31 July 2008

The Presidential Candidaes: Pete Grasso

“I have watched with dismay as candidates from both major parties sell out Christian American values and priorities in the name of partisanship. Our nation is losing its way, and we can only emerge from the darkness by returning to the basic tenets used to create this great nation.”

Pete Grasso is an Air Force veteran, author and owner of Trinity Express Lube. His book is entitled In God We Betrayed, which doesn't really inspire hopes for clarity in the volume as a whole. Politically, Grasso wants to transcend partisanship, believing that "good ideas can be found throughout the political spectrum, provided they are rooted in God’s wisdom and guidance."

He promises to be the one candidate unafraid to say that "The ACLU is the Enemy of the State." He regards the civil-liberties union as a faction of secular humanists dedicated to "driving a wedge between God and our country." No wedges or walls of separation are acceptable to Grasso.

For far too long, people of faith have compromised their beliefs by voting for those who refuse to fully embrace a Biblical view of political life,” Grasso comments. “It is time for people of faith to stop settling for less than a full embrace of God’s teachings, and to support candidates who conduct themselves accordingly.”

On more immediate issues, Grasso believes in setting benchmarks for the progress of the Iraqi military in achieving self-sufficiency, and suggests threatening to pull U.S. troops out if the Iraqis don't shape up. He also wants Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to take more responsibility for defending Iraq, since they supposedly have more to lose if the country becomes a terrorist platform. He'll exercise economic leverage on Syria and Iraq by issuing an executive order halting all business relations between those countries and the U.S.

On taxes, Grasso will make the Bush cuts permanent while "constantly search[ing] for ways to responsibly lower your tax burden." He wants to change congressional rules to require a "supermajority" for the passage of any tax increase. He will streamline the "monstrous" IRS in ways to be announced.

On energy: "America must be free from the grip of OPEC and the reliance on Middle East and Latin America fossil fuels as a matter of national policy and security without stifling innovators of technologies that provide solid, safe, and environmentally friendly solutions in the process.My administration will aggressively drive ingenuity within our nation through alternative energy sources to wean off our dependency of foreign oil. We will create a national symposium to enlist the major industrial nations into this effort. We will make it an international goal to provide cost effective alternative energy solutions in areas of transportation, home, and business consumption and will share this information with the world community."

On immigration, Grasso will militarize the Mexican border to speed up construction of an effective barrier to illegal entry, to be supplemented by eight regiments of rapid-reaction reservists to guard vulnerable areas and assist in deportation efforts. By executive order he will require all unnaturalized immigrants to submit to photographing and fingerprinting. Meanwhile, "we must take back our streets from illegal alien terrorist groups by engaging in an aggressive campaign to purge our cities of this blight. "

But since the bit on the top, you've probably been waiting for the red meat. You get it when Grasso turns to family issues. He actually strives for moderation here. His absolute opposition to abortion is a given, but he at least makes the effort to state: "it is not enough to do away with abortion. As we work to repair a national fabric left in tatters by this divisive and morally destructive issue, we cannot turn a blind eye to the often difficult choices and life circumstances faced by pregnant women who feel they have no alternatives to abortion. "

He's also quick to explain that he's not homophobic, but "sinophobic." To clarify, that means he hates sin, not Chinese people. I'd better let him elaborate:

National policy that attempts to redefine sin as a societal norm can be rationalized as unobtrusive, politically correct, tolerant, not affecting you or your family, benign or even beneficial. Yet, the consequence is ultimately another level of wickedness that God defines as an abomination. Committing and condoning these acts of sexual deviancy while endorsing these lifestyles only further alienates God from this nation as He withdraws His hand of protection from our country.God's teachings lead us to this bottom line: sexual deviancy in all its forms cannot be tolerated. That includes, but is not limited to, homosexual marriage.

Grasso hasn't updated the blog at his website since November, and it's unclear how actively he's campaigning. However, he's posted videos on YouTube. In the video embedded below, he gives you the basic overview of his agenda. While he boasts endorsements from some military and religious people, he's still just another self-selected candidate, and one whose preoccupation with God shouldn't necessary be seen as more sane than the obsessions of other candidates.

Adkisson's Accomplices?

The lead editorial in the current Metroland (our area's arts weekly) is almost exactly what you'd expect to see more frequently this week if the media were as liberal as some people claim. Jo Page cites a Huffington Post columnist who fits the archetype even better, accusing the likes of Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage of complicity in the shootings because cops found copies of their books in Adkisson's home.

"Those may be strong accusations," Page writes, "but it seems to me they're not off the mark at all. And compared to the hate speech so easily and routinely heard on ClearChannel programs, [the columnist's comments are] pretty mild." Page isn't buying a pure personal-responsibility explanation of Adkisson's outburst.

It's not enough to say that Adkisson was a loner who couldn't tolerate diversity and one day he just snapped. The issue is broader and more serious than that. Because loners who can't tolerate diversity can find themselves a community of the like-minded so easily.

In other words, the conservative media empowers people like Adkisson, confirms their hatreds, and enables them to portray their own murderous impulses as expressions of patriotism. While acknowledging that "Not everyone who thinks the way Jim Adkisson did will open fire on a group of people," Page demands that conservative talkers "acknowledge that this lunatic was nourished on their homegrown culture of hate."

I don't really buy it. Adkisson's favorite authors are no more responsible for his crimes than the local imam would be if Adkisson were Muslim and had a Qur'an in his house, or Noam Chomsky would be if Adkisson had shot up a pro-Bush congregation and his books were found.

On the other hand, since I'm fairly certain that, had either of those scenarios happened, the likes of Hannity, O'Reilly and Savage would blame the Qur'an, or Chomsky, or Marx, or Malcolm X, or anything they consider blameworthy already, I think I'd like to see them squirm for a while.

30 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Rick Fleharty

Among the independent candidates there's a lot of railing against the establishment, the politicians, and the "new world order," but Fleharty strikes a different note:

Everybody seems to think that the problems in this country today are caused by our elected officials or some other group. The problem is the American people themselves, they are only concerned about themselves. President Bush says that the American people are addicted to oil, they are not. They are addicted to themselves and their own ego. Whatever has happened to this country can only be blamed on ourselves. The American people do more damage to their own people and this country everyday than all the other countries/terrorist combined could or have done. We think we have the best form of government and others are bad. There is no bad form of government; each form of government has its good and bad points. It is the people and its leaders that make the system good or bad. The people of this country and its leaders forgot to be Americans and have become this country’s own worst enemy.

Fleharty is a 50 year old Navy veteran who has worked in the engineering and electronics fields for the past twenty years. He's decided to run for President because "this country’s leaders and its people are no longer working together for a better and safer world. The people have been violated by their leaders to the point that they just don’t care and that is a very sad day in the life of this country."

He realizes, however, that deteriorating conditions have made it more difficult for someone like him to get his message across. "When the people of a country no longer have faith in their own leaders, how can someone gain their trust with just words so they will listen to that person? "

For the moment, Fleharty depends on his website and on radio ads, though he did participate in a Pennsylvania forum for independent candidates earlier this month and has announced plans for a campaign tour starting in August.

On his site, foreign policy doesn't seem to loom large as an issue. On the Project VoteSmart questionnaire, he advocates pulling out of Iraq and from most foreign commitments. He comments: "This country has a way of sticking it's nose in everybody business and yet can not even take care of itself. You can not do for someone that they can not do for themself. You can only help someone so far, then it becomes a form of welfare."

On taxes, his website simply features a list of taxes to illustrate the cumulative oppressive effect, with a historically inaccurate comment that taxation dates back to World War II. At Project VoteSmart he mentions a Flat Incremental Step proposal with six taxation categories, but doesn't really go beyond what I've just told you. He wants to do away altogether with taxes on alcohol, cigarette, inheritances and capital gains. At the same time, he proposes funding a universal health care system with sales taxes.

Fleharty thinks Americans have grown overdependent on cheap immigrant labor and have become decadent and lazy. He's also worried that "When the percent of immigrants gets to a certain point and they hold certain positions, they will take control of this country. It will not matter who you are, rich, in high political positions, Native Americans, young or old. They will control this country and we will loose it all. There will be nothing we can do about it. This country will wake up one morning and this country will be controlled by some other race and country and not Americans."

He proposes a drastic reform of the criminal justice system. Here are the basics:

1: Reduce the number of laws on the books and make them more simple. Not every wrong needs a law for it.
2: Make court cases last no more than one or two weeks with one month to prepare for it.
3: If found guilty, have the punishment fall into 5 categories by the vote of the people of that state which will house them,1. You get a warning and no parole.2. 1 year in prison3. 3 years in prison4. 5 years in prison5. Death

Overall, Fleharty gives the impression of someone less interested in becoming President than in simply getting his concerns and ideas heard and considered by others. Somehow he's found himself out of the loop, and only a play for supreme power seems to suffice to get people's attention. If we had a system that gave people like him a fair chance at being heard, at least on the local level, without anyone necessarily agreeing with him, it might moderate some of Fleharty's harsher views. Like too many independents, his website suffers from spelling and grammar lapses, but his overall presentation is fairly articulate and sometimes achieves a rough eloquence. You can find out more at his website, where you can also sample a series of radio commercials he's created.

