Friday, March 7, 2014

House of Cards [s2, ep 13]

SPOILER ALERT.  The first entry reviews episodes 1 to 3.  The next entry reviews 4 to 6; the next entry reviews for 7 to 9; the next covers 10 to 12.  The final review is here.

Thank you to the creators of such a great and meaningful show.

I don't write letters anymore.
          Bush 41

Chapter 26 - 'It's the final score that counts.'
So my question persists and I direct it to @BeauWillimon: why did Frank bury the ring?  As I said prior, I believe he was asking his ancestors for help.  And they clearly came through in spades...and the ring came back.  You see a clear fulfillment of this idea in his successful letter to the President - written on an Underwood typewriter.  See 23:45.  (If you want to share the answer privately, I'll tell no one:

Claire has a conscience.  As predicted, she did not protect Hennessey at all.  She actually ruined her.  It is an unintended mental crucifixion.  And yet Claire now suffers too.  Finally!  (Why is Tricia still talking to Claire? Why do people trust their abusers?)

The real world Raymond Tusk would have chosen to work with Frank under the opera house.  Walker was clearly in a rough spot.  Admittedly I am writing this after having watched the full season.  Still it is rare that a $40B man lets himself get pinched - especially in the states.  Nevertheless, something had to happen; as Woody Allen once put it, "let's face it, I wanna sell some books here."  I imagine that Frank may see a benefit in bailing him out with a pardon.*

The real world President Garret would have hung Frank.  Right?  Also Chiefs of Staff don't generally do a second show.  I thought Panetta may have but I don't think it has ever happened.

The deep web character proved deeply meaningful.  Rachel Maddow just yesterday spoke these words about CIA spying on Congress: "This is kind of death of the Republic kind of stuff."  As I intend on arguing in my penultimate entry in my NSA series, as I quoted Scott McNeally in that first entry, and intimated with the Assange quote in the same entry, privacy is gone for all but the most skilled.**

Money vs power.  As I wrote, Remy is about money - not power.  "Power is better than money as long as it lasts.  But it never lasts."  I really have no idea what lasts more between the two.  I suspect real power and real money sit in the same seat.  By real I mean one if not two orders of magnitude beyond the common millionaire.  Remy is the person I'd have aspired to if I had continued in the policy field.

Rachel is the global under class and Remy is the American middle class.  Under the right pressure, they're actions in each case are illustrative.  My biggest sub-plot curiosity is what goes on with them next season.  The most important idea IMO of season 2 is that Frank never explicitly intended to replace Garrett but only to unravel him and see what opportunities might surface.  This method is the rule.  I'm excited for season 3.  And yes: I do take this show way too seriously.  =)

* I am ignorant of the story of Madame Butterfly.  Tosca seems a more natural choice.  If someone has an insight on this choice, do tell.  I didn't put a lot of time into the question.

** Purists can argue that we should not give in to such a pessimism but in  practical terms it's the only reasonable view.  Innovations, alternative Internets, (perhaps) closed Internets will certainly create new options.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

House of Cards [s2, eps 10, 11, 12]

SPOILER ALERT. The first entry reviews episodes 1 to 3. The next entry reviews 4 to 6; the next entry reviews for 7 to 9; the next covers 10 to 12. The final review is here.

You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.
          Bush 43, 2001

Chapter 23 - 'You can't have it both ways.'

Sharpe: "I killed a lot of people." Danton's incredulous response: "what?" IMO he just realized she hasn't figured out how to process the killings she committed. It's both a world he knows not and choice he would not have made. Her inability to process the killing is in part a function of the insanity and misplacement of that war.

Danton: "I'm a bitch to a lot of top dogs. I'm fully aware and willing. But you're worse. You're Frank's bitch and refuse to believe it." In this scenario, he's right. He kept the professional side separate from the personal. Her expecting otherwise is silly.

Danton and Sharpe: how will they make their moves as the season closes? They represent the average political player. They don't kill people but hey do assassinate characters. Who will error on the side of integrity and what price will he or she pay for that choice? My guess is Danton pays a heavier price because he actually cares for her - especially as Tusk is asking him to undermine Sharpe.

