Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 19th, 2012

Microcosm of US democracy? The Rules for presidential Debates?

Secret collusion between the two parties, funded by corporations, run by lobbyists: all the ingredients are there…

I watched a couple of these presidential Debates, and I couldn’t get interested: Not a single nerve in me got excited. There must be good reasons why  I felt lethargic, even with all my good intention to feeling engaged.

From the hundreds of hot issues to be discussed and vented out to the millions of citizens, how to balance the Federal Budget and grow the economy was the main selected topics to be confronted with…

As if balancing State’s budget is the same as balancing Federal budget!

These balancing gimmicks in Federal budgets have been disposed of six decades ago: Once the federal government want more spending leeway, all it has to do is launch a preemptive war so that Congress and Senate sign to increase the level of budget deficit so that the government can abuse of additional disbursement of tax payers money, and basically, the money printing machines in the Federal Reserve start churning out worthless dollars 24 hours a day.

The only worthy statements in these debates are acknowledgment that the the US sovereign debt has reached $16,000 billion (a number no president in exercise would have admitted), and that no matter who is elected for the next term, the deficit will shoot to $20 trillion. An amount that represents a third of the total federal worth in State property, which will have to be sold in order to pay back the national debt…

Glenn Greenwald published in The Guardian on October 16, 2012 under “The lame rules for presidential debates: a perfect microcosm of US democracy

President Barack Obama walks past Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate. Photograph: AP

President Barack Obama walks past Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate. Photograph: AP

“The way the two major parties control the presidential debates is a perfect microcosm of how political debates are restricted in general. Though typically shrouded in secrecy, several facts about this process have recently come to light and they are quite instructive.

I was on Democracy Now this morning along with George Farah discussing the ways these debates, designed to cast the appearance of fostering vibrant exchanges, are actually intended to constrict the range of debated views as much as possible.

My segment (and the transcript to it) can be seen here, but it was the commentary of Farah – who is a genuine expert in the history of presidential debates – that I found revealing.

He described how the two political parties in the 1990s joined forces to wrest control over the presidential debates, away from the independent League of Women Voters, which had long resisted the parties’ efforts to shield the presidential candidates from genuine surprise or challenge.

Now run by the party-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates, these rituals are designed to do little more than ” eliminate spontaneity” and “exclude all viable third-party voices”.

Citing a just-leaked 21-page “memorandum of understanding” secretly negotiated by the two campaigns to govern the rules of the debates, Farah recounted:

“We have a private corporation that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties called the Commission on Presidential Debates. It seized control of the presidential debates precisely because the League was independent, precisely because this women’s organization had the guts to stand up to the candidates that the major-party candidates had nominated. And instead of making public these contracts and resisting the major-party candidates’ manipulations, the commission allows the candidates to negotiate these 21-page contracts that dictate all the fundamental terms of the debates.”

Gawker’s John Cook has an excellent breakdown of the 21-page memo.

In his piece, entitled “Leaked Debate Agreement Shows Both Obama and Romney are Sniveling Cowards”, Cook details how the rules imposed on these debates demonstrate that, above all else, “both campaigns are terrified at anything even remotely spontaneous happening.”

Under this elaborate regime, the candidates “aren’t permitted to ask each other questions, propose pledges to each other, or walk outside a ‘pre-designated area.'”

Worse, “the audience members posing questions aren’t allowed to ask follow-ups (their mics will be cut off as soon as they get their questions out). Nor will moderator Candy Crowley.”

The rules even “forbid television coverage from showing reaction shots of the candidates”.

All of this means, as Farah put it:

“The town hall debate we’re going to see tonight is the most constrained and regulated town hall debate in presidential debate history. The first town hall debate was introduced in 1992, and no one knew what anyone was going to ask, none of the audience members were going to ask. The moderator could ask any follow-up questions. It was exciting, and it was real.

“Well, President George H.W. Bush stumbled in response to an oddly worded question about the federal deficit, and the candidates – the campaigns have panicked and have attempted to avoid that kind of situation from happening again. In 1996, they abolished follow-up questions from the audience.

“In 2004, they began requiring that every single question asked by the audience be submitted in advance on an index card to the moderator, who can then throw out the ones he or she does not like. And that’s why the audience has essentially been reduced, in some ways, to props, because the moderator is still ultimately asking the questions.

“And this election cycle is the first time that the moderator herself is prohibited from asking follow-up questions, questions seeking clarification. She’s essentially reduced to keeping time and being a lady with a microphone.”

Making matters worse still, the Commission is run by lobbyists and funded by large corporations.

As Zaid Jilani writes today, the two Commission co-chairmen are former GOP Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. and former Clinton spokesman Michael D. McCurry. Fahrenkopf is one of the nation’s leading lobbyists for the gaming industry, while McCurry advises a long list of corporate clients including the telecom industry.

The debates are paid for by large corporate sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch Companies.

As Jilani writes, “in the past, the tobacco industry, AT&T, and others have all been sponsors.” And as Farah describes, with all that sponsorship comes the standard benefits:

“FARAH: ‘First, the just nice advertising, of course. They get to – you know, Philip Morris sponsored one of the presidential debates, paid $250,000 and got to hang its banner in the post-debate spin room that was seen throughout the country. But more importantly, they get access, and they get to show support for both major parties.’

