Parade scores a hat trick of American ideology with Ellen DeGeneres Halloween issue

The cover of yesterday’s Parade showed Ellen DeGeneres holding a giant lit-up pumpkin. The headline read “Happy Halloween from Ellen DeGeneres.” 

Inside was an article that essentially was an interview of the terminally nice Ellen. The secondary headline was: “Our Halloween treat for you—a sit-down with Ellen Degeneres, the new queen of daytime talk.” This piece of text, by the way, was arranged to be the carved-out nose of a pumpkin. The main headline, a quote from Ellen in red, served as carved-out mouth: “Making people FEEL GOOD is all I ever wanted to do.”

The inside back cover displayed a full-page ad for a Cover Girl line of makeup called “Simply Ageless.” The ad focused on the spokesperson for this line of cosmetics, who happens to be…you guessed it!…Ellen DeGeneres.

A hat trick consists of three goals in one hockey game scored by one player, and Parade certainly scored an ideological hat trick with this issue.

Here are the three big ideological scores Parade made:

  1. Advanced celebrity culture, which offers conspicuous consumption and anti-intellectualism as the aspirations for the public.  The celebrity as behavior model typically involves buying something, which Ellen suggests almost first thing in the article. We see two foci on celebrity culture in Parade: 1) We celebrate a holiday through the celebrity; 2) We navigate a controversial social issue—gay marriage—through a celebrity.
  2. Promoted cultural homogenization: Cultural homogenization is changing parts of an authentic experience, e.g. the spices in Indian food or a novel with a tragic ending—to make the experience more like a standard issue one that will be milder, less controversial, more inclusive and/or easier to understand.  Think of the Mexican-themed restaurant at which you can’t get corn tortillas.  Parade homogenizes Halloween by forgetting about the scary trick and the family tradition parts, and focusing only on the treat—those little pieces of candy that seem to go down so easily, one after the other after the other.  The treat isn’t candy, though, but a chat with that nice gay lady, Ellen whom you get to see on TV almost every day.  Talking to Ellen for Halloween is akin to thinking that picking up trash in a city park commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King because it’s service to others.
  3. Made the commercial transaction the center of all concerns: All Ellen does in the article is sell something as the answer for emotional needs.  She sells her show, she sells her new book, she sells her cosmetics. Of course, the entire article was bought and sold by the Simply Ageless line of cosmetics. In the ad biz, we call buying an ad and getting an article for free a “pay-for-play.”

Lots of my younger readers may be scratching their heads and saying to themselves, “That old codger OpEdge, to think that anyone reads Parade anymore!”

Whether people read this long-time mélange of celebrity news, bad food advice, well-worn health tips, patriotism and middle American values I can’t say. But I do know that virtually every local Sunday newspaper in America has a copy slipped into the coupon section. Add up the circulation of all those thousands of newspapers and it’s hard not to conclude that more people read or have the opportunity to read Parade than read or have the opportunity to read virtually any other media outlet in print, on line or over the airwaves (even with the decline of newspapers).  Parade is one of the most important taste-re-enforcers in American society and one of the most effective propaganda vehicles for the ideology of consumerism.  

I do commend Parade for accepting Ellen’s homosexuality matter-of-factly and for promoting a gay as America’s replacement for our “big sister” Oprah Winfrey.  But remember, Parade is never a frontrunner on important issues, only an indicator that the American people have made up their mind and believe whatever it is that Parade is promoting, be it recycling, the widespread impact of post-trauma stress disorder or gay marriage.  Representing consensus thinking enables Parade to do it what it does best: sell the idea that buying stuff—for example stuff that celebrities buy and recommend—is the be-all and end-all of the good life.

Jobs did as much to keep adults acting like children as Disney, of which he was the largest shareholder

The death of Steve Jobs led to a tidal wave of sympathetic news coverage. Jobs the entrepreneur. Jobs the visionary. Jobs the entertainer. Jobs the philanthropist. Jobs the college dropout who showed those pointy heads that college isn’t needed (while creating thousands of jobs for the college educated and virtually none for anyone else).  Jobs the obsessed perfectionist.

 Not much of it made sense to me, except from the standpoint of mainstream propaganda about the business person as heroic maker of history. Then again, I had recently spent two hours trying to convince my 22-year-old engineering graduate school son that Jobs was less important to world civilization than Gustave Flaubert, the great French novelist who is routinely credited with a large number of innovations in prose writing that we now take for granted.

