the code went out the window. “I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital,” he later admitted pleading with his captors. McCain now insists the offer was a bluff, designed to fool the enemy into giving him medical treatment. In fact, his wounds were attended to only after the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a Navy admiral. What has never been disclosed is the manner in which they found out: McCain told them. According to Dramesi, one of the few POWs who remained silent under years of torture, McCain tried to justify his behavior while they were still prisoners. “I had to tell them,” he insisted to Dramesi, “or I would have died in bed.””

It really was quite a read.  The myths that are built upon people are powerful, and while it’s not always fair to look at someone through a microscope without supporting context (we all have our flaws), I think an American public should still hope for more from someone running for the highest office in the land.

Mittens

Mittens Romney didn’t come from a military background, but his basic career check for the Party is that he was a founder of Bain Capital, a private equity firm.  You might think that there is absolutely no way that a private equity executive would get elected after an immense outpouring wave of resentment against anyone and anything finance-related, but you’d be wrong.  Mittens worked in the private sector, “employing” people, and in finance, so therefore he is the utmost man of capitalism, especially compared to an ambiguous academic like Obama.  His liberal northeastern credentials (Harvard JD/MBA, state health care in Massachusetts, being a Mormon and not a Protestant (!!)) seem not to deter him from having all but wrapped up the nomination.

Barricading Liberty

A quick aside.  I went to see Zuccotti last week and it was walled off with barricades and a line of cops.  They are preventing Occupy Wall Street from returning.  Granted, OWS had its issues, but I still think it’s sad that patriotic Americans would be so negative on OWS.  Particularly, when people complain that protesters should not “occupy” someone else’s property, that is exactly the problem.

If you believe in living in a free nation, the idea that you would need a permit from the government in order to protest against it seems insane.  If the government can stop you from legally protesting in a space, how is having a permit to protest from 3PM to 7PM (while making sure you have money to pay for cops, toilets, etc.) or whatever showing any real sense of freedom?  Okay, so maybe the local police and government want to preserve the security of a shopping area for commerce, or they want to organize a proper police shift to maintain security where protesters congregate, and so they can handle internal problems (such as some of the crime that happened within the camps).  Fine, fill out paperwork to come up with a safety and security plan.  But seeking government’s approval?  It really does seem like daddy making you think he’s letting you do something really cool but really he knows you can’t do anything crazy while he watches.

If we’re going to play this charade where you’re allowed to protest legally (which is a contradiction), then the public space needs to be reaffirmed in some way.  Land needs to be set aside for individuals to inhabit for a protest or cause, without restraints.  This brings up a ton of legal/municipal issues, obviously, but I think most of them would have to do with police being able to retain order and safety (i.e. the land doesn’t become its own autonomous area).  But seeing police block off Zuccotti was something that really saddened me, not as an OWS supporter, but as someone who treasures liberty and freedom.  It really depressed me at some deeper level, though I think superficially I expected it and carried on with my sightseeing.

Anyway.

You’re Hired (for President)

So it would seem that the only real chink in Mittens’ myth armor (short of running against the most influential politician in the world right now, President Obama), would be scrutiny towards Bain Capital.  And that seems to be where the journalists and Romney’s opponents are looking now.  Reuters of all organizations put out a piece by Andy Sullivan and Greg Roumeliotis on Mittens a couple days ago, “Special Report: Romney’s steel skeleton in the Bain closet”, which reminded me of the McCain hit piece:

“Veteran crane operator Ed Mossman says he was ordered to pick up a load of steel that was 50 percent above the recommended weight limit – a prospect that could have toppled the crane and sent Mossman plunging to his death. When he refused, he says, he was fired after putting in 29 years at the mill.

“The first 15 years, I had the best job in the United States, as far as I was concerned,” Mossman said. “The last five years down there got to be pure hell.”

“Meanwhile, a wave of cheap imports from Asia drove steel prices down sharply, while costs for natural gas and electricity rose. The Asian financial crisis lowered demand for mined metals, which hit the company’s grinding-ball business.

“The company, along with other steelmakers, successfully petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission for tariff rate quotas on imported wire rods and also entered the federal loan guarantee program for troubled steel companies — two remedies at odds with a free-market stance. Romney now says it was a mistake for the government to try to protect the steel industry.”

There’s not much there that would stick to Romney, since it really doesn’t get into his personality and actions, but what his firm did by proxy.  The McCain piece was far more enlightening — McCain was one of those guys in the military who had a get out of jail free card because of his lineage, and he was one of the assholes who acted unprofessional, screwed up all the time, and never got in trouble for it.  I think those who’ve been in the military know the type.

