Ed at Gin and Tacos asks a question to which most of the answers are depressing in the extreme. And virtually none of our true failures will even be discussed in run-up to the 2016 coronation. Or after it. Been down so long it looks like up to us.
What exactly are we good at anymore? At least during the Cold War we were able to prop up right-wing dictators or interfere with the internal politics of tinpot countries enough to ensure that the right strongman was “elected.” Now we can’t even do that right. Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan (where all efforts at Nation Building / winning Hearts and Minds have been abandoned and ground forces are now exclusively interdicting terrorists) have proven definitively that our conventional military power — honestly the only thing we have as a nation at this point that we can claim is Number One and not be fooling ourselves — is of limited use in the modern world. We’re great at it. We can blow up your tanks, shoot down your planes, sink your ships, and bomb your cities into oblivion better than anyone else.
The question is, so what? What good is that anymore? If we have to fight a conventional World War III with Russia or China — doubtful at best — we’ll do quite well. With that and a bus pass, as my grandfather loved to say, you can get a ride on the bus.
We’ve ceded our strengths in manufacturing, education, and non-frivolous technology to the rest of the world. Our welfare state is an embarrassment. Our law enforcement and justice system are a case study in corruption. Our Congress and state legislatures are cautionary tales of what not to do. Other industrialized nations laugh at our health care system. Our standard of living is declining, wages have stagnated for three decades, and the rising cost of living is slowly making 99% of us poorer as we work longer hours with no mandated vacation or personal leave. Is the U.S. still a better place to live than the majority of the countries on Earth? Of course.
But we’re not comparing the U.S. to Chad. Compared to our peer group, it’s hard to figure out what our strengths are anymore other than consuming energy, maintaining a giant stockpile of nuclear weapons, and having a big, powerful, expensive conventional military. Oh, and I guess we’re pretty good at spying on everyone’s telecommunications, although if I had to place a wager I’d bet the Israelis, Russians, or Swiss are even better at it.
The failure of the Iraq War creates some eerie similarities between the modern U.S. and the final years of the USSR. After wrecking its economy and standard of living with profligate military spending for thirty years, the Soviets found themselves pulling out of Afghanistan in defeat (and the government they installed had collapsed by 1991, too). The rest of the world, including the U.S., looked on and asked, “If you’re spending that much on the military and you can’t even win a war against a Stone Age country, what CAN you do?”
It was a valid question. It is a valid question to ask ourselves as well. We’ve bled ourselves dry paying for two wars since 2002 and massive annual defense budgets every year for more than a half-century now. What do we have to show for it? Shouldn’t we at least be able to do Military Stuff right? If we can’t, what exactly do we have going for us?
From the The Guardian:
As purchases of General Atomics’s MQ-9 Reaper ballooned from 60 aircraft in 2007 to the current 401, air force officials did not justify the need for an expanding drone fleet, the Pentagon said.
During that time, costs for purchasing one of the signature counter-terrorism weapons of Barack Obama’s presidency increased by 934%, from $1.1bn to more than $11.4bn, according to a declassified September report by the Pentagon inspector general. Purchasing costs are a fraction of what the drones cost to operate and maintain over their time in service: in 2012, the Pentagon estimated the total costs for them at $76.8bn.
In what wonderful new ways will 2015 lift America up, up, and away from the political morass and income stagnation of 2014? The New York Times is on the case:
“Among Democrats, that means greater government spending on education, infrastructure and even direct job creation. Among Republicans, it means far-reaching shifts in taxation and regulation.” [Question to ponder: in what ways are these strategies revisions of the Democratic and Republican playbooks?]
Democratic strategy starts with improved education and training to enhance workers’ skills and productivity:
More than $500 billion a year, “across as many dimensions as you could,” from early education to community college to vocational training matching worker skills to employers’ needs [Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago, formerly chairman of the Obama Council of Economic Advisors]…
“Direct government job creation to tighten labor markets, bid up wages, and enhance prospects for the long-term unemployed.” [Jared Bernstein, former chief economic advisor to vice president Joseph Biden]…
Support infrastructure spending to create short-term jobs and boost long-term potential with better seaports, airports and highways…
$200 billion annually in new public and private infrastructure spending for ten years [Lawrence Summers, former director of the National Economic Council and president of Harvard University]…
For Democrats especially, boosting economic growth is only part of the solution. Another part is countering economic trends that have most benefited the highest-earning families…
Expanding incentives for workers to acquire stock in their employers, and for employees to offer workers incentive pay tied to the firm’s profitability [Richard Freeman, Harvard labor economist; “We presented some of these things to the Obama administration and the Wall Street guys just killed them.”]…
The Republican debate consists largely of getting government out of the way:
Reducing occupational licensing for some industries, like cosmetology [Michael Strain “of the conservative YG Network”]…
Shorter copyright terms for books, movies and other intellectual property would spur fresh innovation and job creation [James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute]…
Lifting the long-standing ban on United States oil exports and relaxing restrictions on liquefied natural gas exports [Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office under G. W. Bush]…
Moving away from taxing income toward taxing energy sources [Steve Bell, long-time Senate Republican aide now at the Bipartisan Policy Center]…
But the most popular conservative idea for boosting incomes is overhauling corporate taxation…Because loophole beneficiaries do not want to give them up, “revenue neutrality” makes cutting rates much harder [for Congressmen]. Casting off this constraint and simply lowering rates, said Kevin Hassett, and economist at the American Enterprise Institute, would cause corporations to rapidly bring overseas jobs home.
The heart sinks. It is evident from the above that 2015 will be nothing more than a replay of the head-butting of past few years. Unless the Times, in an uncharacteristically playful mood, has concocted these two competing laundry lists just to make us clutch our heads in disbelief. Still, the contrast between the two to-do lists is humorous, whether intentionally or not.
The Democrats continue to propose direct government action to get Americans working — and of course that costs money. Many billions of dollars. Paul Krugman says that works, but what does he know? As for the Republican list (and here is where the rascals at the Times may have been intentionally wicked), it consists of such macroeconomic blockbuster initiatives – economic equivalents of electro-shock therapy – as:
¶ Making it easier to work as cosmetologists, or perhaps as salesmen of loose cigarettes.
¶ Shorter copyright terms for intellectual properties – those rapacious writers, choking our economy! (We have to wonder, though: did the Times people purposely leave off Jimmy Pethokoukis’ proposal also to reduce the terms for patents? Or did Jimmy maybe think the heads of the Republican supporters in the pharma and other manufacturing industries would explode if he added that to the list? Maybe he thought just socking it to writers would be enough to get Americans working again. Worth a try?)
¶ Freeing energy exports – wow … that will get machinists back at their machines in Akron and teachers back into the schools in Houston in the wink of an eye.
¶ Taxing “energy sources” so that personal income taxes can then be lowered. (Question for the Stevester, though: would industry simply add those energy taxes to the prices of their products that all Americans would then have to pay?)
¶ And last, the ever popular idea that reducing domestic corporate taxes would make our corporations say, “OK, guys, no more looking overseas for cheaper operating costs” – and all out-of-work Americans will in another wink of the eye be flushed out of their in-foreclosure homes and put to work again. Schadenfreude alert: those top executives and one-percenter rent-takers expecting that lower corporate taxes would instead to be paid out to them as dividends, well, will they be ever so disappointed.
Yes, dear friends, it’s going to be a Happy New Year indeed – for satirists and polemicists, anyway.
Peter Friedrich sends this email: Interesting article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today. “America, You Got it Worse — a situation report in 45 paragraphs.” Sounds as sad to me as it sounds true.
Which sent me on my first visit to Google Translate, where I found these paragraphs among the 45. Sounds to me as if Peter is right.
7 . In contrast to France, which, if it really came in the past in a dead end, has an immediate given several times a new constitution, is in the excessively tradition-conscious — and verfassungshistorisierenden — United States unthinkable such modernization of the political structures.
8. This means that virtually no chance to introduce a parliamentary democracy. Despite all the difficulties, it provides a “dictatorship period” during which an elected party (or coalition) can enforce that for which they fought in the campaign. The American-style presidential considered inappropriate for the age of globalization, since no one, particularly apparent in spite of positive political decision-making power has. America is in danger of turning into a huge Belgium.
11. The occupation with which the Supreme Court consistently anti-modern as a legal Tea Party, can operate based on three sources: first, the choice of (predominantly conservative for the foreseeable future) constitutional judges for life; secondly, the possibility of free-floating creation of law, in the context of a casuistic oriented legal thought; and thirdly, ideally things that did not exist at that time so as facts to declare on the ideological default, to orient on the spirit of the founding fathers and unconstitutional.
12. In general, the judiciary is primarily due to the holes ever expanding comprehensive selection of judges, including the principle of public campaign financing by industry interests, if not undermined in their democratic legitimacy…
20. Even if one thinks the phenomenon Silicon Valley would really be repeatable: Were the basic conditions of the then IT revolution really comparable to the conditions of the environmental and energy revolution of tomorrow? At that time it was enough to come forward with new ideas. The financing of Internet startups is known to be relatively cheap (“Seven people in a garage”...).
21. In the environmental revolution, however, the amortization of projects over much longer investment periods is required. Is American politics at all today in a position to stake periods of thirty years reliable? In Congress, the renewed tax rebates for research and development spending by companies at best in two-year periods? And what help because investors who want to take along everything and risk-free quickly and with a high “return”, but when possible?
25. This is all the more so as the same policy interests — is downright noisy — because of private campaign financing. A Kremlin strategist once said that Putin’s United Russia is modeled after the American party system. He leaned in trust to his American interlocutors over and whispered promising: “We both know that Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same coin, right?”
26. The American media are more dependent on advertising revenue than elsewhere, both in terms of what newspapers as well as what television. A simple test question: Which industries were on average for most advertising revenue of the media? Automobile manufacturers, construction, financial services and pharmaceutical manufacturers. And which industries collapsed a few years ago? Cars, construction and banks, while the pharmaceutical companies (including other health care providers) so far managed to prevent a cost-saving reform.
27. Because the American media for material self-preservation interests do not bite, they contribute almost nothing to the timely combat efficiency and apparent lack of modernization. Hindsight is of course closely involved with it, to make an equally intense and stylistically brilliant analysis, to reap in the hope that after it’s too late at least a Pulitzer Prize for groundbreaking reporting. Overall social responsibility is different.
37. Can a modern industrial and service economy ever get back on their feet, when used as “bureaucrats” describes government officials and members of the public service exception (the favorite formula of Republicans)? Not that there were no irregularities in the management, but they are no worse than in Europe. What it says on the inner peacefulness of a society, when the entire public service is described in the same hatred perspective, as for the term “communist” was the case at the time of the Soviet Union?
44. Will the United States until then modern, though the country, not only in the births “majority minority”, but if minorities make up the majority of the electorate? If women in politics and in professional life more dominant? A wise observer of American politics, said the day of the confirmation of George W. Bush’s election by the Supreme Court, that a decade ago, now begin the last great gasp of “white Anglo-Saxon man.” There are many indications that she was right.
I knew if I looked hard enough there’d be some good news coming out of yesterday’s election. From the New York Times::
PORTLAND, Maine — Bear hunting with bait, dogs, traps will stay legal in Maine because voters rejected a ballot initiative to ban the methods.
Animal rights advocates and others pushed for the law change, which they said would have eliminated cruel and unsportsmanlike hunting methods. Hunting groups, outfitters and the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife campaigned hard against the referendum.
Bait — typically sugary human food such as doughnuts — is by far the most common method of bear hunting and accounts for about four-fifths of the hunt.
As always, the fix is in. Yves spells it all out for you in the post from which this comes:
Raw Story interviewed the whistleblower attorney who approached Kim after she made her charges of gross mismanagement and waste of resources. Her letter presumably represents the meatiest of his cases. He describes how the agency has been captured by large corporations:…the private sector lawyer and ex-IRS attorney explained that since 1998, IRS restructuring has focused on bringing in “outside people.” This led to the employment of an extra layer of executives who were previously “partners from big accounting firms.” Citing active IRS criminal agents, the ex-IRS attorney said: “Almost every large firm or corporation has a person inside the IRS. It’s a revolving door, with the top two or three management layers all from big accounting and law firms, and this is why they won’t work big billion-dollar cases criminally. Private bar attorneys are, in effect, controlling the IRS. It’s a type of corruption – that’s the word used by one IRS agent I’m in touch with whose case was shut down by higher ups without cause.”
The incumbent IRS chief counsel, William Wilkins, was previously a lobbyist at the WilmerHale firm where for 21 years he represented and lobbied on behalf of private sector clients including the Swiss Bankers Association. Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse have faced penalties, hearings and convictions for helping wealthy Americans illegally conceal billions of dollars of taxable income.
Attorney James Henry, former chief economist at financial consultancy McKinsey, said that Wilkins’ firm “continued to represent the Swiss Banking Association throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Now Wilkins gets appointed chief counsel of the IRS in 2009, and he’s presiding over these whistleblower cases.”
So while we have Treasury attempting to defuse public ire over the latest high-profile form of corporate tax gaming, inversions, by relocating their headquarters overseas to a lower-tax domicile while not changing their US business, we have billions uncollected as a result of the IRS becoming a big-corporate crony.
Want to be really frightened for the future? Check this out. Warning, though: It’s really really long. Seven paragraphs. Not words. Paragraphs.
Couldn’t have said it better myself, so I won’t. Here’s Frank Rich on Obama’s idiotic descent into the Big Muddy:
In truth, we already have boots on the ground in the form of “special forces” and “advisers.” The moment they start returning to America in body bags, or are seen being slaughtered in ISIS videos, is the moment when the recent polling uptick in support for this war will evaporate. That support is an inch deep, and Congress knows it, which is why members of both parties fled Washington for the campaign trail last week rather than debate Obama’s war plan. As Paul Kane of The Washington Post pointed out, the Senate could not even fill up the scant allotted time (five hours) for debating the war, and “so at one point a senator devoted time to praising the Baltimore Orioles for their successful baseball season.” Next to this abdication of duty, Congress’s disastrous rush to authorize war in Iraq in 2002 looks like a wise and deliberate execution of checks-and-balances.
Almost everything that is happening now suggests this will end badly. We’ve failed to curb ISIS in Iraq because, for all the happy talk about its inclusive new government, Sunni Iraqis have yet to rally behind their new Shiite prime minister Haider al-Abadi any more enthusiastically than they did behind the despised Nouri al-Maliki. As for our expansion into Syria, even if we can find and train 5,000 Syrian “moderates” to fight the Islamic State, it will take a year to do so, according to our own government’s no doubt optimistic estimate. And they’ll still be outnumbered by ISIS forces by at least four-to-one. Nor do we know all the unintended consequences that will multiply throughout the region — as they have in every other American intervention in the Muslim world — with each passing month.
A golden oldie from Matt Stoller:
These systems interrelate, and inefficiency in one impacts the other. This became very obvious to me when I went to Kenya last summer, and saw how a semi-competent telecom and banking system could work. Kenya has the world’s most innovative mobile payments system, called M-Pesa. M-Pesa is a cell phone based cash remittance system based on text messages. Unlike Chase’s Quickpay system, M-Pesa just works, and works well.
You load your SIM card with money at any number of street stalls, telecom stores, beauty shops, or anywhere else someone has decided to set up a Safaricom outlet. Transfers happen via text message, and they cost 0.5 – 4% of the cost of the transaction, which is cost effective for a country where so few people have access to banks. Withdrawals can happen at any Safaricom outlet. If your phone is stolen, that’s ok, the cash is loaded onto your SIM card and you have a unique password. And everyone uses it. It’s like Paypal, only it’s not terrible.
This isn’t just a problem of monopolistic behavior or excessive market power. Safaricom is a very powerful company in Kenya, and there is basically no competition to what they do. Yet they have produced a terrific system that companies all over the world are trying to replicate. Cell service on volcanos where no one lives except zebras and lions is more reliable than cell service on Fifth Avenue in New York.
What seems to have happened is that American corporate executives are now more focused on financial engineering, which is essentially the extraction of capital from their enterprises and from the public, than they are at selling improved goods and services. For example, GE just got a tax break extended which added $3 billion a year in annual profit in the latest fiscal cliff deal. That’s a lot of money, and not one good or service was improved to drop that cash to the bottom line.
As another example, the cable industry is projecting an average monthly bill of $200 by 2020, versus $86 today. At 73 million subscribers, that’s an additional $100 billion a year of revenue. Comcast alone has 22 million customers – that’s $30 billion a year for this one company alone. And let’s be clear, this is not going to better products, Americans tend to get worse internet and cable service than counterparts around the world. Investing in manipulative pricing schemes, lobbying for tax breaks and not investing in good infrastructure is a rational choice for American corporate executives, since their ethic is to extract as much capital as possible from the American economy. And yet, this is why America can’t have nice things.
The number of violent crimes in the country is down substantially, the lowest rate in 40 years, while the number of Americans being jailed for nonviolent crimes, such as driving with a suspended license, are skyrocketing…
As with most things, if you want to know the real motives behind any government program, follow the money trail. When you dig down far enough, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, you quickly find that those who profit from Americans being arrested are none other than the police who arrest them, the courts which try them, the prisons which incarcerate them, and the corporations, which manufacture the weapons and equipment used by police, build and run the prisons, and profit from the cheap prison labor…
Second, there’s the profit-incentive for states to lock up large numbers of Americans in private prisons. Just as police departments have quotas for how many tickets are issued and arrests made per month — a number tied directly to revenue — states now have quotas to meet for how many Americans go to jail. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons run by corporations such as Corrections Corp of America and the GEO Group, ostensibly as a way to save money, increasing numbers of states have contracted to keep their prisons at 90% to 100% capacity. This profit-driven form of mass punishment has, in turn, given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep the money flowing and their privately run prisons full. No wonder the United States has the largest prison population in the world…
What some Americans may not have realized, however, is that America’s economy has come to depend in large part on prison labor. “Prison labor reportedly produces 100 percent of military helmets, shirts, pants, tents, bags, canteens, and a variety of other equipment. Prison labor makes circuit boards for IBM, Texas Instruments, and Dell. Many McDonald's uniforms are sewn by inmates. Other corporations — Microsoft, Victoria's Secret, Boeing, Motorola, Compaq, Revlon, and Kmart — also benefit from prison labor.” The resulting prison labor industries, which rely on cheap, almost free labor, are doing as much to put the average American out of work as the outsourcing of jobs to China and India.
Peter sends this further evidence of our civilization’s collapse:
Unlike most other grass paint, we refuse to use inferior man-made and non-earth friendly pigments that result in a transparent blue/green color which makes grass appear un-natural. LawnLift™ uses only “All Natural” true color pigments that have garnered us the best color in the industry! From small pet urine spots to entire dormant or dead lawns LawnLift™ has you covered….
The excerpt below is from a review by Bill Curry of Ralph Nader’s new book, Unstoppable, which sounds like something we should all read. Curry is a former Clinton White House advisor who ran twice for governor of Connecticut against John Rowland. Both times the voters in their wisdom chose Rowland — a sleaze bag who wound up in prison for corruption and is currently a minor-league Rush Limbaugh who sells his political endorsements on station WTIC.
Between 1996 and 2000 the Wall Street Democrats who by then ruled the party’s upper roosts scored their first big legislative wins. Until then their impact was most visible in the quietude of Congress, which had not enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early ’70s. It was the longest such stretch since the 19th century, but no one seemed to notice.
In the late ’70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late ’90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the “modernization” of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.
The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR’s historic banking reform. You’d think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life’s work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what’s got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.
In 1972 Gore Vidal wrote:
Political corruption has been with us since the first congress sat at Philadelphia, and there is nothing to be done about it as long as we are what we are. In fact, as election costs mount the corruption will tend to become institutionalized by the small group of legislators and bankers, generals and industrialists, who own and govern the United States, Inc. But it does not take great prescience to realize that that they are playing a losing game. As the polity becomes more and more conscious of the moral nullity at the center of American life, there will develop not the revolutionary situation dreamed of in certain radical circles but rather, a deep contempt for the nation and its institutions, an apathy bound to be exploited by clever human engineers. In the name of saving the environment and restoring virtue, they will continue the dismantling of an unloved and unhonored republic.
Thank God we dodged that bullet, huh?
Poking through the archives I just came across this post from January 2 of 2003. Unfortunately it remains relevant, and so I put it up again:
For your contemplation, I offer this story by Warren Hoge in today’s New York Times. It is on the front page where it ought to get all our attention, but won’t.
This is because we were raised to withstand all evidence that ours might not actually be in every respect the noblest nation ever to bathe God’s little green footstool in such supernal effulgence.
Nevertheless, let’s take a look at Finland’s system of criminal justice, as Mr. Hoge has…
All done? Interesting stuff, but it would never work here, would it? For one thing Finland is full of Finns, and the United States is full of Americans.
But aren’t those Finns pretty similar to us genetically?, you ask. After all, Doctor Science, aren’t they Christians? Lutherans or something?
Actually, children, religious faith is one of many things that are not genetically determined. Let’s look for others in the story. Did you notice where Mr. Hoge says Finland has “a relatively classless culture with a Scandinavian belief in the benevolence of the state and a trust in its civic institutions?”
No genetic marker for these disorders has been discovered so far either, and we scientists are in pretty general agreement than none ever will be. We say, instead, that such conditions and attitudes grow out of our “culture.”
Okay, enough with the Doctor Science.
I once heard a political consultant describe American democracy as “that system in which you give the people what they want, and you give it to ’em good.”
So think of our culture as a violin, and our politicians as musicians. Any one of them might think he could get better sounds out of a clarinet or a flute, but that isn’t what we’ve given him to play. The only thing that can come out is fiddle music.
And so we ourselves have actually chosen a society with shameful extremes of poverty and immense wealth. We have chosen untrustworthy civic institutions. We have chosen a state that is no more benevolent than it absolutely has to be in order to avoid revolution.
These are the things we demand or permit — it comes to the same thing in practice — on November the fifth of every even year. Because we are this kind of stupid, we have 702 Americans out of every 100,000 in jail. Because the Finns aren’t, they have 52.
Is it willful blindness or just plain blindness? David Brooks, in his April 29 NY Times column “Saving the System,” has hit a new low, and has invited company along as well. He begins, “All around, the fabric of peace and order is fraying.”
Stunned silence, but from a reflexive conservative and low-octane expert on everything under the sun, that is hardly noteworthy. Most educated people anywhere would agree that the international “fabric” is undergoing a number of significant changes: religious discord in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East; an aggressive China that doesn’t seem to know its place; Russian unruliness along its own borders; and more. There’s always something popping up because, as everyone outside the American Heartland realized following the profound international disruption set off by the Second World War, the world is changing, big time.
But Brooks goes on to quote an analysis of “grand strategic history” (whew!) from Charles Hill, a “legendary” State Department officer who, according to Wikipedia, advised Reagan, Kissinger (“Satire died the day Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize”), and fellow geopolitical grand strategist Rudy Giuliani…
For Brooks, Hill, who teaches at Yale, grandly proposes in part that “when an established international system enters its phase of deterioration, many leaders nonetheless respond with insouciance, obliviousness, and self-congratulation.” Hill then observes that “when the wolves of the world” sense this flabbiness, they pounce to exploit the opportunities that open.
The wolves, for him, are the current boat-rockers: Russia (aka Putin), China, and all sorts of undifferentiated folks in the Middle East. Then comes this gem from Hill – which constitutes the essence of Brooks’s piece: “The old order, once known [by American commentators] as ‘the American Century,’ has been situated within ‘the modern era,’ which appears to be stalling out after some 300-plus years. The replacement era will not be modern and will not be a nice one.”
Yikes! So pronounces an American spokesman for the American Century, anyway. (And by the way, whatever can Hill mean by “will not be modern”? Back to the Dark Ages for us all? A new brand of postmodernism? And not nice for everyone in the world, or just for — Americans?)
Enter the eminent authority on world history née pop sociologist David Brooks to riff on this astonishing shard of “grand strategic” misdirection. “Throughout recorded history … powerful people have generally tried to impose their version of the Truth [so capitalized in the original] on less powerful people. But, over these centuries, civilized [yes, he actually wrote “civilized”] leaders have banded together to restrain these vices … Dominant powers [since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia] have tried to establish procedures and norms to secure national borders and protect diversity. [Hey, David, the European powers of the Thirty Years War didn’t give a shit about “diversity” — a term that would have been alien to them anyway, but Brooks needs it here to make us think, oh, yeah: Ukraine.] Hegemons like the Nazis or the Communists tried to challenge this system, but the other powers fought back.” But David, wasn’t the United States another “hegemon”? And still is? This may be a bit more complicated than you think.
After referring to some nonsense about a new “containment” from another right-wing apologist, Yale’s John Gaddis, Brooks asks a good question: “How do you get the electorate to support the constant burden of defending the liberal system?”
How, indeed, when the machinery that powers his putative liberal system — our only defense against slipping into medieval darkness — is rather mysteriously leaving a huge swath of that same electorate desperately in the lurch. Then comes the inevitable Brooksian turn from geopolitical blue-skying to our hackneyed neo-conservative domestic Manichaeism: “The Republicans seem to have given up global agreements that form the fabric of that system [what can that clause possibly mean?], while Democrats are slashing the defense budget that undergirds it.”
At last, it is out in the open: world historian Brooks’s “civilized” leaders, plural, turn out to be a leader, singular: America — and our gargantuan military is what sustains the “fabric.” So much for the power of the shining beacon of American exceptionalism, our freedoms and our ideals.
After lamenting that “it is harder to get people to die for a set of pluralistic procedures to protect faraway places” — he has in mind primarily Ukraine and Islamic nations, but maybe also some islands in the South China Sea — our Grand Strategic Historian ends his piece, next, with a somber warning.
(By the way, as a veteran I can’t help smiling ruefully, as they say, at Brooks’s unhappiness about people’s unwillingness to die for those pluralistic “procedures.” Not his unwillingness, or Hill’s, or Lindsay Graham’s, of course, as they are seemingly ready to parachute into Syria or the Crimea or Iran, Bowie knives clenched in teeth. Speaking for myself and I think maybe for the families of the dead and wounded service men and women who died or were mangled in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, if I had to be a casualty in battle, I would not want it to be for a “procedure.”)
Turning all contemporary international relations into something out of an American eighth-grade civics textbook, Brooks proceeds to give us the Polonius-worthy assessment that “The liberal pluralistic system is not a spontaneous natural thing.” Duh. But the final sentence, about what he sees as requirements for preserving that “hard-earned ecosystem” (really, David, ecosystem?), one being financial enforcement, alias U.S. multinational corporation money and our captive IMF and World Bank pushing other peoples around, ends with this prescription: “… and hard power enforcement.”
So we see, we finally see: the ultimate task of the column is to prod the electorate to support the “constant” burden of defending the liberal system with a massive and ultra-expensive armamentarium of guns and bombs at the ready to be deployed by hundreds of thousands of uniformed young Americans against any “wolves” that would threaten the reigning hegemon’s maintenance of its self-ordained international “fabric.” We being that hegemon, of course.
You have to wonder what an educated and aware person in Egypt, say, or Finland, or Japan, or Chile, or France, or Iraq, or Belgium, or Mexico would think about all this crude and transparent America-centric self-dealing? That educated non-American person might well be overcome by lots of questions.
Exactly whose fabric of peace and order? Whose liberal pluralistic system, costing whom and benefiting whom? Just which powerful people have or haven’t gone about attempting to impose their version of the Truth? And who besides Russia (Soviet or otherwise), Germany, and Japan — in the eyes of the Egyptian or Mexican or French or Iraqi person, let alone a Chinese or Iranian person — has often acted as a wolf of the world? (Hints: We had 662 bases in 38 sovereign foreign countries in 2011, according to a Pentagon report; no nation — zero — had a base in the United States.
Also: the U.S. is at a minimum acknowledged to have bombed sovereign foreign nations or put military or paramilitary boots on the ground 54 times since 1945, exclusive of CIA and some special ops; sovereign foreign nations have bombed the U.S. or put hostile military boots on American soil … zero times.)
But here’s the most depressing item in the column: Brooks — who made his bones with his jejune book on a supposed new American class of bourgeois bohemians — helps teach a grand strategy course at Yale. Yes, that Yale.
From the Washington Post (via Herlander-Walking) comes final proof that we as a nation are completely, totally, inarguably, definitively, provably, and pathetically nuts. There is not a public (and hardly a private) swimming pool in America that doesn’t have a higher urine content than this:
Though California needs rain, not all of the American West is struggling with drought.
Portland, Ore., will discard 38 million gallons of drinking water after surveillance video showed a 19-year-old man urinating into a reservoir.
Thank God Almighty, the 1% is free at last! The Kochsucking majority on the Supreme Court just ruled that money speaks louder than words — your words anyway:
(CNN) — The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down current limits on the total amount individual donors can make to political campaigns…
The 5-4 ruling could have an immediate impact on November's congressional midterm elections, and add another layer of high-stakes spending in the crowded political arena.
Scalia Thomas & Roberts LLC, the legal branch of the Republican Party, thus returns us to the original intent of the Founding Fathers. Constitutional precedent for today’s ruling is to be found in the three fifths compromise, which took imaginary votes away from slaves and awarded them to their masters.
This is the conclusion of a long and closely reasoned essay by John Michael Greer arguing that the GOP has become, literally, the party of Satan. He may or may not be entirely serious, but I’m convinced. What else could explain Ted Cruz, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Antonin Scalia, and etc. and et cetera and so on ad infinitum?
Only one of the seven deadly sins has gotten by without extravagant praise from so-called Christian conservatives in recent years — it’s hard to glorify an economic system that depends on avarice, gluttony, envy and sloth, and a foreign policy defined by pride and wrath, in any other way — and no doubt they’ll find a way to fit lust in there somewhere one of these days, and finish collecting the whole set.
At this point, though, it’s hard to see any reason why the Satanists in the GOP need to keep the pretense going any longer. In an era when most discussions of the Christmas season in the mass media fixate on whether retailers are making a big enough profit to keep the economy stumbling blindly onward for one more year, I think a strong case can be made that America is ready to shake off the last of its qualms and openly embrace a Satanic political agenda. Among its other benefits, putting public devil worship at the heart of the GOP, where it so evidently belongs, can’t help but improve the flagging ratings of Republican national conventions; the otherwise tedious proceedings of the 2016 GOP convention, for example, would be enlivened no end by a Black Mass celebrated by the GOP nominee, perhaps with Ann Coulter’s nude form draped over the altar and a chorus of delegates chanting “Evil, be thou my good!” from the bleachers.
Thurman Arnold was a Yale Law School professor who became the chief trust buster in Roosevelt’s Justice Department and later a founder of the Washington law firm now known as Arnold & Porter. Along the way he was also a Wyoming legislator, the mayor of Laramie, and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He published The Symbols of Government, excerpted below, in 1935.
Those being times very much like ours it might be of some interest to see how things looked to Arnold back then. Not that we can do much more to fix those things than he could, this still being a nation populated by Americans rather than, say, Swedes, Costa Ricans or Finns. Different strokes for different folks.
Anyway, Merry Christmas and here’s Arnold:
From the humanitarian point of view the best government is that which we find in an asylum. In such a government the physicians in charge do not separate the ideas of the insane into any separate sciences such as law, economics and sociology; nor then instruct the insane in the intricacies of these three sciences. Nor do they argue with the insane as to the soundness or unsoundness of their ideas. Their aim is to make the inmates of the asylum as comfortable as possible, regardless of their respective moral deserts … No psychiatrist today attempts to differentiate the content of foolish ideas, and of insane ideas. It is equally possible to adopt a point of view toward government where ideas are considered only in light of their effect on conduct…
The advantages of such a theory for purposes of thinking about government is that we escape the troublesome assumption that the human race is rational. We need not condemn policies which contradict each other solely on the ground that the action of government must be logically consistent. We need not constantly worry about permanent cures, and discard day-to-day policies because of their effect in the future on the morale of the irrational people we are governing. We need not delay such necessary undertakings as public relief because we are worried about their effect on the character of the recipients. We need not compel persons on relief to pauperize themselves and surrender the insurance policies which may afford future relief to their children because of a moral notion that no one is entitled to relief who is not a pauper…
Russia under Stalin is not so far from Russia under a benevolent despot as we may imagine. It is true that the notion of equal distribution of goods to the proletariat as the chief justification for the exercise of governmental power, contains ideals which appear to be new; but if we examine them we find that they are at least as old as Christianity…
The concept of government as an insane asylum liberates us from the notion that wise men think up principles and schemes of government for their duller fellows to learn and follow, and that thus social change is accomplished. It frees us from the notion that “thinking men” decide between the relative merits of communism and capitalism, and choose the better form. Finally, the theory is based on a humanitarian ideal which seems to be indestructible in the march of society — the ideal that it is a good thing to make people comfortable if the means exist by which it can be done.
“There was a time when a black man couldn’t kiss a white woman on TV. That day has passed,” wrote Robert Farago on his TruthAboutGuns blog about the NFL's decision to ban the ad from Georgia gunmaker Daniel Defense. “Yet a firearms company can’t advertise its products on network TV. It’s high time that ballistic barrier was broken.”
Farago’s twisted sense of history was hardly alone in pro-gun circles. “What a bunch of hypocrites! The 2nd Amendment is ultimately what allows the NFL to even exist,” wrote TreeManTwo on the website of Guns & Ammo magazine, which broke the story last Friday that the NFL rejected the ad for violating its advertising policy. “It does have to do with us being able to keep and protect our rights to do things like play football!”
Read these excerpts and then proceed directly to Naked Capitalism for the rest. The essential, primal split in America is not about race, color or creed. It is the one between loaners and borrowers. Examined closely enough, all our political battles trace back to that. There are many more of us borrowers than loaners, of course, but we are slow learners.
Today, in 2013, debt numbers all over are at levels that nobody would have believed possible only 30 years ago. Household debt, national debt and corporate debt hang around our necks like so many nooses, and all we can do to prevent ourselves from suffocating is to borrow more. And so, inevitably, debt levels rise further. And just as inevitably, more and more people fall by the wayside; they can’t keep up anymore. They are either too much in debt already, or they can’t find a job that pays enough — provided they find a job at all — or both. In the process, we have become, the vast majority of us, entire societies of debt slaves, living in constant fear of losing a job and/or a home, and/or contracting a disease.