 Sue me if I’m not impressed with the portability of the iPod or iPhone, but am negatively influenced by the tinny sound and small screen. And sue me again if I never saw any advantage in an Apple computer over a standard issue PC. And sue me a third time if I’m not enraptured by animation—I am after all, an adult.

 I kept my silence about Jobs, though, as it seemed to me that it would be sour and small-minded to complain about the outsized coverage of Jobs’ death, which continues unabated three weeks later.

That is until learning in The Economist that Steve Jobs was the largest single shareholder in Disney. 

Disney represents a number of pernicious trends and ideological imperatives in American culture.  Let’s see how many of them would apply to Apples, iPods, iPhones, iPads and/or Pixar films:

  • The infantilization of adults, which means that adults continue pursuing the immature  entertainments of their youth such as Disney theme parks for adults, slapstick buddy movies and video games, instead of growing into more adult preoccupations. Pixar fits right into that trend. So do iPods and iPhones, because they give you music and information right here right now, just like a child likes it to be delivered.
  • The idea of putting a brand on everything, which replaces real sentiment with a commodity to which artificial (or manufactured) sentiment has been attached through applying a label.  Movies become books, comic books, mugs, posters, lunchboxes, pens, tee-shirts, key chains, glasses, dolls of various sizes and materials, jigsaw and crossword puzzles, board games, television shows, theme park rides, theme park characters, and, finally, sequels.  Again, the Pixar connection is obvious.
  • The homogenization of culture, which means that instead of a mosaic of subcultures each of which offers authentic experiences drawing on centuries-old traditions, there is one homogenized culture everywhere.  In a sense, the dominant culture extinguishes the smaller cultures, much as dominant species can wipe out the weaker species in an ecosystem and thus spawn long-term ecological disaster.  Disney represents cultural homogenization more than any other company or brand. Whatever the big city, you can find a Disney Store somewhere, with a Hard Rock Café, a P F. Chang, a few Starbucks, McDonald’s, Olive Garden and a Subway or two close by. And an Apple store, too, now that you mention it. Part of homogenization is to make everything taste or feel the same. For example, the bagel chains have increased the size and sugar content of a bagel so much that the standard bagel is no longer a bagel, but a sweet roll in a different shape. Or think of how many of today’s movies reduce to the same video-game-like explosions, crashes and chases. If you want to see homogenization at its best, go to a Mexican or Italian theme restaurant at a Disney theme park. You’ll get the colors and the names, but not the food. Jobs’ products (excepting the movies) fought homogenization by lowering the cost of setting up a special interest network, e.g., for an ethnic or political group or for people who like model trains. But Jobs’ technology also made it easier for the technical integration that helps large media conglomerates control all their hundreds of media outlets and thereby homogenize the news and information we receive.
  • The Victorian Disney morality, which I will exemplify with two recurring Disney themes:  
  1. The Disney Princess, which trains little girls to be pedestal-dwelling clothes-and-jewelry consumers who find value in being “treated like a princess.” As Betty Friedan described it more than 50 years ago, being treated like a “princess” leads to the malaise of the imprisoned. The princess on the pedestal is both worshipped and enslaved.
  2. The Disney belief that the best lifestyle is to be found in a homogenous small town based on everyone owning a car. Even in the age of Disney cartoon heroes of color, this small town vision dominates Disney theme parks, Disney literature and Disney movies.

From what’s coming out in obituaries and rushed biographies, Steve Jobs clearly did not subscribe to the Disney moral vision, and that’s to his credit.

But regarding the basic business ideology, Jobs and Disney were very much on the same page. The commodification of emotional value through branding, the infantilization of adults and homogenization away from authenticity towards some lowest common denominator—these methods of Disney were not alien to Steve Jobs the business person. 

Congressional study shows rich have taken a large slice of the economic pie away from poor and middle class

Don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t know that a Congressional Budget Office study now confirms what so many other research studies have been telling us for years: that since 1979 there has been a redistribution of income and wealth up the economic ladder, with the poor and middle class getting less and the rich getting more.

Unlike  Rick Perry’s unveiling of his extremely regressive optional 20% flat income tax, which Google News reports was covered in 2,181 media outlets, the Congressional Budget Office Study, titled ”Trends in the Distribution of Household Income, 1979-2007,” Report has been covered by a mere 72 media outlets.

