Tuesday, June 24, 2008

McCain, Monet, and the News of the Day

by Norman Markowitz

A few news items caught my always politically motivated attention today. First, McCain has a suggestion for a long-term solution to the energy crisis--a $300 million prize to anyone who designs a better car battery. That is one buck for every American and well worth it McCain said.

I don't really think McCain knows too much history involving automobiles (for example the auto companies blocking all sorts of technological innovations for years and then taking them over). He probably hasn't thought through what auto company or companies would get the battery, what the oil companies would do, what the royalties would be, etc.

But he understands the gimmick the need to put something out there like a rebate or a Reagan tax cut to make the public believe that money will be put in their pockets Maybe he could stage it on TV or the Internet and call it the 300 million dollar question, like the old TV show, the $64,000 question (John Glenn, who had a more distinguished military and Senate career as an Ohio Democrat than McCain, was as I remember on that show if the 1950s before he went into space).

But, hold on a minute, McCain may be a Manchurian or to be more precise Sao Paulo candidate. He is saying very nice things about Brazil, whose president, Lula is a well known Social Democrat (a "creeping socialist" as his political soul mates in the GOP used to call them). McCain praised Brazil's policy of producing new cars that will run on alternate fuel and in his man on horseback or hybrid manner said "whether it takes a meeting with automakers during my first term in office or my signature on an act of Congress we will meet the goal of swift conversion of American vehicles away from oil."

Lula aside, I immediately thought of the recent book by philosopher Harry Frankfurt, On Bull Shit, which more and more is becoming a symbol for our age. Besides his usual John Waynesque bluster, what is McCain talking about? Would that we were anywhere near converting our vehicles from gasoline and everything else. That will be a major global effort and one that will require enormous research and extensive international cooperation.

McCain makes some good points, but having just marked over 30 take home examinations, I would say to McCain what I often write on my not so great student papers, "some good points, but you don't connect them effectively and your paper is marred by significant errors." I tell my students that they can work to do better. I would never say that to McCain, since his "errors", that is, advocating greater tax and other concessions to oil companies while talking about "swift
conversion" from oil, calling for more "market initiatives" to solve the energy crisis, even criticizing agricultural subsidies for ethanol producers while announcing his support for ethanol as a alternative energy source is so contradictory and confusing as to make me doubt that he even understand his good points.

Then there is the statement by "senior" McCain adviser and longtime lobbyist for dictators Charlie Black, that a new "terrorist attack" would help the McCain campaign. Charlie Black is a roguish character who in the past has lobbied for Ferdinand Marcos, the Congo's Joseph Mobutu (one of the worst tyrants of recent history), the CIA supported Angola contra, Jonas Savimbi, and the Iraqi political adventurer and bank swindler Ahmad Chalabi,whose "intelligence" gave the Bush administration excuses for the Iraq war and today, from my readings, is allied to the clerical regime in Iran.

Black will tell you that he did all of this as a good American and a promoter of democracy, but this "straight talk" statement should give citizens something to worry about(many believe that Bush will try something, most probably a conflict with Iran, to win the election for his new found friend McCain).

The press is chuckling at Black's statement but I'm not. Given this administration, it is a little bit like a German journalist chuckling in the Winter of 1933 that he heard an adviser to the very new Chancellor, Hitler, say that with new elections coming, the depression getting worse, and the Communists growing in strength, it would really help Hitler if the Reichstag burned down!

But enough of politics. Capitalism is about intellectual and cultural freedom, and a painting by Claude Monet, the late 19th, early 20th century French impressionist painter, broke all records in a Christie's auction in London today by selling for $80.4 million, when the auctioneers expected to sell for at most 47 million. When the amount was announced, the audience burst into applause.

The buyer is as of now unknown, (I expect though that he or she, if American, will be in the McCain camp and obviously not in any need of an alternative energy automobile for reasons of economy). Why anyone with any sense of decency should be applauding an individual who has the wealth to spend 80 million for a painting while tens of millions live a hand to mouth existence in a rich country like the U.S. and inequality and destitution poverty has expanded hugely both in the rich countries and between the rich and the poor countries is well beyond my simple socialist consciousness and conscience.

The auction reminded me of the kind of freedom that Anatole France, a contemporary of Monet and great French progressive man of letters, meant when he said that "the law in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges,to beg in the streets, or to steal their bread." But the rich and poor have the right to bid on great works of art(if the poor can somehow become rich by building a new car battery and winning the big prize). And in the U.S. they do sleep under bridges and beg in the streets.

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