Sunday, February 14, 2010

Populist! What? Where?

There's been a lot of discussion of  "populism" in American politics recently, particularly when it comes to the corporate media covering for the Tea Baggs.  It seems all of the current populists are pissed-off Republicans and people on the left calling for the Democrats to be more populist.  Pop-pop-pop-pop-ulists!!

There's only one problem with all this new-found populism - it doesn't exist because we Americans don't do populist.  We all love our elites too much to go for that kind of stuff.  That's right, I said ELITES and I mean left and right too. 

What got me started on this was a movie trailer online I stumbled across a while back and the populist talk brought it back to mind.  The movie being advertised was one of those rightwing 'documentaries' that was supposed to mock Michael Moore's methods in his films.  The point the movie was trying to make is that liberals are hypocrites because they are concerned about the poor and middle they climb into their limosines and private jets.

OK, let's get past the conservatives' odd view that being a liberal Democrat concerned about the less privileged and middle class means that they have to become monks who take a vow of poverty (guess they never heard of noblesse oblige).  The Republicans, in their way, lay claim to those same concerns and none of their supporters hold them to the same standards as they do for wealthy Democrats.

The point is that movie could have just as easily been made by a liberal about conservatives and both would still miss the real issue by a mile which is, down deep, we REALLY like rich and powerful people a lot and we keep voting them into office. 

Blame it on American guilt over being thrown out of all of the good countries when we were founded and that we really do miss royalty.  Lord knows we try hard to create our own - singers, actors, athletes - but they come up short and are discarded as quickly as they were crowned.  See, the thing about royalty is that they are what they are no matter what.  A Duchess doesn't lose her title because she loses it in a beauty salon and shaves her hair off.  A Baron can go out drinking heavily and trying to take all the drugs nightly then go in and out of rehab like he has his own personal revolving door and he's still a Baron.  American royalty substitutes don't get that kind of a break - go a little too crazy in public, start to lose your voice a bit, be unable to hit those homers or make those touchdowns anymore and it's the French Revolution again and off goes your head.

So where do we go for our royals?  Why, politics of course. 

I'm not talking about any individual here, individual politicians are often subject to the same rules that all of the other royalty substitutes rise and fall by.  The royalty I'm talking about is who we always look to as ready to either represent us or lead the nation.  Who are our populists, our kings and queens?  Rich people, plain and simple.

You may be brilliant but if you don't have the bucks, either earned or inherited, kiss off politics. Look around:  Sarah Palin and her family are worth at least a million dollars.  The last nominee for President for either major party that didn't come to the race already wealthy was Bill Clinton but he wasn't exactly hurting either and he's made up for that since.  Ross Perot ran for President as an independent with tons of coin in the bank to back it up.  More examples abound and we even do the jobs of fooling ourselves about these people by dressing up our worship of the wealthy in the words like "success" i.e. successful business man/woman etc. etc.

Our self-delusion is so complete that we consider these people "populists" and "ordinary folks who understand our problems."  Then we act surprised when they act for their interests and not ours as if it wasn't as obvious as hell that's exactly what they were all about from the get-go.

So please, don't talk to me about today's populism until you're ready to elect that intelligent janitor and send that mediocre-minded CEO packing.  Until then, GOD SAVE THE KING!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Attacking Iran

Note: Welcome to who has invited me to become one of their voices on national and international issues so here's my first shot.

What has been a surprise to me is that Iran is still an issue, at least to the United States.  It's all about nuclear weapons and whether Iran has any, so let's take a look back at how we got here.

It's four months after the biggest act of terrorism ever on U.S. soil and it's clear that the 9/11 attackers were foreign based, not domestic like the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building.  The country is the most united it's been for a while and with bipartisan support the invasion and initial defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan takes place.   Now it's 2002, time for the State of the Union speech to the nation and a new term is introduced into the national debate:  The Axis of Evil. 

Who are the three nations who Bush names as members of this Axis?  Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

Plans go into motion to build up support for a second invasion and war in the Middle East, this time supposedly to stop development, storage and possible terrorist use of what the Bush administration claimed were stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons by Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein.  The Republicans successfully use this as a campaign issue against the Democrats in 2002 as the 'threat' from Iraq is sold to frightened Americans. 

In 2003, Bush makes good on his threat to invade Iraq and we're pretty familiar with what happens after that.
While a majority of Americans applaud the invasion of Iraq, the other two 'members' of the 'Axis of Evil' get worried that they will be next.  What becomes clear very soon is that the Bush administration is quick to invade a nation that was essentially defenseless after the first Gulf War but when a possible opponent shows that they have the means to fight back, the Republicans shift to just wanting to talk. 

Case in point:  Iraq is invaded, North Korea with it's nearly 6 million member armed forces and potential to build nuclear weapons gets a good GOP talking to.  The talking continues during the Bush era even when North Korea does their first nuclear tests and test fires the missiles to deliver them. 

Would any of these three have a chance in hell of defeating an all-out conflict with America?  Of course not, but if the case for having one is weak on the U.S. side, any support vanishes rather quickly when a lot of Americans die or get maimed for what the country sees as an unworthy war.  If a party wants to build it's war cred, pick someone weak to fight so you can win fast and get out.

Iran gets this message loud and clear.  Iran has armed forces but nowhere near the reported size of North Korea so what can they do to prevent invasion by the Bushies?  Announce loudly that they are close to making nuclear weapons.  Sure enough, the Republicans back off and instead of sending troops they send sanctions.  Despite much saber rattling on both sides that's about where things stay until the election of Barack Obama.

