October 14, 2014
Please, Somebody, Keep Me Safe!

Whether you find it amusing that Republicans are suggesting ISIL terrorists are crossing the southern US border, or alarming that they don’t even acknowledge the facts when the Homeland Security folks completely trash their theory, it helps to have some idea of where they’re coming from. Here’s Ed Kilgore’s theory.

Now it may just be, as Kevin Drum has suggested, that this is just word-salad-mixing whereby candidates toss out combinations of words that excite “the base” or upset low-information voters. But there’s another and more obvious way to look at it: Republicans are appealing to an atavistic tendency to think of “the border” as a barrier against all the terrible things in the world Out There, in the benighted lands beyond America. “Sealing” the border — a laughable concept when you think about it — will somehow restore Fortress America, and all the terrorists and diseases and free-loaders and non-English-speakers and socialists and atheists will be kept out the way God intended it. And the crazier and more dangerous the “outside world” becomes, the more making it all go away seems appealing.

I would add to this the tendency of some, especially the more fundamentalist, Christians to identify with stories of persecution from New Testament times, and to imagine themselves as persecuted in the current day. Nowadays, of course, that persecution consists in being prevented from enforcing their particular sense of morality on the rest of us. But this kind of feeling comes more from internal circumstances than external ones. For some people it’s preferable to feel persecuted because that removes them from power and thus makes them not responsible for all the terrible things that happen around them. The problem is, it also makes them not responsible for the good things, leaving them helpless. And if you feel helpless you’re ripe for exploitation.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:17 PM
October 08, 2014
Who Needs Code Words?

Here’s William Greider in The Nation:

The Republican Party has not given up on racism. It has developed new ways to play the “race card” without ever mentioning race. With Obama in the White House, the GOP does not need to run TV ads featuring “black hands” taking jobs from “white hands” or the one that shows Willie Horton, the black rapist. Obama’s own face on television is sufficient. It reminds hard-core supporters why they hate the man.
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:24 AM
October 01, 2014
Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce tries to make sense of the curious fact that so many Americans so reliably vote not only against their own interests but counter to their own actual beliefs. Turns out it’s not so much about ideology. It’s mostly about filling the political vacuums in millions of heads, and that ain’t cheap. Read it all here.

Citizens United — and its ungodly spawn, McCutcheon — have sent our politics into refraction. Nothing is what it appears to be any more. Chozick is right to point out that the result of the decision has been to create candidates drifting ever closer to the ideal of Nashville’s Hal Phillip Walker, who campaigns through that film only as a voice from a sound truck. Thanks to John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy, we now have candidates who campaign primarily as characters in television commercials, like Flo from Progressive Insurance, or the two people in the bathtubs for Cialis.

Moreover, the flood of money now flows so swiftly and powerfully, and so far underground, that the best you can do is guess what effect it is having on the process. Then, after it’s over, ideology gets credit for what money has purchased. The new world of unregulated political money has given an even deeper sense of unreality to the way we govern ourselves. Nothing is as it seems to be. Nothing can be reckoned fully to be genuine. Not the polls. Not the campaigns. Not the candidates. Not even the results, truth be told. Unregulated political money has worked as an accelerant to all the worst aspects of modern political campaigns. More than ever before, our elections have become design contests.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:46 PM
September 13, 2014
The Magnificent Lunacy of Paul Ryan

THE SET-UP:

To understand The Paul Ryan and his hapless plans to save America (the latest one, under discussion here, is a doozie), we need to start with The Ronald — just as to get the idea of silly putty you ought to have some idea of what putty is.

Ever since President Reagan uttered his most notorious Zen koan — “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem” — conservatives of the heartless type (the neoconservatives) have been running around trying to convince the unwashed, the gullible, and the angry old white men and women of a myth: that if government is shrunk, then the nation, its young and old, its rich and poor, will soar to ever-higher prosperity. National and international greatness will soar in step.

Soar, that is, if and only if: costly government-run social “entitlement” programs (what a wretched label!) are cut back or eliminated; certain taxes shrunk or eliminated; union extortion of free-enterprise, job-creating heroes is blocked; and certain (note that word again) government regulatory powers are neutered or eliminated. Then and only then will riches and happiness pour down along the Laffer Curve and spray upon the rabble.

Of course, Reagan’s principle, so sweeping and unmodified, is for that very reason empty of rational support, either empirical or deductive — another way of saying that it is rubbish. But constitutionally harmful rubbish. Cloaked in the drama of the Immense and Immediate Danger of the “runaway” national deficit, this approach of favoring wealth and the wealthy served Ronald and Nancy well politically during their ascension and reign in the 1980s.

Unfortunately, it undermines attention to what our Constitution refers to centrally as “the common welfare,” which one would have thought comprises the welfare of all our people — welfare of many kinds and in many shapes. Hey, Willard and Grover and “Dick,” we live here too! Are we really supposed to mope around in the national sump waiting for scraps of largesse to trickle down upon us?

Governments everywhere are established in order to … govern. The Reagan principle, as if the excited impulse of a child, blatantly ignores the raft of things our national government, in particular, does that everyone seems to like. This is a looong list, such as getting a man on the moon, researching medical applications (which are then usually handed over to Big Pharma), providing disaster relief, building the Interstate Highway System, making sure airplanes don’t crash into each other, bringing aid to people suffering from massive disasters, making sure the economically marginal elderly have food and get medical care, and — oops, better be careful here — invading countries that are not imminent threats to us, with 100% of routine congressional Republican support…

The primary target of Reagan and his whining acolytes of our own day has been the power to regulate activity within our society, a power which is of course vested at all levels of … yes, government. Regulation is an aspect of social control. And it is overwhelmingly the conservative mentality to glorify control, and has been since Edmund Burke at least. Control is needed to protect and, yes, conserve the social order that serves them well, keeping the disorderly riff and the raff out of the gated communities and the lobbies of doorman condos. It so happens that the Big Daddy of social control is none other than government regulatory activity: by dint of laws, statutes, and all sorts of other rules. The relevant term of art here is “police power.” But wasn’t it the founding neoconservative, The Ronald, who ordained that government is the problem, not the solution? What’s going on here?

INTO THE AMERICAN WEEDS:

We need control: traffic lights, drivers’ licenses, and such. The efforts of conservative control go beyond those things, into extended control of behavior in the general population. This starts locally, with zoning laws and other restrictions on property us such as un-mowed lawns, the prohibition of “saggy” pants (as in Ferguson, Missouri), and the like. In short order it rises to government-ordered vaginal ultrasounds (Virginia and elsewhere) and oversight and control of women’s uteruses, and of bedroom activity they deem to be contrary to God’s natural order, as they claim He has been telling them. On the still-wider stage, they have vigorously taken up The Ronald’s lead to more closely regulate union organizing.

Yes, that’s right: the conservatives do want some government regulations. (Union counter-pressure against corporations of course reduces the corporations’ own powers of control — and which friends sit highest at the Republican table?) The full list of controlling activity on the neoconservative wish list — some active, some reactive — is achingly long: prohibiting personal use of marijuana; shrinking the use of food stamps for the poor; minimizing supplemental school meals for poor children; removing pesky industrial safety inspections; reducing the power of organized workers…. It’s a list that is always growing.

Growing, because control is addictive and — like most addictions — it is dynamic, always driven by the feeling that a higher dose is needed to get that warm glow of well-being. Control never lays back in calm satisfaction with a task well done. Laws to control the behavior of us ordinary citizens are always seen to be in need of extension, as cracks in existing controls — real, potential, or imagined — rise to mind. Threats abound, if you put yourself to looking for them. The neoconservatives are always a-trembling about something.

Note that most of the social control of us folks down in the weeds, selectively cataloged above, is exercised by … why, by government. It’s the very same entity Reagan’s neoconservative camp followers loudly and consistently disparage. Aren’t their principles, taken together with their fondness for social regulation, a fundamentally unstable system internally? How to resolve this paradox?

AMERICAN VALUES AS SEEN FROM ON HIGH:

Wait — there’s even more confusion. There appears to be a big blank space on that ever-lengthening conservative list of aspects of our society deemed necessary to regulate. What about the activities of our financial and corporate giants? Say what? Stifle the exercise of The Free Enterprise that Made America Great? Tax corporations and hit high personal incomes, both engorged with the plunder derived from various financial rent-taking schemes plus tricky but mostly legal tax avoidance? No, regulating those things would be unfair to those “persons” who create jobs. Inheritance tax on those who have not themselves earned the money? A rape of God-given property rights. (Yet unfettered inheritance is an “entitlement” program, truly labeled, if there ever was one.)

Given the loud woes and the gnashing of teeth by the neoconservative Republicans about corporate and financial regulation, it is no accident that the people down in the weeds perceive the Republican Party as the party of business and wealth. (Wealth which today massively bankrolls the legislative and judicial election efforts largely within the Republican Party — a mutually self-sustaining ecological cycle.)

Still, we must consider the scholarly macroeconomic evidence the Republicans have to offer on the overriding value to our nation of these trade-offs away from the poor and needy and powerless, and in favor of the ever-greater benefit of the wealthy and powerful? Well, there isn’t any such evidence. In fact, there is mounting hard economic evidence supporting the contrary view. No matter: Reagan has spoken, and that is just fine with the beneficiaries of his dicta. Control of the rich and powerful and their interests is deemed a no-fly zone; it is socialistic and contrary to individual liberty. It violates a concoction called natural law. At best, it is socialism. But … this fervent conservative tic further deepens the internal instability of neoconservative thought.

Neoconservative thought seems to have become the default position in much of our country, especially in the halls of Congress. And so the paradox lying at the heart of our nation’s polity and politics as of Labor Day 2014 remains unresolved. Government to control the unwashed: OK. Government control for the plutocracy and the corporations they control: not OK, un-American. If history is any guide here, this inner “cultural” contradiction suggests that dynamics will build up within society at large and the national polity until there is some kind of major, tectonic shift-like resolution. We can only hope that it will not be violent.

NOW WHAT?

So far, these broad thoughts about the neoconservative right are a distillation of what might be looked at as a kind of astrophysics-like Standard Model of the twenty-first century American polity. In other words, these are not new views. They are commonplaces among intelligent, balanced, good-spirited observers, people who can and do actually think and who get their news and commentary from The New York Times' side of things, that is, and not the MSNBC’s or Fox’s or National Review’s. This Standard Model is summarized here for the purpose of setting up a discussion of Paul Ryan’s latest plan to save the America that matters.

Before finally getting to the new Ryan plan, however, we might recall the Reagan principle and keep in front of mind the neoconservative mantra of reducing government. It is precisely that absolutely central anti-government consensus on the Right which Ryan seems now to be bucking. Ryan is no addled wanderer in life who thinks that there is such a thing as libertarianism that is not actually anarchism. No, this supposed change of spots comes from a — if not the — leading Village Philosopher of the congressional Right. A man who has read unreadable concept novels in order to forge his own soul and go forth to heal the soul of America.

SLASHING AT THE GORDIAN KNOT OF POVERTY IN AMERICA:

After having been caught receiving anal intercourse from the fat cats during the 2012 election campaign, Republicans have been struggling to find ways to get ordinary, not-so-fat-catlike folks to believe that their party really, truly cares about them (it doesn’t). It is within that context that U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently completed a tour of America to “listen to Americans in poorer cities” about “their needs,” as reported in The New York Times largely from a Ryan press release. (Don’t you love the “poorer” cities twist?) Imagine Ryan in a college class being asked, What might the needs of poor people be? “Uh, uh … money? Maybe food? No, everyone can afford some food, can’t they? We can’t all live on caviar, ha ha. Medical care? Well, I guess they have the ER. Uh, they need jobs, too, I guess. Why don’t they just go out and get them? And they have houses, don’t they? Yeah, they’re already living somewhere, right?”

The transparent listening-tour cliché is laughable in its own right, of course, but there’s more. As reported in the July 25, 2014, New York Times, Ryan — having subsequently become deeply knowledgeable about poverty in America during his whole week of photo ops with Americans in a carefully selected posy of those poorer cities, has come up with yet another of his seat-of-the-pants plans to “combat it.” Shades of the bizarro old “war on drugs.”

Chairman of the House budget committee, Ryan is renowned within his circle of apparently less intellectually endowed fellow Republican congressmen and craven, sell-out think-tank camp followers as something of a economic genius. (The hard evidence of that is … well, there really isn’t any for that, either, except that he pontificates a lot on the economy; in the country of the blind….) According to the Times, Ryan’s plan “includes a mix of both traditional Republican proposals to expand the earned-income tax credit and [but of course!] reduce regulations.”

The first step of Ryan’s plan is the consolidation of a dozen federal anti-poverty programs, then to move responsibility for administering the new stew from the federal government to the individual states (states such as Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, and Wisconsin, whose governments are so notable committed to providing succor to their poorest and neediest).

Right away, an overpowering scent of rat arises. Each state would have autonomy to spend the federal anti-poverty funds on whatever anti-poverty programs it, the individual state, desires — so long as Washington approves the state’s plan. (Note: or not spend, on poverty or anything else? And “Washington” means the Administration? Congress? Hey, gang, when that money would leave the U.S. Treasury and hit Madison or Atlanta or Jackson or Boise or Lansing or Austin, it would be whisked away out of public sight forever.)

The shift of anti-poverty efforts to the states is not a casual prescription. It is direct and slavish obeisance to the states-rights platform, a corollary to the Reagan anti-government principle. It is the national government that has been a burr under many American saddles since the days of Jefferson, John Taylor of Caroline, and of course John Calhoun and the slaveholders in the major slaveholding states. It is thus the Apostles’ Creed of the Southern secessionists — a critical tool of the shifty Nixon, with his “Southern strategy” that successfully hobbled the Democratic Party. States-rights efforts remain virulent, hobbling our Republic.

If the neoconservatives cannot neuter Washington, DC, they can at least cry states’ rights — while moving as many regulatory and police powers as possible down to the state or local level. There, the “good” conservative controls can be expanded, and the “bad,” so-called liberal regulations — environmental, safety, equal rights, and in particular financial regulations and taxation — can be drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub.

Ryan has christened his states-centered consolidated program one of “Opportunity Grants.” “Opportunity” is one of the Republican juju words, signifying the great promise America offers with open hands. But if that rather mysterious but supposedly omnipresent opportunity happens not to be grasped by some person, such as a poor person and family — maybe single mothers working at shit jobs, or an elderly widow living alone — and they remain impoverished, that’s regrettable, but it’s the way of the world. Jesus said so.

To the conservative mind, it is ipso facto their own fault; more than a hundred years ago Herbert Spencer and the conservative doctrines of Social Darwinism ordained it so. The opportunity-averse poor — including their infants, little children, and other dependents such as aged parents — must reap what they have failed to sow. Why, the oldsters should have been saving ten percent of their income every month for those golden retirement years, as the Wall Street Journal has been saying for decades, but they themselves chose to ignore that wise counsel. So far in this story, the Ryan plan is just more same old, same old.

OK, but what about the administration of these Grants. How will they work? The devil really is in the details here. So, hold onto your chair! This is where Ryan, that sworn enemy of government and its regulations, converts, like Saul on his way to Damascus — prostrating himself before the need for even more regulation. A huge brand-new steaming heap of it, and so anathema to the Reaganites? Well, let’s take a look: control of whom, exactly?

Per the Times’s summary of Ryan’s “Grants” program: [Step A] “If a state opted into the … program, it would have low-income residents meet with case managers who would create an ‘opportunity plan’ offering both financial advice and coordinating the provisions of the several different programs they need. [Step B] The residents would sign contracts with these case managers [i.e., with the state?] that would offer incentives [for the residents] to reach financial security and sanctions if they do not. A neutral agency would evaluate each provider’s success at moving poor Americans out of poverty.”

Mother of pearl! What a Rube Goldberg apparatus this would be, and stretching from coast to coast! Case managers. Contracts. Incentives. Providers (?). And sanctions. Oversight by a “neutral” agency (whatever the hell that might mean). All a vast new-from-the-ground-up nationwide (but definitely not national) bureaucracy — one luscious and ripe for outsourcing to private contractors within each state, which is to say the more avid contributors to a state’s political hacks. Can this really be what the top line of the Ryan plan means by “reduce regulations”?

We do have to be especially curious about those “sanctions.” They may turn out to be steps to push the failed applicants even deeper into debt and poverty if not actual incarceration (in private-capital funded facilities, of course), even though that last would contradict another of the Ryan plan’s anti-poverty tools: sentencing reform. With marijuana on its way to legalization, private prisons’ business models may however need some shoring up with a new class of customers.

REACTION FROM THE RIGHT:

Keep in mind that the underlying theme of this polemic is the absolutely central principle of conservative Republicans, their Holy Trinity: to reduce the size and reach of government and its regulations, a k a control — albeit highly selective in that reduction. So, what would neoconservative saint Ronald Reagan say about Ryan’s heaping up of new government scaffolding? You can only imagine his horror. But not to worry. None of that Opportunity Grant night soil will ever hit our statute books, so long as there is a Democrat in the White House, or a Republican president who is not mean spirited and devoid of understanding of what it means to have government for the people (or devoid of a brain and a heart).

Even many Republicans are likely to recoil, perhaps the ones who privately loathe “Bill” Kristol’s Mephistophelean smirk and the felon Ralph Reed’s Uriah Heep imitation and the lies and horrors that pour out of “Dick” Cheney’s mouth in a deadly monotone. After the Ryan plan was unveiled, Paul Krugman commented on Ryan in his Times column: “One of the best insults I’ve ever read came from Ezra Klein…. In 2007, he described Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, as ‘a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.’ It … applies to quite a few public figures. Rep. Paul Ryan … is a prime current example.” The chairman has no clothes.

But then another columnist, Ross Douthat, entered the lists with an especially witless column, even for him. Douthat, the Times’s second-string conservative-opinion placeholder, concocted an admiring distillation of Ryan’s latest Plan to Restore America’s Greatness and Cure Poverty. After cataloging other conservative, libertarian, or tea party public-policy fabulists — Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul — he goes on, “Now that list includes Paul Ryan, who last week released a blueprint that folds together many of the strongest reformist [??] and libertarian ideas…. [As if there exists a coherent set of Libertarian ideas, beyond the classic, I’m all right, Jack; how about you?]”

Douthat continued, “There’s…

• a larger earned-income tax credit [only for childless single filers, not so incidentally],

• proposed cuts to corporate welfare [You have to smile at the artful term “proposed” reserved for the corporate item in an anti-poverty plan],

• a call for sentencing reform for nonviolent offenses,

• a critique of ‘regressive regulations’ like licensing requirements [Ah, yes, regulations yet again. Which might those be? What might the ‘critique’ entail? And which progressive regulations, if such things are even deemed to exist in Neocon World, would survive? If any, let’s hope they include eighteen-wheeler truckers’ driving licenses and licenses to practice medicine.],

• and much more.” [Bullets added.]

So after we pour this cocktail of single-filer tax credit (how much?); “proposed” cuts to corporate welfare; sentencing reform; and fewer regulations and license requirements, then — voilà — poverty in America will surely become a thing of memory, like polio and typewriters.

We have to wonder: were those people in “poorer” cities to whom Ryan supposedly listened actually poor? If so, did they really tell him that they need a reduction in those terrible governmental regulations suppressing them? Or an urgent need for more earned-income tax credits for all those poor but childless single people who are careful to file on April 15th every year? Did they actually call for a reduction of corporate welfare to help them and their families out of poverty?

Hmmm. Did the Word file Ross zapped down to the Times pressroom accidentally delete the account of Ryan’s revolutionary poverty-fighting “Opportunity Grants” program, with its phalanx of case managers and sanctions and “neutral” review agencies? His published column contains not a single word about the “Grants” program, not even a breath of a hint. Or, as is more likely, did the power player wannabe Douthat sense how loony the program is, and put his thumb over the “Grants” stuff as he cobbled together his copy.

We might well suspect that the ol’ sly-boots Ryan is indeed floating mock-liberal proposals on poverty so his Party can say, “See, we do so care about poverty. Hence we care about you.” He and his benighted staffers may even have glimmers of how brainless their poverty proposals are, but Chairman Paul and fellow party hypocrites may think they can hoodwink the public into delight over the St. Francis- and Pope Francis-inspired charity that the party of the plutocrats has miraculously become. As the public is pretty dim-witted, chockablock with millions of low-information voters in what liberal writers call the Moron Crescent, Ryan and his cynical buddies may well be right.

That seems to indicated by the way Arthur C. Brooks, identified as president of the neoconservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, chimed in on the Times OpEd page following the Douthat nonsense — quickly, and, as it were, out of hand. Mr. Brooks’s flimsy column fits in pretty well with a golly-how-Republicans-really-hate-poverty-wink-wink conspiracy hypothesis. Brooks: “Mr. Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan, for example, features an expansion of the earned-income tax credit for childless workers — an outstanding idea the Democrats have favored for decades. The Washington Post declared the Ryan plan ‘so bipartisan it doesn’t sound like [sic] he’s running in 2016,’” the gullible Post adding the supposition that Ryan’s proposal might hurt him with the Republican base. Ooooh, it’s a risky move for Paulie, so it must be the real deal. What a mensch!

Arthur Enterprise then hears a sour note to his left. “The influential progressive blog Think Progress quickly posted a series of pieces dismissing Mr. Ryan’s plan out of hand. ‘While Ryan is trying out new rhetoric around the issue of poverty,’ they wrote, his plan ‘is full of the same empty promises he’s been making for years.’ Other progressive pundits followed suit, some appearing more eager to silence Mr. Ryan than to build a compromise that would help the poor.” (“Compromise?” What compromise?) Arthur Enterprise — who may be cynical but is probably very intelligent, unlike Ryan — goes on to suggest that the Democrats would do well with voters if they would openly discuss “personal morality” and extol “strong leadership in foreign affairs.” Thanks for the advice, Arthur; we’ll get back to you on it. Well, it seems unlikely to at least one polemic-writer that any politician or political party has something of any value whatsoever to say about “personal morality.” As for Enterprise Brooks’s phrase “strong leadership in foreign affairs”: a stirring concept, but wonderfully empty of any specificity, hence meaning. (By the way, we must remember to go to Think Progress more often, as their quick, out-of-hand assessment is spot-on about the ludicrous Ryan “plan.”)

To spend a minute analyzing Arthur C. Brooks’s cunning wordplay in the preceding: “quickly” is quack commentators’ code for knee-jerk; “out of hand” is also think-tank code for knee-jerk, as in, No thought being applied. “Pundits” is the old polemic substitute for commentators or authorities — but of course Arthur Enterprise is himself a pundit. And a polemicist, like me! Hello, my brother. Dear Reader, there is another well concealed but telling clue. Note the slick use of “for example,” above, when Arthur mentions a single detail — only one — of the Ryan “anti-poverty” plan (the childless single-filer earned-income tax credit). So there: that should put an end to poverty in America. But not a word from Enterprise Brooks, not even a tantalizing hint, about the wildly lunatic “Opportunity Grants” part of the Ryan plan, or any other example (because there is none).

THE KNOT YET STANDS:

Let’s not beat around the bush. Today’s Reagan-worshipping mainstream Republican Party, not just the snarling neoconservatives, doesn’t give two farts about reducing poverty or helping make more opportunities available to that formulaic entity “all Americans.” If they did, our Congress would long ago have expanded pre-school nationally, as well as full funding for school breakfasts and lunches for our needy children, and after-school programs. The Democratic President would have signed the bills in a heartbeat. The leading Democrats wouldn’t have had to trade off some of the family jewels to get the supplemental child nutrition program (SNAP) approved. The food stamp program would have been expanded, not cut — paid for maybe by reducing socially and economically useless subsidies to “farmers” (giant agribusiness corporations). Sorely needed major public works projects would be pumping up economies from coast to coast. And so on, in ways actually to help reduce poverty in America, ways that operate far from the influence of insipid anti-poverty plans enshrined in press releases.

Is it too much to hope that angry old white Americans, even in the Moron Crescent, will suddenly wake up and figure out that increased government help for themselves is more important to them and their children than social fluff such as keeping gays from marrying — or shielding the “job creators” who are dicking the country over for ever more profit to be sequestered among the One Percent? Yes, it probably is too much to hope. “The American People” is, as so many of the Founders fretted about, ignorant and emotionally vulnerable.

So, no more Mr. Nice Guy. Only a polemic can do justice to the foolishness — and the ugliness — of all this flapdoodle from Ryan and the chorus of neoconservative toadies. How else we can convey the stench of the evident lack of intellectual application and statesmanship of so many of our leading political figures, some of whom — not including Ryan — actually do possess smarts? Paul Ryan is no statesman. More than that, he is a jerk. This polemic has a serious purpose: to try to demonstrate why he’s a jerk, not just throw out an epithet. To think that he might have become Vice President — or President! And may still. It’s time to send him back to the smug little village that spawned him.

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Posted by A. David Tucker at 04:56 PM
September 11, 2014
Hope Springs?

Oddness is breaking out here and there in American politics. Look at this by Nat Stoller on Naked Capitalism. Tiny cracks in the bipartisan military-industrial-congressional complex appear. Could there be hope?

Selections:

To put it another way, Cuomo paid roughly $48 for every vote he got, where Zephyr paid roughly $2.70 (UPDATE: Philip Bump has a more accurate count, and calculated that it’s $60.62 for Cuomo to $1.57 for Zephyr, though all the data isn’t in yet). That’s a very big differential, in terms of the power of the messaging. If Zephyr had had a bit more money, she could have easily won…

Zephyr’s base bloc isn’t enough to win a primary, but it is part of a potential coalition that could do so. It’s the Occupy voter bloc, perhaps what Howard Dean had from 2002–2004 but infused with an economic justice frame. It is the only organized voting group that is able to sit outside the political establishment…

Zephyr Teachout consistently drew her biggest applause line with “It’s time for some good old fashioned trust-busting.” She made a point of saying that big cable is too big, and that Amazon is a threat to open markets. Zephyr often said she is an old school Democrat. What she meant is not just that she backs more funding for schools, but that she believes in a redesigned relationship between powerful private actors and the state similar to the one implemented by FDR. This is first and foremost about a strong antitrust agenda…

Micah wrote: What I find most intriguing about this is the way some tech VCs and entrepreneurs really seem to understand their success as tied to (or born up from) the open Internet and how we may link that to open politics or open democracy (defined as a system where the little guy can enter and compete on an open playing field, rather than one dominated by political and economic monopolists and duopolists). In other words, Comcast and Verizon are to the 21st century economy what the Democrats and the Republicans are to the political system.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:56 AM
August 29, 2014
The Changing Face of The Establishment

Owen Jones is talking about the establishment, or perhaps rather The Establishment, in Britain, but his description hits home here in the US as well.

The establishment is a shape-shifter, evolving and adapting as needs must. But one thing that distinguishes today’s establishment from earlier incarnations is its sense of triumphalism. The powerful once faced significant threats that kept them in check. But the opponents of our current establishment have, apparently, ceased to exist in any meaningful, organised way. Politicians largely conform to a similar script; once-mighty trade unions are now treated as if they have no legitimate place in political or even public life; and economists and academics who reject establishment ideology have been largely driven out of the intellectual mainstream. The end of the cold war was spun by politicians, intellectuals and the media to signal the death of any alternative to the status quo: “the end of history”, as the US political scientist Francis Fukuyama put it. All this has left the establishment pushing at an open door. Whereas the position of the powerful was once undermined by the advent of democracy, an opposite process is now underway. The establishment is amassing wealth and aggressively annexing power in a way that has no precedent in modern times. After all, there is nothing to stop it.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:30 AM
August 04, 2014
Who’s In Charge Here?

So now that John Brennan has admitted that he lied about CIA spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee as the committee prepared its report on Bush-era torture, his denials and denunciations of his accusers at the time are in retrospect even more clearly self-serving and dishonest. But Obama won’t fire him because he’s afraid of the consequences. Brennan knows where the bodies were buried, which drones killed them, and when Obama ordered those drone strikes.

Whatever happens with the [torture] report itself and despite the recent CIA apology, don’t expect the Senate to bring perjury charges against former CIA leaders for any lies to Congress. (It didn’t do so, after all, in the earlier case of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.) And don’t expect prosecutions of significant figures from a Justice Department that, in the Obama years, refused to prosecute even those in the CIA responsible for the deaths of prisoners.

The fact is that, for the Fourth Branch, this remains the age of impunity. Hidden in a veil of secrecy, bolstered by secret law and secret courts, surrounded by its chosen corporations and politicians, its power to define policy and act as it sees fit in the name of American safety is visibly on the rise. No matter what setbacks it experiences along the way, its urge to expand and control seems, at the moment, beyond staunching. In the context of the Senate’s torture report, the question at hand remains: Who rules Washington?


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:43 AM
July 29, 2014
Back Off, Man, I’m a Neuroscientist!

So a neuroscientist walks into an airport with an AR-15 and orders a cup of coffee. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, which, the location being Arizona, is not entirely false. Given that a full two days had passed since the last TSA agent was fatally shot on duty, everyone was pretty relaxed about the scene, presumably a fairly normal one at the Phoenix airport when a guy comes to pick up his wife. Unfortunately somebody, probably from California on her way to New York or maybe Massachusetts, felt the need to show off in front of her kid and make a scene, and the poor guy ended up getting arrested. Apparently the woman felt threatened when the barrel of his gun pointed at her and her daughter. Jeez, lady, give him a break, you can’t control your barrel every single moment of the day!


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Who could find this threatening?

Josh Marshall at TPM wonders if they thought this through. I imagine they did, and I even think a scenario along these lines might have come up for discussion, with the balance of the argument in favor of the solution to guns being more guns rather than fewer. After all, suppose an actual wacko with a gun showed up in Phoenix and, say, threatened a TSA agent — wouldn’t you want a well-armed neuroscientist nearby to assist in the proceedings? Who better, after all?

You do have to wonder, though, about the ability of said Dr. Steinmetz to produce anything like reasonable science given his relatively loose hold on consensus reality. It’ll be interesting to see how the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center handles his employment status. The medical center confirmed his employment but otherwise refused comment beyond saying that they take it seriously and have referred it to HR.

It will also be interesting to see how the legal proceedings go. Since you can’t base Second Amendment rights on whether some tourist feels threatened, my bet is that the good doctor will suffer no legal repercussions.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:28 PM
July 28, 2014
Lest We Forget

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.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:09 PM
July 17, 2014
The Snow Queen

Wisdom from Ronald Reagan’s Peggy Noonan, in the immigrant Rudolph Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal:

There is every sign [Obama] let the crisis on the border build to put heat on Republicans and make them pass his idea of good immigration reform. It would be “comprehensive,” meaning huge, impenetrable and probably full of mischief. His base wants it. It would no doubt benefit the Democratic Party in the long term.

The little children in great danger, holding hands, staring blankly ahead, are pawns in a larger game. That game is run by adults. How cold do you have to be to use children in this way?

Judging by the above excerpt, Peggy, precisely as cold as you.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:02 PM
June 27, 2014
A Sadness About Our Public Discourse

Professor Fouad Ajami died Sunday, at age 68. I thought his obituary in the New York Times, like many of their obits, was deeply interesting. I saw Ajami frequently on television, as an expert commentator, on CNN mostly. He was definitely suave, and I thought persuasive in his analyses, at least on their surface. For me, he did bring a certain credibility: he was an Arab, born and raised in the Levant until he was 18, when his family came to the U.S.

I always had reservations about his analyses, however, as he had become an American college professor rooted in this country, and, worse, a denizen of the ideological think-tank subculture. In other words, for decades he was no longer a day-to-day or more or less continuous presence in his area of expertise — the Middle East, its Arab nations and peoples.

As the obituary makes clear, he was a member of that amazing, only-in-America group, our public commentators who are almost always wrong about the really important things, but who seem never to go away quietly in disgrace (in Olde England, one admiral who failed at war was hanged for it):

● Dick Cheney: “In a speech in 2002 ... Cheney invoked Mr. Ajami as predicting that Iraqis would greet liberation by the American military with joy.” At the time, this astute “expert” assessor of the contemporary Iraqi public temperament was safely ensconsed in his scholar’s office at Johns Hopkins, a short drive from the White House;

● The Condoleezza, who “summoned him to the White House” when she was (ugh!) national security advisor fresh from ... a sunny California campus half the globe away from Iraq;

● The hapless Paul Wolfowitz, whom Ajami advised when Wolfie was deputy secretary of defense under the unbalanced Princeton grad and wrestling cheat Donald Rumsfeld. At least Rummie served in the military;

● And Princeton professor Bernard Lewis (another scholar who moonlighted as an Important Expert Advisor for the powerful). Lewis, who “urged the United States to invade Iraq,” advised President George W. Bush himself — going right to the tippy top, as it were. From the obit, I learned the degree to which Ajami was in that cohort with Professor Lewis. (William Kristol wasn’t mentioned in the obit as one of the always-wrong, as should have been his due. I’m sure Willy published lots of praise about Ajami in his magazine)…

(By the way, let us nevermore hear how elitist liberal universities like Princeton turn out, exclusively, legions of brainwashed liberals and other leftist and perverted crazies who poison and undermine our republic. Think Lewis and Rumsfeld. Ajami, too, taught at Princeton. And we must add to my little counter-argument U.S. Senator Ted Cruz as well.)

Professor Ajami bought into the Gilded Age legacy of Democracy, Always and Forever. He “despaired of autocratic Arab governments finding their own way to democracy,” with the implication that others — oh, who, I wonder, could those others be? — would lead them to it, like horses to water. He told his audience “of how a generation of Arab intellectuals tried [and failed] to renew their homelands’ culture through the forces of modernism and secularism.” (We can pass over, for now, the perception that there may be a homeland on the other side of the Atlantic that needs its culture renewed through the forces of modernism and secularism.)

That catalog of wet-dream stuff for other nations has long been the price of entry to the circle of the powerful and the righteous, the ones who, as the obit said, “believed that the United States must confront what he [Ajami] called a ‘culture of terrorism’ after the 2001 terrorist attacks…” Not before? How come the revelation came so late to this seemingly so knowledgeable scholar of the region and its cultures?

Prof. Ajami also “strove to put Arab history into a larger perspective,” often referring to “Muslim rage over losing power to the West in 1683, when a Turkish siege of Vienna failed.” (In 1683? The Times offers us that lunatic howler with a straight face.) “He said this memory had led to Arab self-pity and self-delusion, as they blamed the rest of the world for their troubles.”

You have to be pretty far removed from the reality on the ground anywhere (and from common sense) to come up with imaginings like this. I suppose the Muslim Middle East is 99% full of just plain people. Folks who have families, children, jobs, little joys and too often sorrows. They want education for their children, things like that, and maybe not so much finally to get revenge for 1683 in Austria by destroying two buildings far away from Austria, in New York City.

I’ve never been in the Arab Levant, but I doubt the respectable folks there, busy with living their lives as best they can, sit around the kitchen table and lament the failure of the Ottomans (who were themselves culturally centered in Asia Minor, I believe, not in Iraq or the Arabian peninsula) to overrrun Vienna. What a crock of shit — yet Professor Ajami shrewdly got the power players to buy it and butter his bread.

Well, that’s the message they wanted to hear, to be sure. I’ll bet the local people in the Middle East complained and still complain endlessly about stuff, real stuff, not just Ajami’s imaginary nonsense ... but I’ll also bet it hasn’t typically included anger at being humiliated by the cavalry of the Holy Roman Empire, a k a “the West.”

The Times obituary failed to observe that Prof. Ajami is only one in a large coterie of men (mostly) who determinedly urge “us” into this or that war or other military escapade, but who have never troubled themselves to put on the uniform of military or naval service and risk standing in harm’s way. Yes, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, that includes you, not just the “Dick” and Wolfie and Feith and many of the rest of the gang so eager to keep Dover Air Force Base busy.

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Posted by A. David Tucker at 04:32 PM
June 08, 2014
A Very Modest Proposal

Guest blogger John Shannon, author of the Jack Liffey mysteries, takes on the mystery of economic inequality:

This is not a good era to be a bleeding-heart liberal — or a progressive, as many of us would prefer to be called. Yes, I admit it, I empathize with the orange-sellers on our freeway on-ramps, and with the homeless holding up their hand-lettered squares of cardboard for spare change. I feel for the fast-food workers holding down two or three jobs who were just denied a tiny increase in their minimum wage. And I even sympathize with those who hear a click on their telephone and fear the NSA is on the line, recording. Disheartening times indeed.

But just last week in a flash of inspiration I saw an incredibly simple fix to all these problems. I don’t know why it hasn’t been proposed before. Who could oppose a constitutional amendment that simply declared every person a corporation?

Think of it! Overnight, the Justice Department would be assigning teams to protect our privacy rights as corporations. We know they would, because it’s exactly what the U.S. keeps lecturing China about. That it’s perfectly reasonable to spy on governments, we do it too, and on individuals (even heads of state like Angela Merkel), but it’s unacceptable to spy on corporations. Their secrets are sacred. As individuals our secrets were fair game, but as corporations, not so much. With this new amendment, the NSA would have to be reined in or at least re-aimed overseas.

But that’s only the beginning. We’d all be corporations so we’d be too important to fail. I know, it used to be too big to fail, but we know from the Declaration of Independence that all of us (all of us corporations, remember) were created equal. So if GM and Chase Bank are too important to fail, so are you and I, so is that guy at the stoplight asking for change. Whenever any of us edged toward failure, there would have to be a new TARP fund ready to bail us out.

The banks were offered, what, $700 billion by Congress? And the Federal Reserve, under the table, offered to lend trillions if necessary, though nobody knows how much actually went out. In a new dispensation, we might need even more money than that, there’re so many of us small corporations. That could be a lot of money, of course, but getting it is the government’s problem, not ours. Perhaps they could tax billionaires, or offshore funds, or Wall Street stock transactions, or capital gains.

The working poor would be corporations, too. Since all these hard-working small corporations would need to survive, we would have to boost the minimum wage right up to something above the bottom edge of livable — like most other industrial countries. It’s $17 an hour in Australia after all, $12 to $25 an hour in Switzerland, $13 in France.

There are probably many more unforeseen benefits to making us all corporations. For instance, as we know, the Supreme Court decreed in Citizens’ United that money from corporations is identical to political speech and must be protected against any Congressional or state limitations. It’s perfectly logical then to assume that all us corporations must be guaranteed an equal vote, too.

The Supreme Court would have to protect our corporate voting rights against all the forms of voter suppression and gerrymandering going on in the so-called red states. We certainly don’t want to discourage our poorer and darker-skinned brother and sister corporations from voting. With a little imagination, I’m sure we can identify other benefits, too. Just think of all the state protections that corporations have against “frivolous” lawsuits, liability laws, environmental legislation, etc.

Of course, even this modest proposal might turn out to be controversial to some. After all, Congressional foot-dragging over a straightforward yearly increase in the debt ceiling hurt the U.S. credit rating and nearly brought down the world economy. Just in case, then, we could prepare a back-up proposal. It would follow the legacy of that grand compromise over slavery built into our Constitution — if you recall, for purposes of state taxation and voting rights, each slave was three-fifths of a person. Our backup plan could offer that each of us would be only three-fifths of a corporation. It’s not perfect, of course, like any compromise, but we’d have a lot more rights than we have now.

There’s no time like the present to get to work on a nation-saving “people are corporations” constitutional amendment.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:20 PM
May 10, 2014
The GOP Must Be Serious, Look Who They Selected!

So House Republicans begin yet another investigation of Benghazi!, with the chairman of the select committee repudiating fundraising off the publicity at the same time the NRCC was distributing a letter fundraising off the publicity. There’s a reasonable chance Ed Kilgore over at Political Animal is right that the whole exercise is an attempt, or perhaps a stalking horse, for impeachment, whether because the House leadership is acting on principle (!) and believes impeachable offenses have been committed or in response to pressure from the far-right portion of the party. The anomaly that the very same gentlefolk were uninterested in investigating administration spin that led the country into war on a false pretense, killing many and displacing more while making the entire world less safe, has been remarked upon before but it bears re-noticing.

One measure of how seriously the investigation Boehner et al. think of this from a legal viewpoint is the geographic diversity of the seven Republicans lucky enough to be chosen to get the publicity pursue the facts about this particular piece of administration spin.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Chairman
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN)
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS)
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL)
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL)
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA)

Covers pretty much the full spectrum, right? At least, if you’re a Republican who’s ready to write off the Mountain West as eventually purple and the rest of the country as already incorrigible. If, in other words, you’re among those who never really participated in the American dream even though you were wise enough to be born with the right skin color, not even during the enormous boom following the Second World War when lots of money was made but nearly all of it by rich folks on the coasts or the prairies. If you’re from what might be called the Land of Resentment, in the midst of which I grew up.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:48 AM
May 09, 2014
It’s Kinda Fun To Watch Them Scramble

Jonathan Chait watches Charles Krauthammer and George Will so you don’t have to. It appears they have concluded that, as Chait’s post is titled, “All Science Is Wrong”.

To watch Will and Krauthammer grasp for rationales to cast doubt on an established scientific field merely because its findings pose a challenge to their ideological priors is a depressing, and even harrowing, study in the poisonous effects of dogma upon a once-healthy brain. They have amassed an impressive array of sound bites and factoids, and can render them with convincing gravitas, and yet their underlying reasoning is absolutely bonkers. The analogy Krauthammer suggests of the rain man — an authority figure possessed of commanding prestige despite lacking even rudimentary analytic powers — turns out to be apt; only he is describing himself.
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:26 PM
May 04, 2014
Life Lessons

I now count myself an early adherent to the life school of Ron Kaplan, chief executive of Trex, a manufacturer of outdoor decks. In today’s New York Times, he was asked, “How do you know which people to make your allies?” He replied, “By watching and listening. When people speak, you measure the variance between what they tell you is going to happen and what actually happens. The smaller the variance, the greater the credibility…”

This may at first strike you as a fancy restatement of the obvious, as it did me. But then I thought of the many pundits whose oracular certainties appear and reappear without end — yet are almost invariable proven wrong as to Mr. Kaplan’s “what actually happens.” I thought of Exhibit One, William Kristol, on the Iraq invasion and on the Affordable Care Act, to name two of many topics. I thought of the Times’s columnist Thomas Friedman on pretty much everything. I thought of the pompous talking-head David Gergen, and of the bloodthirsty military strategists John McCain and Lindsay Graham. Wrong, wrong, wrong time and again — but their confident predictions and prescriptions nevertheless continue to pop up time and again as VSPs (very serious pronouncements).

The Kaplan Principle seems therefore not to be obvious at all … and in any case its application is underutilized. Vastly. I have come to realize, as well, that under another banner the principle has been around for a while. In Western New York, where I grew up, we just disregarded someone who was wrong most of the time as being full of shit.


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Posted by A. David Tucker at 05:09 PM
April 21, 2014
Frank on Bloomberg

If you haven’t yet read Thomas Frank’s takedown of Mike Bloomberg’s $50 million contribution to an anti-NRA organization, I would recommend you don’t miss it. Turns out the billionaire former mayor, known for his pro-billionaire economic views and moralistic crusades for regular folks, has a typically crass motivation.

I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.

Frank is able to connect with that slow softball down the middle:

It’s Pascal’s Wager updated for the age of Citizens United. If God exists, Bloomberg naturally wants to be prepared, and so he has put his money on the most glaringly virtuous politics available. He will advertise his goodness not as lesser men do — with hemp tote bags and locally made condiments and yoga in public places — but by overwhelming force of political spending, just as he did when persuading the people of New York City to give him a third term as mayor. His victory there in 2009 was probably a little too narrow for his taste, but this time around it will not even be close. He will spend more. He will be sure he gets premier status with this airline. And when the time comes he will flash his platinum card at the attendant with “St. Peter” on his nametag, and he will proceed directly to enjoy the rewards of a lifetime collecting righteousness miles.
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:41 PM
April 18, 2014
“Supporting Democracy”

Last time I wrote on foreign policy here, it turned into a rant about our ridiculous excuse for a political system, so now that I’ve got that off my chest, I wanted to set out some basic ideas about the underlying values that, in an ideal world, should govern the relationships of nations.

First and most important is that people are the most important players in foreign policy, not nation-states, not resource control, not economic concerns. Every nation should have the right to determine its own destiny and its own political and economic system without the interference of others. Given that so many nations are creations of imperialism, the borders of those states often do not reflect the wishes of the inhabitants and there should be no qualms about allowing the people of such artificial nations to divide themselves into multiple nations. The key right here is that the people should make that choice without coercion or interference from foreign powers.

Second is the matter of human rights. The best and most widely accepted statement of those rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it should be used as the guide. Obviously this can sometimes conflict with our first value since left to their own devices, some people will use their right of self-determination to abrogate the rights of others — women, gays, religious minorities, etc. That cannot be tolerated and raises the issue of how it might be possible to enforce human rights across international borders.

The third important goal or value that must be at the center of any foreign policy is the protection of the earth on which we all live. All nations need to curtail fossil fuel use and those who have benefited for so long from burning those fuels should be helping the developed nations, especially those most threatened by climate change. For many nations, no doubt including our own, we need to work to alter the food system from one dominated by large corporations, factory farming, centralized distribution, and heavy use of insecticides and fertilizers (many of which are petroleum-based) to one that emphasizes local crops, local markets, small family farms, and organic and traditional methods. We need to de-emphasize export crops and the use of foods for fuel if we are going to keep climate change damage at a minimum.

So how would these ideas play out in practice? Let’s take a current example, the crisis in Ukraine…


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First of all, it would mean that the U.S. and Russia would butt out. The U.S. should not be “supporting democracy” in the Ukraine or anywhere else since we obviously don’t have a democracy at home and have a long history of opposing democracy elsewhere in the world. The Russians shouldn’t be interfering either, but it isn’t up to the United States to stop them. Leave that to other players in the region who have more at stake or to international institutions.

Second, the rights of the people of the Ukraine are paramount including the right to determine their own government. Since the Ukraine has a very brief history as a nation-state and a much longer history as an occupied region, it’s quite possible that populations in different parts of the region have different ideas about how they should be governed. That said, given the chaos that has resulted from the overthrow of Yanukovych, they should be permitted to make a choice. Again, it is not the role of the U.S. or the Russian Federation to interfere to attempt to influence that choice. It should be the role of international institutions to see that referenda are conducted in a fair and free manner wherever they are appropriate.

Given the rise of neo-fascist elements in Ukraine, there is a credible threat to ethnic minorities in some parts of the region. All parties should make it clear that the rights of these groups must be protected whether they are Russians in western Ukraine or Tatars in Crimea. Again, neither the U.S. nor Russia has the right or the moral standing to interfere inside Ukraine to enforce the protection of these groups. That is also a job for international institutions.


Lastly, no progress can be made for the people of Ukraine until the fighting stops and there are stable and democratically chosen governments in the region. That is the most important short-term goal of any moral policy.

You will probably notice I used the term “international institutions” many times. What are these institutions? Regrettably there aren’t any good options available at this time. The only institution that has some capability and legally justifiable mandate to become involved is the United Nations, and it has become a tool of the United States and the Western powers to a great extent. Any moral and responsible foreign policy has to deal early on with the weaknesses of the UN as an institution, and help it gain standing as an independent arbiter of international law. That’s a subject for another day.

Meanwhile, as I heard Dr. Stephen Zunes say recently, the first rule must echo the Hippocratic Oath — do no harm. Arm the Ukrainian government? No. Send Russian troops in to protect people in Eastern Ukraine? No. Send CIA Director and international war criminal John Brennan to “advise” the ruling junta? No. Send an Assistant Secretary of State to hand out cookies to protestors trying to overthrow a government? No.

Meet with Putin and mutually agree to keep hands off Ukraine, and while we’re at it, let’s dissolve NATO or at the very least withdraw it from nations bordering the Russian Federation. The Cold War is allegedly over and we ought to work to keep it that way instead of trying to revive it or heat it up.

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Posted by Charles Dunaway at 04:29 PM
April 08, 2014
The Alien Sex Fiend is Back!

Frank Rich’s monthly essay in New York is out, and let’s hope he’s right. Which I think he is. Excerpt:

The received wisdom that sex scandals threaten a Hillary run is preposterous. It’s the reverse that’s true. The right’s inability to stanch its verbal diarrhea on the subject of female sexuality — whether provoked by rape, contraception, abortion, “traditional marriage,” gay marriage, gay parenting, or pop culture — did as much as anything to defeat Mitt Romney, his “binders full of women” notwithstanding, in 2012. (He lost women voters to Obama by 11 percentage points.) And that obsession with sex can defeat the GOP again. Todd Akin, the avatar of “legitimate rape,” may be gone, but many of the same political players will be in place in 2016 as in 2012 — more than a few of them alumni of the Clinton sexcapades of the 1990s.