The Best Unsolicited Political Ad of the Year So Far

Straight talk from Ludacris, bane of Bill O'Reilly and now probably of everyone else in public life. Of course, he's been instantly denounced by Senator Obama's campaign, and of course I don't automatically second the rapper's endorsement of the candidate. But do you know what? It's just too entertaining to suppress. There's something of the old-school campaign spirit here, hailing back to the 19th century when people weren't afraid of calling candidates corrupt or degenerate or senile or stupid or, in the case of Andrew Jackson, a murderer. The "paint the White House black" bit is something that'll probably backlash upon poor Obama a bit, but otherwise, enjoy this artifact of 2008 in the humorous spirit in which it was offered.

Adkisson: American Terrorist Update

The public should be clamoring to read the four-page letter that alleged murderer Jim D. Adkisson reportedly left behind in his SUV when he entered a Knoxville Unitarian Universalist church to shoot it up. According to police accounts of the letter, it apparently states Adkisson's clear intention to kill liberals.Even a second-hand statement is pretty disturbing:

Adkisson "stated that he had targeted the church because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of the major media outlets," Investigator Steve Still wrote.

If the police accounts are accurate, no one should question further whether Adkisson ought to be called a terrorist. Perhaps the political context of the letter is why it's being withheld, as compared to the rapid release of Seung-hui Cho's documents, which showed the Virginia Tech murderer to be a narcissistic nihilist. The public outcry over the Cho broadcasts may be holding back release of Adkisson's letter, on the premise that mass shooters want publicity, and that every shooter thus publicized (or "glorified") inspires another. The fact that Adkisson is alive in a cell, and that his letter will probably serve as evidence against him in a trial, may also be a factor. But I wonder whether there isn't also a reluctance on someone's part to lay bare a genuine specimen of authentically lethal "conservative" hatred and belie the oft-heard conservative claim that they don't hate the way liberals and leftists do. I also wonder whether Adkisson's body count was too low to sustain the news media's interest in the story -- but you'd think that a "liberal media" would eagerly use this story for propaganda purposes, to hint that all conservatives are guilty by association of murder. For whatever reason, the story isn't getting as much coverage as it probably deserves, and you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder why.

29 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Bennie Lee "Ben" Ferguson

"My candidacy is unique in that I am the first offficial transgendered candidate for the presidency." Ferguson writes, "However, my candidacy transcends social issues." Working on a Master's degree in History while running for office, and concurrently running for Congress as a Libertarian, Ferguson has been an entertainment journalist and entertainer, and has seen much more of the world then many independent candidates as a touring performer. Ferguson might not necessarily be a legitimate candidate since he is the founder, and presumably the soveriegn, of the Kingdom of Fergus, a "micronation" created within the Hutchinson KS city limits as part of his college work. While Fergus is a "Kingdom," Ferguson regards the venture as part of the libertarian project. Maybe "Every Man a King" is also a libertarian principle.

Ferguson's globetrotting perhaps paradoxically resulted in "a deeply conservative political philosophy and a greater appreciation of the rights and liberties we enjoy as Americans." As a candidate, Ferguson is determined to "maintain a strong national defense and security for the United States, while at the same time ensuring the preservation of our basic civil rights and liberties." After eight years of the Bush administration, Ferguson notes that "At first blush, these objectives may seem incompatible, but to me this is the great challenge of our time. "

As far as the war on terror is concerned, Ferguson takes something like a plague-on-all-your-houses approach. In military terms, "Our goal in these conflicts should be victory and nothing less. Our government and the American people should do whatever is necessary to support our troops in the field and victory in these conflicts. Whether or not these conflicts are the result of ill-advised policy is beside the point. Having become involved, it is incumbent upon the United States to see these conflicts through to a successful conclusion." On the other hand, lest you take Ferguson for an Arab-basher or an Islamophobe: "the troubled relationship between the United States and the Arab world is largely the result of our government's unequivocal support for the state of Israel. Israel receives more U.S. foreign aid per capita than any other nation on earth. The state of Israel contributes nothing of significance to the security of the United States. On the contrary, American support of Israel is one of the primary reasons our country has become the target of choice for Islamic terrorists." Accordingly, "Ferguson will strive to end the disproportionate influence of the Jewish lobby on state and federal government. "

On the economy, Ferguson takes a realistic position on taxes, for a Libertarian: "It is often said in Libertarian circles that in regard to property taxes, for instance, that one never really owns real estate, but rents it from the government. Having said all of this, however, the taxation bureaucracy of the federal government has become too massive to reform in one fell swoop. And, in any event, we are no longer a nation of yeoman farmers with a laissez-faire central government. The best that can be hope for under the current circumstances is to support politicians who appear to monitor tax legislation carefully to see that the money is properly spent and roll back "tax and spend" policies gradually as the political situation warrants. " Ferguson also veers from libertarian orthodoxy on immigration (opposing amnesty) and the gays-in-the-military question ("The military is there to break things and kill people, not to advance the gay rights agenda.") Generally, Ferguson tries to balance ideological and pragmatic considerations, usually leaning toward the pragmatic.

Ferguson does not seem to be campaigning outside of Kansas, but is at least keeping up a schedule that you can follow through a campaign blog or press releases. A "video gallery" at his website proves to be empty, however. As a side note, I had to google Ferguson in order to find the site, as Project VoteSmart didn't list one. This makes me worry that VoteSmart itself isn't up to date and that I'm missing candidates. In any event, it's worth one's while to look up Ferguson, since despite the superficial eccentricity, he clearly has a sounder mind than many of his peers among the candidates.

Eat Not of the Forbidden Food!

Los Angeles has proposed a moratorium on new fast-food franchises in poor neighborhoods on public health grounds. If there was ever a case where libertarian complaints against a "nanny state" were justified, this looks like the one. But since I'm not ideologically opposed to regulation, I might be able to suggest a compromise. Common sense dictates that no food that is not poisonous on contact should be banned from sale. No food should be banned on the premise that long-term intemperate consumption will hurt your health. If one hamburger won't kill you, it shouldn't be illegal to sell a hamburger. But if the people deem it necessary, any municipality ought to be able to regulate portions and place an upper limit on what constitutes a "large" meal. The issue then becomes whether you can limit the number of large meals a restaurant can serve to one customer at one time. My hunch is that there's no practical way to do that, since a determined enough hog could order numerous large meals to go for a family that doesn't exist or isn't going to see that food, and it would go too far to demand that he prove that he has a family or a party waiting at home, not to mention impractical all around to limit the amount a single person can order to go. No plan will ever be perfect, since the insatiable fatty could just travel from shop to shop until he's full, and diet is one area where I endorse the principle of personal responsibility. But if we accept that the people have an interest in public health, libertarian market idolatry shouldn't stand in the way of reasonable regulation, since that's no more than self-government.

Violence and National Character

Since no one has died this time, the latest Japanese slashing rampage has received relatively little attention from the American media. But the report that did appear at the MSNBC site did note that the attack, apparently provoked by a bungled suicide attempt, was just the latest in a series, the most notorious being the combined vehicular-blade attack with fatalities of a few months ago. For some observers, these Japanese incidents will only prove the argument that people will find a way to kill or lash out at others even without guns -- which some take to be an argument for letting people have more guns. Would anyone say that the Japanese crimewave proves the necessity of a law allowing the Japanese to carry concealed knives,daggers or samurai swords?

It makes for an amusing image, but to laugh is to admit the absurdity of the idea. But at the same time, I'm sure some Americans would say that the answer to a knife-wielding nut is the same as the answer to a gun-toting nut: another gun. If they do, that would suggest to me that they don't advocate gun ownership as a mere equalizer against crime, but as an empowering end unto itself. Such people would want the particular power of the gun, just as the killers do. Gun violence is meaningful to both the criminal and the ostensibly lawful American, probably in the same way that the blade is meaningful to violent-minded Japanese people. In either case, the weapon is a form of expression for the perpetrator (though the woman in the present story seems simply to have snapped and lashed out on sheer impulse). The archetypical Japanese slasher is still closer to his or her firearmed American counterpart than either is to the Islamic suicide bomber, for whom personal expression is irrelevant apart from the farewell videos they make. For the American or Japanese killer, the weapon is the instrument of the wielder, while the suicide bomber, be he Muslim or Tamil, more likely perceives himself as the instrument of a higher power. For his admirers, the proof of that power might be found in higher body counts than even the worst American mass-shooters have scored. If alienated Americans ever learn to romanticize the gesture of blowing themselves up, we'd have a war on terror here without any help from al Qaeda, and one even harder to win.