The main finding of the report is that the top 1 percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades. The report speaks eloquently of the growing inequitable distribution of wealth in the country, so let me just quote from it:  “…the distribution of after-tax household income in the United States was substantially more unequal in 2007 than in 1979: The share of income accruing to higher-income households increased, whereas the share accruing to other households declined. In fact, between 2005 and 2007, the after-tax income received by the 20 percent of the population with the highest income exceeded the after-tax income of the remaining 80 percent. In short, the richer you were in 1979, the more you have benefitted from 30 years of spending and tax cuts, and the poorer you were, the more you have fallen behind.”

The report blames the greater inequity of salaries and benefits in the private sector as the primary cause of growing income inequity. The weasel-like explanation provided in the executive summary manages to avoid all mention of either unions or union-busting.  The other big reason for the growing inequality in income (and wealth) mentioned by the report is tax and government spending policy. In short, the government taxes the wealthy less and gives fewer benefits to the poor and middle class than it used to do.

There have been many studies that have shown the growing inequality of wealth in the United States, but this one has a special stature because Congress’ own numbers-crunchers did it.

One of the 72 brave media to cover this report was The New York Times, which made it the lead story of its national news section.  For some reason, though, the Times thought this “smoking gun” of class warfare waged less important than another tedious survey showing growing distrust of the government, which managed to make the top left-hand side of the front page, a place reserved for the second most important news story of the day. 

Of course, the poll in question was sponsored in part by the Times itself.  

The Times/CBS poll shows that the public has less negative feelings towards our president than towards Congressional Republicans, which show that the voters get what’s going on. The poll also reports that about half of all Americans sympathize with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The Times handling of these two studies exemplify the basic approach of the mainstream news media in general to key economic and social issues in two ways. 

  1. Media hyping itself: The Times puts the trivial “survey-du-jour” that it co-sponsored in a featured position on the front page, while relegating a “competing” study to an inside section. The relative newsworthiness of the fifth or tenth study this month to tell us that we’re pissed at our elected officials is debatable, but the value to the Times brand of promoting a Times survey as newsworthy is unquestionable. Associated Press and others follows a similar strategy with the surveys that they sponsor.
  2. Preference of opinion over fact: The story that measures opinions is on the first page, whereas the story about facts is buried in the front section.  Time and time again, we can see the media preferring reporting opinions over reporting facts.  Opinions can be inflammatory. One of the basic principles of all drama is conflict, and when opinions collide, the news becomes dramatic. Giving an opinion also allows the media to float false or obnoxious ideas without having to back the ideas up with facts.  As an example, I think we can assume that more people know Michele Bachmann’s misinformed opinion about the vaccine that prevents cervical and other cancers than know about this important report. The report is based on facts and filled with statistics. Michele Bachmann just made it up, but it stirred a tempest in a teapot, and thus served as a distraction. If the news media and politicians didn’t have these sideshows, they might have to let people know that over a 30-year period Congress has passed a number of tax laws that benefitted the wealthy while hurting everyone else.

Banks turn away cash: another sign we should raise taxes and stimulate economy

Banks have too much cash and are taking actions to discourage savers from making more deposits. So reports The New York Times on its front page this morning.

Both big national banks and small community banks are concerned that they have too many deposits. Some banks are assessing fees on deposits. Others are dropping interest rates.

You’d think the banks would want the deposits, but the problem is that they have no place to invest the loot. The demand for loans is much lower than the demand for safe places to park some cash. The banks have to pay depositors interest even if they aren’t lending out the money, so when the banks take in too much money, their profits go down.

The fact that banks want to turn away cash proves two points:

  • We need to raise taxes on the wealthy
  • The federal government needs to stimulate the economy

The rightwing theory that lowering taxes puts money into the hands of job-creators just doesn’t work in the real world. When demand for goods and services is down, the rich folk (perhaps a more accurate term than the euphemistic “job-creators”) invest less in making goods and services and instead keep their money in their pockets—or in the bank. 

Now I’m not saying that all the deposits in excess of loan demand in banks come from the wealthy, but since the wealthy own most of our savings, a good chunk of bank deposits must be theirs. Instead of letting them continue to accumulate cash because of the lowest income tax rates on the wealthy in the history of the western industrialized world, let’s use that money to pay off our federal deficit and strengthen the healthcare and unemployment benefit safety net for those victimized by the long economic contraction that the world is undergoing.