No matter how much Republican leaders talk of reining in their sexist language (though not their policies) to counter charges that the GOP conducts a war on women, they just can’t help themselves. Whether or not there’s a war on women in 2016, there will be a rancorous and tasteless war on one woman. And it is guaranteed to backfire, drowning out fair G-rated questions about the Clintons’ dealings just as Monica and other “bimbo eruptions” drowned out such now-forgotten Clinton scandals as Filegate and Castle Grande.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:25 PM
April 06, 2014
Goin’ Down That Same Old Road…

Larry Elliott has become one of my go-to folks on economics. In The Guardian today he compares the rosy take on the global economy of the near future to views that were popular ten years ago, before the Great Recession, when the economy seemed to be on the mend after the collapse of the dot-com boom. He lists five reasons the presumed economic recovery might turn out to be an illusion, among them historically low interest rates and the apparently widespread idea that fracking will prove to be a profitable method of generating energy. Number five is economic inequality.

For the first three decades after the second world war, the global economy was by and large the story of a rising tide lifting all boats. That is no longer the case, with a tiny elite now grabbing the lion’s share of global growth. At the bottom, and increasingly for those in the middle as well, it is a case of wage squeezes, high unemployment, debt, austerity and poverty. The 85 richest people on the planet own the same wealth as half the world’s population but seem oblivious to the risk of widespread social unrest. So, of course, were the Bourbons and the Romanovs.
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:08 PM
March 23, 2014
What’s Left for a Leftist to Do?

Today the local Democratic Socialists meeting was held in my town. After the typical business of a volunteer organization, we began a discussion of Adolph Reed’s article Nothing Left – The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals (behind a firewall unfortunately) in the March issue of Harper’s. Far be it from me to attempt a synopsis of this article, but quoting Reed’s closing statements may suffice.

We need to reject the fantasy that some spark will ignite the People to move as a mass. We must create a constituency for a left program — and that cannot occur via MSNBC or blog posts or the New York Times. It requires painstaking organization and building relationships with people outside the Beltway and comfortable leftist groves. Finally, admitting our absolute impotence can be politically liberating; acknowledging that as a left we have no influence on who gets nominated or elected, or what they do in office, should reduce the frenzied self-delusion that rivets attention to the quadrennial, biennial, and now seemingly permanent horse races.

It is long past time for us to begin again to approach leftist critique and strategy by determining what our social and governmental priorities should be and focusing our attention on building the kind of popular movement capable of realizing that vision. Obama and his top aides punctuated that fact by making brutally apparent during the 2008 campaign that no criticism from the left would have a place in this regime of Hope and Change. The message could not be clearer.

This is a bitter pill for long-time leftists to swallow – admitting impotence is not easy for any of us. The discussion went in a few different directions, but ultimately we all came to realize that in electoral politics, leftists have no alternative – either support the Democrat or take the risk that the usually far worse Republican will win.

Every two years, leftists who know that the Democratic candidate does not share their views nevertheless turn out to campaign for that candidate. Most around the table admitted to voting for Obama in 2008, although most of us knew at the time that he was going to serve the interests of Wall Street, not Main Street. A majority voted for Jill Stein in 2012, but only after doing the math and ascertaining that Romney had no chance of winning our state. But what’s a leftist to do?

My own position is that leftists have failed to convince a significant number of working Americans that the interests of the wealthy do not and will never be the same as the interests of workers – elementary Marxist class analysis. Without that essential bit of political understanding, workers will be easily swayed by the enormous advertising campaigns for and against the two major party candidates and will vote for one of them, thus sealing their fate for another two to four years. Left organizations, including even the American Communist Party, covered their web sites in 2012 with pictures of President Obama and urged their followers to support him, not because they believed he was a leftist, but because there was no alternative.

It strikes me that unless the left spends as much of their limited time, money and resources on creating an alternative, they will continue to face the choice between two corporate parties that are anti-labor, pro-war, and eager to bail out the next failing bank. Continuing to hold rallies, send petitions, or hold placards in front of Congressional offices about this or the other righteous cause will have the same effect it has had for the last 40 years – things will keep going in the opposite direction.

We were lucky to have a political science professor in our midst who said this reminded her of the situation in Chile. Chile had a multi-party democracy, but the post-Pinochet era has been dominated by two parties, both of whom espouse neoliberal policies. However in recent years, the students and the indigenous population have formed splinter parties that are truly socialist and although the recent election has returned Michelle Bachelet to power, she is far more likely to pursue real socialist policies rather than the more centrist policies of her 2006-2010 presidency. It is those new parties and their popular support that push her in that direction.

Can we move in that direction here in the United States? I think it is possible, but difficult. Students, and recent ex-students, are a natural constituency for a party that has a platform to eliminate student debt and provide free higher education. Recent immigrants and their communities might support a party that calls for easy naturalization for those whose only crime is entering the country without proper documentation. Unorganized labor, such as those in the service industry, might support a party that supports a $15/hour minimum wage indexed to inflation. Lots of thinking people might support a party that is calling for a repeal of the Bush and Reagan tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans and Medicare for all. It will take a lot of work to convince people to support a third party, but failing to do so traps us in a duopoly that gives us only a choice to make our lives worse quickly or more slowly.

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Posted by Charles Dunaway at 04:32 PM
March 11, 2014
Paul Ryan and Abraham Maslow

Okay, I can’t take it any more. So many articles and posts about what seems like Paul Ryan’s political inelegance… Where’s the reply that actually matters? I’m not reading the right sources, apparently.

The controversy, if that’s not overstating its importance, involves Ryan’s use of a story about a schoolboy who expressed a preference for a lunch in a paper bag packed by his parents over a free lunch offered by his school. Of course it turns out the story is fiction, because the situation is never that simple. Naturally the kid would prefer that his parents pack his lunch, but suppose he doesn’t have parents, or his parents are disabled or ill, or they don’t have enough money to pack a lunch for him? Ryan is quoted as saying:

The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.

Well of course they do, but anyone with a basic grasp of Maslow’s pyramid realizes that we need to start with a full stomach or we don’t generally get very far with respect to the advancement of the soul and all that. How impotent must your philosophical engine be to accuse your opponents of taking peoples’ souls by feeding them? It’s the precise opposite of what the religion of Ryan and the so-called religious right prescribes and has very often practiced, namely feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick.

How plainly can I put this? If you’re hungry and someone feeds you, or naked and someone clothes you, or sick and someone cares for you, you don’t lose your soul because that person was hired by the state. Get a grip, Mr. Ryan.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:45 PM
February 07, 2014
If It’s Rotten Enough for Us…

…it’s bound to be rotten enough for them. From the New York Times:

The yearlong effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, which had the support of President Obama, Republican leaders and much of American business and labor, was seriously imperiled on Thursday when Speaker John A. Boehner conceded that it was unlikely he could pass a bill…

Mr. Boehner’s remarks came a week after he and other House Republican leaders offered a statement of principles intended to win support for the measure. But, he said, House Republicans are not prepared to move forward in partnership with a Democratic administration that they believe will not fairly and impartially carry out the laws they pass.

Psychiatrists call this “projection.” Suppose for instance that you were the House Speaker of a political party which had spent the past three years trying unfairly and in a nakedly partisan way to hamstring a healthcare law that…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:43 PM
February 05, 2014
Inequality = Opportunity

Did you happen to notice that Democrats, except for Senator Elizabeth Warren at least, have stopped talking about “income inequality” and starting talking about “the opportunity gap”? It seems the party’s donors get worried that people talking about income inequality might get the idea that you should — horror of horrors! — redistribute some income from them to the people who need it. If we talk about an opportunity gap, we simply plan on providing some additional pseudo-opportunities to the less fortunate but they will have to man up and accept responsibility for their own economic fate.

No less a conservative icon than David Brooks wrote a column on the opportunity gap where he talked about the uncomfortable decisions that “liberals” would need to take to address it. According to Brooks, to address an opportunity gap you must champion traditional marriage and stop trying to exploit class divisions.

If you have trouble making that connection, it seems that single parents or gay parents are unlikely to spend enough time reading Goodnight Moon to their kids, and pointing out the incessant class warfare against working people is just going to get them all upset and they’ll start demanding things instead of taking advantage of whatever opportunities their betters choose to hand them.

Of course, Democrats aren’t really going to be that successful in creating new “opportunities”, but they might sneak a couple of them through the Neanderthals in the House in an election year. My senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, is on a PR tour for her “American Opportunity Agenda” which represents the Democrat’s best hope for addressing “income inequality,” er, the opportunity gap.

Here are her proposals:


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1. Set up a dedicated Paid Family and Medical Leave trust fund within the Social Security Administration supported by a .2% increase in the employee and employer SS payroll tax. So we are taxing working people to pay for this and creating another bureaucracy to determine who is eligible and not eligible and how much they can get, and of course, no one is saying whether their job will exist when they return from taking advantage of this opportunity.

2. Increase the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next 3 years (by which time that will be an even more inadequate wage) and index future increases to inflation (Obviously this will be sacrificed to get the horrid Republicans to agree).

3. Expand the Dependent and Child Care Tax Credits and make them refundable — not a bad idea, just an inadequate one. Also she wants to create some kind of incentive for college students to work in child care through loan payoffs or tax credits — something other than making the work pay enough to be attractive to college grads.

4. Create a federal-state partnership to increase the availability of Pre-K programs — which might work in New York but don’t bother dressing little Johnny in the morning if you live in Mississippi or Texas.

5. Pass a Paycheck Fairness Act to require employers to demonstrate a business justification for wage gaps between men and women doing the same work. She’s obviously pandering with this one since even those who support the concept would realize that this would be difficult and expensive to enforce so will be opposed by the donor class with a vengeance.

This is what we have come to expect from our “liberal” party: half-baked halfway measures that don’t even pretend to address the underlying systemic problem and have little chance of being enacted into law. Even if some parts manage to get through Congress, you can be sure they will be distorted into a kind of Obamacare of opportunity. When you’re a Democrat, even when you win — you lose.

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Posted by Charles Dunaway at 02:10 PM
January 23, 2014
The Rat in the Hat

Here is James Truslow Adams, from his 1929 essay collection, Our Business Civilization:

The Republican Party may well look back to Hamilton as its high priest, but the odd thing is that Hamilton created all this heritage of strength and power and banks and tariffs for a very simple reason, and that reason the Republican Party would not dare to breathe about in any party convention, campaign, or speech: “The People, your People, Sir, is a great Beast.”

Imagine that as an exordium of a keynote speech to nominate Calvin Coolidge or Herbert Hoover. Hamilton deliberately set out to create special privileges for certain classes so that those classes would in turn support the government and control the people. What does the Republican Party do? It hangs on for dear life to all these special privileges, it preaches Hamilton’s corollaries as the one pure political gospel, and then it steals Jefferson’s major premise, and preaches the wisdom and the nobility and the political acumen of the common people!

One feels like inquiring in the vernacular, with deep emotion, “How did you get that way?” As when watching a prestidigitator, one’s jaw drops with amazement as the rabbit pops from the one hat we could not possibly have expected it from.
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:53 PM
January 08, 2014
The Call of the Lonesome Toad

From the New York Times:

Mr. Sherman said in the source notes that he interviewed 614 people who knew or worked with Mr. Ailes for the book, which took more than three years to report and write. More than 100 pages are devoted to source notes and bibliography.

Former employees cited in the book talked of Mr. Ailes’s volatile temper and domineering behavior. In one anecdote, a television producer, Randi Harrison, told Mr. Sherman that while negotiating her salary with Mr. Ailes at NBC in the 1980s, he offered her an additional $100 each week “if you agree to have sex with me whenever I want.”

A Fox News spokeswoman said in a statement on Tuesday: “These charges are false. While we have not read the book, the only reality here is that Gabe was not provided any direct access to Roger Ailes and the book was never fact-checked with Fox News.”

Why bother? Would you hymen-check a whorehouse?


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:16 PM
January 05, 2014
David Brooks’s Awful Pickle

I gave David Brooks a pass on his embarrassing marijuana column this week, feeling that the poor fellow was just a mild-mannered deluded doofus and why bother? But now comes this, from a printed exchange with Gail Collins in today’s Times. Give me a minute and I could come up with half a dozen Republicans I’d rather see in the White House than Hillary Clinton, but this? This?

GAIL: Ah, the Clinton health care proposal. Back in the days of yore, when giants roamed the earth and senators still engaged in bipartisan drinking sessions.

DAVID: If she can prove that she now understands that dumb, simple laws are better than smart, complex ones, I could definitely feel some comfort with her. I do think she is hardheaded and practical. If she runs against Ted Cruz, I’m going to be in an awful pickle.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:57 PM
January 04, 2014
Is Ted Cruz a true American?

I don’t mean to question Senator Cruz’s patriotism, just his nationality. As Arit John slyly suggests at The Atlantic Wire, it may actually be a question of law and documentation.

Let’s start with what we know.

  • Back in August the Senator made clear his intention to renounce his Canadian citizenship by the end of 2013.
  • In December he claimed to have retained counsel to help him through the process.
  • The process consists of downloading a four-page PDF, filling it out, and returning it with a fee.

Most graduates of Princeton and Harvard Law are able to fill out four-page forms. But it’s even simpler than that, because all the form tries to do is make sure you know what you’re doing and you’re not about to become stateless. If there are no legal or mental-status issues, you’re done, according to two immigration attorneys based in Canada whom John interviewed.

So why would Cruz retain counsel to help him through the process? He might not have proof that he’s an American citizen. His father wasn’t a citizen until 2005, and given that he was born in Canada his mother would need to show that she was present in the US for ten years before he was born, five of them before she was 14. Demonstrating that could require a goodly chunk of records like deeds, leases, and school documents, many of which would be difficult or impossible to retrieve.

Perhaps this might explain the abandon with which a supposedly intelligent person attacks the capacity of his own party to attract voters beyond the Tea Party: he can’t, at least at this point, prove himself legally qualified to run for President.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:37 AM
December 25, 2013
The Asylum Theory of Government

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.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:39 AM
December 17, 2013
Biting the Hand That Fed

Yesterday C-Span — I am sure you were also glued to the set — featured a talk at the National Press Club given by one Daniel Akerson, departing CEO of General Motors. He was boasting about the (i.e., his) achievement at GM since the US auto bail-out by the federal government prevented his company from going bankrupt. (Note the seeds of conflict there already in his set-up during the talk.)

At one point, he recounted how, early in the company’s difficulties, some European auto executives assured him that the recovery effort was headed for “disaster.” A failure, he then remarked as an aside, that would be as bad as the failure of the health care act (meaning so-called Obamacare). There was weak laughter in the audience, but no boos or hisses were heard. He went on to say that although “it took time” to turn around GM, a few years later some of those Europeans came to work at GM.

Well, here is at least one boo and a hiss for your cheap-shot remark and your blindered arrogance, Mr. Akerson. You would now be managing a mall in Missouri if President Obama’s administration hadn’t valiantly and stubbornly stuck with the GM salvage operation even in the teeth of utter Republican disdain on TV, in the papers, and in ads during the last presidential election.

The Democratic administration’s support was of course driven by concern for your (yuk, union) workers but also for the myriad businesses that feed the GM enterprises — not by concern for you and your over-promoted, over-compensated flunkies at corporate HQ, with their ladder burns.

You say the turn-around “took time?” Well, yes. But might not the Affordable Care Act also benefit, given time? No? You are awfully quick to mock a great effort for Americans’ health that was launched a few days ago, as if you can see into the future. Can you?

Or — this is a real question for you, Sir — are you allowing your snide inner mean-spiritedness and sense of entitlement to come to the fore only now, when the federal government is no longer in possession of GM, and it is safe for you boldly to disparage, on national television and in front of journalists (however captive they may be), a social initiative of far greater value to Americans than the wheeling and dealing at your own secure fief, before you retire to your gated-community mansions bordering golf-courses in Hobe Sound, Idaho, and Hawaii?

Until I hear otherwise, I will think of you as a smirking hairless coward sheathed in a really good suit. I’ll bet your shoes are bespoke, too.


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Posted by A. David Tucker at 04:31 PM
November 27, 2013
There’s a Word for What We Feel When…

…watching the Louie Gohmerts or Sarah Palins or Glenn Becks of this world. From Psychology Today:

Fremdscham describes the almost-horror you feel when you notice that somebody is oblivious to how embarrassing they truly are. Fremdscham occurs when someone who should feel embarrassed for themselves simply is not, and you start feeling embarrassment in their place…

Besides the emotional response, Fremdscham-inducing events and items … also usually cause one to ask this question: “how on earth can these people be unaware of how stupid they are being right now?”.

And more than to lecture you about the beauty of the German language, I want to write about a classic psychological theory that laid the groundwork for addressing precisely this question of how people remain ignorant of their ignorance.

Dunning and Kruger often refer to a “double curse” when interpreting their findings: People fail to grasp their own incompetence, precisely because they are so incompetent. And since, overcoming their incompetence would first require the ability to distinguish competence from incompetence people get stuck in a vicious cycle.

“The skills needed to produce logically sound arguments, for instance, are the same skills that are necessary to recognize when a logically sound argument has been made. Thus, if people lack the skills to produce correct answers, they are also cursed with an inability to know when their answers, or anyone else’s, are right or wrong. They cannot recognize their responses as mistaken, or other people’s responses as superior to their own.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:09 PM
November 21, 2013
Voter Self-suppression

The medical term for this sort of behavior is “autophagia.” Soldiers in Vietnam used to call it “stepping on your own dick.”

When Republicans and the Tea Party contribute to hunger by attacking food stamps, people of color aren’t the only ones who suffer: Republicans are physically harming their own base. Slashing food stamp benefits won’t harm the Koch brothers or JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, but it will definitely harm poor whites in a place like McDowell County, West Virginia, which is 94% white (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), rural and has a life expectancy of only 63.9 for males and 72.9 for females (according to a report that the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington released in July 2013). If life expectancy is any indication, the economic conditions for white males in McDowell County aren’t much better than the economic conditions in Haiti, where, according to the World Health Organization, males have a life expectancy of 62. In contrast to McDowell County, that study showed a life expectancy of 81.4 for males and 85.0 for females in Marin County, California — which is affluent and heavily Democratic.
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:30 PM
November 15, 2013
Enjoy Chicken Pox? You’ll Love Shingles!

A retired insurance executive sends along this discouraging analysis of Obama’s latest cave-in to the insurance companies and the Republicans or — as the president no doubt considers it — to reality.

I am appalled that Obama’s advisers, in trying to get him out of the jam created by promising that the insurance companies would not kick anyone off a plan they liked, allowed him to go out there and promise to fix the problem by allowing the insurance companies to continue offering the old plans for another year.

It’s repeating the exact flaw from the first pledge: in order for the promises to work, both rely on totally voluntary actions by the insurance companies! No government official can force an insurer to offer any policy, ever. There are some options governmental players can use to force insurers to comply with certain requirements once they do decide to issue a policy or a plan — but that presumes that the carriers have decided to offer a plan. No one — President, governor or insurance commissioner — can force an insurer to offer a plan in the first instance.

So Obama’s political advisers are telling him to fix a problem caused by implicitly promising that insurers will continue to offer certain plans by ... promising that insurers will resume offering certain plans.

It is not unlikely that the insurers will behave that way — it is impossible. Even if they wanted to do this, which they don’t (who wants the headache and expense of offering a bunch of small little plans for a dwindling number of policyholders when the business is shifting to a new and much larger arena with much better economies of scale) they actually physically, logistically and legally can’t do it.

Issuing a health care plan is incredibly difficult, cumbersome and complex. Launching a new plan requires at least a year of hard work and prep — designing the benefit, underwriting it, getting the actuarial work done, getting the state rate filing process accomplished including time for a rate appeal, making sure the right network of providers are in place ... on and on it goes.

Bottom line is that the fix the president just promised can’t happen until January 2015, even if it was a good idea, which it is not. And even if the issuers wanted to keep offering the old plans, which they don’t — something we know to a 100% certainty because they dropped these grandfathered plans even though they already are currently free to continue to offer these plans.

Obamacare allowed the issuers to continue the grandfathered plans — and the plans chose to drop them instead. So now the president announces that the plans can re-offer the grandfathered plans they were already allowed to offer, but chose to drop. Which the plans not just won’t, but can’t do, making the president again look like a liar.

This is political malpractice — the president has just made another healthcare promise on which he cannot deliver. And just like the first time, he appears to have no clue that he is doing so. This is going to be like chickenpox — the first time, it is bad enough. But when the same virus comes back the second time you get shingles, a much worse and more painful condition.

It’s almost as if no Democrat has ever worked in the health insurance industry or at least the White House isn’t checking with them. You’d think the political and communications advisers would want to get the policy part right to make sure the reality would match the message, but they appear oblivious.

So weird. Potentially devastating and entirely self-inflicted.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:10 PM
November 11, 2013
The Eternal Politics of Fear

Theoretically the mob is the repository of all wisdom and virtue; actually it is the ultimate source of political power. Even the plutocracy cannot make war upon it openly, or forget the least of its weaknesses. The business of keeping it in order must be done discreetly, warily, with delicate technique.

In the main that business consists of keeping alive its deep-seated fears — of strange faces, of unfamiliar ideas, of unhackneyed gestures, of untested liberties and responsibilities. The one permanent emotion of the inferior man, as of all the simpler mammals, is fear — fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above all is safety. His instincts incline him towards a society so organized that it will protect him at all hazards, and not only against perils to his hide but also against assaults upon his mind — against the need to grapple with unaccustomed problems, to weigh ideas, to think things out for himself, to scrutinize the platitudes upon which his everyday thinking is based…

In America it is the newspaper that is his boss. From it he gets support for his elemental illusions. In it he sees a visible embodiment of his own wisdom and consequence. Out of it he draws fuel for his simple moral passion, his congenital suspicion of heresy, his dread of the unknown. And behind the newspaper stands the plutocracy, ignorant,, unimaginative and timorous…

It is precisely here, the first and favorite scene of the Great Experiment, that the culture of the individual has been reduced to the most rigid and absurd regimentation.

—H. L. Mencken, writing in 1920. The bogeyman of that time was the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, locally represented by unwashed and unintelligible immigrants from Italy, Eastern Europe and Russia itself. What he would have written about the Tea Party, Ayn Rand, the TSA and the NSA, we can never know. For even if the Great Misanthrope were to come back to life, his head would explode upon contact with Fox News.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:59 PM
November 05, 2013
Not Your Grandfather’s GOP?


Ted Cruz tells a Heritage Foundation audience we need a hundred more senators like the gratefully dead racist Jesse Helms, whose own hero was the equally dead miscegenist Strom Thurmond. Wonderment at this public display of GOP racism is widely feigned, which is like being surprised every morning when the sun rises. “Oh, my God, Mabel, come look what’s outside. There’s sunlight everywhere!”

Although to be fair there has been a slight change for the better, in the sense that at least Cruz is being honest about it. In the good old days of the Grand Old Party a Republican could risk apologizing for committing racism in public. Here’s former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, after expressing regret that Thurmond hadn’t been elected president on the States’ Rights ticket in 1948:

“A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”

And here’s my post on December 11 of 2002, which doesn’t seem to me to require any updating:

This is what most of the press referred to as an “apology” from the racist Trent Lott for his most recent embrace of the policies of the past which others have discarded. It is a curious piece of linguistic work, immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with southern politics.

In 1966 Georgia State Senator Jimmy Carter was beaten for the governorship by an Old South racist named Lester Maddox. The moderate Carter had allowed himself to be, as they say in Dixie, out-niggered. He didn’t make that mistake in 1970, when he beat a moderate former governor by opposing bussing and inviting George Wallace to campaign for him.

Safely elected governor, Carter said in his inaugural address, “I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination was over.” Quite frankly, this bears a certain resemblance to Lott’s “apology.” Racial discrimination was fun while it lasted? Huh?

Carter, though, was sort of apologizing for having earlier lied that he was a racist when he wasn’t. Lott is lying that he’s not a racist when he is.

This isn’t just Lott’s lie. It’s the lie of the entire Republican Party, which has built its political success on a bedrock of racism since Richard Nixon adopted the Southern Strategy that Lyndon Johnson had handed him on a platter with the civil rights bills.

After the Vietnam War had driven Johnson from office, Richard Nixon ran for president as a “law and order” man. Both black and white voters understood exactly what he meant by that.

They still knew when Ronald Reagan ran for the presidency in 1980 promising even more law and order. They understood what color his “welfare queens” were, too, and they knew why he opposed affirmative action.

Reagan’s second presidential campaign, against the hapless Walter Mondale, was even more openly racist. And George Herbert Walker Bush’s campaign against Dukakis four years later was worse than that. Even the press noticed, as they hadn’t when racism wore Reagan’s smiling face.

All this time, back in the south, the Republicans were at work creating political ghettos — congressional districts with black majorities where African American voters could be safely quarantined while the Republicans corralled the more populous suburbs.

And now the Republican Party, much of the federal judiciary, the White House and both Houses of Congress are ruled by men of the hard right. They have many things in common — militarism, worship of wealth, contempt for the poor, a taste for repression, a distaste for dissent, on and on.

These men — the Lotts and Armeys, the DeLays and Ashcrofts, the Falwells and the Robertsons, the Rehnquists and the Thomases — share another thing, too. Although they lie about it, as Lott is so unconvincingly doing right now, they are every one of them in the service of racism.

And this is the large, putrescent dead rat on the floor of America’s kitchen that we pretend isn’t there.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:07 AM
October 30, 2013
Mitch McConnell Gets an Assist From Barack Obama

Would it not be a delicious irony if the re-election prospects of liberal scourge and Obama opponent Mitch McConnell were to receive a boost from the success of the signature legislative achievement of Obama’s presidency, which McConnell has resisted at every turn? Yet so it seems in the Republican primary in Kentucky, my state of origin, where the Minority Leader, who used to be the most widely disliked Senator of them all until Ted Cruz left him in the dust, is engaged in a surprisingly interesting race. His opponent, Matt Bevin, is running as a challenger to the man Tea Partiers deride as a deal-maker and collaborator, and has parlayed McConnell’s role in avoiding default on the national debt into endorsements from groups representing what proponents call true conservatives. Of course the facts are opposite to that, and they are actually radicals, but there’s a little issue of reality testing standing between us.

Along with the Gun Owners of America, a group generally to the right of the NRA, Bevin has the support of the Senate Conservatives Fund, the group whose ads against sitting Republican Senators Ted Cruz supposedly refused to denounce. It is now running an ad attacking McConnell as an Obamacare-lover.

“Conservatives asked Mitch McConnell to lead the fight against Obamacare. He didn’t listen,” the voiceover in the ad, titled Kentucky, said. “Instead, McConnell helped Barack Obama and Harry Reid fund Obamacare. Now Kentucky families are paying the price. Premiums up, lost coverage, even lost jobs. When Kentucky needed Mitch McConnell the most, he let us down.”


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Just the sort of attack you’d expect from a Tea Party challenger against a Senator whose very position in leadership evinces his utter lack of purity, ideological or otherwise. This should set up a fascinating confrontation between what most Kentuckians believe, which is some mixture of hard-scrabble individualism and more or less virulent racism which thus considers the Affordable Care Act an Obama-nation, and what most Kentuckians need, which is help, educational, financial, and medical. And here’s the irony: the Obama-nation is working and working well.

The Kentucky Kynect likely takes the award for most written-about Obamacare marketplace — and for good reason. It had one of the most flawless launches of any state marketplace, posting robust application numbers on Oct. 1. So far, the state reports that 26,174 people have enrolled in private insurance or Medicaid.

Kentucky is the only Southern state operating its own insurance marketplace and has had the strong backing of Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat.

So with the Kentucky exchange quite successful, will Bevin’s attack lose some of its sting? If so, McConnell could have slightly smoother sailing into the general election. Having to tack very publicly hard right to meet Bevin’s challenge could weaken McConnell against the first legitimate Democratic challenger he’s seen in many election cycles, Alison Lundergan Grimes. If the success of Obamacare in Kentucky helps to blunt a major attack against Mitch McConnell, will the Minority Leader be polite enough to write a thank-you note to the White House? I don’t know about you, but I doubt it.

More and more it seems the hard-core Republican states are trying to nullify not only federal law but the entire twenty-first century, in fact to hell with it, let’s just go for modernity as a whole. Even John Kasich thinks the GOP is prosecuting “a war on the poor”, equating poverty with laziness. “You know what?” he commented, “The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A.”

A guilty little part of me wants to let the red states decline health care and believe in creationism and thus fall irretrievably behind the rest of us and fade into history. But of course that’s a pipe dream; as their system fails they’ll be high-tailing it across the border, instant converts to the cause of immigrant rights.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:01 AM
October 23, 2013
Working for the Man

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.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:34 AM
October 11, 2013
Obama’s Long Game?

Here’s Sean Wilentz, in Monday’s New York Times:

The Republicans in the House of Representatives who declare that they may refuse to raise the debt limit threaten to do more than plunge the government into default. They are proposing a blatant violation of the 14th Amendment, which states that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law” is sacrosanct and “shall not be questioned.”

Yet the Obama administration has repeatedly suppressed any talk of invoking the Constitution in this emergency. Last Thursday Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said, “We do not believe that the 14th Amendment provides that authority to the president” to end the crisis. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew reiterated the point on Sunday and added that the president would have “no option” to prevent a default on his own.

And here’s a comment from Marsha in Arizona:
Obama won’t uphold his Constitutional responsibilities BECAUSE he wants the same things as the Republicans...cuts to “entitlements”...and this way, he can blame the other “guys”.

House Republicans threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling — that is, force a repudiation of debts already accrued — would violate that ‘fundamental principle’ of the Constitution.

Surely the lawyers advising and defending the White House, let alone the president, know as much. Refraining from stating this loudly and clearly, and allowing Congress to slip off the hook, has been a puzzling and self-defeating strategy, leading to the crippling sequester and the politics of chronic debt-ceiling crisis. More important, by failing to clarify the constitutional principles involved, the administration has neglected to do its utmost to defend the Constitution.

I hope Marsha is wrong. I hope, I hope. But why, then, did President Obama publicly throw away one of his aces before the betting began?

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:38 PM
October 04, 2013
Measuring How Out of Touch Legislators Are

You knew they were out of touch. But did you know that the average American legislator believes his or her constituents are 15-20 percent more conservative than they really are?

A recent study asked almost 2,000 legislators what their constituents thought about gay marriage, universal healthcare, and abolishing federal welfare. Then it compared their answers to polling data from their districts to see how well the legislators understood the people they represent. Here are two of the resulting graphs (click the graphic for a full-size version):


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Even liberal legislators tend to overestimate the conservative leanings in their districts by about 5 percentage points.

The typical conservative legislator overestimates his or her district’s conservatism by a whopping 20 percentage points. Indeed, he or she believes the district is even more conservative than the most right-leaning district in the entire country.
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:32 AM
October 01, 2013
The 100% Solution

Heads the tan man wins, tails we all win. An elegant solution from Professor Wolff:

By all reports, there are enough Republican members of the House of Representatives ready to vote for a clean Continuing Resolution so that with the support of the Democratic members, such a raise would have no trouble passing. But John Boehner is clearly fearful that if he allows such a bill to come to the floor of the House, he will lose his Speakership.

Now, the position of Speaker of the House is not a party office, like Senate Majority Leader. It is a Constitutional office, voted on by all members of the House. To be elected Speaker, one needs an absolute majority of all votes cast, not counting abstentions by those voting “present.” In return for bringing a clean CR to the floor, the Democrats could make a deal with Boehner to abstain, or alternatively throw enough votes his way, to guarantee his reelection as Speaker. Hell, they could even make a deal not to challenge him for reelection in his District. They could make the same deal for a raising of the debt limit.

Just a thought.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:51 PM
September 29, 2013
Sympathy for the Speaker

I can sometimes find a little sympathy for John Boehner. Having reached the Speakership, traditionally a position of significance and power, he finds himself leading, or at least in front of, an unruly caucus that cannot agree among themselves on anything but a huge laundry list of obviously unreachable goals. Boehner probably expected that strategic skills would be called into play as he maneuvered with and against the Senate and the President. Instead he leads a group that fits the description someone applied to Ted Cruz, that it’s not clear how they get down a flight of stairs given their manifest inability to think one step ahead. With Cruz I don’t think that’s the case; he’s got a long-term strategy that involves destroying the existing Republican power structures and replacing them with a more directly Tea Party-oriented platform and political operation. With the House Republicans, on the other hand, it looks like the description fits.

…as Republicans prepared to vote late Saturday, some lawmakers acknowledged that they had no idea what would happen if the Senate follows through on its threat to reject their latest offering.

“It comes back to us, I guess,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey (Ga.), one of the more conservative Republicans and a candidate for Senate in 2014. “We really didn’t talk about exactly what the plan would be then.”

Yes, there’s no telling what can happen in this magical world we live in. Maybe the Senate will reverse course and give up despite having all the leverage. Perhaps the President will decide his signature legislative achievement should be shelved in another attempt to placate the hard right. Maybe the Rapture will happen before the debt limit is breached.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:50 PM
September 27, 2013
Jay Bookman Explains…

… in just six words the GOP’s threats to shut down their own country’s government and destroy its credit rating:

This is how white people riot.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:54 PM
September 25, 2013
“For the Interests of All”

What’s remarkable is that he probably actually believes what he tells the UN.

In an implicit rebuke to Putin, who earlier this month in an article in the New York Times, criticised Obama’s belief in US exceptionalism, Obama said: “Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional — in part because we have shown a willingness, through the sacrifice of blood and treasure, to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interests of all.”

This blindness that varies from obstinate to willful is baffling to those who are not true believers in the American religion. To explain it requires another resurrection of the Chomsky chestnut that you can’t rise to a position of power in the US government unless you believe that the United States is unique in history in acting purely from altruistic motives. What we do, though it require “the sacrifice of blood and treasure”, we do for ourselves but also “for the interests of all”. As Madeleine Albright put it in another context, if we have to sacrifice Syrian lives, we believe that's a price worth paying. After all, it's for everyone's good, whatever they themselves might happen to believe.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:41 AM
September 17, 2013
David Brooks Destroyed

Here’s an excerpt by Andrew J. Bacevich from one of the most devastating and satisfying smackdowns I’ve ever read. The victim, left dead and bleeding from multiple wounds, is David Brooks of The New York Times.

On April 28, 2003, beating President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech by three days, Brooks declared that “the war in Iraq is over.” The political and cultural implications of victory promised to be profound. A collaboration between policy makers in Washington and troops on the battlefield had removed any last doubts as to American global dominion. Brooks sang the praises of “a ruling establishment that can conduct wars with incredible competence and skill.” The United States, he enthused, was an “incredibly effective colossus that can drop bombs onto pinpoints, [and] destroy enemies that aren’t even aware they are under attack…”

Implicitly acknowledging the distance separating young Americans who chose to serve in uniform from the young Americans choosing otherwise, Brooks made clear which group deserved his admiration. “Can anybody think of another time in history when a comparable group of young people was asked to be at once so brave, fierce and relentless, while also being so sympathetic, creative and forbearing?” Brooks couldn’t, so he bestowed on the troops the secular equivalent of collective canonization. “They are John Wayne,” he rhapsodized, “but also Jane Addams.” Soldiers were paragons of virtue, their courage and altruism standing in stark contrast to the shallow, self-absorbed liberal culture that Brooks despised. “If anybody is wondering: Where are the young idealists? Where are the people willing to devote themselves to causes larger than themselves? They are in uniform in Iraq.” The gap between the military and society, in other words, was a good thing. It provided America with a great war-winning army and Americans with desperately needed exemplars of virtue.

Soon after Brooks published this paean to the American soldier, word of depraved and despicable acts at Abu Ghraib prison began to surface. Apparently, John Wayne and Jane Addams did not exhaust the range of possible role models to whom at least some American soldiers looked for inspiration.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:44 AM
September 14, 2013
This May Explain…


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…David Vitter and Bobby Jindal.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:09 PM
August 09, 2013
Sadly True

Yves says:

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.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:28 PM
June 23, 2013
Peter King Said What?

Here’s how you know you’re on the wrong side of the issue: Peter King is defending you.

U.S. Representative Peter King, a frequent Obama critic and Republican who sits on the permanent select committee on intelligence, said the president should be more aggressive in defending the surveillance programs that U.S. officials say have thwarted terrorist attacks, and more assertive with foreign partners.

“I find it troubling that the president has been so quiet on this. And again, I’m not saying he can control it, but there should be more of a presence including defending the NSA program,” King told CNN. “It just seems as if we’re adrift right now and I think that these countries are taking advantage of it.

“This is definitely a diplomatic hit at the president, at the U.S., but as Americans we have to support the president.”

You gotta admit, it’s pretty hilarious to hear Peter King say that.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:37 PM
June 20, 2013
Oh For a Guardian!

Too many wonderful perspectives on the NSA Prism story to comment on all of them, but some few require mention or at least quoting.

It’s fascinating to me that the British press is apparently ignoring Snowden’s revelations about Prism spying on attendees at the recent G20 meeting in the UK. Every major news outlet around the world talks about it except the primary organs of the British press. What’s up with that?

Is it a collective belief among a largely right-of-centre press that The Guardian is beyond the pale? This view emerged in a Daily Mail piece by Stephen Glover in which he spoke of the paper being so “driven by its own obsessions” as to “carelessly reveal the important secrets of the British government.”

The Mail holds aloft the banner of press freedom when citing the public’s right to know about Hugh Grant’s private life, but it appears to find it unacceptable for a paper to inform the people that their privacy has been compromised by their own government.

Damn, I’m with you on that! I wish we had a newspaper like The Guardian in the US, but I suppose that would be next to impossible here.

Then there’s this summary of the reality of cooperation between tech companies and the NSA which speaks for itself.

Christopher Soghoian, a senior policy analyst studying technological surveillance at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the relationship between the tech giants and the NSA has a fundamental — and ironic — flaw that guarantees the Prism scandal is unlikely to be the last time tensions surface between the two.

The US spying apparatus and Silicon Valley’s top tech firms are basically in the same business, collecting information on people, he said. “It’s a weird symbiotic relationship. It’s not that Facebook and Google are trying to build a surveillance system but they effectively have,” he said. “If they wanted to, Google and Facebook could use technology to tackle the issue, anonymizing and deleting their customers’ information. But that information is how they make their money, so that is never going to happen.”

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:31 PM
June 09, 2013
Of Course the NSA Is Watching You, That’s Nothing New

I share the general outrage at the breadth and depth of federal government spying on every aspect of our observable behavior. But I do not share the surprise. The NSA has long been hoovering up every bit of data it could get and maneuvering lawmakers into legalizing whatever happens, or at least leaving holes big enough to drive the largest agency in the so-called intelligence community right through. In 1995 I was reading about the Clipper Chip, which was a design for a computer encryption chip with a built-in back door called, appropriately, the Law Enforcement Exploitation Field. Open discussion of such a solution to the problem of balancing public and private needs at the time led to the demise of the design, which is why such designs were never done openly again.

During that time I began a letter to my representatives in Congress and the Senate outlining my objections to Clipper. These could not be stated reasonably without giving a brief history of the NSA, information that was not widely distributed at the time. The letter turned into a brief essay on that topic, bringing together information that was publicly available but at the time considered fringy because it did not fit the dominant narrative. It’s funny how often facts fail to conform to our narratives. Now that I think of it, that in a nutshell is what psychotherapy is about, or should be. In any case, what once was fringy is now common knowledge. So if you know someone who was talking about Echelon spying on them in the last several years, they may have been right.

One thing I want to emphasize about the current round of revelations is the tiny cost of the PRISM program. All the corporations named in the slide have vigorously denied participation in very carefully worded statements. But think of it this way. What can the federal government get in terms of super-secret personnel and equipment for $20 million a year? Not enough to gather and process all the information the program reportedly gets. So who pays the rest?

Below the fold is the argument I made in my essay in outline form. The links are to the original essay, which I should move here but I haven’t gotten around to doing it. I’ve also appended the text of the first three sections.


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Why the National Security Agency is a danger to American freedom
NSA is without statutory basis, charter, or oversight

“No statute establishes the NSA or defines the permissible scope of its responsibilities,” complained Senator Frank Church. The National Security Agency was established by President Truman in a still classified Executive order Oct. 24, 1952. Its direction is apparently supplied by the classified document currently known as National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) No. 6 (formerly No.9), originating on July 1, 1948.

As of 1982, the NSA was still without a statutory charter, the first recommendation of the Church committee. Oversight by the intelligence community in the form of the National Foreign Intelligence Board (NFIB, formerly USIB) is effectively meaningless. The board rarely if ever turns down NSA proposals; day-to-day contact between the agency and its customers in the intelligence community prevents a periodic oversight board from examining much more than NSA's stated policy.

NSA is funded in secret

Budgetary authority apparently comes from the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949. This act provides the basis for the secret spending program known as the Black Budget by allowing any arm of the government to transfer money to the CIA “without regard to any provisions of law,” and allowing the CIA to spend its funds as it sees fit, with no need to account for them. Congress passed the C.I.A. Act despite the fact that only the ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees knew anything about its contents; the remaining members of Congress were told that open discussion, or even clear explanation, of the bill would be counterproductive. There were complaints about the secrecy; but in the end the House passed the bill 348–4, and the Senate took a voice vote.

The NSA’s estimated $10 billion annual allocation (as of 1990) is funded entirely through the black budget. Thus Congress appropriates funds for the NSA not only without information on the agency’s plans, but without even a clear idea of the amount it appropriates; and it receives no accounting of the uses to which the funds were put. This naturally precludes any debate about the direction or management of such agencies, effectively avoiding public oversight while spending public funds. (Weiner notes the analogy to “Taxation without representation.”)

NSA has spied on US citizens
The NSA has also spent a great deal of time and money spying on American citizens. For twenty-one years after its inception it tracked every telegram and telex in and out of the United States, and monitored the telephone conversations of the politically suspect.” (Weiner, Blank Check)

Due to its unique ability to monitor communications within the U.S. without a warrant, which FBI and CIA cannot legally do, NSA becomes the center of attempts to spy on U.S. citizens. Nominally this involves only communications in which at least one terminal is outside the U.S., but in practice target lists have often grown to include communications between U.S. citizens within the country.

And political considerations have sometimes become important.

During the Nixon administration, for example, various agencies (e.g., FBI, CIA, Secret Service) requested that the NSA provide all information it encountered showing that foreign governments were attempting to influence or control activities of U.S. anti-war groups, as well as information on civil rights groups, draft resistance/evasion support groups, radical-related media activities, and so on, “where such individuals have some foreign connection,” probably not that uncommon given the reception such groups usually receive at home. Clearly it would have been illegal for those agencies to gather such information themselves without warrants, but they presumably believed that the NSA was not similarly restricted when they included on their watch lists such Nixonian bugaboos as Eldridge Cleaver, Abbie Hoffman, Jane Fonda. Joan Baez, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Presumably the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was removed from the watchlist the year Nixon was elected; certainly it was a targeted name before that time.


[The remainder of the essay is here.]

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 09:54 PM
April 26, 2013
Daddy’s Little Boy

Yesterday’s cringe-worthy dedication of Bush’s Folly leads me to re-post, not for the first time but I hope for the last, my 2006 psychoanalysis of the frat boy president. (For further elaboration on the theme, see this from 2002.)

The younger Bush’s career can only be understood as a lifelong obsession with disappointing the father he so plainly hates.

He follows his father’s footsteps in school, as a pilot, as a businessman, and finally as a politician. Unable to fill those footprints, he made each one seem unimportant by pretending contempt for it. He got C’s where his father got A’s; he was a cheerleader while his father captained the baseball team; he ducked the combat flying that made his father a hero; he burned through the seed money his father’s friends gave him, failing in the oil business which had made his father rich.

At last he was taken in hand by a sleazy political op who realized that the father’s name and money would be enough to elect the wayward son governor of Texas. (Polls at the time showed that a significant portion of the voters thought that W. actually was his father.)

Then Karl Rove set out to hand-carry his meal ticket into the White House itself.

Take that, you old fart, junior must have thought as he took the oath of office. Any asshole can get to be president. But even that wasn’t enough. Deep inside, where the Oedipal snakes writhed in his subconscious, there was still work to do.

What better to way to humiliate his father than to degrade the supreme office the old man had spent his life to reach? What sweeter revenge than to slime, like a slug, the presidency itself? And so he enlisted Rumsfeld and Cheney, his father’s ancient enemies, to help in the work of patricide.

Outdoing his father as president, the junior Bush must have known in his heart, was beyond his limited capacities. But his whole life offered proof of his ability to fail, and so he took the only path remaining. He would become, God help the rest of us, the worst president in history.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:42 AM
April 08, 2013
Guilty Bystanders

To refresh your memory, here’s the Cliff Notes version of the Atlanta test-rigging scandal:

In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury.

Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison.

Sadly for Dr. Hall she is not — unlike Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, John Paulson, Ken Lewis of Bank of America, et cetera and ad nauseam — too big to jail. As are also the massed forces of the Republican Party working so effectively to destroy our public school system. Dr. Hall and her teachers were just caught up in the process. Jay Bookman explains:

After all, Hall and other education leaders operate within a structure of reward and punishment every bit as real as that within APS. And as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets have reported, similar cheating problems have popped up in school districts around the country. Most have occurred in poverty-stricken districts where the educational challenges can be overwhelming, the pressure to improve is immense and the needle is very hard to move.

Hall did not enact the federal No Child Left Behind policy mandating a strict regimen of testing, including a menu of rewards for success and harsh punishment for failure. She did not wave hundreds of millions of dollars in private foundation money in front of school districts to encourage them to hire, fire, promote and pay almost exclusively on the basis of standardized testing. Hall didn’t treat academic progress as an economic development tool too useful to Atlanta’s “brand” to be questioned, as some in the business community did. Like her APS underlings, Hall merely responded, somewhat rationally, to a system that was designed by others and that demanded results too good to be true too quickly.

That is an underappreciated aspect of this tragedy. By other standards, including untainted National Assessment of Educational Progress testing, Atlanta public schools did make measurable, sustained progress during the Hall era. But in an environment that demands a scale of improvement that only charlatans can deliver, it wasn’t enough.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:52 AM
March 24, 2013
Where WIll Change Come From?

Populism in the western democracies has become a threat, says Anthony Painter at the Guardian. And that’s happened because the elites that govern our American democracy, a standard for other countries, have become entrenched and comfortable. But making these adjustments to the ship of state has thrown it off course, so that it is now headed full speed in a direction a majority of the passengers don’t want to go while failing to provide services most of them need and desire.

Which is a perfect situation for populists, usually of the right-wing variety, to point to the obvious flaws in the functioning of the current system as evidence of its inherent incompetence to voice the will of the majority. Painter points out that the view many of these populists hold is that the majority will should always be respected, which of course is not the basic premise of modern democracies, where the rights of minorities are also protected. The majority may be racist, for example, or there may be a pervasive rape culture, but were that a fact the democratic society that allowed it would not be executing its stated program.

So Painter claims that the modern democracies had better get it together and start addressing the problems at hand rather than enriching themselves and fighting over who gets to give the kill order or contribute to the most environmental destruction.

…maybe there is some truth in the populist critique of political elites — in Brussels, Washington and right through western democracies — and the way they have embedded their own self-interest in the system. Mainstream parties have lost their edge. They have grown comfortable, closed and politically nepotistic — relying on voters having nowhere else to go. That works for a while but becomes progressively more difficult to sustain. Mainstream democracy needs to become a contact sport again — with greater openness and engagement between the people and those who seek to represent them. Parties need to open up to real change and diversity.

Given the entrenched nature of the Republican right wing described by Andrew Kohut in his recent WaPo piece, that party seems unlikely to open up to real change, and resisting diversity is a central tenet for its base. Which might lead some to conclude that this puts pressure on the Democratic party to fill the gap; but my understanding of political history makes me think otherwise.

Consider how the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the threat of a workers’ state — which of course the USSR did not embody, but the capitalist states considered it a philosophical threat nonetheless — unleashed western capitalism, which returned to its worker-exploiting ways, reducing the social safety net on the premise that there’s not enough money to pay for it. Of course the reason there’s not enough is that it’s all concentrated at the top at levels comparable those that led to the Great Depression. As Chomsky says, they’re trying to roll back the twentieth century, and at this point they’re winning.