And it’s not just paying back their own debt which people find ever harder: much of the debt from the financial — and overall corporate — sector has been transferred to the public sector, first becoming national debt and then trickling down into household debt through taxes and cuts to services…
It’s ironic that one of the undoubtedly most capitalist countries on the planet, Switzerland, appears to take wealth redistribution more serious than any other, with a slew of referendums (yes, they have actual democracy) aimed at decreasing income inequality. In March, one such referendum forced public companies to give shareholders a binding vote on executive compensation. In November, there’s a vote on the 1:12 initiative, which stipulates that executives can’t make more than 12 times the salary of the lowest-paid employee. Which somewhat perversely means executives have a very good reason to raise that lowest salary: they themselves can get 12 dollars for every single dollar they give the employee, so an extra $1000 per month for the latter translates into $144,000 extra per year for the bosses.
Heads they win, tails we lose. David Dayen at Naked Capitalism explains how the fix is in:
Consider also how the nature of the gridlock itself empowers elite goals in this case. Democratic pundits and allies have talked themselves blue about the doomed Speakership of John Boehner, the lunacy of Ted Cruz, and whether the Republican fever will break. Precious few words, by contrast, have been written about the fact that the SOLUTION here, the position that Democrats have been pushing, is a “clean” continuing resolution, which will enforce sequestration limits, a spending cap below societal need and economic demand, into Fiscal Year 2014.
And while that would only hold for a couple months, anyone who thinks sequestration will somehow be cancelled (or even “replaced,” which does the economy next to no good from a macro standpoint) by the same people who just shut down the government over “defunding” Obamacare, which is by its nature mandatory spending and not defunded today, is nuts. But Democratic politicians benefit from the virtual silence about how the country is doomed to austerity spending caps for what could be an entire decade. And elites enjoy advantages from such a state of affairs as well.
… in just six words the GOP’s threats to shut down their own country’s government and destroy its credit rating:
The Guardian brings us more news from the pews:
Of the 1,001 people surveyed, 35% of Americans said they believe in the statement: “With just Bible study and prayer, ALONE, people with serious mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia could overcome mental illness.”
Of the respondents who self-identified as either born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian — 48% agreed.
Jim Wright at Stonekettle explores the true legacy of 9/11 in the excerpt below. As a nation, we have responded to the tragedy like a man stricken with lung cancer who chooses to self-medicate with two packs of Marlboros, taken daily.
…Since 911, an entire generation has been born and grown to self-awareness. Those young Americans have never known their nation at peace.
They have never known a nation that is not divided … They have never had a single day where they weren’t told to hate their neighbors and to report them if they don’t seem patriotic enough … They have never lived a single day in a nation that wasn’t bent to the terrible business of revenge.
They have never known a nation that didn’t roil in fear and cringe in terror every single day … They have never flown on an airplane without having been treated like a criminal … They have never checked out a book from the library without having been subject to secret scrutiny.
They never sent an unmonitored email or made an unmonitored phone call … They have never lived in a house that isn’t subject to unwarranted search … They have never had the right to redress or legal challenge when their name is placed on secret lists — and in point of fact, they don’t even have the right to know if their name is on that list at all.
They have never lived in a nation where they have the right to confront their accuser and demand proof of more than just suspicion … They have never lived without the threat, however unlikely, of being disappeared … They have never lived in a nation that didn’t regard the torture of human beings as an acceptable option.
This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.
The terrorists didn’t do that to them.
By all means read this whole, terrifying article in the New York Times by Todd Miller. An individual presenting with the same symptoms as our nation would be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and confined appropriately.
In 2012, a majority of the more than 364,000 people arrested by Border Patrol agents nationwide were migrant workers crossing the border. Agents did not capture or arrest a single international terrorist.…
The Border Patrol buildup in the aftermath of 9/11 was unparalleled. In the 10-year period following 9/11, the United States spent a staggering $90 billion on border enforcement.
In 2012, the Migration Policy Institute reported that immigration and border enforcement spending totaled almost $18 billion. That is 24 percent more than the $14.4 billion combined budgets in the last fiscal year of the F.B.I., the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives…
Almost one-third of all agents have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s no wonder that more and more people in the 100-mile zone from across the political spectrum view the Border Patrol as an occupying army.
The Democrats have been so deeply penetrated by the neoliberal/Robert Rubin/Hamilton Project types that they aren’t that different from the right on economic issues. Both want little regulation of banking and open trade and international capital flows. Both want to “reform” Medicare and Social Security. Both are leery of a welfare state, the Republicans openly so, the Rubinite Dems with all sorts of hand wringing and clever schemes to incentivize private companies that generally subsidize what they would have done regardless (note that Americans have had a mixed record in providing good social safety nets, but a big reason is our American exceptionalism means we refuse to copy successful models from abroad).
The powerful influence of moneyed interests on the Democratic party has achieved the fondest aims of the right wing extremists of the 1970s: the party of FDR is now lukewarm at best in its support of the New Deal. Most Democrats are embarrassed to be in the same room with union types. They are often afraid to say that government can play a positive role. They were loath to discuss the costs of income inequality until it became so far advanced that it is now well nigh impossible to reverse it. After all, that sort of discussion might sound like class warfare, and God forbid anyone on the mainstream left risk sound like Marx…
So the Democratic party (and remember, our two party system makes the Democrats the home by default for the left) pretends to be a safe haven for all sorts of out groups: women, gays, Hispanics (on their way to being the dominant group but not there yet), blacks, the poor. But this is stands in stark contradiction to its policies of selling out the middle class to banks and big corporate interests, just on a slower and stealthier basis than the right. So its desperate need to maintain its increasingly phony “be nice to the rainbow coalition” branding places a huge premium on appearances. It thus uses identity politics as a cover for policy betrayals. It can motivate various groups on narrow, specific issues, opening the way for the moneyed faction to get what it wants.
…this is what President Obama does to helpless men 88 times a day. No doubt he does it for what he considers to be the greater good: protecting the rest of his agenda from the “national security” cowards who predominate in Congress and the electorate. In some cosmic weighing of the scales, he may be right. Or not.
Still, this is what President Obama does to helpless men 88 times a day. Every day.
We seem to be in Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s RV, deep in the heart of Kansas:
Other than being surrounded by more than a mile and a half of 6-foot-high chain-link fence topped with sharp rows of barbed wire, the land above ground isn't distinguishable from expanses of hills and trees that surround it. The proposed shelter's entrances — nondescript concrete loading docks tucked discretely into the wooded hillside — are easily defensible against any potential intruders provided there's not a full-scale military attack, Vicino said…
Before it comes time to ride out Armageddon or a deadly global pandemic, though, Vicino says the Vivos Survival Shelter and Resort will be a fun place for members to take vacations and learn assorted survival skills to prepare them for whatever world-changing catastrophe awaits.
President Obama himself seems to be the one about to cross the red line — that same red line we’ve crossed so many, many times before:
The United States will “shortly” begin arming Syrian rebels, looking to boost moderate factions over al-Qaida-affiliated extremists whose rise would be a national security “nightmare,” the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told CBS News on Tuesday.
“I do think we’ll be arming the opposition shortly,” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said in an interview. “We’re doing a lot more there on the ground than really is known, but we do have to change the equation.”
I just have 20 short words for the president: Indonesia, Haiti, Chile, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Angola, Zaire, Libya, Lebanon, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Just to name a few victims of our never-ending mission to force “democracy“ on the natives.
The invariant rule, Mr. President, goes as follows: When you take the wrong train, every station you reach is the wrong one.
Shoot the shit out of others as you would have them shoot the shit out of you. McClatchy reports:
AUSTIN, Texas — After successfully firing a gun made with a 3-D printer over the weekend, a University of Texas law school student hopes to refine the prototype and ultimately distribute online files so anyone can make one…
Ultimately, Wilson wants to distribute downloadable files that can be plugged in to a 3-D printer. “It’s about empowerment of the individual over political hierarchy,” he said.
Syrbal, at Herlander-Walking, is herself a veteran. So is her husband. They have a son who just left for Afghanistan on his second tour in the Bush-Obama wars. Not that Bush and Obama are the only ones responsible for those evil, idiot wars. Read her post to the end.
I know keeping very, very busy is the best idea right now. Distraction was my only friend the last year he was in the war zone; but this time it is far more difficult to keep my mind away from sharp cliff edges. At least, this time, it seems most Americans, even in this perversely red county of a blue state, have decided the wars are not a jolly good time.
Last time, seeing the service star on my car, or if it came up in conversation I still had idiots say the equivalent of “Right on!” which made me tilt my head and eye them like a hungry raptor before verbally pecking them to death. This time, if I apologize for temporary mental lapses with the explanation of my son being deployed, faces fall and people say “Oh, I’m so sorry,” or “Oh, no!”
Why, oh, why was that not the response in 2001 and 2003? It was the same lie then? And over 8000 men and women from a host of nations including our own have paid for that lie with their deaths. And that is not even beginning the count of Iraqis and Afghanis.
During the long, sad evening of the election night when Reagan won reelection in a landslide, a colleague in Gore campaign headquarters defined the word democracy for me. “Democracy,” he said, “is that system of government in which you give the people what they want. And you give it to ’em good.”
From Naked Capitalism:
Now Johnson carefully laid the bread crumbs, but so as not to violate the rules of power player discourse, pointedly switched from the banana republic term “oligarch” to the more genteel and encompassing label “elites” when talking about the US (“elites” goes beyond the controlling interests themselves to include their operatives as well as any independent opinion influencers). Yet despite his depiction of extensive parallels between the role played by oligarchs in emerging economies and the overwhelming influence of the financial elite in the US, there’s been a peculiar sanctimonious reluctance to apply the word oligarch to the members of America’s ruling class…
But the fact that some people have advantages and are able to make the most of them, isn’t the reason to pin the “o” word on America’s top wealthy. It’s that, like Simon’s prototypical emerging market magnates, they increasingly dominate our society and are running it strictly for own self interest and devil take the rest of us. And the results on important metrics are worse than in Russia. The Gini coefficient is a widely-used measure of income inequality. The Gini coefficient is worse (higher) for the US than for Russia. Even though its rich have gotten richer and have pulled away from their lessers, the rest of the population has also done better:In dollar terms, Russia’s GDP increased 7.5-fold over the last decade from around $200bn to $1.5 trillion; at the same time, nominal average wages increased 14-fold over the same period from $50 to around $700 a month.And the latest statistics on the Gini coefficients (at least readily findable on the Web) are a few years stale. As we’ve written, the income gains in the US from 2009 to 2011 went entirely to the top 1%, which saw a 121% increase; the rest of the population suffered a small decline. That would increase the US Gini coefficient even further.
The architects of the Iraq war are still at large, as are the pundits who cheered them on, as are the bankers who created the economic crash. The lesson is clear in each case: American elites are not held accountable for their failures. They are an aristocracy that is free to do whatever it wants, knowing that it will not lose its power, prestige and status no matter what happens. Once you’re accepted into the club you get tenure, and you can indulge in as much fraud, extortion and folly as you wish. The little people will be tasked to suffer the consequences and pay for the mess, and you can enjoy your evening at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner without any anxiety whatsoever. As long as you don’t download kiddie porn, sleep with 13-year-old girls, frolic with Boy Scouts, or get photographed in a brothel with a chicken mask and a bull whip, you’re golden.
The rest of us get zero tolerance laws, paramilitary police forces, surveillance drones, warrantless wiretaps, German Shepherds sniffing through our kids’ lockers at school, sobriety check points, “click it or ticket” sweeps and other such delightful previews of life in post-Constitutional America. But that shit ain’t for you.
If we sell pot we go to jail, maybe even lose our careers. If you start a disastrous, unnecessary war that kills millions of people and wastes billions of dollars, you go on the Sunday talk shows and get fawned over like you’re the biggest foreign policy wiz since Lord Palmerston, or even Dr. Kissinger! You get a lucrative book deal. You hire a hack to write it. You give it an idiotically simple title that you’ve plagiarized from a third grader’s essay like Lessons Learned or What I’ve Learned. Have your wife go on The View to share your sweet human side to the housewives of America. Put together an exploratory committee. When you’re a member of the elite, failure is an option, and every crisis is indeed an opportunity. There’s nowhere to go but up, up, up.
About that book. Keep it simple. If your average football coach can’t imbibe its main points during a single bout with the piles, you haven’t accomplished your mission. Remember, David Gregory and George Stephanopoulos might be reading. Tailor your prose accordingly. Never mind that no one outside of Chris Matthews’ boudoir actually will read it, and don’t worry that it’s going to end up in a bin at the Salvation Army next to Vanna White’s biography and innumerable copies of A Million Little Pieces. This is about marketing and public relations, not literature. It’s about your worldly success in the here and now. The future doesn’t matter, as one of your colleagues famously observed, because we’ll all be dead.
Thus the same people who brought us the Iraq disaster and the Great Recession are now bringing us bomb Iran and bring on austerity. That’s how the game works. It’s one great big obscene charade. They know it. We know it. They know we know it. They know we know they know we know it, and no one cares. Even if we did, there isn’t a damn thing we could do about it anyway, is there?
…and alack, but Ed at Gin and Tacos is, regrettably and inarguably, right that there is no left left:
This is the real drawback of our political system and process. With only two parties and the end of the political-ideological conflict between socialism and capitalist democracy that defined most of the 20th Century we’re left debating most — albeit not all — issues within a very narrow ideological range. We’ve all agreed upon the End of History and that free market capitalism is the final form of human social organization, and that America shall be a hegemonic military power, and that our politicians shall be beholden to the financial interests that back them, and that we will argue only in the margins (except on “social” issues, where legitimate disagreement is permitted because the titans of industry don’t give a shit about them). So we have already settled on policing the world and are now arguing about how best to do it, just as we have decided that the financial industry will shape our society to its liking and we are now arguing about whether a handful of regulators should be tasked with watching them do it.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — A Virginia Beach pizza shop owner is showing his support for firearm rights by giving gun owners a 15 percent discount. The discount is given to anyone who brings a gun or concealed handgun permit to All Around Pizzas and Deli…
Since the discount began last Friday, Laze says 80 percent of his customers have brought guns into the pizza shop. He says one customer came in with an AK-47.
News you can use, brought to you by Mary Roach, in Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.
Stop wearing cologne. Women don’t find it attractive. If you don’t believe me, here is a quote from a press release from the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago: “Men’s cologne actually reduced vaginal blood flow.” Foundation director Al Hirsch hooked women up to a vaginal photoplethysmograph and had them wear surgical masks scented with ten different aromas or combinations of aromas. (To be sure the women weren’t just getting aroused by dressing up in surgical masks, Hirsch put unscented masks onto a control group.) In addition to the smell of cologne, the women were turned off by the smell of cherry and of “charcoal barbecue meat.” At the top of the women’s turn-on list was, mysteriously, a mixture of cucumber and Good & Plenty candy. It was said to increase vaginal blood flow by 13 per cent.
…Now You Still Don’t. Is there any possibility at all that Americans will be stupid enough to pay money for this crap? Sure there is. We pay for bottled water, don’t we?
Switching from a sales pitch about eliminating stains to one about unseen soiling may seem to be an about-face, but Cheryl McKenzie, group account director for Union, said that what remained consistent for Wisk was a willingness to address unpleasantness. “…The new taboo that no one is talking about is that while you can’t see the dirt that’s in your clothes, it’s there…”
“When we talked to consumers,” Ms. Van Velsor said, “they said that whether it’s in the kitchen or the bathroom, they’re looking for thorough cleaning. They know that it can’t just look clean — it has to be clean all the way through.”
With laundry detergent formulations having improved enough in recent decades that many consumers trust store brands for stain removal, “there is so little differentiation in the category that you have to step above stains in order to break through,” Ms. Van Velsor said.
I let no Thursday go by without checking the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times, and nor should any other real man. Today we fashionistos learned:
As a Los Angeles-based brand manager for high-profile musicians, Nicholas Adler likes staying abreast of men’s fashion, sporting Rag & Bone jeans with slim-fit shirts and Ben Sherman sweaters. As a final touch he’s grown a beard, which once resembled the one worn by Mandy Patinkin’s character on the television show “Homeland,” but now is a more closely cropped length. “It’s a style thing,” said Mr. Adler, 36, who divulged that he spends up to 45 minutes, one to two times a week, grooming his beard.
This is from 17 t0 62 more minutes per week than I spend shaving, which I have been doing pretty much on a daily basis for 63 years now. Consequently my fashion statement, compared with Mr. Adler’s, has saved me roughly 400 eight-hour days — enough time to have composed 1.7 symphonies, or written a highly-regarded history of Bacon’s Rebellion, or hiked the Appalachian Trail twice. Not that I did any of these things, but still…
Not that I have anything against beards, either. In 1954 my college roommate and I grow semi-luxuriant beards, mine black and his red. At the time the only other American to wear one was Ernest Hemingway, who was to kill himself seven years later in a possibly unrelated incident.
Beards were so unusual that strangers would come up and ask about them, always the same questions. How long did it take to grow? Doesn’t it itch? What are you trying to prove?
What we proved to our own satisfaction was that beards were more trouble than they were worth, which was only the modest pleasure of giving the ’50s the finger. Now that face muffs are on the fashion page of the Good Gray Lady, even that is gone.
Just when you think the human race couldn’t get any stupider, it gets stupider. Somehow this idiocy had escaped me till now:
A man who found six children in his driveway in Newtown, Conn., after their teacher had been shot and killed in last month's school massacre has become the target of conspiracy theorists who believe the shootings were staged.
“I don’t know what to do,” Gene Rosen told Salon.com. “I’m getting hang-up calls, I’m getting some calls, I’m getting emails with, not direct threats, but accusations that I’m lying, that I’m a crisis actor, ‘How much am I being paid?'”
Rosen, a 69-year-old retired psychologist who lives near Sandy Hook Elementary School where the shootings took place, says his inbox is filled with emails like this one:How are all those little students doing? You know, the ones that showed up at your house after the ‘shooting’. What is the going rate for getting involved in a gov’t sponsored hoax anyway?
“The quantity of the material is overwhelming,” Rosen said, adding that he's sought the advice of a retired state police officer and plans to alert the FBI.
Tired of feeling optimistic? Frank Rich can help with that:
What’s more, the right thinks long-term, and if you look at the long-term, the whole ugly “fiscal cliff” standoff was a win-win for conservatives, no matter what their passing defeats in this week’s deal. The more Washington looks dysfunctional, the more it sows dissatisfaction with the very idea of a Federal government. Yes, Democrats and the White House can argue that polls show that the Republicans would be getting most of the blame if Congress couldn’t reach agreement on the “fiscal cliff.” But that’s short-term liberal wishful thinking. Long-term, this intractable dispute has undermined Americans’ faith in government, period, and the voters’ plague-on-all-your-houses view of Washington is overall a resounding ideological win for a party that wants to dismantle government, the GOP. The conservative movement is no more dead after its 2012 defeat than it was after the Goldwater debacle of 1964.
Frank Rich argues that media clamor about the fiscal cliff is as nonsensical as the Y2K panic. And as usual, it’s hard to argue with Frank Rich.
The breathless and phony countdown to the fiscal cliff — What if they can’t agree? What if we fall off? Can America possibly survive? — is media hype, a desperate effort to drum up a drama to keep viewers and readers tuned in now that the election is over. It’s a Road Runner cartoon, Beltway-edition. And it’s going to end with a whimper like the similarly apocalyptic, now long-forgotten Y2K scare of the turn of the millennium.
Everyone knows the Republicans are going to fold — the Republicans know they are going to fold — and the only question to be resolved is when and on what terms. They have zero leverage. It’s not only that they lost the election; they continue to decline in national polls, with the latest Pew survey showing that 53 percent of Americans will blame the GOP (and only 27 percent will blame President Obama) if there’s no deal by January.
The party has no national leader still standing except John Boehner, who can’t even command the loyalty of his own caucus in the House. Let’s hope that Obama, who is showing the admirable take-no-prisoners toughness he lacked last time around, continues on his current firm path once the Republicans start to buckle. There is a lot more at stake in the negotiations beyond the upper-echelon tax rates that the GOP will soon have to retreat on.
George Packer has a piece in this week’s New Yorker that tells you more about how Washington (and the human species for that matter) actually fits together than anything I’ve read in years. It’s sad and terrifying at the same time.
The full text is behind a pay wall, but a summary is here. Don’t be satisfied with this, though, because the devil is in the details. Get hold of the magazine if you’re not a subscriber. It contains another wonderful piece, this one by Jane Mayer and available on line. It’s called “The Voter Fraud Myth.” The cunning little Bushie behind that myth is pictured below.
Going through some old family records last night, I came across this epitaph written by Colonel Ezekiel Polk for his tombstone in Bolivar, Tennessee. Born in 1747, he died in 1820, with all his faculties evidently intact.
…James Howard Kunstler did, and he goes on to de-ball the Democrats almost as cruelly. I would never be that mean.
History will notice — even if we are too chickenshit to face it now — that the extraordinary turpitudes of US politics today represent an unprecedented failure of American manhood. It’s everywhere and pervasive along the spectrum of party politics, as untruth is everywhere and pervasive in American life.
The Republican case is too painfully obvious — Congressman Todd Akin being only the latest buffoon from the vast red state flyover cultural wilderness of franchise food and franchise thought to expose himself as lacking the basic male decency to defend womanhood against the consequences of plain-and-simple rape.
In Dixieland Republicanism — now a misty region-of-mind that extends way beyond the old Confederate borders — you have the perfect confluence of sheer stupidity with the put-on, fake religiosity of men too weak to take responsibility for their own actions. They can just pawn everything off on Jesus: the good, the bad, the mystifying, the shameful. All the Republican men have to do is show up at the Nascar oval in time for barbeque.
As for the courage of convictions, watch VP-designate Paul Ryan haul his mom out before a crowd of Florida retirees to prove his allegiance to Medicare and Social Security — two programs he would like to dismantle — on top of the fact that his mom is exactly the sort of multi-millionaire who a sane society would means-test out of receiving old-age support from the less fortunate taxpayers…
For those who may have missed this when I blogged it in 2006, here’s a re-run of a passage from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, a 1965 novel by the late Kurt Vonnegut that never goes out of date. Although now that I think of it, maybe it has. Maybe things have gotten worse.
The speaker is a fictional millionaire named Eliot Rosewater who was determined to love his country no matter what:
Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created.
Honest, industrious peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed.
Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.
Here’s L. Randall Wray, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
…Bill Black joined our department in 2006. At UMKC (and the Levy Institute) we had long been discussing and analyzing the GFC that we knew was going to hit, using the approaches of Hyman Minsky and Wynne Godley. Bill insisted we were overlooking the most important factor, fraud. To be more specific, Bill called it control fraud, where top corporate management runs an institution as a weapon to loot shareholders and customers to the benefit of top management. Think Bob Rubin, Hank Paulson, Bernie Madoff, Jamie Dimon and Jon Corzine.
Long before, I had come across Bill’s name when I wrote about the S&L scandal, and I had listed fraud as the second most important cause of that crisis. While I was open to his argument back in 2006, I could never have conceived of the scope of Wall Street’s depravity. It is all about fraud. As I’ve said, this crisis is like Shrek’s Onion, with fraud in every layer. There is, quite simply, no part of the financial system that is not riddled with fraud.
The fraud cannot be reduced much less eliminated. First, there are no regulators to stop it, and no prosecutors to punish it. But, far more importantly, fraud is the business model. Further, even if a financial institution tried to buck the trend it would fail. As Bill says, fraud is always the most profitable game in town. So Gresham’s Law dynamics ensure that fraud is the only game in town.
As Sherrill said, without regulation, capitalism is thievery. We stopped regulating the financial system, so thieves took over…
In New York Magazine Frank Rich takes on the torrent of nostalgia porn that followed the death of Andy Griffith. Read it all here:
…Some declinists who should know better retreat into the those-were-the-good-old-days bromides that characterized the Andy Griffith hagiographies. Thomas Friedman and Charles Murray have little in common politically, but Friedman’s love letter to his old neighborhood in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park in the sixties and Murray’s paean to his small hometown of Newton, Iowa, in the fifties — both presented as middle-class Utopias united by solid values and a faith in the common good — are interchangeable.
And no wonder: According to the U.S. Census, both towns were more than 99 percent white at the time the two men graduated from high school. Would the midwestern nirvanas of St. Louis Park and Newton have been so friction-free if black or immigrant aliens had moved to Maple Street before Friedman and Murray left town for college? To measure the rapidly evolving America of 2012 against the segregated white America of a half-century earlier is as empirically spurious as contrasting the current bankrupt plight of Stockton, California, with the solvency of Mayberry (which, let us not forget, was not a documentary slice of sixties America but a repurposing of Hollywood back-lot sets first built to stand in for Atlanta streets in the 1939 Gone With the Wind)…
Lost in all our declinist panic is the fact that the election of an African-American president is in itself an instance of American exceptionalism — an unexpected triumph for a country that has struggled for its entire history with the stain of slavery. “Only in America is my story even possible,” Obama is understandably fond of saying, knowing full well that as recently as the year of his birth, 1961, he would not have been welcome in Mayberry, let alone the White House. That his unlikely rise has somehow been twisted into a synonym for America’s supposed collapse over the past four years may be the most disturbing and intractable evidence of our decline of all.
How could I feel but naked, unprotected and helpless when I learned this just now on Yahoo News? What’s an old white man to do when Obama’s Panzers come to round up his guns and haul him before the death panels?
There is no restriction on the sale of bullets in the United States, except for armor-piercing rounds, which can only be bought by law enforcement, said Ginger Colbrun, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
…and increase and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord. (Ezekiel, 22.12)
And here is exactly how thou did it, saith Michael Hudson at Naked Capitalism.
The largest asset in any economy is real estate — mainly the land’s site value. So about 80 percent of bank loans are mortgage loans. But by 1980 property prices had turned down as interest rates rose during the Vietnam War and the general Cold War buildup throughout the world. Overseas military spending obliged the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to borrow abroad to prevent the dollar’s exchange rate from declining.
So in the 1980s banks found a new market: corporate raiders treated companies much like real estate, to be bought on credit and managed to create a capital gain. The rise in interest rates to 20 percent by 1980 forced most states to revoke their usury laws, and credit card companies played states against each other in a race to the bottom when it came to protecting consumer rights. So the high-interest junk bond was born, largely at the hands of Michael Milken’s gang at Drexel Burnham.
American industry began to be financialized (and in the process, criminalized). But running a company to make a financial gain is different from running an industrial firm to expand production. Cash flow that was not paid to bankers and bondholders for the credit to buy out stock holders was used for purposes other than direct capital investment — above all for stock buybacks to support their price, and for mergers and acquisitions to acquire yet more companies.
The aim was not to increase production but to increase balance-sheet wealth — while extracting revenue from companies much like landlords bleeding a building. That is the time frame of finance capital, in contrast to industrial capital. It is short-term, not long term. This is why it is extractive rather than productive. The revenue has no counterpart in new direct investment in output, but rather in overhead debt extracting a rising flow of interest from the economy.
“Wealth creation” by debt leveraging — that is, asset-price inflation — was celebrated as a post-industrial economy, as if this were a positive and natural evolution. But in reality it is a lapse back into a rentier economy, and even into a kind of neofeudalism. The post-2008 bailouts have vested a new rentier elite to lord it over the 21st century, thanks to the fact that most gains since 1980 have gone to the 1% — mainly the financial sector, not to the 99%.
The municipal bond business has always been a cesspool. Nixon’s corrupt attorney general, John Mitchell, crawled out of it and on to greater things, so to speak: Watergate and the plumbers.
But I’ve never seen the bond racket more clearly exposed or better explained than by Matt Taibbi in this month’s Rolling Stone. Read it, and weep for the Republic. He starts out with this:
Someday, it will go down in history as the first trial of the modern American mafia. Of course, you won’t hear the recent financial corruption case, United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm, called anything like that. If you heard about it at all, you’re probably either in the municipal bond business or married to an antitrust lawyer. Even then, all you probably heard was that a threesome of bit players on Wall Street got convicted of obscure antitrust violations in one of the most inscrutable, jargon-packed legal snoozefests since the government’s massive case against Microsoft in the Nineties — not exactly the thrilling courtroom drama offered by the famed trials of old-school mobsters like Al Capone or Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo.
But this just-completed trial in downtown New York against three faceless financial executives really was historic. Over 10 years in the making, the case allowed federal prosecutors to make public for the first time the astonishing inner workings of the reigning American crime syndicate, which now operates not out of Little Italy and Las Vegas, but out of Wall Street…
Many years ago, watching TV, I realized that we had turned some sort of a corner. The host had announced a guest, who came on stage to wild applause. The guest joined in, clapping enthusiastically for herself. If this catches on, I thought, we are doomed. It caught on.
And so this, by Michael Haederle at Pacific Standard, comes as no surprise.
Of note: many of the men classified as psychopaths in Blackwood’s study would not have met the criteria for psychopathy in the United States, he says. Psychopathy is diagnosed with a standard checklist that scores various traits on a scale of 40. In Europe, a score of 25 qualifies someone as a psychopath, he says, while the threshold in the U.S. is 30. The average score in the British study was 28, he says.
“I’m always slightly careful about this with American audiences,” Blackwood says in trying to explain the differing thresholds. “It’s something to do with a different approach to the self in America. There is a degree of narcissism that is more culturally appropriate in America than it is in England.”
Ian Welsh gets it right:
Ordinary people hate other ordinary people who are doing better than them. The politics of envy isn’t about the rich, whom ordinary people almost never see, but about their neighbours. And Americans want a mean economy, one where everyone has to suffer like they do. As long as the union movement is about a few people keeping higher wages, it will continue to fail. A union movement which is centered around public service unions cannot stand.I think this is the real story of the Wisconsin elections. Corporate money was a factor, no doubt, as was conservative propaganda, but all the money and spin in the world won’t help you win if most people just flat out don’t agree with you. The fact is, demagogic appeals to people’s fear and envy almost always trump good will and common sense. Nowhere is this more true than in America, where the only thing we love more than money is kicking someone in the guts when they’re down.
But, say lefties like Michael Moore, poll after poll shows that Americans usually come down on the progressive side of the issues. Well, maybe, but election after election keeps putting reactionary Republicans and conservative Democrats back in office. Why is that?
I don’t care what any poll says. This country is firmly, staunchly, stupidly center-right. It doesn’t matter if a poll says most Americans favor single-payer health care, because those same people will turn right around and vote for some right-wing demagogue who cries that it’s “socialism!” Most Americans would benefit from bigger stimulus spending, extended unemployment benefits, and a strong labor movement, but all of that’s irrelevant. Rational considerations like that get thrown out the window as soon as a politician or a talk show host tells people that the dirty fuckin’ Mexicans are stealing their jobs, or that lazy government workers are prospering on their dime, or that class warfare against multimillionaires in the form of the capital gains tax is wrecking our economy.
If Americans are so damn progressive, why do we live in the least progressive nation of all the advanced industrial democracies? Why does public policy always, always, drift in favor of the rich and powerful? The divide and conquer tactics employed by the likes of Scott Walker succeed because so many American fundamentally agree with them. When they’re told about wicked teacher’s unions, they remember the high school civics teacher who always gave them detention and think, “Yeah, fuck teachers!” When they hear about public service workers getting higher pensions than themselves, they remember some petty government department that levied a fine on them for some minor infraction, and they think, “Yeah, fuck government workers!”
As for the Mexicans, they haven’t got a chance in this environment. Anti-Mexican bigotry is de rigueur among the white working class. It is openly and proudly expressed. It’s just taken for granted that Mexicans, who may work as dishwashers and sleep six to a room, somehow constitute a privileged aristocracy that the government mysteriously favors over good hard working white Americans when dispensing all the benefits. This view as common as the day is long, and it’s impossible to dislodge it from a brain where it’s taken root. I’ve given up trying. I’ve been inches away from fist fights over this issue. The fact is, they want to blame Mexicans for their problems for one simple reason: they want to blame Mexicans for their problems. Period. Keep your logic to yourself.
Appealing to the the lowest common denominator works because the lowest common denominator is our most potent driving force. We are the lowest common denominator. We are overlapping, interwoven bundles of lowest common denominators that, working together in perfect synergy, has produced a nation whose most salient traits are militarism, economic inequality, and authoritarian police agencies. There’s a deeply ingrained core of hysterical, money-grubbing, self-defeating stupidity that makes up a large part of our national character. It goes all the way back to pre-colonial times. It’s just who we are. Read Richard Hofstadter, or even de Tocqueville, where the theme also pops up.
(A side note: while of us liberals and progressives are wringing our hands in despair, I’d bet money that the big strategic brains in the Democratic party are betting that going against public employee unions is smart politics. I heard this being ever so gently mentioned on some of the talk shows after the election results came in. Rather than standing up for organized labor on principle, they’re going to kneecap it for short term political gain. Public employees unions are going to be the next bargaining chip, the next sacrificial lamb, in some Obamian grand bargain with the far right. Watch the Democrats sell them out. You just watch them do it.)
Here’s David Barash, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
There’s a noteworthy trend among retired military and civilian officials who, in their professional capacity, held senior roles with regard to our nuclear weaponry: When they retire, they often see the error of their ways, denounce what they have done and apologize for how they “succeeded” in their careers…
For example, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s baleful influence went far beyond escalating the Vietnam War. More than anyone else, he was personally responsible for the immense escalation in the number of deployed U.S. warheads during the 1960s. After retiring from his Defense post and a stint heading up the World Bank, McNamara announced that much of what he had done during the Johnson Administration was quite literally a mistake.
In Errol Morris’s superb documentary, The Fog of War, in addition to admitting his colossal and murderous Vietnam blunders, McNamara commented as follows: “The major lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is this: the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations. Is it right and proper that today there are 7,500 offensive strategic nuclear warheads, of which 2,500 are on a 15-minute alert to be launched at the decision of one human being?” Clearly, his answer was No.
What a shame that he didn’t act on this realization when he had the authority to do so!
A politician’s first duty, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, is to get elected. This requires telling a frightened, ignorant and superstitious electorate what it wants to hear. A Reagan or a George W. Bush can do this with an untroubled heart, since what we want to hear is what he wants to say.