“AMY GOODMAN: ‘The major parties on their podiums have Bud Light on the podium?’

“FARAH: ‘Not yet. We’re getting there. We’re getting there, Amy. But they get to show support for both major parties. How often can corporations find a way to make a single donation that strengthens both the Republican and Democratic parties and get a tax deduction for that kind of donation? So it’s a rare contribution. And it also gives them access. They get to go to the actual debate themselves and rub shoulders at private receptions with the campaigns and their staff.'”

Meanwhile, the moderators were selected to ensure that nothing unexpected is asked and that only the most staid and establishment views are heard.

As journalism professor Jay Rosen put it when the names of the moderators were unveiled, using terms to describe those views that are acceptable in Washington media circles and those which are “fringe“:

“In order to be considered as a candidate for moderator you have to be soaked in the sphere of consensus, likely to stay within the predictable inner rings of the sphere of legitimate controversy, and unlikely in the extreme to select any questions from the sphere of deviance.”

Within this one process of structuring the presidential debates, we have every active ingredient that typically defines, and degrades, US democracy.

The two parties collude in secret: They have the same interests and goals. Everything is done to ensure that the political process is completely scripted and devoid of any spontaneity or reality.

All views that reside outside the narrow confines of the two parties are rigidly excluded. Anyone who might challenge or subvert the two-party duopoly is rendered invisible.

Lobbyists who enrich themselves by peddling their influence run everything behind the scenes. Corporations pay for the process, which they exploit and is then run to bolster rather than threaten their interests.

The media’s role is to keep the discourse as restrictive and nonthreatening as possible while peddling the delusion that it’s all vibrant and free and independent and unrestrained.

And it all ends up distorting political realities far more than illuminating them while wildly exaggerating the choices available to citizens and concealing the similarities between the two parties.

To understand the US political process, one can just look to how these sham debates are organized and how they function. This is the same process that repeats itself endlessly in virtually every other political realm.

“Invitation to a Beheading” by Vladimir Nabokov

This indirect review is extracted from “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi.

Nafisi had invited 7 of its students to her home “sanctuary” to discuss literature, primarily English books. For two years, the students showed up every Thursday morning, rain or shine, with reading assignment completed and noted down in diaries…

The original Russian version was published in installments in 1935, and the English version was published in 1959.

Nabokov begins with the announcement that Cincinnatus C., his fragile hero, has been sentenced to death for the crime of “gnostic turpitude”: All citizens are expected to be “transparent”for the common “good feeling” of the community…

Worse, a condemned person to death has this “privilege” of knowing the time of the execution. Cincinnatus C was not to have any idea when his time has come. This is one of the many arbitrariness of the system.

In fact, the executioner, Mr. Pierre, is the cell-mate of the hero, and the hero doesn’t know it. The two prisoners must learn to befriend and cooperate in the act of the execution…

Everything in the cell is fake: the windows, the moon, the spider in the corner…The director of the prison, the jailer,  the defense lawyer are the same person: They change roles and positions.

The world of the novel is one of empty rituals, celebrated in a gaudy feast: Every act has no significant sense, and death is a spectacle that citizens are invited to purchase ticket to watch the execution…

It is through these empty rituals that Brutality becomes possible. This close relation between banality and brutality is expressed by the term “Poshlust

Poshlust is not simply the trashy exhibitionist: It is the falsely “importance, beauty, cleverness, attractiveness…” of authority figures, politicians, the dominant classes…that are required to display…

What standout in the novel is this nightmarish quality of living in a totalitarian atmosphere of perpetual dread…The forces of Evils are also frail creatures and ridiculous, and can be easily defeated: This tragedy of total waste…

Cincinnatus C. is fighting with his instincts and he takes refuge in writing as means for escape, an open space: He refuses to become like all the rest in the community.

In totalitarian and theocratic systems, citizens poke fun at their own miseries, in order to survive, one day at a time: There is no knowing when the arbitrary and absurd decision strikes down

You are completely alone in an illusory world, full of false promises, unable to discriminate the savior from the executioner: An acute sense that reality is fickle and frail.

And yet, when all options are taken away, there is this possibility of a boundless freedom: You could invent to be the violin or be devoured by the void in the empty room...(I am reminded of the movie of the Marquis de Sade who wrote erotic novels, and when all options to write were denied him, even with his blood, he used his excrement to write on the walls of his prison cell…)

At the start of the first session, one of the girls shouted “Upsilambda“. This word is Nabokov’ creation , a possible combination of the 20th Greek letter and the 11th letter. It might signify that vague sense of joy, the impossible joy of a suspended leap, a symbol for a sensation that separates the good readers from the ordinary ones…

Nabokov novel is the modern time initiator to many other novels that tried to describe and express what goes on in totalitarian systems, like “1984” by George Orwell or Fahrenheit…

Note 1: Nabokov wrote in the foreword of the English version: “This novel does not offer “tout pour tout”: It is a violin in the void…I know…a few readers will jump up, ruffling their hair…”

Note 2: To Azar, the work of fiction that would most resonates with lives in this Islamic Republic of Iran are:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, 1984 (George Orwell), Invitation to a beheading (Vladimir Nabokov), Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov), Persian classical literature, A Thousand and One Night, Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin), Madam Bovary (Flaubert), Daisy Miller, The Dean’s December, and of course Lolita


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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