The knowledge that the Republicans are hopelessly locked into their positions seems to me to remove any pressure from the Democrats to change their own self-interested methods. The crazier the Republicans seem, the more people who would have no alternative but to vote Democrat. So why change?

As Chomsky says, no individual alone can change things. That’s why we’re being atomized so we each have our own car, TV, and news. We can each be programmed individually, leaving us operating in a consensus reality that’s constructed for profit. Sounds like a movie…

Change won’t come strictly from within. Power never conceded anything unless it was forced to, and that force can only be mounted when the popular will takes the form of community action.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:17 PM
March 07, 2013
Was Chávez Satan, Or Merely a Lesser Demon?

The two main newspapers in the Soviet Union were Pravda and Izvestia. Pravda means truth, and Izvestia means news. This led to a clever play on words: There is no truth in news, and there is no news in truth. I was assured by several Russians that nobody ever believed Soviet propaganda. They knew they were being lied to about everything. My response was always the same, “I’m not so sure that’s always the case in America.”

But then we have better propaganda. It doesn’t hammer you with turgid dogma. It smuggles its biases in more subtly so that the average reader might not notice. For example, if you’re commuting to work on the subway and just glance through the New York Times, you might not catch on that entire articles about US foreign policy are often based exclusively on official government sources: Pentagon sources say; State Department sources say; According to White House officials … They also quote smart sounding people from smart sounding think tanks that no one outside of the Beltway ever heard of, but who probably play golf with your representative every week. They use bland and even-handed language, which everyone knows is how serious and objective people talk.

It works like magic, particularly with regard to foreign affairs. Your average American, even your relatively well-informed one, rarely develops any genuine understanding of the world. Instead, they come away with hazy and simplistic impressions, and these more or less correspond with official US attitudes. Old Europe is socialistic and effeminate; entitlements are bankrupting them. Scrappy little Israel is always right, the medieval Arabs are always wrong, and they treat women badly; they need us to lead them to democracy. There is nothing from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego but one big coke-ridden Mexico. The Russians are still closet commies. Cutting the defense budget will weaken America. Sooner or later, we have to bomb Iran. Invading Iraq was a well-intentioned mistake, but the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. Then it’s off to the voting both to fulfill your civic duty.

This kind of comic book thinking is most obvious when we appraise foreign leaders, who fall into three categories: good, bad, and French. David Cameron, being the British Prime Minister, is good. So was Tony Blair. Hell, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill were practically American. (Winston Churchill’s mother actually was). Mahmoud can’t-ever-get-his-last-name-right in Iran, is bad. He wants to wipe Israel off the map. Netanyahu is kind of an asshole, but a good asshole. He’s a tough patriot who is willing to call it like it is and make tough decisions, you know, like Harry Truman was. Castro is Satan, and so too was his protégé, Hugo Chávez, who we’re told is now burning in hell (which is where bad guys who nationalize their oil fields always go). Any foreign leader who takes an independent line but isn’t obviously a baddie is French. The UN Secretary General usually falls into this category.

This is precisely the level of sophistication that your average American brings to the table when contemplating war and peace, and it’s not an accident. We are only allowed two possible responses to any international crisis: cower under our beds or go marching boldly off to war. In order to ensure these reactions, the world has to be drawn in stark black and white terms. The fact that this kind of thinking has always been a part of our national character just helps matters along.

This process has been on full display since Hugo Chávez died. The Acceptable Opinion Machine has gone into overdrive to make sure that Mr. and Mrs. America come away with the Right Impression. The cruder right-wing outlets, preaching to the choir, as it were, tell you outright that Chávez was the devil, worse than Stalin even, and he’s burning in hell. But that’s a given. More insidious is the bias in the mainstream press. I found this gem today: “Despite oil donations, offers of Katrina aid, Chávez never caught on as savior of poor in US.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez offered to send thousands of soldiers, firefighters and volunteers to help with the cleanup. He also pledged $1 million in aid plus fuel to help rebuild hard-hit cities like New Orleans.

The offer, swiftly rejected, was part of a larger pattern: Chávez’s repeated attempts to provide humanitarian relief to low-income and distressed U.S. families. Despite those efforts, he was never able to foster his image as a savior of the American poor like he did in Venezuela. More often, he was accused of orchestrating politically motivated ploys that in the end helped relatively few Americans.

It’s possible that Chávez never caught on as a savior of the US poor because his offers were “swiftly rejected.” Who swiftly rejected them, and why? No answer. Instead, we’re left with the impression that, you know, we Americans just don’t go for that commie stuff.

And who accused him of “orchestrating politically motivated ploys”? And why should it matter? The victims of Katrina wouldn’t have cared why Chávez was helping them, they would have just been happy that he was doing it (this is precisely why the aid offers were “swiftly rejected,” of course.) The Marshall Plan was a politically motivated ploy designed to undermine the appeal of communism in war-torn western Europe. Does that make it a bad thing? Motivations don’t really matter; actions do. But that introduces gray into our black and white worldview, so it has to be left out.

A think tanker then puts it all into perspective for us:

“Many people questioned his motivation,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society think tank. “Was this a true humanitarian gesture or was it an opportunity to stick it in the eye of the United States? I think many people in the U.S. thought it was the latter.”

Many people might be curious about what the hell the Council of the Americas and Americas Society think tank is. I’m not exactly sure, but if you go to their web site you’ll read that they are a group of opinion leaders who, surprise surprise, favor open markets. How original. So many opinion leaders, so few opinions. If you click the link that says “COA Corporate Members,” you’ll see a sparkling cavalcade of well-meaning individuals whose motivations are always pure: AIG, Archer Daniels Midland, Bank of America, Cargill, Chevron, Coca-Cola, etc. The list goes on. I wonder, is this a group of selfless opinion leaders who want to help Latin America, or just a front group for corporations who want to stick it in the rear of the Venezuelan people? Many of us think it is the latter. It would have been helpful if our intrepid reporters mentioned this not insignificant detail, but they clearly had bigger fish to fry:

While much of Chávez’s socialist vision would have been in line with that of many American liberals, he never gained widespread admiration in the U.S.

Hollywood actor Sean Penn and director Oliver Stone praised him, but they were the exception, and many were hesitant to embrace a leader with military roots who shut down media outlets and abolished term limits

Everybody knows liberals don’t mind leaders with military roots who shut down media outlets, especially Hollywood elites like Sean Penn and Oliver Stone. Apparently, conservatives have always abhorred military dictatorships in Latin America. Let me remind you that this is not World Net Daily or Fox News. It’s from the Associated Press.

That’s how propaganda is done. The ground is being prepared to bring democracy, USA Inc. style, to Venezuela. One bright shiny morning, free market principles will be restored, and the peasants, liberated from the tyranny of free healthcare and education, can get right with God again.

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Posted by OHollern at 05:10 PM
Alas…

…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.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:53 AM
March 06, 2013
The Party of D.I.Y.

Unable to find any actual voter fraud anywhere, the Republics were forced to create their own. See, the Republics were then able to cry to the Democratics, we told you so! Nyaah nyaah.

Two former employees of Strategic Allied Consulting, a company once hired by the Republican Party of Florida, admitted that they forged voter registration forms. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Tuesday that the two, Rebekah Joy Paul and Christian Davis Price, were charged with a third-degree felony. Republicans hired the company for registration drives in Florida and other states. Last fall, the state party fired the company and filed an election fraud complaint with the state.
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:11 PM
March 04, 2013
Lipstick on an Elephant

Here’s your monthly link to Frank Rich’s column in New York magazine, and an excerpt:

Plan B for a GOP resuscitation is — or was — the quick fix of finding a ready-made messiah, preferably one who could be anointed the new Ronald Reagan. Such was the Platonic idea, if not the reality, of Marco Rubio, the 41-year-old first-term Cuban-American senator from Florida who induced orgasms among conservative elders with his potential to put “a new face” on the party. Rubio is “the best communicator” since Reagan, in the estimation of Rove — an analogy echoed by many, including John McCain. (McCain has also judged Romney and Sarah Palin to be Reaganesque, but never mind.) Rubio “can explain his views on Univision without a translator,” enthused the awestruck Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush speech­writer. Or, as another onetime Bush spin artist, Nicolle Wallace, chimed in: “He’s everything we need and more. He’s modern. He knows who Tupac is. He’s on social media.” A Spanish-speaking young (or at least youngish) guy who has listened to a black person (if only through headphones) and is on that newfangled Facebook — cool! The only way he could check more demographic boxes coveted by Republicans would be if he turned out to be gay. Alas, Plan B fizzled while the Time cover anointing Rubio “The Republican Savior” was still on the newsstands. The savior’s disastrous response to Obama’s State of the Union address did for a bottle of Poland Spring water what Clint Eastwood did for an empty chair…
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:28 PM
February 27, 2013
Unnatural Coupling

This from Sheila C. Bair, former chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, writing in the New York Times:

But I fear that government actions, not merit, have fueled these extremes in income distribution through taxpayer bailouts, central-bank-engineered financial asset bubbles and unjustified tax breaks that favor the rich.

This is not a situation that any freethinking Republican should accept.


This is believed to be the first time since the early 20th century that the words “freethinking” and “Republican” have been seen out together, holding hands in public.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:16 AM
February 24, 2013
Tailgunner Ted

Here’s the GOP’s Messiah of the Month, Senator Ted Cruz, remembering grim times at Harvard Law School from 1992 to 1995:

“There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

OMG, back then I used to walk past the law school every day on my way to work! Innocent me, I never dreamed there was a Republican inside.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:30 AM
February 20, 2013
Biting the Hand

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it,” according to Upton Sinclair. But suppose you were a top executive of, let’s say, something called the Cerner Corporation. Your salary just went through the roof due to a Democrat president whereas you yourself were a staunch Republic. Would self-interest and maybe even a smidgen of gratitude then lead you to become a Democratic? Upton Sinclair would have predicted just that, but then what would you expect from a Social?

Meanwhile, back in the real world, we learn from the New York Times that:

While proponents say new record-keeping technologies will one day reduce costs and improve care, profits and sales are soaring now across the records industry. At Allscripts, annual sales have more than doubled from $548 million in 2009 to an estimated $1.44 billion last year, partly reflecting daring acquisitions made on the bet that [Obamacare] would be a boon for the industry. At the Cerner Corporation of Kansas City, Mo., sales rose 60 percent during that period. With money pouring in, top executives are enjoying Wall Street-style paydays…

Cerner’s lobbying dollars doubled to nearly $400,000 between 2006 and last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. While its political action committee contributed a little to some Democrats in 2008, including Senator Baucus, its contributions last year went almost entirely to Republicans, with a large amount going to the Mitt Romney campaign.

Current and former industry executives say that big digital records companies like Cerner, Allscripts and Epic Systems of Verona, Wis., have reaped enormous rewards because of the legislation they pushed for. “Nothing that these companies did in my eyes was spectacular,” said John Gomez, the former head of technology at Allscripts. “They grew as a result of government incentives.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:12 PM
January 07, 2013
Hagel Could Be a Game-Changer

No individual embodies everything I want in a political leader. Few embody more than one or two things I want. So in choosing who I support and who I don’t I’m forced to consider a person’s qualities in light of the tasks they’ll be assigned. From that point of view I have no hesitation in endorsing Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. I expect the national media will immediately pick up my endorsement resulting in an easy confirmation. Yeah, that’ll happen.

Certainly there are aspects of Hagel that are suboptimal from the point of view of a leader of society. But consider him solely as a SecDef and he looks more than good, he looks almost game-changing, As Peter Beinart points out, Republican officials and pundits have escaped consequence for their promotion of the most recent war on Iraq, and Hagel will never let those consequences be overlooked. Democrats have been timid with respect to stating their views and have failed to stand and fight against the hawkish Republicans. Beinart suggests that Hagel will counter both of these tendencies, serving as an object lesson in how to change the direction of the ship of state.

Hagel’s main qualifications, in my opinion, are summed up in his unassailable national-security credentials, his history of saying on the record what many others say only in private, and a record of being right about controversial issues. For example, Beinart quotes the reliably mindless bellwether Thomas Friedman: “I am certain that the vast majority of U.S. senators and policy makers quietly believe exactly what Hagel believes on Israel.” His rational rather than blind support of Israel is one of the main reasons I support his nomination.

The other main reason is his experience in Vietnam, not as a fighter or bomber pilot but as a grunt, someone who actually gets shot at. That has made him much less likely to send other young people into similar situations. With Hagel as SecDef, McCain’s "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran" will get the consideration it deserves, and the ridicule as well.

What really ticks off the Republicans is that Hagel realized early on that his vote to allow the war on Iraq was a mistake and he began advocating against the war. Though, as David Sirota has pointed out, he continued to vote for the funding needed to keep it going. Even worse than opposing a particular war, Hagel appears to be down on war in general, overt heresy in the D.C. culture so heavily influenced by the "defense" industry. As Joan Walsh puts it, “Hagel is better on defense policy than a lot of Democrats.”

The Republicans are often said to be resolving into a party of the ultra-rich and the former Confederacy. Michael Tomasky has done the math on the recent fiscal cliff deal, which passed with Democratic votes because Republicans voted against it 151-85. Tomasky shows that if you remove the House members from the Confederate States of America, the bill passed with overwhelming support from Republicans, 62-36. The country is, as he says, in thrall to the most regressive and least evolved section, and I can hope with him that the South will continue to separate itself until it is “totally marginalized in American politics”.

What seems to be happening is that the elite in Washington, and particularly the Republican sector, have grown so disconnected from the world most citizens inhabit that they don’t realize a global consciousness is growing. It is no longer possible to fool most of the people most of the time in the fashion that has dominated US politics for nearly the entire history of the country. Those whose entire philosophy of government is predicated on disinformation are staring at a new world in which they’re quickly caught out, and they have yet to adjust.

Confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense could, as Beinart claims, be a watershed moment in the Obama administration. And given the extreme problems we face now, it can’t arrive too soon.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:27 PM
December 29, 2012
Don’t Give ’Em Time to Read It

The outlines of a deal to avoid the inaccurately named fiscal cliff are being reported. The question is how they expect whatever deal they come up with to pass the House. There appear to be two major alternatives.

The first attempt might be for McConnell to allow a Senate vote on the proposal. He’s up for reelection in 2014 so he has to watch his right flank; otherwise he’d probably be pressuring the House to do something semi-rational to avoid destroying the party. As it is, both he and Boehner are facing difficult political situations. Reid is probably right that Boehner’s worried about holding onto his job when the new Congress begins its work. If he pisses off too many Republicans by whatever action he takes or fails to take, he could see a challenge from his own party. He’s already said the House will take up whatever the Senate passes, either passing or amending it. But he might find that doing so will end his tenure as Speaker, and switch to the second alternative of going over the cliff and waiting until after his reelection to the post before bringing up an unpopular bill.

The discussions among the leaders and their staffs are apparently continuing on the premise that it will take the 100-member Senate until Sunday night or Monday morning to pass the bill. That leaves about 24 hours for the 435-member House to examine, amend, and pass the bill before the country goes over the cliff. Everyone knows that the polls say twice as many people will blame the Republicans as blame Obama, and the Republicans will eat higher tax rates for the rich if they go over the cliff. Obama has threatened the negotiators by asking Reid to bring up Obama’s original proposal for a yes-or-no vote if the negotiators fail. This would focus a bright spotlight on McConnell while he’s trying to avoid notice as he helps to raise tax rates. If he filibusters the bill he’ll be hit as a tax raiser, and if he lets it come to a vote it will probably pass. That will put pressure on Boehner to live up to his promise and allow the bill to be voted on. But the House will have only a few hours to look at the compromise bill, far too little to allow for amendments.

What it looks like is that Boehner has admitted his inability to get any bill at all past his dysfunctional caucus, figuratively (as far as I know) throwing up his hands. So the other negotiators have crafted a plan that leaves no room for his restive members to fight, forcing them at the last minute to vote to keep taxes from rising or to let everyone in the country pay higher rates the next day. That will be a tough vote for many Republicans, and such a bill would only pass because it had a majority of Democrats voting for it.

This extremity would be just what the tea partiers in the House want, and it might even help them get reelected, as Nate Silver points out. But if the compromise bill were to fail, or if Boehner would once again be too afraid to bring the bill to a vote, the Republican brand would suffer greatly on the national level, putting the White House out of reach for some years to come.

The Democrats, and particularly Obama, have forced the Republican leadership into a corner where they have to choose between mollifying their tea party wing and remaining a nationally relevant party. This will be fun to watch.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:24 PM
December 09, 2012
If Only Grover Norquist…

…had thought of this:

TOKYO — Shintaro Ishihara has been a rare, flamboyant presence in Japan’s otherwise drab political world for four decades. A novelist turned right-wing firebrand, he has long held celebrity status on the political margins, where he was known for dramatic flourish. He once signed a pact in blood to oppose diplomatic ties with China because of its communist government…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:36 PM
December 05, 2012
The Senate Soils Its Pants

Well, only 37 Republican members of it did. The 38th was Louisiana’s Diaper Dave Vitter. Still, it was enough to shame the United States in the eyes of the world. And yet these 38 despicable men didn’t even have the customary excuse of political cowardice; doing the decent thing would have cost them no more than a handful of votes at home. No, they were acting out of principle. Which ought to tell you something.

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, his 89-year old body now weakened by age, illness and war injuries, sat quietly in a wheelchair on the Senate floor Tuesday, watching the debate over a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled.

He may have recalled an earlier time.

More than 43 years ago, Dole delivered his first speech on the very same floor — on disability rights. Later, as one of the most powerful members of the Senate, he pushed through the Americans with Disabilities Act, a measure designed to protect citizens grappling with accidents and disease.

Now he had come the Senate floor, perhaps for the last time, to persuade lawmakers to adopt a treaty supporters said would extend disability protections around the world…

Only 61 senators voted for the treaty, officially known as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Sixty-six votes were needed for passage.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:33 PM
What the Matter With Kansas Is

For those who wonder what would happen if the GOP had won the presidency and both houses last month, an interesting experiment is playing out right now in Kansas. It turns out that the laws of math still apply, even inside The Bubble:

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Acknowledging that the state is facing a “hard dip” in revenues, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday that the Legislature should consider ways to pay for massive income tax cuts that he signed into law earlier this year…

Legislative fiscal analysts predicted the tax cuts would cost the state about $3.7 billion in revenue over five years.

Brownback and other advocates of the tax plan are banking that a short-term dip in tax revenues will eventually be replaced with revenues created by economic growth spurred by the tax cuts.

When Brownback first proposed the income tax plan in January, he did propose a number of ways to cover lost revenue, but he ran into trouble when lawmakers received a cool reception from constituents who didn’t want to give up their home mortgage interest deduction.

He also ran into a public relations problem when it was revealed that his tax plan — as originally proposed — would actually have raised taxes on people with incomes under $25,000 while lowering taxes for everyone else.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:50 AM
December 02, 2012
Poor Babies

This from Corey Robin. Does it remind you of any major American political party?

But there was another side to this embrace of the fugitive intellect: the acute sense of wounded victimhood, which sounded like nothing so much as the grievances of a revolutionary class in the making. The master class performed that strange alchemy, so peculiar to privileged groups, by which the enjoyment of power — not just on the plantation or in the South but in national political institutions as well — is turned into the anxiety of persecution.

Calhoun was the master of this transposition, borrowing directly from the abolitionist canon to make the case that it was the slaveholder that was the true slave. He compared the tariff to the exploitation and extraction of slavery and the federal government’s use of coercive power against the states to the “bond between master and slave — a union of exaction on one side and of unqualified obedience on the other.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:47 PM
November 20, 2012
Gringos Discover That Wetbacks Vote

Peteykins, the artist formerly known as Princess Sparkle Pony, has drawn up for the GOP an outreach program aimed at The Little Brown Ones. Samples:

● April 30, 2013: Bobby Jindal grows mustache, looks in mirror, says to himself, “I could pass.”

● May 25, 2014: Washington Post ombudsman takes George Will to task for over-reliance on obscure Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende references in his columns.

● December 18, 2015: Arizona governor Joe Arpaio thrilled to announce that Nogales has been chosen as the site of 2016 Republican National Convention.

● January 4, 2016: In desperate last-ditch effort to win Iowa caucus, Rick Santorum changes first name to “Speedy.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:05 PM
November 09, 2012
Rich as Croesus But Dumb as a Brick

I find it hard to believe, but

Mitt Romney’s campaign got its first hint something was wrong on the afternoon of Election Day, when state campaign workers on the ground began reporting huge turnout in areas favorable to President Obama: northeastern Ohio, northern Virginia, central Florida and Miami-Dade.

Seriously, the first hint was on election day? This article must be partial recompense to the Republicans’ secret sources of millions for the relative paucity of results those millions, or rather hundreds of millions, purchased. Karl Rove’s standing is likely to be severely compromised amongst those donors, one of whom is complaining about the lack of transparency (!) in these organizations that everyone knows were invented as secret money conduits. Bit of a catch-22, eh?

So Rove and his ilk are now forced to scramble to justify their existences, or at least their fat paychecks (to repeat the immortal line, “Keep your chins up, Karl!”). You could see how excited Karl was about that Tuesday evening in the clip that’s been linked to so many times I’m gonna skip looking it up. He apparently was serious in disbelieving the Ohio results, though one might suspect a Linda McMahon influence. But he had a lot of money riding on convincing rich folks that his fantasies weren’t delusional.

So what’s Romney’s excuse and that of his senior advisors?

… it wasn’t until the polls closed that concern turned into alarm.

[…]

After Ohio went for Mr. Obama, it was over, but senior advisers say no one could process it.

“We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory,” said one senior adviser. “I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”

They just couldn’t believe they had been so wrong. And maybe they weren’t: There was Karl Rove on Fox saying Ohio wasn’t settled, so campaign aides decided to wait. They didn’t want to have to withdraw their concession, like Al Gore did in 2000, and they thought maybe the suburbs of Columbus and Cincinnati, which hadn’t been reported, could make a difference.

Could they possibly be so dense that not one person among the senior staff saw this coming? I realize these folks are constitutionally opposed to the New York Times but they could certainly employ less scrupulous sorts to scan, say, Nate Silver’s blog, or check out TPM’s predictions, or HuffPo’s. Silver was the king this time, correctly predicting all states so far decided and in other ways showing how the state poll numbers can be crunched to yield reliable results. These models have been in existence for more than one presidential election cycle; Silver’s, for example, correctly predicted 49 states in 2008. How can the Republicans have been so disconnected from reality?

My guess is their propaganda machine has become so polished that it can readily convince all the high RWAs, those right-wing authoritarian types who line up to be told what to do, of any thesis the owners of the Mighty Wurlitzer choose to propound. The problem is that most of the high RWAs are already on their side, and the rest of us find their authoritarian milieu offputting. They consider this moral weakness, of course, but that’s an easy argument to make in any case.

The outcome is that when they put out a new thesis, it’s one they already believe, and when they repeat it among themselves we get the well-known and unsurprising echo chamber effect. What is surprising is to find that those at the top of this pyramid who seem to run it for their own benefit actually seem to believe their own propaganda. The numbers from the various publicized models were all pretty much in line with each other, yet the Romney campaign decided not to believe them.

Chomsky used to talk about the Wall Street Journal having some of the best reporting because its audience included actual decision makers who needed facts rather than propaganda. That was, of course, before the era of Murdoch and consequently Mourdock. Nowadays the decision makers, at least those of Republican persuasion, seem to have been persuaded by their own propaganda. And to have had their disregard for demonstrable facts bite them in the collective ass as a result.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:20 AM
November 04, 2012
Average White Wealth = 22 x Average Black Wealth

Gary Younge has another fine article up at the Guardian site. A black Briton whose parents immigrated there from Barbados, he spends a lot of time trying to explain us Americans to his British readers. It’s often in such outside appraisals that we first realize something interesting about ourselves.

In this one he’s talking about the situation faced by black people in the US today. As he points out, African-Americans are the most optimistic demographic group over the past few years. They’re more likely to feel that the economy is improving, that the country’s best days are yet to come, and that they themselves are better off than they were four years ago. They’re more likely to believe that the gap between blacks and whites in terms of income is decreasing. The problem is, most of this is not true.

In fact, blacks are worse off than they were four years ago. The wealth gap between blacks and whites has doubled, with whites now having 22 times the average wealth of blacks. The education gap has increased. While the national unemployment rate has remained fairly steady under the Obama administration, black unemployment has gone up 11%.

One can argue about the cause of those changes and the degree to which Obama bears any responsibility for either creating them or fixing them. But one cannot argue about the fact of them: the ascent of America’s first black president has coincided with the one of the steepest descents of the economic fortunes of black Americans since the second world war both in real terms and relative to whites.

This situation stands in stark contrast to the devotion of black voters to the president’s election. Both four years ago and now Obama can count on 90% of the vote from the African-American community, though as one community leader told Younge, that’s 90% of those motivated enough to go vote. Yet the fact remains that the group most loyal to Obama has benefited least from his tenure. Still, very few members of that group have questioned the president's approach or policies, at least publicly.

In part this is understandable. If a black leader publicly criticized Obama the comment would be replayed endlessly on Fox and all the right-wing radio stations and websites. Still, Younge reports that even among themselves black American intellectuals can be thought disloyal for critiquing the president, though the critic be known as a solid Obama supporter. This helps neither the country in its quest for the right path nor the black community in its search for a fair and equal place in American life. I hasten to add that this is not meant to blame the disadvantaged but to point out that all sectors of society must be willing to view others as they view themselves, and vice versa. Any group is proud to have one of its members in the White House for the first time, and no group has been more exploited and poorly treated than African-Americans except perhaps the Native Americans. Thank heaven we can finally get past the theory that a black person cannot be president. Now the question is whether this one is doing well or poorly.

Rather than bringing a post-racial era, Obama’s election has led to the most polarized electorate on racial issues in a generation. A recent AP poll found that just over half of all Americans now harbor racist attitudes against African-Americans and about the same for Hispanics. We have by no means cast aside our racist past and grown up. Considerations such as these recall

an era of black political leadership, where black politicians emerged from the church or historically black colleges, and fought not to win office outside the black community (white people wouldn’t vote for them) but to put the needs of that community on the agenda. There was, in a previous generation, a sense of ownership that black communities had over their politicians that no longer exists. This is partly progress. Ivy League universities will admit them, corporations will hire them, funds will come to them, white people will now vote for them. A whole range of opportunities are open to politicians of Obama’s generation that were created by Cornel West’s generation.

But that, in turn, has changed what it means to be a black politician and what, if anything, we mean when we talk about black politics. Unlike, say, Jesse Jackson or Martin Luther King, Obama was not politically produced by the black community, but presented to it after he had made his way through the mostly white elites. His political ties to the black community are not organic but symbolic. His arrival in the political class is hailed as the progress of a community when in fact it is the advancement of an individual.

“[Obama] is being consumed as the embodiment of color blindness,” Angela Davis, professor of history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told me in late 2007. “It’s the notion that we have moved beyond racism by not taking race into account. That’s what makes him conceivable as a presidential candidate. He’s become the model of diversity in this period … a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference. The change that brings no change.”

There’s lots more in this meaty article. Did you know that Obama’s most recent State of the Union speech was the first one since 1948 not to mention poverty or the poor? And as Younge says, when he does talk about it, it’s to recommend better parenting, healthy meals, and greater discipline. How, one might ask, are parents to provide healthy meals and greater discipline when they’re struggling or unable to pay the bills in a depressed economy in a failing empire where for generations their exploited families have not had a fair shake?

At a Congressional Black Caucus meeting in September [Obama] told his former colleagues: “Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying.” Compare that to the meeting he had with bankers not long after he was elected when they thought he was going to impose serious regulation. “I’m the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks. I’m not out there to go after you,” he told them. “I’m protecting you.”

All our public resources go to maintaining the ability of our corporations and financial institutions to exploit the world, and of course the ability of our military machine to take and hold whatever territory or resource those corporations deem necessary for their health and well-being, in other words their profit margins. Our economy has tanked because certain elements of society whose wealth gives them inordinate influence have discovered how easily they, through the media outlets they collectively monopolize, can gin up enthusiasm for war, tax cuts for the rich, reduced access to health care and education for the rest of us, and other such programs that would be impossible to impose on an informed citizenry. One cannot count on informed citizens in a democracy judging correctly at every single election; but an uninformed citizenry is hardly ever right and then only by chance, when it has failed to grab the bait dangled by the professional misleaders.

Unfortunately it is often those at the bottom of the economic ladder who are most familiar with the facts. They may or may not be exposed to the same amount of propaganda as those above them, but they are most certainly exposed to the harsh facts on the ground, to use the phrase government planners, especially military ones, have made us all familiar with in recent years. For African-Americans in particular this is not new knowledge; they’ve been exposed to the harsh facts for almost four hundred years, and it has shaped their political views, leaders, and movements. It has shaped their expectations. This, Younge suggests, might help us understand their optimism for the future despite difficult current circumstances and poor prospects.

That black Americans are doing worse than everyone else, and that the man they elected to turn that around has not done so, does not fundamentally change their view of how American politics works; almost every other Democratic president has failed in a similar way while Republicans have not even tried to succeed.

Conversely the fact that a black man might be elected president, that enough white people might vote for him and that nobody has shot him, really has changed their assumptions about what is possible.

This is why I cast my ballot for Obama last time, voting for a Democrat for the first time since 1988. William Greider argued that Obama’s election would end white supremacy in America; and I came to see that as a step that would be difficult to reverse, thus justifying my vote for someone I expected to be a poor president. (Little did I know.) To my mind the re-emergence of relatively open racism on the public stage seems entirely predictable: white supremacy will not concede its unearned privilege and power as long as any recourse remains. Nor is that subset of society among the more enlightened or introspective, rather the opposite; thus rationality and argument are of little use.

In the end, though, white supremacy cannot be allowed to direct the course of society, and the lowered expectations of African-Americans and other mistreated groups must not be continually confirmed, if the United States is regain the path toward the ideals stated in the country’s founding documents. We must practice looking at policies and effects, judging for ourselves what might help modify our current hell-bound trajectory. Critiques are not treason.

The day Obama took office, the world may have looked at black America differently, but black America has yet to look at Obama differently. When he went from being an aspiration to a fact of political life, the posters that bore his likeness in socialist realist style over single-word commands like Hope, Believe and Change should have been replaced with posters bearing the single-word statement: power. As Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Having cast my vote for Barack Obama four years ago hoping for, and getting, nothing more than an African-American president, I feel liberated now to return to my beliefs and vote for Jill Stein. If Romney wins California you can blame me; but it would be more sensible to blame Obama’s alliance with, even sellout to, power.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:57 AM
October 26, 2012
Read These Stories Or I’ll Kill You

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.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:02 PM
October 21, 2012
So There!

And you thought all us old white guys were complete morons. Whereas only most of us are:

Roughly 5 percent of respondents in Reuters/Ipsos polls said they chose the Republican contender in 2008 and will switch to Obama in 2012. This number peaked at around 9 percent two separate times over the summer, according to data collected since January.

Who are these defectors?

Jeff Waltrip, 56, is a retired electrician and retail worker who has voted Republican all his life. But in his view Obama “has done a good job with what he was left with, and I truly believe that allowing Mitt Romney in there is going to make the world a whole lot worse than it is now.” Waltrip said he liked the Republican ticket in 2008 because McCain is a veteran and because Sarah Palin “made me laugh.”

The McCain-to-Obama switchers are 55 percent male, and 34 percent of them are 55 or older. (Overall, Obama trails Romney 34 percent to 52 percent among white men over 50.) About 72 percent of them are white.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:04 AM
October 13, 2012
Forced to Sell Hard-Won Rights

What I’d like to see is a website that gathers political news from around the world. Not a CNN-style brunch buffet with a little taste from here and an exotic relish from there, but a serious meal of politics that took a global view. American news sources don’t even make a stab at this. Talking Points Memo does a great job with American politics but rarely even mentions major developments in the UK, let alone any non-English speaking countries other than perhaps Israel.

For instance, I saw this article in the Guardian a couple days ago but haven’t seen the story in American sources, though it seems a natural for the more liberal-leaning among them. The article is headlined “George Osborne unveils employee ‘shares for rights’ scheme”, and subtitled “Proposal would allow firms to make new staff forfeit key rights, such as redundancy, in exchange for tax-exempt shares”. So I expect we’ll see similar initiatives here after the election. The setting for the announcement, after all, would fit right into the red, white, and blue stages our political candidates favor.


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That in a nutshell is where we today: democracy is being bought in the most overt and explicit manner possible. If you’re not a UK politics buff you might not know that George Osborne is the Chancellor, which is not quite equivalent to the American Secretary of the Treasury because the Chancellor is more independent of the chief executive, and is thus in many ways the second most powerful person in the British government. So this is not some random wacko among the right-wing punditry calling for screwing everyone but the rich. No, this is the official government wacko doing it.

Under the plan, opposed so far by the junior partners in the coalition, the Liberal Democrats, companies could choose to make new employees give up some of their rights under UK law regarding unfair dismissal, redundancy, the right to request flexible working times, and the right to time off for training. Women would take an extra hit, as they

… would have to give twice as much notice of the date when they want to return from maternity leave. Women currently have to give eight weeks, but this would increase to 16.

In exchange for the loss of rights that were the result of many years of struggle, pain, and death, the new employees are to be granted shares worth between £2,000 and £50,000, and the shares are to be tax-exempt.

Businesses will be allowed to remove “gold-plated employment rights” in exchange for handing out shares to employees which will be exempt from tax, George Osborne has said.

The Tories call their scheme “employee-owner”, but it’s hard to imagine how a few thousand pounds’ worth of stock makes one anything resembling an owner. What the scheme actually does is further empower management in its battle to conquer labor. Which is why we can be sure it will show up in the US very soon.

One final way the UK situation resembles ours:

During his speech, Osborne also confirmed he would seek an additional £10bn of welfare cuts from 2015–16, and that 80% of the deficit reduction would be borne by spending cuts rather than tax rises.

Austerity’s working for the rich, so let’s keep it going as long as we can!

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:13 PM
October 12, 2012
Way to Go, Joe!

Once again Taibbi has it: Biden was right to laugh, roll his eyes, and generally ridicule Ryan and the dishonesty of the Romney/Ryan platform.

He was absolutely right to be doing it. We all should be doing it. That includes all of us in the media, and not just paid obnoxious-opinion-merchants like me, but so-called “objective” news reporters as well. We should all be rolling our eyes, and scoffing and saying, “Come back when you’re serious.”

The load of balls that both Romney and Ryan have been pushing out there for this whole election season is simply not intellectually serious. Most of their platform isn’t even a real platform, it’s a fourth-rate parlor trick designed to paper over the real agenda — cutting taxes even more for super-rich dickheads like Mitt Romney, and getting everyone else to pay the bill.

Everything was crystallized in the exchanges over Romney’s proposal to cut taxes by 20% across the board. This was one of the points where having a decent moderator made a big difference, because Martha Raddatz refused to let Ryan slither out of answering the question. Her question was clearly and unambiguously phrased:

You have refused yet again to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics, or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?

And Ryan clearly and unambiguously avoided the question:

Different than this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements.

At which point Biden quite appropriately laughed and said, “That’d be a first for a Republican Congress.” Which is both true and good politics; polls show that most Americans blame the Republicans more than the Democrats for Congress’s inability to do anything useful over the last four years.

In this debate, as opposed to the previous one for example, there was a moderator, one who treated both candidates with respect but not veneration. When she heard the risible line about Republicans wanting bipartisan agreements, she couldn’t let it pass.

Then Raddatz did exactly what any self-respecting journalist should do in that situation: she objected to being lied to, and yanked on the leash, forcing Ryan back to the question.

I’m convinced Raddatz wouldn’t have pounced on Ryan if he hadn’t trotted out this preposterous line about bipartisanism. Where does Ryan think we’ve all been living, Mars? It’s one thing to pull that on some crowd of unsuspecting voters that hasn’t followed politics that much and doesn’t know the history. But any professional political journalist knows enough to know the abject comedy of that line. Still, Ryan was banking on the moderator not getting in the way and just letting him dump his trash on audiences. Instead, she aggressively grabbed Ryan by his puppy-scruff and pushed him back into the mess of his own proposal:

MS. RADDATZ: Do you have the specifics? Do you have the math? Do you know exactly what you’re doing?

So now the ball is in Ryan’s court. The answer he gives is astounding:

REP. RYAN: Look — look at what Mitt — look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that. What we’re saying is here’s our framework: Lower tax rates 20 percent — we raise about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forgo about 1.1 trillion [dollars] in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation —

After a bit more of this boilerplate blather, Raddatz says, quite accurately, “No specifics, yeah.” The truth, from a news reporter, who’da thunk it. Kudos to Martha! She doesn’t let Ryan dump his trash on this audience. As Taibbi says, Romney and Ryan have cynically decided to promise a huge tax break and avoid talking about how to pay for it until after the election, when the truth will come out. They’re expecting the American press to let them slide on that.

If you’re going to offer an across-the-board 20 percent tax cut without explaining how it’s getting paid for, hell, why stop there? Why not just offer everyone over 18 a 1965 Mustang? Why not promise every child a Zagnut and an Xbox, or compatible mates for every lonely single person?

Sometimes in journalism I think we take the objectivity thing too far. We think being fair means giving equal weight to both sides of every argument. But sometimes in the zeal to be objective, reporters get confused. You can’t report the Obama tax plan and the Romney tax plan in the same way, because only one of them is really a plan, while the other is actually not a plan at all, but an electoral gambit.

If we praised reporters like Martha Raddatz and gave them the best jobs while people like Jim Lehrer were relegated to human interest stories, our democracy would not be failing. If Bob Woodward were speaking at Florida retirement communities while Carl Bernstein was rich, famous, and widely read… But the forces that are currently lined up behind the Romney/Ryan farce are precisely those that promote the fawners and gossip mongers over the reporters, not just at Fox News but at the New York Times and the Washington Post and so on.

We need a realignment here, folks, and it ain’t comin’ from either of the major parties.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:11 PM
October 04, 2012
…Is Right Twice a Day

I find a lot to agree with in Joe Scarborough’s evaluation of Romney’s current confusion of identities.

Romney needed to decide long ago who he was: the last of the Rockefeller Republicans (and thus somebody who probably wouldn’t have gotten through Iowa) or a genuine movement conservative with detailed ideas about how to right the country.

Instead, we have a nominee who represents the worst of both worlds. Any swing voter attracted by moderate Republicanism can’t vote for a man who ran away from his core convictions. And conservative voters don’t believe Romney has any core convictions. This has all the makings of a Greek tragedy, all playing out on C-SPAN.

Naturally Joe figures this as a Greek tragedy because he sees a vulture capitalist as a hero, even if, as in this case, a tragic one. For me it’s a little hard to grok a world view in which Mitt Romney is anything remotely approaching heroic, but I do at least realize that others view the world in those terms. And like all purists Scarborough believes the election is Mitt’s for the asking if he will simply run openly on the “true conservative” principles espoused, as it happens, by Joe himself. So if he looses, the implication is clear, it’s his own fault.

That last part I agree with too.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:10 PM
He Just Can’t Fight

When you get a headline like “Why Was President Obama So Bad?” from Fox News it’s one thing, but a bit of another when it’s Chris Cillizza at the Post. Cillizza accounts for Obama’s poor performance with four reasons:

  • He’s not used to being challenged.
  • He was tired.
  • He’s not that good a debater.
  • He got screwed by Jim Lehrer.

The problem with these as excuses for poor performance is that they were all dead obvious long before the debate. Get used to being to challenged, dude, that’s what debating means! Get rested. Work around your weaknesses to your strengths. And of course a right-wing Texan is gonna screw you if he can; duh! You have to be ready to defend yourself.

In my opinion the real reasons for the poor performance are somewhat different. I’ve got two biggies that Cillizza appears to ignore, and the first is the Presidential attitude. Incumbents generally approach debates as places to avoid fucking up rather than to find ways of scoring. This approach significantly reinforces the second reason, Obama’s major flaw as a public servant, namely what appears to be his constitutional incapacity to fight. What he displayed last night was an inability to defend himself from blatant falsehoods, an inability to call bullshit when bullshit was brandished. That’s why he’s sucked as a President. He’s gotta be able to stand for something. Other than re-election.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:26 PM
September 30, 2012
The Colonel’s Lady and Judy O’Grady…

…are sisters under their skins, as Rudyard Kipling wrote. So are Republicans and Democrats, at least when it comes to Obamacare.

The best explanation of this latest chapter in America’s efforts to join the civilized world that I’ve come across is in today’s New York Times. It starts out this way:

If Mitt Romney’s pivots on President’s Obama’s health care reform act have accelerated to a blur — from repealing on Day 1, to preserving this or that piece, to punting the decision to the states — it is for an odd reason buried beneath two and a half years of Republican political condemnations: the architecture of the Affordable Care Act is based on conservative, not liberal, ideas about individual responsibility and the power of market forces.

This fundamental ideological paradox, drowned out by partisan shouting since before the plan’s passage in 2010, explains why Obamacare has only lukewarm support from many liberals, who wanted a real, not imagined, “government takeover of health care.” It explains why Republicans have been unable since its passage to come up with anything better. And it explains why the law is nearly identical in design to the legislation Mr. Romney passed in Massachusetts while governor…

It continues here.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:19 PM
September 19, 2012
Upstairs, Downstairs

Professor Wolff at The Philosopher’s Stone:

The angle of the video makes it clear that it was not recorded by one of the guests, so we can only conclude that one of the wait staff managed to set up a camera and film the proceedings.

Upper classes always ignore the presence of their servants, a fact that gave rise to an entire genre of eighteenth century French comedy. [Think “The Marriage of Figaro” without the immortal music.] Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they seem constitutionally incapable of remembering that the working class is populated by actual human beings with eyes and ears and fully functional intelligence. This failure is ideological, not personal, in nature. Were the rich and powerful of the world to acknowledge the full humanity of those they exploit, they would find it difficult to sustain the easy air of superiority that they consider their birthright…

At Romney’s rich donor dinner, it is a virtual certainty that the wait staff consisted of men [and perhaps women — one cannot tell from the video] who make too little money to pay federal income taxes, and hence are among the 47% whom Romney says are dependent moochers who cannot take personal responsibility for their lives. These people were obviously in full view of Romney as he stood at the podium and spoke for more than an hour. The fact that it obviously never occurred to him that he was talking about people present in the room says more about Romney than any formal biography or hatchet job exposé possibly can.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:47 PM
September 17, 2012
My Job Is Not To Worry About Those People

Ya gotta love Romney for his unlikeability. He’s got that market cornered. Writing off half the population in a single swoop: “My job is not to worry about those people” is a pretty sweeping statement. Then there’s the assumption that the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax are sponging off the government. My impression is that Mitt Romney probably doesn’t pay income tax most years, otherwise he’d release his returns to show that he does. He certainly pays a much lower rate on what he does declare than anyone I know. If there’s anyone sponging off the government it’s vulture capitalists like Romney who do nothing but financial wizardry that enables them to sneak out the door with the cash and leave the community holding the bag.

But let the man speak for himself. Maybe it’s the liberal media saying these things.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:57 PM
Take Your Pick

Connecting.the.Dots evaluates Mitt Romney, a presidential candidate:

“There’s two ways to look at this guy. One is that the glass is half empty,” said a Republican dean of public policy at the University of Massachusetts in 2007. “The other is that the glass is totally empty.”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:40 PM
September 16, 2012
What Really Matters is History

It becomes ever clearer why Bertrand Russell considered a knowledge of history to be the most basic mental furniture for those who wish to engage in the great conversation taking place across the centuries.

At Walid Eglan’s bookstore down the street, he and a colleague were trying to understand why the American government did not act more forcefully against the makers of the video.

This strikes the average American as kinda crazy. Nobody expects the American government to act forcefully against the makers of a video, because nobody can imagine a video mattering in any real sense. And besides, is Eglan ready to ensure the equivalent, that no Egyptian with a desktop computer and a few hours to waste could possibly produce something irritating? Well, actually, being a Salafist he probably is quite comfortable with repression of expression, especially expression he doesn’t like. So that line of argument may not be headed in productive directions.

Still, when even the right-wing wackos can recite factual history in their defense, facts with which most Americans are unacquainted but all Egyptians quite familiar, you know you’re starting from a deficit that will be hard to make up. It’s like games in the loss column, already in the books and now impossible to modify.

After state security melted away one day during the revolution last year, life on the street started to revive.

Now, [Eglan] said, Salafists are on the upswing, with enough power to control the country’s future, even with Morsi, a member of the more-moderate Muslim Brotherhood, trying to project a Western-friendly face to attract help for Egypt’s moribund economy.

In the end, Eglan said, Egyptians know where their president’s sympathies will be oriented. “Morsi?” Eglan said. “He’s a Salafi.”

As for the United States, he said, “America helps Israel. And they helped Mubarak, not the Egyptian people. America helped Mubarak keep Egyptians unemployed, keep them uneducated, keep them uncivilized.”

This is why there are riots in the Muslim world. For generations the US has found, armed, and supported the most brutal of dictators who collectively managed to prevent the intrusion of certain types of social civilization into the affairs of the Muslim world. As a result there are still those there who argue that all speech must be controlled, women must be covered up, and in general all impulses repressed — Freud would prefer sublimated, but as Jung says no one has ever been able to explain the difference. Interestingly, we have similar people in US culture, witness Rick Santorum; but they’re widely ridiculed in a society that chooses not to prevent speech.

What it comes down to is this: every Egyptian knows the recent history of Egypt. That’s why they hate us. Videos don’t matter.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:40 AM
September 11, 2012
Sign Right Here, Mister “President”

Jay Bookman nails it:

In his tweets urging Romney to “draw clear line: offer specific path,” [Rupert] Murdoch hits on one probable cause for the GOP nominee’s aversion to specifics: “Stop fearing far right which has nowhere else to go.”

Romney understands that the policy specifics that would be acceptable to his party’s base would be unacceptable to the general-election voter, and vice versa. So he grimly refuses to go there, judging that the cost of silence will be lower than the cost of clarity. His entire presidential campaign has been built around the goal of establishing himself as “severely conservative,” to use his own description, and he has internalized that goal to such a degree that he simply doesn’t dare to put that reputation at risk.

The problem is, there’s no reason to believe that he would show any more independence while governing than he has in campaigning. As Grover Norquist said back in February, “We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go … We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it.”

That’s the job description that Romney is attempting to fill.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:26 AM
September 05, 2012
Fairy Tales of the GOP

From the Washington Post:

Republicans have in recent months sought to drive a wedge between Clinton and Obama, casting Clinton as a leader who pursued bipartisan compromise and Obama as a president who has taken his party farther to the left. Clinton is expected to reject the Republicans’ claim about Obama’s welfare policy in his speech tonight as he places Obama’s name in nomination.

So now let’s return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, courtesy of Jay Bookman:

I find it endlessly amusing to watch Republicans all but swoon these days when they hear the names of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as if to say “now THOSE are Democrats we could work with… if only we had reasonable Democratic leaders like THAT…”

The president was reviled and attacked bitterly, for failures both real but mainly imagined, and was granted not a scintilla of respect for the office that he held. In fact, the extremist hatred of all things Clinton became downright surreal, to the point that the president and his wife were investigated by the House Government Oversight Committee for involvement in the “murder” of aide Vince Foster. The committee chairman even took a pistol to a watermelon in his backyard to demonstrate how the vile deed was done.

Republican congressional leaders shut down the government repeatedly in their effort to bring Clinton down, and he was publicly accused of everything from rape — yes, “legitimate rape” — to running a major cocaine ring. Hillary Clinton in particular was turned into an object of misogynistic hate and ridicule, under attack for everything from her cookie-baking skills to her gender preference. Republicans at the time could not bring themselves to even utter her first name without spitting it out as a venom-inflected invective.

In other words, the Republicans tried to do to the Clintons precisely what they have since tried so gleefully to do to Barack Obama.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:39 PM
August 26, 2012
Return of the Braineaters

One thing about Republicans, they never underestimate the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.

And to the wonderment of those of us still clinging stubbornly to reality, nonsense works. Consider death panels, birtherism, trickle-down economics and rape-detecting vaginas. Consider this, from a New York Times story headlined “Romney Adopts Harder Message for Last Stretch”—

Mitt Romney is heading into his nominating convention with his advisers convinced he needs a more combative footing against President Obama in order to appeal to white, working-class voters and to persuade them that he is the best answer to their economic frustrations…

“We will absolutely be able to get our message out,” said Russ Schriefer, a senior campaign adviser. “We still have an opportunity to tell the story of the last four years of how President Obama has failed the country…”

Mr. Law said his group, Crossroads, had reserved roughly $35 million in advertising for the rest of the campaign and planned to spend more on efforts speaking to their other perception, that Mr. Obama had not been able to deliver.