A rising bureaucrat may or may not be in agreement with those in a position to advance his career. If the latter, he must put his convictions in a blind trust for future use, once he reaches the top of his personal ladder. Then, he tells himself, he will be free at last do the right thing.
Nothing is left, then, but to write your memoirs and hope the next guy will learn from them. It’s no use blaming McNamara for this. If he had “acted on this realization” at the time, McGeorge Bundy or some other striver left over from the Kennedy White House would have become secretary of defense.
It would have been, as Lyndon Johnson used to say in his simple, homespun way, like pissing in a blue serge suit. The wearer gets a nice, warm feeling, and nobody else notices a thing.
McNamara couldn’t have have changed the course of history a bit by rebelling, any more than Obama could have called off our pointless and idiotic “War on Terror” in 2009. It’s what the boss ordered, and we ordered it because we are what we are.
Read Matt Stoller’s piece at Naked Capitalism if you’re still puzzling over why brutal economic inequity and untouchable Wall Street crooks seem to be baked into the American cake. Here’s the nut graf:
The dirty secret of American politics is that, for most politicians, getting elected is just not that important. What matters is post-election employment. It’s all about staying in the elite political class, which means being respected in a dense network of corporate-funded think tanks, high-powered law firms, banks, defense contractors, prestigious universities, and corporations. If you run a campaign based on populist themes, that’s a threat to your post-election employment prospects. This is why rising Democratic star and Newark Mayor Corey Booker reacted so strongly against criticism of private equity – he’s looking out for a potential client after his political career is over, or perhaps, during interludes between offices. Running as a vague populist is manageable, as long as you’re lying to voters. If you actually go after powerful interests while in office, then you better win, because if you don’t, you’ll have basically nowhere to go. And if you lose, but you were a team player, then you’ll have plenty of money and opportunity. The most lucrative scenario is to win and be a team player, which is what Bill and Hillary Clinton did. The Clinton’s are the best at the political game – it’s not a coincidence that deregulation accelerated in the late 1990s, as Clinton and his whole team began thinking about their post-Presidential prospects.
(For new evidence backing Stoller’s argument, go here.)
On We Are Respectable Negroes, Chauncey DeVega considers whether a military coup could occur here, and finds the question to be not at all hypothetical:
I have mentioned this essay from Harper's a few times here on WARN. I assign it in my introductory American Politics courses as a way of getting students to think about our country's cultural, social, and political institutions. Could there be a military coup in the United States? What would it take to be successful? Would the officer class go along with it? What of the average rank-and-file soldiers?
My answer has always been as follows: why does the military need to have a coup when they effectively run the show anyway? Moreover, the United States is a thoroughly militarized society from the bottom up (and has only seen the walls between the military and civilian life become thinner and thinner with the post-Cold War up-gunning of local police departments, and Patriot Act national security era).
Move along. Step lively. This way to the Worst Little Show on Earth! There’s still room for you in our damp and claustrophobic tent. Get ready! Get set! Prepare to be distracted, offended, annoyed, disgusted!
Look! It’s the Amazing Talking Head. No arms, no legs, no body! Just a mouth that never stops. It rants, it raves. It sneers, it smirks. It babbles, it badgers and it never, ever shuts up. Astonishing, daunting, frightening.
Gaze in wonder at the Bulimic Woman. She stuffs herself with food; she throws up; she stuffs herself with more food; she throws up. Gut-wrenching! Surprising! Phenomenal!
Gasp at the decrepitude of the Weak Man! He’s not strong; he’s feeble. Watch him fail to do a single chin-up. He cannot lift a Volkswagen on his back, much less an anvil with his tongue. Until he removes his wristwatch he can barely lift his arm. Incredible! Wondrous!
Here come the House Cats! Better than leaping through rings of fire, they will do… anything they want. They will rip up furniture, cough up hairballs, hide for days in closets, and mark pillows and cushions in a way that will make them forever unusable. Amazing! Astounding!
Meet the Stupefying Business Bores! Watch their paralyzing Power Point presentations about business models, return on investment, market trends, and other excruciating topics. Watch them tap out useless twaddle on laptop computers. What a spectacle! Electrifying!
Believe your eyes! Make way for the Pierced and Tattooed Teenagers! These girls and boys have implanted hardware in noses, navels, eyebrows, ears, tongues, and in every recess and on every protuberance of their stained, revolting bodies. Startling! Horrifying! Nauseating!
Marvel at the Incredible Shrinking Candidates! Watch middle-aged politicians rail at each other and grow smaller with each lie and distortion. Tiny men and women leap about and vie for your attention. Egomaniacs the size of mice! Amazing! Not to be believed!
Listen to the Dauntless Telemarketing Parrots! Exotic tropical birds repeat the same dinnertime sales messages over and over again. Insensible to insult or rudeness, no amount of cursing or threatened violence will discourage them. Disturbing! Mesmerizing!
Thrill to the antics of the Disobedient Dogs! Tell them to fetch, they will roll over. Tell them to stay, they will run away. Tell them to lie down, they will sit. Watch these intractable creatures ignore their master’s every command. Maddening! Frustrating! Extraordinary!
Gape at the Anorexic Woman! Watch in horrified fascination as her neurosis consumes her and she withers away before your very eyes. Chilling! Not to be believed!
Behold the astounding I-Heads! Actual human beings who have evolved into telephone/camera/computer thingamabobs! Watch them takes videos of each other as they talk to each other as they download uploads while getting driving directions to hotels and airports. Unbelievable! Mesmerizing!
Feel the wrath of the Road Warriors as overpowering road rage compels them to drive as if possessed. Experience the thrills of an automotive duel of death! Disturbing! Irresistible!
Meet Vitamin Man and the Jogger, the healthiest and least interesting man and woman in the world! Watch them consume countless vitamin tablets as they run in place for hours and hours while debating the relative merits of vitamins C, D, and E. Invigorating! Informative! Stupefying.
Share the pitiable fate of the mail-order dieters! Eat food that tastes like the Wall Street Journal as you grow weaker and sicker with each nutritious delivery. Challenging! Inspiring!
Recoil in horror from the Spoiled Child Mutants! Whining, hopelessly pampered children run roughshod over their feckless, indulgent parents. Watch in amazement as small children turn into monsters of sociopathic selfishness. Thrilling! Incredible! Sickening!
And there is more, much more at the Sideshow for Today and Tomorrow. It’s all awaiting you under the not-so-big tent! Hurry, folks! Hurry! The show’s about to start!
From Jill Lepore’s chilling article on gun laws in this week’s New Yorker:
This issue has been delivering voters to the polls since 1970. Conservatives hope that it will continue to deliver them in 2012. Keene, in his lifetime, has witnessed a revolution. “It’s not just the conservative political victories, the capture of the Republican Party, the creation of a conservative intellectual élite,” he said, “but the whole change in the way Americans look at government.” No conservative victories will last longer than the rulings of this Supreme Court.
One in three Americans knows someone who has been shot. As long as a candid discussion of guns is impossible, unfettered debate about the causes of violence is unimaginable. Gun-control advocates say the answer to gun violence is fewer guns. Gun-rights advocates say that the answer is more guns: things would have gone better, they suggest, if the faculty at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Chardon High School had been armed. That is the logic of the concealed-carry movement; that is how armed citizens have come to be patrolling the streets. That is not how civilians live. When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left.
Very little indeed. George Carlin once wrote, “Living in the South was never an option — the main problem being they have too much respect for authority; they’re soldier-sniffers and cop-lovers.” And now, with a big boost from Osama bin Laden, the South has at last won the Civil War. Local police, the CIA, the FBI, the DEA, the military, the courts, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security (Heimat Sicherheit in the original German), the prison industry, Blackwater and its mercenary ilk, all have joined hands in the great work of penning us in for our own good. It’s going remarkably smoothly: turns out most of us welcome the barbed wire and feel safe inside it. Turns out we are a nation of bottoms.
Thanks to Chris Floyd for passing this along. Our nation, horribly enough, is being rotted from the inside:
[In a new book, historian Timothy Parsons] wonders whether America’s empire is really an empire as the Americans don’t seem to get any extractive benefits from it. After eight years of war and attempted occupation of Iraq, all Washington has for its efforts is several trillion dollars of additional debt and no Iraqi oil. After ten years of trillion dollar struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Washington has nothing to show for it except possibly some part of the drug trade that can be used to fund covert CIA operations.
America’s wars are very expensive. Bush and Obama have doubled the national debt, and the American people have no benefits from it. No riches, no bread and circuses flow to Americans from Washington’s wars. So what is it all about?
The answer is that Washington’s empire extracts resources from the American people for the benefit of the few powerful interest groups that rule America … The US Constitution has been extracted in the interests of the Security State, and Americans’ incomes have been redirected to the pockets of the 1 percent. ...
In the New Empire success at war no longer matters. The extraction takes place by being at war. Huge sums of American taxpayers’ money have flowed into the American armaments industries and huge amounts of power into Homeland Security. The American empire works by stripping Americans of wealth and liberty.
This is from The Twentieth Century by historian Howard Zinn, published 32 years ago. Hardly a word or a number would need to be changed today.
One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country…
In this uncertain situation of the seventies, going into the eighties, it is very important to the Establishment — that uneasy club of business executives, generals and politicos — to maintain the historic pretension of national unity, in which the government represents all the people, and the common enemy is overseas, not at home, where disasters of economics or war are unfortunate errors or tragic accidents, to be corrected by the members of the same club that brought the disasters. It is important also to make sure this artificial unity of highly privileged and slightly privileged is the only unity — that the 99 percent remain split in countless ways and turn against one another to vent their angers.
How skillful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white neighborhoods while the schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion-dollar aircraft carriers.
Robert C. Koehler takes apart the Bad Apple myth we find so comforting whenever a Sergeant Bates appears. The whole story from which this excerpt comes is here.
“A freshly captured detainee had been denied his insulin. He was a hadji and probably he won’t die, but it wouldn’t matter if he did. This is what the CO said in denying permission to hospitalize him. His diabetic stroke was mistaken for insubordination. They pepper-sprayed him and put him in a holding cell, where he died.” — Andrew Duffy
“It’s almost impossible to act on your morality. . . . You remove the humanity from them — beat them — and in doing so you remove humanity from yourself.” — Carlos Mejia
Does this begin to penetrate the mystery that so confounds the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media? Stories of American troops’ horrific treatment of Iraqis and Afghans are endless. Most of the time, such treatment was well within the context of orders. Contempt for the people we were “liberating” permeated the chain of command. In 2003, the Washington Post reported that a Defense Department computer program for calculating collateral damage was called “Bugsplat.”
From Public Policy Polling:
On our Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee Republican polls in addition to looking at the Presidential race we also polled on some of the issues that have been in the news over the last week: Rush Limbaugh and the reemergence of birtherism…Here’s the question they should have asked: “Was Obama born in the United States or Hawaii?”
In Georgia 40% of Republican primary voters think Obama was born in the United States, while 38% do not.
Get off my lawn, you damned kids, and take your bracelets with you. From the New York Times:
The male shopper, who pretty much was missing at the onset of the recession, is buying again. And to the delight of retailers, he is not just stocking up on suits and dress shirts, but also doing something women have been doing for years: binging on accessories.
Bracelets. Bags. Hats. Umbrellas. Men are buying so many accessories that some forecasters predict sales growth for men’s clothing and accessories during the first three months of this year will set a 20-year high…
“Bracelets are on fire right now,” said Tim Bess, who analyzes men’s fashions for the Doneger Group, a trend forecaster. “I’d say it’s the No. 1 look for the young man.”
Sure, it’s Alabama. But still…
Alabama legislators were given a 62 percent raise in 2007, and State Senator Shadrack McGill (R-AL) says the raise discourages corruption among lawmakers. The previous low salaries “played into the corruption, guys, big time,” he says. “You had your higher-ranking legislators that were connected with the lobbyists making up in the millions of dollars. They weren’t worried about that $30,000 paid salary they were getting.” By paying lawmakers more up front, he says, they are less susceptible to taking bribes: “He needs to make enough that he can say no, in regards to temptation.”
However, if teachers were given pay raises, then people who are not “called” to teach would begin joining the profession, he says. “Teachers need to make the money that they need to make. There needs to be a balance there. If you double what you’re paying education, you know what’s going to happen? I’ve heard the comment many times, ‘Well, the quality of education’s going to go up.’ That’s never proven to happen, guys. It’s a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach. To go in and raise someone’s child for eight hours a day, or many people’s children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, OK? And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach.
Corporations are indeed people, and very nasty ones, Robert Stein argues. And he ought to know. Here’s an excerpt from his valuable blog, Connecting.the.Dots:
If corporations are indeed people, they are the most greedy, selfish and ruthless in the society. During years of sitting on boards of directors, I was always astonished by what happened to individuals (including myself) when they sat around a corporate table.
Institutional roles acted simultaneously as a narcotic that suppressed conscience and a stimulant to bring out every bit of low cunning to profit the organization. I have seen religious leaders, academics and business statesmen propose solutions to problems that would make a carnival pitchman blush.
If corporations bear any resemblance to individual human beings, they are people who have been lobotomized of all social instincts except their need to protect themselves, profit and grow.
Here’s James Howard Kunstler with a close textual analysis of yesterday’s Superbowl half-time weirdness. He segues from the apocalypse into Madonna, but for that you’ll have to go here.
The Superbowl pageant is a window into the condition of American manhood, and the view is pretty pathetic. It’s a picture of men who feel so weak, insecure, and fearful that they have to compensate with fantasies of limitless destructive power. Ads for several new movies and (I think) video games followed the Silverado apocalypse romp. There were unifying themes throughout. All depicted the problems of life as 1) coming from outside our own society (or world); 2) in the form of aliens who wield mystifying technological destructive power; and 3) leaving a few human remnants on a smoldering landscape after a cosmic showdown.
These onslaughts from elsewhere in the universe always end with superior American guile and the latest technology defeating the purblind invaders. The aliens are vanquished by Apple computers, Air Force stunt pilots, and a little extra help from God Almighty, who is surely on our side. From these realms of engineered grandiosity, we slip in and out of the grinding ground game in Lucas Oil stadium in Indianapolis, another pseudo-military operation loaded with acronyms and jargon intended to confer an illusion of control and competence.
The reality out there in “flyover” land is an audience of diabetic fat men in clownish loungewear slouched on sofas in foreclosed houses enjoying stupendous portions of cheesy and lard-laden foodstuffs between cigarettes and beers. They have a lot to worry about and they have no idea how they might overcome their financial, familial, and medical problems. The real onslaughts besetting the nation in realms such as banking fraud, money in politics, peak oil, climate uncertainty, and economic contraction are at once too complex for the diabetic fat men to comprehend, and grossly misreported in the public arena, where Cable TV and newspapers work the levers of propaganda for one client or another…
Years ago an elderly relative of mine, sick and near death, told me the only thing that kept him going was opening the paper one more morning to see what stupid shit the bastards were up to now.
He’d be alive yet if he had known that Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortey would surface one day, introducing a bill to ban the sale of food made from the kidneys of aborted human fetuses.
The senator believes that cells from these innocent pre-born Americans are already being used, or could be used, or might be used, or something, to enhance the flavor of soft drinks and potato chips. Or something. But let Senator Shortey tell you about it himself. Here’s the audio.
Here’s Nicholas von Hoffman (Make-Believe Presidents, Pantheon Books, 1978) on the apparently indissoluble marriage between presidents and the Pentagon:
Laissez-faire, free market competition, is incompatible with the coordination, planning and allocation of resources for mobilization and the quasi-permanent war alert of our own times. Conservatives, with their free-enterprise faith, seem unable to grasp that their military and militant foreign policy assures the continued existence of the centralized state they profess to abhor.
This remains true, with the result that those segments of industry involved in war production have become so close to the Pentagon as to become indistinguishable, combining government inefficiency with private greed. Militarization is a job creator for sure, but of jobs that don’t need doing. Our massive war machine is a solution in search of a problem. Too often, it creates one.
Two things here. First the Orwellian splendor of “build-down.” Second, Mr. Adams is unquestionably right. We don’t need a military capable of fighting two wars or 1.5 wars or even one war. We haven’t been invaded since 1812, unless you consider the question from the point of view of a Native American. Our bloated military has become the economic equivalent of a WPA in reverse, blowing things up so it can rebuild them. It would make more sense to fold the Navy into the Coast Guard, the rest of the Army into the Corps of Engineers, and the Air Force into American Airlines.
“Even at a trillion dollars, this is a shallower build-down than any of the last three we’ve done,” said Gordon Adams, who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House and is now a fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit research group in Washington. “It would still be the world’s most dominant military. We would be in an arms race with ourselves.”
I belong to an online forum called Vietnam Old Hacks, made up of correspondents and other observers of our murderous Southeast Asian follies. Lately there has been a discussion of whether a forum member should have flat-out called Henry Kissinger a war criminal.
We Americans learn nothing, absolutely nothing, ever, from our stupidities of even the very recent past. And our Vietnam idiocy, given the shortness of our national memory, now seems even more remote and irrelevant than Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Still, what’s an Old Hack to do? He’s got to try. So here’s Andrew Pearson, who was a television cameraman, correspondent and producer in Vietnam back in the day:
In 1970, Telford Taylor’s book was published: Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy. The subtitle: Is the US guilty of war crimes in Vietnam? He was America’s chief counsel for the prosecution at the Nazi war-crimes trials at Nuremberg in 1946. When I saw the cover of the book some forty years ago, I wasn’t ready to absorb the argument though by then I had witnessed in South Vietnam what various Geneva Conventions would say were crimes of war.
On page 206, Taylor writes, “... when the nature, scale and effect of intervention changed so drastically in 1965, it is more than “puzzling” (as the Senate Refugee Subcommittee put it) that virtually no one in high authority had the capacity and inclination to perceive and articulate the inevitable consequences. How could it ever have been thought that air strikes, free-fire zones and a mass uprooting and removal of the rural population were the way to win ‘the allegiance of the South Vietnamese’? By what mad cerebrations could a ratio of 28 to 1 between our investments in bombing, and in relief for those we had wounded and made homeless, have even been contemplated, let alone adopted as the operational pattern? One may well echo the acrid French epigram, and say that all this ‘is worse than a crime, it is a blunder’— the most costly and tragic national blunder in American history.... Somehow we failed ourselves to learn the lessons we undertook to teach at Nuremberg, and that failure is today’s American tragedy.”
Forty years after having read Taylor’s book, I really don’t mind at all when those of us call the old “leaders” war criminals. It’s apt. Reagan tried to get everybody to get over it with his invocation that it was a “noble cause.” Not even a blunder. Where does responsibility lie? Do we excuse our decision makers because, looking back, they didn’t know anything about the history of the place — didn’t think they needed to know anything about it. But the trouble with wars is that a lot of people can’t “get over it” for a variety of reasons. The older they get the closer the old memories cling. Truth seems to mature with age and language becomes more blunt.
The following is Joseph Galloway’s reply to the Vietnam Old Hacks post (above) by Andrew Pearson:
Telford Taylor was right. You are right in your explanation of why we, in a profession that once prided itself as keepers of the truth, who were witnesses, cannot simply leave hard and harsh judgments to the historians long after we are dead. Why we hold the truth closer and more dear and speak more harshly as we grow old.
Vietnam and the pardoning of Richard Nixon and a national willingness to just slide by the truth and not hold up the war criminals to public scrutiny and justice set our feet on a path that led us straight into the fucking mess we find ourselves in as a nation right now. It led us straight into Bush Junior’s administration and two unnecessary wars — one only now ending after over eight years duration, 5,000 dead American men and women, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, three million Iraqis turned into refugees inside and outside their homeland; the other expected to drag on till 2014 and sputter to as uncertain a conclusion as the one in Iraq.
The Bush policymakers governed on fear and drove the public into acceptance of a foul and stinking trade-off — our freedoms in exchange for security against the evil arrayed against us. It drove us into acceptance of a loss of Constitutional guarantees underpinning the rights that made us unique among nations. From there it becomes easy to gain acceptance of the use of methods of interrogation, torture really, that heretofore were not only unthinkable but were, in fact, illegal under both our own laws and the international conventions that govern conduct in war that we signed and pledged to uphold.
Bush hired lawyers who opined that “The law is what we say it is, what YOU Mr. President says it is.” There are now bills working their way through our Congress that authorize the arrest and detention of Americans on American soil without any due process whatsoever, and their detention shall be by our military and totally outside the purview of the criminal justice system. We have chosen to combat an evil by embracing some of the very methods and crimes that we have used to define them as evil. We have chosen to trade precious freedom for security — and in the end we shall have neither freedom nor security.
When that odious administration staggered to an end and the people elected a man President who vowed he would change things in Washington, make things right, restore that which had been tarnished and blackened, he did none of those things. Rather than investigate and hold up to the light those who had stolen for the executive powers never granted under the Constitution, rather than restore the rights and guarantees of a people born free, rather than fix what had been broken, that man announced in his first weeks in office that he would do none of that; that his choice was “to look forward, not back.”
He would continue to prosecute the wars begun by his predecessors for years more. He would trample on the principle of equality under the law. He would neither investigate nor prosecute his predecessor and his co-conspirators, thus ensuring that now we would have two standards of justice: one for ordinary citizens and another, without punishment, for the power-brokers and the power-wielders. And nothing changed.
Nor will it anywhere short of an uprising by the people demanding restoration of their rights to equal justice, to privacy and security in their homes and in their communications, and the restoration of a balanced system of government based on three equal seats of power: executive, legislative and judicial. So yes we speak out, exercising a now-shaky right to free speech, and, yes, at times we use harsh words because the country and government we see today is NOT the government and country we grew up in and learned about in the schoolbooks.
I am still shocked that on this forum for those who were witnesses and tellers of the truth, of all places, some would suggest that we let all this slide, sweep the war criminals and their crimes against other peoples and our own under the rug for some yet-unborn academic historians to paw through and judge a century or two down the road.
My sister Pat sends this along. Normally I’d think it was Photoshopped, but these days I’m not so sure.
The point, which Teddy Roosevelt was the last Republican president to grasp, is that the natural and inevitable result of “free market” competition is not efficiency, invention, a level playing field, personal freedom, or the greatest good for the greatest number. It is monopoly.
This is what the Republican small government types would fear if they had a clue. Not government regulation. Ask anyone for his or her worst experiences with unresponsive, uncaring, indifferent, and rapacious bureaucracies. The answer will seldom be the Post Office or the Social Security Administration or even the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Nine times out of ten it will be a bank, an insurance company, a giant utililty, a cable provider. You can’t vote the rascals out. There is no congressman to complain to. You haven’t got a hope of successfully suing them. Corporate decisions are unappealable, mercilessly and mindlessly enforced by courts and bill collectors.
You can’t even get past the phone tree to speak to anybody in actual authority. Such people must exist, but they are faceless and unaccountable. You are in Kafka country. Just ask any of the poor bastards defrauded and evicted in the great mortgage swindle that blew up the economy for everyone but the bankers responsible.
This is the “big government” the useful idiots of the Tea Party ought to fear. Instead they are speeding its arrival. Perhaps it has already arrived. Look at the chart.
The only thing capable of standing in its way is the regulatory authority of the “big government” that the boobies have been taught to fear. Indeed it may already be too late. The Citizens United decision and the corporate-owned Congress and Obama’s economic team may have seen to that.
In which case God bless us all, and Tiny Tim Geithner.
…in this case from The American Conservative:
…The Sailer analysis is ruthlessly logical. Whites are still the overwhelming majority of voters, and will remain so for many decades to come, so raising your share of the white vote by just a couple of points has much more political impact than huge shifts in the non-white vote. As whites become a smaller and smaller portion of the local population in more and more regions, they will naturally become ripe for political polarization based on appeals to their interests as whites. And if Republicans focus their campaigning on racially charged issues such as immigration and affirmative action, they will promote this polarization, gradually transforming the two national political parties into crude proxies for direct racial interests, effectively becoming the “white party” and the “non-white party.” Since white voters are still close to 80 percent of the national electorate, the “white party” — the Republicans — will end up controlling almost all political power and could enact whatever policies they desired, on both racial and non-racial issues.
From Frank Rich’s latest, in New York magazine:
The important thing to remember about Perry is that he’s anathema to Mitt Romney, Karl Rove, and many conservative pundits no less than to liberals. His swift rise does not just reflect his enthusiasts’ detestation of Barack Obama. Perry’s constituency rejects the entire bipartisan Establishment of which Obama is merely the latest and shiniest product.
For two decades, the elites in both parties and in the Beltway media-political combine have venerated a vanilla centrism, from Bush 41’s “thousand points of light” to Clinton’s triangulation to Bush 43’s “compassionate conservatism.” They’ve endorsed every useless bipartisan commission and every hapless bipartisan congressional “Gang of Six” (or Twelve, or Twenty, not to mention the new too-big-not-to-fail budget supercommittee).
Perry, by contrast, is a proud and unabashed partisan. If he’s talking about gangs, chances are they’re chain gangs, not dithering conclaves of legislators. He doesn’t aspire to be the adult in the room, as Obama does, but the bull in the china shop of received opinion…
Should Perry get the GOP nomination, he could capsize like Goldwater on Election Day. That’s the universal prediction of today’s Restons. But maybe he won’t. Perry would have a cratered economy to exploit, unlike Goldwater, who ran in a boom time when unemployment was under 6 percent and the GDP was up 5.8 percent from the previous year. Whatever Perry’s 2012 electoral fate, his lightning ascent is final proof, if any further is needed in the day of the tea-party GOP, that a bipartisan consensus in America is as unachievable now as it was after 1964…
The New Yorker has a wonderful story this week about the only pharmacist in Nucla, Colorado (population 700). His name is Don Colcord, and he does his best to serve an area of 4,000 square miles. Somehow he manages in spite of Medicare Part D, George W. Bush’s unfunded gift to the insurance industry and the nation’s deficit:
…He keeps watch-repair tools behind the counter, and he uses them almost as frequently as he complains about Walmart, insurance companies, and Medicare Part D. Since 2006, the program has provided prescription-drug coverage for the elderly and disabled, insuring that millions of people get their medication. But it’s also had the unintended [Editor’s note: my ass] effect of driving rural pharmacies out of business.
Instead of establishing a national formulary with standard drug prices, the way many countries do, the U.S. government allows private insurance plans to negotiate with drug providers. Big chains and mail-order pharmacies receive much better rates than independent stores, because of volume. Within the first two years of the program, more than five hundred rural pharmacies went out of business.
Don gives the example of a local customer who needs Humira for rheumatoid arthritis. The insurance company reimburses $1,721.83 for a month’s supply, but Don pays $1,765.23 for the drug. “I lose $43.40 every time I fill it, once a month,” he says. Don’s customer doesn’t like using mail-order pharmacies; he worries about missing a delivery, and he wants to be able to ask a pharmacist questions face to face. “I like the guy,” Don says. “So I keep doing it.” Don’s margins have grown so small that on three occasions he has had to put his savings into the Apothecary Shoppe in order to keep the doors open…
Further information may be had here. Meanwhile:
…Bettybeauty Inc., which makes pubic hair dye, was started by Nancy Jarecki in 2006 and sells its products at salons and beauty stores. The $14.99 product works like normal hair dye but is formulated to be safe for the pubic area. The colors run from basics like black, brown and blonde to hot pink, turquoise and purple.
Jarecki said sales have tripled since the line was introduced, although she declined to give figures. Some women are looking to cover gray hair, while others just want a fun color, she says. “When I came out with it, there was this kind of burst of ‘Oh my god, you solved our problem. I didn’t realize how much gray hair was down there,’” she said…
Turn on your TV these days and you will hear a politician telling you what the American people want. As you listen to the politician you will wonder which American people the politician is talking about. The politician is not speaking for you — that’s clear enough — or anyone in your family, or anyone you know, or have ever met, read about, or heard of.
So how can he or, at least as likely, she, say they know what you want? Has anyone asked you? Did John Boehner drop by for a chat? Was that Mitch McConnell on the phone? Did Michele Bachmann ask you to lunch?
And how about Barack Obama — heard from him lately?
What the American people I know want is for politicians to stop behaving like morons and do something constructive, constructive being the defining word here. What they want is for the politicians they sent to Washington to represent them, and the greater interests of the country, to stop acting like colicky infants with dirty diapers. What they want is for the Congress to be held to standards that once seemed to apply, at least some of the time, to those among us who claimed the mantle of leadership, those whom we entrusted with high office.
These standards included such unfashionable qualities as maturity, integrity, decency, and intelligence. And, although there are still many — well, a few, anyway — in the House and the Senate who live up to these standards, they don’t seem to want anybody to find out about it.
What we are getting from our leadership in Washington now — from both parties — is nothing. The administration seems to be paralyzed and not many think Obama is still doing a good job. If the Republicans could come up with a candidate who didn’t remind us of Red Skelton they might actually win the White House in 2012.
And meanwhile the Tea Party seems to have the upper hand in how the nation conducts its business. Or, more to the point, how it fails to conduct its business. For the Tea Party has no interest in wise and progressive government; it is interested only in destruction. It would happily wreck a hundred years-worth of social legislation that helped give the American people — them again — the highest standard of living in the history of the world. And the Democrats don’t appear able to counter the Know Nothings with any sort of coherent opposition.
The next time you hear a politician tell you what the American people want, ask yourself a few questions. Do you actually know anyone who identifies himself or herself as affiliated with, or sympathetic to, the Tea Party? Do you actually know anyone who wants to do away with Social Security?
Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, and one of the many clowns seeking the GOP nomination for president, says he wants to do away with Social Security because it’s a Ponzi scheme. But Rick Perry is a charlatan and a liar. The American people I know think it would be better to keep Social Security and do away with Rick Perry.
Do you actually know anybody who wants to do away with Medicare? Do you actually know anybody who thought it was okay for criminal Wall Streeters to award themselves multimillion dollar bonuses with bailout money from the government — our money, yours and mine. What was your bonus last year? Or, to quote from those insufferable and endlessly repeated TV commercials: What’s in your wallet?
And now — as in some weird dream where whatever is going to happen never quite happens, where nobody can understand what you’re saying, where people you think you know (but don’t) smile and answer your questions with more questions, where nothing is ever resolved — now they send us emails and letters asking us to send them back to Washington, back so they can go on working for what the American people want. Because, well, because they know what the American people want, don’t they?
Just back on line following Hurricane Irene. More tomorrow. Meanwhile, if you’re suffering from Frank Rich separation anxiety, go here. Excerpt:
…The sanitizing of 9/11 and the falsification of its genesis to jump-start a second war ended up muddying and corrupting the memory of the event rather than giving hawks and the right’s p.c.-police the permanent “war on terror” they craved. The attack’s meaning was eviscerated by its linkage to the endless debacle in Iraq. The images of the day were so bowdlerized and so shrouded in euphemistic pieties that the viciousness of the slaughter was gradually muted.
When the World Trade Center site developer Larry Silverstein said this July that “ten years from today, I suspect very few people will remember it as ground zero,” he was speaking the truth. To some degree, that’s already the case. It’s not just color-coded terror alerts, Freedom fries, and Rudy Giuliani’s once-unimpeachable political standing that are gone with the wind.
It shows just how much 9/11 has been downsized in the American cosmography over a decade that when a conservative Republican senator, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, tried to derail a bill aiding those with 9/11-related illnesses last year, most of his own political cohort gave silent assent. The most vocal champions of the surviving 9/11 victims and their families were New York officials and celebrities like Jon Stewart, most of them liberal Democrats. The righteous anger of the right had moved on to the cause of taking down a president with the middle name Hussein…
From a New York Times op-ed by Michael A. Rebell and Jessica R. Wolff of Columbia University’s Teachers College:
Many schools that have already reduced hours, increased class sizes and eliminated electives are also now charging fees for workbooks, use of lab equipment and other basic instructional materials; extracurricular activities long considered essential are now available only to students who can afford them.What America needs is a little nation-building to rescue us from the Third World into which we seem to be determined to sink. If we would only listen to them, teams of education experts from Finland and Singapore could do us a world of good.
In Medina, Ohio, The Wall Street Journal reported, it now costs $660 for a child to play on a high school sports team, $200 to join the concert choir and $50 to act in the school play. High school students in Overland Park, Kan., pay a $120 “activity programming fee” and a $100 “learning resources fee.” In Naperville, Ill., they are charged textbook and workbook fees, even for basic requirements like English and French, according to The Chicago Tribune.
And pigs would fly, except they don’t have wings.
Why should I sound off on President Obama’s talk yesterday, when the Rude Pundit has done it better? And in language suitable, at least in this carefully chosen excerpt, for reprint in a family-values blog:
Yesterday, the Rude Pundit wrote that President Barack Obama was suffering from delusional thinking when it came to dealing with the GOP. Then, as if to prove the him correct, Obama spoke shortly after the Rude Pundit scribbled his bloggy meanderings, and the President doubled down on the delusional as a way of supposedly calming the panicky markets and populace. At some point, one must wonder who the hell Obama is talking to. Because the “most - reasonable - guy - in - the - room - c’mon - independents - love - me” train was blown off the tracks by the depraved mad bombers in the GOP.
Seriously, check this out. Obama said, “Making these reforms doesn’t require any radical steps. What it does require is common sense and compromise. There are plenty of good ideas about how to achieve long-term deficit reduction that doesn’t hamper economic growth right now. Republicans and Democrats on the bipartisan fiscal commission that I set up put forth good proposals. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate’s Gang of Six came up with some good proposals. John Boehner and I came up with some good proposals when we came close to agreeing on a grand bargain.”
It’s as if Obama has created this imaginary friend called “Mr. Nice the Elephant,” and he’s so happy to have Mr. Nice the Elephant around to play with that he just wants everyone to know about Mr. Nice the Elephant. He may as well have said, “Mr. Nice the Elephant and I come up with great ideas all the time. We should all have a pal as terrific as Mr. Nice the Elephant. Isn’t that true, Mr. Nice? He says it’s true. You just can’t hear him, but I can.”
This is from satirist Christopher Buckley’s 2007 novel, Boomsday. Randy is a millionaire congressman running for the Senate from Massachusetts. His hated mother has just choked to death on a hairball from one of her eight Pomeranians. Terry Tucker is the candidate’s PR man. Buckley’s literary problem in this passage was to find the most insignificant, inconsequential, abstruse, useless and meaningless vote a congressman ever casts.