28 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Earnest Lee Easton

At first I was impressed by the fact that Easton has advanced degrees in political science. In that field, he may have the best academic credentials of any presidential candidate since Woodrow Wilson. This Vietnam veteran is also apparently a seasoned campaigner, 2008 being his fourth run for the White House. Unfortunately, he's running a limited campaign, having no website of his own. Worse, I checked out the "Additional Biographical Information" at Project VoteSmart.

Here are some more of Easton's credentials: "Named as one of the world's foremost thinkers by the International Biographical Center, Cambridge, England, 2000. Named as one of two thousand outstanding intellectuals of the twentieth century by the International Biographical in Cambridge, England, 2000. Honored as hero 1994-2005. Honored as hero in civilian life 1994-2005- Heroic Commendations every year from year 1994 to year 2005. Eleven years of heroic commendations. Heroic citizen honored as hero on local and national levels."

See here for the significance of the International Biographical Center. As for Easton's heroism, it'd be helpful to know who was honoring him, but the man himself isn't telling. Meanwhile, his major published works seem to be volumes of poetry appreciation, written as Sir Professor Earnest Lee Easton. That doesn't mean that he doesn't have a political philosophy, of course. In fact, he crammed it onto his Project VoteSmart biographical entry.

Explaining why he's running for office, Easton writes: "The strength of our merit system is endangered. The strength of our merit system is being destroyed. The universities and colleges are supporting less qualified and less talented persons over more qualified and more talented persons thus destroying the country. People are not obeying the constitution. Must not disregard constitution to get at a problem which competent and qualified individuals can eliminate working within the boundaries of our constitution."

Easton intends to eliminate many national problems with his Free Enterprise Democracy Philosophy. His priorities are to eliminate budget deficits, reduce the national debt, restore American banks to international pre-eminence and crack down on job absenteeism. Like a Gilded Age Republican, he caters to veterans, promising them enhanced benefits. He wants to reform the system of reporting credit ratings, suggesting that credit agencies themselves should reach a certain threshold of credibility before they're allowed to publish clients' ratings. He also wants the government to "promote heterosexuality."

Taking the Project VoteSmart "Political Courage Test," Easton stakes his positions on more conventional issues. He'll take U.S. troops out of Iraq, adding that, for the time being, "An Administration in Iraq should be following the principles of the United States constitution. Troops in Iraq are in position to have United States constitution control Iraq. Administrative people in Iraq should be following principles of constitution." He'll also pull out of Afghanistan while recommending more activism in Africa. He opposes the formation of a Palestinian state.
He'll increase defense spending while increasing taxes apart from income, establish universal health care, and crack down on illegal immigration.

I've found no evidence apart from Project VoteSmart and one interview in a Philadelphia newspaper that Easton is waging an active campaign. I'm not necessarily one to judge on this point, but it looks as if Easton isn't really making full use of his education. This is really all you have to judge him on, so make the most of it.

Jim D. Adkisson: American Terrorist?

The question mark is my nod to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty in a court of law," but Adkisson was basically caught red-handed blasting at a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Tennessee with a shotgun yesterday. The local authorities claim that he targeted the particular church for its "liberal" views, and eyewitness survivors hint that he denounced "liberals" while firing.

Putting questions of his mental state aside for the moment, this narrative, if accurate, makes Adkisson pretty plainly a terrorist, unless you want to define the term to include only those whose violence is meant to influence the government. But if a Muslim charged into the same church and shouted praise for Allah as he fired, there'd be no question of what the media would call him. So why isn't Adkisson headed to Guantanamo Bay?

In all seriousness, an incident like this, no matter how modest in scale it might seem in comparison to Muslim exploits, absolutely belies any suggestion from Christian apologists that Christians don't and wouldn't do this sort of thing. Adkisson probably resembles the typical Iraqi terrorist, right down to his troubled economic circumstances, more closely than most American observers will want to admit. In other ways, he is distinctly American. As I've noted in the past, the American terrorist (or his near-relation, the ostensibly non-political mass shooter) prefers the gun to the bomb. He'll sacrifice body count for the satisfaction of firing the weapon repeatedly and seeing his victims fall. He may intend "suicide-by-cop," but he usually means to go down fighting, and his death-impulse is different from that of the Islamic suicide-bomber, who more likely sees himself as a vessel for Allah's will. The American terrorist is not uninterested in body count, but his need to verify the count himself limits what he can accomplish, for which I suppose we fellow Americans should appreciate.

The other side of the Adkisson story bears emphasizing: an unarmed congregation stopped him. An unarmed usher was willing to take a shotgun blast to shield others from it. Despite police speculation that Adkisson didn't intend to survive his adventure, he was taken alive and will answer to the people for his actions. I'm probably the last person to praise a church congregation for anything, but the people who thwarted Adkisson are better role models for the rest of us than the cartoon cowboys whom the gun nuts would have us imitate. If there actually is a liberal media, please take note.

27 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Orion Karl Daley

The candidate of the Balanced Party, Daley describes himself simply as an entrepreneur. He has an admirably limited view of presidential powers, which he describes in an almost ironically labored style on the main page of his campaign website. Here's a representative statement: "In the 'Separation of Powers', the president is responsible for the day to day management in doing the will of the people. This 'will' is communicated by the legislative branch that represents the people that is within the constraints of settled law of the Judicial branch."

Standing a little to the left of many independents, Daley promises to get U.S. troops out of Iraq with dignity by the summer of 2009, seeks a peaceful compromise resolution to our troubles with Iran, and states that the second-most patriotic thing Americans can do after enlisting in the military is to pay their taxes. Just for saying that last bit, I'll at least tip my hat to him. In addition, he claims that fears of immigration are overstated, perhaps on purpose, but he acknowledges a need for greater border security.

With everything from extensive YouTube content to campaign t-shirts and caps for sale, Daley's is one of the most extensive and elaborate among the essentially self-nominated candidates. He has extensive position papers on the issues that would be difficult to summarize in the short time I have at the moment, but he's condensed his positions down to five basic principles:

1- Transparent and Accountable Government to serve the People 2- The Dignity of Human Rights in our mutual regard 3- Balanced Trade to return industry back to our shores 4- Economic Solvency for our National Security 5- To Conduct Foreign policy that demonstrates standards of mutual respect

While attempting to impress people with sheer verbiage, Daley is sometimes sloppy with spelling and grammar. He strikes me as an autodidact, or at least someone who's posting content onto the web in too much of a hurry. When his positions are hardly unconventional or really radical, he must hope that voters will be impressed by the quality of his ideas as a whole, but his presentation undermines his argument. At the very least, he appears to be sane, or at least not monomaniacal, which is a welcome discovery after some of the candidates I've examined lately. For starters, here's his campaign website, and below is a YouTube video that, I'm afraid to say, doesn't exactly maximize the potential of the medium.

25 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: James Harlin Carter

Carter is the rare candidate in our group who acknowledges that he will not win the 2008 election. For him and his running mate, Dennis Stoltzfoos, this first campaign as standard bearers for the Real Food Party is a party-building exercise, but it looks like the party will have to build itself, since Carter says he doesn't have time to participate in debates, and has no plans to raise money apart from a benefit concert tentatively scheduled for October.

Carter and Stoltzfoos live in Live Oak, FL, where Carter owns a ranch and works as an optician. When he gets around to becoming President, he intends to "get rid of all" the lobbyists and reform the education system in order to steer those who fail standardized tests onto a vocational track. His main motive for entering politics, however, is to "change the way Americans eat."

The Real Food Party seeks to revise existing regulations to allow the sale of non-pasteurized milk and other "food that is helpful." At Project VoteSmart, Carter lists his personal priorities as :"1) Give back the personal freedoms (Freedom of choice for one) that have been taken away by the government and its corrupted organizations. (2) Removal from Iraq and other U.S. agravated areas using sensibility + balance. (3) Change the Healthcare System; this I can't tell you how yet until I have more facts."

Perhaps ironically for someone who is virtually a single-issue candidate, Carter writes that "We need to think of the nation instead of single minded Causes. " However, Carter appears to be in the process of broadening his agenda. He seems to be writing 2008 off as a learning experience, but if he does more to improve public awareness of his concerns over the next four years, he might be in a better position for the 2012 campaign.

Carter has no campaign website of his own, but along with the information he gave to Project VoteSmart, he's been interviewed by the Third Wheel Politics program, in which he discusses his Real Food views in more detail and advocates "unorthodox" thinking in general. You can listen to the interview below.

Iraq: The Neocon Plan and Obama's "Victory"

While Senator McCain grinds his teeth at Senator Obama's failure to praise him for the supposed wisdom of the superfluous "surge," his advocates are enraged by the ungrateful Iraqis' apparent embrace of the Democrat. In his particular rage, neocon columnist Charles Krauthammer makes the McCain agenda for Iraq as plain as can be. "Imperialism" would not be that great of an exaggeration. It is no exaggeration at all to say that Krauthammer, speaking for McCain, expects Iraq to be an American client state of the sort their kind would not allow other countries to have.