“These folks know they are not happy with what Obama has done, but they are struggling between, ‘I voted for him, I liked him, but he’s not getting the job done,’ ” said Carl Forti, political director for American Crossroads. “That’s where Mitt needs to take advantage.”

A close textual reading of this compelling new message reveals its meaning to be, “Vote Republican, suckers, because Obama let us sabotage his economic recovery plan.”

It’s a message that could only resonate in empty heads, which ought to make the rest of us very afraid.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:13 PM
August 17, 2012
Assigned Reading

Go read this interview with Salon’s Joan Walsh. Do it now. It’s the most subtle and informed examination of our class wars that I’ve come across anywhere. Afterwards you can go out and buy her new book, What’s the Matter with White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age that Never Was, as I intend to do.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:14 AM
August 14, 2012
Phony Conservatives

Reagan’s budget director, since come to Jesus, tells it like it is:

…Mr. Ryan professes to be a defense hawk, though the true conservatives of modern times — Calvin Coolidge, Herbert C. Hoover, Robert A. Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, even Gerald R. Ford — would have had no use for the neoconconservative imperialism that the G.O.P. cobbled from policy salons run by Irving Kristol’s ex-Trotskyites three decades ago. These doctrines now saddle our bankrupt nation with a roughly $775 billion “defense” budget in a world where we have no advanced industrial state enemies and have been fired (appropriately) as the global policeman.

Indeed, adjusted for inflation, today’s national security budget is nearly double Eisenhower’s when he left office in 1961 (about $400 billion in today’s dollars) — a level Ike deemed sufficient to contain the very real Soviet nuclear threat in the era just after Sputnik. By contrast, the Romney-Ryan version of shrinking Big Government is to increase our already outlandish warfare-state budget and risk even more spending by saber-rattling at a benighted but irrelevant Iran…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:43 AM
August 07, 2012
Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

Exciting news from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

FORT WORTH, Texas — George P. Bush has signed on to serve as deputy finance chairman for the Republican Party of Texas.

The nephew of former President George W. Bush and son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the 36-year-old Bush has been closely watched from his days at law school to his deployment to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve…

“Clearly he is being groomed for great things in Texas and perhaps beyond,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “This is about his current visibility, his access to fundraising lists and his name recognition to people who will be on the other end of his fundraising calls.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:31 AM
July 11, 2012
Contempt of Congress

Well, yes, of course Attorney General Eric Holder is in contempt of Congress. Who isn’t?

Many of us who try to comprehend the amazing shenanigans of our Republican-dominated House of Representatives would naturally choose some form of ‘contemptible’ as a descriptive of the august body. But today we’ll shun the language of extremes.

Let’s just call them, er, regressive and leave it at that. Well, retarded might be better. (Apologies here to those hardy and decent souls in the House who keep trying, against all odds, to do the job for which they were sent to Washington.)

Having lost the legal battle to wreck the Affordable Health Care Act, now the Republicans are going to waste who knows how much time and money trying to repeal it. These are the proud ideological descendants of the conservative politicians of the past who tried so hard to block Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And while they’re at it, the Know Nothings will try to drive Obama’s Attorney General from office.

Holder may have screwed up but that’s not why they’re after him. The real problem is he’s arrogant, like Obama, and he’s too tall. The thing is, it’s getting harder all the time to be a responsible House member with these Kenyans in high office and a socialist who’s not even an American in the White House. How do we know that? Because Donald Trump said so, that’s how.

And Donald’s rich so he must be right. If rich people weren’t right about everything they wouldn’t be rich, would they? Why is this so hard for the Democrats to understand? Rich people know what is best for themselves, and therefore for the rest of us. How do you suppose they got rich in the first place? There’s shouldn’t be anything inherently wrong with being rich, but it does seem to coarsen the sensibilities. Warren Buffet and a few others appear to have escaped this malady.

(But here’s a really important question: If Donald Trump is so rich and so smart, why does he want to look and act like Howdy Doody? And why does he always wear the same awful red tie?)

Badly shocked by Chief Justice Roberts’s perfidy in upholding Obamacare, Republican Congressmen are once again telling us that the American people hate Obama’s socialized medical insurance plan and won’t stand for it. What the American people want is limited medical insurance with constantly rising premiums. What the American people want is to pay through the nose for the bloated, inefficient bureaucracy that administers the private insurance industry — at about twenty percent of the total cost. (The administrative costs for universal health care in England and Canada are five and six percent, respectively.) I have a couple of doctor friends who tell me that Medicare is infinitely preferable to the private insurance industry for fairness, efficiency and overall decency.

But never mind all that nonsense. The Republicans know better. What the American people want, the Republican Congressmen tell us, is to know that 30 million of their fellows have no insurance and, if those uninsured get medical treatment at all, they will have to get it in emergency rooms. The cost of emergency room treatment is, of course, astronomical, and is borne by all of us who do have insurance. But so be it, anything is better than having the government stand between us and our doctors.

But this they tell us is what the American people want. Republicans love to tell us what the American people think, feel and want. As always, one wonders which American people they are talking about. They’re not talking about anybody I know.

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Posted by Paul Duffy at 08:15 PM
The Sad Truth…

…from We Are Respectable Negroes:

For all of the talk in 2008 about post racial America, and the promise of a President who happened to be black, many in the public forgot that whoever is elected to the country’s highest office is a cog in a bigger machine. To believe that you could have radical transformational change through institutional politics was a chimera and a joke. The system is designed to be sedentary, slow, and constrained by inertia.

As such, the Age of Obama vs. the Age of Malcolm is a false comparison. The latter was a figure who worked outside of the system (and in fact created little actionable political change); the former is a product of a multicultural, elite class which is deeply invested in maintaining the status quo of the American as a passive consumer-citizen in a market democracy, and of protecting America as an empire.

Many first time, as well as young voters, did not understand this basic fact of American political life. Now, they are disenchanted and less likely to support Obama in the 2012 election. He is not a radical. He is not a “black” president. Obama is quite simply the President of the United States, and a figure who is part of a system which is beholden to certain interests above and beyond all others.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:01 AM
July 08, 2012
Laws Are For the Little People

From Salon, here’s David Weigel with a look backwards at the GOP’s history of voter suppression in Florida:

James Ridgeway writes on the mechanisms that keep voting rights away from felons. In Florida, for example, home to around a quarter-million black men with felony convictions, the new-old rules force “any former felon who wanted to regain voting rights to appeal directly to the governor.”

What does that mean? In a 2004 Vanity Fair piece titled “The Path to Florida,” David Margolick and a team of reporters looked at the manifold ways that the state can keep people off the rolls. They attended one voting rights-restoration hearing for Beverly Brown, “a black Miamian who has been applying for seven years.”

“Thank you, Governor and Cabinet,” she says, her voice trembling as she looks up at Jeb Bush, in a beige suit, and three of his cabinet members, seated above her on the dais. “I’m a graduate patient-care technician, and there’s nothing more I’d like to do than to utilize my skills to help others.”

She has been lucky enough to have had some private health-care jobs; recently she cared for a young quadriplegic. But what she’d really like is to get a state license — something she can’t do unless her civil rights are restored. Her convictions, all drug-related and nonviolent, date back almost 20 years, except for a more recent conviction for having been caught with pot.

“Since when have you been drug- and alcohol-free?” Jeb asks flatly, looking up from her file.

“About nine years,” says Brown.

“O.K., in 2001 there — you were convicted of marijuana possession?”

“I had — yes, it was in my possession, but it didn’t belong to me. Someone left it in my car…”

Bush gives her another once-over and delivers his verdict. “I’d like to take this case under advisement.” It’s not a no, but it’s not a yes either. Over the next couple of weeks, Brown will try to find out why the case has been on hold, but she’ll get no answers; Bush is not required to give any.

Some two years before this hearing, Governor Bush’s 25-year-old daughter Noelle had been sentenced to ten days in jail after crack cocaine was found in her shoe at an Orlando drug treatment center.

Governor Bush was not in the courtroom. He was campaigning for reelection elsewhere — accompanied that day by his younger brother, President George W. Bush, himself a recovering addict. But their sister Dorothy flew in from Maryland to represent the family at the sentencing.

My questions: Were Noelle’s civil rights ever restored by a governor, so that she could vote in Florida and maybe even become a licensed patient-care technician? And if so, by which governor?

As for Beverly Brown, who really cares? The world is full of Browns.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:48 PM
June 22, 2012
Drinking Sand Again?

Robert Stein makes a historical argument that things could be worse, and have been. Not sure he’s right, but read it all and see what you think.

Decades later, in the movie “The American President,” a White House adviser tells the Oval Office occupant, “People want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.”

A discouraged President replies, “People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.”

We once did.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:10 PM
Welfare Queens of the Amerizone

From Krugman’s blog:

So it comes as something of a shock to look at Eurostat data (pdf) on real GDP per capita (or productivity, which look similar). Sure, Greece and Portugal are relatively poor, with GDP per capita of 82 and 77 percent, respectively, of the EU average; this means roughly 76 and 71 percent of the eurozone average, since the euro countries are a bit richer than the EU as a whole. Meanwhile, Germany is at 120 percent of the EU, or 112 percent of the eurozone.

But it’s no different, really, than the US situation (look under per capita GDP). Alabama is at 74 percent of the US average, Mississippi at 67, with New England and the Middle Atlantic states at 118 and 116.

In other words, as far as underlying economic inequalities are concerned, the EZ is no worse than the US.

The difference, mainly, is that we think of ourselves as a nation, and blithely accept fiscal measures that routinely transfer large sums to the poorer states without even thinking of it as a regional issue — in fact, the states that are effectively on the dole tend to vote Republican and imagine themselves deeply self-reliant.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:04 PM
June 20, 2012
Let’s Hear It For Attack Ads!

From this month’s Frank Rich column in New York magazine. Read it all here.

In defiance of the whither-democracy laments of such fellow academic authorities as Kathleen Hall Jamieson (the author of Dirty Politics) and Thomas Patterson (The Vanishing Voter), Geer chastises all the doomsayers for being “so worried about ‘civility’ in campaigns.” He argues not just that “democracy can survive negativity” but that “without negativity, no nation can credibly think of itself as democratic.” He points out, as others have, that negative ads tend to be more accurate than positive ads — a low bar, to be sure — and contain more news that voters can use. Mike Murphy, the irrepressible GOP political operative and wit, agrees. “We have a joke in the business,” he told Geer, that “the only difference between negative and positive ads is that negative ads have facts in them.”



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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:21 PM
June 08, 2012
Watch the Dems Sell Out Public Unions

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.)

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Posted by OHollern at 09:37 AM
May 25, 2012
Pissing in a Blue Serge Suit

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.

But that day never comes; once a courtier, always a courtier. Look at Robert M. Gates and Colin Powell, good soldiers to the last.

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.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:21 PM
May 22, 2012
We Are SO Screwed

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.)


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:36 PM
May 16, 2012
Who’s the Chicken in This Game?

One of the most insightful articles about the Greek political situation and the future of the euro comes from Robin Wells at The Guardian. Whether her predictions are right is another issue, of course.

Sometimes, just sometimes, economics and politics are like physics — one can recognize immutable forces. One of those times is now, as Greece is inexorably pushed out of the euro. It took no particular talent to have seen this coming, just the recognition that it has always been a fantasy to believe that the Greeks would democratically choose to destroy their economy for the better part of a decade in order to pay foreign creditors.

I don’t know enough about the situation to believe that Greece’s exit from the euro is inexorable. In fact, my knowledge is limited to other areas, which leads me to expect that flexibility from Germany is growing more likely, regardless of what Chancellor Merkel continues to say. Her clout is dwindling both at home and abroad, and the opposition has found its voice in several countries.

As I read further into Robin’s article, I find that we agree on this.

…what has become unavoidably clear is that Germany, the linchpin of the eurozone, has been hopelessly stuck in an attitude that makes the break-up of the eurozone almost unavoidable. If Germany cannot pull itself together to keep Spain in the euro, then the markets can no longer ignore the fact that the lack of leadership and governance is a fatal flaw in the system.

What accounts for this? I would argue that the heart of the problem lies in the political culture of Germany and the mindset of its political and economic elites, which have never been willing to admit to their own voters the sacrifices that must be undertaken in order to be the leader of Europe. Instead, they have led Germans to believe that they can have it both ways: enjoying the fruits of the eurozone while times were good, and lobbing the burden of adjustment onto others when times got bad.

I agree that the German elites bear a disproportionate share of the blame in this case. But they merely represent elites from various countries around the world, prominently including the US, who collectively are attempting to turn back the clock a hundred and fifty years to the days of the robber barons. The great corporations are now much more powerful than governments; witness our lack of progress on climate change, population growth, health care, transportation, and so on.

Yet I have to admit to a secret suspicion that these elites are less powerful than they want us to think. They talk big:

Chris Towner, director of FX advisory services at currency traders HiFX, said: “The Greeks seem to be playing a game of chicken here, first of all putting party politics above sovereign interests and secondly in the bigger picture questioning whether the European Central Bank are bluffing when it comes to not offering them bailout money if they fail to form a government.”

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To translate here à la Chomsky, “party politics” means the democratically expressed will of the majority, “sovereign interests” means the will of the financial institutions as stand-ins for the 1% (as in previous posts I’m using 1% metaphorically, I think it’s actually a small subset of the real 1%); and “the bigger picture” exhibits most explicitly the world view that the banks should rule over the people. It could hardly be made simpler or more straightforward.

So now let’s see what they actually do. The contagion, after all, might spread to the US if something isn’t done.

Stephen Lewis, economist at Monument Securities, said: “It may well be that eurozone leaders would raise the threat of Greece being obliged to leave the eurozone if it fails to comply with bailout terms, so as to sway Greek voters to support pro-bailout parties. But if this threat were to be credible, the EU would have to start elaborating measures to facilitate Greece’s departure from the eurozone well before the election took place. Otherwise, Greek voters would assume eurozone leaders were bluffing.”

Yes, the 1% can both buy and sell lots of guns and super-expensive weapons of all types. But they can’t control individual behavior in democracies, which means they can handicap the ballot but not control it. Perhaps more importantly, they have no control over what we choose to buy in this free market we were slipped instead of the democracy we were promised. As Chomsky has said for years, democracy and capitalism are presented to Americans as inseparable when in fact they’re opposites and mutually exclusive. We swing back and forth, first favoring one pole and then the other.

The new factor in this oscillation is the free flow of information around the globe. I’ve long thought that governments do not withstand the free flow of information. Perhaps we’re at the stage in human history where we can synthesize a new form of government to meet our current needs rather than those of a few centuries ago, one that encourages information flow rather than restricting and outlawing it.

There was a time in human history when an argument could be made that the accumulation of wealth in a small number of hands was the quickest, perhaps only, means of advancing the techniques of civilization. It wasn’t a particularly convincing argument even then; but at a time when developed resources were barely sufficient for the population, it could be defended by those so inclined. Today, however, that argument is defunct, obsoleted by global connectivity in all its forms. Nowadays spreading the wealth enriches everyone, because there’s enough to start with.

Now we should get rid of money.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:11 AM
May 14, 2012
Republicans Far From Gay About Pickle They’re In

I begin to understand the Obama strategy on coming out for gay marriage just before the election. It may or may not yield an increase in November votes for the Democrats; that remains uncertain at this point. I’m not endorsing Tony Perkins’s statement on CNN that “I think the president this week took six or seven states he carried in 2008 and put them in play with this one ill-conceived position” by any means. But it’s not obvious to me that this was a great play on the offensive end of the political court.Tony%20Perkins.jpg

True, even one of their own pollsters is telling Republicans to get with the program on gay marriage, a position the public is clearly moving toward. And it’s also true that Obama probably didn’t lose many votes by his declaration, since (1) it doesn’t actually mean anything in any practical sense, and (2) almost all the folks for whom gay marriage is an activating issue were already against him. And he may have convinced a few skeptics that he is capable of making a brave and principled move.

I remain unconvinced on that, given his history as mentioned by Gary Younge but originally described by Obama%20New%20Yorker%20cartoon%20cover%20small.jpg Ryan Lizza in the famous New Yorker issue with the controversial cartoon on its cover. The furor over the cover helped to distract from the content of the article.

This leaves me looking for a motive for Obama’s declaration of support for gay marriage. I strongly doubt Biden was over his skies, as the President apparently said; more likely it was a trial balloon. In any case, reading TPM today led me to a new understanding: instead of an offensive play, this is a defensive one.

Consider: the Republican party is now split. There’s the Tony Perkins purist camp that conceives of the issue as the defense of the family; imagine what you might be willing to do if you thought your family and the whole concept of family was under attack. Then there’s the Mitch McConnell realist camp that unabashedly represents the super-rich and the big corporations, which needs by whatever means necessary to be close enough to the levers of public power to prevent their use. Being that close requires a minimum number of votes, and the realist camp realizes that gay marriage has become a losing issue for the party. The purist camp consists mostly of Right-Wing Authoritarians in Bob Altemeyer’s terminology, while Social Dominators constitute much of the realist cohort.

Republicans have begun whining about Obama’s declaration being political and intended to divide America. This, from people who for years have propounded hateful and divisive doctrines of exclusion, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, militarism, and general disregard of the sanctity of any life after the moment of birth, favoring instead the central importance of private property. Chomsky readers will have no trouble decoding this sort of speech.

Non-Republicans might be excused for a bit of a chortle over their discomfiture in this matter. If they can’t follow Mayor Quimby’s strategy (“Very well, if that is the way the winds are blowing, let no one say I don’t also blow.”), how can the realist wing hope to prevent Americans from using their government to rein in the excesses of capitalism? By the same token, if they are forced to make a U-turn on gay marriage rights, the so-called social conservatives will be admitting defeat, as a result of which movement leaders will lose influence, prestige, and money. How can they afford to reverse course?

It seems the Obama strategists have got the Republicans in a pretty pickle.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:05 AM
April 23, 2012
Le Pen Is Not the Story

It’s interesting as usual to compare US news outlets with reasonable ones. You can scroll half-way down the New York Times web page and find a mention of today’s French elections in the world news section, and it’s similar at other sites. Each of them has a story, almost invariably accompanied by a more-or-less flattering photo of the current president. Like the one at MSNBC they concentrate on the surprising result obtained by Marine Le Pen, one of the far-right candidates. The secondary story everywhere is Sarkozy’s poor showing in placing second. The supposedly liberal Talking Points Memo, which might be expected to pick up on left-leaning politics, currently devotes an entire paragraph to the election.

On the other hand, Reuters, the BBC, and the Guardian concentrate on the two candidates who move on to the second round. In the event, the soft-socialist candidate Hollande placed first at 28.6%, one and a half percent ahead of Sarkozy. Given the actual politics of the real situation on the ground, Hollande has to screw up pretty badly to lose. As the Beeb’s Europe editor Gavin Hewitt says, “Whereas Francois Hollande can tack to the centre, President Sarkozy must appeal to the right.” The left has united around the memory of a past election in which its disunity set up Le Pen’s more famous (and equally far right) father to enter the second and final round of voting against a center-right candidate. Le Pen herself has pointedly failed to endorse Sarkozy, while the leftist candidates, including a Communist-supported one, have openly thrown their support to Hollande.

The result, for those willing to look, is a right wing that’s fracturing into a relatively content pro-1% group and a pissed-off populist group. Sound familiar? But here we soothe our raging anger by talking about the threat to the divinities of the Market posed by someone who calls himself a Socialist though true socialists are embarrassed to vote for him. Those same divinities are fine with exaggerating the vote for Le Pen (what’s the difference, after all, between 18% and 20%?), ignoring the majority of French voters and the 80% turnout for the election, and carefully screening out the information that in other civilized countries people are rebelling against control by the 1%.

The truly big threat, understood by every US media outlet, is that Americans might start to do the same. Therefore the traditional media ignore the story.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:54 AM
March 28, 2012
Desperate Housewives of the GOP

Frank Rich explores the history of the GOP’s devolution from birth control crusaders to vaginal probers. You will be astonished to learn that politics and not primitive religious doctrine was behind the shift. A taste:

…The GOP started backing away from its traditional beneficence on women’s issues at the tail end of the Nixon presidency. Nixon had a progressive GOP take for his time: He supported the Equal Rights Amendment, appointed an impressive number of talented women, and in 1972 signed the Equal Employment Opportunity Act to strengthen the policing of workplace discrimination. But, in a telling shift a few months earlier, he also vetoed a bipartisan bill enabling child care for the millions of mothers then rapidly joining the workforce. As Melich observes, it would have been consistent with GOP frugality if Nixon had rejected the bill solely because of its cost. But his veto was accompanied by a jarring statement that child care would threaten American families by encouraging women to work. The inspiration for this unexpected reactionary broadside came not from fundamentalist clergy but from cynical, secular political strategists eager to exploit the growing backlash against the sixties feminist movement, much as the “southern strategy” was exploiting the backlash against the sixties civil-rights movement.

This tactic preceded Roe v. Wade, which was decided in 1973. The new GOP was hostile to female liberation, period, not just female sexual freedom. The pitch was articulated by Newt Gingrich in his first successful congressional race in Georgia in 1978. His opponent, a state senator named Virginia Shapard, crusaded for the Equal Rights Amendment and bankrolled her own campaign. That uppity profile gave the Gingrich forces an advertising message: “Newt will take his family to Washington and keep them together; Virginia will go to Washington and leave her husband and children in the care of a nanny.” Newt won by nine percentage points. One of his campaign officials tied his victory to the strategy of “appealing to the prejudice against working women, against their not being home…”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:08 PM
March 21, 2012
All Families Have Values

From an old piece by Russell Baker, the most perceptive and sensible New York Times columnist of my lifetime:

Implicit in the politician’s call for “family values” is a summons for people to shape up and start living their messy lives the way government wants those lives lived. Listen closely and you can hear politicians insisting on a government duty to meddle in the strange ways of families. You can hear government asserting a duty to promote moral uplift. What could be more loathsome than a government supervising the moral elevation of the family?

As all of us here must know when not mesmerized by political quacks, every family is a self-governing institution and, in every case, entirely idiosyncratic. To ascribe nobility to such structures is absurd, for each operates under its own rules and morality. There are large loving families, and large families whose members detest each other while loving the blood that unites them, and dark families primed for intra-family murder, and foolish families stuffed with pride in their genealogy charts, and little two-person families headed by single parents, and divorced families, and families like Ma Jarrett’s and Ma Joad’s and Ma Barker’s.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:33 PM
March 16, 2012
The Difference Between Smart and Smartass

From Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

In his mind, of course, the best proof of that rampant stupidity is the failure of Newt’s party, opponents and the country at large to ask him to save the country. If you fail to recognize the frankly astonishing, the profoundly fundamental and the fundamentally profound transformational genius contained in the skull of Newton Leroy Gingrich, well then, you must be stupid.

On the other hand, wouldn’t a smart person understand that you don’t win friends and support by going around and treating everyone else in the world as stupid? Isn’t that pretty basic stuff? I don’t recall Ronald Reagan, for example, lecturing people on how stupid they must be not to appreciate him.

In fact, most of us learn that lesson no later than the third grade. If at the age of 68 you’re still making that mistake and still wondering why people don’t like you, then no, you’re not very smart after all.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:36 AM
March 12, 2012
Sweet Georgia Brown

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…

In Georgia 40% of Republican primary voters think Obama was born in the United States, while 38% do not.

Here’s the question they should have asked: “Was Obama born in the United States or Hawaii?”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:39 PM
March 02, 2012
And the Winner Is…

What do the Oscar presentations and the Republican debates have in common?

Boobs.

Most of my male friends prefer the soft, rounded kind to the Republican kind, but it should be noted that these preferences are by no means unanimous, or political. I am told there are people, real masculine persons, who actually admire one or two of the boys on the Republican presidential debate team. No kidding. Think they’re swell, win-one-for-the-Gipper kind of guys, men you’d want with you in your foxhole or riding at the head of the cavalry column.

But…had the last debate aired at the same time as the Oscars, would those same admiring male persons have been watching Ron Paul’s Adam’s apple go up and down or would they have been ogling J-Lo’s cleavage? We’ll never know but it’s a question that will haunt us like all the great mysteries of human existence. Why are we here? What is the meaning of it all? Is God a Republican or a Democrat?

Over at the Oscars, Meryl Streep took the best actress award for playing Margaret Thatcher almost as well as the old bat played herself. A remarkable performance and one that might serve to inspire Mitt and Rick and Newt when they’re rehearsing for their next audition for the Big Part.

Meanwhile, Mitt, who can play the role of a desperate man as well as any actor alive, tried hard to get his foot into his mouth once again — not easy when your mouth is already jam-packed with feet. Mitt told the voters that in the great state of Michigan, one of his several home states, the trees were just the right height. Many people found this puzzling so Mitt enlightened them by repeating the statement. Apparently, Mitt believes that if you say something incredibly stupid and baffling you can make it right by saying the same incredibly stupid and baffling thing again. Don’t explain, repeat — that’s the idea.

Mitt tried to win some Motown points by reassuring Michiganders that the Romneys were an American-car family. His wife drives not one but two Cadillacs. This is the sort of factoid that resonates so well with the unemployed and the foreclosed-upon. No matter, you need a good car if you’re going to drive to Canada with a dog strapped to the roof.

Newt the Cheerful was named best historian/non-lobbyist in a trailing role based on an existing work of fiction. Good actor though he is, Newt has always had trouble playing anybody but himself. Kind of like Jimmy Stewart but not as tall, a lot chubbier and immeasurably less likeable. As if to confirm that he hasn’t even a skinny ghost of a chance to land the Republican presidential nomination, Newt released an “infomercial” in which he sits at a desk and talks about energy for half an hour. If anyone has sat through the whole thing he or she is not telling.

And let’s not forget Santorum the Sanctimonious, who has also done some fine work in front of the cameras in recent days. Rick ran well against the Mitten in Michigan and he has scored numerous points among the backward, the intolerant and the ignorant. His main problem is that he is running in 21st-century America instead of 15th-century Spain.

But the Rickster knows what plays in the media. He called President Obama a snob for wanting all American children to go to college and he characterized as sickening John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech reaffirming the constitutional separation of church and state. Made him want to throw up, he said. So, not surprisingly, Rick walked away with the award for the biggest hypocrite in a sometimes leading role except maybe for Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney.

Of course any awards ceremony or political debate is thrilling. But the GOP debates might have been that much more interesting if J-Lo and Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek and a few others had made an appearance. Just a thought.


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Posted by Paul Duffy at 03:34 PM
February 29, 2012
Despite What You May Have Heard…

From the Washington Post:

Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, announced his retirement on the floor of the chamber Wednesday morning.

“I take the unusual step of announcing this from the floor of Congress for two reasons,” Dreier said of his surprise announcement. “First, this is where my fellow Californians sent me to represent them. Second, I am a proud institutionalist, and I believe that this institution is as great as it has ever been.”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:22 AM
February 13, 2012
Ask the Man Who Was One…

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.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:56 PM
January 23, 2012
I’m Glad Gingrich Won in South Carolina

I have to admit I’m overjoyed that Newt Gingrich won in South Carolina.

Not that I’m a Gingrich fan, mind you, but the way he won seems indicative of some heartening trends. Obviously the victory itself, in dramatic come-from-behind fashion, combined with the reversal of the result in Iowa’s caucuses, drastically reconfigures the race for the Republican nomination. The increasing nastiness of the campaign fits the mood of many in the Republican base, and indeed of their world view. It indicates that the Reagan rule is dead and the Republican monolith disintegrating.

The relationship between the country clubbers and the fundamentalists, always exploitative, has become verbally abusive. Kansas has begun to realize that something is the matter, though without knowing precisely what, a familiar situation after all to the fearful authoritarian mindset as Altemeyer describes it. The two groups never had much in common in the way of interests, with one focused on extracting money while the other played morality police. Neither really has much use for the other’s obsession, and it was a pairing bound to rupture at some point. At this point it looks serious for the Republicans. But one must ask whether prime Republican candidates who could rise above the current crop might have opted to wait for 2016, and whether such candidates might rebuild the coalition.

The way (She Turned Me Into a) Newt managed to pull off his surprising victory bodes well for our side, too, it seems to me. Although he personally backed out of the fray after drawing blood on first contact, a Super PAC in his camp released an anti-Romney film, which portrayed Romney as a capitalist predator in ways that sometimes reminded one of a union organizer back in the day. It’s a natural theme for a populist, which is Gingrich’s current garb. The small business person, whom Republicans have long professed to love but rarely actually taken out on a date, is indeed among the targets of ruthless, predatory big business people like Romney and Bain Capital who earn their money by creative destruction, also known as profiting by firing people. Gingrich has a ready audience when he points to Romney as emblematic of the folks who move South Carolinian jobs overseas.

Occupiers who wonder if the protests left their mark can rest assured after Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina. Even the Republican base is now sufficiently angry to be set off by an anti-Wall Street message. Social dominators, Altemeyer tells us, tend to overreach in their megalomania, and it looks like they have once again tried to gather too much of the goodies into too few piles, a cyclic situation we’ve no doubt faced for many millennia.

With Gingrich’s attack on Romney’s wealth as ill-gotten, a concept previously unknown to many Republicans, inequality is once again taking center stage. The idea that maybe we shouldn’t slant all our society’s rules to benefit those who already have massively more than they need is now speakable. The barrier has been broken, and Gingrich will probably compare himself to Nixon going to China. Or perhaps Cæsar crossing the Rubicon.

Plus, what could be more entertaining than a disgraced former Speaker of the House running as an outsider?


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:00 AM
January 12, 2012
Shotgun Wedding

From Tom Degan at The Rant, a line I wish I had written:

Well over a year ago I predicted on this site that the religious bigots and crazy people who long ago hijacked the “the party of Abraham Lincoln” would never nominate Mormon Mitt Romney. “David Duke will be named head of the NAACP before that ever happens” I speculated at the time. It appears that I might be forced to eat a healthy dish of crow on the occasion of Mitt’s victory in the New Hampshire Primary last night. This is not to imply that the half-witted “base” of that party are happy about what happened last evening. Anything but. Let me put it to you this way: The Republicans just got the news that they’re pregnant and they’re trying to fall in love as rapidly as possible.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:23 PM
January 11, 2012
George W. Romney v. Willard M. Bush

Tacked on to the end of The Rude Pundit’s daily scatology is the question below. None of Romney’s Republic opponents will dare to raise it, for fear of having to answer it himself. However we can surely count on the truth-seeking pit bulls of the MSM to… Okay, okay, forget it.

In other words, everything Mitt Romney wants to do would harm Americans. Everything. So of course he’s gotta get out there and be the total dickhead he always was and always will be.

Here’s the question someone needs to ask, repeatedly, of Romney: “If you had been elected in 2008, what would you have done to clear the wreckage left behind by George W. Bush?”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:47 PM
January 08, 2012
Why Romney Might Actually Win

Tom Engelhardt points us to a list of the top twenty contributors to Mitt Romney’s campaign, courtesy, as he says, of “the invaluable OpenSecrets.org website”.

Goldman Sachs ($367,200)
Credit Suisse Group ($203,750)
Morgan Stanley ($199,800)
HIG Capital ($186,500)
Barclays ($157,750)
Kirkland & Ellis ($132,100)
Bank of America ($126,500)
PriceWaterhouseCoopers ($118,250)
EMC Corp ($117,300)
JPMorgan Chase & Co ($112,250)
The Villages ($97,500)
Vivint Inc ($80,750)
Marriott International ($79,837)
Sullivan & Cromwell ($79,250)
Bain Capital ($74,500)
UBS AG ($73,750)
Wells Fargo ($61,500)
Blackstone Group ($59,800)
Citigroup Inc ($57,050)
Bain & Co ($52,500)

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:05 PM
“A High-Minded Way of Saying ‘Gimme’”

Thomas Frank is out with a new book (excerpted in The Guardian), and the promotion includes an article at TomDispatch.

The TomDispatch article takes the form of an open letter to the Tea Party, though given their Authoritarian and Social Dominance tendencies Tea Party members are highly unlikely to read it. In the letter Frank urges Tea Partiers to get behind Mitt Romney because he’s actually their kind of guy: an explicitly anti-worker free-market capitalist who doesn’t really care about anything but money and is thus quite comfortable switching positions on social issues when necessary.

Not only that, but Romney embodies the hypocrisy of the movement as well, railing against big government while being heavily subsidized by various aspects of government policy. The Tea Party disliked Romney’s embrace of the TARP program, for example, but how much difference is there between the bankers’ demand for TARP in the face of their free-market rhetoric on the one hand, and on the other the Tea Party’s demands encapsulated in the now-iconic sign reading “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”? Both want everything that’s coming to them, and everyone else should keep their greedy hands off.

Pointing out that everyone who withdraws money from a bank that’s been bailed out by the FDIC is taking a government bailout, Frank talks to the TPers about bankers and TARP.

The reason they — I mean, you — do these things should be as obvious as it is simple: “free market” has always been a high-minded way of saying “gimme,” and when the heat rises, the “market” is invariably replaced by more direct methods, like demanding bailouts from the government you hate. Banks get bailouts for the simple reason that they want bailouts and have the power to insist on them — the same circumstances that got them deregulated in wave after wave in the Eighties, Nineties, and Aughts.

In this sense, Romney, who is loud and proud when it comes to the need for further deregulation, has actually been more consistent than you. He’s the gimme candidate of 2012 and so he should really be your guy.

Frank is an excellent writer, but more importantly a perspicacious observer. He likes to start by describing a well-known situation in such detail that we’re struck by the depth of his hipness. Then he steps back from the immediacy and applies a deep knowledge of history, particularly the history of popular movements in the US. This leads the reader to an almost postmodern realization of the nature of the spectacle. Which is immediately followed by a realization of the ridiculousness of the whole thing, in this case the idea of capitalism as a value in human life, something God-given and not to be violated at our peril.

That we don’t have pure capitalism in America is not a revelation vouchsafed to the great Tea Party awakening. For decades, the idea has been a staple of the left, where the limited-capitalist model is generally understood as a good thing. The state is involved in the economy all right, the libs say, but that’s because it has to be. A complete free market would be a disaster, something not even the business community itself wants to try. The real problem, from the liberal perspective, is that government doesn’t go far enough — it merely doles out public subsidies of one kind or another while shareholders of private companies walk off with the profits, in the now familiar scenario of socialised risk and privatised gain.

The revitalised right simply turned this argument upside down. Yes, government had its finger in every segment of the economy, and that’s what was to blame for everything that had happened. Market forces had never been truly free, and therefore they bore none of the blame for our current predicament. And so the obvious answer arose from a thousand megaphones: get government out of the picture completely. Until the day free enterprise was totally unleashed, capitalism itself could be held responsible for nothing.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:29 PM
December 27, 2011
Merry Christmas from NewtHampshire

I think you should all watch this holiday beauty:




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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:32 PM
December 13, 2011
Genius for Dummies

From The Liberal Curmudgeon:

I have been perplexed for some time why Newt Gingrich is routinely acknowledged even by his bitter enemies within the Republican Party as a “genius,” but the answer turns out to be simple: he acts exactly like one of those obnoxious elitist intellectual know-it-alls that the right-wing know-nothings think is the hallmark of an intellectual. He is constantly reminding us of his doctorate in history; he routinely claims he understands issues more deeply than anyone else; he has made a career of denouncing or (when he had the authority) eliminating professional expertise that might challenge his own certain pronouncements; and he is a veritable fount of crackpot “big” ideas (mining minerals on the moon, protecting the United States from sci-fi doomsday scenarios, and “fundamentally transforming” everything as a first step to doing anything.

Another useful rule of thumb: real geniuses, as opposed to simple egomaniacs, do not generally refer to themselves in the third person.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:43 AM
December 02, 2011
Where the Jobs Are

We need more rich persons like this:

…I’m a very rich person. As an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I’ve started or helped get off the ground dozens of companies in industries including manufacturing, retail, medical services, the Internet and software. I founded the Internet media company aQuantive Inc., which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. in 2007 for $6.4 billion. I was also the first non-family investor in Amazon.com Inc.

Even so, I’ve never been a “job creator.” I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate.

That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is the feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion a virtuous cycle that allows companies to survive and thrive and business owners to hire. An ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than I ever have been or ever will be.

When businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it is like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.

It is unquestionably true that without entrepreneurs and investors, you can’t have a dynamic and growing capitalist economy. But it’s equally true that without consumers, you can’t have entrepreneurs and investors. And the more we have happy customers with lots of disposable income, the better our businesses will do.

That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When the American middle class defends a tax system in which the lion’s share of benefits accrues to the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:51 PM
November 06, 2011
“The Best Little Whore in Texas”

Why you never, ever want to get Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi on your case:

Perry lumbers onstage looking exceedingly well-groomed, but also ashen and exhausted, like a funeral director with a hangover… Then he waves and walks offstage. The whole thing has taken barely 10 minutes.

I can’t believe it, and neither can the assembled crowd of Georgia conservatives, who hesitate before breaking into polite applause. I feel like a high school cheerleader who just had her leg jizzed on in the back of a convertible. That’s it? It’s over? That was Rick Perry’s stump speech?…

After all, you have to go pretty far to stand out as a whore and a sellout when you come from a state that has produced such luminaries in the history of political corruption as LBJ, Karl Rove and George W. Bush. But Rick Perry has managed to set a scary new low in the annals of opportunism, turning Texas into a swamp of political incest and backroom dealing on a scale not often seen this side of the Congo or Sierra Leone…

Perry is a human price tag – Being There meets Left Behind

He sweats profusely. He can’t stand still. When he does manage to get off a zinger, he cracks a smug grin, looking like he’s just sewn up the blue ribbon in a frat-house dong-measuring contest.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:37 PM
October 08, 2011
Now You Try It?

Generals are said always to be fighting the last war. In a similar vein, I wonder if we’re not on the verge of discovering that the political powers still think the previous world order, which to many seems to be collapsing, is just in a slump and will come roaring back with all the benefits of another speculative bubble. All it takes to put things right, whispers power to itself, is a little nudge here and tweak there; the machine’s in fine condition, it just needs a tuneup.

The current Democratic version of this delusion seems to be that all Obama needs to do to be re-elected is strike some fighting postures and anoint himself once more the champion of the 99% in resistance against the 1% who’ve financed his entire political career.

The sad thing is, it’s probably an accurate view, if only because the opposing field comprises such a sorry bunch. To my mind it’s a loss that Bachmann is falling out of contention, because a prolonged visit to the big stage would have made her quite an entertaining figure. But the Republicans continue to find entertaining characters to parade before America’s television cameras, distracting attention from the serious business of frustrating the business of the country.

So in a way you can understand how it came to pass that Harry Reid decided to employ what might be called the atomic option, a sort of mini-nuclear option. The nuclear option, you recall, was originally the threat back when the GOP held the Senate to eliminate the filibuster, which the Democrats occasionally used to stop or delay bills they didn’t like for whatever reason. Once the Democrats took over, their traditional instinct to compromise away the store kicked in, led by the Compromiser-in-Chief without doubt but ably assisted by Majority Leader Reid-in-the-Wind. And of course the Republicans discovered a new-found delight in the fairness of the filibuster, and began to employ it at every opportunity. Thus, again, the Republicans argue for silly bullshit, and the Democrats meet them half way. So they do it again, and get another half. And so on. Any time now the Republicans will decide they’ve got enough.

Now, with the 2012 election season nearly upon us, Obama and Reid need to find some nifty tricks to re-engage the constituents they’ve lost over the past three years of shirking Constitutional duties. So Obama decides to pose like a fighter after years of being begged to take that role, in a situation carefully chosen for political effect immediately before the election. Reid, blowing along, uses majority rule to overturn a Senate convention that everyone knows the Republicans will exploit to the hilt the next time they take the Senate, with the rather limited object of avoiding a vote that would likely reveal Democratic disunity. A couple of years ago, in the flush of the Obama victory, this sort of maneuver with the object of moving some socially valuable legislation such as a real jobs bill would have seemed risky but bold and forward-looking, a hopeful sign. Today, employed to prevent a political embarrassment, it seems weak, calculated, and ineffective, no more than a political ploy that will inevitably backfire with much greater consequences than whatever benefit its use engenders.

What we need is to fight for our positions in the world and to democratize our country. It may just turn out that we are witnessing the first realistic possibility of it; and the old order, rapidly changing though it is, can’t keep up. Perhaps we’ll look back in a few years at the Arab Spring as the beginning of a world-wide movement to take power back from the oligarchs and return it to the hands that actually own it: ours. Eric Cantor’s increasingly concerned about he calls the mobs occupying Wall Street? Well he oughta be, because it’s the front man who always gets it first in the movies, and Occupy Wall Street is coming for the people Cantor fronts for.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:51 AM
September 17, 2011
The Fruits of Compromise

Why do they hate us? You don’t suppose fifty years of overt hypocrisy could be related to it, do you?

“When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel,” Obama said in [a] 2010 [UN speech].

So now here we are a year later, and the Palestinians want him to live up to that. Naturally he didn’t mean it, it was just a bunch of rhetoric; but it cost him big with pro-Israeli voters in the US, and it left him vulnerable once again to the charge of saying one thing and doing the opposite. Supporters of Israel are angry with him for pushing to end settlement activity; supporters of Palestine are angry with him for failing.

Politics is the art of compromise, they used to say, but in the US it hasn’t been true for at least thirty years. When Reagan came into office we gave up our last shred of seriousness and replaced it with full-time PR. JFK had nearly weekly press conferences where he spoke directly with reporters who had at least to pretend to be interested in the country’s welfare. Reagan was carefully protected from questions because, being both stupid and uninformed, he always made a fool of himself when he tried to answer. They came up with the idea of keeping the rotors on the Presidential helicopter running while he walked to the White House door so that reporters would be unable to shout questions at him as he walked past.

As the empire fails, we’ll see more and more of this kind of behavior, completely out of keeping with the actual situation. Leadership in the US continues to act as if we’re the sovereign power and everyone else knows they must defer, but it isn’t true. In fact the world has seen us lose our grip, hand control of our economy to China, and expose our military weakness by being unable either to win or withdraw in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is why now is the perfect time, from a game-player’s point of view at least, for the Palestinians to go to the UN in search of recognition.

Most likely the US will end up vetoing the Security Council resolution in favor of statehood for Palestine, very possibly being the only negative vote. This will, as the former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the US recently pointed out, make the US toxic in the region, or more precisely more toxic than at present.

Ironically, Obama is doing all this for political reasons as his support among Jewish groups in swing states like Florida drops and Netanyahu continually thumbs his nose at the President. Yet Obama has his UN ambassador proclaim that:

There’s no shortcut, there’s no magic wand that can be waved in New York and make everything right. In fact, there’s a risk in that because if you’re an average person in the Palestinian territories and your hopes have been raised that by some action here in New York something will be different, the reality is that nothing is going to change.

And why is nothing going to change? Because the US will continue to fund and support the occupation it claims to be against. Everyone can see this but Americans; we’re fooling no one, and endangering ourselves in the process. Obama is doing this for political reasons, and it isn’t working. That is simple ineptitude.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:12 PM
August 24, 2011
He Is the Very Model of a Modern Texan President…

Here’s an excerpt (via Jay Bookman), but watch the video for the full intellectual experience. That Rick Perry will probably be the GOP’s White Hope in 2012 would be hard to believe — if we hadn’t just lived through eight years of George W. Bush.

SMITH: Governor, why does Texas continue with abstinence education programs when they don’t seem to be working? In fact, I think we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.

PERRY: “Abstinence … works.”

(audience laughter)

SMITH: “But we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate among all states in the country. The questioner’s point is, it doesn’t seem to be working — abstinence education.”

PERRY: “It, it, it works. Maybe it’s the way it’s being taught, or the way it’s being applied out there, but the fact of the matter is it is the best form of — uh — to teach our children.”

SMITH: “Can you give a statistic telling me that it works?”

PERRY: “I’m just going to tell you from my own personal life, abstinence works …”




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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:49 PM
August 17, 2011
Turdblossom Seeks New Master

Karl Rove attacks James Richard Perry (incidentally, is America ready for a president with three first names?) and Seasoned Political Observers examine the tea leaves as far back as the 1990 race for Texas agriculture commissioner.

It’s simpler than that, people.

Rove is a courtier, at the moment without a king. If I had a shot at becoming president, Rove would be indifferent to the fact I am a socialist, agnostic, semi-anarchist enemy of everything he thinks the Founding Oligarchs stood for. He would be prancing around me 24/7, blowing kisses and moistening his lips suggestively.

That Rove is sticking it to Perry today has nothing to do with old feuds. It means only that he needs a new king and he doesn’t think he could make this particular enemy of the people into one.

So he’s abandoning Perry early as a signal of friendship and availability to all the other Republican hopefuls.

Speaking of whom, I went to a meet-and-greet Saturday with four Democratic contenders for our district’s seat in the U.S. Congress. One was the speaker of the Connecticut House, another a House representative, and the other two were very young men with no political experience but impressive backgrounds in academia and foreign affairs. Each spoke briefly, then answered questions and worked the crowd for an hour or so.

On the drive home it struck me that any one of the four would in all likelihood make a better president than any of the Republican aspirants. (I’m open to persuasion on Huntsman, but just barely. My general feeling about anyone who would seek the nomination of today’s Republican Party is summed up by the old graffito: A man’s ambition must be small, to write his name on a shit-house wall.)


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:31 AM
August 09, 2011
Making Nice with Mr. Elephant

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.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:28 PM
August 02, 2011
The Gang of 435

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:


My name is J. Millbank the Snail;
I have horns and a shell and a tail;
The people go by me,
Say, “Yecch! Oh how slimy!”
And I never get any nice mail.


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Posted by Paul Duffy at 06:18 PM
August 01, 2011
The Bible Tells Us…

…how to figure out which harlot would just as soon see the baby drowned in the bathtub. Once King Solomon determined that, he returned the baby to its mother. Once our solons made the same determination, they decided to leave the kid with the kidnapper.

There’s a upside, though. The harlot who actually gives a shit about the baby will be granted visitation rights. Details yet to be worked out, but the best guess at the moment is from five to seven p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. Supervised visits, of course, so she won’t smuggle in food stamps or Medicaid.

Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him. And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.

And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.

And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.

Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living. And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.

Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.

Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:24 PM
July 31, 2011
Time to Tremble

Gary Hart:

What seems especially unjust — and this is a matter of justice — is the surrender of national progress to the forces whose old ideas brought on the conditions now deemed to require retrenchment to a more primitive past. Resistance to paying for the national and social policies of a great, good, and progressive society by those most able to do so, by those who have benefited most handsomely from American society, by those most protected by the pillars of American strength, is not only aggravating, it is unjust, unfair, and immoral.

However one views history and divine providence, nations are judged and unjust ones are found wanting. Etched on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial are these words of Biblical implications: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:29 PM
July 19, 2011
What’s the Matter with Brownback?

You really have to hand it to the tax-cutters for doggedness; no matter how many times it fails, they never waver from their chosen strategy. Why should they, when it brings in so much cash?

Perhaps you read about Sam Brownback’s brilliant idea to get people to move to the rural parts of Kansas. If not, it’s a hoot, so check it out. Basically the rural counties in the state have been losing population, some rapidly. Now that he’s governor, Sam figures to bolster the count by offering tax breaks to people who move there. This is only state tax, of course, which averages about $1,800 per Kansan. But if $1,800 for five years isn’t quite enough to move you to the Kansas outback, wait, there’s more! How about if we pay up to 20% of your student loan, maxing out at $15,000? Then what would you say to living in Colby, which seems to be the largest settlement in the specified 50 counties? After all, jobs may be hard to find, but housing is cheap! The weather is less than optimal, but you won’t pay state taxes for the first five years. Think of everything you could do with that $9K — trips to New York, San Francisco, Hawaii, anywhere…


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:43 AM
July 08, 2011
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…

I never thought I’d be holding up Bill Clinton as a profile in ballsiness, but here goes. This is from historian Taylor Branch’s 2009 book, The Clinton Tapes:

On tape, Clinton said he had pleaded for calm, and he described the climactic confrontation since as deceptively quiet. A week ago tonight, he almost whispered to Gingrich and Dole his reasons to veto their last, loaded resolutions keeping the government afloat. “You’re not the only people with convictions,” he told them.

His spiel extended full credit for sincerity to the other side. They all wanted to balance the budget, but they could finish the job without riders to the budget that would throw 380,000 kids out of Head Start. Or slash college funds or Medicaid.