Throughout the service, Randy stared at the casket with what some found an inappropriate look. “Did you see his expression,” said Mrs. Gardner Peabody Cabot at the reception afterwards, “while he was shoveling in the first spadeful of earth?”
“And the way he kept on shoveling,” said Mrs. Templeton Lowell Scrodworthy.
It was just as well no one knew that Terry Tucker had had to talk Randy into attending.
“Put it this way,” he told his client. “How many questions do you want, next time you run, about why you didn’t attend your own mother’s funeral? What are we going to say? That you couldn’t miss the vote on extending the debt ceiling?”
How must you feel if you’re a Member of Congress these days? Embarrassed? Unclean? Do you mind being classified with the creepy-crawlies?
There was a time when members of the U.S. House of Representatives were not held in the same esteem as slugs, rodents and lice. But nowadays, when they’re not carrying on like demented five-year-olds, they are featured in ads fleeing from the Orkin man or checking into a Roach Motel.
How did so many Congressmen and Congresswomen fall from respect to obloquy? How many times have you heard your neighbors say, “Let’s get rid of all of them in the next election? Wipe the slate clean and start over. The next batch couldn’t possibly do any worse.”
This is of course the old “Throw the bums out!” refrain, but it doesn’t bode well for the country when people start to think of Congress as so much mildew. It will be a sad day when voters bring bottles of Tilex to the polls. And this day is coming soon.
Was it always thus? Well, maybe not always but too often. The problem seems to be that so many Congresspersons can’t hold a thought for very long. They forget who they are, where they are, and why. Many of them don’t seem to grasp the fundamentals of representative government, and those who do can’t seem to cope with those who don’t. This pathetic corrosion of reasonable governance has now infected both houses and the Oval Office. Nobody can do anything except to vigorously do nothing.
So now, after an incredibly drawn-out and tiresome exercise in schoolyard power politics, we have a “deal,” a bill that creates another commission to study the debt problem and come up with recommendations. Congress apparently forgot that we’ve already done that — twice. But why do something only once if you can spend another few millions doing it again, and again, all the while calling for fiscal responsibility?
Fiscal responsibility used to be the byword of the Republican Party and Republicans are still trumpeting this conceit as the bedrock of their political philosophy. Once upon a time it was a respectable, if selfish, position, but now mainly draws exasperated guffaws and clucking from all but the most deranged right-wingers, the tea party extremists, for instance. Except for its own highly paid ideologues and a profoundly ignorant and mean-spirited segment of the electorate, no one in the GOP, including its elected officials, can possibly believe in its claim to fiscal responsibility.
George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress added more than four trillion dollars to the national debt, which he carried as a non-budget item, off the books, as it were, to finance not one but two ill-advised wars, wars that have accomplished absolutely nothing except to take or ruin the lives of thousands of American soldiers and countless Iraqis and Afghans. Bush loaded more onto the national debt than any president in history.
He also lowered the tax rates to give an unneeded bonanza to the richest people in the country, did much to protect the various exemptions and tax advantages enjoyed by some of the richest companies and then he tried to privatize Social Security, an idea that some scholars have called the single-most irresponsible initiative ever undertaken by an American president.
But, hey, fiscal responsibility takes many forms. And sometimes the people, they just don’t know what’s good for ‘em. But that’s what we’ve got the tea party for, to show us the way. And that’s what the Democrats are for, to mount the loyal opposition — Quiet Please! — and then to roll over so the Republicans can scratch their bellies. Thanks so much; that feels so good.
The very thought of it all brings to mind the first verse (actually, the only verse) of a favorite childhood rhyme:
Jonathan Chait cuts to the chase:
The main problem is that the Republican Party does not actually care very much about the deficit. It cares about, in order: Low taxes for high-income earners; reducing social spending, especially for the poor; protecting the defense budget; and low deficits. The Obama administration and many Democrats actually do care about the deficit and are willing to sacrifice their priorities in order to achieve it, a desire that was on full display during the health care reform debate. Republicans care about deficit reduction only to the extent that it can be undertaken without impeding upon other, higher priorities. Primarily “deficit reduction” is a framing device for their opposition to social spending, as opposed to a genuine belief that revenue and outlays ought to bear some relationship to each other.
Generations hence, when the river of time has worn this presidency’s importance to a small, smooth pebble in the stream of history, people will still marvel that its defining trait was a mania for high-speed rail projects. This disorder illuminates the progressive mind…
Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons — to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.
To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.
Will gives away the game with the phrase “delusions of adequacy.” It is pure projection, since the whole point of the GOP’s own marketing is to keep the suckers quiet with delusions of adequacy. If the boobs can drive their car anywhere they damn please, no damn government Nazi is going push them around (that’s the bank’s job, the minute they’re late with a payment.) An AK-47 over every hearth is adequate to the task of protecting freedom-loving Americans from the feds who would otherwise enslave them (never mind Waco or Ruby Ridge.) And of course there’s nothing like a submissive wife and obedient children to make a fellow feel adequate. Except maybe pushing around a minority while you’re still, precariously, in the majority. Or that greatest delusion of adequacy of them all: belief in American exceptionalism as our ship of fools slowly sinks under the weight of their delusions.
More evidence that we are, as a species, just pathetic…
This (All links to PDFs):
In a field study, we collected data in a restaurant and manipulated bite size by providing diners with small or large forks. We found that diners consumed more from smaller rather than larger forks.
Very small but cumulated decreases in food intake may be sufficient to erase obesity over a period of years. We examine the effect of slight changes in the accessibility of different foods in a pay-by-weight-of-food salad bar in a cafeteria serving adults for the lunch period. Making a food slightly more difficult to reach (by varying its proximity by about 10 inches) or changing the serving utensil (spoon or tongs) modestly but reliably reduces intake, in the range of 8-16%.And this:
In two studies, one a lab study and the other a real-world study, we examine the effect of manipulating the position of different foods on a restaurant menu. Items placed at the beginning or the end of the list of their category options were up to twice as popular as when they were placed in the center of the list. Given this effect, placing healthier menu items at the top or bottom of item lists and less healthy ones in their center (e.g., sugared drinks vs. calorie-free drinks) should result in some increase in favor of healthier food choices.
On Rupert Rosebud, see this and this. I always look forward to the moron defense, so popular with captains of industry: “Gee, I’d love to help you guys, but I just can’t remember things too good. If only I was as smart as you fellas, with all your lawyers and documents and everything! But I just woke up one day and there I was CEO. Nobody ever tells me anything, and every time I ask about stuff or make some little suggestion they just laugh at me and hand me a private jet to play with and off they go off to do whatever it is they do. Sometimes I just cry myself to sleep wishing I wasn’t such an idiot.”
I was a great Howard Dean fan because he, like the two Roosevelts, came from the high-WASP moneyed aristocracy. All three grew up with self-satisfied, over-privileged assholes and understood that the slowest of their old playmates went to Wall Street, just as the slowest of the British aristocracy were historically packed off to the church or the military. Inconceivable that Dean would have been as impressed by the wisdom of moneylenders as Obama has been. As with Clinton, the circumstances of Obama’s life have made him a shape-shifter. The best we can hope for as president of a plutocracy is the occasional election of a traitor to his class, a renegade plutocrat.
Before we leave this repellent subject, recall that Murdoch, like William Randolph Hearst before him, didn’t lift himself up by his own bootstraps (that being, as we too often forget, an impossibility). He is just another fat rich kid, born on third base under the impression he hit a triple — like Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, the Koch brothers, George W. Bush, Richard Mellon Scaife, and so many, many other living arguments for a Death Tax set at a comfortable 100 percent.
From historian Taylor Branch’s 2009 book, The Clinton Tapes:
At home, the president analyzed twisted political maneuvers heading toward the fall elections. He focused on Newt Gingrich. The speaker had given spring speeches across the presidential testing state of Iowa, discussing his thoughtful book about future challenges from cyberspace to the world economy. Gingrich also met with Clinton’s chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, whom the president had persuaded to stay on awhile, about a compromise legislative agenda before congress adjourned.
Bowles was optimistic, but the speaker’s pollsters brought him disastrous results the same day. Clinton said he knew, because Gingrich later confirmed it himself, that all the numbers recorded a sharply negative reaction to him from core GOP voters across the nation, not just in Iowa. They rejected overwhelmingly the speaker’s softer, pragmatic image. The White House had similar poll numbers, and so did House Republicans who were jockeying to replace Gingrich if he ran for president.
Overnight, the speaker reverted to red-meat politics. He turned publicly against all Clinton’s legislation, including a bipartisan tobacco bill sponsored by Senator John McCain. He accused Clinton of “blackmailing” Israel to help the Palestinians. He called Clinton the nation’s “Defendant-in-Chief” for cover-up, corruption and crime. He said Clinton was wrong to claim that tobacco advertising induced young people to smoke …
In their singular request to choke off all but the military aspects of government, Republicans were reduced to invective and cries for perpetual tax cuts. Clinton hoped a proper campaign, by framing and comparing programs for the voters, could expose the Republican strategy as anemic and spent, if not cynical. Their few moderates in Congress were resigned, and the dominant conservatives were splintered.
We look back at the Great Depression and out the window at our present one, and wonder why we never seem to learn from our mistakes. At the cycle of deficits and income inequality and again wonder why. At Vietnam and Iraq and wonder why. Are we blind? Amnesiacs? Idiots?
If an individual citizen presented with symptoms so repetitive and self-destructive, no psychiatrist would hesitate to pronounce him, in layman’s terms, crazy. Why can’t they — the conservatives of both parties — ever learn?
This, though, is to misunderstand matters. They have learned. The disasters brought on so predictably and persistently by Republican administrations were not, in their view, deplorable. They were, and are, great victories.
From the GOP’s point of view both Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s stewardships of the economy were not failures, but wildly successful. Wages stayed flat or dropped, unions were busted, public and private debt skyrocketed. Good news everywhere you looked — if you were a stock gambler or an asset-stripping takeover artist or a money lender. Jobs lost to assembly lines in China, call centers in India? Marvelous. Pointless and endless wars? God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world. Without war what would become of war profiteers?
What would become of the rest of us, you ask? Who cares. We’ve got ours, Jack. And yours, too.
What happens every time a large company announces that they're going to fire thousands of people? Their stock goes up. Every. Time. So it seems to be a reasonable conclusion that our Wall Street friends love them some unemployment! Jobs mean wages, after all, and wages come out of the bottom line. Bad wages! Terrible horrible no-good very bad wages!
And yet, today we have this:
The major U.S. stock indices fell at the open Friday morning and continued falling, on the heels of a employment report that showed the jobless rate tick up to 9.2 percent in June...
So... Wall Street doesn't love them some unemployment? I'm terribly confused now.
I guess no one could have foreseen that when you do everything you can to eliminate jobs, the end result is likely to be, y'know, a lot of people without jobs…
Here, from Tom Engelhardt, is our text for this Fourth of July:
These days [President Obama] can barely open his mouth without also bowing down before the U.S. military in ways that once would have struck Americans as embarrassing, if not incomprehensible. In addition, he regularly prostrates himself before this country’s special mission to the world and never ceases to emphasize that the United States is indeed an exception among nations. Finally, in a way once alien to American presidents, he invokes God’s blessing upon the military and the country as regularly as you brush your teeth.
Think of these as the triumvirate without which no Obama foreign-policy moment would be complete: greatest military, greatest nation, our God. And in this he follows directly, if awkwardly, in Bush's footsteps…
The president’s recent Afghan remarks were, in this sense, par for the course. As he plugged his plan to bring America’s “long wars” to what he called “a responsible end,” he insisted that “[l]ike generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.” He then painted this flattering word portrait of us:“We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination... and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach... we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.”
I know, I know. You’re wondering whether you just mainlined into a Sarah Palin speech and your eyes are glazing over. But hang in there, because that’s just a start. For example, in an Obama speech of any sort, what America’s soldiers never lack is the extra adjective. They aren’t just soldiers, but “our extraordinary men and women in uniform.” They aren’t just Americans, but “patriotic Americans.” (Since when did an American president have to describe American soldiers as, of all things, “patriotic”?) And in case you missed the point that, in their extraordinariness and their outsized patriotism they are better than other Americans, he made sure to acknowledge them as the ones we “draw inspiration from…”
Oh, and let’s not forget that no significant White House moment ends these days without the president bestowing God’s blessing on the globe’s most extraordinary nation and its extraordinary fighters, or as he put it in his Afghan remarks: “May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.”
The day after he revealed his drawdown plan to the nation, the president traveled to Ft. Drum in New York State to thank soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division for their multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Before those extraordinary and patriotic Americans, he quite naturally doubled down.
Summoning another tic of this presidential moment (and of the Bush one before it), he told them that they were part of “the finest fighting force in the world.” Even that evidently seemed inadequate, so he upped the hyperbole. “I have no greater job,” he told them, “nothing gives me more honor than serving as your commander in chief. To all of you who are potentially going to be redeployed, just know that your commander in chief has your back... God bless you, God bless the United States of America, climb to glory.”
As ever, all of this was overlooked. Nowhere did a single commentator wonder, for instance, whether an American president was really supposed to feel that being commander in chief offered greater “honor” than being president of a nation of citizens. In another age, such a statement would have registered as, at best, bizarre. These days, no one even blinks.
In the excerpt above, Engelhardt expands on a point made long ago by the late George Carlin — that America is a nation of “cop lovers and soldier sniffers.”
But Engelhardt goes on to argue, inarguably, that President Obama is leading us into a mess in Afghanistan from which we will never extricate ourselves without further dishonor and defeat. Thus he follows with precision the political strategy of Johnson and Nixon, both of whom also pursued reelection by keeping alive a murderous war that they knew to be pointless and unwinnable.
Please read not just the passages I’ve posted, but Engelhardt’s whole essay.
Buck sends along a 1932 essay in Harpers Magazine by Albert Jay Nock. By “barbarian” he meant something like the British aristocracy, which in his view still possessed a certain residual noblesse oblige. Most likely he was over-generous in this, being something of a snob himself. But a snob who could write. Here’s a passage from the article, titled Our American Upper Class:
In other societies, as a general thing, a member of the upper class is not supposed to make the accumulation of wealth his master-concern, or expected to be particularly good at it. His ancestors are supposed to have stolen enough in the first instance to enable him to rub along, merely taking care of what he has and devoting himself to other pursuits. The hoarding of wealth is not a serious infraction of the upper-class canon, though when it shows itself as a master-concern it is usually regarded with disfavor; but a master-concern with accumulation is not thought to comport with upper-class dignity…
When Mr. Hoover, Mr. Ford, Mr. Rosenwald, Mr. Sloan, Mr. Gifford, Mr. Dawes, Mr. Schwab, Mr. Farrell, Mr. Strawn talk nonsense their words are not referable to any class-criteria, for none exists; their divagations are published widely, accepted complacently, lauded uncritically, and it goes for nothing that the mere passage of time proves them to be nonsense.
The complete bankruptcy of intelligence exhibited in these representative pronouncements from our upper class should make a clean sweep of the notion so often advanced to account for the low level of our general culture, that our best minds nowadays go into business. They do not. They do not go anywhere. There is nowhere for them to go.
Our society has made no place for the individual who is able to think, who is, in the strict sense of the word, intelligent; it merely tosses him into the rubbish-heap; while picking out the stupidest millionaire in sight and placing him in the White House to the accompaniment of a deafening fanfare of adulation for his almost superhuman abilities.
Intelligence is the power and willingness always disinterestedly to see things as they are, an easy accessibility to ideas, and a free play of consciousness upon them, quite regardless of the conclusions to which this play may lead. Intelligence, therefore, while not precisely incompatible with success in accumulating wealth, is unrelated to it; hence it is disallowed by our Philistines.
It is ineffectual among our Populace, on account of that class’s intense preoccupation with the bitter problem of keeping body and soul together from day to day. The only class with which it might be effectual, our Barbarians, is virtually forbidden to transform itself by the cultivation of intelligence because of society’s strong insistence that it shall set up no class-ideals and class-criteria of its own, but shall keep steadfastly to those of the Philistines.
One may see evidence of this in the character of the great and rich educational institutions that our Barbarians have founded, as compared with those founded by the corresponding class in England. They are strictly middleclass institutions; that is to say, they are organized to do everything for the “average student,” for the motor-minded, a great deal for the incompetent, the merely clever, and sagacious, but nothing whatever for the unconsidered minority which gives promise of some day becoming intelligent.
… they’re even worse, Philip Green argues in Logos. Excerpts:
…Thus the extension of the rule of law to encompass governance over the destructive powers of the free market for labor has often been the most important arena of all for the protection of democratic citizenship. If the dogma of the market rules over all, there can be no democratic political equality: One law for the Lion & Ox is oppression…
As though to underline a reality that the commentariat prefers to ignore, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was followed by the abolition of all Ba’athist legislation: except for the outlawing of unionization in the dominant public sector — including the nationalized oil industry — which the American occupiers left in force. Capital’s class war knows no boundaries…
Put simply, the wealthy won’t pay for public goods or collective welfare, and the declining middle class can’t. To take but one of many examples: the aging of the population is a pending demographic and policy disaster, yet the only approach ever discussed publicly is the destructive idea of cutting back or worse, privatizing social security — presumably so it can share the same visible fate as private pension-dependency and home ownership…
As for opposition to “big government,” this has always and only referred to extensions of the social safety net, of the possibilities of truly equal opportunity, never to the bigness of militarism and empire; let alone “the enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized and controlled intervention” that made the free market for labor possible.
From CNN we learn that Portland has a zero tolerance policy on urine. Its water bureau subscribes to the Dick Cheney theory of risk management, which on the national scale brought us the Department of Homeland Security (Heimat Sicherheit in the original German), endless war in the Middle East, and a citizenry of cringing cowards. Search a baby’s diaper for explosives at the airport, and a clear majority of Americans will call it regrettable, but a necessary price to pay for our freedoms.
Is it possible that nobody at the Portland Water Bureau has ever visited a public pool full of pissing, splashing and swallowing kids who nonetheless manage to survive? Are the Water Bureau’s managers incapable of calculating the number of ounces in a gallon, multiplying by 8,000,000, dividing by 16, and then having a good laugh over the immeasurable trace of piss remaining in a glass of city water? Of course they’re not, but the poor bastards answer to a public long since reduced to a permanent state of fear. Good Americans snivel their way through life's darkness, cowering at every small sound and literally worried sick.
Oregon’s Portland Water Bureau is draining an 8 million-gallon reservoir after surveillance cameras caught a man urinating into it this week.
The move will cost the water bureau $35,000 – $28,000 in lost revenue and $7,500 in disposal costs, CNN affiliate KATU-TV reports…
A healthy bladder holds up to 16 ounces of urine, according to the National Institutes of Health.
…and what does “comprise” mean? Robert Paul Wolff writes in The Philosopher’s Stone:
My eye was caught by the photo of the [supposedly inferior] Kindle on which was displayed the first page of Pride and Prejudice. I read what is certainly one of the most famous first lines in the entire genre of the novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Reading that sentence gives me the sort of familiar and reliable pleasure that I derive from hearing yet again Haydn’s “Kaiser” quartet or seeing Notre Dame at the bottom of my street in Paris. As I am sure any student of literature will agree, Austen’s words are deceptively simple, and it would take several careful paragraphs to unpack their complexities of ironic voice and narrative point of view.
Then I thought to myself: “In a career spanning fifty-three years, at Harvard, Chicago, Columbia, Barnard, CCNY, Rutgers, CUNY, UMass, Williams, Yale, Boston University, Northeastern University, Duke, and UNC Chapel Hill, I have taught untold thousands of students, and yet there are probably no more than a handful — five score, perhaps — who could, if called upon, give unprompted an accurate, intelligent interpretation of that sentence.”
From the Washington Post:
In one-quarter of the country, girls born today may live shorter lives than their mothers, and the country as a whole is falling behind other industrialized nations in the march toward longer life, according to the study…
What surprised Murray and his team was that despite increased consciousness about disparities and per capita spending on health care that is at least 50 percent higher than European countries, the United States is falling farther behind them with each passing year.
What failed to surprise me and my team was this:
The region where life expectancy is lowest, and in some places declining, begins in West Virginia, runs through the southern Appalachian Mountains and west through the Deep South into North Texas.
This is a swath of red states where the right to bear arms is particularly cherished. Without it, voters would have trouble shooting themselves in the foot on election day.
Another note on the decline of the American Empire from Robert Stein at his always interesting blog, Connecting.the.Dots. I hope I’ll be that sharp an observer when I get to be his age.
Never mind men in outer space or those slogging in Middle East mud, media attention is on a horny old Frenchman in Manhattan detention, a former body builder with no procreative self-control and a preening pack of politicians playing Chicken with the national debt limit.
In the Age of Viagra, masculinity is being downgraded everywhere. Even 60 Minutes is obsessed with strength cheating by Lance Armstrong and other cycling idols.
The Bogart-Eastwood days of strong, silent men are long gone, replaced by caricatures on the national stage, flexing fake muscles and abandoning all the responsibilities that used to be associated with responsible manhood…
Curse you, Red Menace, why did you walk off the floor and leave us dancing all alone? Osama stepped up and filled the gap for a while, but now folks are starting to wonder if the GWOT was really worth bankrupting the country for.
It’s getting scary here in the Pentagon. Maybe we should try pumping up that old Yellow Peril doll in the attic. If we’re lucky Congress won’t notice we’re already getting our bloated ass whipped with roadside bombs at a couple hundred bucks a copy.
From the Associated Press:
…Land-based drones are in wide use in the war in Afghanistan, but sea-based versions will take several more years to develop. Northrop Grumman conducted a first-ever test flight — still on land — earlier this year.
Van Buskirk didn’t mention China specifically, but military analysts agree the drones could offset some of China’s recent advances, notably its work on a “carrier-killer” missile.
“Chinese military modernization is the major long-term threat that the U.S. must prepare for in the Asia-Pacific region, and robotic vehicles — aerial and subsurface — are increasingly critical to countering that potential threat,” said Patrick Cronin, a senior analyst with the Washington-based Center for New American Security.
China is decades away from building a military as strong as America’s, but it is developing air, naval and missile capabilities that could challenge U.S. supremacy in the Pacific — and with it, America’s ability to protect important shipping lanes and allies such as Japan and South Korea…
From a press release issued by the institution formerly known as the Fort Worth Public Library:
The word “public” has been removed from the name of the Fort Worth Library. Why? Simply put, to keep up with the times. In today’s day and age, the word “public” implies a place that, at one time, might have been viewed as institutional and restrictive. All are welcome at the Fort Worth Library. By removing one word with a potentially negative connotation, the Library aims to appear more welcoming and accessible to all.
American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, formerly known as Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, once published a memoir called I Aim at the Stars. The un-American comedian Mort Sahl suggested adding a few words: — but Sometimes I Hit London.
Writing at Alternet, David Morris adds his own few words clarifying Fort Worth’s experiment in rebranding:
All things public are under attack. The Fort Worth rebranding is an indication of how effective this attack has been. The city explained that it was dropping the word “public” because of its “potentially negative connotation.” The Founding Fathers would be disconsolate. John Adams wrote in 1776, “There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest … established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty: and this public passion must be superior to all private passions.” Thomas Jefferson agreed, “I profess … that to be false pride which postpones the public good to any private or personal considerations.”
Would it be improper for me to mention the Forth Worth rebranding initiative was mostly paid for by a large oil drilling company?
From the Associated Press, 9:52 a.m:
WASHINGTON — The number of people applying for unemployment benefits surged last week to the highest level in eight months, a sign the job market may be weakening.
The Labor Department says applications rose by 43,000 to 474,000 in the week ended April 30, the third increase in four weeks. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose for the fourth straight week to 431,250.
From the Associated Press, 9:52 a.m:
NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. remains atop the Fortune 500 list.
The annual ranking, released Thursday, also shows that the largest U.S. companies have fared much better than ordinary Americans. Companies that made the Fortune 500 this year posted the third-largest combined profit gain in the lists’ history.
Fortune Magazine compiled its list based on revenue for 2010. Editors say that companies increased profits by increasing productivity and cutting jobs. They also grew faster overseas than in the U.S.
Below is a video showing Florida Republican Dan Webster in the process of ousting the progressive Democrat, Alan Grayson, from his seat in Congress. The date was October 5, 2010; the event was sponsored by the West Orlando Tea Party.
You just heard the candidate saying, “The first thing we need is to actually take up a budget and talk about it.” Well, the new Republican majority in the House, after a brief pause to push a few hot button social issues, has finally delivered itself of that budget.
And below is a screen grab from the raw video of the freshman congressman indeed talking about it at the Orlando Town Hall yesterday. Just from the Schadenfreude aspect it’s worth watching the whole thing. But I can’t shake the suspicion that many — maybe most — of these red-faced hecklers were the exact same people who were shouting down Alan Grayson during the Tea Party’s summer of rage.
Democracy, saith the wise man, is that system of government whereby you give the people what they want, and give it to ’em good.
An occasionally reliable source in Stockholm tells me he called Ikea the other day to complain about a sofa that was insufficiently bland. The woman who answered spoke excellent Swedish with just a hint of an Appalachian accent. “My name is Moonbeam McSwine,” she said. “How may I help you?”
David Sirota reports on Alternet:
Buried in the Times report is the troubling story of why Ikea opened a plant in the United States in the first place. No, the decision wasn’t made to take advantage of superior workforce skills or productivity — positive attributes that once drove our manufacturing sector and built our middle class. Instead, it was made to exploit our decreasing wage levels and weak worker protections.
Though company factories in Sweden produce the same bookcases as the plant in Virginia, the Times notes that “the big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation (while) full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days” — and that doesn’t count the one-third of Danville workers who are paid even less because they are subcontracted through temp agencies.
Ikea’s exploitation motive evokes memories of General Electric’s Jack Welch. He famously said that in an era without strong international unions and with standards-free trade pacts, profit-maximizing companies would end up putting “every plant you own on a barge” and trolling the world for the lowest wages and workplace conditions, knowing they would no longer face tariff costs.
Finland, as we see in the Time magazine article excerpted below, has far better schools than we do. Good teachers are one reason but the author lists many others, among them lack of standardized testing. The Finnish system seems almost to be the mirror image of ours own. More links here.
It would be simple to apply Finland’s methods to our public schools, if it weren’t impossible. None of those methods would be acceptable in a nation that prizes ignorance and despises learning; none could be universally adapted where local control of schools is the object of mindless worship; none could be equitably applied when schools are funded so largely by property taxes.
Dumb is as dumb does. Mediocre schools are what we secretly desire, and arrange to get — they are not a bug, but a feature.
But Finland’s sweeping success is largely due to one big, not-so-secret weapon: its teachers. “It’s the quality of the teaching that is driving Finland’s results,” says the OECD’s Schleicher. “The U.S. has an industrial model where teachers are the means for conveying a prefabricated product. In Finland, the teachers are the standard.”
That’s one reason so many Finns want to become teachers, which provides a rich talent pool that Finland filters very selectively. In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, 1,258 undergrads applied for training to become elementary-school teachers. Only 123, or 9.8%, were accepted into the five-year teaching program. That’s typical. There’s another thing: in Finland, every teacher is required to have a master’s degree. (The Finns call this a master’s in kasvatus, which is the same word they use for a mother bringing up her child.) Annual salaries range from about $40,000 to $60,000, and teachers work 190 days a year.
“It’s very expensive to educate all of our teachers in five-year programs, but it helps make our teachers highly respected and appreciated,” says Jari Lavonen, head of the department of teacher education at the University of Helsinki.
Anyone around who still imagines that ours is a peace-loving country should read The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War (pdf), from which this excerpt comes. The author, Franklin Spinney, is not a peacenik or a pacifist. He spent most of his long career as high-ranking Pentagon analyst.
One source of the pressure for more defense spending is that our two relatively small wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both much smaller than the Korean or Vietnam war, have stretched our military to the breaking point. These wars are small in terms of scale and tempo of operations. Bear in mind that the Korean and Vietnam wars took place against a backdrop of cold war commitments. Today, the United States is spending more than it did in 1969, when we had 550,000 troops in Vietnam.
But the cold war meant that we also maintained hundreds of thousands of troops in Western Europe and East Asia, a huge rotation base at home to support these forward deployments, a large Navy fleet of 679 ships (compared with 287 today) to control the seas, and thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert in airborne bombers, missile silos, and submarines. Nevertheless, according to a report issued by the Congressional Research Service, the cumulative costs of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have made the response to September 11 the second-most-expensive war, adjusted for inflation, in U.S. history, exceeded only by World War II…
In 1981, the Reagan administration was so intent on throwing money at the Defense Department that it rushed through an amendment to President Jimmy Carter’s budget. Without any systematic review — and not having the time to type up a new budget — Reagan’s political appointees directed the department merely to hand-write changes adding billions of dollars to hundreds of line items. Much of this largesse was immediately converted into cost growth in existing programs…
By coincidence I paid $3.31 for gasoline on the same day the Social Security Administration wrote to tell me that because there was so little inflation in 2010, no increase in my checks this year would be forthcomiong.
And various economists have lately been criticizing China for doing a pirouette with their statistics, accounting and budge figures. Thus they are not to be taken seriously.
And the price of gasoline in my hometown has risen 20 percent in the past year, although neither gasoline nor food prices are included in the official inflation rate issued by the government.
And various reasons are given for this oversight, but the real one is not. The real reason is that the government does not want the herd to know how much it is being sheared.
The same process works for unemployment figures. The so-called unemployment rate around here is 9.8 percent. Not included are the jobless sheep whose unemployment compensation has run out, those who never applied and those whose hours have been cut from full to part-time. The real unemployment rate is closer to 15 percent. Again the bureaucrats deny the real reason.
So the next time you read about China waltzing the numbers around, just remember the United States and its efforts to mislead.
From this lengthy article in today’s New York Times we learn once more why we should always read stories to the very end. Because that’s where the bitter truth is so oft interred.
WASHINGTON — Behind closed doors, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, called it “the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression…”
Mr. Bernanke’s remarks, from a November 2009 interview with government investigators, were among the fresh details in the blow-by-blow chronicle of regulatory negligence and Wall Street recklessness released Thursday by a federal commission…
And, 25 paragraphs further on, the end:
But little on Wall Street has changed. One commissioner, Byron S. Georgiou, a Nevada lawyer, said the financial system was “not really very different” today from before the crisis.
“In fact, the concentration of financial assets in the largest commercial and investment banks is really significantly higher today than it was in the run-up to the crisis, as a result of the evisceration of some of the institutions, and the consolidation and merger of others into larger institutions,” he said.
More depressing news from the most self-satisfied, self-absorbed and altogether selfish generation of my lifetime. Unsurprisingly it has now spawned the Tea Party, much as manure kept in the dark grows mushrooms.
Too many boomers have ignored or underestimated the worsening outlook for their finances, says Jean Setzfand, director of financial security for AARP, the group that represents Americans over age 50. By far the greatest shortcoming has been a failure to save. The personal savings rate — the amount of disposable income unspent — averaged close to 10 percent in the 1970s and ’80s. By late 2007, the rate had sunk to negative 1 percent.
The recession has helped improve the savings rate — it’s now back above 5 percent. Yet typical boomers are still woefully short on retirement savings. Even those in their 50s and 60s with a 401(k) for at least six years had an average balance of less than $150,000 at the end of 2009, according to the EBRI.
Signs of coming trouble are visible on several other fronts, too:
• Mortgage Debt. Nearly two in three people age 55 to 64 had a mortgage in 2007, with a median debt of $85,000.
• Social Security. Nearly 3 out of 4 people file to claim Social Security benefits as soon as they’re eligible at age 62. That locks them in at a much lower amount than they would get if they waited…
Many seem to view their plight through rose-colored granny glasses. An AARP survey last month of boomers turning 65 next year found that they worry no more about money than they did at age 60 — before the recession or the collapse of home prices. But in an acknowledgement of reality, 40 percent said they plan to work “until I drop.”
From Colonel Girdle:
About once a year I re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s brilliant 1990 novel, Hocus Pocus, a prescient satire about America in 2001 when the nation has been thoroughly raped by its capitalist owners & soldoff to other countries. Here is a brief excerpt taken from where the college professor protagonist recollects a speech given by the college’s writer in residence. A speech that causes consternation among the college’s board of trustees:
He predicted, I remember, that human slavery would come back, that it had in fact never gone away. He said that so many people wanted to come here because it was so easy to rob the poor people, who got absolutely no protection from the government. He talked about bridges falling down and water mains breaking because of no maintenance. He talked about oil spills and radioactive waste and poisoned aquifers and looted banks and liquidated corporations. “And nobody ever gets punished for anything,” he said. “Being an American means never having to say you’re sorry.”
History repeats itself, no question. And no surprise either. It was formed and deformed back then by human beings; it still is, and by an unimproved species.
There are two ways of looking at this regular reemergence of past follies in almost identical shapes: either we have learned nothing from our mistakes, never will, and are therefore all doomed; or what the hell, we lived through these stupid patches before and so we probably will this time too. Take your pick, bearing in mind that it is Christmas, a season of hope.
Meanwhile, here’s a patch that I lived through as a young man, more or less intact and still bitching. This description of it is by Richard Hofstadter, in a 1963 speech at Oxford which was later published in Harper’s Magazine as “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Read “socialism” for “Communism” and “Obama” for “Roosevelt” and you’ll feel right at home. Professor Beck and Deacon McConnell make their appearances, too, along with many other familiar folks.
But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialist and communist schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors discovered foreign conspiracies; the modern radical right finds that conspiracy also embraces betrayal at home…
The basic elements of contemporary right-wing thought can be reduced to three: First, there has been the now familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for s0cialism or communism. Details might be open to argument among right-wingers, but many would agree with Frank Chodorov, the author of The Income Tax: The Root of All Evil, that this campaign began with the passage of the income tax amendment to the Constitution in 1913.
The second contention is that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by sinister men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.
The final contention is that the country is infused with a network of Communist agents, just as in the old days it was infiltrated by Jesuit agents, so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media are engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans…
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, the quality needed is not a willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Nothing but complete victory will do.
Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theater of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for unqualified victories leads to the formulation of hopelessly demanding and unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same sense of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.
This enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman: sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, luxury-loving…
Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he directs the public mind through “managed news”; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction (the Catholic confessional); he is gaining a stranglehold on the educational system.