"Maliki is looking ahead, beyond the withdrawal of major U.S. combat forces, and toward the next stage: the long-term relationship between America and Iraq," Krauthammer writes, "With whom does he prefer to negotiate the status-of-forces agreement that will not be concluded during the Bush administration? Obama or McCain?"

Considering what Krauthammer tells us McCain would demand, Maliki's preference for Obama should come as no surprise:

McCain, like George Bush, envisions the United States seizing the fruits of victory from a bloody and costly war by establishing an extensive strategic relationship that would not only make the new Iraq a strong ally in the war on terror but would also provide the U.S. with the infrastructure and freedom of action to project American power regionally, as do U.S. forces in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

For example, we might want to retain an air base to deter Iran, protect regional allies and relieve our naval forces, which today carry much of the burden of protecting the Persian Gulf region, thus allowing redeployment elsewhere.

Krauthammer notes that "Any Iraqi leader would prefer a more pliant American negotiator because all countries -- we've seen this in Germany, Japan and South Korea -- want to maximize their own sovereign freedom of action while still retaining American protection." You know, he seems to be saying, they're all trying to rip us off or deny us a fair return on our investment. Which sounds strange, if that's the neocon opinion, since I thought they had us toppling tyrannies and liberating people out of some disinterested benevolence and a desire to see all people free. But obviously Iraq can be too free for some Americans' taste, and if Barack Obama seeks to facilitate that freedom, then he must be against American interests.

Someone should ask McCain if he endorses Krauthammer's view of the Iraq situation. His answer would prove quite enlightening. Whoever asks should also have McCain explain why anyone should celebrate the surge when its only purpose, even if you assume it to be a success, was to clean up a mess that the U.S. created? If Obama thinks the war was wrong in the first place -- and he ought to -- he's not going to find much to celebrate in the surge. If the Democrat wants to restore some of the distance between himself and the Republican in the polls, he ought to remind voters that the issue isn't the surge; it's the invasion that was the mistake that made the surge necessary. That wouldn't leave McCain much to be proud of.

24 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Jeff Brown

"I want to start a free country, right here in America," writes Brown, a former audio-video processor for the Columbus OH public schools who is presently CEO of DrinkingandDriving.org, which seems to be a clearinghouse of legal aid sites. He has a libertarian streak with a focus on drivers' rights. According to the candidate, drivers should not have to take out insurance on their cars, shouldn't have to carry a driver's license after ten years of safe driving, and shouldn't be compelled to wear seat belts. He considers Ohio's DUI laws unconstitutional and believes that DUI penalties everywhere are excessive.

After detailing his positions on drivers' rights, Brown moves on to more familiar issues. His approach to some is frivolous, as when he proposes to fund Social Security with chain letters, or when he promises to "have the practice of law defined as a mental illness." He seems in earnest on other issues, as when he vows to end the "drug war" by executive order, if necessary, and to reduce the U.S. military by two-thirds.

Here's his energy policy: "Ultimately the solution for our future energy needs is to take a do-it-yourself, home-brew approach. People should try to create as much of their own energy as possible through solar and wind. Power can then be generated by communities and by local and state governments and then tied to the grid where it can be shared to others who may not be having a sunny day."

Despite his dissertation on drivers' rights, he asserts that education is "the biggest issue of all." Here's what he'd do: "The ways we can do this is tap the savings from the reduced military and law enforcement budgets, and provide free college education, free health care, and strengthen social safety nets, so children children won’t have to go to school distracted by hunger or medical issues like asthma or head lice, or because they have had to move and change schools.Create alternatives to criminal sentencing that include mandatory high school and college classes. Create academic curriculum for prisons. Turn prisons into campuses. "

How's he going to get the chance to do it? All Brown can tell us is that he's trying to get on the Ohio ballot, where "a percentage point or two could be influential" and then "as many ballots as possible depending on our resources." Meanwhile, he's created a video explaining his position on drunk-driving laws, based in part on personal experience. Take a look:

Brown is another self-nominated candidate, but he seems to have a clearer idea of what he wants to accomplish than many of his peers. Here's his campaign site.

The Dark Knight: Fascist?

Critics are entitled to their aesthetic opinions. I have no problem if a movie reviewer likes Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight less than I did, but it irks me to read a review in a local arts weekly which referred to Batman as some sort of fascist. I've seen that sort of comment before, but I wondered how common it was. So I googled "Dark Knight" and "fascist," limiting myself to references from the past week, and got over 2,000 citations. That's too frequent to be idiosyncratic.

It irks me when people refer to the Republican party or the conservative movement in the U.S. as "fascists." They're bad enough on their own terms without misrepresenting them. I can see why people want to call folks like Bush and Cheney by that name, but why others take a costumed vigilante to be a fascist or crypto-fascist eludes me.

For starters, consider that a character like Batman goes to great lengths to conceal his identity while fighting crime. This doesn't seem to fit with fascism's reverence for charismatic leaders. If Benito Mussolini discovered that he could fly, I don't think he'd put a mask on before showing the public.If anything, Bruce Wayne's decision to wear a mask shows a disinterest in becoming a leader of any kind of movement.

As for his conduct, his often-brutal crimefighting methods may remind some people of stormtroopers or other fascist streetfighters, but how often did you ever see any of those sorts fighting alone. Leaving Robin the Boy Wonder out of the equation for the moment, Batman looks like the opposite of the sort of pack animal fascists tend to be.

Some people might say Batman is a fascist because he is a vigilante. Dirty Harry was called a fascist for a similar reason, and so, probably, was the hero of Death Wish, as if only fascists ever espoused taking the law into one's own hands. But isn't a vigilante nearly the opposite of a fascist by virtue of his decision to operate outside of the police establishment? Wouldn't a true fascist aspire to taking over the legitimate police force and using it as an instrument of his will? Vigilantism is problematic unto itself, and one of the virtues of Nolan's movies is his appreciation of the problem, but it's a different kind of problem from fascism. He invokes Roman republican dictatorship in the Dark Knight screenplay, but it's Harvey Dent rather than Bruce Wayne who brings up the topic with seeming approval.

It is worth noting, in closing, that superheroes are a product of the age of dictators in the 1930s. There probably is a link between the fantasy of unlimited power to beat up bad guys and the drive for absolute power in the political realm. During the Depression years, many Americans wondered whether dictatorship was in their future, and some thought that might be a good idea. Superheroes, however, have always struck me as more Jacobin or even Stalinist than Fascist. Reading "Golden Age" superhero comics, one notices an emphasis on using extraordinary methods to get criminals to confess their crimes without the protection of slick lawyers that could remind a reader of the Moscow Show Trials, if one thought about it a little too much. Fascist superheroes would probably just kill the villains.

23 July 2008

The Anonymous Debate Continues

For those who haven't been keeping track, here's a fresh link to an extraordinary thread that started earlier this month when I reviewed Pat Buchanan's book on World War II. An anonymous reader posted a response suggesting that Buchanan knew more than he let on and regretting that the author didn't elaborate on Jewish responsibility for the war, which was twofold, as I understand the analysis. By "controlling communism in Russia," Anonymous claimed, the Jews provided a provocation for Hitler, while Jews outside the USSR goaded Great Britain to fight what Buchanan had characterized, for his own reasons, as an "unnecessary war."

In subsequent posts, Anonymous became insistent that communism be recognized as a distinctly Jewish (or "Talmudic") phenomenon for which Jewish people in general ought to acknowledge their collective responsibility. I disputed the history and the philosophy behind these assertions, treating Anonymous's numerous citations as anecdotal or impressionistic evidence while frankly rejecting the notion of any nationality or religious group bearing collective responsibility for an ideology. Occasionally supported by another anonymous poster, the main writer expressed a conspiratorial view of history and continued to disclaim Jew-hatred while elaborating further on Jewish iniquity through history. I indulged this because I thought the debate gave me an opportunity to address larger topics like conspiracy theory and collective responsibility. It also amused me because Anonymous gave the appearance of one whose initial mask of learned reasonableness gradually slipped to reveal something worse beneath.

That process may have culminated in the most recent Anonymous (or "Anonymous 1") post. Now that communism is an exhausted ideology, Anon1 writes, Jews "have merely transmuted their doctrines into more up to date forms. Instead of advocating communism as in days of yore, they now advocate liberalism, neoconservatism ("Israel uber alles"), feminism, civil rightism, bogus "wars on terrorism", globalism, ad nauseam. The poison is still operating." This is a breathtakingly indiscriminate list of allegedly obnoxious doctrines, leaving one to wonder what someone who opposes them all is for.

Here's a clue: "The destruction of the US as a white country is now an all but accomplished fact. This tearing down of the racial homogeneity of the US has been accomplished entirely by Jewish efforts to change the immigration laws. "

The beauty of this is that I don't really have to say anything more; this stuff speaks for itself, just as Anonymous 1 means it to. I invite readers to review the original thread and watch the responses that appear here and, as always, figure it out for themselves.