If he must close the government to uphold countervailing values, so be it. He promised Gingrich and Dole that they would feel his priorities before this was over. Gingrich especially seemed shaken by the final notice. They were going over the cliff after all, and the Speaker quickly confided his surprise. All his calculations had assumed Clinton would bend or fold.

Clinton said he thought Gingrich and his caucus were fooled by their own propaganda about the moral force of their proclaimed crusade. In the past week of shock or shutdown, as the President’s approval ratings skyrocketed while those of Congress plummeted, they clung to hopes that the adverse reaction was temporary panic. The president thought the mainstream press fed their delusion by attributing his success to nimble posturing and salesmanship — anything but a strong stand on principle…

Since the 1980s, Republicans projected absurdly high growth and low inflation in order to conceal their massive accumulation of public debt, while the Republican Congress now was predicting years of low growth and high inflation to justify their maximum cuts in nonmilitary programs…

His polls had shot up nearly to 70 percent with the likeliest voters, 55 and older, even though he had not yet gotten to veto appropriations slashing Medicare and Medicaid. He said these shutdown vetoes were magnificent teaching tools … If the next continuing resolution contained more poisoned riders as the price of reopening the government, he would veto that, too, gaining a platform to explain. “There are horrible things in there,” he said. “People have no idea.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:38 AM
July 01, 2011
Craziness, Too, Is a Choice…

…and that nice Bachmann couple have made it:

Along with offering faith-based counseling at his clinic, Bachmann also gives presentations at various conferences. In November 2005, he and Rep. Bachmann both ran sessions at a “Minnesota Pastors’ Summit” in Eden Prairie, Minnesota: hers focused on the gay marriage amendment she was trying to push through the state legislature, and his was titled “The Truth About the Homosexual Agenda…”

The climax of the presentation was when, according to Prins, Bachmann brought up “three ex-gays, like part of a PowerPoint presentation.” The trio, two white men and a black woman, all testified that they had renounced their homosexuality. “One of them said, ‘If I was born gay, then I’ll have to be born again,’” Prins recalls. “The crowd went crazy.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:10 PM
June 27, 2011
Show Us Your Birth Certificate, Michele

This is from a speech by native-born Iowan Michele Bachmann, announcing in Iowa her candidacy for president of Iowa and the other 49 states, none of which can hold a candle to Iowa, poor things.

My late father-in-law was also from Waterloo, although he was too modest to boast of it outside the family. His were the instinctive good manners of the American peasant, and he would never have lorded it over those unfortunate enough to have been born in states without caucuses. “T’warn’t no big thing being born in Iowa,” he would say to us young’uns. “Ma done the hard part.”

But enough of my own deep roots in Waterloo. Here’s Congresswoman Bachmann:

It’s great to be in Iowa and even better to be in Waterloo where I was born. It’s fitting to be here at the Snowden House, the place that once served as the home of the Waterloo Women’s Club. I stand here today in front of many friends and family to formally announce my candidacy for President of the United States…

I often say that everything I needed to know I learned in Iowa. It was at Hawthorne and Valley Park Elementary Schools and my home, both a short distance from here, where those Iowan roots were firmly planted. It’s those roots and my faith in God that guide me today. I’m a descendant of generations of Iowans. I know what it means to be from Iowa — what we value and what’s important. Those are the values that helped make Iowa the breadbasket of the world and those are the values, the best of all of us that we must recapture to secure the promise of the future.

Below is footage of Congresswoman Bachmann groping George W. Bush as he flees her advances like a Guinean housekeeper in the Hotel Sofitel. Bush himself was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, although he never gives speeches about it. It’s like he was ashamed or something.




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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:15 PM
June 23, 2011
My Mommy is Prettier Than Your Mommy

This is from the maiden speech of Florida’s Senator Mark Rubio, and a childish, thought-free piece of work it was. In it he asked, trembling with fear for the world beyond our borders where there be dragons:

If America declines, who will serve as living proof that liberty, security and prosperity can all exist together?

Gosh, that’s a tough one, but I’ll give it a try. Great Britain, maybe? Canada? The Netherlands? Costa Rica? France? New Zealand? Norway? Switzerland? Australia? The Isle of Man? Japan? Ireland? Sweden? Belgium? Spain? Germany? Italy? Iceland? Denmark? Luxembourg? Austria?

There must be others, but I’ve got to go now. They’re calling me for din-din.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:43 PM
June 19, 2011
What Did They Expect?

“When are people going to learn? Democracy doesn’t work.” Homer Simpson seems to me to have underestimated popular capacity, but not popular performance. Take, for hilarious example, Der Gropenführer.

Schwarzenegger now is seen negatively by 75 percent of state voters and has the approval of just 20 percent of Californian voters, with 5 percent having no opinion, according to the survey by Field Research. His ratings are worst in his hometown of Los Angeles, where 90 percent of respondents gave him a thumbs down, the poll showed.

He’s even lower rated than Gray Davis, whom he ousted in a slickly marketed recall election, or Pete Wilson, who managed his campaign, previously the two most unpopular governors of California.

This is stunning, just completely stunning. What sort of electorate can we hope to muster when people who lived around someone, saw his life, and watched his actions are shocked when the single most likely event actually happens? How can we hope to have a working democracy when the population at large is unable to predict even the most obvious future outcomes? Really, folks, you’re surprised to find that Ahnold has fathered a child outside his marriage? Do you need directions to the bathroom?

Bob Altemeyer talks about the authoritarian mindset operating from above and below, one imposing and the other seeking controlled situations. Twenty-first century Americans project similar unconscious archetypes onto authority figures, a trend especially noticeable among those whose religious beliefs persuade them that some entity outside themselves will do the work involved in saving them.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:34 AM
June 10, 2011
The New Principate

When I hear the despairing tone in friends’ voices — all hope lost! — I try to comfort them by pointing out that had we elected Kerry, Biden, Clinton (Hillary, in this case, but either), Gore, or Lieberman we’d be in pretty much the same boat. Unfortunately, this doesn’t prove to be of much assistance.

So it might not be helpful to point to Daniel Ellsberg’s interview on CNN’s In The Arena blog. In the interview he tells how Abraham Lincoln explained to his former law partner William Herndon his opposition to President Polk’s deliberately provoked Mexican War. Ellsberg quotes from Lincoln’s letter:

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.

Unhappily that Constitutional frame has collapsed completely, and we’re left with an American princeps; a republic in form only, in reality a principate backed by an all-consuming war machine.

…as has been pointed out repeatedly by Glenn Greenwald, and Bruce Ackerman, David Swanson and others, no president has so blatantly violated the constitutional division of war powers as President Obama in his ongoing attack on Libya, without a nod even to the statutory War Powers Act, that post-Pentagon Papers effort by Congress to recapture something of the role assigned exclusively to it by the Constitution.

This open disregard of a ruling statute (regardless of his supposed feelings about its constitutionality, which Obama has not even bothered to express) is clearly an impeachable offense, though it will certainly not lead to impeachment — given the current complicity of the leaders of both parties — any more than President George W. Bush’s misleading Congress into his crime against the peace, aggression, in Iraq, or President Johnson’s lies to obtain the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:02 PM
IOKIYAR

From Kitty Kelley’s dissection of the Bush dynasty, The Family:

As President, Bush kept a male fertility figure, which he had received from the President of Mozambique, in the Oval Office bathroom. The carved wooden statue, facing the toilet, stood three feet high and was anatomically correct, if somewhat exaggerated. The President kept a roll of toilet paper on the extended male organ. He liked to send young women into the bathroom and watch their reaction when they emerged.

“Alixe Glenn, who was deputy press secretary and about twenty-six years old at the time, told a group of reporters about George Herbert Walker Bush’s weird sex thing,” recalled one White House correspondent. “She said the President told her to go into his bathroom and wash her hands. She did as she was told and came out red-faced with embarrassment. The President thought it was killingly funny.”

TODAY'S QUIZ

1. Why did the President of Mozambique think this was an appropriate gift?

2. Why did Ms. Glenn tell this story to reporters?

3. Why didn’t they print it?

4. If George Herbert Walker Bush were president today, would he Tweet?

5. If so, what?

6. Would Andrew Breitbart post it?

7. For sheer classiness, would you prefer (A) a president who finds it funny to embarrass a young female employee by exposing her to a giant wooden penis from Mozambique or (B) a president who allows a smitten young female employee to fellate him? “Neither” is not an acceptable answer; this is not a test of your political correctness. Choose one, and be honest.

8. Now rank the two presidents again, this time on the basis of psychosexual health.

9. Go to the bathroom and wash your own hands, as necessary.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:50 PM
June 08, 2011
Domestic Lies

No link to this, because I'm at a library on a PC rather than an Apple, and am therefore terminally confused. But it's from Rick Hertzberg's New Yorker blog, a link to which will be found in the sidebar to your right.

The era of the modern sex scandal began in 1988 with Gary Hart, Donna Rice, the S.S. Monkey Business, and the Miami Herald. It seems almost quaint now, but back then it was de rigueur for the press to maintain that the sex scandal of the moment was not really “about” sex. What it was “about” was lying, which in turn meant that it was “about” something more important than sex, i.e., “character.”

The problem is that lying is an inherent part of adultery and, by extension, of any illicit or potentially embarrassing sexual activity or proclivity. By itself, the fact that a person has lied about sex tells you nothing about that person’s general propensity to lie. Unlike most citizens, prominent politicians like Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, and Anthony Weiner make speeches by the hundred, give media interviews constantly, and have extensively documented public records. If the politician is a habitual or characterological liar, the public record will show it and the lying-about-sex is redundant. If the politician is not a habitual or characterological liar, his lying-about-sex is misleading — is itself a lie, in a way.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:01 PM
June 03, 2011
Trying to Stop a War in the Middle East?

I’ve been so caught up in all the work involved in grad school that I very rarely get to post, and often even fall behind in knowing what’s going on. Thus I might be behind, so bring me up to date if so. But isn’t it a pretty big deal for the recently-retired intelligence chief to have characterized the country’s chief executive and defense head as dangerous and unstable decision-makers likely to take military action for political purposes?

This appears to me to be what Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad, is saying about Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak. Apparently he believes they are contemplating an airstrike on Iran in response to the expected UN General Assembly vote in September to recognize the Palestinian state within 1967 borders. He is also claiming that two other recently retired officers agree: the chief of staff of the military and the head of Shin Bet.

This appears to translate in American terms to having the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the directors of the CIA and the FBI retire in quick succession and begin to say publicly that the President and the Secretary of Defense were dangerous warmongers likely to start a war so they could hold onto their personal power and enrich their friends and sponsors.

Of course, such a vote in the UN may be an expression of widespread world opinion, but as the note appended to the Times report on the upcoming vote points out, it will have no force in international law because the United States in its role as permanent member of the Security Council will veto the required recommendation. This is exactly why such status was created, to entrench existing power structures.

Now that Obama has joined the European position on using 1967 borders with land swaps as a starting position, pressure on the Israeli government to respond to the so-called Arab spring has increased, in other words, but not to the point that a Palestinian state might actually be recognized by the UN. The US will undoubtedly prevent that from happening.

Still, just to see Obama moving in that direction must be unsettling to Netanyahu. And to have his recently-retired intelligence chief call him out for poor judgment is not likely to evoke whatever warm and fuzzy side Bibi possesses. Should be interesting to watch. Hopefully no one gets bombed.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:32 PM
May 12, 2011
At Last Science Unravels…

… the mystery of what ails Limbaugh’s dittoheads and the Tea Party and Fox News listeners and Glenn Beck fans and birthers and the entire alumni body of Liberty University as well as the electorates of Texas, Oklahoma and South Carolina. It turns out that these unfortunates may suffer from frontotemporal dementia, rendering them unable to recognize lies and sarcasm. No cure is in sight, but at least their malady now has a name.

While millions of dollars are being spent on scientific research to find an early detection system for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco think they have found a simple method. They say senior citizens unable to detect sarcasm and lies are likely victims of dementia.

By asking a group of older adults to analyze videos of other people conversing — some talking truthfully, some insincerely — a group of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco has determined which areas of the brain govern a person’s ability to detect sarcasm and lies.

Some of the adults in the group were healthy, but many of the test subjects had neurodegenerative diseases that cause certain parts of the brain to deteriorate. The UCSF team mapped their brains using magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, which showed associations between the deteriorations of particular parts of the brain and the inability to detect insincere speech…

The ability to detect lies resides in the brain’s frontal lobe. In diseases like frontotemporal dementia, this is one of the areas that progressively degenerates because of the accumulation of damaged proteins known as tau and the death of neurons in those areas.

Because the frontal lobes play a significant role in complex, higher-order human behaviors, losing the ability to detect lies is only one of several ways the disease may manifest. The first signs of the disease may be any number of severe behavioral changes. People sometimes behave in socially inappropriate ways or undergoing fundamental shifts in outlook — switching political affiliations or changing religions, for instance.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:57 AM
April 28, 2011
Alternatively, “Don’t Be a Prick”

Here’s Jonathan Chait on “Liberalism’s Bumper Sticker Problem:”

The bumper sticker problem is endemic for American liberalism. On foreign policy, it’s actually a murky split, with ideologies cutting across both party coalitions. But on economics, there’s a persistent phenomenon of conservatives having clear bumper-sticker answers and liberals lacking them. That’s because, as I’ve argued before, conservatism is philosophically anti-government in a way that liberalism is not philosophically pro-government. “Market good, government bad” fits on a bumper sticker. So does “Government good, market bad.” The problem is that the former pretty well describes the Republican philosophy, while the latter describes the philosophy only of a tiny socialist fringe operating mainly outside the two-party system.

Here’s my solution to the problem: BE KIND TO STRANGERS. What’s yours?


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:50 AM
April 27, 2011
Insufficiency of Insanity?

Is Barack Obama too sane to be president? Here’s Dana Milbank:

As Obama’s capacity for complex thought can become a liability, so, too, can his cool rationality. Politics often rewards the emotional over the rational. Nuclear deterrence, for example, works only if your enemy thinks you are crazy enough to destroy the world.

Such “strategic irrationality” can be useful in negotiations. If your opponent thinks you really might do something crazy — like, say, shut down the federal government over a small budget dispute — then you have more power to bluff. But because Obama is unfailingly rational, opponents aren’t afraid of him doing something crazy.

“If the logic of a threat doesn’t make sense, it can still work if [your opponents] think you will be in the grips of an emotional reaction that’s not under your control,” says Robert Frank, an economist at Cornell University who specializes in behavior and emotion. “With Obama, it doesn’t seem there would be any emotional reaction that is not under his control.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:57 AM
April 20, 2011
Same Rose, Same Toilet?

Just about four years ago the Grand Old Tea Party held a cattle call in South Carolina for its hapless crew of presidential hopefuls. A lot of the old gang are still around and still hopeful. One is Ron Paul, for whom I’ve had a soft spot ever since. Here’s why, from my post of May 16, 2007:

Sure enough, Pastor Mike Huckabee had the crowd in giggles right off the bat with this thigh-slapper: “We've done what Senator McCain has suggested. We've had a Congress that's spent money like Edwards at a beauty shop.”

My, how they laughed! The folks wouldn’t have been more delighted if good old Mike had just gay-bashed Mark Foley or Ted Haggard or Ken Mehlman or Mary Cheney or Karl Rove’s beloved stepfather. Probably less delighted, actually.

But enough of that.

A few minutes later an odd thing happened. Some guy that nobody ever even heard of grabbed a mike and committed common sense, right up there on the stage with women and innocent children watching.

It came as a mild but not unpleasant shock, like pulling up the lid and finding a rose in the toilet …

The perpetrator was named Ron Paul, who turned out upon investigation to be an obstetrician with libertarian leanings, an Air Force vet and an obscure Texas congressman who once represented Tom DeLay’s old district. Here’s some of what he said:

We’ve started with — we’ve just — the Republicans put in the Department of Homeland — it’s a monstrous type of bureaucracy. It was supposed to be streamlining our security and it’s unmanageable. I mean, just think of the efficiency of FEMA in its efforts to take care of the floods and the hurricanes…

We were spending $40 billion on security prior to 9/11, and they had all the information they needed there to deal with the threat, and it was inefficiency. So what do we do? We add a gigantic bureaucracy, which they’re still working on trying to put it together, and a tremendous amount of increase in funds…

There’s a strong tradition of being anti-war in the Republican party. It is the constitutional position. It is the advice of the Founders to follow a non-interventionist foreign policy, stay out of entangling alliances, be friends with countries, negotiate and talk with them and trade with them.

Q: Congressman, you don’t think that changed with the 9/11 attacks, sir?

No. Non-intervention was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years …

We don’t understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we’re building an embassy in Iraq that’s bigger than the Vatican. We’re building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us. (Applause.)

Q:Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?

I’m suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we’re over there because Osama bin Laden has said, “I am glad you’re over on our sand because we can target you so much easier.” They have already now since that time — have killed 3,400 of our men, and I don’t think it was necessary.

MR. GIULIANI: Wendell, may I comment on that? That’s really an extraordinary statement. That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I’ve heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. (Applause, cheers.)

And I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that. (Applause.)

Q:Congressman?

I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.

They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there. I mean, what would we think if we were — if other foreign countries were doing that to us?

This is the first time I can remember that any candidate for the presidency, of either party, has taken seriously the question that Osama bin Laden once suggested we ask ourselves: Why didn’t his men attack Stockholm? The misnamed “War on Terror” can only be won once we react to that question like grownups, not like Rudolph Giuliani and the fools who cheered him so wildly last night.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:55 AM
April 13, 2011
The Death of the Bullet Train?

I’ve just finished listening to President Obama’s speech laying out his plans to save the nation’s economy from Paul Ryan, the trust fund baby from Wisconsin.

No politically significant number of American voters watched along with me, because who watches long speeches in the middle of the day? (People whose minds are already made up, that’s who.) Too bad, since it was a simple, clear and convincing takedown of the Grand Old Tea Party’s plan to push our economy underwater for the third and final time.

However (you knew there’d be a however, didn’t you?), one thing struck me as the speech went along. Take a look:

We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce…

We won’t be able to afford good schools, new research, or the repair of roads and bridges – all the things that will create new jobs and businesses here in America…

It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them…

We’ll invest in medical research and clean energy technology. We’ll invest in new roads and airports and broadband access:

We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness…

Every reference to railroads is in the past tense, as if no further attention needs to be paid. The golden spike got driven in 1869, after all. Maybe I’m making too much of what may have been an innocent and meaningless oversight. But in my experience major presidential addresses to the nation tend to be vetted pretty carefully by a great many players, each fighting for at least a mention of its pet projects. And not a historical mention.

Note: I love to say I told you so. At 8:18 p.m., CNN Radio moved the story from which this comes:

(CNN) — President Barack Obama’s plan for a national high-speed rail network suffered a serious setback as a result of the fight over budget cuts. No money will be allocated for high-speed rail projects for the remainder of 2011…

The budget bill says the amount of money for “Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, Capital Assistance for High Speed Rail Corridors and Intercity Passenger Rail Service shall be $0” for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. Another section of the bill rescinds $400 million from the funds that were already budgeted for high-speed rail in 2010…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:49 PM
April 12, 2011
It Is What It Is

From The Mahablog:

We’ve got a status quo that even a president can’t break out of, folks. It’s bigger than him. We could bring back FDR himself, and in the current political climate, he’d be just as hogtied.

I’m not saying that President Obama is above criticism; not at all. I’m saying that we’re never going to get the president we want in the current political climate. Even a candidate blazing with the most fiery passions of populist economic progressivism and liberal values would be reduced to cutting draconian deals over abortion and tax cuts even to implement a few mildly progressive tweaks.

So, perpetually screaming that Obama has sold us all out or is no better than Bush is pointless and infantile. Grow up and face reality. It’s the system, stupid.

Obama is not the president of Sweden. He is the president of a country in love with ignorance, superstitious and easily frightened. The system of government which he nominally heads has resisted significant structural change for more than two hundred years of the most stunning scientific and technological advances in human history. We provide him with hot poultices and leeches, and resent him for not conquering cancer.

For more on this, Mahablog points us to BooMan’s treatment of the subject, from which this comes:

I stopped being very idealistic when I finally got around to making myself understand our system of government. I don’t get disappointed by a whole lot because my expectations are so low. I see a real threat out there. I see a threat to our way of life and to all humanity, and it stares me in the face every single day. That threat isn’t coming from Barack Obama or the Democratic Party. It’s coming from the other side of the aisle. And insofar as the Democrats are failing to meet the challenge (and they are failing) the real culprit is deep and structural and ingrained in our system and in our laws…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:41 PM
March 25, 2011
A Government as Good as the People…

…Jimmy Carter promised us during his campaign for the presidency. He did not add "but no better," although he should have — as he was shortly to discover. I just came across the following paragraphs in my files. I wrote them 20 years ago, and post them now for whatever relevance they may have today:

Communism is a worse system than ours not because its ideals are too low but because they are too high. It assumes intelligence and good will to be widespread among the higher primates, which is wildly counterfactual.

Marx forgot that where we stand depends on where we sit: that the worker raised to a boss becomes a boss, no better and no worse than if he had been born a Rockefeller. And so communism inevitably fell to the Stalins, which is to say to newer, smarter, stronger and crueler czars.

Our own system was fashioned not by scholars sitting in the British Library, but by experienced men who were, most of them, fed up with kings and czars whether hereditary or self-made.

The safeguards they built into the Constitution meant that if we would never be governed by a philosopher-king like Marcus Aurelius, nor would we suffer under a Nero. The voters would choose from the unexceptional middle where most of them comfortably resided, dimly suspicious of their betters.

So far this has protected us from an excess of either good or evil in our leaders. Perhaps the misfortune of the first is balanced by the benefits of the second; perhaps not. A truly wise and good president would certainly be fun to try, though.

Unfortunately such a president, to be effective, would require a wise and good citizenry, congress, and courts. But a government for the people being rendered impossible by the people themselves, we must be content to muddle along with what we have. It is what it is, and it could be worse.

On the evidence so far offered by history Americans will turn in times of great stress to an FDR rather than to a Huey Long or a Father Coughlin. Even in times of lesser stress, we do not send a MacArthur or a McCarthy to the White House; we send an Eisenhower. Although a Reagan may have stocked his administration with scum like John Mitchell, James Watt and William Casey, they were not president.

The worst we can manage when it comes to Hitlers or Stalins in the White House seems to be amiable front men for evil. The latter do as much damage as they can in eight years, but it always falls short of fatal. Or has so far.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:25 PM
March 22, 2011
Sadly True

Robert Stein at Connecting.the.Dots reminds us of what the late, great Adlai Stevenson once said:

“The hardest thing about any campaign is how to win without proving you’re unworthy of winning.”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:06 PM
March 09, 2011
Getting What You Asked For

Chuck Butcher at Chuck for… says something that probably needs saying:

In Wisconsin half of you bothered to vote. Half. That means about a quarter of the eligible voters picked your elected officials. How many of you teachers didn’t bother, how many of you public janitors didn’t bother, how many whatevers of you just didn’t bother?

That begs the question of how many of you ignored your actual interests to vote against Obama or for some social right wing hobbyhorse that you won’t get. In point of fact, regarding the “Family Values Party,” not only won’t you get it but they don’t bother with it themselves.

You folks are providing endless amusement for the national media. What the hell, you haven’t listened to what the GOP has actually had to say? You didn’t pay any attention when reputable analysts said, “liars, liars, pants on fire?” Are you now saying, “We thought we were voting for reasonable, responsible Republicans,” and continue to believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa?


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:04 AM
January 22, 2011
Fire in the Hole

At Ketchup Is A Vegetable, Brady Bonk easily outshoots the NRA. Not that it matters. In a nation of cowards, fear beats logic every time.

A threatening person enters your home. You pick up a gun from your nightstand, and you successfully fire it into the person’s chest, ending his life and protecting your home. The police shake your hand and send you on your merry way and tell you what a good person you are.

It seems more likely to me that you’ll end up killing someone in your family or yourself and end up in jail or dead.

I mean, you think the guy on the phone this morning regularly takes his gun to a range? You think he’s had classes in gun safety, think he’s bothered to learn how to properly handle a firearm?

And, further: Do you think he has a fire extinguisher in his kitchen?

Well, I mean, come on. If your reason for keeping a firearm in your nightstand is that you have to defend your home, don’t you think you should be equally prepared to defend it from fire? And which of the five types of fire extinguisher does he own? And does he know whether to pick up his A, B, C, D, or K model depending on which sort of fire he’s got?

Does his family have an escape route in case of fire? Has he seen about installing a tougher deadbolt? Reinforced the windows? Locked down his sliding glass doors? Has he plugged unused electrical sockets? I mean, if you’re going to be the kind of guy who’s interested in defending his home and his family, then be that guy or stop with the bullshit nonsense…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:11 PM
January 11, 2011
Guns and Witches

As a student of psychology soon to be tasked with providing an approximation of mental health care, I noticed with particular alarm Sam Stein’s post about the 45 percent reduction in recipients of public mental health services in Pima County, Arizona, in 2010. In January, 3,000 people were dropped because they were deemed not to be actively displaying symptoms of mental illness. In July, 3,800 more were dropped because they didn’t fall below the federal poverty line. So in Pima County alone, 6,800 former recipients of public mental health care were set adrift, from a previous total of 15,000.

There’s no reason to think Loughner, the shooter, got any publicly funded mental health care, and he wasn’t one of those dropped. But you only have to read two or three of his sentences to realize that he needed it, and the statements of his former professors and fellow students to know that he should have been getting it because he was clearly exhibiting the signs of serious mental illness.

Interestingly, Arizona, which has one of the most expansive views of the right to bear arms, also has one of the most expansive views of the right to declare your neighbor completely whacked.

Under Arizona law, any one of Jared Lee Loughner’s classmates or teachers at Pima Community College so concerned about his increasingly bizarre behavior could have contacted local officials and asked that he be evaluated for mental illness and potentially committed for psychiatric treatment.

Mental health experts say that, unlike many other states — where little can be done to force an unstable person into treatment until he or she becomes violent and poses a danger to themself or others — Arizona is different.

Any person in Arizona can petition the court for a psychiatric evaluation solely because a person appears to be mentally ill and doesn’t know it.

I guess you’d need that kind of law if you figured most of your neighbors were carrying concealed weapons when you met them at the neighborhood bar.

The recent tragedy was not caused by the budget cuts and the dropping of 6,800 Pima County residents. But the shooter was most definitely in need of mental health care, and as predicted the number of suicides, hospitilizations, and police encounters has risen as a direct result of the cuts.

Thus the cost of treating an individual with a mental disorder, previously borne by the state with funds disbursed through the county, is eliminated. In its place are the costs of dealing with the results, whether they be the rare tragedy or the more common hospitilization, suicide, or fatal accident, which in general are borne by the local government. The state government’s budget looks better, but the overall costs are far higher. Just another example of how measuring things monetarily produces results that conflict with reality. Government should not be a business; it should protect the weak and provide everyone with a fair chance, in other words work for the true national interest.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:25 PM
January 02, 2011
More Life at the Ending of Empire

Dennis Jett, professor of international affairs at Penn State and former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, has an interesting op-ed on the McClatchy site. His basic claim is that by continuing the Bush tax cuts the Democrats and Republicans have combined to assure that Obama will be re-elected and the United States will decline to a secondary power.

Naturally, he says, this is the opposite of what McConnell says the Republicans are going for. But all Mitch has to do to realize that he can’t beat Obama in 2012, says Jett, is check the lineup of available candidates for the Republicans. Even Obama can beat them.

In exchange for this short-term political win for the Democrats, the Republicans get the long-term win of bankrupting the federal government through war and deficits, and the rich, who fund both parties, walk away with the profits. Turns out it’s more important to all three parties to cut taxes than to keep the country from falling apart.

But, Jett asks, do we really have a problem with high taxes in this country? He looks at studies of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, a group that includes pretty much all the so-called developed world and a few of the faster-developing countries from the rest.

These studies show taxes as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product in the U.S. are at their lowest level since at least 1965 and are the lowest in the OECD except for Mexico and Chile. At the same time, income inequality and poverty are higher in the U.S. than any other country in the OECD except Mexico and Turkey. As for the accusations that socialism is sweeping the land, only in Korea does the redistribution of income by government have a smaller effect.

The griping about taxes will continue nonetheless. The ability of Americans to have a rational discussion on the subject was long ago put to death by Ronald Reagan’s sound bites. Government became evil and greed became a virtue.

No country can be great if its citizens are unwilling to pay for it. No country will remain great if it neglects the health and education of those citizens who lack lobbyists. The tax cuts may have assured the President’s reelection, but they also ensure America will grow more separate and unequal, not unlike the proverbial banana republics. As a result the U.S. will slowly slip from the leader of the First World to an honorary member of the Third, unless Americans stop believing their exceptionalism stems only from their virtue and requires no sacrifice.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:08 PM
December 30, 2010
The Last Necessary Word on Palin

I pass along this from Robert Paul Wolff so you won’t have to waste any more of your time reading crap about Sarah Palin’s presidential prospects.

Back in the early seventies (when the late unlamented Richard Nixon was as yet an undisgraced president), I was sitting around with several UMass colleagues gossiping, as was our wont, about a mutual friend. He had just been elevated from the faculty to a Deanship, and we were speculating about what sort of administrator he would be. Since he had not even served as a Department Chair, we had no track record on which to base our speculations, so we were very much at a loss.

Then Zina Tillona, a Professor of Italian in the Romance Languages Department (since phased out as part of a long, tragic world-wide assault on the Humanities) offered a bit of folk wisdom that, with the benefit of many years of hindsight, I now recognize as truly profound.

“Well,” she said, “most people do most things the way they do most other things.”

At first, what she said struck me as being very close to tautological, but as I reflected on it, I began to realize the deep insight of that simple remark. People have styles of behavior, modes of interacting with the world, that are grounded in their character, and a person’s style of being manifests itself in small things as much as in large.

If a person is perpetually late, lingering with a student in her office rather than promptly moving on to the next student on her appointment list, she will probably continue to be late when it is Deans and Provosts she is dealing with. If a professor’s desk is neat and cleared of all papers, with six pencils lined up in a row, their newly sharpened points exactly aligned, then he will almost certainly be punctilious, precise, and obsessively complete in his scholarly work.

I thought of Zina’s maxim when trying to puzzle out the political ambitions and intentions of Sarah Palin. Would she run for the Republican presidential nomination? Did she even want to be president? One of my sons, to whom I had long since passed on Zina’s folk wisdom, recalled it for me, and went on to suggest that it held the answer to my questions.

Palin has held three significant positions in her life: mayor of Wasilla, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission, and Governor of Alaska. She walked away from the second and third, each time because she saw an opportunity to maximize her fame and personal wealth. She clearly had no interest in actually being Governor of Alaska, nor is there the slightest indication that she wanted actually to be, or even had any idea what was involved in being, Vice-President of the United States.

Since most people do most things the way they do most other things, she will almost certainly run for the nomination, because that is the best way to remain famous and to develop new money-making opportunities without working for them. But should she have early successes in the 2012 primaries, as well she may, she will find some way, before the nomination process is complete, to drop out of the race, presenting herself as a victim of all manner of plots and prejudices.

Indeed, even if she secures the nomination, it is a virtual certainty that she will quit the race before she is defeated on election day. That this will cause chaos in the Republican Party will be of no concern to her, for at no time in her entire career has she ever exhibited the slightest loyalty to anyone or anything beyond her own immediate interest.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:01 PM
December 27, 2010
Annals of Life at the Ending of Empire

The half-way mark of Obama’s first term draws to an end. Most of the fine dreams that brought him to office have so far been frustrated. Worse, the dreamers on whose shoulders this presidency rode to Washington are alternately mocked and patronized, with the barely hidden assumption that anyone to the left of Wall Street is not a serious citizen, but instead is either a wild-eyed leftist who believes that wealth is evil, a bleeding heart who’d bankrupt the country for temporary and futile assistance to the needy, or a simpleton incapable of understanding the complex workings of modern economies.

To some extent this is based on the continuing use of an obsolete mode of thought. After the Second World War, American industry dominated the world in a manner never seen before. The other pre-war industrial powers were largely in ruins, with huge losses in population and industrial plant, while the US homeland was unscathed, and we lost far fewer soldiers from a larger population than we had in our Civil War. We were hurt, but our industries were pumping out new items so fast, our problem was to find ways to create markets. The Marshall Plan was not purely an act of humanity, though it was that, or of smart diplomacy, though it was that in spades. It was also a attempt to get the European market on its feet as fast as possible; otherwise American industries would soon find themselves overproducing and be forced to cut back, sending the economy back into a depressive spiral.

At that time it made some sense to see the success of the American method and its distribution of benefits through a wide swath of society as based on our industrial might, our ability to produce massively more than we needed or could even realistically consume. If our industries continued to prosper, the thinking went, our economy and society would, too. Of course there was a certain silliness to this line of thought; wartime prosperity happened because of the endless markets and full employment the war created. Still, it made sense politically to promise continued growing prosperity to a war-weary public.

So was the US then less plutocratic than it is now? To some extent, perhaps; but more importantly, the plutocracy is now headed by financiers rather than captains of industry. In other words, we no longer make things, we merely shuffle bits, so we no longer need lots of workers. In fact, having lots of workers just divides the pie into smaller chunks, so we prefer the smallest number of workers possible. The result is that an increasing subset of the population is excluded from the economic recovery the media and the administration tout, and many of those who are still included endure worsening conditions.

As our main industry is now Wall Street, we should probably adjust our thinking to include the obvious fact that what benefits Forbes-list types no longer trickles down even to the small extent it used to. People involved in what Calvin Trillin called “this business of securitizing things that didn’t even exist in the first place” only need the person on the street to con, and as a resource when a con goes bad and has to be paid off by the taxpayers. Witness on both counts the recent real-estate meltdown and the scams that caused it.

Thus it’s not surprising that we alternate between Democrats who represent Wall Street and Republicans who represent Big Oil. And unfortunately it’s also not surprising that Americans raised on television and superheros continue to believe that the next representative of Wall Street or Big Oil will save the economy and the environment concurrently, stop the wars, end the torture and the illegal surveillance, and return us to the democracy we thought we had. Though we haven’t had it for a very long time, and only a minority of us even then.

So Obama promises change and delivers not a bit of it. In fact he doubles down on the most horrific Bush policies with the exception of Iraq, from which he transfers troops to Afghanistan. Where we now have a hundred thousand troops and likely at least that many contractors, presumably searching for the hundred or so al Qaeda operatives thought to be hiding somewhere near the border with Pakistan.

Most likely the military presence has nothing to do with projected routes of oil pipelines. It is interesting to note, however, that oil and weapons are two more of the biggest remaining US industries, and that the interests of Wall Street and Big Oil converge when it comes to hostilities, especially those aimed at procuring and securing oil.

In any case, the old model no longer applies: what’s good for American mega-corporations is rarely good for the country as a whole. But American presidents continue to operate on the old model.

From this point of view, we can understand Obama’s promise to find a middle ground as aimed at an audience consisting of the industries represented by the two parties, in particular finance and oil. Seen from this viewpoint, the first two years have been a great success: Obama has maneuvered along traditional lines to please the two greatest destructive forces the country has yet produced, using the tried and true method of foreign war against a helpless adversary. Even better, a mercurial one, so that we no longer need to demonize a nation or a people, which is considered racist nowadays. We can, though, still manage to scare ourselves with belated realizations that our worldwide exploits and exploitations have not always been greeted by the locals with the fondest of regards.

Which, as Frank Herbert said, is the point.

If you think of yourselves as helpless and ineffectual, it is certain that you will create a despotic government to be your master. The wise despot, therefore, maintains among his subjects a popular sense that they are helpless and ineffectual.

Obama, of course, is no despot. Our system is not despotism but plutocracry, and it’s been that way since its founding. As Chomsky has taught for years, the powerful in America are bent on deterring democracy abroad and restricting it at home, rolling back the twentieth century as far as possible.

Obama is no more an agent of change than he is of despotism. The change he proposes is in the tactics of making deals among American mega-corporations as they divvy up the resources that our lives have become.

Perhaps that’s all he’ll need for re-election. That, and the weakness of any currently available Republican challenger, plus the bitter taste the public still has from the most recent Republican nightmare. Certainly he’s managed to alienate and even ridicule many of the most energetic of his former foot-soldiers, presumably following the classic Democratic strategy of assuming that they have nowhere else to go on election day. Unfortunately many will believe that.

As Gore Vidal says,

Our only political party has two right wings, one called Republican, the other Democratic. But Henry Adams figured all that out back in the 1890s. “We have a single system,” he wrote, “and in that system the only question is the price at which the proletariat is to be bought and sold, the bread and circuses.”

It’s passing strange to live in a country where people could take control of their lives and their government, yet choose not to.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:01 AM
December 23, 2010
Paranoia, Here We Come, Right Back Where We Started From

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…


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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…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:36 PM
November 24, 2010
Puttin’ The Hammer Down

Here’s something to give thanks for: Tom DeLay has been convicted, and is facing at least a few years in prison.

Judge Pat Priest has wide discretion in sentencing the former majority leader, who was known as “The Hammer” for his no-holds-barred style during 20 years in the House of Representatives. Mr. Delay could be sentenced from 2 years to 20 years in prison for the conspiracy count, and from 5 years to 99 years, or life in prison, for the money-laundering count.

Nineteen hours of deliberations led the Texas jury to convict on two counts.

The verdict was the latest chapter in a long legal battle that forced Mr. DeLay to step down. The trial also opened a window on the world of campaign financing in Washington, as jurors heard testimony about large contributions flowing to Mr. DeLay from corporations seeking to influence him and junkets to posh resorts where the congressman would rub shoulders with lobbyists in return for donations.

Ideology, it’s said, is often a cover for self-interest, and a good enough cover that even the self can be fooled. I think DeLay probably combines sufficient ambition and insufficient introspection to believe that he’s a good Christian with the interests of America at heart. Even when he’s laundering money.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:02 PM
November 21, 2010
Again: We’ll Settle for Fake Security

[ Reposted from May, 2007, because it still seems relevant. ]


If you live near other people who have cars, you probably hear car alarms going off a lot. If you live in a city, they’re so common you sleep through them or walk past them without noticing. Hey, your car makes that hideous sound at me, I’m certainly not gonna try to save its ass.

What Need Does This Satisfy?

My question is, is there any data showing that making obnoxious noises is a good way to keep cars from being stolen? Has anyone heard a story of a car not being stolen because its alarm went off? I expect it must happen, but my completely scientific poll of a few randomly selected friends didn’t add a single such incident to my empty set of knowledge. Certainly the existence of alarms in cars causes thieves to be wary of setting them off. But doesn’t that just add a new challenge for the enterprising thief to overcome?

Seems to me that shutting off the vehicle’s mobility in the absence of a key or code would be a more effective theft deterrent. In fact Wikipedia claims that the NYPD thinks alarms make the crime problem worse, because people ignore them and it makes the neighborhood seem like a place where no one cares what happens.

So why do we keep making cars that emit horrible noises? I suspect it’s somehow tied to our deep human need for security against the vicissitudes of life.

We Live In An Infantilizing Culture

It’s an understandable yearning. As we become conscious of ourselves as individuals, we encounter the idea of death and are forced to consider our own mortality. Many people are so scared by this prospect that they feel they must turn away. My father’s second wife whistled past graveyards (and had migraines). Carlos Castaneda related Don Juan’s advice that death is always over your left shoulder; if you can’t get used to that, you won’t really be alive. I prefer the latter approach.

The problem with the need for security is, it’s impossible to satisfy. Vicissitude happens. Then what? Do we retrace our steps, see if we’ve contributed to the problem and what we can learn, then decide what to do with the here and now? Or do we scramble for the covers and try to reconnect with our lost sense of invulnerability?

We like to think we’d be adults and handle the situation, but we often fail to live up to our own standards. We let things slide, we put off the decision, we don’t open the letter, we decide it doesn’t really affect us.

In part, no doubt, this is a reflection of the universal fear of failure, and the particular fear of consequences. Then there’s the propaganda.

We’ll Put You In a Buying Mood

Our media (by which I mean US media; I only know non-US media by the web) and particularly television, encourage a sedentary, reactive style of interfacing with the world. If current TV reality doesn’t meet our pleasure, we switch channels or pop in a movie. We control the input, thus to some extent we control the outcome. (As long as we don’t put on the wrong movie on when the in-laws are visiting. My suggestion: hide the porn in the bedroom closet.)

Keen observers from Chomsky to Bagdikian have noted that advertising aims not only to sell individual products, but equally importantly to create a buying mood. Sales are up! Interest rates have never been lower! No money down! The economy’s taking off! Fewer unemployment claims! Adjustable rate mortgages to fit your needs! This baby’s got all the new features!

In Media Monopoly Bagdikian talks about the pressure on newspapers that results from perfectly rational requests by advertisers. For example, airlines and travel agencies might not want their ads on the same page as a story about a plane crash, or on the facing page. Such restrictions seem unobjectionable individually, but their collective result is to squeeze the amount of space available to certain kinds of stories. Get enough car ads and you’ll either have to add pages, delay some ads till the next edition, or leave out that story about the crash test. Pages are expensive, ads pay the bills, stories can be printed later.

If the Romans Had Television We’d Be Speaking Latin

Thus, without censorship, and perhaps without intention (if we believe their public statements), corporations influence what gets reported, and how. More directly, there are now, what, half a dozen corporations that own ninety-some percent of our mainstream media outlets. Are you likely to see a series about problems with nuclear plants on a network whose parent company builds or operates them?

Chomsky reports that the psychology of advertising as developed by people like Walter Lippman involves creating a sense in the advertisee of vague discontent. You should feel like things are great, but not so great that there isn’t something missing. If you just went to the mall, you could find out what it is, and buy it.

I think there’s even a current advertising campaign on this theme, with people buying, carrying, and exchanging It. The transparent mockery of our consumer impulses is meant to indicate with-It-ness: we all realize the silliness of the whole endeavor, but it’s a fun game. And it keeps the economy going. What did Richard Pryor say about God’s way of telling you you have too much money?

The Siren Song of Consuming

I recently traded a half-gig iPod Shuffle to a friend who’s all about Apple in exchange for his old mobile phone. It runs the Symbian operating system, has a normal-looking desktop on a 320x240 screen, a joystick, some configurable keys, a QWERTY keyboard, and so on. It can read PDFs, play MP3s and videos, do email, even run Opera. I can drag and drop those MP3s from Windows Explorer; I don’t need iTunes and its restrictions, or Nokia’s crappy interfaces.

So I basically got the phone for almost nothing. In the intervening weeks, I’ve spent

  • $13 to download a Symbian-based chess program, which my students love to play because they can beat it
  • $15 on a stereo headset with push-to-talk switch, so I can listen to music and still answer the phone when it rings—the music pauses, then resumes when the call disconnects, and the equivalent thing happens when I’m playing chess or entering a note
  • $28 for a two-gig memory chip, which holds around five hundred MP3s (and would hold even more with a more efficient encoding method and reduced sampling rate)

The two-gig chip is about the size of ten postage stamps in a stack. Since you can hot-swap the chips, you can carry a bunch of ‘em and use whichever chip has the application you need, or the one with that song you can’t get out of your head.

Now I’m attracted to the idea that a few of these suckers could be made to transport my entire music collection, in a package about the size and weight of fifty stamps. Then there’s all those cool applications waiting to be downloaded! Let’s see, new tab, eBay, Enter….

Who Am I To Blow Against the Wind?

And that’s just the phone. Then there’s the computer, the TV, the players of videotapes, DVDs, and CDs. The closet. The kitchen, the bathroom, the living room. The lawn. The car. Where do my needs end? When will I finally be happy, and how will I know?

Bertrand Russell, who studied philosophy, made his name writing about mathematics, and won a Nobel Prize for literature, is a saint in my religion. He replied:

In adolescence, I hated life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more. This is due partly to having discovered what were the things that I most desired, and having gradually acquired many of these things. Partly it is due to having successfully dismissed certain objects of desire—such as the acqusition of indubitable knowledge about something or other—as essentially unattainable. But very largely it is due to a diminishing preoccupation with myself. Like others who had a Puritan education, I had the habit of meditating on my sins, follies, and shortcomings. I seemed to myself—no doubt justly—a miserable specimen. Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to centre my attention increasingly upon external objects: the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection.

And:

To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.

The problem with his approach is that it requires and creates a certain frame of mind, a certain model of the world, that isn’t as comfortable as the one to which we’ve become accustomed. It’s like waking from a pleasant dream; it’s not so much that the world sucks as that decisions have to be made, consequences and vicissitudes endured. Instead of watching a movie and suspending disbelief, we’re playing chess and making mistakes.

Thus, when Ron Paul suggests that US actions in the Middle East might have irritated the 9/11 attackers more than our concepts of freedom, he pulls back the covers and we shiver.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:54 PM
Just a Thought

There he goes again.

President Barack Obama stood by new controversial screening measures Saturday, calling methods such as pat-downs and body scans necessary to assure airline safety.

Speaking at a NATO press conference in Lisbon, Portugal, the president called the balance between protecting travelers’ rights and their security a “tough situation.”

Seriously tough. You’re forced to choose to do nothing, which is sensible but politically impossible; actually try to make air travel secure, a ridiculous concept that would also make it too unpleasant for any but the most dire situations; or implement a silly and useless protocol that harasses regular passengers (that is, non-terrorists) enough to make them feel like something’s happening when it isn’t.

“As you travel this holiday season, I want to remind you that TSA’s mission is to ensure the safety of you the traveling public and we are committed to doing so efficiently, courteously and professionally,” [TSA Administrator John] Pistole said.

In Portugal, the president vowed he’d try to find a way to make passengers feel more both comfortable and safe, whether it is through the current policies or with new ones.

“Every week I meet with my counterterrorism team and I’m constantly asking them whether — is what we’re doing absolutely necessary? Have we thought it through? Are there other ways of accomplishing it that meet the same objectives?” he said.

Yes, there are. Stop bombing and invading other countries. Stop kidnapping people around the world, assassinating foreign leaders, and torturing folks. Stop spending two-thirds of the national budget on the military. Stop stealing the resources of other countries. But that would harm our elites, who don’t get patted down at the airport because they don’t fly commercial.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:45 AM
November 04, 2010
Memo to the President…

…Which part of “Fuck you” don’t you understand?

“Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell plans to tell the conservative Heritage Foundation, according to excerpts of his speech provided to POLITICO.

“But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things,” the Kentucky Republican will say.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:35 AM
October 24, 2010
Still Don’t Get It

I continue to be amazed at the willful blindness of even those who criticize the Bush/Blair warmongering.

There was no single reason why Britain and the US went to war in Iraq. The motives that inspired George W Bush and Tony Blair have been variously dissected, analyzed and psychoanalyzed. It is too early for history to have formed a settled view on the war, but the case that it was a monumental error gets ever more compelling.

There was no single reason? So you’re claiming it wasn’t about oil, that we would have invaded Iraq if its major export was figs or lumber? No one who’s honest with themselves could maintain such a position publicly.

If you want to make a case for multiple aims, then mention at least one of them. Along with stealing oil, there were certainly those who aimed at war profiteering, as always in American society. There were those who needed a nice foreign war to keep their positions of power and privilege. There were those who’d be jailed by a civilized society but were employed by the government in pursuit of murderous pleasures. Any mention of those? Not a bit of it.

The terrible truth about British and American involvement in Iraq seems increasingly to be that it was not just a strategic failure, it was, for the occupying powers, a moral catastrophe.

It is blindness like this that keeps generating the same kind of war over and over. In no sense that matters to decision-makers was the invasion of Iraq a failure. Are we still there? Yes. Is anyone pumping out the oil? No. That is success, folks, not failure. Ask Obama.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:06 PM
October 12, 2010
Yokel Politics

Christopher Hitchens:

Populism imposes its own humiliations on anyone considering a run. How many times can you stand in front of an audience and state: “I will always put the people of X first”? (Quite a lot of times, to judge by recent campaigns.) This is to say no more than that you will be a megaphone for sectional interests and regional mood swings and resentment, a confession that, to you, all politics is yokel.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:26 PM
October 05, 2010
Remind You of Anybody?

This is from The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer:

But research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and — to top it all off a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic. These seven deadly shortfalls of authoritarian thinking eminently qualify them to follow a wouldbe dictator. As Hitler is reported to have said, “What good fortune for those in power that people do not think…”

Intrigued, I gave the inferences test that Mary Wegmann had used to two large samples of students at my university. In both studies high Right Wing Authoritarians went down in flames more than others did. They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:


All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea..
Therefore, sharks are fish.