This enemy seems to be on many counts a projection of the self: both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy. The enemy, for example, may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry…
One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is precisely the elaborate concern with demonstration it almost invariably shows. One should not be misled by the fantastic conclusions that are so characteristic of this political style into imagining that it is not, so to speak, argued out along factual lines. The very fantastic character of its conclusions leads to heroic strivings for “evidence” to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed…
The singular thing about all this laborious work is that the passion for factual evidence does not, as in most intellectual exchanges, have the effect of putting the paranoid spokesman into effective two-way communication with the world outside his group — least of all with those who doubt his views. He has little real hope that his evidence will convince a hostile world. His effort to amass it has rather the quality of a defensive act which shuts off his receptive apparatus and protects him from having to attend to disturbing considerations that do not fortify his ideas. He has all the evidence he needs; he is not a receiver, he is a transmitter…
Like Macbeth, we Americans are by now “in blood stepped in so far that … returning were as tedious as go o’er.” The two torturers named below are psychologists. Their equally responsible enablers, to pick a few out of millions, are John Ashcroft, John Yoo, George Tenet, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and now Eric Holder and Barack Obama.
Joining these moral cripples are the millions who think torture may be regrettable but is sometimes necessary, and after all, Daddy knows best. Besides, waterboarding isn’t really torture anyway. For these last, I refer you to the world’s greatest expert, Henri Alleg. Waterboarding was not the first torture to which French army sadists subjected him. It was the last and most terrible resort, after beating, testicle-burning and electric shocks had failed to break their victim.
WASHINGTON — The CIA agreed to cover at least $5 million in legal fees for two contractors who were the architects of the agency's interrogation program and personally conducted dozens of waterboarding sessions on terror detainees, former U.S. officials said.
The secret agreement means taxpayers are paying to defend the men in a federal investigation over an interrogation tactic the U.S. now says is torture. The deal is even more generous than the protections the agency typically provides its own officers, giving the two men access to more money to finance their defense…
Mitchell and Jessen were recorded interrogating Zubaydah and al-Nashiri and were eager to see those tapes destroyed, fearing their release would jeopardize their safety, former officials and others close to the matter said.
They often contacted senior CIA officials, urging them to destroy the tapes and asking what was taking so long, said a person familiar with the Durham investigation who insisted on anonymity because the case's details remain sensitive. Finally the CIA's top clandestine officer, Jose Rodriguez, made the decision to destroy the tapes in November 2005.
Durham investigated whether that was a crime. He subpoenaed Mitchell, Jessen & Associates last year, looking for calendars, e-mails and phone records showing contact between the contractors and Rodriguez or his chief of staff, according to a federal subpoena. They were ordered to appear before a grand jury in northern Virginia in August 2009.
Last month, Durham closed the tapes destruction investigation without filing charges.
Andrew Trees in the Los Angeles Times:
“Swilling the planters with bumbo” was what it was once called — the Colonial American tradition of treating voters with gifts during election campaigns, particularly plying them with rum (including a concoction known as bumbo). Virtually everyone who could afford the practice did it, including George Washington, who served 160 gallons of rum to 400 voters during the 1758 campaign for the Virginia House of Burgesses. Needless to say, this was a prohibitively expensive way to campaign, and it meant that politics was largely the preserve of the rich.
I was reminded of this phrase when a recent Center for Responsive Politics study of 2009 data found that 261 of the 535 members of Congress were millionaires (this probably understates the actual number because members of Congress aren’t required to report their homes as assets). When looking at both houses together, the legislators weighed in with a hefty median income of $911,000. For the Senate alone, median income was an astounding $2.38 million…
John Adams railed against this development more than two centuries ago. At the time, the prevailing view was that government positions should pay little, if any, salary so that only men with virtuous intentions would fill them. But Adams pointed out that this so-called solution did not ensure the election of virtuous men, only the election of rich men…
Adams’ great fear was that we would have what he called “an aristocratic despotism”: the possibility of “the rich, the well born and the able acquir(ing) an influence among the people that will soon be too much for simple honesty and plain sense.” In typical fashion, his judgment of that aristocracy was unstinting in its harshness. He wrote of “the weakness, the folly, the pride, the vanity, the selfishness, the artifice, the unbounded ambition, the unfeeling cruelty of a majority of those (in all nations) who are allowed an aristocratical influence…”
As [Adams] warned back then, you get the politics you pay for.
Read this whole post by Ed Yong at Discover. It seems that the creationists are half right. Sure enough, we have not evolved from the monkeys — we have instead devolved from them.
The anxiety caused by human inequality is unlike anything observed in the natural world. In order to emphasize this point, Robert Sapolsky put all kidding aside and was uncharacteristically grim when describing the affects of human poverty on the incidence of stress-related disease.
“When humans invented poverty,” Sapolsky wrote, “they came up with a way of subjugating the low-ranking like nothing ever before seen in the primate world.”
This is clearly seen in studies looking at human inequality and the rates of maternal infanticide. The World Health Organization Report on Violence and Health reported a strong association between global inequality and child abuse, with the largest incidence in communities with “high levels of unemployment and concentrated poverty.” Another international study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed infanticide data from 17 countries and found an unmistakable “pattern of powerlessness, poverty, and alienation in the lives of the women studied.”
The United States currently leads the developed world with the highest maternal infanticide rate (an average of 8 deaths for every 100,000 live births, more than twice the rate of Canada). In a systematic analysis of maternal infanticide in the U.S., DeAnn Gauthier and colleagues at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette concluded that this dubious honor falls on us because “extreme poverty amid extreme wealth is conducive to stress-related violence.” Consequently, the highest levels of maternal infanticide were found, not in the poorest states, but in those with the greatest disparity between wealth and poverty (such as Colorado, Oklahoma, and New York with rates 3 to 5 times the national average). According to these researchers, inequality is literally killing our kids.
For the love of God, how stupid are we?
KABUL (Reuters) — The military handover from NATO-led forces to Afghans should start in the first half of 2011 but poor security in some areas could see it run past a 2014 target, a NATO official said on Wednesday before an important summit…
Sedwill said the transition could run “to 2015 and beyond” in some areas that could still face security problems. “We expect to have strategic overwatch in large parts of the country by that time (2014),” he told reporters in Kabul, with civil administration to follow the security transition.
NATO troops would then assume support and training duties as Afghans took on the burden of combat roles. “The end of 2014 does not mean that the mission is over, but the mission changes. It’s the inflection point, if you like,” Sedwill said.
…whoever they are. From the New York Times:
In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves…
“There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,” a senior administration official said Wednesday…
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was last in Afghanistan in September, said the 2014 date made sense, because the Afghan Army and the police were scheduled to increase their numbers to 350,000, their goal, by 2013.
“It is far enough away to allow lots to happen, yet it is still close enough to debunk the myth of an indefinite foreign occupation of the country,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.
But Mr. Gates has said that the United States will nonetheless be in Afghanistan for many more years to come.
We have a bankruptcy lawyer in the family, so we knew from the beginning what a horror the banks had purchased from Congress — from most Republicans and a shamefully large number of Democrats — back in 2005. It was called bankruptcy “reform,” which in a sense it was. In the same sense that changing bank robbery from a felony to a misdemeanor would look like “reform” to Bonnie and Clyde.
So how’s that reformey stuff workin’ out fer ya? Let Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz walk you through it.
In 2005, we passed a bankruptcy reform. It was a reform pushed by the banks. It was designed to allow them to make bad loans to people to who didn’t understand what was going on, and then basically choke them. Squeeze them dry. And we should have called it, “the new indentured servitude law.” Because that’s what it did.
Let me just tell you how bad it is. I don’t think Americans understand how bad it is. It becomes really very difficult for individuals to discharge their debt. The basic principle in the past in America was people should have the right for a fresh start. People make mistakes. Especially when they’re preyed upon. And so you should be able to start afresh again. Get a clean slate. Pay what you can and start again. Now if you do it over and over again that’s a different thing. But at least when there are these lenders preying on you should be able to get a fresh start.
But they [the banks] said, “No, no, you can’t discharge your debt,” or you can’t discharge it very easily. They have a right, now, to take 25% of your before-tax income. Now imagine what that means. Let’s assume that you wound up, as it’s not that hard to do, with a debt equal to 100% of your income. You’re making $40,000, and your debt is $40,000. You have to turn over to the credit card company, to the bank, $10,000 of your before-tax income every year. But, the banks can now charge you 30% interest.
So what does that mean? At the end of the year, you’ve paid the bank $10,000, a quarter of your income. But what you owe the bank has gone from $40,000 to an even larger number because they’re charging you 30%. So you’re debt is larger. So the next year you have to give a quarter of your income again to the bank. And the year after. Until you die.
This is indentured servitude. And we criticize other countries for having indentured servitude of this kind, bonded labor. But in America we instituted this in 2005 with almost no discussion of the consequences. But what it did was encourage the banks to engage in even worse lending practices.
After all, we’re not as exceptional as the lapel flag crowd likes to think. We’re just as vicious, just as un-Christian — anti-Christian, really; if you’re looking for the Anti-Christ, try Pat Robertson — as is the rest of our unattractive species.
Robert Burns wrote, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!” Below Chase Madar wonders how our own vast gulag system must look to others as we lecture them on human rights. For his complete essay, go here.
The Khadr case should have been a bit queasy-making for us Americanos. Hasn’t there been a surge of concern for child soldiers in book clubs and church groups across the land? Turns out, however, that this long-distance compassion goes up in smoke at closer range. The second a child soldier points his gun at an American, not another African, it’s adiós victimized child, hello hardened terrorist.
The hypocrisy in all this is less flaming than it may appear. After all, clemency for youth offenders, be they child soldiers or just local kids, runs against the American grain these days. If we routinely prosecute children even younger than 15 as adults — and we do — why should a foreign child soldier be any different?
In fact the U.S. even has a few dozen inmates doing life without parole for acts committed when they were 13 or 14, and most of these sentences were mandatory rather than the prerogative of a particularly nasty judge. (Some small progress: last May in Graham v. Florida the Supreme Court decided that juveniles can get life without parole only if there’s homicide involved.) Overall, the U.S. has in recent years had precious little mercy for its children, or anyone else’s…
…are wasting no time — as you will see by the whole article (and links) from which this excerpt comes:
Republicans who were elected on Tuesday are beginning to deliver on their campaign promises to kill America’s future. Within hours of declaring victory, the incoming tea-party governors of Wisconsin and Ohio stood fast on pledges to kill $1.2 billion in funding for high-speed rail in their states.
The funding, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will revert to the federal government for investment in other states — unless Republicans in Congress are able to kill that, too. Walker warned he would fight President Obama to keep the Milwaukee-Madison link killed “if he tries to force this down the throats of the taxpayers.” Kasich — who called the high-speed rail project linking Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati “one of the dumbest ideas” he’s ever heard — used his victory speech to announce, “That train is dead.”
So is that brain.
How to explain the mostly dismal results of yesterday’s elections? Here are a few comments on the AP’s story on Tea Party-backed Republican Paul LePage’s victory in Maine’s gubernatorial race over a moderate, experienced and able independent challenger, Eliot Cutler:
LePage will do some good.Maine has too many unemployed bums roaming the streets.Busy bodies in everyones personal business are driving people away that could benefit the state…
good things still do happen, thank you Maine…
Their brains seem to be working better up there ,maybe it's the water, maybe it's the air, and maybe its because, they are tired of dimschit socialist bullschit, which would be my first choice…
Finally - a true American has ousted the communist & racist left from Maine. Power to American moraled values that founded this country!…
Still haven't heard........DID MAINE VOTE YES TO LET ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS VOTE???? I didn't think I'd have to ask this question in AMERICA!!!!…
This man should be praised for once being a homeless child, and then making his mark in the business world. It would have been easier for him to grow up in a gang like the inner city kids, and then sell drugs I guess.. huh Democrats? Then all of America could have helped pay his way through life. This is a win for America! It shows that the dream is still alive and well…
There is an old political saying: As Goes Maine, So Goes the Nation! Republicans, Democratic Conservatives and TEA Party members will make their voices heard in 2012. The new wind sweeping across our great country will blow away the Socialist, Libertarians and weak Social Democrats, who are freeloaders of any society. No Red Flags here! Fascism and Socialistic Communism is dead-let them stay that way, RIP!…
Umm Since when is it the job of the Federal Government to FORCE companies to hire American workers? You REALLY have no concept of how our Government works, what it can and can not do. Do you realize that , The Takeover of GM and Chrysler by Obama caused to loss of 7 million jobs to other nations and counting? GM is now owned by Canada and the US Governent and Chrysler is owned by FIAT. Not to mention what Cap and Tax would have done to send jobs over seas. Regulation, the EPA, and Taxiation caused jobs to flee the Nation. I know its a strange concept but companies are in business TO MAKE A PROFIT, not to provide you with a job or health care or anything else. It is not up to the Government to say who can make what where and employ who. that is the job of COMMUNIST Governments not Free ones and we have all seen what success stories Communist Governments are. Get a clue, Get a life, or maybe get a girlfriend andmaybe you would not be so prone to rants on subjects you know nothing about
Hey, gang, Team USA is Number 15! Here’s yet another infrastructure outrage for you:
Since 1991, the telecom companies have pocketed an estimated $320 billion — that’s about $3,000 per household.
This is a conservative estimate of the wide-scale plunder that includes monies garnered from hidden rate hikes, depreciation allowances, write-offs and other schemes. Ironically, in 2009, the FCC’s National Broadband plan claimed it will cost about $350 billion to fully upgrade America’s infrastructure.
The principal consequence of the great broadband con is not only that Americans are stuck with an inferior and overpriced communications system, but the nation’s global economic competitiveness has been undermined.
In a June 2010 report, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the U.S. 15th on broadband subscribers with 24.6 percent penetration; the consulting group, Strategy Analytics, is even more pessimistic, ranking the U.S. 20th with a “broadband” penetration rate of 67 percent compared to South Korea (95 percent), Netherlands (85 percent) and Canada (76 percent). Making matters worse, Strategy Analytics projects the U.S. ranking falling to 23rd by year-end 2010…
I know as much about broadband as I do about the Emperor Hadrian, but I have a mole planted deep within a giant telecom company. She reports as follows:
Well, the news that we are way behind much of the world in connect speeds is right, but I don’t understand many of the other claims. The telcos definitely grab whatever they can get from deals with the PUCs, but from what I can see, that usually does not amount to that much.
What a lot of confusion and inefficiency arises from is that the PUCs will require the telco (in exchange for some rate break or something) to build out their infrastructure such that some number of folks are *able* to order a broadband connection. There is never a requirement to actually *sell* the service.
The telco will then plow in fiber, deploy equipment, etc., to fulfill their obligation to offer service to some god-forsaken county in the middle of New Mexico with 10,000 people in it. Then, 83 of them actually sign up for service. So, assuming that the rate break or other incentive actually did result in more telco revenue, a lot of it has to be spent on the buildout to service those 83 people.
Nobody walks away a winner. The PUC is mad that the hicks are still not online, the telco is shaking their heads saying “I told you nobody would buy it! We’re gonna have to keep that crap running for years!”, the 9,917 folks that still have no broadband still can’t see their YouTube, and everyone is sad that we are another step behind in the race to connect everyone.
So, it really is not some gift to the telcos. Neither is it money well spent in connecting folks to broadband. It is the worst of both worlds — little extra broadband penetration, no telco windfall, and only a bunch of aging equipment deployed with little chance of ever being used. It is really just an inefficient regulatory effort to accomplish something with not enough information or control.
Probably the only way to fully connect the boonies is to re-regulate and force the issue that way. It is just too expensive to do it otherwise.
This just in from Santa Fe (h/t to Everett). We are all doomed.
SANTA FE — Students in Santa Fe have to wear ID badges to class, complete with a built-in tracking device.
The Smart Badge program started this school year, and is getting mixed reviews from parents and students. Patrick Mann is a senior and said he feels like he’s in prison. “Normally, the only people you would track are say prisoners or somebody that’s done something very wrong,” Mann said.
All students at Santa Fe Junior High and Santa Fe High School have to wear the radio frequency IDs. The sensors are in the ceiling on campus, but Mann said they keep tabs of you off campus too…
Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times today:
There’s a sound political rationale for this, of course. Reducing spending is always difficult, and a Republican Party coasting toward a midterm victory has little incentive to stake out controversial positions. And as everybody knows, the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security, a topic that nobody in Congress — save the indefatigable Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan — is particularly eager to touch…
Step right along, folks, nothing to see here. Or so goes the Conventional Wisdom, taken totally for granted by the political and the media establishments in our whole debate over taxes and the deficit.
And yet what’s that huge corpse lying beside the road, bloated and stinking in the sun for all to see? Why doesn’t “everybody know” that cutting War Department spending is also a way of balancing the budget, and one that has the added advantage of being sane?
Presidents Johnson and Carter both tried to impose a discipline called zero-based budgeting on the government, with barely visible success. It involved assuming that your department’s budget had just been reduced to zero, and then restoring functions one by one until you reached a prescribed limit.
Let’s try that with the War Department. Overnight it’s all gone, every bit of it. No more soldiers or sailors, tanks, bombs, planes, guns, submarines, aircraft carriers, drones, generals or admirals. Nothing left. The end of our known world. We stand here naked in a hostile world, shivering and defenseless like Costa Rica — which actually does lack an army.
What will become of poor us? Surely we will be crushed by our enemies, all three hundred million of us from sea to shining sea. Our cities burned, our fields sowed with salt, our women raped, our children sent to madrasas, our surviving men reduced to serfdom.
Just like Costa Rica, except that in the real world none of those things ever seems to happen to Costa Rica.
Nor would they happen to us. We, too, have no military enemies — and therefore no rational reason to maintain much more than a token army. After all America hasn’t been invaded since 1812, and then we pretty much asked for it.
We have wars because we have a War Department, simple as that. No department, no wars. Then we might be forced to think for a living instead of priming the pump of our economy with bombs, bullets and blood. Sure it would be tough, but we can handle tough. We’re Americans.
Every political system involving some sort of centralized power has so far led to attempts by the central power to gain control. Since the cannon set kings and princes above mere lords, centralization has been the trend.
That trend continues in our increasingly centralized power structure.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information.
The sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets.
The case reveals — or reiterates — the continuing stance of the executive branch of the current form of government. Regardless of party or ideology, every President has tried to accumulate power. As our economic system concentrates wealth, the political system designed by the founders tends to concentrate power.
On the plus side, our system concentrates power more slowly than, say, a monarchy or a dictatorship, whether of the elite or the proletariat. But late-stage empires, regardless of ideology, have already concentrated wealth so heavily that politics cannot fail to be deflected by the private interests of a very few. Suppose we in the US decided to free ourselves of the oil industry, or hedge funds; how would we accomplish that?
One thing we’ve hopefully learned is that electing a chief executive on the promise of change isn’t guaranteed to produce any.
While the alleged abuses occurred during the Bush administration, the ruling added a chapter to the Obama administration’s aggressive national security policies.
Its counterterrorism programs have in some ways departed from the expectations of change fostered by President Obama’s campaign rhetoric, which was often sharply critical of former President George W. Bush’s approach.
The crowning touch on the 6-5 ruling that state secrets trump human rights, that the state can decide which legal cases are allowed to proceed, is the court’s admission that the plaintiffs had a legitimate case.
There were signs in the court’s ruling that the majority felt conflicted. In a highly unusual move, the court ordered the government to pay the plaintiffs’ legal costs, even though they lost the case and had not requested such payment.
…because we plainly can’t do it by ourselves.
New Left Media, may Allah smile on all its works, went to the Glenn Beck pray-in so you wouldn’t have to. Take a look at the result, in case you suffer from American exceptionalism. Something is certainly exceptional about us, and certainly Jesus hasn’t been able to cure it. Maybe we need more mosques. More libraries. Less TV. Who knows? Just help us for God’s sake, any God at all, because we’re on the point of drowning here. Already we’re up to the lower lip in stupidity.
From the New York Times:
According to data released last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a quarter of Americans now believe in reincarnation. (Women are more likely to believe than men; Democrats more likely than Republicans.) Julia Roberts recently told Elle magazine that though she was raised Christian, she had become “very Hindu.” Ms. Roberts believes that in her past life she was a “peasant revolutionary,” and said that when her daughter sits in a certain way she knows “there’s someone there I didn’t get the benefit of knowing ... It’s an honor for me to continue to shepherd that.”
This is so 20th century. Get with it, people. Just implant chips in everybody’s head. Sure, they’ll whine a little at first, but they’re Americans. They’ll get used to it.
(CNN) — Law enforcement officers may secretly place a GPS device on a person’s car without seeking a warrant from a judge, according to a recent federal appeals court ruling in California.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Oregon in 2007 surreptitiously attached a GPS to the silver Jeep owned by Juan Pineda-Moreno, whom they suspected of growing marijuana, according to court papers.
When Pineda-Moreno was arrested and charged, one piece of evidence was the GPS data, including the longitude and latitude of where the Jeep was driven, and how long it stayed. Prosecutors asserted the Jeep had been driven several times to remote rural locations where agents discovered marijuana being grown, court documents show.
From the Associated Press:
NEW YORK — The New York Times reported on its website Thursday that federal authorities have decided to indict Roger Clemens on charges of making false statements to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
What kind of a society indicts a baseball player while Blankenship, Blankfein, Dimon, and Hayward walk free?
It might help if Congress had a sense of humor about itself. Except for Barney Frank, nobody in our estimable House of Representative seems to have the slightest idea how funny they are — funny in a stupid, vulgar sort of way, but funny nonetheless. Congress is the Whoopee Cushion of government. Is that really funny? Well, yes — if you think Whoopee Cushions are funny.
How about the Senate: funny or not funny? Many people insist on seeing the August Body as a serious, deliberative council full of earnest public servants trying to do their best by the voters who sent them there. This is a nice conceit but ignores the obvious fact that the Senate is actually opera buffa. How can any organization that would embrace the likes of Alphonse D’Amato, Strom Thurmond, Mitch McConnell and Joe Lieberman take itself seriously? And let’s not forget John McCain, who used the last presidential contest to develop his considerable skills as a stand-up comic. The Senate is Steve Martin arrow-through-the-head funny. It is Chevy Chase pratfall-funny. It is W.C. Fields child-hating funny. The Senate is a laff riot.
The Supreme Court is something else. It has a distinct sense of humor but it doesn’t play for laughs. The court’s idea of good fun is the practical joke. A good example of what it thinks is funny is its recent ruling that corporations and unions are just the same as private individuals and can contribute as much money as they see fit to political campaigns. This subtly hilarious judgment wiped away the fruits of fifty years of legislative struggle to limit the influence of money on American politics.
The ruling on campaign contributions was a fine example of high judicial humor, the kind of well-planned prank that brings that creepy smile to John Roberts’s lips. But this stunt, however amusing, was as nothing compared to the ruling of the Rehnquist Court that gave the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. Now that was funny. And it was funny in a way that goes on being funny. It is still funny to the young soldiers who were blinded or lost their legs in Dubya’s Arabian adventure, itself quite a good joke. Of course we’ll never know if the thousands of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq saw the fun in it, but we can say that they would never have had the ultimate comic opportunity without the help of the Supreme Court.
This brings us to some interesting questions. Who is the funniest Supreme Court justice? John Roberts? Sam Alito? Clarence Thomas? Thomas held the title for years, but competition arrived with the appointment of Roberts and then Alito, both of whom are knee-slapping, gut-wrenching, tears-starting hilarious. Most court-watchers believe that Thomas has been eclipsed by the two newer justices not only because they are funnier but because he has run his one joke into the ground. After twenty-some years, nobody thinks a judge acting like a moron is amusing.
On the other hand, Roberts and Alito, the Abbott and Costello of the court, are not only the funniest of the justices, they are the smartest. Roberts, it is said, is so smart he will have nothing to do with any of the other justices except Alito and Scalia. Alito and Scalia are so smart they know how they are going to rule in a case without reading briefs, researching the law or listening to arguments. Roberts follows much the same judicial method.
Remarkably, they always agree, although they express their opinions in different ways. Alito shows delight by scowling while Scalia revels in judicial bad manners, interrupting and insulting the lawyers who appear before the court. Roberts smiles in a way that suggests that a small dog is biting his ankles under his robe. Laurel and Hardy were never better than this, perhaps because they lacked the nuanced comic depth one can only acquire at Harvard and Yale law school.
From the Colorado Independent:
The program in question? Denver’s bike-sharing program, B-Cycle. [Republican candidate for governor] Maes later told the Denver Post, “At first, I thought, ‘Gosh, public transportation, what’s wrong with that, and what’s wrong with people parking their cars and riding their bikes? And what’s wrong with incentives for green cars?’ But if you do your homework and research, you realize ICLEI is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty.”
CNN’s 360 Degrees gives the third one to a logician from Arizona, State Senator Russell Pearce:
PEARCE: It’s wrong. It’s unconstitutional.
PAUL BEGALA: The 14th Amendment...
ANDERSON COOPER: Paul, go ahead.
PEARCE: Wait. Wait. You ask me why I wanted to change it. Let me tell you why. Let me tell you why.
BEGALA: The 14th Amendment is the Constitution. The 14th Amendment can’t be unconstitutional, Senator. It is the Constitution.
[Ed. note: To be fair, though, the language is pretty ambiguous: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”]
Here’s David Stockman, Reagan’s budget chief:
…The third ominous change in the American economy has been the vast, unproductive expansion of our financial sector. Here, Republicans have been oblivious to the grave danger of flooding financial markets with freely printed money and, at the same time, removing traditional restrictions on leverage and speculation. As a result, the combined assets of conventional banks and the so-called shadow banking system (including investment banks and finance companies) grew from a mere $500 billion in 1970 to $30 trillion by September 2008.
But the trillion-dollar conglomerates that inhabit this new financial world are not free enterprises. They are rather wards of the state, extracting billions from the economy with a lot of pointless speculation in stocks, bonds, commodities and derivatives. They could never have survived, much less thrived, if their deposits had not been government-guaranteed and if they hadn’t been able to obtain virtually free money from the Fed’s discount window to cover their bad bets…
Want to know how bad it is in the Gulf? Key in to this post by Roger Shuler at Legal Schnauzer to get an earful. In the meantime, just watch this video posted at his website.
…from the New York Times:
…As hairless torsos have become the norm for male models and actors, below-the-neck hair removal has gone mainstream. The nascent category of body shavers has surpassed $10 million in annual sales, according to Nielsen data cited by Remington. But many men who aspire to the polished trunks of the “Jersey Shore” men face a dilemma when it comes to their backs: they don’t want to undergo the expense of waxing or laser hair removal, but are embarrassed to ask others for assistance.
Enter the extendable Remington Body and Back Groomer, which came out last year and costs $39.99. It’s an update of shorter Remington Body Groomers, which have sold briskly since being introduced in 2005.
To make the next-generation model, Remington conducted studies of men as they wielded various products to trim body hair. “You haven’t lived until you’ve been in a bathroom with a man watching him shave all his body parts,” said Carl Kammer, director of new product development at Remington…
To illustrate the article excerpted above, the Times chose a truly revolting photo. Not only is it not suited for workplace viewing, it is not suited for viewing at all. I strongly advise you not to click on the words “Read on,” below. If you do, you are proceeding at your own risk. And remember — I told you so.
Who could have guessed, only a short year ago, that mid-term elections would be so darn much fun? Yet here we are, five months away from elections that are usually a major snooze, enjoying all the political melodrama of a high school election for Prom King and Queen — and we’re only at the Primaries.
Some credit is due, of course, to the Tea Party’s transformative pseudo-populism that has turned garden variety conservatives into political contortionists trying to fit themselves into the Tea Party’s anti-establishment agenda — at least long enough to bag some of their votes. The Tea Party’s major contribution to electoral politicking, however, has been to legitimize the prospects of some seriously inexperienced, quasi-anarchic radical demagogues that couldn’t have won the proverbial office of dog-catcher in more rational times. But “the times, they are a-changin’…”
Just as we don’t have a clue how to fix the man-made disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, neither do we have any idea how to right our seriously listing “Ship of State,” in which our fearless leaders have decided to fire the cannons continuously over the bow, instead of bailing and plugging the leaks, to keep the ship from going down.
If one listens carefully to the campaigning of mid-term candidates (I know, I know, it can be quite disturbing) it becomes very clear that we no longer care very much what our political candidates think (or don’t think) about issues that theoretically impact life in America because, clearly, they don’t live in the same America that we do. Neither do candidates care very much about the general electorate’s thoughts on the issues because the general electorate doesn’t contribute enough to finance 21st century political campaigns — corporations and PACs do that.
The conundrum, for politicians, is that ordinary voters still provide the grease (tax dollars) they need to quiet the “squeaky wheels” that finance their political careers; so ordinary voters must still be courted. And it takes large amounts of money, and political capital, to persuade blocs of taxpayers/voters that the interests of corporate donors coincide with their own public interest.
Voting in America has become very much like playing the lottery — if you are extraordinarily lucky and beat all of the odds, it might pay off in a material way — but no one really expects to win. Meanwhile, for the losers, life goes on very much as usual, without any fortuitous assistance from the gods. Win or lose, millions of people will pony up for lottery tickets, week after week (whether they can afford it or not), because “you have to play to win.”
Politics, like lotteries, depend on a certain predictable level of participation and a great deal of hope and trust. Lotteries take your small contributions, which add up to huge amounts of money, and guarantee that someone will win big; all of those contributors who don’t “win big” can be comforted by the fact that their money has provided some amount of feel-good commonwealth, like better schools or assistance for the elderly.
Those are, I believe, some contributing factors to some of the more sophomoric campaign performances we are currently being treated to and, ultimately, the deadly voter apathy that can only make a bad situation worse; but then who cares to carve out a portion of their Tuesdays to go to the polls and choose between Dumb and Dumber?
Whether you choose to vote with a ballot or vote with your feet, it’s quite educational to take a look at the candidates and their efforts to win the “hearts and minds” of American voters…
Rand Paul, who recently won the Kentucky Republican primary for a Senate seat, gave us our first taste of a true Tea Party candidate floundering for a solid platform as spectacularly as the party that he aligns with. Paul came out of the gate, politicking like a pro running for President, à la Scott Brown; national media were only too happy to provide ample high-profile opportunities for Paul to trot out his half-baked ideological ramblings, committing political hari-kari in the process.
If the Tea Party, whose passion is for installing “newbies” in public office, had any misgivings about Rand Paul being the offspring of Congressman, ex-presidential candidate and Libertarian standard-bearer Ron Paul, Rand’s post-Primary victory-lap performance should dispel any notion that he knows what he’s doing in the political arena.
In the span of a few short days of peddling his “ideology” on national television Rand Paul has managed to be: unceremoniously excommunicated by orthodox Libertarians; publicly eviscerated by a reluctant Rachel Maddow for his stated support of business owners who have been stripped of their “right to discriminate,” by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, against clientele that they deem “undesirable”; mercilessly lampooned for his “accidents do happen” position on the Deepwater Horizon disaster along with his judgment that President Obama was treating BP in an “un-American” way by holding them accountable; excoriated for his view that the Americans with Disabilities Act is unfair to small business owners; and, last but not least, sued by the Canadian rock band Rush for copyright infringement for misappropriating one of their tunes as his during his campaign.
Someone with a little more political savvy than “The Candidate” finally pulled the plug on the Rand Paul Gaffe Machine and there was a brief quiet spell during which it is easy to imagine Paul being trained, by political handlers, to think before he speaks, because the American public is not as forgiving as loving parents or fraternity brothers who are inclined to indulge and, indeed, provide standing ovations for every pearl of pastoral wisdom that drips from the favored son’s honeyed lips.
Paul’s most recent tentative step back into the limelight is a little Op-Ed apologia that he penned for the Bowling Green Daily News that basically begs the public’s pardon for his excess of wonderfulness and pronouncing himself on an equal footing with Martin Luther King, Jr. That should dispel any rumors that Rand might be racist as well as casting himself in the role of the terribly misunderstood, but no less monumental, idealistic intellectual. Which, according to Rand Paul, is exactly what we’re lacking in American government today.
Paul’s “Ode to Himself” Op-Ed starts out like this:
“Kundera writes of a balcony scene in the winter snow of 1948 Prague. Clementis offers his fur cap to the new leader Gottwald. Later Clementis is purged by the Communists and airbrushed from all the photos. All that remains of Clementis is the fur cap on Gottwald’s head.”
Anyone who’s ever attended a pretentious, country club cocktail party knows this guy and also knows how his story ends whether he wins or loses elections. He’s right when he says that he’s not a pragmatist, but wrong when he defines himself as an idealist. He’s a narcissist — pure and simple, and professional politicians are poised to eat his lunch — if he gets a foot in the door.
A recurrent theme that is emerging out of Team Paul is that no matter what cockamamie thing comes out of the candidate’s mouth it’s tangential to the real issues which, I have to assume, he’s keeping “closer to the vest.” Jesse Benton who holds the unenviable position of serving as Paul’s campaign manager made this statement to USA Today regarding the Rush lawsuit:
“The background music Dr. Paul has played at events is a non-issue. The issues that matter in this campaign are cutting out-of-control deficits, repealing Obama Care and opposing cap and trade.”
But, wait a minute Jesse, aren’t Libertarians supposed to be all about respecting others’ property rights?
Then again, at the head of Paul’s Op-Ed piece he reminded readers that:
“I support the Civil Rights Act, but 2010 battles are about government overreach in lives.”
I vaguely remember hearing similar rhetoric, back in the day, from members of my generation who joined the SDS and who subsequently learned (the hard way) that the real world chews up and spits out ideologues for kicks.
Rachel Maddow just did a pretty comprehensive (and entertaining) rundown of those areas in which Kirk has taken some “political license” that is well worth watching.
In the meantime, here’s a summary:
Kirk is now famous for “misremembering” the fact that he did not win the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year award (Instead, Kirk’s entire unit won a privately sponsored, not a Navy, merit award). Undaunted by the need to publicly retract that “mis-rembrance,” Kirk went on to “mis-remember” that it was his staff that caught the error in his official bio, when, actually it was the Department of the Navy that demanded that he correct his record.