The federal government could also stimulate the economy using funds raised from returning tax rates on the wealthy to the standards of the 1980’s. The private sector does not seem to be up to the task of creating jobs, despite what Republicans say. If we keep taxes low or lower them more, the owners and executives of corporations will just keep more money. If we lower their cost of doing business by continuing to gut environmental regulations, they will pocket that difference, as well. If we want to climb out of the deep economic hole we’re in, it will take government stimulus, including:

  • Redistributing income from the people who save it (rich) to those who spend it (poor).
  • Rebuilding our ailing public infrastructure.
  • Setting higher safety and environmental regulations, which will create new industries to meet the new needs of keeping people safer and trying to impede global warming.
  • Supporting growth industries such as alternative energy with loans, grants and purchases of finished products.

With the government stimulating demand, the banks will benefit from both fewer deposits and greater demand for business loans. 

It sounds like a win-win-win-lose, as follows: Win for banks, win for American economy, win for poor and middle classes; lose for the richest one percent, who have won the economic equivalent of the World Series 30 years in a row! 

A little secret: even after paying more in taxes, our wealthiest will still be rich or very well off.

Nocera’s tale of Robert Bork neglects Bork’s firing of Watergate prosecutor rather than resigning as others did

Over the weekend New York Times opinion columnist Joe Nocera went for a propaganda hat trick: At one time he tried to rewrite history, rehabilitate rightwing jurist Robert Bork and place blame for the politicizing of court confirmations on Democrats.

In his piece titled “The Ugliness Started With Bork,” Nocera says yesterday marked the 24th anniversary of the Senate turning down Bork’s nomination for the Supreme Court. Forgetting the earlier politically inspired rejections of Nixon-nominees Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell, Nocera writes that it was the Bork process that led to the politicizing of Supreme Court and other judicial confirmations in the U.S. Senate, as well as to the current coy practice of court nominees fudging about what their past record and political opinions are.

Nocera blames the Democrats for voting against Bork because they feared that with Bork on the bench, the Supremes would overturn Roe V. Wade, the landmark decision that affirmed that under the laws of the United States a woman has a legal right to have an abortion.

What Nocera never mentions is the outrage that the entire country felt over the nomination to the Supreme Court of the man who had implemented what is still called the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Let’s take Mr. Peabody’s WABACK (pronounced way-back) machine to Saturday, October 20, 1973. Archibald Cox, President Richard Nixon’s special investigator into the Watergate break-in is about to release evidence that implicates all the President’s men.  Nixon asks the Attorney General and life-long Republican Elliot Richardson to fire Cox and Richardson
resigns instead.

Nixon then asks the Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, another rock of the Republican Party, to give Cox the axe.  Ruckelshaus also prefers to resign than commit this unethical act.

The next guy on the list is Solicitor General Robert Bork and Bork does it.  Bork fires Archibald Cox, setting the Watergate investigation back a few months, but more importantly symbolizing to the American people the enormous grasp at unlawful power that the Nixon Administration has taken with Watergate and the cover-up.

Some, including Bork himself, have justified the firing of Cox as legal and therefore permitted if requested by the Commander in Chief.  Let’s leave it to those attracted to discussing the number of angels fitting on a pinhead to determine if the act was technically legal.

The narrow issue of legality is moot: Everyone knew then and knows now that when Bork fired Cox he was taking part in a government cover-up of illegal activity.

The American public quickly came to regard Bork as a symbol of the Watergate cover-up, as much of a symbol as Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Dean and Hunt.

The Democrats voted against Bork because of his role in the Watergate scandal.  In writing that it was anything else, Nocera participates in the campaign to rehabilitate Bork that the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Times and other media have pursued for many decades now.  There is now a similar intermittent campaign for John Yoo, who wrote Bush II’s odious justification for torture: if the President orders it, it’s not illegal by definition.

Nocera’s conclusion is truly precious: “The next time a liberal asks why Republicans are so intransigent, you might suggest that the answer lies in the mirror.”

It’s sheer nonsense.  Republicans are intransigent because they realize that their political and economic stands benefit only a minority of the citizens of the United States.  Intransigence in Congress, like passing laws to limit voting, outright lying about facts and linking of economic positions that only benefit the wealthy to social issues such as abortion—these are merely the means by which these exponents of the ultra wealthy keep control.