Obama, Iran and Israel

The Democratic candidate for President went through all the required motions in Israel. He payed his respects at Yad Vashem, exhorted at by fellow American tourists to remember what he saw. He visited with leaders from the leading Israeli parties, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the nearest thing that country has to a U.S. style Republican. Most importantly, Senator Obama said that a nuclear-armed Iran was a "grave threat" to the world.

By virtue of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a nuclear-armed Iran would be an outlaw nation. Should Iran arm itself with nuclear weapons, it should be dealt with by an appropriate non-partisan international body, but so should other violators of the treaty. But is an outlaw Iran a "grave threat" to anyone but the Israelis, if even to them? Does Obama expect anyone to believe that Ahmadinejad, who isn't even the master of his own country, is an aspiring world-conqueror? Does he actually interpret Ahmadinejad's stupid rhetoric as a more concrete threat to Israel than Khrushschev's "we will bury you" was to the U.S. in Cold War times?

Obama may fell it necessary to overcompensate for his stated willingness to talk to Ahmadinejad or other Iranian leaders. That's nothing to apologize for, of course; it's the only reasonable stand to take in opposition to the Republican/neocon position that requires surrender as a precondition to negotiation. But the Democrat is probably being realistic, since the Jewish State has far more sympathizers in this country than does the Islamic Republic.However, being realistic during an election campaign shouldn't require Obama to minimize his differences with neocon foreign policy.

It wouldn't be difficult for Obama to claim the high ground vis-a-vis the Republicans or the Iranians. Ideally, all he'd need to do is renounce "regime change" as an instrument of American foreign policy. Doing so would instantly undermine the Iranians' rationale for acquiring nukes, since they portray themselves besieged by the forces of "international arrogance." Renouncing regime change, even without the next step of committing to normalize relations, would put the ball in Iran's court; if the U.S. renounces its intention of toppling an "evil" tyranny, oughtn't Iran in turn renounce its rhetorical warfare on Israel. If the Iranians don't answer in kind, they'd end up looking like the last uncompromising fanatics in the room. To make the contrast more clear, Obama could make it clear to the Israelis that any preemptive or preventive action on their part against Iran would have dire consequences for them, even if they'd never be as dire as some would like.

More simply put, once the U.S. establishes that we're not trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic, Iran would be left looking like the rogue state in the region as long as Ahmadinejad keeps up his anti-Zionist rhetoric, and the international community might be more willing to compel Iran to respect the rules of non-proliferation. As things stand now, other nations regard our conflict with Iran as Groucho Marx regarded the villain of Night at the Opera flogging Harpo. "Hey, you big bully," he said, "Stop picking on that little bully." If Obama wants America to be seen as a good guy, he should put down the whip.

22 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Jacques Yves "Chief Jack" Boulerice

"Chief Jack" is making his third run for the Presidency under the banner of the Native American Party. The name has a double meaning, since Boulerice is indeed a Native American (i.e. one of the "First Nations") and is running on a populist border-security, English-only platform. Born in Cohoes, NY, near Think 3 headquarters, he currently resides in Anaheim, where he's held a number of retail management positions.

Like many independent candidates, Boulerice has been provoked to run for office by a personal grievance.

I've lived a nightmare where one man with more money than he has a right to have has used that wealth to make my life miserable. It was a permanent, personal reminder of how being "over-wealthy" can lead to evil. This man has the money, therefore the ability, to cost me jobs and my first family, almost driving me to kill myself at one point. It showed me once and for all that the wealth in this country can't be controlled by the minority while the greatest percentage of this nation's residents often have to make such harsh decisions as "Do I pay the bills or eat this week?".

The "Chief" has an eight-point program: 1) Bring troops home from the Middle East to man a wall along the Mexican border; 2)Control oil prices by withholding trade from OPEC countries until they agree to take oil down to $35 per barrel; 3)Impose a national salary cap of $800,000 per year, on the theory that no one should make more than twice the President's salary; 4)End outsourcing by fining outsourcers $100,000,000; 5) Replace labor unions with government regulation of wages; 6)Shrink Congress to three representatives per state, all of whom will be forbidden from leaving Washington when votes are pending; 7) Abolish the two-term limit for the President [!]; and 8)Eliminate corporate campaign contributions.

This is a much more creative program than most of the candidates surveyed so far have offered. Apart from those eight points, he forcefully supports the English-Only movement, which is perhaps in keeping with his heritage as an embattled Native. As a longtime Internet radio broadcaster, Boulerice is also very concerned about music-industry royalty rates, which he considers exorbitant and prohibitive for broadcasters like himself. As President, he will repeal the current royalty rates. Here's the site for his radio show, if you're curious.

Thanks to Internet radio, but depending on how royalty payments effect his ability to broadcast, Boulerice has a platform to get his message out. I can't tell what else he's doing, apart from running websites and blogs, since you have to belong to the MSN network to access his calendar of events from his MSN campaign site. There's enough content easily available on the site to give you a clear idea of where he stands, including this "latest speech" which veers from Skull & Bones paranoia to 9/11 conspiracy theory. "Chief Jack" is part of the fourth tier of basically self-appointed candidates, but my initial verdict is that he's one of the better ones so far from that group. Consult his main campaign page and judge for yourself. You can also check out his MySpace page, which will give you more of an idea of his non-political interests.

Just Democracy?

To show that The Nation remains a worthwhile magazine despite its rather contemptible cartoon about The New Yorker (see below), I turn my attention to publisher Katrina vanden Heuval's manifesto, "Just Democracy" from the previous number. Her object is to get more people to vote on the premise that the more people, the more progressive the outcome. She wants to make it easier for people to vote through such reforms as instituting Election-Day voter registration and rescheduling Election Day to a more convenient time.

I was interested to see vanden Heuval advocate underminng the two-party system, but here I have to differ with her strategy. As far as I can tell, she makes no effort to prioritize her proposed reforms. That might make it more difficult to topple the American Bipolarchy, especially if she gets her way and the country adopts presidential elections by popular vote. I sympathize on principle with that objective, but as long as the Bipolarchy rules, abandoning the Electoral College will only strengthen the major parties' grip on the Presidency. Arguably, the more democratic our elections have become, the more they've acquired the first-past-the-post, winner-take-all aspect that so many reformers claim to abhor.

Under the current system, a challenge to the Bipolarchy has a chance if it can establish a regional voter base. Southern insurgent candidates have won electoral votes in 1948 and 1968, while Ross Perot, for all his popularity and national fame, won none in 1992 or 1996. The fact that Southern candidates advocated a rotten agenda shouldn't blind us to the potential of a regional insurgency against the two-party system. Of course, if we insist dogmatically on maximum democracy, then the most likely outcome of a regional insurgency, an election of the President by the House of Representatives, will be regretted. Let's recall, however, that the President wasn't conceived as a representative figure. The House of Representatives, after all, belongs to a different branch of the government.Presidents historically have claimed to be representatives of the entire American people in order to claim more power for themselves. Perhaps, if the President were chosen in a plainly less democratic fashion, people would be less willing to grant him all the super commander-in-chief or unitary-executive powers that the Bushies have claimed for their man.

vanden Heuval argues that Instant Runoff Voting or cross-endorsements will empower independent parties, but the first proposal merely invites independent voters to announce their intention to abandon their cause at the first opportunity, while the second defeats the purpose of independent parties, which is to elect independent candidates. Both proposals are basically placebos, remedies for the fear that votes for independent parties and candidates are "wasted." They are meant to reassure wavering independents by assuring them that they can be on the winning team after all. Anyone who really wants to wreck the Bipolarchy will see that these are useless remedies.

I'm not really sure that vanden Heuval wants to destroy the two-party system rather than replace one of the pillars. All of her proposals are designed to get more "progressive" outcomes from elections, presumably including Democratic primaries. This is most apparent in her contemptuous dismissal of any need to safeguard elections from fraudulent voting. She claims that statistics show that hardly anyone tries this stunt, but that doesn't mean that it's never been done on a far larger scale, or that it could be attempted on a far larger scale in the future. The problem with fraud is that it's a "conservative" issue, perceived by "progressives" as a partisan smokescreen concealing brute force efforts to suppress voter turnout amongst the poor. That sort of thing has also happened in history, and to this day conservatives fuel progressive suspicions by declaring openly that the fewer people vote, the better. But progressives want to argue that every conspiracy theory about vote-suppression by conservatives is true, while every conservative conspiracy theory about fraudulent voting is false. That's dishonest. Toward the end of her article, vanden Heuval proposes a "grand bargain" that would please progressives by maximizing easy access to the polls while addressing conservative fears of fraud, but she's vague on the terms of such a bargain. Common sense suggests that it would have to involve a national identity database, and probably the sort of I.D. card which she earlier deemed an onerous burden on poor people. I agree with her that requiring people to pay for a card they need in order to vote equals an unconstitutional poll tax, but would she agree to requiring a free state or national I.D. card? That remains unclear.