Other notable Kirk “mis-remembrances” include having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as Operation Desert Storm. And then there was the time that Kirk came under fire while flying a plane over Iraq not to mention his stint at “commanding the war room” at the Pentagon. All Flights of Fancy…
Clearly, Kirk believes that one’s military service is an important distinction when running for office so he has spared no embellishment in distinguishing his own military record. But Kirk’s “gift of gab” doesn’t stop there. As Maddow says: “He also makes stuff up about the world at large…”
Like Kirk’s rationalization that, of course the US should be drilling off its shores for oil, because, after all, the Chinese are drilling off the coast of Cuba and sucking up all the oil that could be ours (which assertion, of course, has no basis in actual fact). And while we’re on the topic of oil, Kirk promises to do his best to persuade the US government to stop getting oil from Iran — he even gives figures of 80 million barrels a day — which should be an easy sell, since the U.S. doesn’t get oil from Iran. Finally there’s the entirely fabricated story regarding the relationship between Somali pirates and France that is so convoluted that it makes me weary to think about it, so you’ll just have to watch the Rachel Maddow clip to hear it in all of its “fabulous” detail.
So. If Rand Paul is “simply a narcissist,” Mark Kirk is simply a liar.
Of the three Republicans, no one has been behaving particularly like an establishment politician, but then again we have to keep in mind that this is Nevada. The primary campaign has essentially broken down into a catfight with a detached bystander.
According to Brian Seitchik, Danny Tarkanian’s campaign manager, “Danny’s the only one who’s talking about issues, while Sharron and Sue club each other.”
I guess that’s why Danny was not doing as well in the polls.
Sue Lowden has snagged national attention for comments at a recent town hall meeting in Nevada in which she said that patients could barter with their doctors for health care — she suggested chickens as a once acceptable remittance for medical services. Easy for Sue Lowden to say since I’m sure that health care coverage is not an issue for her now and certainly wouldn’t be if she wins the November election and lands in the US Senate.
Sharron Angle, on the other hand, is of a more generous spirit, as Sue Lowden pointed out in her now-viral ad claiming that Angle had supported a program designed to use taxpayer dollars to provide prisoners with massages and spa treatments — a program of “detoxification protocols” attributed to the founder of the Church of Scientology.
Angle, who campaigned as a morally driven Christian crusader all about cracking down on government spending (and thereby securing the blessing of outfits like Tea Party Express and the Government is not God PAC), decided it might be best to purge her website of any whiffs of Scientology, like her fundraising work with celebrity Scientologist Jenna Elfman.
Elsewhere we have similar shenanigans in what has become known as the Polygraph Primary in South Carolina where Republican Nikki Haley is seeking to replace sex-scandalized Mark Sanford as candidate for Governor. As soon as Haley appeared to “show some legs” in the contest, rumors started to swirl about Haley’s own sex life. Not one, but two, men came forward to allege that they had known the otherwise married Haley “in the biblical sense.”
Both civic-minded champions came forward armed with evidence of the veracity of their claims: one provided text messages and phone logs to make his case; the other brought along polygraph results. Not to be outdone, another of Haley’s Republican opponents, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer jumped on the polygraph bandwagon to prove he had nothing to do with any of it.
According to Alex Pereene, covering the story for Salon, one of the purported lovers is, “Larry Marchant, a local lobbyist and former strategist for Haley opponent (and dimbulb bigot) Andre Bauer, says he had a one-night stand with Haley at a ‘school choice convention’ in 2008.”
The local Fox affiliate was happy to administer a polygraph test to confirm Marchant’s story; the results — inconclusive.
Pereene goes on to note that, “Marchant, suspiciously, ‘admitted’ to the indiscretion the day he was fired from the Bauer campaign, less than a week before today’s election.”
“Haley told the local media that all these allegations happened as soon as polls showed her with a lead over her rivals.”
I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in seeing any of these Yahoos in high office. As parents, most of us wouldn’t want them teaching in our schools so why, in God’s name, would we let them run the country? Maybe it’s a lack of viable alternatives…?
I hate to say I told you so, but Jimmy Carter told you so — back in his 1977 energy speech. America yawned. America is still yawning, despite the befouling of the Gulf Coast. Maybe God will help us, but we won’t.
…The last time lawmakers truly freaked out about the problem of our oil dependence — when gas prices topped $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008 — the Senate Energy Committee called in Skip Laitner, director of economic analysis at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
The committee asked Laitner what efficiency — the famously unglamorous energy strategy — could do to relieve gas prices. He gave them an astonishing figure: It could save 46 billion barrels of oil. If the U.S. made an all-out investment in energy efficiency-cutting energy waste out of vehicles, buildings, the electrical grid, and elsewhere in the economy — Laitner believes it could save the energy equivalent of 46 billion barrels by 2030.
Domestic offshore drilling produced 537 million barrels a year over the last nine years, according to the Minerals Management Service. A full-bore efficiency plan would save the equivalent of 85 years of offshore drilling.
Looking at the transportation sector alone, Laitner recommended 10 short-term policies that would cut the need for oil. Congress eventually passed one of them-the “cash for clunkers” program. Even that could be improved upon: the lax fuel-economy standards for new cars meant the trade-in program didn't save nearly as much fuel as it could have…
I have analyzed this tendency in my paper “The Future of Socialism” (on line at UPenn Law School — Google it). It is exactly what Marx meant by the new system of social relations of production being born in the womb of the old. The reason those in charge do not react to their failures by going backwards to a less centralized time is that, by their conception of rationality, the rational thing to do is to take greater control of what seems to be out of control, which is to say to centralize. Oh, mere self-interest plays a role, but it would be a big mistake to suppose that is all that is at play.
Why does Obama ratify the seizures of executive authority pioneered by George W. Bush? Because, confronted with terrorist incidents, it is the rational thing to do. Why does a progressive like Krugman call for greater regulatory oversight? Because that is the rational way to deal with an economic system that is “out of control.”
In short, the technical and systemic pre-conditions for socialism are being born in the womb of world finance capitalism, for socialism requires the very highest level of rational management of the entire economy, something that nineteenth century capitalists were completely incapable of attempting, and that even twentieth century capitalists could only achieve fitfully.
This is the deeper reason why the right cries “socialism” at the actions of the Congress and the proposals of the President. Although they do not really understand what they are saying, they are, in an odd way, on to something. This is also why the very people who think of themselves as Masters of the Universe celebrate a “free market” while they devote their lives to enslaving it. These people are not stupid.
So, as I ask in my essay, if this is so, why aren’t we on the left having any fun? The short answer is this: the ever greater establishment of central control over the world economy is being carried out in the interests of the haves, not of the have nots. Now, those interests are not totally opposed. Both the haves and the have nots have an interest in avoiding economic crashes, because both suffer from those crashes (although the have nots may starve to death as a consequence of the crashes, whereas the haves simply must pause in their endless accumulation of wealth).
But Marx was, alas, wrong in believing that the consolidation process by those at the top of the economic pyramid would, as an unintended consequence, also consolidate the power of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Marx was almost certainly right in expecting ever greater instability — greater crashes. But though he saw that this would provoke ever greater consolidation of capital (what Douthat is calling consolidation of power, because of course it is not polite on the right to speak of “capital”), Marx failed to anticipate the fragmentation and collapse of the working class movement that was being born in his day…
More from one of our public truth-tellers, James K. Galbraith. Why does he bother? Why do I bother pointing you to his Congressional testimony, or you bother reading it? Nothing will be done to punish the criminals, nor to prevent them from stealing again once the heat dies down. Nothing ever is.
But read Galbraith’s whole statement here anyway. It’s like pissing in a blue serge suit. Nobody else notices, but at least it makes you feel warm.
Control frauds always fail in the end. But the failure of the firm does not mean the fraud fails: the perpetrators often walk away rich. At some point, this requires subverting, suborning or defeating the law. This is where crime and politics intersect. At its heart, therefore, the financial crisis was a breakdown in the rule of law in America.
Ask yourselves: is it possible for mortgage originators, ratings agencies, underwriters, insurers and supervising agencies NOT to have known that the system of housing finance had become infested with fraud? Every statistical indicator of fraudulent practice — growth and profitability — suggests otherwise. Every examination of the record so far suggests otherwise. The very language in use: “liars’ loans,” “ninja loans,” “neutron loans,” and “toxic waste,” tells you that people knew. I have also heard the expression, “IBG, YBG;” the meaning of that bit of code was: “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.”
If doubt remains, investigation into the internal communications of the firms and agencies in question can clear it up. Emails are revealing. The government already possesses critical documentary trails — those of AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. Those documents should be investigated, in full, by competent authority and also released, as appropriate, to the public. For instance, did AIG knowingly issue CDS against instruments that Goldman had designed on behalf of Mr. John Paulson to fail? If so, why? Or again: Did Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac appreciate the poor quality of the RMBS they were acquiring? Did they do so under pressure from Mr. Henry Paulson? If so, did Secretary Paulson know? And if he did, why did he act as he did? In a recent paper, Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson argue that the “Paulson Put” was intended to delay an inevitable crisis past the election. Does the internal record support this view?
…among the simple folk of Wall Street is foreseen by The Epicurean Dealmaker, and should certainly be fun to watch. Unhappily it will only end in the triumph of a new Great Vampire Squid with a different name. In the long run we will all be, once again, drained.
I must agree with Felix Salmon and others, who claim that the real damage to Goldman Sachs has already been done, with its formerly venerated name being dragged publicly through the mud with an accusation of fraud. While this may have little effect on the majority of Goldman’s business on the sales and trading side of the house — where counterparties are generally too smart to raise a stink about the 800 pound gorilla of the global financial markets (and often too unprincipled themselves to care) — it should and will have an effect on Goldman’s extensive investment banking business with governments, corporations, and other entities.
The Great Vampire Squid has been living for years off the simple fact that, like the fabled IBM of yore, no-one ever got fired (or sued) for picking Goldman Sachs. That calculus has been changed, and I and every one of my red-blooded peers in the industry who is not currently drawing a paycheck signed by David Viniar are making damn sure that CEOs, CFOs, government officials, and Boards of Directors know it.
For those of you who were wondering, this is the real reason why Goldman’s market capitalization has taken the vapors to the tune of more than ten billion dollars in response to an action likely to cost it no more than a tiny fraction of that amount: its reputation premium is quietly and rapidly evaporating.
There is no shortage of competent investment banks and adequate investment bankers available to conduct the financing and M&A business of the global corporate and government economy. No longer can Goldman rest assured that it will win mandates simply because it is Goldman Sachs. In fact, it may lose many for that very reason…
Although just wait and see what happens if enough of them sense that Goldman is mortally wounded. They’ll gang up and rip it to shreds without a second thought, just like they did to Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and almost did to Morgan Stanley. Live by the sword, die by the sword, baby. Booyah!
…where it is no longer legal to hold you down and insert a microchip in your head:
In Gov. Roy Barnes’ stump speech, the bill has become a routine example of the Republican tendency to attack problems that don’t exist, and ignore the ones that do. Besides, Barnes argues, if someone holds him down to insert a microchip in his head, “it should be more than a damned misdemeanor.”
Three states have instituted bans, and others have considered the legislation. In Virginia, a bill supporter declared microchips to be the “666” mark of the beast referred to in the Book of Revelation…
At the House hearing, state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Kennesaw), who is shouldering the legislation in the House, spoke earnestly for better than a half hour on microchips as a literal invasion of privacy.
He was followed by a hefty woman who described herself as a resident of DeKalb County. “I’m also one of the people in Georgia who has a microchip,” the woman said. Slowly, she began to lead the assembled lawmakers down a path they didn’t want to take.
Microchips, the woman began, “infringe on issues that are fundamental to our very existence. Our rights to privacy, our rights to bodily integrity, the right to say no to foreign objects being put in our body.”
She spoke of the “right to work without being tortured by co-workers who are activating these microchips by using their cell phones and other electronic devices.”
She continued. “Microchips are like little beepers. Just imagine, if you will, having a beeper in your rectum or genital area, the most sensitive area of your body. And your beeper numbers displayed on billboards throughout the city. All done without your permission,” she said.
It was not funny, and no one laughed.
“Ma’am, did you say you have a microchip?” asked state Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold).
“Yes, I do. This microchip was put in my vaginal-rectum area,” she replied. Setzler, the sponsoring lawmaker, sat next to the witness — his head bowed.
“You’re saying this was involuntary?” Weldon continued. The woman said she had been pushing a court case through the system for the last eight years to have the device removed.
Wendell Willard (R-Atlanta), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, picked up the questioning. “Who implanted this in you?” he asked.
“Researchers with the federal government,” she said.
“And who in the federal government implanted it?” Willard asked.
“The Department of Defense.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
The woman was allowed to go about her business, and the House Judiciary Committee approved passage of SB 235.
Pardon my cynicism, but does anyone else find President Obama’s weekend pep rally in Afghanistan a bit show-boat-y? Especially, coming as it did on the heels of a week-long spree of Presidential power-lifting? — health care reform, student loan help, underwater mortgage help and recess appointments.
And then, as we all know, nothing spells ‘presidential’ like parachuting into the front lines of America’s “War du Jour.” I could almost hear the Andrews Sisters singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” as back-up for Obama’s motivational moment with the troops before they start dying, in earnest, to make a point in Kandahar.
“The United States has made progress in the fight against al Qaeda and its allies. I know it’s not easy,” he said. “If I thought for a minute that America’s vital interests were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away.
“The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something … We keep at it. We persevere. And together, with our partners, we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that.”
When I look at that be-camouflaged audience, all I can think of is “Why?” Why would anyone put a single one of those lives in harm’s way for something as dubious and irrational as a foothold in Afghanistan. These soldiers aren’t laying their lives on the line to make anyone safer — their very presence in Afghanistan makes them, and us, considerably more unsafe.
Non-partisan experts from all corners of the earth and many diverse disciplines have told us that, in compelling terms, for years now, but it has become increasingly clear that neither reason, nor prudence, not even survival instinct will dissuade the “powers that be” from replacing the Cold War with the Long War.
Al Qaeda has very effectively become the 21st century version of ‘dirty, rotten Commies.’ “Better Dead than Red” has been replaced with a fatwa on Terrorism, ensuring decades and generations of defense contracts, weapons development, arms sales, special ops, espionage and war games aimed at “making the world safe for democracy…”
Whenever I want to get an update on the Long War, I look to Tom Hayden who has been screaming into the wind about it for ages now (and for you old Hippies, yeah – that Tom Hayden). Just yesterday Hayden wrote an article for the LA Times that is a short, good read that will catch you up on the “Long War” concept if it has escaped your attention.
Basically, the Long War is an undeclared, undebated, largely undisclosed 80-year (give or take) war plan cooked up by the Pentagon and its neo-con fellow travelers and think tanks. The theater for the Long War is primarily the Middle East and South Asia or wherever else our Soldiers of Fortune see fit to lead us.
As taxpayers, we needn’t worry our little heads about any of this because our representatives in Congress don’t really have a role to play, outside of approving any and all defense budgets, supplemental, emergency and otherwise. Since that signatory function has become a political measure of patriotism, it is unlikely that outspoken constituents can have any impact.
If you are scratching your head, at this point, and saying ‘what the hell is she going on about?’ you’re in the right place, as far as DoD is concerned. You see, the Long War is less a war and more a state of mind that is being fed to the American psyche by slow-drip intravenous.
Here’s Hayden’s timeline:
The term ‘Long War’ was first applied to America’s post-9/11 conflicts in 2004 by Gen. John P. Abizaid, then head of U.S. Central Command, and by the retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of State, Gen. Richard B. Myers, in 2005.
According to David Kilcullen, a top counterinsurgency advisor to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and a proponent of the Long War doctrine, the concept was polished in “a series of windowless offices deep inside the Pentagon” by a small team that successfully lobbied to incorporate the term into the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the nation’s long-term military blueprint. President George W. Bush declared in his 2006 State of the Union message that “our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy.”
The concept has quietly gained credence. Washington Post reporter-turned-author Thomas E. Ricks used The Long War as the title for the epilogue of his 2009 book on Iraq, in which he predicted that the U.S. was only halfway through the combat phase there.
It has crept into legal language. Federal Appeals Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a darling of the American right, recently ruled in favor of holding detainees permanently because otherwise, “each successful campaign of a long war would trigger an obligation to release Taliban fighters captured in earlier clashes.”
Among defense analysts, Andrew J. Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran who teaches at Boston University, is the leading critic of the Long War doctrine, criticizing its origins among a “small, self-perpetuating, self-anointed group of specialists” who view public opinion “as something to manipulate” if they take it into consideration at all.
Lovely! Already we see how one war can segue into another: as troops are drawn down from Iraq, troops swell in Afghanistan. Some “troops,” that we prefer not to speak of, are already at work in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. Avenging Angels are poised to strike Iran, if Ahmadinejad doesn’t behave. Even Turkey is currently misbehaving, not to mention Israel…
An amorphous (or imaginary) “enemy” calls for untraditional tactics and boatloads of money to completely refit our own enormous military, as well as the foreign militaries that we are re-purposing and creating in our own image and likeness. Unfortunately, so far, we really suck at it…
One of the more ludicrous goals that the US has set as a measure of success in Afghanistan is to leave the country in the hands of a well-trained National Police force that will provide the safety and security necessary for the flowering of a law-abiding Afghan society into a well-armed, fully compliant partner in US control of the Middle East.
Never mind that currently there are neither laws nor a judicial system in place to support police activities — all things in good time. When the laws are written and the courts established, prisons have been built and judges appointed, there will be a crack police force in place to enforce those laws. All Afghans will surely rejoice when their thousand years old de-centralized system of tribal justice is replaced with a top-down well-policed system. No doubt, tribal warlords will be happy to relinquish their local power for the sake of modernization.
The notion of the Afghan National Police program defies reason in so many well-documented ways that it boggles the mind that, eight years and $7 billion dollars later, sane people would countenance renewing contracts with Dumb and Dumber, Inc. (Xe aka Blackwater and/or DynCorp) for another $1 billion whack at this losing proposition. Unless, of course, the architects of the Long War find it expedient to create impossible goals to keep us interminably engaged in the region and supporting that military-industrial complex which is currently America’s only ‘booming business’ and major export.
I’m no military expert but I do know a thing or two about business management and I’m certain that, without an endless flow of taxpayer dollars, this dog of a project would have been written off ages ago by any self-respecting private or publicly-owned business.
A joint team of Defense and State Department Inspectors General wrote a lengthy (and fairly scathing) analysis of the situation in 2006. That investigation found that the contractors hired (DynCorp) were ill-equipped to do the job (some of the trainers’ police backgrounds were as campus security guards) and that the State Department was doing an epically bad job of managing the contracts. There were essentially no stated contract requirements and virtually no oversight – just blank checks and free rein.
Unfortunately, this program is not only a fiasco; it can be argued that it is actually colossally counterproductive to the US mission in Afghanistan (if there is such a thing). As Pratap Chatterjee reported on TomDispatch.com:
The Obama administration is in a fix: it believes that, if it can’t put at least 100,000 trained police officers on Afghan streets and into the scattered hamlets that make up the bulk of the country, it won’t be able to begin a draw-down of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by the middle of next year.”
The Obama administration’s strategy for the Afghan police is to increase numbers, enlarge the ‘train and equip’ program, and engage the police in the fight against the Taliban, says Robert Perito, an expert on police training at the United States Institute of Peace and the author of a new book, The Police in War. “This approach has not worked in the past, and doing more of the same will not achieve success.”
When it comes to police training, the use of private contractors is not unusual — and neither is failure. North Carolina-based Xe has, in fact, been training the Afghan border police for more than two years, and Virginia-based DynCorp has been doing the same for the Afghan uniformed police for more than seven years now. Nonetheless, the mismanagement of the $7 billion spent on police training over the last eight years, partly attributed to lax U.S. State Department oversight, has left the country of 33 million people with a strikingly ineffective and remarkably corrupt police force. Its terrible habits and reputation have led the inhabitants of many Afghan communities to turn to the Taliban for security.
“There are some parts of Afghanistan where the last thing people want to see is the police showing up,” Brigadier General Gary O’Brien, former deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, told the Canadian Press news agency in March 2007. “They are part of the problem. They do not provide security for the people — they are the robbers of the people.”
Seven years and $7 billion of taxpayers’ money later, at a June 2008 discussion at the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Congressman John Tierney summed up findings on the 433 Afghan National Police units of that moment this way: “Zero are fully capable, three percent are capable with coalition support, four percent are only partially capable, 77 percent are not capable at all, and 68 percent are not formed or not reporting.”
That dismal result did not come flying unexpectedly out of the blue, either. As Chatterjee reports:
“A prevalent view, even among some international police, is that Afghanistan is unready for civilian policing and holds that the police must remain a military force while insecurity lasts,” writes Tonita Murray, a former director general of the Canadian Police College, who worked as an adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Interior in 2005. “If such a view were to prevail, only military solutions for security sector reform would be considered, and Afghanistan would be caught in a vicious circle of using force against force without employing other approaches to secure stability and peace…”
Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, head of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, admitted that police training has been a train wreck since the toppling of the Taliban almost nine years ago. “We weren’t doing it right. The most important thing is to recruit and then train police [before deployment]. It is still beyond my comprehension that we weren’t doing that.”
The realization that giving illiterate, drug-prone young men a uniform, badge, and gun (as well as very little money and no training) was a recipe for corruption and disaster is certainly a first step. But how to withdraw the 95% of the Afghan police force that is still incapable of basic policing for months of desperately needed training in a country with no prior history of such things? That turns out to be a conundrum, even for President Obama.
If the Pentagon does not dramatically alter the current training scheme, it doesn’t look good for either governance or peace in Afghanistan. Yet the likelihood remains low indeed that Pentagon officials will take the advice of a chorus of police experts offering critical commentary on the mess that is the police training program there.
Instead, it’s likely to be more of the same, which means more private contracting of police training and further disaster. Bizarrely enough, the Pentagon has given the Space and Missile Defense Command Contracting Office in Huntsville, Alabama, the task of deciding between DynCorp and Xe for that new billion-dollar training contract. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the French say: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Rumors about collateral damage are no longer solely the province of “bleeding heart liberals,” anonymous sources or anti-war politicians. ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’ we have this incredible admission from Gen. McChrystal to no less than The New York Times (where some neocon gatekeeper was clearly out to lunch):
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” [my emphasis] said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.
Failure to reduce checkpoint and convoy shootings, known in the military as “escalation of force” episodes, has emerged as a major frustration for military commanders who believe that civilian casualties deeply undermine the American and NATO campaign in Afghanistan.
Well, General, if you think that’s frustrating, imagine the “frustration” of the dying and maimed innocents and their families and loved ones. To make the point McChrystal-clear, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall (the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan and a trainer in the same session) added that “Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew. There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents. Every time there is an escalation of force we are finding that innocents are being killed.”
And then, of course, there are the recent inconvenient revelations of one Jerome Starkey, an Afghanistan-based reporter and an eyewitness to atrocities committed by Coalition forces, followed by a fairly bungling campaign to deny and discredit Starkey’s report.
Over the past few months, Starkey exposed two incidents where NATO initially claimed to have engaged and killed insurgents, when they’d in fact killed civilians, including school children and pregnant women. In both cases, when confronted with eye-witness accounts obtained by Starkey that clearly rebutted NATO’s initial claims, NATO resisted publicly recanting.
In the first case, NATO officials told him they no longer believed that the raid would have been justified if they’d known what they now know, but no official would consent to direct attribution for this admission.
In the second case, NATO went so far as to attempt to damage Starkey’s credibility by telling other Kabul-based journalists that they had proof he’d misquoted ISAF spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith. When Starkey demanded a copy of the recording, NATO initially ignored him and eventually admitted that no recording existed. NATO only admitted their story was false in a retraction buried several paragraphs deep in a press release that led with an attack on Starkey’s credibility.
Get used to it, though, 80 years of Long War can’t be conducted without casualties and since the “enemy” is such a shape-shifter, well … mistakes happen. On the bright side, evidently, it’s now OK to shoot an “amazing number of people” who don’t pose a threat, if you’re convinced they are Taliban, or al Qaeda or something like that…
The Cato Institute is a libertarian “think tank” in Washington. Yesterday it hosted a panel led by Grover Norquist, who thinks. His principal thought so far, the one for which he will be remembered once he is finally gathered into the loving arms of Ayn Rand, is this: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Another Norquist thought, posssibly related: “When I became 21, I decided that nobody learned anything about politics after the age of 21.”
From the Cato Institute website:
In a Thursday panel at Cato on conservatism and war, U.S. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and John Duncan (R-Tenn.) revealed that the vast majority of GOP members of Congress now think it was wrong for the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003.
The discussion was moderated by Grover Norquist, who asked the congressmen how many of their colleagues now think the war was a mistake.
Rohrabacher: “I will say that the decision to go in, in retrospect, almost all of us think that was a horrible mistake … Now that we know that it cost a trillion dollars, and all of these years, and all of these lives, and all of this blood … all I can say is everyone I know thinks it was a mistake to go in now.”
McClintock: “I think everyone [in Congress] would agree that Iraq was a mistake.”
Following this revelation virtually every Republican in Congress and most of the Democrats disemboweled themselves on the steps of the Capitol. Just kidding. The American language has no word for “shame.”
Joe Bageant is at it again, telling the truth right out where the children could hear it. Not that we’d listen.
…What would happen if America had leadership that stood up and coolly, intelligently described the economic and ecological peril we face, both of which are completely interrelated. What would happen if a president told the people, “What we have been doing has obviously not been working (they’d sure as hell agree on that), so we are going to have to remake America to save it, and it’s going to mean real sacrifice.” And what if he could do so without capitalist forces sending out ideological swiftboats to blow him out of the water, or launching hate campaigns against him, branding him as an evil fascist eco-socialist, or whatever.
I dare say the number of Americans who would respond, be willing to sacrifice and meet a challenge issued by cohesive, focused leadership, might surprise us. They might well do it, if for no other reason than that Americans are the most authority worshiping people on earth, outside of North Korea…
Our unending state of stress-out is al-Qaeda’s greatest victory against the United States. As the AP reports today, al-Qaeda got one big message from the Underwear Bomber’s failure: “the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and has prided itself on its ideological purism seems to be eyeing a more pragmatic and arguably more dangerous shift in tactics. The emerging message appears to be: Big successes are great, but sometimes simply trying can be just as good.”
Yeah, it seems like the simple cave dwellers have figured out big, complex, allegedly bad-ass America: we’re just a bunch of sticky fat kids crying because our ice cream fell off the cone. That wedgie-bait, Adam Gadahn (née “Pearlman”), an American in al-Qaeda, taunted, “Even apparently unsuccessful attacks on Western mass transportation systems can bring major cities to a halt, cost the enemy billions and send his corporations into bankruptcy.” He may be a traitorous asshole who can’t grow a decent beard, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Ask anyone who was at Newark Airport in January, where security imprisoned thousands of innocent people for six hours because some idiot took a shortcut…
Indeed, the right has so successfully torqued the country into what our enemies believe it is, it’s almost as if the GOP is a subversive arm of al-Qaeda. They have nearly bankrupted us, thus making any great social advances impossible; they have turned mild dissent into sedition; and they have turned the Constitution into a loophole-ridden contract, filled with more fine print than a subprime mortgage. They did most of that shit when they were in power. Now, out of power, the right is seeking, as it did in the Clinton years, but even more insidiously, to undermine the very functioning of government…
Just this one more little cigarette and then I promise I’ll quit for good….
From the New York Times:
…But it seems there has been a genuine shift in Somali policy, too, and the Americans have absorbed a Somali truth that eluded them for nearly 20 years: If Somalia is going to be stabilized, it is going to take Somalis.
“This is not an American offensive,” said Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for Africa. “The U.S. military is not on the ground in Somalia. Full stop.”
He added, “There are limits to outside engagement, and there has to be an enormous amount of local buy-in for this work.”
Most of the American military assistance to the Somali government has been focused on training, or has been channeled through African Union peacekeepers. But that could change. An American official in Washington, who said he was not authorized to speak publicly, predicted that American covert forces would get involved if the offensive, which could begin in a few weeks, dislodged Qaeda terrorists.
“What you’re likely to see is airstrikes and Special Ops moving in, hitting and getting out,” the official said.
From the Huffington Post:
Closer inspection of a photo of Sarah Palin, during a speech in which she mocked President Obama for his use of a teleprompter, reveals several notes written on her left hand. The words “Energy,” “Tax” and “Lift American Spirits” are clearly visible. There’s also what appears to read as “Budget cuts” with the word Budget crossed out.
To see Ms. Palin sneaking an actual peek, start paying attention about 45 seconds into the clip:
Here is an economic primer for all your teabagger friends from Fred Clark at slacktivist. It deserves as wide circulation as it can possibly get. Now I’ve done my part. Do yours.
Hey you. You there in the Glenn Beck T-shirt headed off to the Tea Party Patriot rally.
Stop shouting for a moment, please, I want to explain to you why you’re so very angry. You should be angry. You’re getting screwed. I think you know that. But you don’t seem to know that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can stop it. You can stop it easily because the system that’s screwing you over can only keep screwing you over if you keep demanding that it do so.
So stop demanding that. Stop helping the system screw you over.
Look, you can go back to yelling at me in a minute, but just read this first.
1. Get out your pay stub.
Or, if you have direct deposit — you really should get direct deposit, it saves a lot of time and money (I point this out because, honestly, I’m trying to help you here, even though you don’t make that easy Mr. Angry Screamy Guy) — then take out that little paper receipt they give you when your pay gets directly deposited.
2. Notice that your net pay is lower than your gross pay. This is because some of your wages are withheld every pay period.
3. Notice that only some of this money that was withheld went to pay taxes. (I know, I know — yeearrrgh! me hates taxes! — but just try to stick with me for just a second here.)
4. Notice that some of the money that was withheld didn’t go to taxes, but to your health insurance company.
5. Now go get a pay stub from last year around this time, from January of 2009.
6. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld for taxes in your current paycheck is less than the amount that was withheld a year ago.
That’s because of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, which included more than $200 billion in tax cuts, including the one you’re holding right there in your hand, the tax cut that’s now staring you in the face. Republicans all voted against that tax cut. And then they told you to get angry about the stimulus plan. They didn’t explain, however, why you were supposed to get angry about getting a tax cut. Why would you be? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get angry at the people who voted against that Obama tax cut?
But taxes aren’t the really important thing here. The really important thing starts with the next point…
7. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld to pay for your health insurance is more than it was last year.
8. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld to pay for your health insurance is a lot more than it was last year. I won’t ask you to dig up old paychecks from 2008 and 2007, but this has been going on for a long time. Every year, the amount of your paycheck withheld to pay for your health insurance goes up. A lot.
9. Notice the one figure there on your two pay stubs that hasn’t changed: Your wage. The raise you didn’t get this year went to pay for that big increase in the cost of your health insurance.
10. Here’s where I need you to start doing a better job of putting two and two together. If you didn’t get a raise last year because the cost of your health insurance went up by a lot, and the cost of your health insurance is going to go up by a lot again this year, what do you think that means for any chance you might have of getting a raise this year?
11. Did you figure it out? That’s right. The increasing cost of health insurance means you won’t get a raise this year. Or next year. Or the year after that. The increasing cost of health insurance means you will never get a raise again.
That’s what I meant when I said you really should be angry. That’s what I meant when I said you’re getting screwed.
OK, we’re almost done. Just a few more points, I promise.
12. The only hope you have of ever seeing another pay raise is if Congress passes health care reform. Without health care reform, the increasing cost of your health insurance will swallow this year’s raise. And next year’s raise. And pretty soon it won’t stop with just your raise. Without health care reform, the increasing cost of your health insurance will start making your pay go down.
13. I wish I could tell you that this was just a worst-case scenario, that this was only something that might, maybe happen, but that wouldn’t be true. Without health care reform, this is what will happen. We know this because this is what is happening now. It has been happening for the past 10 years. In 2008, employers spent on average 25 percent more per employee than they did in 2001, but wages on average did not increase during those years. The price of milk went up. The price of gas went up. But wages did not. All of the money that would have gone to higher wages went to pay the higher and higher and higher cost of health insurance. And unless Congress passes health care reform, that will not change.
Well, it will change in the sense that it will keep getting worse, but it won’t get better. Unless the problem gets fixed, the problem won’t be fixed. That’s kind of what “problem” and “fixed” mean.
14. Sadly for any chance you have of ever seeing a raise again, it looks like Congress may not pass health care reform. It looks like they won’t do that because they’re scared of angry voters who are demanding that they oppose health care reform, angry voters who demand that Congress not do anything that would keep the cost of health insurance from going up and up and up. Angry voters like you.
15. Do you see the point here? You are angrily, loudly demanding that Congress make sure that you never, ever get another pay raise as long as you live. Because of you and because of your angry demands, you and your family and your kids are going to have to get by with less this year than last year. And next year you’re going to have to get by with even less. And if you keep angrily demanding that no one must ever fix this problem, then you’re going to have to figure out how to get by on less and less every year for the rest of your life.
16. So please, for your own sake, for your family’s sake and the sake of your children, stop. Stop demanding that problems not get fixed. Stop demanding that you keep getting screwed. Stay angry — you should be angry — but start directing that anger toward the system that’s screwing you over and taking money out of your pocket. Start directing that anger toward fixing problems instead of toward making sure they never get fixed. Instead of demanding that Congress oppose health care reform so that you never, ever, get another pay raise, start demanding that they pass health care reform, as soon as possible. Because until they do, you’re just going to keep on getting screwed.
And it’s going to be that much worse knowing that you brought this on yourself — that you demanded it.
Thanks for your time.
This song is in response to Jerome Doolittle’s post from Ezra Klein about Tom Coburn and the death wish Coburn made for Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. It appears Senator Coburn inherited the genes of the people who lynched a a family in the hills of Okemah, Oklahoma many years ago, since their spirit lives on in Senator Coburn, as evidenced by his recent comment.
No wonder Woody Guthrie left Oklahoma. It appears that the genes of the killers who are revealed in this song are still around in the minds of at least one of the people of the Oklahoma hills and plains. My apologies to the good people of Oklahoma, wherever they may be. So let’s hear about that genetic background from an almost forgotten Woody Guthrie Song.