The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, “Because sharks are fish.” In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:00 PM
September 30, 2010
Anosognosia

Turns out the Greeks had a word for what ails the Republican Party — Anosognosia. To explore this disorder on its home turf, go to a Tea Party rally armed with official budget figures, agreed upon by economists of both the Keynesian and the Friedman schools, which prove beyond the shadow of a mathematical doubt that the Republicans are, historically, the party of high deficits. Now try to convince any random demonstrator of this simple historical fact.

The thing can’t be done, because the poor devil suffers from anosognosia. It is what allows him to cry out “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” without his head exploding.

Here’s a dictionary definition of what keeps his head together:

Anosognosia is a condition in which a person who suffers from a disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability.

For more, go here.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:56 PM
How To Be a Good Republican

First, appearances are everything. To be a good Republican you have to look like a good Republican. Which is not so easy these days. It used to be that a good Republican looked like a small-town banker — an agreeable Kiwanian with a prosperous paunch, dressed in a dark gray suit, a white shirt and a red tie drawn at the neck into a carefully constructed knot. If he had an adventurous bent, the banker might essay a triangular Windsor knot. Winter or summer, he always wore a hat.

The Windsor knot, by the way, is said to have originated with the Duke of Windsor, whose only other contribution to the world was to demonstrate just how thin royal blood could get. Before the war started, the newly minted Duke and Duchess made nice with the Nazis on one of their endless trips to nowhere, and were eventually shuffled off to the Bahamas by an exasperated British government. The Duke spent the war years perfecting his knot and studying the tango. Had he been an American citizen, there is no doubt the Duke would have been a Republican.

Republican women used to look like the banker’s wife, who was considered a style trendsetter and a model of sensible, plump American womanhood. She subscribed to family values before the phrase was invented. She was chairwoman of the annual bake-off fund-raiser for the hospital and wore a silver fox stole in the winter. She also wore a hat with some sort of bird feather in it and thought New York City was the home of the Devil. She was an enthusiastic Republican because her husband was an enthusiastic Republican. That’s all there was to it. She would have thought the Tea Party was inhabited by dangerous lunatics with terrible manners, sort of like the Hell’s Angels.

But all that was a long time ago, before everything got so confusing. Now where does a good Republican look for inspiration and guidance? Where once there was Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater and Dwight Eisenhower, all earnest and boring and utterly unsurprising, now we have John McCain, Michelle Bachmann, John Boehner, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich? Oh, what a rich choice! But first…

No matter how you knot your tie, as a good Republican you will want to keep your eye on the donut. You will want to embrace the essence of Republicanism, the spirit of conservatism; you must long for the way things used to be, or at least say you do, before Big Government came along and ruined everything. You will want to have at hand a few phrases about fiscal responsibility, self-reliance and the American Way, even if you don’t quite know what the American Way is. If you happen to have one of the old GOP handbooks, go through it and cross out Communism wherever you see it and substitute Terrorism with a capital T. Cross out Roosevelt and insert Obama. Cross out New Deal and replace it with Bad Deal. Make sure you’ve got the words of the “Pledge of Allegiance” and “God Bless America” down pat and memorize the First Amendment.

Now you’re ready to adopt the GOP style that suits you. Which do you like best? Boehner or Bachmann, Palin or Gingrich? And don’t forget the Old Pilot. Maybe the bolts have popped out of his wings but he’s still flying the plane, more or less. How about Orrin Hatch? Now there’s a guy knows how to knot a tie. He can do it one-handed while the other hand is busy wielding the scalpel. How about Mitch McConnell? Isn’t he cuddly cute? Nobody said this was going to be an easy choice.

Perhaps it would be easier to make a selection from a list of GOP adjectives and construct your very own Republican persona. Here are a few descriptive words to help you: smug, hypocritical, selfish, greedy, hawkish, myopic, negative, reckless, stupid.

And, finally, let’s not forget wrong.


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Posted by Paul Duffy at 10:39 AM
September 23, 2010
Nairobi vs. Plains: Contrast and Compare

I just bought President Carter’s White House Diary yesterday, and haven’t got far enough along to have any useful thoughts on it. Just as I arrived home, though, I got a call from Samuel P. Jacobs of The Daily Beast who wanted my opinion on the current craze for comparing President Obama’s problems to President Carter’s.

I didn’t really have any useful thoughts on that either, but that didn’t stop me. For those who give a feces, the result is here.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:22 AM
September 17, 2010
It Toles for GOP


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:02 PM
September 10, 2010
Fairy Tales May Come True

More good sense, as usual, from Daniel Larison at The American Conservative:

According to the story Republicans tell themselves, they lost power because they spent too much, and they believe they are proving that they understand where they went wrong by opposing all forms of new spending. Even though they may be winning by default because of economic conditions, they very much want to link any success they have with this new opposition to more spending.

It’s a very neat, tidy, convenient and completely false narrative. According to the same narrative, the public supposedly soured on the stimulus because they became anxious about deficits. In fact, the stimulus lost support because it wasn’t enough of an actual stimulus bill, and so did not “work.” In some of the early Republican criticism of the bill, there was a basic acceptance of the belief that enough money spent in the right way would be stimulative. Now that a majority finds fault with the original bill, the new interpretation is that there should never have been one at all.

This makes the same mistake that Barone and a thousand others have made about the health care bill. They take all opposition to a complex, flawed, compromised, unaffordable bill and treat it as if it were all one thing, but opposition to the bill came from many different sources, including from those on the left who thought it was too weak, too much of a sell-out to insurance companies, or insufficiently ambitious in some other way.

Hostility to the compromised bill that was passed does not imply support for returning to the way things were, and hostility to the compromised bill does not necessarily reflect opposition to an increased government role in the health care sector. Barone wants you to think that it does, and he is basing almost his entire interpretation of the public mood and his expectation of a big midterm victory for the GOP on this misunderstanding. Barone’s mistake is the national GOP’s mistake in miniature: he is treating the election as a national one with a unifying theme that has a clear ideological meaning when it isn’t and it doesn’t.

Barone may end up being right that the GOP is going to win the House, but it will have been mostly by accident, because he refuses to acknowledge the real reasons why the GOP is in a position to win. The party is in a similar position: possibly on the verge of a great victory, but unable or unwilling to accept the real reason for it.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:45 AM
September 08, 2010
I Wonder, Too…

…now that you mention it. A correspondent sends this:

Hope springs eternal that Obama may be smart enough to realize that his current accomodationist trajectory is a ticket to one-term obscurity; I wonder, was Obama canny enough to see this, and orchestrate Mayor Daley’s stepping down to get Rahm out of the White House without any blood on the floor? I’m guessing Rahm is the kind of guy to wreck the place on the way out if he was forced to leave.

If Daley winds up in the cabinet in a few months, we’ll have our answer.
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:24 PM
September 05, 2010
The Middle of the Road

Here’s Steve Benen, who knows what happens in the middle of the road:

Lindsey Graham wants Obama to “come back to the middle?” Here’s a silly question for Graham: when might your party “come back the middle?” When was the last time congressional Republicans offered a centrist compromise on literally any policy dispute? When was the last time Graham’s Senate caucus allowed the Senate to vote up or down on meaningful legislation without a filibuster, a hold, or both? When was the last time the GOP mainstream responded to White House outreach with a single idea where the parties could work together?

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:24 PM
September 03, 2010
What Isn’t Black and White and Red All Over?

More good stuff with which I agree, this time from Professor Wolff at The Philosopher’s Stone, who is almost as old as I am and even wiser:

I never imagined Obama was a left liberal, and I didn’t campaign for him under that illusion. I thought he was a centrist, a left-centrist, in the framework of American politics, with the ability to mobilize the center and the left to defend against the horrors promised by the right. I was right about that. Had the depression not hit, he would in fact be doing quite well now, by his own lights, but quite well means successfully pursuing centrist-left policies. In point of fact, he has been astonishingly successful in that regard. The health reform bill … is the best that we could get, given the realities of American politics, and he is the first president in ninety years to get it.

You are mad at the wrong person. The real villain in this piece is the enormous number of Americans — not, I think and hope a majority, but enormous none the less — who are either conservative or hysterically insane with religious fantasies and political paranoia.

Do you want a genuinely leftist president? Fine, so do I. How do we get one? Answer, we change eighty or a hundred million Americans. Let me remind you — and I was there, so I know — that Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter were all Left Centrists at best. My grandfather gave his life to the Socialist Party, and its high point was electing him and six others to the NYC Board of Aldermen. This has NEVER been a country that was hospitable to genuinely leftist politics.

What we are now facing is a threat from the right unlike any I have seen in forty years. We are in danger of losing such tattered remains as we still have of a social safety net, and of seeing maniacal religious fanatics running our country. I am hoping that Obama will tap into his considerable political skills to stop that from happening, but even if he does, we will nonetheless be stuck with a politics that is markedly to the right of where it is now. These are godawful times, made all the more perilous by the fact that the very large number of genuine progressives in this country are dispirited.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:35 PM
Be Afraid, But Not Very Afraid

Here’s Daniel Larison in The American Conservative, making some excellent points (points, that is, with which I agree).

As I have said before, I don’t think the GOP will win the House, but if that did happen it would primarily be bad news for the Republican Party and the conservative movement. If that seems a little too counterintuitive for you, let me explain. Should the GOP somehow win the House, they will not have earned it and they will not deserve it, and they will proceed to destroy themselves in very short order.

Arguably, there was nothing worse for the American right than to be given the free gift of winning the 2002 midterms, because this win encouraged them to pursue the policies that proved to be their undoing, and a similar win in 2010 would have the same effect of enabling Republicans’ most destructively self-indulgent impulses. As one horrified by the prospect of Republicans in power, Erik should look forward to this.

After all, even if the Republicans won the House there would not be much that they could do once in office, except waste their time as they did in the ’90s hauling executive branch officials before committees to testify on this or that outrage of the week. They would likely be stymied by the Democratic majority in the Senate on any major legislation, and Obama would veto just about anything they passed if it somehow got to his desk. At the same time, Obama would make them into a much more effective foil for his arguments once they had some hold on power, and out of frustration they would become increasingly obsessed with “getting” Obama and become even less interested in representing the interests of their constituents…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:43 PM
September 02, 2010
Fantasy News

In his address to the nation Tuesday night about Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama took a refreshingly frank approach: “Today we mark the end of our nation’s military commitment in Iraq. Our foolish adventure there has been a catastrophe, a nightmare inflicted on us by a past president whose stupidity was exceeded only by his arrogance. Iraq was a disaster that cost thousands of American lives, God knows how many Iraqi lives, and increased our national debt by an amount that is almost beyond counting. What did we get for this immeasurable investment? Nothing.

“Here’s where things stand now. The Iraqi government, if that’s what you’d call it, is a shambles. The economy is wrecked, and life in Iraq is still so dangerous and unstable that nobody wants to be there anymore. And neither do we, baby. We’re outta there.

“Now we can turn our full military attention to Afghanistan where we’ve been fighting for ten years without any success whatsoever. We’ll be putting lots more troops and treasure into the effort, which will result in many more American casualties and plenty more dead Afghanis, including lots of hapless women and children who keep getting in the way of our smart bombs and missiles. But, hey, don’t look at me. I didn’t start this and there’s no way, politically speaking, that I can just pull out of it. Which would be the smart thing to do.” The President had some other things to say about bravery and sacrifice, etc. etc., but nobody bothered to write it down or record it.

Meanwhile, down the road at the Capitol, Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress adopted a resolution to stop acting like willful little brats. Rep. John Boehner, the Republican obstructionist from Ohio and minority leader in the House, said, “We thought it might be interesting to pass some laws that would actually be good for the country.”
Boehner’s counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky obfuscator, announced that from now on he would work with senators from both parties to respond to the needs of the American people. “Tantrums will no longer be tolerated,” McConnell said. “We are also going to try to keep lying to a minimum. We want the Senate to be a kinder, gentler place where work actually gets done.”

Cynical observers of the Senate noted the timing and language of McConnell’s statement, which closely followed a threat by his fellow senators to stone him to death if he didn’t stop acting like a five-year-old with a skin rash.

Many Democrats of dubious standing also clamored to partake of this new Era of Good Feeling. So-called Blue Dog Democrats in the House, who have been trying for many months to play both sides of the fence while also sitting on it, came out in favor of the resolution. The Blue Dogs issued a statement that said in part, “The American people do not want…” Nobody bothered to record the rest of the statement because everybody knows that the Blue Dogs haven’t the slightest idea what the American people want or don’t want. And also, because nobody cares what the Blue Dogs think or don’t think, say or don’t say, stand for or don’t stand for.

Glenn Beck issued a refreshing statement in which he apologized for being a contemptible scumbag and announced that he was retiring from broadcasting to raise pigs. “I’m going to quit while I’m ahead,” said the now wealthy conservative ranter. “I sense that people are about to catch on that I am the worst kind of hate-mongering, lying phony. Even my mother thinks I’m disgusting and I kind of agree with her.”

Over at MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, the liberal blabber, announced that she was not going to be cute anymore. And her colleague, Keith Olbermann, said that while he intended to continue his arch ways, he was giving up his insufferable “special comments,” having recognized that what was special about them was that they were pompous and embarrassing.

Rush Limbaugh issued a one-sentence statement. It said, “Who the hell is Glenn Beck and who cares if he’s retiring?”

Bill O’Reilly also issued a statement that said, in part, “Who cares what Rush Limbaugh says on the radio? Doesn’t he know that nobody listens to the radio anymore. Hey, Rush, get a life. Join the parade. This is the twenty-first century and you’re just a fat loudmouth with bad breath.”

Limbaugh is said to have issued a response but nobody heard it.


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Posted by Paul Duffy at 08:53 PM
July 05, 2010
Apologies

Joe Barton, a Republican Congressman from Texas, had the right idea when he apologized to BP for what he said was a shakedown of the nice British oil company. He said Obama’s demand for a $20-billion restitution fund amounted to extortion. Barton later apologized for his apology and then he retracted the apology for the apology and then he…oh, never mind. The important thing is that he showed that sense of fair play for which we Americans are famous. Maybe now that this important precedent has been established by a stand-up Congressman we can start making amends to others who have been harshly judged and roughly handled down through the years.

So before one more minute goes by let me apologize to Adolf Hitler. And Dick Cheney.

These men were natural born leaders who had flaws that got blown out of proportion. Hitler still gets bad notices in the press sixty-five years after he gave up the ghost. Just because Dick Nixon always looked like he needed a shave didn’t make him a bad guy, did it? What about beauty being only skin deep? Dick Cheney has lips twisted into a permanent snarl. Does that necessarily mean he’s an arrogant, reckless, power-crazed, ruthless, lying, slimy son of a bitch?

I think it’s high time we apologized to Hirohito and Tojo and lots of other perfectly civilized Japanese for calling them sneaky, murderous devils. Just because of some unpleasantness at Pearl Harbor and Bataan we seem to think we have the right to vilify them. Let’s not remember Pearl Harbor. Most of those ships that sank there were obsolete anyway.

Now it’s the Arabs’ turn in the barrel. Every time you turn on the TV to get the straight dope from Sean or Rush or Glenn or Bill, our thought leaders, another Arab is getting bashed for some alleged outrage. Poor Bin Laden got so much bad publicity he dropped out of sight and went into hiding. I think we should follow Joe Barton’s example and extend a sincere apology to Osama for making him live in a cave. Nobody should have to live in a cave.

As for Hitler, it’s just about impossible to have a quiet, rational conversation about the charismatic German leader. People can’t seem to discuss the eloquent architect of the autobahns without taking extreme positions on one side or the other. Of course he had his faults — who doesn’t? But how many politicians these days could get up and talk for a couple of hours without the aid of a teleprompter? And those autobahns are still fun to drive on.

Can we talk about Dick Cheney for a minute? Now here’s a guy who can’t catch a break from the media. The former vice president has been involved with the oil industry in one way or another for quite a long time, and, if you listen to the insinuations coming from the left, there was something unpatriotic and self-serving in this involvement. I guess vice presidents are supposed to be poor — is that the idea? Do you think Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are poor? Was Ted Kennedy poor? How about Jay Rockefeller, Democrat from the hardscrabble, coal-mining state of West Virginia. Think he’s poor?

What all this adds up to is one big, very good reason to apologize to Dick Cheney. All Cheney ever wanted to do was to do his best for his country. And what did he get in return? A lot of grief, that’s what he got. Well, maybe when Joe Barton gets finished apologizing to BP we can get him to apologize to Dick Cheney. And Bernie Madoff. And Goldman Sachs. And AIG. And General Motors. And Joe Stalin. And Vlad the Impaler.


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Posted by Paul Duffy at 05:44 PM
June 17, 2010
Congress Gets Really, Really Tough on the Lobbyists

Are you surprised at the story below? Of course not. You knew all along that the United States Congress is no more capable of controlling its urges than is Wall Street or Big Oil. Once the NRA carved out its own little exemption, you knew with mathematical certainty that everybody else would try to crowd through the door. And that only the lobbies with the shallowest pockets would be left outside, forced to identify their top five sugar daddies.

The purpose of this legislation was to undo some of the damage done done to free speech by the Supreme Court when it gutted the McCain-Feingold Act in January. But the result is likely to be even greater damage to democracy: one (or several) of the smaller lobbies will certainly protest its exclusion in court, complaining reasonably enough of discrimination based on size and wealth.

And then the Roberts court, snickering up its sleeve, will hurry to protect the little fellow — by declaring unconstitutional the bill currently being debated that attempts, however pitifully, to keep corporations from drowning out the rest of us at election time.

And then it will be a long time, perhaps forever, before Congress bothers to tilt again at this particular windmill.

WASHINGTON — House Democrats agreed to exempt an unspecified number of large, well-known interest groups from proposed new disclosure requirements on political advertising on Thursday, seeking to quell charges they were giving special treatment to the powerful National Rifle Association.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said that under the last-minute change, “well-established organizations on the right and left” engaging in campaign activity, the NRA among them, would not be required to identify their top donors.

Democratic leaders announced plans for the legislation to come to a vote on Thursday, but that schedule appeared less than firm after rank and file moderates and members of the Congressional Black Caucus raised fresh objections. The leadership arranged afternoon meetings with representatives of both groups, and other changes were possible in the measure.

Under the bill, labor unions, corporations and nonprofit organizations that air political ads or conduct campaign activity would have to disclose their top five donors.

The bill also requires any individual or group paying for independent campaign activities to report any expenditure of at least $10,000 made more than 20 days before an election. Expenditures greater than $1,000 would have to be disclosed within 24 hours in the final 20 days of a campaign.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:38 PM
June 09, 2010
The Primary Problem (as I saw it)

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?


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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…

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.


The World According to Kirk

In an entirely different vein we have Mark Kirk, candidate for an Illinois Senate seat. Mark Kirk is one of those guys that believe that all you need to be a successful politician is good people skills like the ability to weave a good story — something along the lines of Mark Twain or Will Rogers. And so it is that Mark Kirk’s strategy for connecting with voters is to make stuff up. As a matter of fact, I think it’s safe to say that Mark Kirk finds the truth rather lackluster and lacking in political appeal which is why he doesn’t bother much with it as source material.

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.


What Happens in Vegas…

And, finally, there’s the three-ring Republican primary circus in Nevada, featuring party-backed casino owner Sue Lowden, a former Nevada GOP Party Chair; business executive and ex-UNLV basketball star, Dan Tarkanian; and Tea Party Express-endorsed candidate, Sharron Angle in a three-way extravaganza of Republican-on-Republican disunity. I have to assume that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must be quite delighted by the entire production especially now that the Tea Party’s Sharron Angle is leading the pack and favored to win the primary in voting today.

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…?

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Posted by Frumpzilla at 06:31 PM
BPCEO Doesn’t Equal POTUS

The Rude Pundit straightens Sarah Palin out on why the President shouldn’t do a sit-down with Tony Hayward, the silver-tongued CEO of British Petroleum:

In her latest Facebook posting (which is exactly where Thomas Paine would write Common Sense today so he could only reach people who “like” him), Palin takes Barack Obama to task for not having spoken to BP CEO Tony Hayward directly: “The current administration may be unaware that it’s the President’s duty, meeting on a CEO-to-CEO level with Hayward, to verify what BP reports.” She says that she was “a CEO” when she was governor of Alaska.

Now, while Palin may look at the words “chief executive” in reference to a governor or president and think it’s the same thing as “Chief Executive Officer” in a corporation, it’s that very analogy that has fucked us over. The government ain’t a company. The president ain’t a CEO…

See, a CEO’s job is to make money for the corporation. That’s it. Shit like laws and taxes and safety are impediments that must be dealt with on the way to making money. A CEO has to be a greedy bastard, a cuntish conqueror who doesn’t give a fuck what has to be done to get more money. The second you say that the President of the United States is on an equivalent level with a CEO is the second you reveal that you don’t know fuck-all about government and you degrade the presidency. The logical leap to President-as-CEO is a callous manipulation of the expectations of the governed, and it turns citizens into selfish shareholders…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:50 AM
June 01, 2010
Exactly

Couldn’t have said it better myself, and therefore won’t. Here’s The Economist.

Maureen Dowd doinked Mr Obama Saturday with her silly-straw-like wit, faulting his “inability to encapsulate Americans’ feelings.” Yeah, you know who would’ve killed as the president facing a deep-sea oil blowout? Philip Seymour Hoffman. Or maybe Meryl Streep. Did you see them in “Doubt?”

Ms Dowd’s involvement is fitting, as this may be the sorriest spectacle of content-free public hyperventilation since Al Gore’s earth tones. The difference is that in this case the issue is deadly serious; it’s the public discourse that is puerile. There is plenty of room for substantive critique of the flaws in governance and policy uncovered by the Deepwater Horizon blowout. You could talk about regulatory failure. You could talk about corporate impunity. You could talk about blithely ignoring the tail-end risk of going ahead with deepwater drilling without any capacity to cope with catastrophic blowouts. Precisely none of these subjects are evident in the arguments our pundit class is having. Instead we have empty-headed squawking over what the catastrophe is doing to Barack Obama's image…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:16 PM
May 28, 2010
Payback

Below is the revenge of Lance Baxter. He’s the actor who drunk-dialed the freedom lovers at Freedom Works, who got him fired from his voice-over gig in the Geico ads. Probably everybody in the world has already seen this clip, but since I hadn’t, maybe you haven’t.




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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:52 AM
May 12, 2010
Bagging Teabaggers

The real, immutable core concern of the Republican Party is, and has forever been, to shift taxes from the very rich to the rest of us. Everything else — abortion, immigration, creationism, small government, law and order, gay rights — is just bait to lure the suckers into the net. Here’s Daniel Larison at The American Conservative, cutting to the chase:

On the other point, it is not all that remarkable that Republican officeholders are being punished entirely for their fiscal errors. It is difficult to think of incumbent Republicans abandoning their party because of a backlash against their social liberalism, but it is fairly easy in recent years to find examples of fiscal moderates and liberals in the party that the rank-and-file have turned against or liberal Republican incumbents who switched parties at least partly because of disagreements over fiscal policy (e.g., Jeffords).

Indeed, we can look at Arlen Specter’s recent political career as proof that social conservative litmus tests frequently count for a lot less than fiscal conservative tests in the modern GOP. In 2004, the party establishment rallied around Specter on the grounds that the party supported incumbents against primary challengers. To his lasting embarrassment and discredit, Santorum endorsed Specter over Toomey.

Pro-lifers’ objections to Specter’s position on abortion weren’t important enough to Santorum or to the administration to risk losing that seat to the Democrats, and in the end they weren’t quite important enough to the primary voters, either. Five years later, one vote Specter cast for the stimulus made him persona non grata in the Pennsylvania GOP. Had Specter not cast that vote, it is questionable whether Toomey’s challenge would have still driven Specter to switch parties.

In practice, fiscal issues tend to be more important to more Republican activists and primary voters than social issues in almost every contest, except perhaps presidential primaries, and even in these contests it depends. Huckabee translated his strong social conservative record and evangelical Christianity into a sizeable following by the end of the primaries, but he never won outside the South and he was widely loathed in the conservative movement for his fiscal record as governor. His combination of social conservatism and economic pseudo-populism went over very badly with party and movement leaders generally, even though there is some reason to think that socially conservative and economically populist candidates could tap into a much broader base of support nationally.

For party and movement leaders, Romney had become sufficiently conservative on social issues to pass muster, despite having zero credibility on these issues, and what really mattered to them was his position on fiscal and economic issues. McCain took a lot of grief from activists and conservative voters for several reasons, but his opposition to Bush’s tax cuts earlier in the decade was always high on the list of McCain’s errors.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:06 PM
April 26, 2010
A Bigot and Proud of It

Back when I worked for the United States Information Agency, manning freedom’s ramparts in Casablanca during the Vietnam war, I had a poster in my office that read, “Fuck Communism.” Those were the days, my friend… And in those days, my friend, another popular bumper sticker said, “Fuck Hate.”

This rant from today’s BLCKDGRD is along similar lines:

I remember our time in Deale [Maryland], when we had our friends Henry and Donna to the marina house for a weekend, being told the minute they drove out of the parking lot by four cracker boat owners that if I ever let that nigger and his white skank race traitor bitch back they’d lynch my ass too. I told them to fuck off; my tires were slashed that night.

It’s obvious with my constant cracker this christer that I’m a stone bigot, but I’ve never said I was tolerant. I try to be intolerant to everyone, but I’m not large enough, I’m weak, I haven’t a reservoir of endless hate, I haven’t endless time to hate, I need to focus what hate I can summon on a few select targets — Arcade Fire, Raymond Carver, Terry Fucking Vaughn — that don’t affect the quality of anyone’s life but my own, and on a few large targets that affect the quality of my selfish insignificant life as a happily complicit home-owning, tax-paying, law-abiding, bloody-handed cog in capital’s race to ingest everything, and motherfucking crackers nostalgic for 1920’s Alabama and motherfucking christers jonesing for white jeebus, well, it’s delicious to hate them, it’s delicious to demonize them, it’s delicious to organize to keep them out of our schools, out of our state houses, to keep their hands off our wives’ and daughters’ uteruses, to keep them as marginalized and mocked and furious and ugly as possible.

And yes, I know crackers are funded and encouraged to be ugly to keep rubes like me busy hating them rather than hating what needs hating more, to keep me nostalgic for an America that will never be. I’m working to make my hate more copious, more all encompassing.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:32 PM
April 24, 2010
Chomsky Stormcrow

One of Gandalf’s nicknames was Stormcrow, “a reference to his arrival being associated with times of trouble, often used by his detractors to mean he was a troublesome meddler in the affairs of others.”

Indeed, Gandalf did meddle in the affairs of others, to the benefit of the good guys and the detriment of the bad ones. He brought information whether it was wanted or not, and forced people to look at it. Some people called that egotistical.

Noam Chomsky hears that a lot too, though Norman Finkelstein has a simple demonstration that it ain’t so. What upsets people so much about Chomsky? Well, establishment figures don’t like the kind of reading on our democracy he gave Chris Hedges of TruthDig from a leading intellectual, even one who’s been blacklisted by commercial media.

“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky told me when I called him at his office in Cambridge, Mass. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”

“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”


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“I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Chomsky added. “I am old enough to remember the 1930s. My whole family was unemployed. There were far more desperate conditions than today. But it was hopeful. People had hope. The CIO was organizing. No one wants to say it anymore but the Communist Party was the spearhead for labor and civil rights organizing. Even things like giving my unemployed seamstress aunt a week in the country. It was a life. There is nothing like that now. The mood of the country is frightening. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. It is going off into self-destructive fantasies.”

This certainly fits with what I’ve read in recent polls. Many of the reasonable people are disillusioned, and the crazies are locked and loaded, prodded by Murdoch but not requiring his provocations to engage in criminal acts that will seriously undermine the fabric of trust in society. The crazies are very likely to win in November because the Democrats are unenthused, the independents are turned off by both parties, and the only really active folks are the Tea Partiers.

We needed an FDR and we got a Carter. But as Chomsky would say, no FDR could be elected or even nominated today, and what FDR did, after all, was bring a corrupt and failing system back to life, when it might have better to replace large portions of it.

I tried to paraphrase Finkelstein’s defense of Chomsky but I couldn’t come up with anything as good as what he said.

“Most intellectuals have a self-understanding of themselves as the conscience of humanity,” said the Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein. “They revel in and admire someone like Vaclav Havel. Chomsky is contemptuous of Havel. Chomsky embraces the Julien Benda view of the world. There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it will always be at the expense of truth and justice. Benda says that the credo of any true intellectual has to be, as Christ said, ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ Chomsky exposes the pretenses of those who claim to be the bearers of truth and justice. He shows that in fact these intellectuals are the bearers of power and privilege and all the evil that attends it.”

“Some of Chomsky’s books will consist of things like analyzing the misrepresentations of the Arias plan in Central America, and he will devote 200 pages to it,” Finkelstein said. “And two years later, who will have heard of Oscar Arias? It causes you to wonder would Chomsky have been wiser to write things on a grander scale, things with a more enduring quality so that you read them forty or sixty years later. This is what Russell did in books like ‘Marriage and Morals.’ Can you even read any longer what Chomsky wrote on Vietnam and Central America? The answer has to often be no. This tells you something about him. He is not writing for ego. If he were writing for ego he would have written in a grand style that would have buttressed his legacy. He is writing because he wants to effect political change. He cares about the lives of people and there the details count. He is trying to refute the daily lies spewed out by the establishment media. He could have devoted his time to writing philosophical treatises that would have endured like Kant or Russell. But he invested in the tiny details which make a difference to win a political battle.”

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:30 PM
April 23, 2010
Philly Pol Outs Closeted Straight

The times they are a-changing, so sooner or later it was bound to happen. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Veteran Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.) last Thursday accused her primary opponent, Gregg Kravitz [pictured below], of pretending to be bisexual in order to pander to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender voters, a powerful bloc in the district.

“I outed him as a straight person,” Josephs said during a fund-raiser at the Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, as some in the audience gasped or laughed, “and now he goes around telling people, quote, ‘I swing both ways.’ That’s quite a respectful way to talk about sexuality. This guy’s a gem.”

Kravitz, 29, said that he is sexually attracted to both men and women and called Josephs’ comments offensive.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:22 PM
April 21, 2010
Ed Rollins Speaks to the Deaf

Republican consultant Ed Rollins has spent much of his life working for monsters, but that doesn’t make him stupid. He just fell in with the wrong crowd at a young age. After a talk he gave years ago at the Kennedy School, I came away hoping he’d change sides some day.

He was too smart for the 1980s GOP, and he’s way too smart for the malformed creature it has now become. Which I’m sure he knows. This is from a piece he did today for CNN. Goldman Sachs should hire him, but won’t. He’s too smart for them, too.

…Goldman denied the charges, and its sympathizers accused President Obama — who got nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from Goldman employees — of orchestrating the SEC lawsuit to sell his banking reform package. And then, it turns out that Goldman has done something else dumb — by hiring Obama’s recently departed White House lawyer, Gregory Craig, to help handle its legal strategy.

Craig is an extremely competent and respected lawyer. He knows the town and the players. But Washington is full of competent lawyers and people who know the game. Obama said his administration was going to be different and the revolving door of government service and back to the private sector was going to stop. It hasn’t. This is not the president’s mistake. It is another Goldman Sachs mistake.

And then Monday, Goldman announced its “good news.” In the first quarter of this year, the bank’s earnings of $3.46 billion were 91 percent higher than a year ago. It also announced it has set aside $5.5 billion (up 17 percent) to pay salaries and bonuses to employees…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:05 PM
April 20, 2010
Whatever You Do, Uncle, Just Don’t Ream Us

Here is Ezra Klein, the Great Explicator, explaining why Br’er Mitch is hollering so hard for Br’er Barack not to throw him in dat brier patch:

A bank is judged failing. The FDIC submits a plan for the bank’s liquidation — which includes firing management, wiping out shareholders, handing losses to creditors, and selling off the firm — and gets it approved by the Treasury secretary. Then the FDIC takes over the banks. The $50 billion fund is used to keep the lights on while all this happens. It’s there to prevent taxpayers from having to foot the bill for the chaos that will occur between when we recognize a bank is failing and when we shut it down.

Whatever you want to call this, it isn’t a bailout. It’s the death of the company. And the fund is way of forcing too-big-to-fail banks to pay for the execution. But stung by Republican criticisms, the administration is telling Democrats to let the fund go. And they’re not all that unhappy to see it die. “The fund isn’t a priority for the Obama administration,” reported Business Week, “which instead proposed having the financial industry repay the government for the cost of disassembling a failed firm, an approach preferred by the industry.”

So let’s just be clear: The alternative to the liquidation fund is Wall Street’s preference. That should tell you pretty much all you need to know about whether the industry really views this as a bailout.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:06 PM
March 31, 2010
My Affair with Nancy Pelosi

So what’s the deal, I’m asked these days, with Pelosi and me, are we still in love or what?

Well, lemme assure you that “what” continues to be the answer. Is she the most powerful Speaker in a century, as lots of people are saying right now? There’s even a Guardian article asking if she’s the most powerful woman in US history.

Admittedly this is not as high a standard here, where we’ve yet to have a female Chief Executive. And if you think about powerful women in US history, at least those who were politically powerful independent of their husbands, the vast majority of them are still alive. Women couldn’t even vote in most states until 1920. Eleanor Roosevelt, to take an example, was powerful in many ways, not nearly all of them based on her husband; but her influence was not that of a Speaker of the House. Governors like Sebelius and Palin are surely powerful — in their states. Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton? Secretary of State reports to somebody, in fact serves at his, underline his, discretion. Speaker of the House is #3 to the football. So, yes, I think by process of elimination she’s the most powerful woman in American political history.

Most powerful Speaker in a hundred years? I’m not a historian of the Congress, so I don’t know how much my opinion counts on this topic. But it seems to me that power involves more than reacting, it involves acting with some purpose. Other than self-maintenance, which of course all power is about. To me a powerful Speaker would convince, or perhaps I should say “convince”, other Representatives to act to change things, to move the ball down the field.

What I see Pelosi as doing is realizing that the Reid blows with the wind, and Obama’s never fought for anything. Her job title will change later this year, she’ll become The Woman Who Used to Be The Most Powerful Woman in US History, if she doesn’t get a bill passed. This gives her just as much leverage as Obama bought himself by making clear that he needed a bill, any bill: namely, none. It does, however, provide two vital items: desperation, and a clear goal. Or, put another way, I’m walking into a jewelry store with my girlfriend wearing a sign that says, “I have to buy a ring today.”

Given the clear goal, and the fact that she’s the Democrat with the most personal status, not to say power, to lose, she was able to coerce a reluctant administration and a weak Majority Leader to engage fully in passing a large bill. Their alternative was a Republican Speaker. Now she’s hoping that the size of the bill, its complexity and time-release nature, will get her over the November hump.

It’s a big gamble, because it’s easier to attack the bill ideologically than to point to immediate benefits for most people. And then there’s the gamble that the substance of the bill will turn out to be to peoples’ liking, which I personally doubt.

But the thing is, she had no choice. In chess terms, she’s not acting with the initiative in hand, she’s responding to threats. I don’t think of that as powerful, though in a sense it is. Being able to organize a successful defense of your citadel indicates prowess, no doubt. But what she defended was her personal situation.

Unless you see the bill as a big advance. There’s the rub. Pelosi would probably argue in essence that although it’s a big giveaway to the insurance and drug companies, she’s created something to build on. She’s not stupid enough to think the bill “covers” a single new person, regardless of her press releases.

The bill mandates the buying of insurance, but it does not, as far as I can tell, require insurance to cover the medical procedures you will need. And notice I say will, because it’s a dead stone lock that you will need them. So how can a business bet that you won’t need them, and still turn a profit? By goosing expenses, of course, but mainly by denying coverage. The bill lists reasons you can’t be denied coverage, and anyone who’s ever dealt with an insurance company knows what that means: the company will find a different reason when it stops being profitable to cover you.

So it seems to me that the overall effect of the bill is basically a negative one. Rather than attempting to fix the problem that we agree is likely to destroy the economy, we’re handing the whole mess over to the people who caused the problem and continue to profit from its existence. That’ll help.

I suspect the Speaker might argue in private that the bill has a chance of making things better precisely because it fails so utterly to make a difference in how we do things. Now that we’re criminalizing those who don’t buy insurance, it’ll be even more obvious how much we needed a public option, that watered-down version of what two-thirds of Americans have supported in polls for decades, single-payer. So Pelosi can claim to have put the inquiry to the country: do we need a public option? Thank God someone had the courage to state that question.

It’s certainly not leadership. Whether it’s power depends on whether your definition of power requires something other than self-preservation. Mine does, so I don’t think of Pelosi as a particularly powerful Speaker. Undoubtedly she’s an astute political player, she grew up in a political family; but she’s also working against the backdrop of the milquetoasts the Democrats have become.

To me the health care bill, despite having some positive features, seems like a failure, overall worse than no bill at all. But it could turn out that it’s only an initial failure which we’ll work to remedy for the next several decades, gradually producing some approximation of a reasonable system. Certainly we’ll be stuck trying to fix the problems Pelosi’s members forced her to insert for a long time. So she’s definitely made a mark on society, and that’s one definition of power.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:06 AM
March 22, 2010
Limbaugh Looks Out for Number One…

…or so says former Bush speechwriter David Frum. Myself, I would never impute ulterior motives to the fat freak.

When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say — but what is equally true — is that he also wants Republicans to fail.

If Republicans succeed — if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office — Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less and hear fewer ads for Sleep Number beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished.

For the cause they purport to represent, however, the “Waterloo” threatened by GOP Sen. Jim DeMint last year regarding Obama and health care has finally arrived all right: Only it turns out to be our own.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:14 PM
Why Am I Not Horrified?

From Politico:

Pelosi’s great advantage is she has played her cards early and is a proven, aggressive political operative … Yet going forward, Pelosi will have to answer herself for some of the legislative shortcuts taken in her fierce “damn the torpedoes” march toward final passage. “She’s impressive, horrifying at times, but impressive,” said one person who observed the speaker closely in weeks of backroom meetings.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:37 AM
March 17, 2010
Up a Crazy River…

Well, Washington, DC hosted “Armey’s Last Stand” yesterday. About two weeks ago Health Care Reform was officially designated a Tea Party “Code Red situation” calling for urgent mobilization; forthwith a couple hundred TPers dutifully shaped up at the Capitol in their signature Tea Party regalia, carrying their signature “down with everything” posters and placards.

This group has evolved, since their first appearance last year around this time, in ways that would have been impossible to predict. Yesterday’s street theater successfully demonstrated that evolution, if not much else. Over time, Republican Party outpourings of solidarity and support for Tea Party activism have dwindled, coincident with the Tea Party’s repudiation of Republican apparatchiks as just as undesirable as any other target “government-as-usual” group which the TP has singled out for extinction.

Signs of strain were not that difficult to sniff out. By now, everyone has probably seen pictures of the TP placards that were supplied by the RNC earlier in the game. This time around, RNC was still distributing the things but had gone to the trouble of placing “blackout” stickers over their endorsement. Then, too, GOP notables were conspicuously absent from yesterday’s pep rally, signaling Republicans’ wariness of how truly the Tea Party actually speaks for the “silent majority” they profess to represent…


Dramatis Personae

A few die-hard Washington wing-nuts still turned out for Code Red — Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Steve King (R-IA) and Joe “You Lie” Wilson (R-SC) were there to incite hundreds to new levels of insanity. Fox News, doing the best with what they had, described the Code Red Rally as featuring “a host of Republican speakers, including Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Tom Price (R-GA) and Marsha Blackburn, (R-TN).”

Notably missing from that lineup was Sen. Jim DeMint who has been working assiduously at being the Tea Party’s Best Friend in Washington, according to a recent article in Politico. And while DeMint’s efforts might be scoring him points with the Tea Party (although there’s not a lot of evidence of that yet) it’s definitely not making him any more popular with his own party, which appears to have decided to give the TP a wide berth, for now at least.

So, it appears that the past year has brought evolution, some contraction as well as greater “clarity” (if you can call it that) to both the Tea Party and the Republican Party platforms. The Tea Party, despite its astro-turf beginnings, has gelled into what looks like a fairly adamant anti-government movement, strong on fear and loathing and short on solid facts – but, then, in the Tea Party world, facts and people who deal in facts are not to be trusted; history, like the Bible, is meant to validate their views and effectively rubber stamp their agenda “best for everyone involved.”

The Tea Party has morphed into a conservative populist movement willing to take conservatism to new extremes to represent the wishes of a (largely mythical) “silent majority.” I think that the “silent majority” notion is part and parcel of a mythology of fear and imagined oppression; freedom and liberty, in this mythology, are freedom “from anything I don’t like or agree with” and the liberty “to do as I please” without regard to how it affects the common good. Proponents of this mythology populate their world with like-minded fellow travelers who are too meek to speak up – but they’re out there. There also seems to be that Christian Conservative, homespun American Puritan influence that says “this is right and this wrong for all God’s children, end of argument” substantiation not required. And so it is that the Tea Party quickly gets to a place where facts are subordinate to ideology and the ends always justify the means.

If you think I overstate, here are a few samplings of yesterday’s commentary coming from the Tea Party itself:

The following “sentiments” appeared on the America’s News Online website which describes itself thus:

“As a company, AmericasNewsOnline.com is a dedicated group of writers covering the topics that are making a difference in people’s lives. Our goal is to give the reader a balanced perspective of both sides of the news. In our opinion, it should be up to the reader to decide the real truth.

“We have a team of 6 researchers submitting breaking news everyday. With our team’s diverse background, we are able to cover news from different points of view.”

This from contributor Susan Thompson:

“The Tea Party Movement along with a little help from Rush Limbaugh turned the face of Washington red today. Even Barrack Obama is coming with his tail between his legs and is to appear for an interview with Fox News.

“There are members of the Tea Party Movement, in fact all of the Tea Party, that are outraged on the way that the Obama administration and the Dems in Congress are trying to find the sneakiest ways imaginable to pass the healthcare bill. Americans are very much in shock that the Dems would try to ram this bill through with an 80% disapproval rating.”

“Pelosi was heard to be paraphrased saying, ‘Americans aren’t smart enough to figure out how we’re doing this and aren’t interested in the process.’ She went on to same (sic) we will pass this bill for the good of American citizens. The Tea Party is holding strongly to ‘kill the bill.’”

Really, really awful writing aside, this stuff is pure propaganda, not to mention poppycock; but it is emotionally appealing to a crowd that believes that all of their ills have been caused by government and that, furthermore, they don’t need or want anything that government provides. It’s not that they have conflicting views on how the government should operate, no alternative methods are ever promoted beyond “sending Obama’s socialism ‘back to Russia.’”

Speaking to a CNS News interviewer, a woman who would only identify herself as “Jamie” said congressional arrogance is the main reason she came to the rally.

“I’m here, because I’m really concerned about how the legislative process is being bastardized to push this through. Whether you’re for it or against it, if they can bastardize our legislative process like this, what’s to stop them for anything? Why do we even have elected officials?”

Russ Cote of New Jersey told CNS this is the third event he has attended to protest a proposed health care system that he said is unsustainable and unconstitutional: “It’s simple economics. We’re going to go broke. We’re going to go broke fast.”

What these people seem to be saying is that they are afraid – afraid that something is terribly wrong with the day-to-day operation of government that they have, by and large, chosen to ignore lo these many years. They are afraid of “bastardized legislative processes,” the passage of unconstitutional legislation, death panels and socialism — now; despite the fact that extrajudicial renditions, assassinations, the use of torture, and warrant-less wiretapping caused barely ripple in their deeply-running still waters.

Neither do these emotional, impressionable people seem to care a fig about unsustainable health care costs in the status quo, or rampant US global militarization, or rapacious defense corporations defrauding the US government as a matter of course. They don’t even seem to worry much about the erosion of their constitutional rights to privacy and due process or the loss of America’s moral standing in the world due to high officials condoning, even expressing pride in having committed war crimes.


Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid

Why do you suppose that is? My theory is that it’s all in the packaging. People enjoy a good scare, sometimes. Generally, when things are not going so well, it helps to believe that the problem is “larger than life” and that we’re “all in this together.” Anyone with “I told you so, on their lips” is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and it’s human nature to try to deflect blame and shame.

Republicans have suffered some electoral humiliations over the pickle we find ourselves in and they are more than ready for that to change. The trick is to make enough people believe that the Democrats are even worse or that Republicans, having made the mess in the first place, are the only ones who can effectively clean it up. Clumsiness over this messaging, so far, has engendered some pretty entertaining political positions on both sides of the aisle. For a while the large number of uncommitted Tea Partiers looked pretty attractive to the GOP with its 28% approval rating. In order to come roaring back, Republicans needed some fresh voters. From the beginning, it was pretty obvious what the TP hot buttons were and, in an effort to court them, the GOP made the Tea Party causes their causes.

A year later, clearly Republican leadership is rethinking that one. Appealing to the Tea Party is a lot like herding cats…

Nevertheless, a few stalwarts are still banging that drum for lack of anything better to do. One of those is Rep. Steve King from Iowa who has always had a lot to say that made little sense. The problem with King’s embrace of the Tea Party is that clearly, these Tea Partiers either can’t or don’t want to distinguish between fact and fiction and to them King represents a voice of authority (telling them it’s quite all right to be crazy).

King’s contribution, this time around, was to whip the Tea Partiers into an anarchic frenzy to paralyze the Capitol. He said, “Fill this city up, fill this city, jam this place full so that they can’t get in, they can’t get out and they will have to capitulate to the will of the American people.”

Elsewhere in his speech, he spouted his usual disinformation about the health care bill funding abortion as well as care for 6.1 million illegal immigrants, winding up with an impassioned plea for concerned citizens to “continue to rise up.”

I haven’t yet decided whether I think King is just simple-minded or whether he’s a world-class demagogue – either way, King has spent his years in Washington filling the air with a giant load of misleading crap – below are some samples of King’s wit and wisdom, taken from Wikipedia, which lists links for all comments.

On Joseph McCarthy:

In 2005, King whipped up a group to oppose honoring a Berkeley, California councilwomen because of her “affiliation” with the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library in Berkeley. Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee claimed that King’s “campaign of innuendo and unsubstantiated ‘concern’ is better suited to the era of Joseph McCarthy than today’s House of Representatives,” King claimed that history showed McCarthy to be “a hero for America.”

On the May 1, 2006 “Day Without an Immigrant” rallies, King offered his opinion to the Op-Ed editor of the Des Moines Register:

“What would that May 1st look like without illegal immigration? There would be no one to smuggle across our southern border the heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines that plague the United States, reducing the U.S. supply of meth that day by 80%. The lives of 12 U.S. citizens would be saved who otherwise die a violent death at the hands of murderous illegal aliens each day. Another 13 Americans would survive who are otherwise killed each day by uninsured drunk driving illegals. Our hospital emergency rooms would not be flooded with everything from gunshot wounds, to anchor babies, to imported diseases to hangnails, giving American citizens the day off from standing in line behind illegals. Eight American children would not suffer the horror as a victim of a sex crime.”

[Critics immediately argued that King's daily numbers in the editorial are inflated, based on the incorrect premise that 28% of all prisoners in all American jails and prisons are illegal aliens. King cited an April, 2005 GAO report as the source of that statistic; that report actually says that 27% of federal prisoners were "criminal aliens," a term that includes both legal and illegal aliens. "Criminal aliens" doesn't mean "illegal aliens". State prisons and local jails together hold 92% of US prisoners. The actual percentage of illegal aliens held at the time in state prisons and local jails can be determined by comparing figures for SCAAP federal compensation to states and localities with federal Bureau of Justice Statistics prisoner censuses. Such a comparison reveals that the accurate illegal alien percentage being held was less than 4%, rather than the 28% claimed by King.

In May 2008, King downgraded his original claims about the contents and reliability of the GAO report from which he "extrapolated" them saying: “ . . . that report came back not quite apples to apples.”]

On Washington, D.C.:

“My wife lives here with me, and I can tell you… she’s at far greater risk being a civilian in Washington, D.C., than an average civilian in Iraq.”

King said that there were 45 violent deaths per 100,000 in Washington, D.C., in 2003 while he calculated that there were 27.51 per 100,000 in Iraq as a whole.

The Iraqi Health Ministry casualty survey, however, estimated 151,000 violent deaths in Iraq due to the war from 2003 to 2006, or roughly 162.37 per 100,000 per year. The Lancet survey published in 2006 estimated that 2.5% of the population of Iraq had died from the war as of June 2006.