In the end, there's nothing new about any of vanden Heuval's proposals. She's only tried to tie them to Senator Obama's coattails in the hope that Democratic optimism might be open to a more ambitious agenda. But she'd have to be far more ambitious if she really meant to break down the American Bipolarchy or break the power of money in politics. She'd need to think further outside the box about ideas like eliminating party lines from election ballots or banning political advertising from television. Furthermore, if she really believes that the institutional hegemony of the two-party system inhibits genuine debate and genuine reform, and isn't just angling to climb to the top of one of the pillars, she'd begin to weigh the necessity of revolutionary change -- which can be as peaceful as the convention in Philadelphia back in 1787, but might require more of the American people.

The Dark Knight: Postscript.

This news suggests Christopher Nolan's wisdom in apparently casting against type. It's amusing to see that the star system still works, to an extent, a movie premiere having priority over a criminal investigation. Maybe now everyone will go back for a second viewing of the movie to see if they can see how Bale cracked.

In the old days, on the other hand, this sort of news might have disqualified Bale from playing Batman again. At least we would probably hear an outcry against such a character, should the allegations prove true, playing a hero designed for the amusement of children. Of course, there might not have been such an outcry in those days, because the studios had more power to keep such a story as Bale's out of the news.

In any event, the odds are just as much against Bale playing the part a third time as they are against Nolan directing a third film. No one but supporting players and people holding character rights seems to stick around for more than two Batman films. Warner Bros. and DC Comics are always going to be tempted to treat a franchise like Batman like James Bond, neglecting the factor of personal genius in the success of Burton and Nolan's movies and wagering that any popular director or actor can do the work just as well. That's how you get Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer and poor miscast George Clooney. Since the new Terminator movie is supposed to be one in a series, Bale might not be available for future Batman work even if he beats the present rap.

I usually don't indulge in this sort of gossip, but as I wrote before, Batman holds a special interest for me, and Bale's follies simply add to the cultural moment we're all experiencing. I'll be back to surveying paranoid presidential candidates soon enough.

21 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Jeff Boss

Combining his aspirations and his one dramatic assertion, Jeff Boss might get more attention if he presented himself more credibly. By his own account, he has respectable private-sector credentials. He was "ONE OF THE TOP PEOPLE AT MORGAN STANLEY ‘S ROADSHOW DESK AND BROUGHT THE FOLLOWING COMPANYS PUBLIC: AOL, NETSCAPE, DONNA KARAN, LUCENT TECHNOLOGY, GNC, RENAULT, HARVEY NICHOLS, BARNES&NOBLE ,MEDIMUNE AND NUMEROUS OTHERS. "



You might have inferred from his narrative that Boss believes that he was meant to be killed at the World Trade Center. He definitely believes that the National Security Agency has tried to kill him on several occasions since the terrorist attacks. Given the important evidence Boss claims to have, the agency's efforts might be understandable. He gives some idea of the scope of their operations against him here:


Despite this incredible campaign of persecution, Boss believes that he can turn things around by being elected President of the United States. If elected, he will repeal the Patriot Act; establish "checks and balances" in elections by having electronic and paper ballots that have to match one another; bring home the troops within two months of his election (he won't be inaugurated yet, however) but leave a token force to protect the oil fields; pay out $2,000,000 compensation to severely wounded soldiers or families of soldiers killed in action, the money to be paid back eventually by the Iraqi government from oil revenues; "stop giving tax breaks to companys sending jobs overseas"; build electric cars with "80% American parts" as part of a crash effort comparable to wartime production to wean the country from foreign fuel; as part of the same effort, institute major tax breaks for wind and solar power; balance the budget with no tax hikes and "some type of tax reform."

Turning at last to the dreaded NSA, he'll subject the agency to "check and balances" while using its satellite technology for good to track illegal immigrants and missing children. How he'll accomplish this is unclear. Given the obstacles he imagines for himself, how he'd be elected is very unclear, especially since the only strategy he urges upon possible supporters is to "tell 100 friends" about his campaign. For more charges against the NSA, check out his website.

Boss is also running for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey, and has gotten enough petitions to appear on the ballot there. He gave a radio interview earlier this month which you can hear at this site.

Cartoons in the News: Liberal Hypocrisy?

The Nation magazine has bravely published cartoons recently while enduring hostile reactions from easily-offended readers. You'll recall that letter writers complained about one that appeared to mock Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston's affliction with Alzheimer's disease, and a more recent cartoon, also deplored by correspondents, that showed Senator Clinton singing, "Oh Obama! Won't you die for me?" to the tune of "Oh, Susanna!" I defended the magazine on both occasions, but the weekly's newest cartoon, in its August 4 issue, suggests that on certain topics, its editors can dish it out, but can't take it.

The new cartoon is a parody of The New Yorker's now infamous "Politics of Fear" cover from last week. Pretending to be a New Yorker cover itself, Stephff's cartoon also portrays Senator and Mrs. Obama in the Oval Office. The presumptive president has apparently just pumped his fist into the face of Eustace Tilley, the fictional 19th century English dandy who serves as the New Yorker's mascot and graces its anniversary issue.Tilley is on his rear, his hat crumpled, his monocle broken, his eye blackened, his nose dripping blood, his neck in a brace. A tooth lies on the Oval Office floor. Osama bin Laden's portrait remains in place, but has been turned upside down in a gesture the significance of which eludes me. President Obama, in white shirt and blue tie, casts last week's New Yorker into the fireplace. Mrs. Obama wears a red dress with pearls. Playing a sort of ring girl, she holds a card reading, "Round 2."

I take this to be Stephff's way of saying "Taint funny, McGee" to Barry Blitt and the New Yorker editors. Since I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that Stephff is aware of the satirical intention of Blitt's "Politics of Fear" cover, I'll assume that the cartoonist is one of those who believes that the only correct responses to the apparently unkillable "Obama is a secret Muslim" rumor are complete denial or stony silence. The idea must not even be made fun of. I don't really need to assume what Stephff makes explicit on paper -- he believes that someone at The New Yorker needs an ass-whupping because of that cover, and that it would be cool if Obama administered the punishment himself. He offers us the edifying image of a magazine being consigned to the flames.

Now I'm offended. Not to the point of cancelling my subscription to an admirable magazine, but obviously to the point of expressing my disapproval here of what looks pretty plainly like hypocrisy in Obama's interest. The Nation had no problem, nor should it have, with publishing a cartoon portraying Hillary Clinton wishing for Obama's death. That cartoon was more offensive to the person portrayed than "The Politics of Fear" could ever be to Barack Obama. But by publishing "Round Two" this week (and thus implying that last week's New Yorker was "Round One" of what, exactly?) the same editors have clearly signed on to the idea that no cartoonist should show Obama as a secret Muslim, even if the point was plainly to mock the fears of the rumormongers. The "Oh Obama" cartoon and "Round Two" provide pretty strong evidence of a pro-Obama bias on The Nation's part, which can just as easily be read by those so inclined as an anti-Clinton bias. It's not an extreme or uncritical bias, since the weekly has joined the many voices criticizing Obama's tack toward the "center" in recent weeks, but it is a bias that dictates that certain ways of looking at him, such as Barry Blitt's, are off-limits. Perhaps that's only gone into effect as of Obama's attainment of the Democratic nomination, since The Nation, as a rule, is an organ of the American Bipolarchy. But however it's come about, the consequence is a cartoon arguing, albeit symbolically, that another cartoonist ought to be beaten up. That's real hypocrisy, and that's why I'm offended.

19 July 2008

The Dark Knight: Rebel Without A Cause

When I was younger, I wanted to write comic books. Batman was my favorite character, going back to my childish enjoyment of Adam West's show before I became convinced that it travestied a darker original. I've since learned to appreciate the TV show again, but my authorial aspirations remained deeply serious. Like many fans, I envisioned what might be called "the last Batman story." There are bound to be many different versions of this story, but the common idea is to portray life-changing, even career-ending events that would wrap up the Batman saga into a novelistic whole. I was always disappointed when one writer on the monthly comic would develop Bruce Wayne's characters and relationships to a certain point, only to have another writer come in and find a way to take things back to square one. I came to realize that I was looking for things in Batman comics that I wasn't meant to find there. To write "the last Batman story" is to betray the fundamental archetypes that captured my imagination forty years after the character was created. To contrive that "nothing will ever be the same" would be to deny future generations of fans the opportunity to discover those vital archetypes on their own.

I remain interested in Batman as a comic book, TV cartoon and movie character. I still feel that there's untapped potential for stories that could deepen the character and enrich his milieu without becoming "the last Batman story." I like comparing different interpretations of the character in different media, retaining a fondness for Tim Burton's movies and Paul Dini's cartoons from an era that is now over. When Christopher Nolan released Batman Begins, I was relieved to see a film superior to Joel Schumacher's abominations of the mid-90s, but still preferred Burton's films, particularly Batman Returns. Nolan has now released The Dark Knight to tremendous acclaim, and I'm now willing to argue that he's surpassed Burton.