My apologies to my Democratic friends who might find this analogy disgusting, but I’m still disgusted about unnecessary attacks on Bill Clinton involving a prosecutor named Ken Starr and cigars and blue dresses and what was done to Howard Dean, and how John Kerry was treated and the many, many people who were dragged through the mud by Republicans in the years since Karl Rove and Lee Atwater arrived on the scene. People dragged through the mud for no good reason at all. All of the people involved in those episodes and many, many more are nothing but modern day lynchers of good men and women’s reputations. And one can make an analogy that those opposing the health care bill will likewise be killers of the babies and sons of young ladies like the one singing this song if the health care bill fails.
Furthermore, I offer my apologies to the people who unknowingly elected a person who carries around death wishes in his head; for you, I would offer the words of Christ: Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do. Maybe next time election time comes around they will think about Coburn’s comments about Senator Byrd when they cast their votes.
UPDATE: It appears that teabaggers from all over the country are now praying for Senator Byrd to die. One teabag caller on C-Span noted that Senator Inhofe was absent from the floor and wondered if the praying had “backfired” on them.
Think Progress has the story and a video and Taggan Goddards political wire also has a video post. Go there to watch the disgusting video. In light of these new developments, I am no longer letting Oklahomans who voted for Coburn off the hook and the teabaggers doing this praying are going to have God strike them or their relatives down sooner or later. Christians don’t pray for other human beings to die. The Ten Commandments demand that. Only pagans, people who have inherited lynching genes do. And there appear to be a lot of you among the teabagger, maybe all of you.
Don’t stop here, this has nothing to do with that Ayn Rand follower Arthur Silber but was found in a comment on Avedon Carol’s blog, and from those words quoted from an FDR speech, it’s quite easy to conclude that our current President and FDR have nothing, absolutely nothing in common, or so it seems to me right now.
Perhaps a second term will reveal a different perspective but with Republicans likely to be coming into the House and Senate in droves, that doesn’t seem likely. Those of us who vote Democrat long for the days when a speech like the one in the link would be spoken by a President in Office and we continue to vote that way because we have Hope — Hope that another Democratic President will deliver what FDR did. Obama seems to have failed the test miserably so far.
So we long for any President who would follow the path that FDR strode. Those of us old enough to have seen it happen know what Ronald Reagan ushered in. We see it every day in our streets filled with homeless people, in our dying and dead small towns, in our handicapped and mentally ill who too often fall through the cracks and who usually never get the help they need and in hundreds of places and people where and whom Reagan helped to fall from grace and economic security. Sure, he created a small economic elite, but at the price of a hundred people whose economic security was lost for every one person who gained a small fortune. The only thing that trickled down was piss.
Yes, we want FDR back. Perhaps that is too much to ask for. Nevertheless, the Republicans are far worse and I won’t ever vote for a party that seeks to create a permanent political and economic aristocracy. Perhaps all we can hope for is small steps, one at a time. Right now no further stimulus money is available.
That has been decreed and was allowed to happen ever since that cretin Nixon opened the doors to China, which I didn't and don’t disagree with. However, the situation was made intolerably bad by George W. Bush’s desire to lower taxes and then use borrowed money from China to finance his war and thereby break the economy, with Obama continuing in the charade, or so it seems at the moment. Now we have become the economic slaves of a small elite due to our national debt, on top of slaves to our own government as Chuck mentioned in the previous post. It is hard to be hopeful, yet dum spiro spero. Now, here’s the FDR that so many of our people seem to have forgotten:
And so it was to win freedom from the tyranny of political autocracy that the American Revolution was fought. That victory gave the business of governing into the hands of the average man, who won the right with his neighbors to make and order his own destiny through his own government. Political tyranny was wiped out at Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.
Since that struggle, however, man’s inventive genius released new forces in our land which reordered the lives of our people. The age of machinery, of railroads; of steam and electricity; the telegraph and the radio; mass production, mass distribution — all of these combined to bring forward a new civilization and with it a new problem for those who sought to remain free.
For out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital — all undreamed of by the Fathers — the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service.
There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small-businessmen and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit. They were no more free than the worker or the farmer. Even honest and progressive-minded men of wealth, aware of their obligation to their generation, could never know just where they fitted into this dynastic scheme of things.
It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.
The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor — these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship. The savings of the average family, the capital of the small-businessmen, the investments set aside for old age — other people’s money — these were tools which the new economic royalty used to dig itself in.
Those who tilled the soil no longer reaped the rewards which were their right. The small measure of their gains was decreed by men in distant cities.
Throughout the nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.
An old English judge once said: “Necessitous men are not free men.” Liberty requires opportunity to make a living — a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.
For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people's money, other people’s labor — other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.
Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.
The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.
Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.
These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.
The brave and clear platform adopted by this convention, to which I heartily subscribe, sets forth that government in a modern civilization has certain inescapable obligations to its citizens, among which are protection of the family and the home, the establishment of a democracy of opportunity, and aid to those overtaken by disaster.
But the resolute enemy within our gates is ever ready to beat down our words unless in greater courage we will fight for them.
New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow writes:
…Since 1996, the percentage of Americans who said that they have been in the presence of a ghost has doubled from 9 percent to 18 percent, and the percentage who said that they were in touch with someone who was dead has increased by nearly two thirds, rising from 18 percent to 29 percent.
For those keeping political score, Democrats were almost twice as likely to believe in ghosts and to consult fortune-tellers than were Republicans, and the Democrats were 71 percent more likely to believe that they were in touch with the dead…
“The unpleasant habits of round-mouthed hagfish and lampreys are vividly described as ‘suctorial.’ Theirs is a mode of life made possible by having gills which open directly into the throat, so that they can continue to respire while still sucking blood…”
From Jay Bookman, who, unlike me, seems to have a paid subscription to Rupert Murdoch’s online Wall Street Journal. The question raised by the stolen excerpt below is whether there is any outrage at all, any slap in the face so contemptuous, any display of greed in a time of widespread suffering, joblessness, bankruptcy and homelessness so shameless that we will finally wake up?
It’s no good blaming Congress. Both House and Senate would vote to vivisect kittens on prime time if enough members were afraid that going soft on Fluffy would cost them their seats. The trouble goes beyond that.
In Michael Moore’s movie Sicko, an American ex-pat in Paris reflects that in France the government is afraid of the people, while in America the people are afraid of the government. And there you have it. And here’s the latest atrocity that will not send Americans to the barricades:
“Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their employees about $140 billion this year — a record high that shows compensation is rebounding despite regulatory scrutiny of Wall Street’s pay culture.
Workers at 23 top investment banks, hedge funds, asset managers and stock and commodities exchanges can expect to earn even more than they did the peak year of 2007, according to an analysis of securities filings for the first half of 2009 and revenue estimates through year-end by The Wall Street Journal.”
Total compensation and benefits at the publicly traded firms analyzed by the Journal are on track to increase 20% from last year’s $117 billion — and to top 2007’s $130 billion payout. This year, employees at the companies will earn an estimated $143,400 on average, up almost $2,000 from 2007 levels.”
Marcy Kaptur is a 14-term Democratic member of Congress from Toledo. Here she is, talking to Bill Moyers:
Let me give you a reality from ground zero in Toledo, Ohio. Our foreclosures have gone up 94 percent. A few months ago, I met with our realtors. And I said, ‘What should I know?’ They said, ‘Well, first of all, you should know the worst companies that are doing this to us.’
I said, ‘Well, give me the top one.’ They said, ‘J.P. Morgan Chase.’ I went back to Washington that night. And one of my colleagues said, ‘You want to come to dinner?’ I said, ‘Well, what is it?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s a meeting with Jamie Dimon, the head of J.P. Morgan Chase.’ I said, ‘Wow, yes. I really do.’ So, I go to this meeting in a fancy hotel, fancy dinner, and everyone is complimenting him. I mean, it was just like a love fest.
They finally got to me, and my point to ask a question. I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to speak out of turn here, Mr. Dimon.’ I said, ‘But your company is the largest forecloser in my district. And our realtors just said to me this morning that your people don’t return phone calls.’ I said, ‘We can’t do work outs.’ And he looked at me, he said, ‘Do you know that I talk to your Governor all the time?’ He said, ‘Our company employs 10,000 people in Ohio.’
And I’m thinking, ‘What is that? A threat?’ And he said, ‘I speak to the Mayor of Columbus.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you come further north?’ I said, ‘Toledo, Cleveland, where the foreclosures are just skyrocketing.’ He said, ‘Well, we’ll have someone call you.’ And he gave me a card. And they never did. For two weeks, we tried to reach them. And finally, I was on a national news show. And I told this story. They called within ten minutes. And they said, ‘Oh, we’ll work with you. We’ll try to do some workouts in your area.’
We planned the first one after working with them for weeks and weeks and weeks. Their people never showed up. And it was a Friday. Our people had taken off work. They’d driven from all these locations to come. We kept calling J.P. Morgan Chase saying, ‘Where’s your person? Where’s your person?’ And they finally sent somebody down from Detroit by 3:00 in the afternoon…
“If you’ve been in a poker game for half an hour and you don’t know who the patsy is yet, you’re the patsy.”
Republican appointees outnumber Democratic justices two to one on the Supreme Court. Of the six Republicans, five were named by multimillionaires (the Bushes and Reagan; Ford appointed the other).
These things render tomorrow’s arguments over Austin and McConnell all but irrelevant. The fix is in. The Roberts court wouldn’t have taken the case at all if the Chief Justice didn’t intend to use it to scrap the last few limits remaining on the power of the rich to buy our government.
A few shreds of today’s legal fig leaf may survive, but basically the game is finally over. Democracy lost. If Joe the Plumber and the government-hating tea-baggers had even the dimmest grasp of who was really responsible for their troubles, they would be rioting in the streets already.
Today, one political class is the overwhelming majority — we express our preferences with our votes or volunteer efforts. The other class consists of those wielding real power — the ability to finance the bulk of candidates’ campaigns and effectively “set the menu” of candidates from which the rest of us may choose.
The justices’ motivation for treating money as speech may not be racist, but the impact is. Major political donors are fully unrepresentative of Americans. According to a 1996 study by the Joyce Foundation, eighty percent of people investing $200 or more in political candidates are males from households with annual income exceeding $100,000, and about 95 percent are white.
Not surprisingly, Congress closely mirrors those distinctly unrepresentative demographics.
When you get into the real money — donations of $1,000 or more — the picture is skewed even further. Just one in a thousand adult Americans contributed $1,000 or more to any candidate in the last election, yet candidates for the 2004 presidential nomination raised more than 80 percent of their individual investments from these elites. And people wonder how Congress can consider repealing inheritance taxes for multi-millionaires while plunging us ever-deeper into debt.
The power of that 1% of citizens making thousand-dollar investments is further amplified by their ability to “bundle” contributions in the name of family members, co-workers or employees to offer many thousands of dollars to a candidate in a lump sum. In George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, bundling $200,000 was the measure by which donors gained serious influence.
Joe Bageant again. Read the whole thing here, and weep for the Republic.
The condition among adolescents makes me want to cry. Passing through school metal detectors are a part of life. Being subjected to a piss test to join the chess club, or sniffed by a German shepherd police dog while being lined up against the lockers along with the rest of the student body? Paramilitary terrorist drills in high schools and middle schools? A kid being led out of study hall in handcuffs? Don’t even think twice about it. It’s just the way it is. And, if I may ask, exactly what is it? Well, one New York state school board calls it “Parental freedom from fear.” The Columbine shootings provided the excuse to embed these things into society. Nine-eleven provided the authority to implement them anywhere and everywhere. So now it’s just the way it is…
But the world as it is understood by Americans now comes through many layers of distorted filters, most of them purposefully distorted for economic financial gain by one overarching entity or another. So much so as to be atomized, kaleidoscopically diffracted. One cannot identify even the simplest object through a kaleidoscope. Bedazzled, disoriented and detached from reality, we are rendered effectively blind — thus easily directed and managed. So we listen to the few loud voices to the many and disregard any dissent as background noise…
Just last month the government, by way of the highest court in the land, made a vitally important decision on behalf of the people of the United States. The Supreme Court ruled that public school officials cannot search the pubescent panties of a thirteen year old girl, on suspicion that she is in possession of Advil for menstrual cramps. (Sanford Unified School District vs. Savana Redding — Case 08-479). Redding, an eighth grade honor student when the case began in 2001, was almost out of college when it was finally settled. It took six years and Christ only knows how much in legal costs to make this profound decision. The decision was hailed by progressives as “a landmark victory for personal freedom.” One more new freedom for Americans. The right to stash an over-the-counter pill anywhere on your body you choose.
…”A Nation of Children Roots for the Mafia.” By all means read Joe Bageant’s complete take on healthcare. Excerpts:
There ain’t any healthcare debate going on, Bubba. What is going on are mob negotiations about insurance, and which mob gets the biggest chunk of the dough, be it our taxpayer dough or the geet that isn’t in ole Jim’s impoverished purse. The hoo-ha is about the insurance racket, not the delivery of healthcare to human beings. It’s simply another form of extorting the people regarding a fundamental need — health.
Unfortunately, the people have been mesmerized by our theater state’s purposefully distracting and dramatic media productions for so long they’ve been mutated toward helplessness. Consequently, they are incapable of asking themselves a simple question: If insurance corporation profits are one third of the cost of healthcare, and all insurance corporations do is deliver our money to healthcare providers for us (or actually, do everything in their power to keep the money for themselves), why do we need insurance companies at all?
Answer: Because Wall Street gets a big piece of the action. And nobody messes with the Wall Street Mob (as the bailout extortion money proved). Better (and worse) presidents have tried. Some made a genuine effort to push it through Congress. Others expressed the desire publicly, but after getting privately muscled by the healthcare industry, decided to back off from the idea…
Most of all though, it is testimony that we live under an induced mass hallucination where spectacle replaces fact, information and common sense. In place of actionable information, we are served up screaming red faces — angry mobs manufactured for TV protesting “government interference in the people’s healthcare choices.” One must wonder what inchoate anger is really being tapped by the organizers of these strange “citizen protests.” As usual, the straw boogeyman of socialism is once more invoked. “Oh my god! I’ll have to give up my $1,100 a month insurance bill, which only pays 80% of my insurance costs AFTER I pay the initial $5,000 of those costs! If that ain’t Joe Stalin all over again, I don’t know what is!” We get the false media drama of “death panels.”
And being captives of spectacle and hyperbole, we friggin love it. The idea of death panels plays to our childish attraction to the extreme and entertaining. Killing Grandma is far more entertaining to our imaginations than say, guaranteed access to chest screens and blood pressure medicine. Two generations into this national infantilization, it’s now the only national life we know — the ideological spectacle made real.
Those poor, ignorant, deluded dupes at the town hall meetings almost got it right. But death panels aren’t just on the way; they’re already here.
One of them is named Colin McEnroe, whose talk show used to be the only bright spot on your dial if you were tuned to WTIC in Hartford. But he was, as you will see from his blog posting below, afflicted with empathy. And so he was fired, and now it’s wall-to-wall Limbaugh wannabes. (Speaking of walls and Limbaugh wannabes, you used to see this message a lot in public toilets: A man’s ambition must be small, To write his name on a shithouse wall.)
I got my mother back to the nursing home. A few weeks later, she contracted another devastating infection. I met her in the hallway of a different hospital, lying on a gurney in a very backed-up warren of emegency rooms. She had severe diarrhea, and the whole situation was an icky, messy nightmare, and the hospital had nowhere to put her, and we were stuck in a hallway, and none of the doctors who were making the big decisions — not her primary care guy or her neurosurgeon — were going to be anywhere near this 2 a.m. ordeal.
No too long after that, I became my mother’s death panel. I had found a lovely, quiet room for her in the nursing home. I got flowers for it every day. I had Maggie working with me to make her comortable. I forged alliances with the other nurses too, and then I brought hospice in, over the objections of my mother’s primary care doctor, an old-time guy who just didn’t see things this way.
She had almost stopped eating. Her neck was not healing. Her Alzheimer’s was exacerbated by all the stress. The infections were coming at her fast and furious. She didn’t have an acute fatal condition. She had a bunch of non-fatal conditions that had collected around her in sort of a whirlpool, pulling her down.
I, “this Jack, joke, poor potsherd” was what was left on this earth to love her and fight for her. And all we ever did, from that day forward was try to make her comfortable and happy. We didn’t do any more tests, because we knew she was dying and hurting. We actually saved you taxpayers a lot of money, not that I gave a damn. I just wanted to do the right thing, and this felt so right.
She died September 11. Her last days were much better than the ones that preceded my decision to be her death panel.
There is no death panel in the 2009 health care bill.That’s just a made-up thing.
But if there were death panels, they would not be taking the place of some really good system we have right now that provides perfectly targeted care to patients who need it and can benefit from it. The truths of life and death are so much more complicated and rich than any healthcare debate can make them seem. In the case of my mother, you could almost say that she received bad health care until I decided it was OK for her to die.
This passage by Gore Vidal appeared in the October, 1963, issue of Esquire. He failed to foresee our increasing physical fatness, but he nailed the rest.
Historians often look to the Roman Empire to find analogies with the United States. They flatter us. We live not under the Pax Americana, but the Pax Frigida. I should not look to Rome for comparison but rather to the Most Serene Venetian Republic, a pedestrian state devoted to wealth, comfort, trade and keeping the peace, especially after inheriting the wreck of the Byzantine Empire, as we have inherited the wreck of the British Empire.
Venice was not inspiring but it worked. Ultimately, our danger comes not from the idea of Communism, which (as an Archbishop of Canterbury remarked) is a “Christian heresy” whose materialistic aims (as opposed to means) vary little from our own; rather, it will come from the increasing wealth and skill of other Serene Republics which, taking advantage of our increasing moral and intellectual fatness, will try to seize our markets in the world.
If we are to end, it will not be with a Bomb but a bigger Buck. Fortunately, under that sanctimoniousness so characteristic of the American selling something, our governors know that we are fighting not for “the free world” but to hold onto an economic empire not safe or pleasant to let go. The Arab world — or as a salesmen would say, “territory” — is almost ours, and we must persevere in landing that account. It will be a big one some day.
Vidal wasn’t the only one to have seen that coming. In 1973 I searched out my old two-story wooden barracks at Fort Bragg’s Special Warfare Center to show my young and uninterested sons. By then the building was being used as office space by the Special Forces. I mentioned to a sergeant inside that back in the day we used to have classes in Thai, Lao and Vietnamese. Was the language program still alive?
Oh, yeah, he said, only now it’s Arabic.
Here’s a post by Papa Bonk on Ketchup is a Vegetable. What think?
Benito Mussolini and Adolpf Hitler both came to power with the aid of hoodlums and thugs who showed up at political rallies, shouted down the speakers and beat up opposition leaders. As time went by, normal citizens learned to stay out of their way and shut up.
Politics by thuggery is a defining element of facism. That’s what the GOOP and the health care industry is practicing now in an attempt to derail real reform in health insurance. We are seeing it in town hall meetings held by Democratic Party leaders across the country. Hordes of unkempt, illiterate dumbasses shout down other speakers and drown out debate, the threat of violence simmering just below the surface. Their whole game is to disrupt and delay the health care agenda and ultimately defeat President Obama by forcing a failure on his most important policy objective.
Wiser heads tell us that we can use this behavior to our advantage. It demonstrates the true colors of the opposition, it is said, and will ultimately turn public opinion in our favor. I am sure the people in the choir believe that. I am not so certain.
There is a frightened, mindless wasteland out there. A landscape of uneducated clerks and real estate agents and shoe salespersons and Mary Kaye clients. They are frightened as sheep, and easily stampeded. A show of force, a hint of instability, a suspicion that the President of the United States may not be one of us after all, may be all it takes to return us the nightmare days of Busch GOOP leadership.
It’s a dangerous game and should not be taken lightly. I am very happy to allow the public relations boys and the political experts to take on this threat and solve it by peaceable means. But I think it shows us graphically why it is that liberals should forget about gun control and learn something about guns.
Sure, okay, the gorillas had hair on their chests and Tarzan didn’t. And Batman was apparently as hairless as Robin. And Superman looked body-waxed.
But seriously, men, if I may call you that, how pathetic is this?
Little research has been done on male body depilation. But a 2005 study published in the journal Sex Roles found that 63.6 percent of 118 men at the University of South Florida said they trimmed or removed body hair below the neck to be hygienic and attractive. And in a yet-to-be-published survey of 364 male students at the same university, more than 80 percent said they engaged in body depilation, said Michael Boroughs, the lead author of both studies and a graduate student in psychology>…
In May, Gillette started a series of how-to and why-do-it videos online suggesting that men go further with body shaving. The rationale varied by part. Chest? “A sweater should be bought not grown.” Armpits? “An empty stable smells better than a full one.” And their coup de grâce is the groin: “Trees look taller when there’s no underbrush.”
Here is Princess Sparkle Pony, trying and failing to give money to two giant American corporations:
First I went to ATT’s web site to order the service. Now, here’s another bit of PSP trivia: I don’t have a credit card; haven’t since college! I do have a debit card, of course, but I simply don’t use credit. So at the ATT site, they did a “credit check” and found me wanting, and decided that the iPhone wasn’t for me. So I “spoke” to an online rep, and the conversation went something like this:
Me: Hi, I want to get an iPhone, but failed your credit check.
Rep: Sorry, then you are ineligible for the service.
Me: Really? Just like that? But I was going to pay with a debit card.
Rep: Sorry, if you fail the credit check, you’re ineligible.
Me: Seriously? What if I pre-pay for the whole two-year plan?
Rep: We don’t offer that.
Basically: no iPhone for me!
This morning, I decided to actually call ATT on the phone and find out if this was really true. And, of course, it isn’t. The person on the phone said I could, indeed, get iPhone service, but I’d have to go to an ATT store and would probably have to tender a $750 deposit (!!) as a punishment for being sensible with my money and not buying things I can’t afford.
Who needs the Mafia when we’ve got Congress? Here’s a taste from William Greider. Go read it all in The Nation.
The much-celebrated “Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights” is a fresh example of how the Democratic Party tries to have it both ways — avoiding the tough votes while mollifying the folks. The credit card reform measure imposes new rules on the industry and does away with many of the most outrageous gimmicks bankers use to extract more money from debtors. Banks cannot raise interest rates retroactively on old credit card balances or pile on hidden fees or fail to give advance notice for rate increases. These and other changes are worthy.
The achievement seems less courageous if you know that Congress was largely ratifying the regulatory rules already adopted by the Federal Reserve last year. Or that the legislation gives the industry another nine months to gouge their customers before the new rules go into effect. Or that Visa and MasterCard, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase are free to raise future interest rates to the sky — without limit. That is the industry’s intention, as bank lobbyists reported after the bill was passed.
One of the fundamental issues that party managers wished to avoid was the scandal of American usury. Usury is the ancient sin of charging inflated interest rates sure to ruin the borrowers. It is considered immoral by Judaism, Christianity and Islam because usury involves the powerful using their wealth to ensnare weak and defenseless borrowers. The classic usurer offers an impossible choice that debtors cannot easily refuse. If they reject the terms of the loan, they will not be able to pay the rent or buy necessities. If they accept the usurious interest rates, their debts will accumulate until they are bankrupted (at which point the creditors claim their property). No civilized society can endure in such conditions.
Usury used to be illegal in the United States but it was “decriminalized” in 1980 — the dawn of financial deregulation. A Democratic president and Congress repealed all interest-rate controls and the federal law prohibiting usury. Thirty years later, American society is permeated with usurious practices — credit cards charging 30 percent and higher, subprime mortgages and other forms of predatory lending, the notorious “payday” loans that charge desperate working people an effective interest rate of 500 percent or more. Businesses, especially smaller firms, are also prey to usury in less direct ways…
For one-stop shopping on the AIG swindle, you won’t find a better explanation than this one by Matt Taibi in Rolling Stone. Excerpt from a much longer piece:
The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That’s $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second.
And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG’s 2008 losses).
So it’s time to admit it: We’re fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we’re still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream…
The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers…
The title above is a quote from Ronald Reagan at the 1988 Republican National Convention. He was trying to access a John Adams quote, “Facts are stubborn things,” but something more appropriate to the man and the occasion popped out.
The essay below is from my neighbor Jim, more of whose stuff can be seen here.
Compare and contrast:
1980 may seem kind of arbitrary as the jump off for the end of empire, but the economics bear it out. Under Reagan, government disbursements and revenues, as a share of GDP, jumped a full six percentage points. More, if you include his unfunded moral hygiene mandates.
All the Republicans talked Rand, Friedman, inter alia, but they acted like straightforward right wing military Keynesians. Military Keynesianism is of course nothing new in the US. But prior to 1980 there was a dominant Bismarckian consensus (have I dropped enough names yet?) that it had to be matched by social spending, otherwise the exercise of hard power would eventually become financially unsustainable.
You cannot extract surplus value — i.e. have capitalism — in great heaping bushel baskets unless you have a government willing to exercise single payer monopsony power over basic human needs, basic scientific research and renewable sources of the energy needed to drive all this. Lo and behold, the exercise of hard power is now done on credit, with only the threat of mutually assured destruction holding our creditors at bay.
I suppose one could point to a cultural shift in the eighties, as there certainly was one, but I prefer a bit more systemic determinism.
The political economy of capitalism is easiest to manage through psychological terrorism. It’s a cheap and effective way of outsourcing the quotidian enforcement of corporate feudalism to vigilante moral panic artists. There’s no shortage of people willing to enforce for free. Hell, they’ll even pay for the dubious privilege.
People become inured to this, querulous and rebellious, and the terrorism has to be stepped up. Red scares have to be coupled with ethnic scares, drug scares, satanic child care scares and so forth. Going against that, as Carter did in an achingly minuscule way, is a positive step for capitalism and a negative step for capitalists. Their enforcement costs look to climb. People who aren’t constantly depressed and frightened get a little feisty.
Under Reagan, the “clever” work-around was burgeoning unfunded mandates to make the states take on domestic psychological terrorism, and yanking the social safety net away, while the central government threw surplus value to the cretinous capitalists, hand over fist. It’s been down hill ever since.
I can’t see why anyone would want to be president after Bush. It’s not a sane thing to do. I thought, and still think, that the Democrats would have been better off throwing the election. McCain would probably not have lasted four years and right wing military Keynesianism would have been discredited for a good long time. Getting stuck with cradling the appalling, ghoulish offspring that are roving mindlessly over a dying empire would have ruined him, and the most cretinous of the cretinous capitalists.
The Democrats could have trotted out old social democratic wine in new bottles and enjoyed thirty or forty years of crowing from the top of the DC shit hill. So it goes, I guess. And my goodness, doesn’t Carter look like a saint in comparison to every asshole that’s come since.
For Jim Kunstler it’s all about the oil — and who am I to argue? I remember Jimmy Carter putting the solar panels on the White House roof and Ronald Reagan tearing them down as one of his first acts in office. I remember the Republicans laughing at “moral equivalent of war,” and pointing out — oh, clever, clever Republicans — that its acronym was MEOW. But why go on. You remember too.
…Then, in 1979, the Ayatollah tossed out the Shah of Iran, we got another dose of oil problems, and a year later, President Jimmy Carter’s clear-eyed view of the oil situation as “the moral equivalent of war” got overturned in favor of Ronald Reagan’s dreadful Hollywood nostalgia projector. As usual in times of severe social stress, the public got delusional. Mr. Reagan was very lucky. During his tenure, two of the last great non-OPEC oil discoveries came into full production — Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and the North Sea — and took the leverage away from the Islamic oil nations who had been making us miserable with their threats, embargos, price-jackings, and hostage-takings.
Americans drew the false conclusion that Ronald Reagan was an economic genius (a similar thing happened in Great Britain with Margaret Thatcherism). The price of oil went down steeply while they were in office. Britain could kick back and enjoy it’s last remaining industry, banking, on a majestic cushion of energy resources. The USA resumed its major post-war industry: suburban sprawl building. Reaganism got elevated to the status of a religion, though it was little more than a twisted version of Eisenhower-on-steroids. Under Reagan, WalMart embarked on its campaign to destroy every main street economy in the nation. The Baby Boomers came back from the land, clipped their pony tails, discovered venture capital, real estate investment trusts, securitization of “consumer” debt, and the Hamptons. Greed was good. (No, really....)
I’m afraid Jim Kunstler is right. Go read it all, and remember that no people ever had a government better than itself. We have indeed met the enemy and sure enough…
The attempted re-start of revolving debt consumerism is an exercise in futility. We’ve reached the limit of being able to create additional debt at any level without causing further damage, additional distortions, and new perversities of economy (and of society, too).
We can’t raise credit card ceilings for people with no ability make monthly payments. We can’t promote more mortgages for people with no income. We can’t crank up a home-building industry with our massive inventory of unsold, and over-priced houses built in the wrong places. We can’t ramp back up the blue light special shopping fiesta.
We can’t return to the heyday of Happy Motoring, no matter how many bridges we fix or how many additional ring highways we build around our already-overblown and over-sprawled metroplexes. Mostly, we can’t return to the now-complete “growth” cycle of “economic expansion.” We’re done with all that. History is done with our doing that, for now.
So far — after two weeks in office — the Obama team seems bent on a campaign to sustain the unsustainable at all costs, to attempt to do all the impossible things listed above. Mr. Obama is not the only one, of course, who is invoking the quest for renewed “growth.”
This is a tragic error in collective thinking. What we really face is a comprehensive contraction in our activities, especially the scale of our activities, and the pressing need to readjust the systems of everyday life to a level of decreased complexity.
For instance, the myth that we can become “energy independent and yet remain car-dependent is absurd. In terms of liquid fuels, we’re simply trapped. We import two-thirds of the oil we use and there is absolutely no chance that drill-drill-drilling (or any other scheme) will change that.
The public and our leaders cannot face the reality of this. The great wish for “alternative” liquid fuels (bio fuels, algae excreta) will never be anything more than a wish at the scales required, and the parallel wish to keep all our cars running by other means — hydrogen fuel cells, electric motors — is equally idle and foolish.
We cannot face the mandate of reality, which is to do everything possible to make our living places walkable, and connect them with public transit. The stimulus bills in congress clearly illustrate our failure to understand the situation.
The attempt to restart “consumerism” will be equally disappointing. It was a manifestation of the short peak energy decades of history, and now that we’re past peak energy, it’s over. That seventy percent of the economy is over, especially the part that allowed people to buy stuff with no money…
Final proof that we are, as a nation, mad:
(CNN) -- A former prison secretary has been sentenced to six months in federal prison for having sex with an inmate she was supposed to be supervising, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the District of Colorado said Friday.
Janine Sligar, 47, of Wray, Colorado, was sentenced Thursday for sexual abuse of a ward. After serving her sentence, she will serve five years of supervised release and must register as a sex offender, spokesman Jeff Dorschner said in a news release…
According to the plea agreement, Sligar, a 14-year Bureau of Prisons veteran, said she and inmate Eric McClain met in February 2007, when he was assigned to clean her office.
“They began to have conversations and realized they had similar interests,” the plea agreement said.
That summer, they initiated a sexual relationship that included 10 to 20 sessions of oral sex and sexual intercourse, ending in October 2007, it said.
There’s no fuel like a lipofuel…
“…The vast majority of my patients request that I use their fat for fuel – and I have more fat than I can use,” he says. “Not only do they get to lose their love handles or chubby belly, but they get to take part in saving the Earth…”
From reelecting George Bush, who advised the nation in a time of war to go shopping, to today’s killing of a Wal-Mart store worker by a crazed mob seeking bargains at Wal-Mart, or a Toys-R-Us fight, possibly by two parents over a toy, ending with both parents killing each other, Americans crazed penchant for consumer goods is killing us and has been killing us for at least 25 years. This year, why not buy your child some books and read to them if they're not able to on their own. If they can, buy them books to expand their minds. But don’t get too caught up in the Bible, at least don’t take it all literally as history proves that engaging in that activity also ends up killing people.
Reading the same books that your child reads and discussing them with your child might be a fun exercise that avoids the insanity of toys, toys and more toys. And introduce them however you can to positive exercise. But please don’t go crazy over toys like some people do. It’s literally killing people and killing the nation because we’re borrowing money from rich nations like China, Japan, Russia and Saudi Arabia to feed our addiction to toys and all the junk we load up on at Christmas.
Or, if you like excellent mystery books, read the first chapter of KC Constantine’s book Upon Some Midnights Clear and if you like what you read, contact the author of this website to obtain a shareware version of the book for $5.00 or buy a hard copy from your local independent bookseller, either on or off the web (as the book is out of print). It could change your life. That book was my introduction to this website and I have been hooked on Bad Attitudes ever since. And in the process was educated beyond my wildest imagination into the ways of the world, both good and bad, literally changing my mind for the better, although I must warn you that knowing so many of the secrets of Pandora’s box can at times be quite depressing.
Or alternatively, you could take your child to the library, get him or her a library card, and make a point to visit twice a week. I must warn you though, according to one of the characters in a book by KC Constantine, you’ll be introducing your child to the concept of socialism when you carry him to the library. Imagine that. Not having to pay for your books. It is quite a radical concept in this capitalist economy. Personally I think we need more of it, so next time you talk to your local politician, ask him to expand on the concept of free public libraries by bringing more socialism to this nation. The nation might learn that socialism has many benefits that don’t involve killing people over buying Christmas gifts, but I doubt it. And let your politician know you're willing to pay higher taxes to support people, but not corporations.
Without further ado, I hereby post a video that I found at Shakesville, another progressive blog which has the URL name of Shakespeare’s sister which recalls similar crazed shoppers in 1983. It is now evident that the species is not evolving, at least since Ronald Reagan came into office.
Hitler couldn’t have had supporters any better than these. Frank Rich described the problem we have in America in his op-ed in today’s New York Times. If we continue on the present course, we are doomed. Perhaps it is already to late to stop the inevitable fall of the nation we once could treasure. My own parents turned into haters like these. I blame it on Rupert because I saw how his Fox News Channel caused my parents to become haters exactly like these. Prior to Fox News, I had only seen this briefly in my father, who was not only a WWII veteran, but a sucker for any kind of propaganda that the military industrial complex created. The last years of his life were filled with the kind of mean, vicious hatred that you see in this video. What a sad way that it was for him to go the way that he did.
