News Flash -- This Is Not a 'Silly Season'

Contrary to media cliches about "the silly season," this is a time of very serious -- and probably catastrophic -- political maneuvers.

From California to the U.N. building in New York City to the sweltering heat of Iraq, the deadly consequences of entrenched power are anything but humorous.

Arnold twists Adam Smith

Arnold Schwarzenegger recently went out of his way to tout the views of an 18th-century economist long revered as an icon by GOP politicians. "I am more comfortable with an Adam Smith philosophy than with Keynesian theory," the actor told the Financial Times of London. But now that he's running for governor, we should ask whether "an Adam Smith philosophy" really squares with Schwarzenegger's eagerness to make state government more deferential to the wishes of business owners.

Adam Smith may be a patron saint of present-day Republicans, but his writings actually contradict the "free market" rhetoric embraced by Schwarzenegger. The facile spin on Smith's work presents unfettered investment as the key to prosperity. But Smith openly declared that labor creates all wealth. He wrote: "It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased."

Smith was no champion of workers. Yet, in the context of present-day politics, it's a good guess that he would dissociate himself from Schwarzenegger and other free-marketeers who claim to be walking in his footsteps. While Schwarzenegger proclaims that policy-makers in Sacramento should become more friendly to the corporate sector, such ideology flies in the face of Smith's actual words.

In "The Wealth of Nations," published 227 years ago, Adam Smith wrote with realism about manufacturers and merchants. He described them as "men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."

The wealthy business leaders who have raced to support Schwarzenegger's campaign are among those who have "an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public." And Schwarzenegger looks like a very useful tool. --N.S.

Can you remember watching a movie when some calamity is happening on the screen, and laughter ripples across the darkened theater? You might wonder why people are chuckling at the grievous misfortunes of others. To comfortable viewers, a disaster can seem quite amusing.

The market is hot for Hollywood extravaganzas that fill screens at multiplexes. The spectacles of high-tech weapons and cinematic bloodshed are experienced as just so much viewing pleasure. The unreality, we're told, is just for diversion -- people understand the difference between movie posturing and the real world.

But this summer, news outlets are agog with real-life versions of what could be called "Pulp Nonfiction."

Of course there are plenty of assurances that people with power, and those ascending to it, have their heads screwed on right. But the line between make-believe and make-political-hay is so wispy that it has just about disappeared.

"I don't run around every day with a gun in my hand," Arnold Schwarzenegger has said. "So I want kids to understand the difference." Fat chance, when plenty of adults -- including Schwarzenegger -- don't seem interested in making the distinction.

In early July, with the Bush administration smoothing the way, the candidate-to-be went to Iraq and recited lines from movies in front of cheering U.S. soldiers.

Stepping forward to entertain troops in a summer palace that formerly belonged to Iraq's dictator, Schwarzenegger had his opening line ready: "First of all, congratulations for saying 'Hasta la vista, baby' to Saddam Hussein." Not content to start with a phrase from "Terminator 2," the actor closed with a line from his first Terminator movie: "I'll be back."

True to his word, a few weeks later Schwarzenegger was back -- again conflating movie dialogue with public discourse. After announcing his candidacy for governor of California, he proclaimed: "Say 'hasta la vista,' Gray Davis!"

There's been plenty of media eye-rolling about the California recall, but much of the coverage actually contributes to the wacky atmosphere it vaguely decries. Time magazine's 11-page spread on Schwarzenegger begins with the headline "All That's Missing Is the Popcorn." Actually, from a media standpoint, all that's missing is much discussion of the widespread poverty, transportation nightmares, unemployment, deteriorating health care and severe pollution that are integral to daily life in California.

With enough money and firepower behind them, we're led to believe, fantasies can become realities: on campaign trails, in diplomacy and during military occupation.

After violating the U.N. Charter by invading Iraq, the U.S. government wants the U.N.'s Security Council to bless the occupation and the "governing council" that the occupiers handpicked. This is akin to someone murdering all siblings and then demanding special consideration as an only child.

Sure, some post-war difficulties in Iraq have gotten quite a bit of negative press (though U.S. coverage generally understates the misery and repression involved). But the American media spin does not acknowledge the extreme arrogance of current U.S. proposals for U.N. backup of the occupation -- while the White House would still call the shots in Iraq.

After proceeding as though military might can solve just about anything, the Bush administration is now trying a new tactic. The effort is to involve the United Nations as a kind of air freshener for the stench of a rotting occupation. In effect the manipulators in Washington want, retroactively, to get a "good war-making seal of approval" from the U.N. Security Council. But war, with continual deaths and serious injuries, is continuing in the form of escalating resistance and counter-insurgency.

In desperate need of public-relations cover from a U.N. mission in Iraq, the U.S. government is offering the United Nations a role of subservience to the conquerors. The message from Washington to the U.N. is: We have every right to make this disastrous mess and perpetuate it. And now you have every responsibility to follow our orders while providing humanitarian assistance -- circumscribed, of course, by our priorities as occupiers.

But we get little media scrutiny of the fact that U.N. involvement would be largely dictated by a rogue superpower.

And so it goes: Why focus the media lens on reality when there's so much show-biz puffery to go around?

Norman Solomon is co-author of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You."

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