Bruce Wayne became Batman because his parents were killed by a criminal. I've never really been satisfied with that explanation. After all, how many children are orphaned by violence each year in the real world, and how many of those become vigilantes? In its original form, the origin was an afterthought -- a two page story that first appeared several months after Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics in 1939. After that, "Golden Age" stories didn't dwell much on Batman's motivation. In recent years, it's been more common to show Bruce Wayne moping in front of portraits of his parents, their deaths being more of an unhealed wound than they seemed to be in the past. In part, I think this is because fans are more satisfied believing that Bruce Wayne is in some way disturbed, or under a compulsion to be Batman, perhaps because they're uncomfortable with the alternate explanation, which is that he is Batman because he can -- because he can afford it.

Christopher Nolan seems to lean toward this more prosaic but also more implicitly political explanation of Batman. His Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale, flaunts his wealth and struts arrogantly in public in a way that Michael Keaton, Burton's more reclusive Wayne, never did. Each version of the character is trying to disguise Batman's heroic essence, but Nolan's version makes it more clear that Bruce Wayne's power is his wealth.

The Dark Knight is the most political Batman film, not because it makes any ideological or partisan statement, but because it addresses the implications of Batman's existence for public life in Gotham City. Wayne is troubled by the message Batman seems to be sending, and seeks to sponsor an alternative hero, a "white knight" untainted by the whiff of violence and vigilantism. The cleverness of the film emerges in our ability to see that, in a way, Wayne is trying to shift his burden onto someone else, at least partly for selfish reasons, and with disastrous results.

But what role is the hero supposed to be playing. In one scene, characters discuss whether Gotham City needs someone like Batman to deal with its crime problem. Harvey Dent, the prospective "white knight," invokes the Roman republican custom of suspending democracy during an emergency and investing someone with extraordinary powers to deal with the emergency by all means necessary. Tellingly, he never uses the word "dictator," but his girlfriend, who was Bruce Wayne's girlfriend in Begins, reminds him that the last Roman dictator, Julius Caesar, never gave up the power he was granted. Neither Bruce Wayne nor Harvey Dent aspires to dictatorship in the movie, but both flirt with lawlessness in their pursuit of justice, and Batman acquires a frighteningly comprehensive surveillance system in order to track down the film's villain. We're clearly meant to think of the purported police-state tendencies of the Bush administration, and the audience is invited to think that Batman really is going too far here, but the question still looms over the film: what is necessary in an age of terror?

It looks as if The Dark Knight and Iron Man will end up the most popular movies of the summer of 2008, placing the superhero genre at a new peak and probably provoking more and worse films to be made. It's probably no accident that both films, in different ways, engage with the problem of terrorism in a manner unusual for superhero films. Superheroes first appeared in the 1930s, when Americans felt helpless against gangsters and foreign dictators, and some hoped for a dictator of their own, or at least someone who'd do what had to be done, make the bad guys confess, etc. A terrorized, demoralized nation turns to fantasies of omnipotent ruthless righteousness. Americans in 2008 remain uncertain about how much power the government or the president should have to deal with the perceived terrorist threat. Films that portray people who possess nearly unlimited powers (provided in both cases by wealth and technology) have natural interest and appeal at this point in history, even if neither film has anything meaningful to say about the world's real terrorist threats....

...Which brings us, finally, to Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker. He wears the familiar colors, but his and Nolan's conception of the character is entirely original. He is not a "Clown Prince of Crime," nor does he use the traditional smile-inducing gas, as Jack Nicholson did in Burton's first film. In his temperament he somewhat resembles the Joker in his very first appearance in 1940, often grim and frowning and more sardonic than ridiculous. But that Joker was greedy for gems, while Nolan's is only out, as Michael Caine's Alfred suggests, "to watch the world burn." This nihilistic motivation is not so novel as some reviewers seem to think, since in practice Nolan's Joker is like the infinitely resourceful taunting villains from 90s action films, the characters who always got the best lines. The good lines are more evenly distributed in The Dark Knight, which has as strong an ensemble cast as any film of any genre in recent times. But reviewers are especially impressed by Ledger's work, and troubled by his words, since his is, literally, a voice from the grave. It is a strong performance, very well thought-out in voice and mannerisms, but it doesn't dominate the film, however much his presence is fueling the movie's record-setting box office receipts. Ledger does not steal the show, nor (as some reviewers have suggested) does Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. The film is not really about the Joker's nihilistic agenda, except insofar as it complements Batman's and Dent's temptation to go beyond the rules. The surprising thing about Dark Knight that will leave it a powerful film after the morbid glamour of Ledger's presence fades, is that it Bruce Wayne and his relationships anchor the story, lending an honest weight to it that even Burton's more romantic films lacked.

When Batman Begins appeared and became a success, people inevitably began talking about a trilogy of films, as if three were the standard number for a successful series. Warner Bros. will now most likely be on their knees begging Christopher Nolan to confirm everyone's hopes and make a third film, but I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't. He may have talked of a trilogy himself, but I suspect that he's done. He seems to have said everything he wants to say about Batman, if not necessarily everything he could say, and has wiped the slate clean so a new director could start almost from scratch. There aren't really any loose ends that require another film for resolution. The only possibility I can imagine is if Nolan gets an idea for Catwoman as novel as his approach to the Joker, and one that fits his vision of Batman and Gotham City. There he'd have to deal with the lingering stink of the Halle Berry film as well as the challenge to top Burton's Catwoman, Michelle Pfeiffer. Catwoman has been my favorite of Batman's antagonists since I first saw Julie Newmar cavorting with Adam West, and I prefer Batman Returns to Batman for Pfeiffer's sake. Having Nolan introduce Catwoman into his Batman story would be a best-case scenario, but I'm not going to get my hopes up or hold my breath waiting. In any event, Nolan has earned the right to move on, especially if that means more films like The Prestige. For Batman, he has done enough.

18 July 2008

Another Triumph Over Terrorism!

You'll probably see headlines about this story along the lines of "Plot to Kill Bush Thwarted," which at first glance (which is all some people are really interested in) might make you think that the President was saved at sometime close to the last minute. But like most of the plots that Americans and Israelis have boasted of thwarting, this one consists of jihadi-wannabes talking too much (symbolically speaking) online and doing dangerous stuff like taking pictures. The authorities themselves say this "plot" hadn't gotten past the discussion stage -- which goes to show how wonderful and free America is. I mean this. Consider: anyone in this country can talk about how great it would be to "take out" Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, Castro, Kim Jong Il, or anyone else on the current "evil" list, without fear of consequences. Over there, if someone speaks, writes or posts indiscreetly about taking out a foreign leader, George W. Bush, whom they consider "evil," it's off to prison. For some people, freedom means being able to get away with stuff. Others might define it as getting away with stuff that others can't get away with. I'm open to alternative definitions.

17 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: John Blyth

Blyth is the founder of a new political party, modestly named Blyth America, less modestly the Blyth America Independent Party. The 48 year old Chicago native is a journeyman bricklayer and health insurance group plan salesman. He has no prior political experience.

As he writes, "John is not a politician. Therefore he will make the best President of the United States." His object as President is to "put our country back on track amongst other nations as a fair but powerful nation that we can once again be proud of our own eyes and in the view of the world."

He has a succinct list of issue positions. On Iraq: "End the war now. Support the troops." He wants national healthcare, a new power grid, more secure borders, nationwide high-speed rail service, and more free trade. He considers gay marriage and a declaration that English is the official language of the U.S. to be non-issues. On some questions, his position is condensed to one word, e.g. "Tariffs. No." He extends his list to let us know who his favorite sports teams and entertainers are. The sports teams are all from Chicago.

Blyth held an official kick-off ceremony for his campaign last September 29. He went to New Hampshire to appear on an interview program, but why an independent candidate whose self-made party has no primary needed to be there is unclear to me. His last listed campaign event was a trip to New York City in late January. He keeps his blog up to date, however, adding some questionable novelty to it by calling it a "blyg." The latest entries demand decreases in gas prices at the pumps reflecting the recent drop in crude per-barrel prices. He has recently promised total withdrawal from Iraq by May 2010, and has hinted at a to-be-announced "Blyth America New Deal" to match FDR's. Most of the entries I've perused are tiny items; many are simply links to other articles. He also has a frequently asked questions page -- with nothing in it.

Occasional blyg entries express his interest in getting out to independent-candidate debates. These always come with reminders that he needs money to go, but as far as I can tell he hasn't made it to any of them. So it goes with self-appointed candidates. You can understand the impulse, the ambition, the frustration with existing candidates, but our electoral system wasn't designed for someone to join the fray without a constituency and recommend himself for the highest office in the land. The national scope of the Bipolarchy makes candidates like Blyth even more futile. Assuming a four-tier hierarchy of candidates, with Senators McCain and Obama on top, celebrity independents like Barr, McKinney and Nader on the next level, and long-established small national parties like the Constitutionalists, the Communists, etc. on a third tier, Blyth belongs with Aparicio, Bilyeu and others at the bottom. Nevertheless, here's his website.