Meechum had another little moment - catching Frank watching porn. Where is this heading? Later in the episode when Meechum drinks Frank's beer, he's more or less saying that I not only would die for you professionally but I worship you personally.

Chapter 24 - 'If we fail, we'll die in a cage.'

Shit just got real. Meechum, as I suspected in an earlier blog, sided with the world he protects, which obviously makes sense. But, getting to the point, he allowed himself to also get seduced by it. His professional career is now over and perhaps his physical life. You can't sleep the Vice-President and his wife and not pay a price; if he was a friend and not Special Services agent you might have a chance to walk away. The cut from the glass is prologue to his end. (And why bourbon and not whiskey? It's a southern thing: slaves, sex, and alcohol - dark shit.)

8:00. LOL. That was a l-o-n-g, embarrassing no answer shot of Frank after the investigator asks him about Doug in Kansas city.

The scene between Lanagan and Danton riding in the car talking about whether Lanagan will testify is the picture of the middle class, the underclass, and people of color in America...people speaking in honest terms about being squeezed by the powers that be.

The subject of the ring returns...why did he bury it? That is the key symbolic question of season 2.

When Danton threatens Sharp, I was left my continued feeling that Danton held up his end of the bargain - that the personal relationship was separate. But now he breaks the rule that she actually established in reaching out to Frank. When Frank asked Remy if the offer of truce has to do with Jackie, it was the first moment when Remy had no idea what to say.

The President sliding down the wall and taking the pill is his ending. For all the drinking that has gone on since episode seven, we see a revealing sub-text regarding pharmacology, booze, and the management of the professional political mind.

Chapter 25 - 'Just shy.'

02:17 is the face of ruination. The president finally woke up - we always do when it's too late. All the Floyd Mayweather references in the world can't save him. At the end of the episode, Sharpe says to Frank: "What you're asking me is just shy of treason." His response: "Just shy". At least he's not killing anyone.

The bedroom conversation between the President and his wife is awful. Watching the most powerful man in the HOC universe say that he will protect his family as he power is fading is a moving scene. Herein lies one of the greatest ideas in all of the HOC series: our leaders can no longer be human; they must be an image. In many ways, we as citizens, with our judgements and prejudices, have forced our leaders into becoming caricatures - not real men and women who face challenges. In this environment, people who can front well like Frank and Clair will wield power. It's a very old story. But maybe we are at a point in history where the individual will create his and her own confidence without the need of a great leader. And in doing so, the leaders will have the freedom to speak honestly about how they really conduct their lives.

Is this the episode where Tusk grows a beard? He needed it a while ago.

The scene with Remy, Tusk, and Seth is a fav. Once more, characters reveal themselves to each other and acknowledge the complex concentric circles that influence them. Remy makes a great point to Tusk: "You could have let him [i.e. Frank] have the upper hand. What would that have really cost you other than your pride?" In the real world, most billionaires would not have made many decisions the way he did. Remy is again right. But you could be dead right but you're still dead. In his case, it's a social death and likely only temporary. Seth is a truly empty soul.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

House of Cards [s2, eps 7, 8, 9]

SPOILER ALERT. The first entry reviews episodes 1 to 3. The next entry reviews 4 to 6; the next entry reviews for 7 to 9; the next covers 10 to 12. The final review is here.

Men make history and not the other way around.  In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.  Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.

Chapter 20 - 'Let's see if we feel anything.'

President Walker (aka Garrett) says to Frank let's pretend we're Truman, having just dropped the bomb, and see if we feel anything. Drinks in hand, they feel nothing. 100,000's of people very quickly died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and all they come up with a cynical laugh as though it's a silly parlor trick.

I'm not a bleeding heart Liberal. I believe in violence as a sacred and clarifying force in life both now and throughout history. But when I see characters bereft of feeling and thought in such a context, all I can do it pity them. I have long felt that half the problem is that our leaders - despite their cunning and sharp instincts - are ultimately asleep.*

Seth Grayson in Frank’s parlor. I love scenes where people remove layers of deception between each other; it illustrates just how many selves live in an individual and makes you wonder which self will rule the others. Grayson admits he is working for Danton but offers himself successfully to Frank. A star is born.