On State Department appropriations:

On June 21, 2007, King introduced an amendment to the $34 billion State and Foreign Operations bill to prohibit funds from being used by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to travel to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan or Syria. When asked why the measure did not apply to Republican House members who had also made trips to the countries in question, King’s spokesman replied that he was unsure whether that had been considered, or why it might not have been.

UPDATE: At the end of 2009, Rep. King went on his own “fact-finding” junket to Afghanistan. Upon his return he reported that he met with President Muhammad (sic) Karzai and found him to be “human.”

On Barack Obama:

On March 7, 2008, during his press engagements to announce his reelection campaign, King made his now famous remarks about Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama and his middle name, saying:

“ … if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.”

[At the time, Obama said he did not take the comments too seriously, describing King as “an individual who thrives on making controversial statements to get media coverage.” The McCain campaign disavowed King's comments, saying "John McCain rejects the type of politics that degrades our civics…and obviously that extends to Congressman King's statement.”

On the Iowa Supreme Court:

In April, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a state ban on same-sex marriage violated the Iowa constitution. King opined that the judges "should resign from their position" and the state legislature "must also enact marriage license residency requirements so that Iowa does not become the gay marriage Mecca."

On the IRS building bombing in Austin, Texas:

Last month, in his closing remarks at CPAC, King said he could “empathize” with the man who flew a plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, killing himself and an IRS employee.

On Washington lobbyists:

On the House floor in February 2010, King made remarks defending and supporting lobbyists as a source of “valuable information”:

“Lobbyists do a very effective and useful job on this Hill, and if anyone gave me information that wasn’t accurate or honest, if they found out about it they would bring it back and correct it to me first. If I thought they were doing so intentionally, they would not come back to talk to me ever. There is credibility there, in that arena, that I think somebody needs to stand up for the lobby. It is a matter of providing a lot of valuable information.”

One might reasonably ask whether Rep. King would recognize “valuable information” if it bit him in the ass …

After King’s latest outing a Huffington Post reporter asked him about his comparison of the Tea Party protest with the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Prague. Here’s how that went:

HuffPo: “So this is just like Prague under communist rule?” the Huffington Post asked.

King: “Oh yeah, it is very, very close,” King replied. “It is the nationalization of our liberty and the federal government taking our liberty over. So there are a lot of similarities there.”

“I look back 20 years ago in the square in Prague ... when tens of thousands showed up there and they shook their keys peacefully and they took over their country and they achieved their freedom back again,” he said. “If you can keep coming to this city, fill up the congressional offices across the country but jam this city. If you can get on your cell phones, and get on your Blackberries and your email, and ask people to keep coming to this town. Storm this city, fill up Washington D.C., jam this capital so they can’t move. And if tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of you show up, we will win. We will defeat this bill and you will have your liberty back.”

Of course, part of the reason that Prague is so idyllic is because they have government-sponsored health care — just like you do, Rep. King…

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Posted by Frumpzilla at 04:32 PM
An Informed Citizenry

From the Washington Independent:

Kathy Ropte — like Jackson, a member of the Harris County, Ga. Tea Party, had started to move beyond lobbying. As cameras snapped away, she stood in front of the Cannon Building and announced the termination, “to take effect in November,” of pro-health care reform members. One activist chided her for the display, which included a massive sign reading “Waterboard Congress.” Jackson didn’t care. She was in the fight, whether or not health care reform passed.

“One day I turned off American Idol,” Ropte told TWI, “and I turned on Fox News. Before this year I’d never voted in my life.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:06 AM
March 15, 2010
You Can’t Cure Stupak

Bart Stupak might want to beef up his obstructionism by weighing down the health care bill with the language William Blum suggests below. Go for it, Bart. There are innocent lives to be saved!

About half the states in the US require that a woman seeking an abortion be told certain things before she can obtain the medical procedure. In South Dakota, for example, until a few months ago, staff was required to tell women: “The abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being”; the pregnant woman has “an existing relationship with that unborn human being,” a relationship protected by the U.S. Constitution and the laws of South Dakota; and a “known medical risk” of abortion is an “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.”

…I'd like to suggest that before a young American man or woman can enlist in the armed forces s/he must be told the following by the staff of the military recruitment office:

“The United States is at war [this statement is always factually correct]. You will likely be sent to a battlefield where you will be expected to do your best to terminate the lives of whole, separate, unique, living human beings you know nothing about and who have never done you or your country any harm. You may in the process lose an arm or a leg. Or your life. If you come home alive and with all your body parts intact there’s a good chance you will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Do not expect the government to provide you particularly good care for that, or any care at all. In any case, you may wind up physically abusing your spouse and children and/or others, killing various individuals, abusing drugs and/or alcohol, and having an increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.

“No matter how bad a condition you may be in, the Pentagon may send you back to the battlefield for another tour of duty. They call this ‘stop-loss’. Your only alternative may be to go AWOL. Do you have any friends in Canada? And don’t ever ask any of your officers what we’re fighting for. Even the generals don’t know. In fact, the generals especially don’t know. They would never have reached their high position if they had been able to go beyond the propaganda we’re all fed, the same propaganda that has influenced you to come to this office.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:51 PM
March 13, 2010
Let’s Hear It For Massa

Unlike most of us who have been sounding off on the matter, Papa Bonk actually knows the man who recently became his former congressman: Eric Massa. Therefore attention must be paid:

The real tragedy of Eric Massa (who I know personally) is that he was a damn good congressman, a hard working Progressive who took principled stands on tough issues… like Afghanistan and single payer health care. He, like Larry Craig, is in many ways a victim of a culture that causes many citizens to suppress their true selves. If Eric Massa ran again as a gay man I would be there running with him.

Eric made a few big mistakes in bowing out … pointing fingers at Nancy and Rahm, for example. But he also pulled off a major coup … getting on Glennn’s Moron Show for an entire hour. Once inside the viper’s nest, he gave Beck nothing useful and managed to score a couple of points.

He said a good first step towards fixing Washington’s problems would be for the GOOP to stop lying about the facts. He also suggested there would be no real solutions until we had real campaign finance reform. No one has ever been able to say anything quite so true on Fox News without being censored or shouted down. Beck, who is preprogrammed by his handlers to spew fascist silliness for hours at a time … was left speechless.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:44 PM
March 09, 2010
Obama’s M.O.

From Bette Noir’s blog, The Frump Gazette. Which I have just discovered, and recommend. I agree with her about President Obama’s political strategy; I hope we’re both right.

Well, frumps, things are definitely starting to look up for Democrats and the Obama administration if my Lunatic Fringe barometer can still be trusted. I’ve discovered, over the past year, that there is a quantifiable inverse relation between the fortunes of the Obama White House and threats of violence from the far-right reaches of the blogosphere. None too stable at the best of times, these folks have a tendency to fly around the room backwards whenever Obama shows signs of succeeding at advancing his domestic social policy agenda.

Obama has an interesting way of achieving his ends. He allows debate to rage unbridled, allows people to act out and vent melodramatically until we are all simply exhausted by the topic. Then, as we mentally move on, he quietly administers CPR and, next thing you know, dead-in-the-water issues are moving apace toward realization. It’s a pretty impressive strategy, to me, at least.

Just think about the health care reform battle. A year went by while we raged and fumed on our various sides of the issue. As Obama put it in his Health Care Summit, last week, “everything that could be said, had been said.” Gray-haired grannies duked it out with the local teamsters in Town Halls. Conspiracy theorists pumped up the volume and warned us all of The New World Order and/or Socialism/Fascism that lie just around the corner…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:59 AM
February 09, 2010
Where Have I Heard This Before?

Steve Clemons is a bit of a character. It’s really important to him that we realize what high-ranking folks he hangs out with. On the other hand, hanging out with high-ranking folks means you hear a lot of inside takes, and he points us to a particularly important one today.

Surprisingly, the Obama administration is portrayed as failing in its first year because it continues to operate on the principles derived from campaigning, despite their being inappropriate for governing.

According to the Edward Luce article at the Financial Times website, the decision-makers in this administration are basically four politicians in a tightly knit group. These folks accomplished what everyone (except me) considered impossible in winning the White House, and are thus somewhat reluctant to accommodate themselves to outside complaints that their plans are impossible.

This White House-centric structure has generated one overriding — and unexpected — failure. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Mr Emanuel managed the legislative aspect of the healthcare bill quite skilfully, say observers. The weak link was the failure to carry public opinion — not Capitol Hill. But for the setback in Massachusetts, which deprived the Democrats of their 60-seat supermajority in the Senate, Mr Obama would by now almost certainly have signed healthcare into law — and with it would have become a historic president.

You gotta love that. The weak link was the failure to carry public opinion. The weak link wasn’t the failure to follow through on campaign promises, no one’s naïve enough to expect that; nor was it the failure to do what two-thirds of the public consistently demanded in polls, namely some sort of Medicaid-like program available to everyone. No, that couldn’t have had anything to do with the failure to produce a bill, just because there was no consistuency other than the insurance and drug companies.

President Obama chose a signature issue for his first year in which he’d taken the only reasonable solution off the table before he began to negotiate. Apparently he and his advisors really saw him as The One, Neo Incarnate, the being whose perfection of purpose could save us all.

I say “surprisingly” because, of course, it isn’t surprising at all. My personal memory tends toward the theory that the permanent campaign came in with Ronald Reagan and Michael Deaver, but Jerry would have a better informed opinion on that score. This was my complaint about the Clinton White House. Bush II was the same, and Bush I only differed by employing smoother thievery.

It’s so hard to campaign nationally that the most productive years of several top-flight talents are required to reach the White House, at which point there’s no time left to learn how to govern. An entirely different skill from that of campaigning, let’s just leave it there.

Hopefully, though I’m not holding my breath, Obama will realize that the reason health care reform failed was not that it was too bold, but that it was nowhere near bold enough. Taking single-payer off the table gave away the game: the President would do anything for a success, which left the most recalcitrant members of Congress in the catbirds’ seats.

And they sure took advantage of that. And that sure was predictable.

Get a new chief of staff, start fighting for the lower and middle classes against the big-money interests, and aim for a great two-term Presidency; or continue to speak like a progressive Democrat while acting like a hawkish Republican, alienate your base, and be as successful in 2012 as your Superbowl pick in 2010. That, Mr. President, is my prognostication, for what it’s worth.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:40 AM
February 04, 2010
State Farm Is There Until You Need Them

Does anyone know how the Democrats’ health care reform package proposes to prevent the insurance companies from pulling a similar scam?

The largest homeowners insurer in Florida is canceling the policies of 125,000 of its most vulnerable customers beginning Aug. 1, halfway through the 2010 hurricane season.

The company, State Farm Florida, began sending out cancellation notices this week to nearly a fifth of its 714,000 customers, most of them in the state’s hurricane-prone coastal regions.

A spokesman for State Farm said the decision was the direct result of its failure to win a 47.1 percent rate increase from state regulators.

State Farm stopped writing new policies and sought the increase a year ago, saying severe losses from a series of devastating hurricanes in recent years had rendered its business model unworkable. It said that without the large increase, it would be insolvent by the end of 2011.

Suppose there’s a couple of bad flu seasons. Then the next year the insurance companies, one by one, no collusion here, begin demanding 50% rate increases for health care insurance policies, and end up negotiating a deal with the relevant government merely to cancel the insurance of a fifth of their customers. As long as they don’t cancel you for pre-existing conditions or because you’ve hit some lifetime limit, they’re good, right? We can’t force the companies to stay in business, at least in the current environment.

And of course there’s about three-quarters of a million Americans going bankrupt each year at least in part because of medical bills despite having health insurance. What do the Democrats propose to do about this?

They appear to have failed entirely at the one project they set themselves for this year, thus yielding what the Village Voice called a 41-59 majority for the Republicans.

But there’s a positive side, it appears.

David Miller, president of Brightway Insurance in Orlando and Jacksonville, saw a silver lining to the announcement. Spreading State Farm’s customers around to other companies will make the homeowners insurance market more competitive, and the canceled State Farm customers will likely get a better deal from their new insurers, he said.

“I think when they go to shop … they’re going to find that there are actually some tremendous savings, and this could end up being a blessing in disguise for many people,” Miller said.

Which makes sense. Insurance salesfolk are known to lend a sympathetic ear and policy to people in need.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:38 AM
January 29, 2010
Time for a Populist Revolt

One of the great pleasures of a new article by William Greider is his hopefulness. He still believes we can change the country into something we want it to be, something more like the original promises we made to ourselves at the founding, which we’ve never lived up to. Yet, Greider would probably add.

In the newest, “Political Fever”, he argues that the current discomfiture of the Democrats is a good thing in that it provides an opening for the people to pressure the government.

The Washington Post calls it a “populist brushfire,” and pundits explain why our sudden rowdiness is irrational, possibly dangerous if not swiftly contained. What a rare moment to behold — we’ve got their attention! Events that the major media see as illness are actually the first small signs of revival in our moribund democracy. The rebellions are like early tremors in what could be a deep shift in the tectonic plates of power. If so, the first waves are going to be followed by more waves — lots of them emanating from unexpected quarters — new voices and new ideas intruding on the exclusive parlor talk that passes for political dialogue.

I think Greider finds the whole spectacle fun and exciting because he’s identified with what a lifetime as a reporter has taught him is important to regular folks. He’s worked for the Post and Rolling Stone before his current gig as national affairs honcho for The Nation, and he knows Washington fairly well. But he hasn’t let familiarity kill hope, in part, I think, because he has a better sense of history than most politicians, or reporters for that matter. And he hasn’t identified his hopes and dreams with a particular political party, but with what his sense of history and his experience with people tell him are the big-picture trends.

Right now we’re buffeted by several of those, among them climate change, peak oil, and imperial overstretch. Politicians as a social class ignore these and others for as long as they can, since any viable solutions involve radical shifts in wealth and power from the current outrageously top-heavy structure.

But when a Republican in a pickup truck can take Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, you know it’s a moment at which we’ve got their attention.

This is where liberal-labor progressives can make a difference by exerting “tough love” on the Democratic Party. Do not be subtle about the electoral threat to comfortable incumbents. By refusing to fall into line and instead encouraging voters to talk back, activist groups can scare the bejesus out of Democrats (maybe even the president). People should demand, not beg, that Obama endorse the $154 billion jobs bill the House has already passed. Or blister Democratic senators who refuse to take up labor-law reforms needed to help workers organize. There is a long list of potential targets, if progressives are willing to assert themselves.

Usually, of course, Democrats in Washington do not take this sort of pressure seriously, and Obama’s White House has been dismissive of its liberal base, especially organized labor. Politicians can count, and they typically regard threats from left of center as toothless. But activists in Washington might change that if they reach out and develop alliances with the broad ranks of ordinary people across the country, including unorganized independents and renegade Republicans. Turn away from the policy culture of Washington. Instead, learn how to listen to everyday people, their concerns and aspirations — then learn to talk like them. The right does an ugly, fear-driven version of this. The left can speak for a more honest and optimistic vision of what Americans need. Mobilizing the anger is necessary to sustaining democracy.

We can take control of this country if we choose; the forms of democracy are still in place. The deck has been stacked against us, and the odds are long. But there are so many of us who recognize the actual need for real change, not just belief, that the question isn’t whether we could succeed, but whether we’ll put in the effort required. It’ll take democratic action; but as Greider says in Come Home, America, the easiest and least scary thing you can to do advance democracy is talk with the people around you about what’s going on. Generate conversation, get people thinking, even riled up. When enough people are angry, and willing to call their representatives to express that anger, the system will respond surprisingly quickly. Not necessarily efficiently, or even correctly at first. But it’ll respond, one way or another. As long as we can vote out the incumbents, we can scare them into doing what we want.

Henry Adams quoted a Cabinet member who was his superior responding to an Adams request for patience and tact in dealing with a Representative. The unnamed Cabinet member burst out: “You can’t use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!”

If we take up our political sticks, Congress will respond. This is not a faith thing, it’s an observation based on the desperation of members of Congress to hold onto that designation. Credibly threaten the Democrats with abandonment, in which case they’ll return to minority status, and see if they don’t respond.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:56 AM
January 27, 2010
Better Scott Brown Than the Chilcot Inquiry

I wonder if the bad news the Democrats have received over the past few weeks isn’t a blessing in disguise.

No, I’m not claiming they’ll learn from their mistakes, pick themselves up, and climb back into the fight. No attentive observer would be that silly.

But consider this. Had Scott Brown not been elected during, and thus after, the debacle the Democrats made of health-care reform, forcing the President to rebrand so hastily that the newly adopted persona is not even vaguely credible, the Democratic leadership would have been forced to deal with their collective nightmare, also known as their constitutional duty.

Fat chance, you say? Who’s gonna force Pelosi and Reid to do what the highest law of the land requires of them?

Well, with all that’s going on right now, how much have you heard about the Chilcot inquiry in Britain? There’s a lot of fascinating testimony being given, admittedly to a bunch of pretty conservative inquirers, but in public nonetheless. As a result, we know publicly and for sure that the UK government was being told before the Iraq invasion in 2003 that the action would be illegal under international law. And not by a voice crying in the wilderness.

While Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, was roundly dismissing the unanimous advice of his top lawyers that an invasion of Iraq would be illegal, officials in Downing Street were strongly resisting similar unwelcome advice, this time from Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general.

Previously classified documents released today at the Chilcot inquiry offer a rare, perhaps unprecedented, insight into manoeuvring at the heart of government about one of the most serious issues to confront ministers — whether to go to war, and the lawfulness of it.

The documents reveal Goldsmith expressed concern to Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, that he was said to have had an “optimistic view” of the legality of an invasion without fresh UN backing. Goldsmith made it clear that was not his view. That was in November 2002 when Goldsmith had been struggling to get his voice heard, the inquiry was told. “Was the attorney general discouraged from giving advice?” David Brummell, the former attorney’s legal secretary was asked. “ Yes,” Brummell replied.


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That’s just from today, there’s been lots of other fascinating stuff. What, for instance, have you heard about the Hutton report on David Kelly, who supposedly committed suicide after a BBC report casting doubt on the government’s case that Iraq had WMDs was traced to him? Did you know that Lord Hutton is attempting to impose a 70-year gag order on the records from which his inquiry concluded that the death was by suicide? (Why? To protect the feelings of the bereaved. Where have we heard that one before?) Hutton’s inquiry interrupted an inquest, which was never restarted. Now five doctors are considering a legal challenge to force the government to show them the information on which the inquiry’s judgment was based.

So here’s my point:

  • The Guardian has gathered its voluminous reporting on the inquiry into an easily accessible form.
  • A search at the New York Times website turns up two articles in the last month that mention the inquiry, published Jan. 12 and 18.
  • A similar search at the Washington Post found four articles over the same period, two from AP and two from Reuters, published between Jan. 18 and 22.

If there weren’t so many wild and heavy things happening on this side of the pond, a lot of bloggers — if no one else — would be bouncing these reports around the net, and that would turn into news.

Interrupting an inquest, then hiding the information on which a determination of cause of death was made, looks like something you’d expect in Dallas or Los Angeles.

Public testimony from a former Foreign Office lawyer who resigned in protest days before the invasion provided some excitement for those who believe citizenship is still possible.

The Iraq inquiry burst into life yesterday, thanks to a quiet, thoughtful yet furious woman who ripped into the government like a genteel but very hungry lioness. Elizabeth Wilmshurst was the first witness to get a round of applause from the public.

Although she wasn’t happy about the attorney general Lord Goldsmith giving a legal blessing to the war, she noted the position the Labor government left him in by asking for a legal opinion less than two weeks before the invasion began.

For the attorney to have advised that the conflict would have been unlawful without a second resolution would have been very difficult at that stage, I would have thought handing Saddam Hussein a massive public relations advantage. It was extraordinary, frankly, to leave asking him so late in the day. I think the process that was followed in this case was lamentable.

In the old days, American politics included a certain amount of theater on the grand scale such as the British are now engaged in, much to their credit in my opinion. If only we here in the US can find it in ourselves to grow up enough to examine ourselves and our actions in a similar fashion, we can follow in the footsteps of declining empires of the past toward a reconciliation with the world around us, rather than scrambling for every last resource to exploit on our way down, leaving us both desperate and hated.

But as long as we can debate why Bernanke only needs 51 votes while health care needs 60, we don’t have to worry about the war crimes our government has committed in the immediate past.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:29 AM
January 26, 2010
The Anti-Keynesians in the White House

What the hell are the Obama people thinking? A spending freeze in the middle of a recession??? This is the evidence of what they’re selling as a new focus on jobs?

It’s good that the Scott Brown election freaked them; they needed to be awakened. Unfortunately but predictably, they learned the wrong lesson. But even my cynicism appears to have misunderestimated the political ineptitude of this administration. I knew I wouldn’t be happy with its policies, but I expected a political machine at least as good as Clinton’s. Come to think of it, a lot of it is Clinton’s. That might explain things…

But after giving three-quarters of a trillion communal taxpayer dollars to the very folks whose Ponzi schemes robbed the taxpayers individually, then cozying up to the drug and insurance companies over health care, then getting beat up in polls and losing Ted Kennedy’s seat, then announcing that the new Obama brand is The Fighting Populist, they come up with one of the dumbest and most anti-populist moves you can imagine.

Obama was fine with $787 billion to Wall Street. He tripled the official US military force in Afghanistan and the increase in contractors is at least as great. And of course the misnamed Defense Department is exempted from the freeze, as the pet projects of the major corporate contributors will no doubt soon be.

Now, at last, the administration turns its concentration to helping the other 90% of Americans, the ones who are being foreclosed on, or struggling under ever-mounting debt caused by usurious interest rates that were illegal a couple decades ago; and everyone who still has a job is worried that it’ll be outsourced to a different continent. What sort of helping hand does the Democratic President offer?

A freeze on spending, except for feeding the war machine.

I guess Richard Nixon was wrong when he postulated that we’re all Keynesians now, because it would be hard to imagine a more wrong-headed move according to the model that made John Maynard Keynes an advisor of governments in the mid-twentieth century. Exactly the opposite of everything Obama’s done was what was called for.

It was easy to figure out what to do, but doing it would have required courage, and Obama appears to have none.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:53 PM
January 25, 2010
Chris Dodd Shows His True Colors, Unfortunately

The fight to confirm Ben Bernanke for a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve has unfortunately exposed the true nature of Chris Dodd.

Publicly admitting that he was likely to lose if he ran again, because he was seen as being in bed with the worst actors in what Krugman calls the Great Recession, Dodd dropped out in favor of a Democrat who was likely to win.

Now that he’s freed from the restrictions of having to be re-elected, does he act purely on his own view of right and wrong?



Apparently he does.

In voting for Bernanke, the panel’s chairman, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said Bernanke’s “wise leadership” will mean “better days do lie ahead.”

Although Bernanke, 56, appears to have enough votes in the Senate to win a second term, six Republicans and one Democrat on the committee did line up against him. They blame him for not spotting problems that led to the financial crisis, failing to protect consumers and supporting Wall Street bailouts.

Even a stopped watch is right twice a day. It takes someone who’s given up to shill for the worst interests on his way out when he has nothing to lose. Dodd has stood for liberal causes lots of times, occasionally even when it mattered. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:23 AM
January 22, 2010
Good News!

President Obama is back!

“Let me tell you, so long as I have the privilege of serving as your president, I’ll never stop fighting for you,” Obama said at the beginning of a town hall meeting with voters Friday.

This is encouraging news. The question now is, When will you start fighting for us?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:15 PM
January 20, 2010
They’re Blaming It on Bush!

I expected Obama to be casting about for scapegoats, but I never thought he was foolish enough to claim that Massachusetts replaced Jack and Ted Kennedy with a Republican because people are still angry at George Bush.

Democrats, from Mr. Obama on down… made a concerted effort to portray the results in Massachusetts as a reflection of long-simmering populist anger, and not a referendum on the health care legislation or on the year-old administration, which came into office facing steep challenges.

“Here’s my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts, but the mood around the country: the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office,” Mr. Obama said in the interview on ABC. “People are angry, they are frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.”

Update: Wait a minute! Is Obama calling himself a Tea Partier???

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:50 PM
Progressive, or Just Liberal?

Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, John Dewey said, and there’s a great truth in that statement.

But politics is also the shadow cast on society by psychology. Of course an aspiring clinical psychologist would say that, but I think I can support the claim. In fact it’s probably self-evident.

In something resembling a democracy, individual psychology clearly influences, and usually determines, personal voting patterns. If you see yourself as weak, helpless, and in need of outside forces to keep you from doing bad stuff, as the Southern Baptists I grew up around apparently do, then you’ll gravitate to strong leaders and forceful foreign policy and anything that makes you feel less insecure. Whereas if you feel confidant, capable, and self-directed, you’re more likely to vote to help others, and to have some compassion for people on the other side of whatever divide is being confronted.

At a higher level, what you think is going on in the world determines how you understand new information and what you think about events that take place. If, for example, you see the Republicans as just this side of evil, and the Democrats as disappointing but noticeably better, then your mental model of how things work involves the ideological necessity of keeping the Democrats in power pretty much all the time. The problem soon becomes apparent, and you realize that, but you still can’t see it.

People don’t like politicians who are weak and don’t know what they believe. If the [Senate health care] bill was worth passing yesterday, it’s just as worth passing tomorrow. All the meta-politics about being for something before you were against it, knowing what you believe or not knowing, being able to get something done. It all comes down to stuff like this.

Late Update: Here’s an unnamed “presidential advisor” quoted in Politico who should get a promotion: “The response will not be to do incremental things and try to salvage a few seats in the fall,” a presidential adviser said. “The best political route also happens to be the boldest rhetorical route, which is to go out and fight and let the chips fall where they may. We can say, ‘At least we fought for these things, and the Republicans said no.’”

I cannot say this enough. The policy front speaks for itself. But the meta-politics is real. It’s a big. But it’s something Democrats have great difficulty with. For a whole variety of reasons voters clearly have a lot of hesitation about this reform. I think the polls make clear that the public is not against it. But the reticence is real. If Dems decide to run from the whole project in the face of a single reverse, what are voters supposed to draw from that? What conclusion would you draw about an individual in an analogous situation in your own life? Think about it.

To me, Josh comes across here as completely bereft of a clue; it’s hard to know where to start. With “politicians who are weak and don’t know what they believe” — recognize any current President in that? Or how much the current Democratic dilemma arises directly from the complete absence of evidence of the President “fight[ing] and lett[ing] the chips fall where they may”, so that it’s now way too late? Or “run[ning] from the whole project in the face of a single reverse” — this is the only negative indicator the Democrats have seen for completely caving on health care reform? What about Obama’s sliding popularity? What about the polls on the bill itself — will the Democrats in general follow the lead of Martha Coakley and claim they didn’t have enough money for tracking polls?

Such a viewpoint leads to frustration, to telling people to just STFU, because it conflicts with reality. Cognitive psychology tells us that emotions are a reaction to the difference between what actually happens and what we expected would happen. Thus we can control our future emotional reactions by setting our expectations appropriately.

If we expect something unrealistic, we can call ourselves realists but events will not meet our expectations. When that happens, people get frantic.

“If it’s the end of health care, it’s the end of the Democratic majority.”

That’s Paul Begala from a few moments ago on CNN when asked whether a Brown win meant the end of health care reform. So true. It really is nothing to fear but fear itself. The Dems have no choice but to finish the job. No choice.

And I strongly suspect that means the House has to pass the senate bill.

One cannot even imagine anything more horrible than the end of the Democratic majority. Therefore, passing a terrible bill that everyone knows is only being enacted as a political ploy to keep the Democrats in power is the best, in fact only, move, because it keeps the Democrats in power.

Witness Massachusetts.

And I just have to point out one more time, there is no health care in this bill. It mandates the purchase of insurance, but does not mandate that insurance companies pay for whatever care you need. Who’s gonna come out ahead in such a transaction?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:03 AM
January 18, 2010
Blinded by the Money

What lessons will the Democrats learn from losing Ted Kennedy’s seat, as it appears they’re about to? What should they learn?

I suspect they’ll take as a lesson that they should never try to do anything the Republicans don’t want. “But a child could see that’ll fail,” do you say? I admit it. Since the Republicans want to concentrate power and wealth even more, and are willing to tear down as much of the country as necessary to make it happen, the list of things the Democrats would still be able to do would be empty. Which, after all, isn’t that different from what they actually do in practice.

The DLC Democrats will start talking about how silly the left is to want what all other developed countries have. They’ll rattle sabers about Iran, and pal around with the Liebermans, Joe and Avigdor. They’ll find an excuse to confront Russia and China politically, but without disturbing the profits of their corporate owners. In short, they’ll imitate the antics of the losing candidate in the last Presidential election.

Why? Well, that’s the point: it’s what the Democrats want to do, but they need an excuse. They’ve sold their souls to the same sectors of society that have long owned the Republican party; but unlike the Senator from my original home state, Mitch McConnell, and most of those he leads, the Democrats are still shy about letting their constituents know that. Probably because they’d lose their seats in the next election.

Sure, there are a few like Kucinich who don’t fit the mold, and some like Waxman who seem to be chomping at the bit to fight but are restrained by my Representative, the Speaker. But in general, the Democrats are the party of compromise, while the Republicans continue to use the tactic they learned in Reagan’s time of demanding eight times what they want. The Democrats agree to split the difference (again); the Republicans walk away with four times what they wanted, and the Democrats feel good about themselves. Or as Robert Reich put it, the discussion moves to the right because the Democrats keep meeting the Republicans half-way while the Republicans stay put.

The country hasn’t moved to the right, as the polls make clear; but the political conversation moves ever farther from what real people know is happening. The empire is ending; we’ve allowed corporations to ship our economic pre-eminence overseas to the lowest bidder; and as a result, as Greider says, the good times we recently thought would roll forever will never come back. They’re gone for good, and our job is to adjust, not to waltz around the world destroying other countries in a futile attempt to prove we’re still BMOC.

In that light, the lesson the Democrats should learn from Coakley’s apparently imminent loss is that they should have followed through on the promises they made. If Obama had ever even looked like he was making an effort to fight for at least one of the things he told us he’d do, the Democrats would not be in danger of losing Congress again like they did in 1994; but they caved to the corporations and the super-rich far too obviously and quickly. They needed at least to stage a credible fight that played out over time in which they pretended to confront the corporations everyone knows are causing the problems. As it was, Obama made back-room deals with the worst actors, then left Congress to take the blame.

Obama’s above-the-fray strategy got him what he was going for — a bill, no matter what it includes — but it lost him his base. He might get some of the votes back later if he does something they value, but he’s lost the glow of adoration that followed him through his introduction to the national consciousness. That can’t be recouped, and he’ll never again have the momentum he had on entering office. A great opportunity wasted, at a time when we won’t have many more.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:59 PM
January 16, 2010
Obama as Greek Tragedy

At the recent BARBARian gathering the subject of politics arose, as it tends to do. This group originally got together to bitch about Bush in person rather than virtually.

There was, therefore, a good deal of excitement during the 2008 election, and not a little dissension about which Democrat to support. I was one of the few, possibly the only one, who wasn’t used to voting for Democrats at the national level.

Once Obama was elected, the mood ranged from imminent utopia to relief and reasonably high expectations. Plus my cynicism, which never felt unwelcome but was certainly out of place for several meetings.

So it’s both depressing and validating to find that the first meeting in several months exhibited little enthusiasm for the Obama administration or the current Democratic leadership in general. I wish I’d been wrong in predicting that Obama would be no better than Clinton, but you surround yourself with Rubinites and you don’t have a prayer of doing anything that doesn’t destroy the country in economic terms. You believe the hawks in the military and the punditocracy and you lose any chance of ramping down the empire consciously and intelligently, rather than perforce. I.F. Stone quotes Lord Salisbury:

If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome;
if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent;
if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.

And if you believe the historians, nothing is new.

What surprises and depresses me is not the bad policies that Obama has adopted, nor his unwillingness to fight for anything but the interests of the worst corporations and the super-rich; that’s what he’s always done. I mean, this guy converted to Christianity as an adult, the same year he entered Harvard Business School. I gave up on Pelosi years ago, before she was Speaker, and haven’t voted for her for decades. And Harry Reid has an impressive life story but I can’t imagine how he ended up as the leader of anything. My guess is that he was the milquetoast to whom the fewest Democrats objected; and if that’s how you’re choosing leaders you’re not headed anywhere, you’re just trying to stay in power.

No, what surprises me is the abject ineptitude of the political calculations. Obama took off the table the single-payer idea that would have carried him through if he’d been what people thought he was. Congressional Democrats went along because they remembered the lesson they mis-took from 1994. Entering a negotiation with the express purpose of passing something, any bill at all, leaves you with no leverage. You’ve already agreed to fail, all you need is some face-saving band-aid. Who wins a negotiation? The party who can walk away.

Imagine for a moment that President Obama had made one of his best speeches on national television, like he’s done for major issues in the past. In this speech he’d called for universal health care like other developed countries have. Not universal insurance mandates, but universal health care, government-managed like other countries’. Single payer, which a majority of Americans have favored for decades. What would his poll numbers look like? He wouldn’t actually have to achieve such a lofty goal; but if he took the lead in negotiations, and he entered with that position, he’d get something close to it if he wanted such an outcome. Clearly he didn’t.



It’s particularly sad because Obama had a rare chance to do something historic and game-changing. It’s the classic Greek tragedy, in which the hero’s character flaws lead directly to the denouement. If only he really was the progressive community organizer people thought of him as being. Of course such a person wouldn’t be nominated by the Democrats, or allowed entry to a Republican gathering.

What would have gotten at least something done was a fighter in the mold of LBJ, someone willing to go into a caucus and threaten to cut peoples’s genitals off politically if they didn’t go along. We needed Obama to say, Here’s what I’m going for philosophically: a public option. I might fail and it would end my career to do so, but I have enormous public support. Those who get in my way will feel my wrath, and I will make sure the public knows which side everyone is on. We needed the modern equivalent of FDR welcoming their hatred. Instead we got what Obama’d always been, a intermediary between the corporate Democrats and the progressives they want to co-opt, to offset the wingnuts and fundamentalists the Republicans depend on.

Imagine what a President might accomplish in this magical time we inhabit were he willing to say, as FDR said about the Citigroups and AIGs of his time,

They have begun to see the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. And we know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.

What the country needs, as Nader’s said for decades, and reports that his father said to him, is a not a third political party but a second one. I would denominate it the Anti-Corporate party. Wealth would not be the target per se, but the concentration of unaccountable power that corporate wealth brings definitely would be. No corporation should ever be able to dictate to the community, yet today many Americans can’t imagine it otherwise. As Bill Greider says in his newest, Come Home, America:

More important than all the other losses is that people are also denied another great intangible — the dignity of self-directed lives. At work, at home, and in the public sphere, most people lack the right to exercise much of a voice in the decisions governing their daily lives. Most people (not all) are subject to a system of command and control over their personal destinies. They know the risk of ignoring the orders from above. Not surprisingly, many citizens are resigned to this condition and accept subservience as “the way things are,” and their lives are smaller as a result. Many find it hard to imagine that these confinements could be lessened, even substantially removed, if economic organizations were informed by democratic principles.

We find it hard to imagine that democratic principles could inform our lives because television and cinema fail to show that happening. It happens in real life, as Greider has talked about at length, especially in Who Will Tell the People? and The Soul of Capitalism. But anything that needs corporate media to create, distribute, or promote it will be filtered through the idea that corporations naturally control the sources of everything, water, air, algorithms, genetic codes, and all. We need to free our minds.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:27 PM
December 11, 2009
Typical Establishment Hypocrisy
But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their fundamental faith in human progress — that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith — if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace — then we lose what’s best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present condition makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

Let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.

Can someone explain to me why the repeated invocation of Martin Luther King in a speech designed to justify policies he would have wholeheartedly condemned is not hypocritical in the extreme?

If you want to grab some of Martin’s mantle, you have to take his policies along with it. You can’t triple the size of the war machine’s effort in a poor remote country that did nothing to us and still claim to have inherited the tradition of a person who never saw a war he liked. Own up, Mr. Nobel Prize Winner.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:23 AM
December 06, 2009
Remind Me Again, Who’s President?

More change that defies belief.

The plan, called Option 2A, was presented to the president on Nov. 11. Mr. Obama complained that the bell curve would take 18 months to get all the troops in place.

He turned to General Petraeus and asked him how long it took to get the so-called surge troops he commanded in Iraq in 2007. That was six months.

“What I'm looking for is a surge,” Mr. Obama said. “This has to be a surge.”

Another in a series of war criminals. At least he can form complete sentences.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:15 PM
December 03, 2009
Where are the Discordians When You Need Them?

You probably know the old joke, how many psychotherapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: only one, but the bulb has to want to change.

I find myself wondering how those who believed Obama would change things are explaining the current situation to themselves. Hopefully we’re all learning about the limits of the American system, and thinking about how we might change it. But the real question is, do we want to change? If not, we’re likely to repeat the same behavior.

In his new book Come Home, America, William Greider opines that

One damaging myth Americans ought to abandon is the naive notion that the celebrity power of the presidency can somehow solve our problems. That faith has been disappointed again and again in recent decades. First, the new leader is built up with miraculous powers, then cast down when he fails to prevail.

Then we search for a new one.

Sacred_Chao.pngThe one we’ve got has finally turned his attention to the problem of finding jobs for the millions of Americans without one. With the official unemployment estimate topping ten percent, the real figure is widely considered to be about twice that, possibly even more. Unfortunately for our purposes, but fortunately for those who made the changes, the methods of calculating unemployment have changed a lot since the Depression, so we can’t readily compare our unemployment figures with theirs. Certainly our general economic situation is dire but not as bad as theirs was. Many people now are in as bad shape as people were then, it’s true; all we can say is that not as many are that badly off now. But it ain’t pretty.

First order of business, naturally, was buying off the bankers. Then the drug companies, then the insurance companies, then the so-called defense industry. That was $787 billion for Wall Street, untold billions throughout the foreseeable future for the insurance and drug companies, and tens, probably hundreds, of billions more for the weapons and logistics required to support the Peace Prize-winner’s war. So now that jobs are finally front and center, the rest of us will get an equally large slice of pie. Right?

Speaking at a White House forum to a panel of business and labor leaders, economists, and others,

Mr. Obama said he would entertain “every demonstrably good idea” for creating jobs, but he cautioned that “our resources are limited.”

The Times article talks about a House initiative to spend some real money on real people. The enormous sum of $70 billion was proposed to ameliorate the suffering of tens of millions, presumably with a straight face. No White House reaction to that plan at print time.

Mr. Obama’s jobs event captured the political and policy vise now squeezing the president and his party at the end of his first year. It came on the eve of a government report that is expected to show unemployment remaining in double digits, and two days after Mr. Obama stressed as he ordered 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan that he did not want the financial burdens of the war to overwhelm his domestic agenda.

Fortunately, the administration has devised a plan, based on one that worked in the recent past.

…a program of weatherization incentives for homeowners and small businesses… [c]alled “cash for caulkers,” it would enlist contractors and home-improvement companies like Home Depot — whose chief executive was on the panel — to advertise the benefits, much as car dealers did for the clunkers trade-ins this year.

Yet that relatively modest proposal underscores the limits of the government’s ability to affect a jobless recovery with the highest unemployment rate in 26 years — and Mr. Obama acknowledged as much. Just as he said in Tuesday’s Afghanistan speech that the nation could not afford an open-ended commitment there, especially when the economy is so weak and deficits so high, Mr. Obama emphasized at the jobs forum that the government had already done a lot with his $787 billion economic stimulus package and the $700 billion financial bailout that he inherited.

“I want to be clear: While I believe the government has a critical role in creating the conditions for economic growth, ultimately true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector,” he told his audience, which included executives and some critics from American Airlines, Boeing, Nucor, Google, Walt Disney and FedEx.

Yeah, that’ll work. The booming airline and steel businesses, plus search engines, cartoons, and package delivery. That’s the kind of thinking that made America great. Greider again:

We live in a country where telling the hard truth with clarity has become taboo. Its implications are too alarming. Any politician who says aloud what some of them know or feel in their guts is vilified as defeatist or unpatriotic. Many are clueless, of course, and others are too scared to raise forbidden subjects. I understand their silence and I do not forgive them.
Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:41 PM
November 28, 2009
Ritter Sports the Truth

As usual, Scott Ritter tells the straight truth, and as usual, it ain’t pretty.

In short, Saddam had been found guilty of possessing WMD, and his sentence had been passed down by Washington and London void of any hard evidence that such weapons, or even related programmes, even existed. The sentence meted out — regime termination — mandated such a massive deployment of troops and material that all but the wilfully blind or intentionally ignorant had to know by the early autumn of 2002 that war with Iraq was inevitable. One simply does not initiate the movement of hundreds of thousands of troops, thousands of armoured vehicles and aircraft, and dozens of ships on a whim or to reinforce an idle threat.

President George Bush was able to disguise his blatant militarism behind the false sincerity of his ally Blair and his own secretary of state, Colin Powell. The president’s task was made far easier given the role of useful idiot played by much of the mainstream media in the US and Britain, where reporters and editors alike dutifully repeated both the hyped-up charges levied against Iraq and the false pretensions that a diplomatic solution was being sought.

The tragic final act of the farce directed by Bush and Blair was the theatre of war justification known as UN weapons inspections. Having played the WMD card so forcefully in an effort to justify war with Iraq, the US (and by extension, Britain) were compelled once again to revisit the issue of disarmament. But the reality was that disarming Iraq was the furthest thing from the mind of either Bush or Blair. The decision to use military force to overthrow Saddam was made by these two leaders independent of any proof that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Having found Iraq guilty, the last thing those who were positioning themselves for war wanted was to re-engage a process that not only had failed to uncover any evidence Iraq’s retention of WMD in the past, but was actually positioned to produce fact-based evidence that would either contradict or significantly weaken the case for war already endorsed by Bush and Blair.

So, does this mean that Bush and Blair and their associates are war criminals like McNamara?

Having played the WMD card so forcefully in an effort to justify war with Iraq, the US (and by extension, Britain) were compelled once again to revisit the issue of disarmament. But the reality was that disarming Iraq was the furthest thing from the mind of either Bush or Blair. The decision to use military force to overthrow Saddam was made by these two leaders independent of any proof that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Having found Iraq guilty, the last thing those who were positioning themselves for war wanted was to re-engage a process that not only had failed to uncover any evidence Iraq’s retention of WMD in the past, but was actually positioned to produce fact-based evidence that would either contradict or significantly weaken the case for war already endorsed by Bush and Blair.

In other words, yes.

For the first time in history, the entire world contemporaneously saw the blatant hypocrisy of war. The best PR money could buy was unable to convince the global audience that even a shred of legitimacy existed in the imperial invasion of Iraq. Only the most fearful Americans even bought it, though as usual that’s more than a majority. Plus of course Israel, to give credit where it’s due.

Historically, it seems to me, legitimacy is the single most important attribute of a government. Lacking that, it falls, just as a President whose motorcade lacks normal military escorts is prey to the most extreme elements of society. When legitimacy falters, public confidance in society stumbles with it, and the polls seem to indicate such movement now. Obama entered office with the promise to change things, and surprise, compromising has failed to make a difference once again.

The Obama administration is of course not losing legitimacy to the extent of falling to a 1963-style coup; realistically, fight is not what you expect from Obama. But the Democrats have shown no reason why they should be given control of Congress again in 2010.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:13 PM
November 15, 2009
Those Crazy Democrats

Doing the same thing and expecting a different result might be a definition of crazy, but it also seems to define the Democratic party since the Second World War. Here we go again.

When the United States went into Iraq in 2003, it had a handful of pilotless planes, or drones; it now has over 7,000. The invasion force had no unmanned ground vehicles; the U.S. armed forces now employ more than 12,000. …

Since taking office, President Obama has shown a quiet predilection for drone warfare. He’s been vacuuming up targets. There are two programs in operation: a publicly acknowledged military one in Iraq and Afghanistan and a covert C.I.A. program targeting terror suspects in countries including Pakistan.

This foreign-assassination thing has always worked to our advantage in the past. Consider, just to take a couple examples, Lumumba and Allende, assassinations for which we’re as widely admired as the Israelis are for theirs.

According to a just-completed study by the New America Foundation, quoted in [Jane] Mayer’s [New Yorker] piece, Obama has authorized as many drone strikes in Pakistan in nine and a half months as George W. Bush did in his last three years in office — at least 41 C.I.A. missile strikes, or about one a week, that may have killed more than 500 people.

The dead have included high-value targets like Osama bin Laden’s oldest son and Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban leader in Pakistan — as well as bystanders. Circling drones have struck panic. But as Mayer notes, “The embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force.”

Well, at least we now have a transparently scummy administration rather than a covertly scummy one.

JFK and LBJ were seduced by the availability of a plausibly deniable option. These days, with half the world’s weapons budget supplied by American taxpayers, deniability is a phantom, an invisibility cloak American politicians cling to as if someone actually bought the illusion. Somebody somewhere must, right? Sure, they’re all Americans, but who else gets surveyed? Pollsters are not roaming the mountains of Afghanistan.

The question, as always, is whether the situation improves or deteriorates when we kill a bunch of folks in some distant land, some of whom may or may not be guilty of something we don’t like. I mean, suppose Afghanistan killed a certain number of random Americans because we as a nation failed to buy enough opium products; how would we react? Oh, we’d say, it’s just collateral damage.

On the other hand, the Obama administration has moved with alacrity to confront the growing threat of insufficient health care. As if! Let’s check in with

…Dr. Gilbert Friedell, a crusty 82-year-old who taught at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and ran the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center. He is a doctor’s doctor. He thinks, however, that too often doctors are a major problem in creating healthy communities. “Health care,” Friedell argues, “has to be a joint enterprise between patients, families and physicians.”

Nationally, Friedell believes, the health care debate has to be transformed.

“Currently the issues are framed as insurance or not insurance,” he says. “Having insurance gives you financial access to a system, assuming there is a system. It gives you nothing more than that. And getting into the system, if there is one, doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of care, the availability of services, the way the patients and families are treated.”

Kentucky’s fifth congressional district, which includes Harlan and Perry counties, has the lowest life expectancy of any district in America: 72.6 years for men and 76.4 for women. Those numbers would be little changed, Friedell says, by either a government-run system or a requirement that all people have insurance. Substantive change, he says, will only arrive built on a basis of re-ordered health values founded on programs like the ones in Hazard.

The same stupid-shit foreign policy. The same wimp-ass Republican social-values garbage. We need a second political party in this country.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:23 AM
November 10, 2009
I Voted for a Pedophile

Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, in full smarm mode, has lately been congratulating himself for having the courage to follow his conscience. That poor, wizened little organ has apparently been urging the senator to block passage of the health reform bill by any means possible.

To make it perfectly clear that you can’t blame me for my state’s junior senator, I’m resurrecting this Golden Oldie from last March:

In 2000 a Republican no-hoper named Philip Giordano was running against Lieberman for the senate seat that Holy Joe was clinging to for dear life while simultaneously dragging down the national Democratic ticket as the vice presidential candidate.

I only knew two things about Giordano. One was that he was mayor of Waterbury, which is significant in Connecticut politics. It signifies that you haven’t been indicted yet, but hold your horses. You’ll get there soon enough.

The second thing I knew was that Giordano wasn’t Joe Lieberman, which left me with no option but to cast the first vote of my life for a Republican.

Meanwhile the FBI had already been quietly investigating Giordano for corruption, a process which is more or less automatic when it comes to Waterbury mayors.

During “Operation LandPhil,” as the Bureau called it, the wiretappers snapped to attention one day when they overheard Giordano making arrangements with a local prostitute to bring two girls, aged nine and ten, to his office for oral sex. Now the former Marine is doing 37 years in federal prison.

And still I don’t regret my vote. I’d rather be represented in the Senate by a pedophile than by a whiny, smarmy, sanctimonious warmonger with the blood of innumerable nine- and ten-year-old girls on his hands.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:02 PM
November 09, 2009
Obama Will Spend Most on Military Since WWII

It’s a good thing Change has happened. If it hadn’t, we’d be spending ungodly amounts of money trying vainly to control the world through armaments.

Nonpartisan budget and security monitors report in Government Executive that the “administration’s request for $538 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2010 and its stated intention to maintain a high level of funding in the coming years put the president on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II. And that’s not counting the additional $130 billion the administration is requesting to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan next year, with even more war spending slated for future years.”
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:30 AM
October 23, 2009
Slick Willy Would Have Loved It

The flurry of stories about finally putting the health insurance under the antitrust laws like everybody else have left me puzzled. How could such an outrage have been going on since 1945 without anybody noticing? And by anybody, I mean me.