The New Yorker: It's What's Inside That Counts

The infamous July 21 issue of The New Yorker arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Looking at Barry Blitt's cover more closely, it occurs to me that Michelle Obama's afro isn't necessarily generic but meant to evoke the image of Angela Davis, the once-notorious radical from the late '60s-early '70s, more recently a Communist Party candidate for national office. Of course, it's just a cartoon, so Blitt could just as easily have been invoking Pam Grier or any of her blaxploitation sisters.

As some media have reported, this is a sort of Obama-themed issue of the magazine. The lead article in the "Talk of the Town" section is bossman Hendrik Hertzberg's analysis of Senator Obama's alleged flip-flops. He writes:

Winning a Presidential election doesn't require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to most of the people some of the time. It doesn't require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more or less the same thing in ways that are understood in different ways.

Translated from pidgin-Lincolnese, this is an appeal for cynicism, urging people not to get worked up over Obama's every seeming deviance from his perceived primary position. He characterizes several alleged flip-flops as "tweaks," from the candidate's "refinement" of his Iraq policy to his deference to the Supreme Court in the recent gun-rights case.

Hertzberg is more troubled by Obama's capitulation on the FISA bill after promising to aid a filibuster against it. He attributes Obama's action to "worry about being branded as soft on terrorism," and comments that "perhaps Obama will now take a more compassionate view of Hillary Clinton's vote" to authorize the invasion of Iraq. But if Obama is driven to contradict past positions by a belief that he can somehow get Republicans to stop saying a Democrat is soft on terrorism, he's more a fool than a cynic.

Further along is Ryan Lizza's more substantive article about Obama's career in Chicago and Illinois politics. Echoing Hertzberg (or is it vice versa, since Hertzberg references Lizza), this article also tends to portray Obama as just another politician, albeit one particularly adroit at finding the right constituencies to promote himself. Having alienated black party hacks in Chicago by failing to defer to his elders, Obama bounced back from a humiliating loss in a congressional primary to claim a Senate seat by building relationships with proven fundraisers. He has left behind friends, mentors and advisers who still support him as a politician but seem to have reservations with him as a person.

Summing up, Lizza writes: "He campaigns on reforming a broken political process, yet he has always played politics by the rules as they exist. He runs as an outsider, but he has succeeded by mastering the inside game." The article portrays a man who has had his eyes on the top almost from the beginning, but it gives us little insight on what he'll do if he gets there. If Barack Obama, like so many others, is only ever looking to the next election, and, like most people younger than John McCain, looks forward to two terms, we had better not expect much in the first four years, at least.

16 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Sheila Bilyeu

This one will be brief. Bilyeu, the "Peace and Justice Candidate," is a "Justice Activist" who "enjoy[s] fighting for justice and people's most important needs and our most important values." Born in 1944, she is a teacher and home economist with an MA in education from Northern Arizona University, with a specialty in guidance counseling. Her previous political experience was an independent U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

Here is her declaration of principles in full:

We need a President that cares about JUSTICE FOR EVERONE. We need fairness in all areas of our lives and Government.It should be of,by, and for all of the people; The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.The person with the most money should not be able to buy the election. When 80% of the money is contributed by 2% of the richest people, they get what they want and the rest of us often get victimized. The poor and middle class often pay by having their children and tax money wasted on war instead of a better qualilty of life for all the people. The Constitution and the highest laws of the land are often ignored; unless one can buy a good lawyer, judge etc, we often lose. The rich often buy injustice at the expense of the poorer fellow citizens. As someone who has been deliberately victimized by the Government over and over again including them tricking me into a fradulent operation that has messed up my life, you can be sure that I will stand up for your rights and do my upmost to shape up the Government. I have been both poor and middle-classed, so I understand the plight of struggling people. As a trained counselor and citizen, I understand what people need and care deeply that people are treated fair. I have fought for the Justice of others and myself. I have a passion for justice and a great deal of energy when it comes to fighting for justice. Please join me in this fight and help make our country and Government one like it is supposed to be and one that we can have confidence in and be proud of.

Bilyeu has a six-point platform. Here it is in full:

1. Justice for all in all areas
2.No war unless it is absolutely necessary. We should save our young people and those billions of dollars to enhance people's lives.
3.Good health care for everyone.
4. Bring jobs back home; provide a living wage instead of a minimum wage.
5.Bring justice to the courts; many federal judges need to be replaced.
6.Make the income tax just.

On the strength of all that, Bilyeu wants us to sign petitions to get her on our local ballots, and to donate to her campaign via PayPal. She has no campaign videos available, and has no current schedule of campaign events. Redundant as it may be, here's her website.

15 July 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Bob Barr

Barr has the best academic pedigree of the candidates listed so far, earning two graduate degrees while working as a CIA analyst. He was a federal attorney before entering Congress in the "Contract With America" election of 1994. As an attorney he prosecuted a Republican congressman who ended up in prison for a year.

He seems to see himself as a civil libertarian, but his record is mixed. He has consistent reservations about government power, securing amendments to both the "Patriot Act" and Clinton-era anti-terror legislation to limit their scope or duration. He was greatly concerned about government overreach in the case of the Branch Davidians, but was opposed to the military recognizing Wicca. As a congressman he opposed same-sex marriage and legal use of medical marijuana. Now, as the Libertarian Party candidate for President, he has recanted those positions, just as he regretted his vote for the Patriot Act some time before.

Barr is a past board member of the National Rifle Association and a present member of both the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservative Union. He won the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination on the sixth ballot last May. His running mate is Wayne Allyn Root, an entrepreneur and former financial news broadcaster.

On Iraq, Barr says: " While I support an exit from Iraq as quickly as possible, I would not publicly announce a timetable to our adversaries. However, as President, I would begin to immediately and significantly begin to reduce both the military and the economic security blanket we are providing the government. " More generally, he notes that "By maintaining a military presence in more than 130 nations around the world in more than 700 installations, with hundreds of thousands of troops deployed overseas, the U.S. spends more to protect the soil of other nations than our own." He proposes that "Bringing these soldiers home would better protect America while saving lives and money. The U.S. requires a military strong enough to defend this nation, not to support and defend much of the rest of the world. "

Barr will relieve American dependence on foreign energy by drilling all over America. Opposed to "special privileges," he'll end federal subsidies for ethanol production. Ultimately, his energy policy is faith-based. As he testifies: "The free market, driven by consumer choice and reflecting the real cost of resources, should be the foundation of America’s energy policy." This comes close to being a meaningless statement.

On taxes, Barr is less rigid than other independent candidates. He isn't wedded to one alternative to the existing system. While convinced that most Americans pay too much, he believes the solution will follow a national debate involving such alternatives as the FairTax, a flat income tax, and "good alternatives for tax reform that have not yet been proposed."

With tax cuts come spending cuts: "Every area of federal spending can and should be cut. Entitlements must be reformed and welfare should be cut, including subsidies for business sometimes called corporate welfare. Military outlays should be reduced and pork barrel spending eliminated. Needless, duplicative, and wasteful programs, most of which have no constitutional basis, should be terminated. "

Unfortunately, more dogma follows: "We should seek to establish a wall of separation between government and the economy. The legitimate economic functions of government are to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected. The government should stop attempting to “manage” the free market. Capitalism is the only economic system that rewards risk, protects individual liberty, and furthers economic freedom. America will be most prosperous and free when the government stops interfering with private economic decision-making. "

On a related note: "Government should stop acting as the welfare agency of first resort under the guise of providing social insurance. In general, private charity should be the first resort for anyone in need. The process of welfare reform begun by Congress in 1996 should be continued to reduce even further people’s dependence on Washington." In other words, Barr prefers that people in distress become dependent on private individuals or institutions rather than relying upon one another in the form of a democratic republican government.

Barr has an extensive website with soundbite-size position papers, from which I've taken all of his quotes for this article. There's a link to his YouTube channel, which collects his various interviews, including his ABC appearance from July 6, which I can finally present below without commercial garnish.

Like Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader, Bob Barr has sufficient stature as a public figure to be treated as equals to Senators McCain and Obama. Failure to treat at least these three accordingly only serves to entrench the American Bipolarchy more deeply, which is the same as endorsing an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the Democratic and Republican parties. Barr's economic views may be fantastically naive, but as President his more extreme initiatives would likely be checked by cooler heads in Congress. That leaves a relatively unobjectionable foreign policy combined with an only occasionally hypocritical dedication to civil liberties. On that score, he's most likely no worse than the two leading candidates. As I write, the cable news reports poll results that show Barr having a real spoiler effect on McCain. The Republican should have the courage to debate Barr, not suppress him, if he wants to prevail.