Freddy's exchange with the first and second couple just goes to show you how vastly different average, decent people are compared to the height of the establishment. Freddy's character is almost a caricature but it still works. He is the only one in the room who isn't more or less consumed by presentation and appearances and as a result he can still manage to have a content. I want to know more about Freddy.

What is Sharpe thinking by hanging up as she first calls Danton? If a well-dressed, successful, good looking Black guy with mad composure and talent tells you he wants to have a slightly more serious relationship, that call gets made the first time. If he was White, the sexes were reversed, or if they were of the same sex, that call still gets made the first time.

The stone cold manipulation of the first couple is truly disgusting. The bourbon, the mind games, and the food - it's all such a refined, slow, long hustle of a two seemingly innocent people. In the real world, Presidents do not trust Vice President; and why should they. When Garrett tells Frank to call him Garrett, he's lost his position.

"Your version of nothing was light years ahead of where I started." That's Dan Lanigan to Frank. #realtalk

Chapter 21 - 'She lost but she played to win.'

This episode had the best lines of any this season. Very powerful ideas in play. And not without major symbols as well.

When Linda Vasquez (the ex-Chief of Staff character) said she had a gift for Frank, I pressed pause: what will it be? As a woman of color with some degree of power, she has a specific ability to convey ideas to Frank that few others can. My guess is that it will not inspire Frank but rather remind him of a debt. But to who? So I press's to the President. She gives him the first Medal of Honor given to a 'Hispanic' American. (Corporal Joseph H. De Castro did in fact live and earn the honor.) She reminds Frank more or less to look out for the President and the remember the significance of the office. She shakes his hand and says goodbye. Vasquez is all class - a rarity on the show; she is perhaps the most charactered political figure on the whole show.

Another powerful quote: "at 200 bucks a pound fuck tradition" - speaking of some rare cut of meat and the question of prayer before eating. I must sound like a judgey asshole myself but that's no way to talk about prayer. It's just plain wrong. Dan Lanigan can be a baller but he doesn't need to be tasteless.

A third quote: 'I never expected much from the world. It's not a fair place.' Need I say more. (That line was said by Rachel's house guest.)

So now Claire is succeeding in getting the first couple into therapy. Such manipulation is grotesque. Therapy is fine and productive for many people but the way she involves herself in the 1st Lady's thinking is unbelievable. Frank and Claire are like two velociraptors upending the psychological lives to two seeming adults - to make matter worse: it's not that inconceivable.

I've been resisting the urge to write about Remy Danton - for many reasons, for most being that he is a character that has evolved slowly this season. Remy is, in short, awesome but unfortunately he is on the wrong side at least in terms of the narrative itself. HOC is coming back for season 3. Tusk will almost certainly have to lose in a new and special way. What will happen to Remy? He'll probably just get another gig. Why I like him... he is so direct, so clear, so measured, and so honest in a game that generally exhibits none of these things. Remy Danton as a serial monogamist is also great; it enriches his character yet more.

Seth Grayson is another great character. That he would refuse 1/2 payment for a job 1/2 done is poetic common sense. Remy and Seth are bagmen - one for money, the other for power. It'll very interested to see if Remy has sided with the right cause in season 3. My guess is that he will prevail in the long, long run.

Claire meant it when she hugged Megan Hennessey. When she tells Megan "you're not letting me down", it is the first moment Claire expresses true compassion on HOC.

You know when a wealthy White woman - Tusk's wife - says 'fuck it', she means it. What has Raymond Tusk got on Frank? I was hoping for something bigger than Claire's infidelity. They can weather that. Most people don't really care about who the politicians and wives sleep with as long as you look like you're in control.

The President is being played hard. If people find out he's in therapy even for something small, he'll never recover. It didn't make the rules; I just study them.

Chapter 22 - 'It needs to look messier.'

For all of Seth Grayson's work as a deception artist, he's a truth magnet - with Doug, with Remy, and with Frank he uses truth to connive and re-assure. Generally, the endgame for a guy like that is failure or a colossal life of deception - both would prove entertaining.