Perhaps the next time Nocera looks in the mirror, this long-time distinguished reporter should ask himself how good he feels about revising history to rehabilitate one of the chief implementers of an illegal government cover-up, just so he can throw a stone at the Democrats.

Media coverage of end of Iraqi War leaves out important information, like how many Iraqis died

It has been absolutely amazing to see the uniformity of coverage by the mainstream news media of President Obama’s announcement that virtually all U.S. troops and mercenaries will be out of Iraq by the end of the year.  It was as if every reporter wrote down practically rote from a government news release.

I analyzed 10 original stories about the announcement of war’s final end found in 10 major national media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles TimesUSA TodayAssociated Press (for example, as published in the Detroit Free Press)CNN, ABCMSNBC, CBS and National Public Radio.

Now that’s pretty much a “who’s who” of the influential mainstream news media.  And all essentially gave the same report!

All the stories mentioned the number of Americans killed (about 4,400) and wounded (about 32,000).  Most of the stories also mentioned the commonly accepted low side estimate of $700 billion as the cost for waging the war.  Virtually all the longer stories also mentioned that some 4,000 mercenaries will remain in Iraq, although in the polite parlance of pro-war reporting, these hired hands were called “military contractors.”  Many of the stories also give a brief history of the war’s endgame, typically mentioning the 2007 surge, the withdrawal agreement President Bush II negotiated with whatever was the Iraqi government at that time and President’s Obama’s pledge to get our troops out.

But two facts that should have been vital to the news coverage of the end of this long, bloody and useless war were missing in all the mainstream reports:

  • How it started
  • The impact on Iraq

I can understand why the mainstream news media would want to avoid talking about the war’s start, because collectively these supposedly independent organizations did a very poor job of analyzing the assertions by the Bush II Administration that served as justification for the war. President Bush II, his VP “Darth” Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield and even the estimable good soldier General Colin Powell all lied to the public about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They all fabricated a connection between Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein and the terrorist coterie that planned and realized the 9/11 attacks.  They lied and the news media by and large swallowed the lies hook, line and sinker.

And I guess I also understand why not even one reporter mentioned the damage done to Iraq during the extended discussion of the war’s cost to the United States.  Estimates I have seen range from about 110,000 Iraqis dead (by Wiki-Leaks, the Iraq Body Count Project and the Associated Press) to more than a million dead (found in an Opinion Research survey).

Among those proffering the 110,000 number, about 67,000 is established as the number of innocent Iraqi civilians who died in the war.  That’s compared to zero in the United States, which makes sense since the war was not fought on our ground.  I have been unable to locate any numbers for the numbers of Iraqis wounded, but I do know that the war has led to 2.1 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan and another 2.25 million Iraqis displaced from their homes to someplace else in Iraq.

Since the reports blasted out the cost in dollars to the United States of the 9-year war in Iraq, we should also take a look at the financial damage to Iraq. Many cities were turned to rubble and the Iraqi industrial base and economy were destroyed. So were many priceless cultural relics from the ancient epoch in which Iraq was the focal point for the development of human societies.   I can’t find a total damage estimate but it is surely in the tens, if not the hundreds of billions of dollars.

I find it both narcissistic and hardhearted for the United States, as represented by our major news sources, to dwell on our own relatively light pain from the war while completely ignoring the enormous suffering we have wrought on the Iraqi people. It’s as if someone causes a 10-car pileup that critically injures 25 and walks away with one small scratch on his knee but loudly complaining because he’s not getting the medical care he urgently needs.

There have already been many reactions to President Obama’s announcement of war’s end.  Democrats rejoice, while Republicans tend to sound cautions.  But no one is showing any contrition.

Another analogy comes to mind: A police force raids the wrong house, smashes all the furniture and rips up every sofa and mattress looking for contraband, finally realizes that they have the wrong address and leaves without apologizing or pledging to fix the damage.  This analogy isn’t perfect, though, since in this imaginary police raid, no one dies.

Another bad idea from the lone star state: only serving prisoners two meals a day on weekends

It’s one bad idea after another coming from the state of Texas over the past few years:

First its governor said that Texas had the legal right to secede from the United States and might do it under certain conditions.

Then the state school board mandated inaccuracies be inserted into history texts for school children.

Along the way, various local municipalities have voted to build pleasure palaces of $30 million or more for their high school football teams, while the lone star state ranks 44th among the 50 states on spending per child on education.