As far as I can tell, this ends the Chalmers Johnson series from the Real News Network at this time. If you liked what you saw in this series, please donate generously to the Real News Network. The only funding they receive is from viewers like you. You won’t see news like this on your evening news unless you work to make it happen. The Real News Network is helping people to become aware of the real problems that trouble this nation. Please do your part to help educate others.
The Real News Network continues to deliver unparalleled content in a video format. The military Sopranos clan continues to be funded by their benefactors, those whom we elect to Congress.
Here’s a great rant from Alicia Morgan, whose enemy you would definitely not want to be.
…George W. Bush, in celebrating his own lack of intellect and curiosity, has made a virtue of ignorance, and by breaking the glass ceiling on stupidity, demonstrated to those who already think this way that there are no limits to where ignorance can take you. He has also demonstrated that governing by ignorance is not only possible, but easily done, and that ignorance can beat intelligence, given the right set of circumstances…
Case in point is the love child of George Bush and Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin. While George Bush is a relative latecomer to the fundamentalist fold, he insisted that “God told him to attack Iraq.” He relies on his ‘gut’ instead of brains, and considers that a completely acceptable, even preferable choice.
Sarah Palin takes those traits to a whole different level. No Johnny-come-lately she, Palin was steeped in fundamentalist principles from birth, and is both far more radically religious and far less educated than George W. Bush. Which, in the Bizarro-World of right-wing logic, makes her...even better! According to the Bush standard, all you need is a mule-stubborn refusal to yield to be a successful world leader, and intelligence just gets in the way of that. Sarah Palin describes it as “you can’t blink.” What she means is “you can’t think.”
This demonization of intelligence is getting worse, not better, as the ignorant and venal are rewarded ever more richly in our society. If the unthinkable come to pass, with a McCain presidency Sarah Palin — would-be book-banner, science-hater, reproductive-rights-destroyer, Rapture-ready end-timer — will be a fibrillation away from being the leader of the free world. One would not think it possible, but she makes George W. Bush look like Noam Chomsky.
Hell, yes, I’m an elitist. You should be, too.
Brought to you from the American News Project via The Real News Network this video contains some interesting comments and an unusual ending. Partisans might want to stay away from watching this one. Those seeking to help make our government accountable to the people instead of the corporations will find it fascinating.
I've had to remove the video that I had included on this post because I don't know how to stop it from automatically playing when someone goes to the home page of this blog. But to watch it, click on the Real Network News link, the second one, above.
Bet you’ve been wondering why Sarah Palin has been ducking the press. No, of course you haven’t. And you were right, because take a look. The potential president was just permitted to hold the world’s shortest Q & A with her traveling press corps — her first.
Jesus, this so embarrassing:
CNN: On the topic of never letting this happen again, do you agree with the way the Bush administration has handled the war on terrorism, is there anything you would do differently?
A: I agree with the Bush administration that we take the fight to them. We never again let them come onto our soil and try to destroy not only our democracy, but communities like the community of New York. Never again. So yes, I do agree with taking the fight to the terrorists and stopping them over there.
POLITICO: Do you think our presence in Iraq and Afghan and our continued presence there is inflaming islamic extremists?
A: I think our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to further security of our nation, again, because the mission is to take the fight over there. Do not let them come over here and attempt again what they accomplished here, and that was some destruction. Terrible destruction on that day. But since September 11, Americans uniting and rebuilding and committing to never letting that happen again.
Former United States President George W. Bush brings himself up to speed on the collapse of the American economy:
Well, my first instinct wasn’t to lay out a huge government plan. My first instinct was to let the market work until I realized, upon being briefed by the experts, of how significant this problem became.
And so I decided to act and act boldly. It turns out that there’s a lot of interlinks throughout the financial system. The system had grown to a point where a lot of people were dependent upon each other, and that the collapse of one part of the system wouldn’t just affect a part of the financial markets; it would affect the average citizen — and how. Well, it affect their capacity to borrow money to buy a house or to finance a college loan. It affect the ability of a small business to get credit. In other words, the system risk was significant, and it required a significant response, and Congress understands that. And we’ll work to get something done as quickly and as big as possible.
This is just a snippet from Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s clear and compelling explanation of how Bush, Greenspan and the Wall Street usurers drove our economy over a cliff — and what we ought to do about it. But of course won’t.
…We need better competition laws. The financial institutions have been able to prey on consumers through credit cards partly because of the absence of competition. But even more importantly, we should not be in situations where a firm is “too big to fail.” If it is that big, it should be broken up…
Feeling good? Pretty good? Not too bad? You’ve had better days? Actually today kind of sucks? Well, are you at least feeling nonsuicidal? Then don’t read this, from Athenae at First Draft.
Let me tell you what will happen should President McCain take the oath of office. There will be approximately six months of a honeymoon period, during which every commentator on TV and every Democrat who appears beside said commentator mouths the words “deserves the benefit of the doubt.” Much saying of “time to move beyond the past” will occur.
The President will be presumed to have time to put his or her cabinet together, appoint various hacks and morons to various high positions during which time even Russ Feingold will declare that the President should get what the President wants. During these six months, another few hundred US soldiers will die in Iraq. Iraqis will die, too, but we won’t count them. The economy will continue to get worse.
After those six months, some sort of foreign policy crisis will increase the President’s Sunday Show Street Cred. He will appear on TV looking powerful and it’ll hit the re-set clock on those six months. His approval ratings will slip, but it’ll just be hippies and decadent leftists in enclaves.
Real Americans will still love the President, because he’s the president, and deserves the benefit of the doubt. Really, we should move beyond the past. Lather, rinse, repeat, stab out own brain with fish fork, until it’s four years later and we’re trying to figure out how we are still in Iraq and why nothing’s been done, and oh hello, Mr. NSA Agent, so pleased to see you at my door this fine autumn evening. Where does the time go?
Nouriel Roubini, the famous economist who long ago predicted the financial meltdown about to occur in the US and who has been right on the money on practically every prediction he has made in the last six or eight years has something to say today about the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailouts.
Perhaps sensibility will sink into some of the so called brightest and best minds, whose hollow shells for brains are in fact filled with nothing but wild ideology, who subscribe to a belief system just as obscene, if not more so than the brutal ideologies of Germany in 1933 and Russia in 1917, and they will finally come around to sanity and realize that socialism indeed works in some segments of a civilized economy, provided it is tempered with incentives for everyone to have the opportunity to exercise initiative and entrepreneurship in a capitalist economy that has a soul.
But I doubt that we have many leaders in our midst who have that kind of insight and ability. Only honest and upright men and women who govern a country can be counted on to look out for the interests for all of the citizens of that country, particularly the least of these among us. And that kind of leadership has sadly been lacking in this country since at least 1980, if not long before then.
What I fear most is that most of our citizens have been indoctrinated with the same kind of ideology since the era of Ronald Reagan, and many of them long before that era. It may be impossible to turn this nation around to honest and sensible government policies, and this country may indeed be a lost cause on the world stage. Without further ado, what follows is part of Mr. Roubini’s rant of the day — although Mr. Roubini seldom rants — since I just took my turn at having mine. And I didn’t even get into the debt we're adding every day by continuing to borrow billions monthly from the Chinese, Saudis, Russians and other world governments. Maybe Moe Blues, who has much more experience in this topic than I do can fill us in on that and more on what we, our children, and their children’s children may have in store in the coming decades.
So now Comrades Bush, Paulson and Bernanke (as originally nicknamed by Willem Buiter) have now turned the USA into the USSRA (the United Socialist State Republic of America). Socialism is indeed alive and well in America; but this is socialism for the rich, the well connected and Wall Street. A socialism where profits are privatized and losses are socialized with the US tax-payer being charged the bill of $300 billion.
This biggest bailout and nationalization in human history comes from the most fanatically and ideologically zealot free-market laissez-faire administration in US history. These are the folks who for years spewed the rhetoric of free markets and cutting down government intervention in economic affairs. But they were so fanatically ideological about free markets that they did not realize that financial and other markets without proper rules, supervision and regulation are like a jungle where greed — untempered by fear of loss or of punishment — leads to credit bubbles and asset bubbles and manias and eventual bust and panics.
As much as it pains me to say it, I think Obama will lose this election. The American public really is far, far more stupid than we tend to give them credit for. A majority of people eagerly buy into whatever Republican meme is being peddled, facts be damned.
As a rather personal example, I have my own father. He loathes George Bush with every fiber of his being. Yet, not two weeks ago my father was telling me how Obama is really a secret Muslim — he knew this because Obama’s campaign symbol is an “O” and that could only mean something Muslim.
I asked him what he thought of John McCain’s campaign symbol — a red star — which happens to be the communist party symbol, and whether there might be some connection to McCain’s five years of being held by communists. No, the red star doesn’t mean anything at all — it’s just McCain’s symbol, see?
Back in 2004, some of us were excoriated for saying the public was stupid enough to buy into all the Swift Boat lies. Yet, as we now know, those lies helped give Bush a second disastrous term.
So you will have McCain running his campaign on the theme that he represents true change in Washington because he will continue all the policies that you hate — and he’ll add a few more that you despise as well.
Joe Sixpack has no clue — none at all — what Bush’s policies have been. All Joe knows is that Bush did great against those Muslims, and that maybe the economy needs a little perking up. He doesn’t much like Bush, but he probably can’t tell you why he doesn’t like Bush.
Enter McCain, who will promise to perk up the economy by cutting taxes — and everyone knows that works because they’ve been told for 30 years by Republicans that cutting taxes ALWAYS boosts the economy. McCain will talk tough, tough, tough — and Joe Sixpack likes the idea that we’ll be killing more Muslims. McCain will promise to begin drilling off Miami on Jan. 21, and Joe knows gas has been expensive lately.
McCain will present every existing Bush policy as though it is his very own, and he’ll tell Joe Sixpack that the existing policy is change. And because Joe doesn’t really pay any attention to these things, Joe will think McCain is actually promising change from Bush’s policies.
And Joe will be constantly reminded that John McCain — who owns four (or six, or nine) houses, flies in private jets he personally owns, has held exactly one private-sector job in his life (and that for just a few months), wears $500 shoes and $2000 slacks — is just a regular guy. Obama, however, is a rich fat-cat elitist who eats funny-sounding vegetables and is just so out of touch with Joe.
And a majority of voters will joyfully pull the lever for McCain.
Yes, it’s typed that way on purpose. Because that’s the way the signs read at the Republican National Convention. Go take a look for yourself at Steve Clemons’s blog. I presume these are Republican delegates, voted in by their constituents. What many of their voters are like, God only knows. But if you know anything at all about Steve Clemons, you know he’s not making this stuff up. I worry greatly about the future of this country when I see how fast China and India are gaining ground. If we don’t work to fix these problems, we’re destined to become a third world nation.
Unfortunately, John and Sarah aren’t about to start things moving in the right direction by advocating teaching creationism in our schools. I thought Scopes was settled almost a century ago, but obviously not. It’s a long way to the bottom of the chasm, but we’re well on our way.
Bush has spread his filth from Bagram and Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo all the way back home to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Watch the girl holding the flower — not violent, not impeding in any way the slow march of the cops, anonymous behind their beetle masks — but merely holding out a flower.
Watch the vicious little shit in blue amuse himself by spraying her in the face with pepper spray. Now watch the same cowardly torturer, still safe and unthreatened behind his armor and his gun, as he delivers another long dose of agony, this one even more gratuitous, on the bare back of the helpless girl as she retreats in pain.
And be proud you’re an American.
This is from Hunter Thompson’s last piece on the presidential campaign of 1972. That campaign ended with the reelection of Richard Nixon some three months after every sentient American voter was in possession of every significant fact about Watergate. Of course Watergate was trivial compared to what the American voter knew about George W. Bush in 2004.
This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.
The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his imprecise talks about ‘new politics’ and ‘honesty in government,’ is really one of the few men who’ve run for president of the United States in this century who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.
McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.
Jesus! Where will it all end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?
More along the same line as my previous posting, just below — this time from the magnificently angry Jim Kunstler at Clusterfuck.
Meanwhile, Russia got its house in order under the non-senile, non-alcoholic Vladimir Putin, and woke up along about 2007 to find itself the leading oil and natural gas producer in the world.
Among the various consequences of this was Russia’s reemergence as a new kind of world power — an energy resource power, with the energy destiny of Europe pretty much in its hands. Also, meanwhile, the USA had set up other client states in the ring of former Soviet republics along Russia’s southern underbelly, complete with US military bases, while fighting active engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, if this wasn’t the dumbest, vainest move in modern geopolitical history!
It’s one thing that US foreign policy wonks imagined that Russia would remain in a coma forever, but the idea that we could encircle Russia strategically with defensible bases in landlocked mountainous countries halfway around the world...? You have to ask what were they smoking over at the Pentagon and the CIA and the NSC?
So, this asinine policy has now come to grief. Not only does Russia stand to gain control over the Baku-to-Ceyhan pipeline, but we now have every indication that they will bring the states on its southern flank back into an active sphere of influence, and there is really not a damn thing that the US can pretend to do about it.
As we enter the perfect economic storm, it’s important (though too late) to realize that none of this is an accident. It is all the result of careful long-term planning by our masters on Wall Street and Main Street.
Easy consumer credit, the legalization of usury, the federal deficit, the subprime mess, privatization, the strangling of unions, the collapse of the middle class, deregulation, the lotteries and casinos, the tax code, our nationwide gulag, our broken health care system — these are means to an end.
That end is to reduce all but a few fortunate Americans to debt slavery. It is to make the rest of us into indentured servants, and the process is nearly complete.
Read the whole essay by Thomas Frank from which this comes:
The longing for permanent victory over liberalism is not unique to the west. In country after country, business elites have come up with ingenious ways to limit the public’s political choices. One of the most effective of these has been massive public debt. Naomi Klein has pointed out, in case after case, that the burden of debt has forced democratic countries to accept a laissez-faire system that they find deeply distasteful. Regardless of who borrowed the money, these debts must be repaid — and repaying them, in turn, means that a nation must agree to restructure its economy the way bankers bid: by deregulating, privatizing and cutting spending.
Republicans have ridden to power again and again promising balanced budgets — government debt was “mortgaging our future,” Ronald Reagan admonished in his inaugural address — but once in office they proceed, with a combination of tax cuts and spending increases, to inflate the federal deficit to levels far beyond those reached by their supposedly open-handed liberal rivals. The formal justification is one of the all-time great hoaxes. By cutting taxes, it is said, you will unleash such economic growth that federal revenues will actually increase, so all the additional government spending will be paid for.
Even the theory’s proponents don’t really believe it. David Stockman, the libertarian budget director of the first Reagan administration, did the maths in 1980 and realized it would not rescue the government; it would wreck the government. This is the point where most people would walk away. Instead, Stockman decided it had medicinal value. He realized that with their government brought to the brink of fiscal collapse, the liberals would either have to acquiesce in the reconfiguration of the state or else see the country destroyed. Stockman was candid about this: the left would “have to dismantle [the government’s] bloated, wasteful, and unjust spending enterprises — or risk national ruin.”
This is government-by-sabotage: deficits were a way to smash a liberal state. The Reagan deficits did precisely this. When Reagan took over in 1981, he inherited an annual deficit of $59 billion and a national debt of $914 billion; by the time he and his successor George Bush had finished their work, they had quintupled the deficit and pumped the debt up to more than $3 trillion.
From The News & Observer:
DURHAM — Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has sued Duke University, saying the school breached a $200,000 contract with him by kicking him off the golf team…
As an aspiring pro golfer in high school, Giuliani was promised life-time access to Duke’s state-of-the-art training facilities if he came to Duke and paid $200,000 in tuition and fees, the suit claims…
On Feb. 4, during a golf-team football game, “Andrew played harder than some of the other boys wanted to play.”
On Feb. 10, while Giuliani was eating an apple, a teammate twice hit the golfer’s hand and knocked the fruit to the ground. After that same teammate “slammed a door hitting Andrew’s face,” Giuliani “tossed the apple at a teammate, glancing off the side of his face.”
There's something that I find nagging and persistently bothersome about this story . I can’t seem to get a handle around anything clearly legally wrong except that this process violates the separation of church and state doctrine. Judges meeting defendants in a church? Quite odd indeed.
Perhaps all those concentration camps being built by KBR or Halliburton need processing facilities and this method is the best way to test how well such a system would work.
Authorities say 221 people have turned themselves in to authorities at a Columbia church. Bible Way Church is hosting the Fugitive Safe Surrender program, which encourages anyone with an outstanding warrant against them to turn themselves in.
Judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors are at the church so they can all take a look at the case. Most nonviolent offenders should be able to leave the church with a court date and a lawyer. Others may have their charges dropped or a deal worked out after a judge reviews the case.
In today’s mail was a message from Mr. Edwin of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Mr. Edwin is a friend from the old days in Southeast Asia. He spent many years inside the world of black ops and secret war. It takes a lot to frighten him. He is frightened.
Everybody, I would hope, has read Seymour Hersh’s essential article in the last New Yorker: Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran. It is a vital piece, and an alarming one.
But until Mr. Edwin alerted me, I was unaware of Terry Gross’s conversation with Hersh about his article, which was broadcast July 1 on NPR’s Fresh Air. It runs for 45 minutes, but take the time to listen to it. Please.
The interview amounts to the author’s gloss on his own story: an assessment of his sources, his feelings about his discoveries, his astonishment at the cowardice of the Democratic leadership, his fears that the Lone Cheney and his faithful companion, Dubya, will trick us into another of their idiot wars before the 22nd Amendment drives them from office.
It’s fascinating and terrifying stuff.
Since I unflaggingly rag on the Democrats, it’s incumbent on me to praise when I see them do something praiseworthy. And they’ve managed to keep Hans von Spakovsky off the Federal Election Commission, so here’s a heartfelt Bravo! going out to the Democrats for that achievement. Since I read this in an AP article, I dare not link to it, though it was on the New York Times website; but I’m sure you can google up someone else’s article on the same topic.
It’s a small enough victory in some ways — I mean, considering
But it’s real, and it’s likely to have some positive effects on the honesty of the election. One might even dare to hope that the backbone shown in standing up against the Spakovsky nomination is a harbinger of things to come. In any case, it’s certainly a win to remove this smiling dirtbag from any office, organization, or assembly he’s in, or indeed near.
The lesson appears to be that the Democrats can make a stand on principle, and succeed in forcing the White House to act (at a minimum) according to the law. In the end, the administration withdrew Spakovsky’s nomination as a means of returning the Commission to working order: there are normally six commissioners, there’ve only been two since the beginning of this year, and decisions require a minimum of four votes.
Now we might hope for the laws to be faithfully executed. McCain has been combining attacks on Obama for opting out of public election financing with open violations of the very same laws himself, and getting away with it because the FEC only has two members.
But is this really the lesson? McCain’s campaign is expecting a pile of public-financing bucks. Problem is, he can’t simply grab the money and run; there’s got to be a vote by the FEC. Which, you recall, requires four votes, which haven’t been available. So McCain may have to eliminate the campaign-finance law violations, but he’ll get $85 million to cover his transition costs.
Maybe I’m too cynical, but I see in this saga not a harbinger of hope, and certainly not one of audacity, but one of compromise extended to the horizon. The Democrats won the day not by standing up for what was right and organizing support and holding fast to their beliefs, but by in effect holding hostage the public campaign-finance funds the McCain camp anticipates.
Not that I complain about extortion as political method; it happens all the time. In fact some form of extortion is pretty much basic tender in politics. What I’m trying to do here is puzzle out the behavior patterns of the party and see if anything can be done to influence it in positive directions.
What seems to have happened in the Spakovsky case is that the Democrats used their control of the money to force compliance. I’m fine with that strategy. I just want them to use that strategy when it counts. Which they haven’t in the past, and didn’t in this case. Democrats won this battle because the other side decided they wanted $85 million in public funds more than they wanted Spakovsky on the FEC. They changed plans, and the Democrats claimed victory.
Here’s exactly what I’m afraid the Obama dream might become. The Democratic party has always fought internal battles with at least as much ferocity as it employed against the opposition. But since the Reagan administration brought what Obama has called new ideas into the White House, the Democratic party has synonomous with — well, I’ll spare you the invective and limit myself to “spinelessness”.
Which is bad enough when we’re talking about domestic issues like where the wealth goes and who gets education and health care and who goes to prison. California used to have an educational system that was the envy of most of the world, nearly free as far as your work and your smarts would take you. The point was clearly to educate as much of the population as possible.
Then came the Republican Revolution, much of it starting here, and our point is once again clear: we’re scared of everybody. We’re educating fewer and imprisoning more, and passing the savings on to the very rich. What savings, you say? There are no savings from educating fewer and imprisoning more? True. Thus we must create savings, which we do by changing the tax structure so that wealth flows up the ladder, increasing inequality and thus providing more work for the prisons. Synergy, I think they call it.
As Americans we have the God-given freedom to crucify ourselves on whatever cross of gold strikes our fancy. But when the Democrats’ spinelessness extends to complicity in criminal wars, that’s a different thing. Going by the peer-reviewed and apparently methodologically sound Lancet studies, about a million Iraqis have been killed one way or another by the American invasion, plus about five million “displaced”, driven from their homes, nearly half of whom have left the country.
If Mexico invaded the US, it would have to kill 11 million Americans and displace 55 million more to match these percentages. Such actions might be expected to leave a certain amount of disgruntlement behind. Thus blowback. Thus 9/11. Thus fewer civil liberties and greater concentration of wealth. Producing more disgruntlement, and so on. As I said a year ago, it’s a great business.
I suspect the best hope for maintaining the current structure of power and privilege (if that’s your goal) is to allow the insertion of a soul into the juggernaut of capitalism. Otherwise, our trajectory seems headed for something between another Depression and another Paris Commune.
My fear is that the Democrats are too heavily invested in the business of American Business to realize what’s going on: the business has morphed into a war machine, and is attempting to set itself up as a modern Colossus. This business model is bound to fail. The country must disinvest. The question that remains is whether the Democrats continue to resist the obvious necessity.
Go here for a fuller explanation of the real significance behind Bush’s recent shake-ups in the top ranks of the Pentagon. A sample:
Petraeus was also a supporter of Cheney’s proposal for striking Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps targets in Iran, going so far as to hint in an interview with Fox News last September that he had passed on to the White House his desire to do something about alleged Iranian assistance to Shi’ites that would require US forces beyond his control.
At that point, Fallon was in a position to deter any effort to go around DoD and military opposition to such a strike because he controlled all military access to the region as a whole. But Fallon’s forced resignation in March and the subsequent promotion of Petraeus to become Centcom chief later this year gives Cheney a possible option to ignore the position of his opponents in Washington once more in the final months of the administration.
For still more on why Bush and Cheney find Petraeus such a useful tool for locking the next president into their idiot war, see this.
Something to think about later today, perhaps during services when you get tired of wondering why the guy in front of you didn’t shave his neck—
Martha Bridegam passes on this link, which will take you to a spot on Amazon where you may or may not lay out $50.18 for the last remaining Playmobil Security Checkpoint. Just a little something for that four- to seven-year-old in your life. Or, if a boy, he may prefer the Kid’s Pimp Suit Costume ($39.99).
Comment on the Security Checkpoint would be superfluous; 48 other revolted citizens have already done the job, and very ably. So don’t fail to click on the customer reviews.
Here I am again, back from one of my idiotic (to you, not to me) herpetological explorations in Georgia and the Carolinas. Meanwhile far more dangerous crawling things have been active elsewhere, I see by the papers. More on that later. Right now, for your semantic pleasure, a selection from Neil Postman’s 1999 book, Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century:
Twenty-three hundred years ago, educators devised a pattern of instruction whose purpose was to help students defend themselves against both the seductions of eloquence and the appeal of nonsense.
The pattern was formalized in the Middle Ages, and came to be known as The Trivium. It included logic, rhetoric, and grammar. This tradition survives among modern American educators in a truncated form: they teach the one subject among the three — grammar — that is the least potent, the least able to help students do what we call critical thinking. In fact grammar, which takes up about a third of the English curriculum in junior high school, is not even taught with a view toward helping students think critically. Indeed, it is difficult to know why grammar, as it is presently taught, is included in the curriculum at all.
Since the early 1900s, studies have been conducted to discover if there is any relationship between the teaching of grammar and a variety of language behaviors, such as reading and writing. Almost without exception the studies have found no positive relationship whatsoever.
Although the other two subjects, logic and rhetoric, sometimes go by different names today — among them, practical reasoning, semantics, and general semantics — I would suggest, whatever we call them, that they be given a prominent place in the curriculum.
These subjects are about the relationship between language and reality; they are about the differences among kinds of statements, about the nature of propaganda, about the ways in which we search for truths, and just about everything else one needs to know in order to use language in a disciplined way and to know when others aren’t.
With all the talk these days about how we are going through an information revolution, I should think that the question of what language skills are necessary to survive it would be uppermost in teachers’ minds.
I know that educational research is not always useful, and sometimes absurd, but for what it may be worth, a clear and positive relationship between the study of semantics and critical thinking is well established in the research literature. As with the absence of question-asking from the curriculum, the absence of semantics — the study of the relationship between the world of words and the world of non-words — is also something of a mystery, if not an outrage.
...if we don’t change our ways, someone will be singing the American version of this song one hundred years from now. John McCain’s name will be an integral part of the song unless we can learn to get along. Oh well, I’m singing to the choir. The great unchurched masses who want you and me to be left behind probably will never change their ways.
An obesity flash from McClatchy Newspapers:
MEXICO CITY — Fueled by the rising popularity of soft drinks and fast-food restaurants, Mexico has become the second fattest nation in the world. Mexican health officials say it could surpass the U.S. as the most obese country within 10 years if trends continue.
More than 71 percent of Mexican women and 66 percent of Mexican men are overweight, according to the latest national surveys.
Isn’t there anything left for us to be number one in? Oh, yeah. Prisons.
PRESIDENT’S BANK PLAN GETS WIDE SUPPORT; National Real Estate Leaders and Congressional Chiefs Call It Constructive Move. CONGRESSMAN IN FAVOR OF IT President Is Studying Submission to Congress — Reserve System Not to Be Touched. H.M. Robinson Credited With PRESIDENT’S BANK PLAN GETS WIDE SUPPORT. Realty Men See Plan Stimulating Building and Other Lines.
You can pay the NY Times $3.95 and read the whole thing, but a lucid analysis of Hoover’s real estate plan and comparison to the Bush/Paulson/Bernanke plan and their similarities is available for free at Bits of News, complete with comparative graphs. I urge you to go read the whole thing.
And go read this article at Bloomberg for more deja vu.
Years ago Esquire had a feature called “Dubious Achievements of 19XX.” It was accompanied by a photo of the disgraced President Nixon, grinning as if he were eating chocolate ice cream or something of similar appearance. The caption was always, “Why Is This Man Smiling?”
Today’s Maureen Dowd column asks the same question. It starts off with:
Everyone here is flummoxed about why the president is in such a fine mood…
Dowd goes on to catalogue Bush’s string of weird public performances these last few weeks— jigging, dancing, giggling, grinning, joking and singing as the new Rome burns all around him.
And she concludes:
Or perhaps it’s a Freudian trip. Now that he’s mucked up the world and the country, he can finally stop rebelling against his dad and relax in the certainty that the Bush name will forever be associated with crash-and-burn presidencies.
Her analysis gives me the opportunity to utter once again the sweetest words known to man: I told you so.
Here’s Dubya’s Creepy Death Wish, from September of 2002.
Then in May of 2006: Mission Almost Accomplished.
And last July, an update in The Smirking Chimp called Dragging Daddy Down.
I’m glad to welcome Ms. Dowd aboard, and only wish she had seen through Bush a little sooner — for instance when her public fawning over the adorable drugstore cowboy from Greenwich during the 2000 campaign caused keener judges of manflesh to mutter in disgust, For Christ’s sake, guys, get a room.
The Caballero's Way, a story by O. Henry, begins with this:
The Cisco Kid had killed six men in more or less fair scrimmages, had murdered twice as many (mostly Mexicans), and had winged a larger number whom he modestly forbore to count. Therefore a woman loved him.
The operative word here, of course, is “therefore.” To kill, particularly outside your own tribe, gets a guy laid. Who’s to blame for this stupidity? Men? Women? Hollywood? TV? Hemingway? Darwin?
In any event there it is, deep in America’s amygdala and apparently inoperable. We are a nation of cowards, firing at shadows and fawning over our hired guns. With no evident sign of embarassment we are even capable of such pathetic cringes as this:
There's a national movement pushing for law students to have the right to carry guns on campus. They've even got an official acronym: SCCC (Students for Concealed Carry on Campus). The group formed in response to the VA Tech shootings last year, and currently claims to have more than 16,000 members…
Things aren’t as bad as you thought. Once again, they’re worse. This excerpt is from James Fallows’s look back at the Hart-Rudman Commission which, as few now alive remember, predicted in early 2001 that terrorism would be our greatest national security problem.
The commission was wrong, of course. Our greatest national security problem lurked in the West Wing of the White House — and also, it turns out, back in the vice-presidential mansion at Number One Observatory Circle.
At the first meeting, one Republican woman on the commission said that the overwhelming threat was from China. Sooner or later the U.S. would end up in a military showdown with the Chinese Communists. There was no avoiding it, and we would only make ourselves weaker by waiting. No one else spoke up in support.
The same thing happened at the second meeting — discussion from other commissioners about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, anarchy of failed states, etc, and then this one woman warning about the looming Chinese menace. And the third meeting too. Perhaps more.
Finally, in frustration, this woman left the commission.
“Her name was Lynne Cheney,” Hart said. “I am convinced that if it had not been for 9/11, we would be in a military showdown with China today.” Not because of what China was doing, threatening, or intending, he made clear, but because of the assumptions the Administration brought with it when taking office. (My impression is that Chinese leaders know this too, which is why there are relatively few complaints from China about the Iraq war. They know that it got the U.S. off China’s back!)
Oh how wonderful it is to laugh at the British sense of humor. But don’t let this video make you cry. Surely our brilliant American financiers will come in and save the day.
And guess what? The “good old days” are soon to descend upon us again, thanks to the Grand Old Party, which with its vast experience in such matters, has done it again!
We now interrupt our blogging for a short commercial break.
Feeling good about the New Year? Let Jim Kunstler take care of that little problem for you:
For the tiny fraction of people who actually pay attention to real events — those, for instance, who know the difference between Narnia and Kandahar -- the final hours of 2007 leading into the fog-shrouded abyss of 2008 must induce great racking shudders of nausea. Has there ever been a society so exquisitely rigged for implosion? The whole listing, creaking, reeking edifice stands like one of those obsolete Las Vegas pleasure palaces awaiting a mere pulse of electrons to ignite a thousand explosive charges perfectly placed to blow away the structural supports, etc., etc.
Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:04 PM
Zachary Coile has put together an excellent summary of Speaker Pelosi’s first year.
Since I often complain about the reporting we get these days, I make a special effort to applaud the reporting I appreciate. So I complimented him on an excellent article about the historic first year of the first woman to be Speaker of the House. But I had one issue (punctuation/links modified to fit the medium):
Though I live in her district, I didn’t vote for her because of disagreements with her stands and actions on the recent wars, and the Middle East in general. I was aware of most of the items you mentioned in your article when they happened, but putting them into a big picture is helpful (I used to be a tech writer). Your piece made clear that in the big picture Pelosi’s tenure has seen some encouraging signs of the return of the values of the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. I hope the New Year brings more of them.
There’s one item I consider important that I think your list overlooked. In fact to me it’s of overriding importance. I applaud the successes of the first Pelosi year; I understand and commiserate with the defeats and frustrations; and I’ve seen the numbers on the filibusters by Senate Republicans, who were trying to abolish the filibuster only a couple of years back.
My single biggest issue is the preservation of the United States as a republic, more or less under public control, with sovereignty residing — actually, not merely theoretically — with the people. That concept has been under assault for several administrations.
The Constitution begins by describing Congress, the representatives of the people. Next comes the President, who is not supposed to be superior to Congress, or become an emperor. But this President, driven by his Vice President, has run roughshod over the Constitution and openly gotten away with power-grabs far more significant than any Richard Nixon dreamed of. If these actions are not investigated, fully, no matter what office they reach, the next power-tripping President will be the end of the Republic.
You’ve probably read the statement of the lawyers mentioned in The Nation. If we consider this subject too unpleasant to look at or do anything about, we’ve ceded full control to the Executive, and that means empire. The problem for us is that we’ll get all the worst of empire without the benefits. We’ve already had those, and we’re on the verge of giving them up to get security; then we won’t get security either.
Speaker Pelosi has opposed efforts, by Chairman Conyers in particular, to open investigations that might lead to impeachment proceedings. To me, this is the single biggest issue we face, of more importance for our lifetimes even than Iraq, the economy, and health care: do we maintain the rule of law? If the President can flaunt his disregard for it and pay no penalty, be subject to no sort of censure, not even lose a political battle, the Republic is over, and Congress serves the same purpose as the Roman Senate under Augustus.
Your article helped convince me that this is the major issue standing between me and voting for Pelosi. The thing is, it’s my number one issue. Regardless of actions intelligent or otherwise on the important issues of the day, if the United States follows the lead of Rome or Spain rather than that of Britain and France, the next half-century looks ugly.
Thanks again for helping me center my attention on the real issues. I’ve made some changes in my overall evaluations as a result.
Which, I maintain, is what you want reporting to do. Thanks, Zachary!
As postscript, here’s the preamble to the lawyers’ statement.
We, the undersigned lawyers in the United States, have been inspired by the many lawyers in Pakistan who have risked their own liberty and careers in an effort to preserve their nation’s freedoms.
Their courage has deepened our own resolve to defend the rule of law in our nation. As lawyers, we have both a moral and professional responsibility to preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States.
To that end, we are committed to creating a movement of lawyers in this nation dedicated to monitoring and, when appropriate, challenging the actions of our government when those actions threaten our nation’s freedoms.
As our initial act, we are issuing the following statement to the U.S. House and Senate Judiciary Committees, urging hearings into the unconstitutional and possibly criminal actions of the Bush Administration.
From the newspaper of record:
Among dog owners, 53.5 percent considered their pets to be members of the family, the survey found. For cats, the number was 49.2 percent.
And the term “family member” should not be used lightly. Ari Henry Barnes, who works in a New York law firm, is so devoted to his cat, Romeo, that he wipes the animal’s behind every time he does “a stinky boom boom.”