Adam Galloway just had his ass handed to him. "You and I are just pawns Mr. Galloway." Remy has the courtesy to (as always) speak a truth and call him Mr.

22:59. Is Raymond Tusk about to kill someone? False alarm: he's just threatening her life.

When Frank enter Freddy's apartment I sense something horrifying was about to happen. 33:51. And it was horrifying. All the talking aside, Frank ended that friendship because his station required it lest he wish to lose that station. Freddy should definitely take the money or at least admit that it is pride stopping - which is respectable IMO. In the end Frank can't acknowledge his hypocrisy and disavow regret. He's not that cold. He might think he is but he is not. Claire might be.

The sacrifice of Freddy is sad but he did kill two people and he failed to equip his son with knowledge and skills to move forward in life. Freddy is among my favorite characters. He's a character I identify with (for now) and wish I didn't.


* After completing this series, I went back and read it. I wish I had written that "I suspect violence is a sacred and and clarifying force in life".

Saturday, March 1, 2014

420 Legalization: Getting Real

Getting to the root of drug distributor violence in Mexico, you must go back to the first principle: demand.  For now and for me, it's a question of marijuana demand.  Maybe someday we will all likely address all drugs.  It is a brave new world, indeed. 

Culpability and a Real Solution to Mexican Violence

[W]e accept our share of the responsibility...

We know that the demand for drugs drives much of this illicit trade.
        Hilary Clinton, former Secretary of State, 2010*

Legalizing pot here will allow growing here and reducing demand in MX (not to mention it will spur industry here).  Reducing demand in MX will reduce i) drug business operations, ii) funds for arms and for paying corrupt police and other officials, and iii) ultimately the power of drug distributors.  In the short run, violence might rise as groups fought for a smaller market but overall their position in society will weaken.

Americans are fundamentally responsible for many who have died in Mexico since 2006 and prior.  In the context of drug consumption and demand, this idea is obvious.  In the context of NAFTA, it's a more complicated.  Dr. Peter Watt of Department of Hispanic Studies at The University of Sheffield explains it well.

"[T]the neo-liberal policies brought in during the 1980s basically drove millions of Mexicans into poverty, and so provided a cheap labour force for the drugs cartels.  In the run-up to NAFTA in 1994, the people pushing for it were the big multinationals and big Mexican companies who were funding the PRI.  The process meant a new subordination of the Mexican economy to the US economy.  For example, subsidies were lifted on production of Mexican corn, and then Mexico was flooded with imported corn from the US, where government subsidies were still in place.  This meant that in the first six years of NAFTA some two million small farmers in Mexico left the land. This migration from the land to the cities, to the maquiladoras on the border, and to the US itself has helped produce a flexible labour pool for criminal organizations to employ, a massively cheap labour force."**

Clinton obviously does not accept responsibility in the sense that Watt explains it.  (For the record, I am not anti-'free-market'.  That's a whole other enormous discussion for another day soon.)

Legalizing marijuana in the states and building our domestic industry is the real answer to reducing distributor violence in Mexico and preventing it from transforming our own society; coordinating legalization between nations is even better.  In 2009 (!), The Wall Street Journal did an excellent job outlining some of this thinking. ***  (As Noam Chomsky said many years ago, you can always rely on the financial news writers to assess issues in the clearest terms.)


Distributors, Vigilantes, and Civil Society

They are all the same.
        lime grower in Michoacan re vigilantes and criminals, 2014

We respect El Chapo more than any elected official.
        printed sign at a February event in Culiacan, Sinaloa, 2014

Overall, the situation in Mexico is exceedingly complicated.  Here's an article on how some Mexican citizens are scared of the vigilantes potential future intentions.  And here's an article on how some Mexican citizens support 'Chapo' Guzman's leadership.