And we can’t forget that Texas leads the states in the barbaric custom of executing prisoners. The other 35 states which have the death penalty have killed 789 men since 1976 (an average of 22.5 per state), whereas Texas all by its lonesome star self has killed 472.

The latest bad idea arising from Texas is not feeding its prisoners.  The New York Times reported this morning that since April, Texas has stopped serving lunch on weekends to about 23,000 prisoners in 36 state penitentiaries.  Prisoners in these prisons now have to go without lunch two days a week. 

The action is only part of efforts to save $2.8 million in food-related state prison expenses; these efforts also include ending the practice of letting prisoners about to undergo state assassination select their final meal. 

While some of the cost savings comes from not having to staff two meals a week, the article suggests the only way for this move to save money is if the prisoners get less food.  The article reports that prisoners with money have been purchasing food from the commissary, but low-income prisoners don’t have this option and are going hungry.

We start with the humanistic concept shared by most citizens: I believe that every living human being deserves to be free of hunger or food anxiety.  One goal of government policy should be to ensure that everyone has access to three squares a day, including the most wretched and disreputable of our lot.  We shouldn’t lavish prisoners, to be sure, but we should not exclude them from the human species by treating them inhumanely.

Moreover, consider the fact that there are more than 16,000 people incarcerated in Texas jails for drug possession—not selling, but simply for having drugs.  Now not all of these prisoners are among the 23,000 who have to fend for themselves two meals a week, but some and perhaps many are.  There is no question in my mind that two days per week of reduced calorie intake constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” for those unlucky souls caught holding a bag of pot or a toot of coke.

A standard analogy in public discussions of issues is to say that an action takes the first step in a slippery slope towards some universally recognized evil.  The slippery slope in the case of the move to reduce the calorie intake of Texas prisoners leads to the Nazi concentration camp and ghetto food regime that measured exactly the amount of calories to keep people from starving to death immediately; about 250 calories per day in the case of the Warsaw ghetto.

That $2.8 million in savings that Texas hopes to achieve by cutting a food budget that was certainly already skimpy is only two-thousandths of one percent of the proposed Texas state budget, and a little less than one-hundredth of a one percent of the proposed cuts to last year’s state budget.  This $2.8 million is approximately 11 cents a year for every resident of Texas, and remember that skipping the meals is only part of the cost-savings.  If I lived in Texas I would willingly give 11 pennies a year to make sure that my state was treating prisoners in a humane fashion. 

Only two presidential looking candidates at Las Vegas debate: a “friendly fascist” and a child of the ruling elite.

In yesterday evening’s umpteenth debate between the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney followed all the rules that my public relations firm teaches executives for controlling contentious public situations: He insisted that everyone follow the rules, he was always courteous and respectful, and he wore a broad smile throughout the debate.

And I think it worked.  He and Herman Cain came off as the only two presidential acting candidates.  Santorum looked honest but strident.  Bachmann diminished herself into a “mom candidate.”  Paul came off as an angry dodderer, while Newt seemed to try a little too hard to assume an Olympian attitude.

Rick Perry?  He seemed to be out-of-sorts, as if he were doing the cha-cha while everyone else was twisting the night away.  He seethed with anger and frustration.  He was like a guy who comes to a frat party looking for a fight because he’s just so pissed off and doesn’t even know why. 

And Mittman certainly did act the part of the conciliatory frat president—AKA Chief Executive Officer—when he put his hand on Perry’s shoulder and essentially told him to “cool off.”

There wasn’t much to the debate.  Whether it was Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, immigration or Romney’s stand on health care, all the candidates preferred to toss about words and phrases completely devoid of context or definition.  Whether the pose was studious, earnest or concerned, all actively avoided analysis of specific proposals.  They tended to bicker over minute facts, and in these cases, for example on how much unemployment there was in Texas or if Romney ever hired an illegal alien, both candidates involved tended to lie or misapply.

Although Cain did a great job of looking as if he can run a meeting and energize the people working for him, he made the biggest verbal blunder of the evening.  It was his failure to define his apples-and-oranges analogy.  He kept saying that his 9-9-9 plan and state taxes were akin to comparing apples to oranges, but he never told us why.  The missing piece of information that he assumed we all knew was the fact that the 9-9-9 plan replaces federal taxes only.  If he had said that, even just one time, then he would not have come off looking like a fruitcake with his friendly assurances that apples were not oranges.