Unfortunately, even with a President who has expressed no desire or interest in following the neocons' plans for constant war in the Middle East, that's where things still stand.  If you followed Iran's rhetoric, you'd think Bush was still in the White House. 

The reason for this is now the Iran regime finds the threat of a foreign invader useful not on the international stage but the domestic one.  Iran is facing a major movement to reform it's quasi-democratic form of government and as usual the people in power don't want their power reformed away.  Attacking reform protestors in the streets, even executing some, isn't getting the job done for the Iranian establishment.  So they are going for what works for every country - convince enough Iranians that they are in danger from outside attack and that silly reform thing goes by the wayside.

Now, the boogeymen in the case of the United States are hard to find here.  Sure there were the usual neocon war pimps howling for war with Iraq that they could watch from the safety of their homes but they are no longer in power.  Remarks from the Obama White House only vaguely spoke of further action and that looks to remain more sanctions than military.  So who steps in to take our place as a friend of the rulers of Iran who are seeking a foreign threat?  Israel, who openly talks of bombing raids of Iran.

OK, now what's the problem from the side of the people in the U.S. and Israel for their desire to attack Iran?   Well, a couple of things:

First, the reports on where Iran actually is in developing a nuclear weapon is sketchy and contradictory, even as to whether they actually have an interest in actually making one.  Some reports say a nuclear Iran is months away, others say it's still years off.  Iran wants to have its cake and keep it secret too - they claim they are close for the sake of bluster but never say for sure.

Second, the real threat from a nuclear weapon isn't that anyone just has one - it's whether they can get it to a target.   So far, Iran hasn't shown much capability in delivering such a weapon anywhere beyond their underground labs.  Being afraid of a nuclear weapon without the means of it being delivered anywhere is like being afraid of a box of bullets.  Both have the potential for harm but that requires a gun to shoot them out of or a missile to launch them on.

With domestic uses for a Iran 'threat' in three countries now, unfortunately not much is going to change.  The Republicans want Iran around so they can make their usual "Democrats are weak on defense" argument for election time, a new conservative government in Israel wants to show their people that they will protect them and the Iranians want to have the threat of foreign attack to shut down that reform movement. 

And so it goes.....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Handicapping the Oscars

OK, movie buff as I am, this when I take a break from politics and write about the Academy Awards.  I've probably done this before, but it's worth repeating (says me about me). 

If you are trying to tough out who will win what, here's a main rule to keep in mind:  A lot of the people who vote on the Oscars are people who either have been in the movie business a very long time or have been influenced by what we refer to as "old movies."  They like what they did and they vote for the movies that remind them of what they did.  Hence....

Which movie will win Best Picture?
Movies that cause nostalgia for movies of the Forties, Fifties, early Sixties etc. generally win this one.  So look for the film that has at least one if not multiples of these ingredients:

  1. War movies
  2. Epics
  3. Gladiator flicks, aka sword and sandal movies
  4. Film noir like detective/crime stories
  5. Star-crossed love stories
  6. Gangsters
  7. Spectacular Disasters (see: Epics)
  8. Message films
I've used this guide and I usually have successfully chosen the Best Picture Oscar every year with the exception of about twice - sometimes by seeing the movie, a couple of times just by the movie poster or description.  I called 'Titanic' on the way out of the movie theater (#2, #5, #7), 'Gladiator' just by the poster (#2, #3).  One category not listed here has made a comeback of sorts - the Musical - but they are still comparatively rare.

There is an exception to the above however, and you usually get plenty of warning beforehand when it's coming.  I call it Foreign Film Fever or Artsy-Fartsy-itis.  Those are the years the Best Picture goes generally to a British film set in the Victorian era or the overwhelming "importance" of a movie from say, India, gets "Slumdog Millionaire" the statuette to take home.

My prediction for Best Picture this year:  AVATAR (#2, #5, #7, #8)

Who will win the Acting Awards?

This is harder to call since so many factors come to play here, like:
  1. Did the performance really knock everybody's socks off?
  2. Did the actor or actress get passed over for an Oscar earlier and is this their make-up one?
  3. How many times has the actor/actress won or been nominated already?
  4. Is this an encouragement Oscar for someone seen as an up-and-comer?
Usually the rule for the acting awards is that the supporting actor/actress ones are for up-and-coming first timers and the main ones are for the stars - the rare exception is for performances like Jamie Foxx's turn as Ray Charles which was impossible to deny.  The Academy Awards like to spread the wealth with these - they may nominate someone year after year but rarely award that way.  Best Director pretty much follows these rules as well.

The rest of the Oscars tend to be for technical things - writing, art direction, music soundtracks, etc. - and I don't pay them much attention outside of the fact that seeing which movie picks up a lot of them is usually a good clue as to which one is going to be the Best Picture that year.

Granted, there isn't a thing important about any of this outside of the added box office a nomination and win gets for a movie company's profits and I probably won't have seen most of the nominated films by the time of the Oscar show on TV.  But hey, it's still fun to watch and I get to do shallow once in a while.

Oh, and one last thing:  Horror, Science Fiction and Comedy movies?  If your name ain't Clark Gable or Anthony Hopkins, y'all just keep movin' on down the road.  The Oscars just don't cotton to your kind.