The Knights Templar organization - a group that originated in 2011 out of the collapse of La Familia Michoacana - is another interesting story.  According to this interview piece, the head of Knights Templar, Servando 'La Tuta' Gomez, is a former school teacher who points out astutely that the distributors are a 'necessary evil'.  It has taken me a long time hold that view.  I hold it now.  In preparation for Pope Benedict XVI's 2012 visit to Guanajuato, this same group put up 14 banners reading "The Knights Templar Cartel will not partake in any warlike acts, we are not killers, welcome Pope."  Supposedly even Los Zetas have begun to reach out people to build a 'social base'.

Obviously, we view this all with deep cynicism but it reveals much about these distributors that many people don't understand.

The distributors in Mexico are a real power source; to the extent that people support them (even if under complicated terms) and to the extent that they have a monopoly on violence, they exhibit some limited aspects of authority and legitimacy.  That is something most establishment politicians in the States will not understand.

To complicate matters further and as an illustrative example, some evidence suggests that Chevron killed people in Nigeria.  Here's my point: I imagine (maybe) drug distributors kill many, many more innocent people than than oil and gas producers (maybe not).  But the fact remains that big economically productive organizations tend to kill people in the process of their operations.  I'm not making excuses; I'm looking for real solutions to violence as it really occurs.

Also, recall that the DEA has worked with the Sinaloa cartel for some time.  And severals financial institutions - such as BofA, Western Union, and JP Morgan - have dipped into the drug game; not to forget HSBC.  All the money is dirty.  Many institutions are involved.  It is the real world of war, money, and power.****  None of these organizations are all that different.*****

Personally I think the distributors, the vigilantes, and civil society organizations in Mexico need to exchange ideas (covertly or not) on how to create functioning, profitable, and safe (albeit illegal) drug markets and transportation and cultivation operations so people can buy drugs safely, learn about rehabilitation, and seek out out public health services.

The distributors may also want to understand two things.  First, they won the war but they haven't yet won the peace.  Winning the peace is generally much, much harder.  Americans have failed to win the peace in every major war we have fought since Korea.  Second, legalization is coming; and if they want to win the peace, they will have to transform their organizations to meet the needs of the Mexican people and to account for legalization.  I can already see a new war and more lawlessness as vigilante groups begin to take shape.  The predicable outcome is that the vigilantes go into cultivation and distribution to fund their efforts - whether it's to maintain order or build their own power.  It would better for everyone to work together now, share the proceeds, and move forward with life.  You can always find time to fight an enemy.  He might win.  You might win.  But there's also always a third option.   It's usually risky but the benefits are also often large.

As a communication of goodwill, the distributors may want to consider devoting monies to orphanages, mental health facilities, and institutions that protect and support Mexican woman.  (Will those organizations accept the money...questions abound.)

For part 3...


* The full quote covers more issues that I do not want to address now.

** Adding insult to absurdity, Watt outlines the nature of President Calderon's failure: "Prohibition of substances has been going on in some form or other for almost 100 years, and has always been a failure.  But the Calderón militarization of this has been an unmitigated disaster.  Look at four measures of this - based on the government's own statistics.  First, the overall violent crime rate had been falling in Mexico before this new initiative.  In the past six years though it has increased by more than 200%.  Similarly with the homicide rate: it had been falling, but has now more than doubled.   Thirdly, it has not reduced addiction rates within Mexico itself.  These have always been low compared to other countries, but if anything, they have now gone up half a per cent, and so the 'public health' argument to support the drugs war doesn't make sense.  And finally, the number of human rights abuses committed by the military during their attempts to control the drugs cartels – illegal detentions, torture, deaths, have shown a six-fold increase."

*** Recall that Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Cesar Gaviria, Ernesto Zedillo, and Ricardo Lagos - the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Chile - all support a marijuana liberalization bill in Mexico City; Vicente Fox, another former Mexican president supports similar thinking.

**** The preeminence of war, money, and power is not a function of a physical law or law of social dynamics.  Especially now, I believe humanity can re-imagine itself in ways not possible in the past.

***** In an upcoming interview regarding the NSA, my guest Marcy Wheeler makers a very somewhat similar point regarding JP Morgan.  I was so shocked when she made the point I laughed and spit up my coffee.  The idea itself wasn't shocking but rather that she would say it so bluntly.  Here's a preview.