Despite this enormous failure to communicate, Cain’s friendly and courteous bearing saved the day for him.  He truly does look and act as if he can run a business.  Of course, a country is not a business and a president can’t just order everyone to start saying “Have a nice day” at the end of all phone conversations, as a CEO can.

In the back of my mind, Cain kept making me think of the Andy Griffith candidate in the Elia Kazan’s old black-and-white movie, A Face in the Crowd.  The Griffith character was folksy down-home southerner, whereas Cain plays the charismatic entrepreneur, but in both cases, their attractive demeanors conceal the fact that they are bought and paid for by an ultra-wealthy cabal that wants to subvert democracy and install policies that would take money from the poor and give it to the rich.  In the case of Cain, whose campaign is bankrolled and run by the ultra rightwing Koch Brothers and their operatives, the policies will also both weaken and pollute our public resources and spaces.  I think Bertram Gross called this approach “friendly fascism” about 30 years ago.

Some pundits are saying the race is down to three, but that’s being kind to the embarrassingly out-of-sync Perry.  The two Republican candidates most likely to snare the nomination at this point are a child of the ruling elite and the current face of the Koch Brothers’ version of friendly fascism.

Meanwhile, the most ideologically chilling moment of the Las Vegas debate came from the moderator, Anderson Cooper, right in the preamble to the main event.  Cooper, child of wealth and privilege himself, said that debate would determine “who should be the next President of the United States.”  The unstated but obvious suggestion was that our current POTUS, Barack Obama, was going to lose (unless you think Cooper was looking ahead to 2016?).

The mainstream news media followed this strategy in the 2010 election cycle, giving all coverage to the Republican primaries and none to the Democratic ones.  The assumption in 2010 was that the Democratic Party’s decisions on who should run were not newsworthy.  This election cycle, the Dems pretty much know who’s going to be at the top of the ticket, so I can understand the focus on the Republican race.  But to assume that it’s the race that counts is just another way to help the Republicans capture control of the country despite having policies favored by a minority of both voters and citizens.  It makes sense that a Vanderbilt heir like Anderson Cooper might want to do that.

Herman Cain’s success in the polls is baffling, especially since no one is asking “Is Cain able?”

After excoriating Michele Bachmann and Cowboy Rick Perry, at least symbolically, when they first began to make noises in the polls, I initially decided to hold my silence for a while about Herman Cain, the latest Republican right-wing flavor of the week.  The news media seemed to be doing a pretty good job of explaining why Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan is regressive, which means that poor people would pay a higher share of their income and of all taxes paid and that wealthy people would pay a lower share.  Surely, once more people knew what 9-9-9 really meant, Cain would fade.

It’s still early in the flavor-of-the-week cycle, but Cain appears to be gaining ground.  A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll of GOP voters finds Romney leading Cain by 1 point—26 percent to 25 percent, a 14-point jump for Cain since the last poll taken three weeks ago.  The poll has a 3 percent margin of error, which means Romney and Cain are virtually tied.    Time flies when you’re having fun, but I think Cain has now held the non-Romney lead longer than either Bachman or Perry.

I think that Cain has one big advantage over the other non-Romneys in the race:  Koch Brothers money and Koch Brothers-hired operatives are fueling the Cain campaign.  The Kochs, owners of widespread energy and manufacturing interests and long-time opponents of government regulation and all environmental laws, are also the primary bank for the Tea Party.  The Kochs and their network of wealthy friends may enable Cain to go the distance.

The Koch money legitimizes Cain in the way that big money always does.  As I have written before, the media always tends to provide more and more positive coverage to the candidates with the most money. In the case of the Kochs, moreover, the legitimacy of their support also helps with the lie-and-myth-addled rightwing media.   

The mainstream media has been pointing out some of Cain’s big verbal faux pas, for example, his call for building an electric fence between the United States and Mexico and his flirtation with the “birther” fallacy. 

But no one is asking the broader, more important question: Is Herman Cain qualified? Or to coin a biblical pun: Is Cain able?

The fact that he worked his way up from relative poverty, like Bill Clinton and unlike the always-wealthy Mittman, speaks well for Cain’s abilities, at least his abilities to rise in the highly self-contained world of large corporations.  That his field was fast food doesn’t make him any more of a bad guy than Romney is for his role in combining and fracturing companies, always leaving a much leaner workforce.  Both represent the amoral aspect of business: we are here to make money, even if it puts a lot of people out of work or poisons them with too many calories and too much fat, sugar and artificial chemicals.  And each represents another strand in the fabric of current American society: fat and unequal when it comes to wealth.