So here’s another hit job on Mittens: this “public interest” piece about Bain Capital and Mittens being greedy and exploiting workers as part of a “raider” firm.  The video was released by a nice group called “Winning Our Future”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_evS-T-c35M

Oh good, the public is now catching on to the evils of private equity.  But, oh wait, who is Winning the Future?  It says it supports no particular candidate.  But look at the suggested videos for that link.  Winning Our Future sure seems to have a lot of pro-Newt Gingrich videos!  Go to the Winning Our Future web site and it at least is more open about its support for Newt.  But it also says, “Winning our Future is an independent expenditure-only committee registered with the Federal Election Commission. Winning our Future may accept unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations” and “Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”  See how confusing this gets for regular voters?  No one knows who to trust anymore, because every message now has a hidden agenda. (hey journos, this means you guys need to man up and do your jobs)

I did go to Mittens’ Wikipedia page, and I noticed something peculiar about it, even as I admit I’m pretty progressive so I might be a bit biased.  Look at how white-washed the page reads:

“Romney left Bain Capital in February 1999 to serve as the President and CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games Organizing Committee. By that time, Bain Capital was on its way to being one of the top private equity firms in the nation, having increased its number of partners from 5 to 18, having 115 employees overall, and having $4 billion under its management. It had made some 150 deals where it acquired and then sold a company. Bain Capital’s approach of applying consulting expertise to the companies it invested in became widely copied within the private equity industry. University of Chicago Booth School of Business economist Steven Kaplan would later say, “[Romney] came up with a model that was very successful and very innovative and that now everybody uses.”

“His experience at Bain & Company and Bain Capital gave Romney a business-oriented world view – centering around a hate of waste and inefficiency, a love for data and charts and analysis and presentation, and a belief in keeping an open mind and seeking opposing points of view – that he would take with him to the public sector.”

He sounds like a saint!

Compare with Obama’s Wikipedia page, which is of the more dryly-written variety you’d expect from Wikipedia.  One thing about Obama.  I’ve certainly been disappointed in some of the things he’s done (not defend the internet in bold terms, increased corporate-sponsored government monitoring of citizens, approved detention without full rights, etc.), but he’s still the foremost politician in the world — there is no equal in terms of influence right now.  I don’t blame him for some of the things the U.S. has failed at since 2008, including the massive economic restructuring that will affect us for probably the next 20 years (as we appear unprepared for tomorrow’s jobs), and for large reforms that Congress has blocked every step of the way.  He’s certainly not perfect but other stuff appeals to me: killings of terrorists, which I joined the Army to help with back in 2002 after 9/11, and his (laggard) drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I think he’s greatly improved the U.S. standing and has shored up some of our weaker points, but we still have large systemic issues that Congress should definitely take more responsibility in fixing.

My point with all of that above, I guess, is that the presidential election is mainly about whose myth is more successfully created and defended.  It worked for Reagan and Obama.  Kerry after being Swift-Boated (which was almost profanely unfair for a veteran to hear) never recovered.

Congress

And it’s sad — I guess the presidential election is just more interesting because it comes down to a few contenders, but really the main concern this election cycle should be Congress.

While most superficially-concerned voters will just say, “Vote them all out!”, this disregards an understanding that the same types of people will just get voted back in.  It is a systemic issue, where those who are given the most money will then get voted in, become incumbent, and will push through laws they did not write from lobbying groups who give them the most money.  They are, as Bill Moyers put it at Nieman Watchdog, “little more than money launderers in the trafficking of power and policy”:

“The United States is looking more and more like the capitalist oligarchies of Brazil, Mexico, and Russia where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows larger and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by.”

“The revolt of the plutocrats has now been ratified by the Supreme Court in its notorious Citizens United decision last year. Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five pro-corporate conservative justices gave “artificial entities” the same rights of “free speech” as living, breathing human beings, they told our corporate sovereigns “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to their pouring money into political campaigns. The Roberts Court embodies the legacy of pro-corporate bias in justices determined to prevent democracy from acting as a brake on excessive greed and power in the private sector. Wealth acquired under capitalism is in and of itself no enemy of democracy, but wealth armed with political power – power to shake off opportunities for others to rise – is a proven danger. Thomas Jefferson had hoped that “we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and [to] bid defiance to the laws of our country.” James Madison feared that the “spirit of speculation” would lead to “a government operating by corrupt influence, substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty.”

Do we know who our senators and representatives are, or who their opponents will be?  I guess I should ask, does it really matter anymore?  Even when I lived in DC, and was wired into happy hours where friends would talk about their bosses or the latest scuttlebutt on the House floor, the actual “leaders” were more like horses or riding bulls or NASCAR vehicles to me. Look at the colors on that Mello Yello stock car!  Look at the senator from Utah’s vibrant coat and mane!  Look at MPAA master that bucking New York representative for the whole 9 seconds!  Sponsored by Levitra, the New York Stock Exchange, and Charmin Bath Towel.  Speaking of Charmin, “Enjoy your go” this November, America.