The media has tended to take Cain’s outrageous statements as proof of his clownishness, while giving Romney the benefit of the doubt.  The assumption is that Cain believes his rightwing cant against environmental regulations, immigrants, unions, taxes and healthcare reform, whereas, when Romney repudiates his own healthcare reform or rails against all regulations, he’s playing to the crowd and will start to articulate moderate views once he has locked up the nomination.

To my mind, they’re both panderers, but learning the art of pandering is what made them business successes and will certainly help both continue to raise money.  Romney has government experience.  He was a relative success as a moderate Republican governor of one of our bluest of blue states, although he had the help of an economy in full bubble.  One could make a case that Cain is as qualified to be president as the Mittman.  I wouldn’t make such a case, because Cain’s views disqualify him off the bat: they are too extremist and too much based on myths and lies.

I’m still confident that Cain will fade, just as Perry and Bachmann have.  The Republican party seems hell-bent on nominating Mitt Romney.  You could make the case that he’s the best of the lot, but keep in mind that at heart Mitt is a born-rich boy representing the interests of the rich.  That’s not a lot different from a got-rich boy representing the interests of the rich.

Tabloids depict Occupy Wall Street as sex-and-drug-fueled orgy. Are they outraged or envious?

Imagine Woodstock 1969 with worse music and more sex and drugs. Many tabloid newspapers like The Daily Mail and The New York Post did just that this week and called it Zuccotti Park.

The Mail story was particularly scurrilous, claiming that lurking prominently among the Occupy Wall Street protesters congregating in lower Manhattan’s financial district were junkies and homeless people.  The headline focused on sex and the photos tried their best to show an orgy of sex-and-drugs.  But the best the Mail could come up with were a couple hugging innocently and another, naked to the shoulders, tousling under a blanket, plus a couple of young ladies who must have lost their way because they looked as if they were getting ready for a slutwalk.  

The Post story followed the Mail model of putting sex in the headline but talking about crime, with one difference: the photos suggested that the protest had become homeless city central for the three-state New York metro area.  

These sex-drugs-and-crime stories represent the slimiest sort of journalism because they use a few isolated incidents and turn them into a false impression that they then serve to an innocent public. There can be no doubt that like in every large gathering of young people some will light up a joint and a few will express their sexuality inappropriately.  And what crowd does not attract its share of pickpockets and other rip-off artists? Marches do, parades do. The Louvre Museum, which is packed all the time, has signs everywhere to watch for pickpockets.  So big deal! There’s nothing different—nor newsworthy—about these occurrences at Occupy Wall Street.

This tabloid press fear mongering plays to the lowest common denominator of public discourse.  The rhetorical strategy is to make those who are afraid of crime, the homeless or sexual freedom come to dislike the protestors and what they are saying.  Studies over the past few years suggest that the very groups most prone to fearing crime, the young and the homeless are also the groups that have been left behind because of the financial machinations against which the Occupy Wall Street protestors have organized. We’re talking about the less educated population, especially but not exclusively in rural areas.

What remains to be seen is if this approach will turn tabloid readers against the Occupy Wall Street protesters.  Will they channel the anger they are rightfully feeling about the growing inequality of wealth and income towards those who have taken to the streets on their behalf?

I have no idea, but I don’t think it’s going to matter.  Without a political platform, the Occupy Wall Street movement will eventually die out.  The Tea Party had a set of action points from day one.

The next step for Occupy Wall Street should be for each local movement to elect someone to a central national committee that would then develop a 10-, 12- or 16-point plan that could be described in one page.  Another next step would be to identify candidates who will run in Democratic primaries as Occupy Wall Street candidates. 

All the movement has to do is imitate the Tea Party to become a political power.  It’s true that the mainstream news media won’t be helping the Occupy Wall Street movement along as it did the Tea Party, at least not until the Occupanti can claim it made the difference in winning a few elections.  The standard for Occupy Wall Street will no doubt be higher at every step of the way than the Tea Party, to be sure.

But if organizers don’t get busy and draft a list of real-world demands, there will be no steps beyond the monotonous thump of the marchers until the weather turns bitter cold and the crowds begin dwindle into tiny pitter patters in the snow.