Here’s the answer, taken from an excellent story by Matthew Perrone of the Associated Press:

But industry analysts say courts have long limited the scope of the exemption to allow federal regulators to intervene in instances where competition could be jeopardized. They note the law has never stopped regulators at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission from intervening in a merger or acquisition.

In practice, the exemption from federal antitrust laws mainly allows insurers to share data on payments and risk ratings — a useful collaboration among life and casualty insurers. But Wall Street analysts point out that giant health insurance companies like Humana, Wellpoint Inc. and UnitedHealth Group have little need to share data, thanks to their national size and scope.

“While the threat to repeal the exemption makes for good headlines, we can’t really see how it alters the business for the established publicly traded players,” wrote JPMorgan analyst John Rex in a note to investors.

With 94 percent of U.S. health insurance markets meeting the Justice Department standards for “highly concentrated” — meaning dominant insurers face little competition — most academics agree reform is needed. But they point out that federal regulators could have prevented much of that concentration under existing law.

Since 1996, the federal government has cleared 400 mergers in the health insurance field, according to the American Medical Association.

The Washington attorney who brought this to my attention was full of admiration. “Terrific politically,” he said. “Scores major PR points without the need to risk any substantive change. Bill Clinton would have loved it.”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:35 AM
October 15, 2009
Never Thought I’d Say It

As much as I’ve ragged on Nancy, it’s incumbent on me to praise her when she takes on the villains as directly as this: “…it is well known to the public that the health insurance companies are the problem”. Of course, the drug companies are a big part of the problem too, and Obama’s already folded his hand in that game. But this is something.

The insurance industry may find that it has made a mistake in attempting to rig the debate like it did the last around.

“There is tremendous interest in our caucus, and, in fact, the Judiciary Committee has had a hearing on ending the exemption to McCarran-Ferguson, the antitrust bill,” Pelosi said, unprompted, at her weekly press conference.

The insurance industry gained the exemption in 1945; in most parts of the country, a single insurer has monopolistic dominance and the ability to set prices.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave rare testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking in favor of ending the anti-trust exemption. Reid is considering removing the exemption in the merged health care bill he is currently writing with other Senate leaders.

I don’t often cheer on Reid or Pelosi, but in this case I’m making a loud exception. Right on, Madame Speaker and Mr. Majority Leader! Take away their antitrust exemption and make them act like the capitalists they claim to be.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 09:41 PM
September 30, 2009
Fun in the California Sun, 2010 Edition

The upcoming race for governor of California looks likely to supply our reputation with a new stash of wacky. (Sorry, I’m reading Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and I’m finding myself imitating him.)

We have the classic California Republican in Meg Whitman, a person so obsessed with politics that she first registered to vote at the tender age of 46. She’s recently explained that she was focused on her family and her husband’s job. Apparently being CEO of eBay didn’t take up much of her attention; in any case she seems rarely to have found time to vote even after registering. This might be an issue.

Her positions are infused with a signature combination of naivete and calculation, smarter and more polished than Sarah Palin, who bested her in McCain’s VP sweepstakes, but about the same level of emotional development. Since she once worked for Bain & Co., Mitt Romney’s hideout, it’s not surprising that she’s against gay marriage and supported Prop. 8, though her fans would probably point out that she does support civil unions. Her positions on environment and energy are difficult to determine from her website, which contains the kind of slurpy gobbledygook shifty marketers use to bamboozle the unwary.

For example, on a website that seems to omit any links named Positions or Issues such as most politicians revel in, she promises as Governor to

  • Make California the global model for promoting energy efficiency and new energy technologies for worldwide export
  • Increase the state’s own energy supply and production by further diversifying our energy sources, including nuclear, biomass, wind and solar
  • Modernize our infrastructure to distribute our energy sources more economically and efficiently

Hard to point to anything to disagree with there, or even to pick out any solid point at all. But we might expect to get a sense of her position by noting the three sources her website links to for news about energy issues: the liberal beacon Orange County Register, the friend of the working man Entreprenuer.com, and the oft-quoted Riverside Press-Enterprise. On the environment page, there are two links: another to the Press-Enterprise, and one to a San Jose Mercury News article titled “Meg Whitman: To create jobs, curb environmental regulation”. Claiming that job creation is her overall top priority, she proposes to do so by cutting taxes and reducing regulation. In other words, it’s the same old redistribution from the poor to the rich that the business wing of the Republican party has been hawking for decades.

Whitman’s likely opponents are the current insurance commissioner aptly named Steve Poizner, who apparently has a shot because the industry he regulates will back him to the hilt, with former Congressman Tom Campbell representing the occasionally-rational branch of the Republican party, whose campaign appears quixotic for exactly that reason.

Not surprisingly, the Democrats are stoked about running against anyone from that group. They’re still high from the last election, in which Obama more than doubled Kerry’s margin over the Republicans, 24% to 10%. So the big names are already circling.


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San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is strongly supported by the Clinton wing, without whose assistance he probably would have lost to his Green opponent Matt Gonzales (as it was, Newsom won 53%-47%, about 11,000 votes). Newsom’s probably best known for marrying gay couples on the steps of city hall because he decided it should be legal, a judgement with which the courts in the end disagreed. Such notoriety would seem to guarantee him a certain base of support, and an equally solid base of opposition. He also has a bit of a weight to carry among the family-values crowd, having divorced his first wife two years into his mayoralty, and had an affair with his secretary who was also the wife of his campaign chairman and good friend, before marrying an actress, who delivered their first child less than a month ago. In San Francisco that kind of lifestyle costs you nothing. But statewide you face quite a different electorate, and calling yourself a Diane Feinstein-style Democrat isn’t likely to make up for the sexual peccadillos and the gay-marriage thing. Or the lack of experience.

The other announced candidate is current attorney general Jerry Brown, former governor, mayor of Oakland, and failed candidate for Senate and President, as well as son of a governor and brother of a state treasurer. He’s not term-limited like Schwarzeneger because the term-limits law took effect later.

I’d love to see a debate between Brown and Whitman. Brown is a smooth politician, but he’s much more than that. I voted for him in 1976, and I would have voted for a Democrat in 1992 if Brown had been the nominee. As a politician he’s quirky, generally socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but not always. He has a long record of actions that progressives and liberals generally applaud, from opposition to the Vietnam War and capital punishment to prosecuting Standard Oil of California, ITT, Gulf Oil, and Mobil for breaking campaign-finance laws, to repealing the state’s oil depletion allowance (essentially a tax break for taking oil out of the ground), to appointing the first black, female, and Latino judges to the California Supreme Court. Although the sentiment is by no means universal, Brown is widely credited with leading a turn-around in Oakland.

He’s also taken some contrary paths, such as inviting the Marines to stage “Urban Warrior” war games in the defunct Oakland Army Base, and offering some support to charter schools, one of which was military. It’s not unknown for progressives to complain that he’s too pro-business, though his record as attorney general has somewhat calmed those waters.

In San Francisco and the Bay Area there’s a sizable gay vote, and California is fairly similar. So Newsom should be able to get a big chunk of that bloc, right? Not necessarily. As attorney general, Brown took the unusual decision not to defend Prop. 8; normally the AG argues in support of laws passed by the voters. That was a relatively courageous act; he took a stand when he could easily have argued that his office required him to defend the peoples’ law. After all, he makes a somewhat similar argument about the death penalty: despite his strong opposition to it — as governor he vetoed a death-penalty law but was overridden — his office requires him to follow the law. But with Prop. 8, he decided that the peoples’ law was bullshit, and he officially refused to back it. Like Newsom, his actions were made moot by the state Supreme Court, but like Newsom, he made his political point.

All in all, Brown has a record of acting on real social problems, whatever one thinks of those acts, and of being willing to consider different paradigms. Both are rare in these declining days of empire when it’s easier to kick the can down the road. Nor were these merely symbolic actions, as a result of which they generated real constituencies. Which is probably why Brown is currently favored to take the Democratic nomination and the governership. I’ve figured for decades that if he lived long enough for the pendulum to swing back toward the left he’d be perfectly positioned. Maybe now’s the time.

What kind of official portrait would he choose this time?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:01 PM
September 26, 2009
Nothing But Health Care, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Banks

I give the Obama administration credit for trying to learn from the past. But I wonder if the right lessons are being learned.

As Garry Wills discusses in the New York Review of Books, the new President and his principal advisers have largely adopted the methods and strategies of the Bush administration, which Obama campaigned strongly against. Wills explains this as the adjustment a President makes when he learns what any informed citizen would already know, namely the vast extent of the American empire.

Now a new president quickly becomes aware of the vast empire that is largely invisible to the citizenry. The United States maintains an estimated one thousand military bases in other countries. I say “estimated” because the exact number, location, and size of the bases are either partly or entirely cloaked in secrecy, among other things to protect nuclear installations. The secrecy involved is such that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy did not even know, at first, that we had nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey.

An example of this imperial system is the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.[5] In the 1960s, to secure a military outpost without fear of any interference from indigenous peoples, the two thousand Chagossian inhabitants were forcibly expelled, deprived of their native land, and sent a thousand miles away. (It is the same ploy we had used in removing native peoples from the Bikini and Enewetak atolls and Lib Island, so that we could conduct our sixty-eight atomic and hydrogen bomb tests there.) Though technically Diego Garcia is leased from the British, it is entirely run by the United States. It was the United States that expelled the Chagossians and confiscated their property. Diego Garcia has become a vast armory, as well as a storage and staging area and harbor and launch site, from which supplies and air strikes are fanned out over the Middle East, especially to the Persian Gulf and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. No journalists are allowed to visit it. It was funded on a vast scale by various deceptions of Congress. Even the leasing terms with Great Britain were kept secret, to avoid congressional oversight.

So far the man whose campaign told us that we were the ones to make those changes we’d been waiting for has made very little in the way of substantial change. Certainly the tone is different, and it’s pleasing to see the President appear as the adult in a group of squabbling politicians. It’s even possible that Obama will have the guts to make a popular decision and reduce the commitment to Afghanistan now that Gen. McChrystal has supposedly projected a need for half a million troops to stabilize that country.

Right now the omens are muddy. Consider for example the administration’s recent statements about Iran and the traditional media’s reaction.

Mr. Obama’s disclosure of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility, hidden deep inside a mountain, was a calculated move by the United States and its European allies to gain leverage over Tehran, by exposing it as dishonest. It was a far cry from Mr. Obama’s warm New Year’s greeting to the Iranian people early in his presidency.

When Obama says that “Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow”, he knows that his statement is, as Scott Ritter says, “technically and legally wrong.” In fact Iran has followed its commitments to the letter. The United States, on the other hand, has consistently and blatantly violated its stated commitments in the NPT, as have the other nuclear nations. No one’s fooled any longer about the real purpose of the NPT: to restrict the number of nations who can act as they choose without fear of retaliation. No one’s fooled, that is, except for American citizens, whose religion of paranoia waxes in strength as the empire wanes. “I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion”, Gibbon wrote, and history folds back on itself.

In fact, as Ritter describes in detail, Iran itself brought the new facility that Obama’s complaining about to the attention of the IAEA. The US knew about the facility but had hidden that knowledge from the world body. As a result, when the IAEA learned of it and said so, the US had to react publicly.

Obama’s first response was to talk about harsh sanctions alongside Britain and France. Perhaps he’s upping the ante on the negative side while offering, in his weekly Saturday address, “a serious, meaningful dialog” on the positive. We can hope; but so far Obama has proven more adept at the classic political maneuver of kicking the can down the road than at bringing about the kind of change his supporters expected.

For me, on the other hand, his foreign policies have been a tad better than I expected. He canceled that moronic missile-defense bullshit, though I expect that was at least in part a strategic move aimed at appeasing Russia in expectation of future conflicts over resources. His domestic policies have differed from Bush’s only slightly less than I predicted. So on the whole, I’m far from pleased but happier than I expected.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:38 PM
September 13, 2009
We Have Met the Enemy and Once Again, He Is…

These variations on a theme are all excerpted from today’s New York Times:


‘Athens’ on the Net

During the transition, the administration created an online “Citizen’s Briefing Book” for people to submit ideas to the president. “The best-rated ones will rise to the top, and after the Inauguration, we’ll print them out and gather them into a binder like the ones the president receives every day from experts and advisors,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, wrote to supporters.

They received 44,000 proposals and 1.4 million votes for those proposals. The results were quietly published, but they were embarrassing — not so much to the administration as to us, the ones we’ve been waiting for.

In the middle of two wars and an economic meltdown, the highest-ranking idea was to legalize marijuana, an idea nearly twice as popular as repealing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy.


Politics and the Age Gap

The latest CBS News poll found that 51 percent of those over 64 said health care reform would hurt senior citizens, compared with 36 percent of all adults surveyed. Just 31 percent of respondents over 64 said they approved of Mr. Obama’s handling of health care, compared with 40 percent over all.


The Recession’s Racial Divide

What do you get when you combine the worst economic downturn since the Depression with the first black president? A surge of white racial resentment, loosely disguised as a populist revolt. An article on the Fox News Web site has put forth the theory that health reform is a stealth version of reparations for slavery: whites will foot the bill and, by some undisclosed mechanism, blacks will get all the care. President Obama, in such fantasies, is a dictator and, in one image circulated among the anti-tax, anti-health reform “tea parties,” he is depicted as a befeathered African witch doctor with little tusks coming out of his nostrils. When you’re going down, as the white middle class has been doing for several years now, it’s all too easy to imagine that it’s because someone else is climbing up over your back.


Boy, Oh, Boy

Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t.

But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!


The Body Count at Home

As Mr. Reid recounts, Nikki tried everything to get medical care, but no insurance company would accept someone with her pre-existing condition…

“When Nikki showed up at the emergency room, she received the best of care, and the hospital spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her,” her step-father, Tony Deal, told me. “But that’s not when she needed the care.”

By then it was too late. In 2006, Nikki White died at age 32. “Nikki didn’t die from lupus,” her doctor, Amylyn Crawford, told Mr. Reid. “Nikki died from complications of the failing American health care system.”

Complex arguments are being batted around in this health care debate, but the central issue isn’t technical but moral. The first question is simply this: Do we wish to be the only rich nation in the world that lets a 32-year-old woman die because she can’t get health insurance? Is that really us?

Actually, yes. It really is.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:53 PM
September 01, 2009
All You Need to Know about Henry Kissinger

From Stephen Talbot’s letter to the editor in the current issue of The Nation:

I interviewed both men in 2001 for a PBS documentary, The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation. McNamara told me that he’d come to realize the war was a tragedy that could have been avoided…

But Kissinger was unreconstructed, unapologetic. “If you are going to ask whether I feel guilty about Vietnam, the interview is over,” Kissinger said before I asked my first question. “I’ll walk out.”

I told him I had just interviewed McNamara. That got his attention. And then he did something I’ll never forget: he began to cry. Actually, he pretended to cry.

“Boohoo, boohoo,” Kissinger blubbered, rubbing his eyes. “He’s still beating his breast, right? Still feeling guilty.” He spoke in a mocking, singsong voice and patted his heart for emphasis.

It was one of those moments, before the camera rolls, when you get a rare glimpse into someone’s character and it’s even darker than you ever dreamed.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:51 AM
August 31, 2009
Heads Will Wins, Tails We Lose

From Politico:

George F. Will, the elite conservative commentator, will call in his next column for U.S. ground troops to leave Afghanistan, according to publishing sources.

“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters,” Will writes in the column, scheduled for publication later this week.

One wonder why this sage policy guidance never occurred to the tweety-bird of the right while George W. Bush was wandering around Afghanistan’s plains for all those years.

Alas, a lack, one supposes, of balls. One didn’t want to lose one’s access to the very best soirées, did one? But now that the albatross is around the other guy’s neck, Will’s equation has changed.

Pulling out of Afghanistan begins to look like a win-win proposition for the Party of No. It would give the chickenhawk patriots of the GOP a chance to holler surrender monkey at Obama in 2012 — an act akin to handing Jascha Heifetz a Stradivarius.

And not pulling out would be even more certain to defeat Obama’s reelection bid, since he would be hip-deep in his very own Big Muddy by 2012. And Mitt Romney could win just as Eisenhower did against Stevenson, on a promise to get us out of Afghanistan.

Whether Romney actually kept his word once in office would depend on whether he’d rather be remembered as Eisenhower or Nixon.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:19 PM
August 24, 2009
Will Obama Lead Us Against the Corporations? Could Happen…

Now that I’m a certified bachelor in the art of integrating stuff, or more precisely studying how to integrate it, there’s time to re-integrate myself into the civic life I’ve been reading about for the last several months. A big-picture question jumps out at me: is Obama in the midst of a long-term plan to demonstrate that he needs to make big changes? Or is he failing to realize the dire necessity thereof? As Spock might say, insufficient evidence to make a judgment at this point.

Three viewpoints I connected with recently were Dan Froomkin, who discussed the decision point Obama’s approaching on health care, Frank Rich’s “Guns of August” about the gun-toting wackos at the town halls, and Kevin Baker’s “Barack Hoover Obama”, which Harper’s has made freely available. I can’t help quoting gratuitously from Baker, whose flavor throughout is sardonic but measured, overall a really enjoyable and thought-provoking article even by Harper’s standards.

Instead [of imaginative liberal initiatives], we have seen a parade of aged satraps from vast, windy places stepping forward to tell us what is off the table. Every week, there is another Max Baucus of Montana, another Kent Conrad of North Dakota, another Ben Nelson of Nebraska, huffing and puffing and harrumphing that we had better forget about single-payer health care, a carbon tax, nationalizing the banks, funding for mass transit, closing tax loopholes for the rich. These are men with tiny constituencies who sat for decades in the Senate without doing or saying anything of note, who acquiesced shamelessly to the worst abuses of the Bush Administration and who come forward now to chide the president for not concentrating enough on reducing the budget deficit, or for “trying to do too much,” as if he were as old and as indolent as they are.

The common thread of discussion goes that current events are putting the question to Obama. Will he show what believers think is his true self and become a new progressive hero? Will he shed what they think of as his protective coating of connections to the rich and powerful to emerge as a populist, defiantly leading the vast majority of us against the ramparts of established privilege? Or will he be, in fact has he already been, co-opted?

If you’ve read Ryan Lizza’s article in The New Yorker as you should, you know that this question didn’t arise for the first time as Obama came onto the national stage. Early on he showed a talent for gaining support from established money for a candidate with a funny name, a big smile, a great jump shot, and impeccable academics. He made non-obsequious overtures to the right people, he presented a different yet non-threatening face, he made people feel good about themselves, and he managed to goose along a bit of progress by doing so. A Great Black Hope for whom at least some rich white folks could root. If a few wondered whether he was leaving behind where he came from, it’s hard to imagine how it could be otherwise when someone rises as far as quickly as Obama’s talents took him.

The moment approaches, however, so the thread goes, and rapidly, at which Obama will have to decide whether he goes with what believers think his gut tells him, or with the forces he rode into office. As Baker puts it in Harper’s:

President Obama, with a laudable respect for the separation of powers, has left the details and even the main tenets of his agenda to be worked out by these same congressional Democrats. This approach looks like an exercise in democracy drawn from his days as a community organizer, the sort of strategy that helps a neighborhood to decide whether it wants, say, a health clinic or a youth center. What he doesn’t care to acknowledge is that, in the case of the U.S. Congress, he’s dealing with a neighborhood where maybe half want a health clinic and the rest are holding out for grenade launchers and crystal meth.


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Which brings me, oddly enough, to my old friend Machiavelli. As I’ve repeated here and elsewhere past the limit of polite excess, Old Nick did not advocate the kind of behavior he described in his most famous work The Prince; rather he described the behavior required of one who would be a prince, speaking with the experience of being tortured after the republic of which he was a part was overthrown by the returning Medicis.

The more you read Machiavelli the more you appreciate his wit. Sure, he sounds ruthless in a realpolitik fashion.

Whenever those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you. Because such a government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot stand without his friendship and interest, and does it utmost to support him; and therefore he who would keep a city accustomed to freedom will hold it more easily by the means of its own citizens than in any other way.

I’m flashing on the British in the Middle East…

But he had a sense of humor too, or at least I see one two paragraphs later in prose I imagine Hunter Thompson admiring.

But to come to those who, by their own ability and not through fortune, have risen to be princes, I say that Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and such like are the most excellent examples. And although one may not discuss Moses, he having been a mere executor of the will of God, yet he ought to be admired, if only for that favour which made him worthy to speak with God. But in considering Cyrus and others who have acquired or founded kingdoms, all will be found admirable; and if their particular deeds and conduct shall be considered, they will not be found inferior to those of Moses, although he had so great a preceptor. And in examining their actions and lives one cannot see that they owed anything to fortune beyond opportunity, which brought them the material to mould into the form which seemed best to them. Without that opportunity their powers of mind would have been extinguished, and without those powers the opportunity would have come in vain.

What brings Old Nick to mind is an idea that puzzled me for a long time, but is becoming clearer as years advance. He postulated the existence of three basic entities in social life, the crown, the nobles, and the people, a division I imeediately objected to on several grounds. With consideration, I’ve come to think that Machiavelli is, as usual in The Prince, not telling us what ought to be, but what is, attempting to help us deal with it.

Since arriving at this conclusion, I’ve been seeing applications of the tripartite social scheme everywhere. In the current socio-economic atmosphere of struggle, some recommend fixing the economy before undertaking something as big as health care; others say health care reform helps the economy; and historians point out how many times this argument has happened before.

With businesss/labor/government replacing nobles/peasants/crown, I find myself in the modern equivalent of the peasant petitioning the king for relief, a petition that grants the de facto if not the de jure legitimacy of the king’s superior position. In this sense I understand the rebellion of the militia types and anti-government folks in general. I don’t want the Queen of England marching into my house and telling me what to do; and I don’t get my legitimacy from the government, rather the reverse.

Centrally, though, much of the health care debate seems to me to lack awareness of the corporate influence on the situation; and this is especially true among those most vociferously warning that government hands be kept off their Medicare. Quite obviously we already have the death panels they fear so much, in the private unaccountable hands of insurance and drug companies. Thirty minutes with a decent search engine should demonstrate in detail that the issue with health care is quite straightforwardly corporations versus the rest of us.

Who will bring into the political arena the basic idea, that corporations are destroying us all? And how long before they’re shot?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:53 AM
July 21, 2009
Clues For Brooks?

Mostly I don’t read David Brooks, for a number of reasons. To begin with, I don’t trust the Times, though on the other hand I’ve removed the Post from my bookmark list and speed dial since the Froomkin affair made plain how committed Hiatt is to the neocon/neolib agenda.

But if there’s anything to be said for poor clueless Dave, it’s that he’s a reliable bellwether for the neocon equivalent of the wimpy liberals I’ve ragged on so often. Now that Obama appears to be putting actual political capital behind the push for some sort of public option, the right wing is in full dress alarmitude. Omigod, people who aren’t rich might have health care! What is this country coming to…

Who’s going to stop this leftward surge? Months ago, it seemed as if Obama would lead a center-left coalition. Instead, he has deferred to the Old Bulls on Capitol Hill on issue after issue.

Machiavelli said a leader should be feared as well as loved. Obama is loved by the Democratic chairmen, but he is not feared. On health care, Obama has emphasized cost control. The chairmen flouted his priorities because they don’t fear him. On cap and trade, Obama campaigned against giving away pollution offsets. The chairmen wrote their bill to do precisely that because they don’t fear him. On taxes, Obama promised that top tax rates would not go above Clinton-era levels. The chairmen flouted that promise because they don’t fear him.

One of the joys of reading Old Nick is realizing what a small proportion of his promoters have read anything he wrote. Does Brooks, for example, realize that Machiavelli was tortured for his participation in a republican government after the Medicis’ mercenary army retook Florence?

For his significant role in the republic’s anti-Medici government, Niccolò Machiavelli was deposed from office, and, in 1513, was accused of conspiracy, and arrested. Despite torture “with the rope” (the prisoner is hanged from his bound wrists, from the back, forcing the arms to bear the body’s weight, thus dislocating the shoulders), he denied involvement and was released; then, retiring to his estate, at Santa Andrea in Percussina, near Florence, he wrote the political treatises that earned his intellectual place in the development of political philosophy and political conduct.

In the interpretation of Machiavelli, it’s difficult to find an appropriate terminology. Intellectually the flower of two millennia of Italian political maneuvering, he came to be associated with Satan because he told the truth about power politics.

Just for the hell of it, what say we check in on the actual text? It’s Chapter 17 (or XVII if you like) of The Prince:

Returning to the question of being loved or feared, I sum up by saying, that since his being loved depends upon his subjects, while his being feared depends upon himself, a wise Prince should build only upon what is his own, and not on what rests with others. Only, as I have said, he must do his utmost to escape hatred.

Interestingly, if you actually read Machiavelli and know his personal history, you can easily discern what many others have seen, that in The Prince he is by no means advocating the behavior necessary to become and remain a prince; rather, he’s pointing out what a sleazy business princing is. This impression is heavily reinforced by The Discourses, wherein his preference for the republic is clearly expressed.

In the just-quoted passage, for example, note that the issue throughout is the maintenance by the prince of his power and privilege. The welfare of the people in his domain is a relatively trivial thing; it reflects on his character, but has no separate importance.

Oddly enough, in those days the prince was probably more likely to pay for what health care was available than he is now, because his long-term interest lay with having enough hands to bring in the harvest. Everyone who can work needs to be kept alive is the theory, still, though it be dressed up in fancy garb.

Obama might try to rein in the insurance leeches, for example, but Mr. Brooks is having none of it, because the President has lost his scary mojo.

It’s a good idea, and it might lead to real cost savings. But there’s no reason to think that it will be incorporated into the final law. The chairmen will never surrender power to an administration they can override.

That leaves matters in the hands of the Blue Dog Democrats. These brave moderates are trying to restrain the fiscal explosion. But moderates inherently lack seniority (they are from swing districts). They are usually bought off by leadership at the end of the day.

Ya gotta love this image of the brave moderate, soldiering on in the face of an unending ocean of radicalism that so clearly dominates US politics. (And we let these people vote!)

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:21 AM
July 12, 2009
The Compassionate Fascist

Like any sensible person I read Doonesbury daily on Slate. Daily, I paid no attention to a little ad-like thingy at the bottom of the page called “Duke’s Video Dump.” Huge, huge mistake.

Today I clicked on it and discovered dozens of videos made during Duke’s doomed 2000 Presidential race. Go here and see for yourself. Hours of good, clean fun for the whole family. Sample topics:


LITTLE CUBAN BOY
Duke proposes formal adoption by the media as a way to resolve the case of Elian Gonzales: “You guys created him, so you should raise him.”
EXPLODING OPPORTUNITIES
Addressing the impending health care crisis, Duke proposes telemarketing for the elderly: “You just strap on a headset, plop a manual in your lap, and boom — you’re earning.”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:53 AM
June 08, 2009
Saving Us from Ourselves

Father knows best, except, just maybe, when he’s sold us out to his campaign contributors in the insurance industry. Robert Parry at Consortium News:

As the health insurance industry and its defenders in Congress lay out their case against permitting a public option in a reform bill, perhaps their most curious argument is that some 119 million Americans are ready to dump their private plans and jump to something more like Medicare – and that’s why the choice can’t be permitted.

In other words, the industry and its backers are acknowledging that more than one-third of the American people are so dissatisfied with their private health insurance that they trust the U.S. government to give them a fairer shake on health care. The industry says its allies in Congress must prevent that.

The peculiar argument that 119 million Americans must be denied the public option that they prefer has been made most notably by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which is one of two panels that has jurisdiction over the health insurance bill…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:28 AM
June 07, 2009
NOT AS CRAZY AS SANTORUM, ANYWAY

Talk about your great bumper stickers, huh? Here’s one Pennsylvania Democrat’s welcome to her party’s newest senator:

Pam Janvey, a Democratic committeewoman from Bucks County, found Specter’s presence at the gathering more than a little odd. “Am I in a dream?” she asked.

Janvey said that Specter hit all the right notes in his speech on Saturday and that although she had worked to defeat Specter in the past and never voted for him, she would back him this time around.

“Even when I have worked against Arlen over the years,” Janvey said, “I never felt the kind of fear that I did when I worked against Santorum…”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:31 AM
June 04, 2009
The Voice of the Loyal Opposition

Here’s Rush Limbaugh again, still scribbling away on the walls of America’s toilets:

They don’t like Gitmo, we have to shut it down. They don’t like what we’ve done, fine, Obama will run around and apologize. I’m telling you, folks, it is not the United States of America that serves as Barack Obama’s role model. It’s other socialist nations that have failed and the concept of socialism that is his role model. I’ll tell you what, stupid little community organizer, organize this.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:49 AM
June 03, 2009
Unfortunately You Can’t Castrate Sotomayor

Sparky Satori at Shorts and Pants reminds us of a former racist activist on the Supreme Court — Chief Justice William Rehnquist. A superior work of snark, found in its entirety here.

November of last year, it was assumed that the USofA had finally vanquished the lingering ghosts of racism and was poised on the cusp of a new post-racial dawn. The long dark night of lynching and discrimination was finally over. “Huzzah!” bleated the media, smugly self-congratulatory.

But that was then. This is worse. And leave it to the hyper-sensitive Republicans to sniff out whiffs of the new racism being foisted upon the nation by its first black President. GOP stalwarts Newt Gringrich and Rush Limbaugh were quick to alert the country to a leading practitioner of this new racism, Sonia “Maria” Sotomayor ["SoSo" to her non-friends]. But she’s not your average garden-variety racist, according to the GOP braintrust. Per Newt and Rush, she is a “reverse racist,” rarer than even the “Albino Negro.” This alone should disqualify her from sitting on the Supreme Court, which has never, ever had any benchers who suffered from an iota of racial insensitivity…

Here’s a snippet from the Nixon tapes to give you an idea of the vetting process from which Rehnquist emerged. Full transcript here. As always with Nixon, fascinating stuff. Sure he was evil, but nobody ever called him dumb.

RMN: Yeah, all right, call me back when you get it. But remember, let’s figure on the Rehnquist thing. The political mileage basically is the same kind of mileage if we were to go with Smith. The idea being that we are appointing a highly qualified man. That’s really what it gets down to.

[Attorney General] John Mitchell: Yeah.

RMN: And also he doesn’t smack of the corporate lawyer as much as Smith.

JM: No, he’s more of a general practitioner.

RMN: Incidentally, what is Rehnquist? I suppose he’s a damn Protestant?

JM: I’m sure of that. He’s just as WASPish as WASPish can be.

RMN: Yeah, well, that’s too damn bad. Tell him to change his religion.

JM: All right, I’ll get him baptized this afternoon.

RMN: Well, get him baptized and castrated, no, they don’t do that, I mean they circumcise— no, that’s the Jews. Well anyway, whatever he is, get him changed.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:52 AM
June 02, 2009
R.I.P. GOP

That rancid rust-bucket that is the Republican Party sits ever lower in the water and appears to be foundering. Should we attempt a rescue or let the wretched old tub sink to the bottom? The vote here is for the coup de grâce. Put a torpedo into her amidships and let her go down without further ado. Glub, glub, GOP; it’ll be a far better world without you.

There was a time when the Republican Party stood for something, or at least appeared to stand for something. It took its name and founding philosophy from the Jeffersonian republican ideal, although the party would soon enough make a mockery of its idealistic name by becoming the champion of short-sighted greed and selfishness, the party of business.

But it started out as the party of the antislavery activists in the 1850s and came to power with the election of Lincoln in 1860. It was the party of the Tafts, dull, toothy Ohioans, who championed a conservative philosophy of self-reliance and fiscal responsibility, a credo now honored mostly in the breach. For reckless economic policy, no party has ever come close to the modern GOP. And it started with Reagan and his supply-side shenanigans. You may recall that Bush Senior referred to this nonsense as “voodoo economics.”

It was the party of Teddy Roosevelt, who took on the big corporate monopolies and, when he wasn’t starting wars or shooting beautiful animals, upheld a certain maverick standard of governmental integrity. It was the party of Grant and Eisenhower, successful warriors, each of whom served two terms in the White House without ever quite getting the hang of the job or looking like they really wanted it.

Then there was handsome, hapless Warren Harding, another Ohioan, and his equally inspiring successor, Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge famously said, “The chief business of the American people is business.” He is remembered mostly for wearing an Indian headdress. And don’t forget Hoover, who said, after the great Wall Street crash, that the markets would restore financial order if given the chance.

And, of course, there was Nixon and his infamous Committee to Reelect the President, aptly shortened to CREEP. And Reagan, who played the part so well many people believed he actually knew what he was doing. And Bush Two. And Bush Two again.

Somehow the country survived two terms of W., but will his party? How can any self-respecting Republican even whisper words of fiscal integrity in the mountainous shadow of a Bush-incurred debt so high it blots out the sun? Well, silly question. Of course they can, have, and will again, but the difference is that now nobody takes them seriously. When Newt Gingrich emerges from under his troll’s bridge to test the presidential waters, is this not a sign that the party is in its death throes?

Meanwhile, all those Wall Street banks, those bastions of fiscal discipline and Republican virtue, have lined up for billion-dollar hand-outs from a Democratic administration. Whether or not the big bailouts were a good idea is debatable. What is not debatable is the spectacular hypocrisy of the big shots that flew down to Washington in private jets to beg Congress for public money. How many of them were not Republicans?


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Posted by Paul Duffy at 07:25 PM
May 29, 2009
The GOP's Go-to Guy for New Ideas

Sure it’s like kicking a cripple, but let’s explore the crossed synapses of the Newt brain anyway. Here’s Thomas Frank, the Wall Street Journal’s house liberal:

…As an example of this habit of mind, consider the essay that Mr. Gingrich published in Human Events last week. “The current liberal bloodlust over interrogations,” he wrote, referring to the Nancy Pelosi-CIA flap, is merely “the Left’s attempt to hunt down and purge its political opponents.” And yet, in a different essay he published on the very same day (this one in the Washington Times), Mr. Gingrich regretted that, in all the years of Republican rule, “there was a strategic failure to root out the left and the special interests of the left.”

Mr. Gingrich’s side failed to “root out” and destroy their opponents; now he imagines that this is what is being done to his team.

Psychotherapists might call this “projection,” and something similar pervades the essay the remarkable Mr. Gingrich published only two days later in the Washington Post. Here the former speaker can be found calling for a populist revolt in the “great tradition of political movements rising against arrogant, corrupt elites.”

A healthy sentiment, to be sure, except for the fact that “elites” are exactly what decades of conservative rule gave us by unleashing the banks, smashing the unions, and funneling the economy’s gains into the hands of the rich…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:58 AM
May 26, 2009
Opposite Day

Brady Bonk already wrote it, so I don’t have to. Read his full post here:

The timeline in my head: President Bill Clinton is pursued on a variety of trumped up charges by insane people who clinch their teeth whenever they speak his name, mostly probably because President Bill Clinton gets more pussy than any of them could ever imagine. I am just speculating. One ridiculous charge sticks: He lied about sex. On that one silly charge they can hang a million silly hats. To this day, say “Bill Clinton” in front of a conservative. I guarantee you he will not be able to resist joking about Clinton and women and cigars and the blue dress.

Based on Monigate, the newly-appointed Bush administration could declare it opposite day in America. They are warned by transition team officials that international terrorism might be their biggest dread. The warnings are largely ignored in favor of a general consensus to fight the Cold War all over again and, as was likely discussed though we’ll never know in Chaney’s super-duper top-secret energy meetin’s, to go get all of that frickin’ oil. But the Bush Administration could turn its back on the Israeli peace process, could abrogate treaties, could and should, according to their wisdom, do everything the opposite of how that dumb bubba did it, because, you know … he got a blow job…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:02 PM
May 19, 2009
Right Thinkers

From Paul Krugman’s blog:

So I see Richard Posner has decided that modern conservatism is intellectually bankrupt. And Bruce Bartlett has a new book saying it’s time to let go of Reagan.

At one level it’s good to see decent people showing some intellectual flexibility (Bartlett, in particular, has always come across as someone with whom one can have honest disagreements.) And yet — why, exactly, should we listen to people who by their own admission completely missed the story? I mean, anyone who actually listened to what Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey were saying in 1994, let alone what passed for thought in the Bush administration, should have realized long ago that if there ever was an intellectual basis for modern conservatism, it was long gone.

And the truth is that the Reaganauts were a pretty grotesque bunch too. Look for the golden age of conservative intellectualism in America, and you keep going back, and back, and back — and eventually you run up against William Buckley in the 1950s declaring that blacks weren’t advanced enough to vote, and that Franco was the savior of Spanish civilization.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:20 PM
April 29, 2009
DeMint Julep and a Shot of Wacko

I’ve always loved the South Carolina accent, especially when employed by women. And we owe ’em for Colbert. But those folks have sure elected some doozies to public office. Exhibit 1: Senator Jim DeMint.

“I don’t think many Americans are going to agree that the Republican party has become too conservative,” he said. “If you look at our record of spending, our record on every issue, the problem I think we have is Americans no longer believe that we believe what we say we do.”

I dunno, perhaps I’m an outlier, but I continue to believe that the Republican party sticks by its guns: torture, corruption, pre-emptive war, and imperial presidencies. Oh, and racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and anti-intellectualism. They’re defined by what they hate, which is why the party does so well among fundamentalists. As far as I can tell, they’ve been pretty consistent on those issues my whole life.

DeMint says he isn’t worried. He denied that the GOP has become a southern party, attributing Republican losses in the northeast to some northern voters who have left the region and moved south hoping to avoid labor unions and “forced unionization.” He said Americans will eventually come back into the Republican fold because of growing alarm about the size of government and President Obama’s fiscal policies.

“I think you’ll see this next election to be totally different,” DeMint predicted. “Pat Toomey, who is running in Pennsylvania, is one of the most mainstream Americans I know.”

I think forced unionization should be applied to Wall Street, then we might have something. And the software biz, as well. But if Republicans have been wiped out in the Northeast because they left for the South, doesn’t that make them a southern party? Oh, no, I forgot: you can only be truly Southern if you’re born there. So moving from the northeast is by definition temporary; you’ll never be a Southerner, though you live in the South for fifty years and die there.

It’ll be a hoot to see what DeMint says when Toomey gets landslided.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:41 PM
April 28, 2009
Will Snowe Follow Specter?

The conversion of Senator Magic Bullet may turn Mitch to mulch; at least we can hope. And Specter may not be the only one to move. Consider this quote from the Times report:

“On the national level of the Republican Party, we haven’t certainly heard warm, encouraging words about how they view moderates, either you are with us or against us,” [Maine Senator Olympia] Snowe said. She said national Republican leaders were not grasping that “political diversity makes a party stronger and ultimately we are heading to having the smallest political tent in history for any political party the way things are unfolding.”
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:24 PM
April 22, 2009
Our Man In Spain? Why not!

Scott Horton over at Harper’s No Comment Blog is rightly agonizing over the fact that we have a torture enabler and what some have seriously referred to as a monster sitting on the Federal Bench. This “subject” ( I use the term here to properly refer to this individual as a prosecutor or police offer would do when an accused is referred to in court) sits on a federal bench judging others who are guilty of much lesser crimes. After all, torturers and torture enablers were routinely hanged by Allied Courts at Nuremburg and in the Pacific Theater after World War II. American court officials routinely participated in these proceedings.

Some may think all of this is quite complicated, but I find it simple since the solution to resolving the problem is quite simple. I am of the opinion that simple problems can be resolved with simple solutions.

Therefore I propose a remedy to the Bybee problem, a problem that every decent lawyer knows is a black eye on the Federal Judiciary and will remain so for years to come if not remedied. I am therefore making an extremely modest proposal which I propose should be taken seriously, despite my labeling this post as partly snark.

The US needs an official representative from our esteemed judiciary to view the proceedings in Spain to ensure that they are carried out in a fair manner. I am sure the Spanish courts would be happy to oblige us if we were to choose the proper emissary. If I were the presiding judge or court official who could carry out the task of assigning the court official to engage in this duty, I would immediately assign this task to a new judge. Since Judge Bybee would have intimate knowledge of what the proceedings were about, he should be sent immediately to Spain to fulfill his judicial duties.

Of course, this might involve the devil and the deep blue sea, rocks and hard places, frying pans and fires and dozens of other things and places that go together like crude oil mixes with water. However, those are individual problems that at least one individual will have to deal with.

However this proposal is not without precedent. Robert Houghwout Jackson was sent to participate in the Nuremberg trials. Why should Judge Bybee not likewise be assigned a task in another country along the same lines? Younger judges should be given the traveling assignments in my opinion and Judge Bybee fills the bill for this assignment perfectly.

I am of the opinion that Judge Jay S. Bybee should be given this assignment forthwith, with Hillary Clinton at the State Department making proper accommodations for his stay, preferably in a five star hotel, for as long as those fine accommodations last. And if free accommodations are given by the Spaniards to one of our own, the Federal Budget would be that much better off. Allowing such an emissary diplomatic immunity is beyond the scope of this modest assignment of course, so that should definitely not be given as it is definitely not needed due to our emissary’s somewhat limited assigned duties. A few select CIA agents might be assigned the task of ensuring the judge’s security.

This assignment should be a mandatory assignment. Refusal to do one’s duty as a judge would of course mean impeachment.

Or Judge Bybee could spare himself and everyone else great embarrassment for years to come by doing the right thing. And he and all right thinking Americans know exactly what that is.

Mr. Obama, are you listening? Some of your former supporters are getting the opinion that you are going to end up letting the Europeans take care of American problems. If we don’t deal with letting the rule of law determine what happens to the torturers and their enablers, then we can expect the pattern and the behavior to repeat itself.

I hope to be dead by then and I don’t and won’t have any children to worry about what they may have to endure when the cycle repeats. Others are not so lucky.


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Posted by Buck Batard at 08:54 PM
April 20, 2009
He Strikes From Beyond the Pale

You gotta hand it to the old piece of garbage, he never lets up. Probably that’s related to all the heart attacks.

“One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” Cheney said.

Cheney said he’s asked that the documents be declassified because he has remained silent on the confidential information, but he knows how successful the interrogation process was and wants the rest of the country to understand.

It’s a fine gambit from a true player. He certainly knows that no such memos exist, because everyone knows torture is not successful at obtaining information. In fact that’s not its purpose, as Cheney is well aware. It is purely and simply a terror weapon. You attempt to terrorize your enemy by letting him know he’ll be tortured if you capture him. Of course this is moronic at a higher level; if he knows he’ll be tortured, he’s more likely to fight to the death, or to operate in a guerrilla fashion and disappear at the first sign of engagement; thus success is placed further down the road when torture intervenes.

The real reason for torture is simply the joy of it. Those who torture, and who order torture, enjoy the thought, though some apparently don’t have the stomach for the practice. But no one’s stupid enough to think it works. I know at least one person who does claim that, but he has no argument to make; he simply repeats his contention that it works, and that everyone knows it. No facts, no instances, no proof necessary. Clearly he loves violence and wants to engage in it; therefore I see him as the enemy. As, in short, a potential torturer.

Cheney thinks he has the steel cojones necessary to operate in what he thinks is the real world, but I wonder. Often, people like Cheney or Hoover are deep down scared shitless; so they bring out all the worst parts of themselves and project those nasty items onto other people, thus proving to themselves that all that bad stuff really is out there. You create your own reality.

And you try to create others’ realities as well. So Cheney’s latest lie is a fine one, because he knows Obama can’t call him on it. There’s no way to prove there are no memos showing the efficacy of torture, so those who want to torture, and it seems to be a large constituency, can continue to believe there’s proof hidden away.

Smooth as shit, and just as smelly.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:51 PM
April 07, 2009
Tough Noogies

Interesting development. Maybe we’ll find out if my theory (two posts down) has anything to it. Judge Sullivan is an old friend and former colleague of Attorney General Holder, who is by today’s announcement taken off the spot.

Holder no longer has to investigate his own department — a job which, if vigorously done, might alienate DOJ’s career bureaucrats and would certainly bring charges of partisanship from the GOP. If the investigation turned into a whitewash, on the other hand, the attacks would come from the Democratic left.

But if done by Judge Sullivan, tough noogies. He’s got life tenure.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge today set aside a jury’s guilty verdict and the indictment against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, then announced he was appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the government attorneys in the case for failing their constitutional duties to ensure a fair trial…

Holder said an internal investigation had been launched into the matter, but Judge Sullivan said he was not content to allow the Justice Department’s probe to serve as punishment for the lawyers involved in the case. He said he had asked a former military judge, Henry Schulke III of Washington D.C., to investigate the conduct of five prosecutors in the case for potential obstruction of justice.

They are: the head of the Justice Deparment’s Public Integrity Section, William Welch; the lead trial attorney, Brenda Morris; two trial attorneys in the Public Integrity Section, Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan; and two assistant U.S. Attorneys in Alaska, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:31 PM
March 19, 2009
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Again…

Is it the television, or the weak beer, or the movies aimed at 19-year-olds, or what?

In the face of a recession that has destroyed billions in family savings and home values, Americans remain convinced that personal initiative and hard work are the key to big rewards, and they continue to repudiate the idea of government intervention to alleviate economic inequality, according to two Pew-sponsored reports.

Not only do voters continue to be convinced, by large majorities, that they, and not government or big corporations, control their own destinies in the midst of the current recession, but they do so despite more long-term evidence suggesting that there is less class mobility in the United States than in most Northern European countries, or in Canada, and that U.S. wages have not kept up with productivity gains for the past three decades.

It’s the attitude of everyone for themselves, and the devil take the hindmost, that makes us Americans. That leaves us far behind the rest of the world as it adapts to conditions that require coöperation instead of the old ethic of competition.

A survey of 2119 respondents conducted by the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies for the Pew Economic Mobility Project asked: “Currently the country is in a recession. Do you believe it is still possible for people to improve their economic standing?”

Eighty percent answered “yes,” including 56 percent answering “strongly” in the affirmative. Only 16 percent said “no.”

African Americans, Hispanics and persons under 40 were even more affirmative than the public as a whole, with “yes” to “no” ratios respectively 83-15, 86-11, and 85-13.

Makes sense. African-Americans, Hispanics, and young people hardly ever encounter the kind of discrimination that would make you think government action could help. And everyone knows big corporations are blameless by definition.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:20 AM
March 10, 2009
The Department of All Things

The new federal government is fast taking shape. Here’s a look at some of the new departments and agencies.

The Department of Unlimited Optimism

What’s the use of worrying?—that’s the idea behind this arm of the federal government. This department will be led by a cabinet-level official with a fanciful and deeply ignorant view of the world. Several prominent Republicans from the previous administration have been proposed for the job. One in particular seems especially well-qualified.

The Department of Perpetual Disorder

This is an attempt to recognize and perpetuate the traditions of recent presidencies. Nothing this department does makes much sense. He who forgets history is bound to repeat it, or some such foolishness, is the bugaboo against which this heroically chaotic agency struggles.

The Department of Yes We Can

Similar to the Optimism Department in outlook, this office, which is run by some of the goofiest veterans of the Obama campaign wars, will consider any and all government initiatives through technologically advanced rose-colored glasses. ‘Nothing is impossible if you throw enough money at it’ is the operating slogan.

The Department of No We Can’t

Lest the pie in the sky be too tempting to too many, this organization is designed to offset the reckless tendencies of its similarly named sister agency. It will oppose everything anybody in Washington wants to do.

The Central Hijinks Agency

Nothing this updated CIA does will be open to public scrutiny or any other kind of meddlesome interference. Nobody within this comically secretive organization will have the slightest idea what anyone else is doing or why they are doing it. Nobody in the agency will answer to anyone. Everything the agency attempts is expected to fail, just as in the old days, but nobody will know about it.

The Bureau of Republican Affairs

This much-needed agency will be responsible for keeping Republicans and other regressive types on their reservations, far from any hope of meddling with the elected officials who are actually trying to accomplish something.

The Gasbag Project

The former Federal Communications Commission, today known simply as Gassy Mae, will now devote itself exclusively to this undertaking. The idea behind the project is to find some way, possibly including all-out violence, to silence the TV and radio talking heads whose incessant yammering clogs the airwaves and threatens our sanity. Most of these so-called pundits are ignorant fascist thugs who have grown too fat to get into brown shirts and jackboots. Nobody believes Gassy Mae is up to the job, but it should distract the commission from its usual business of pandering to the media conglomerates.

The Department of Bad Choices

Designed to assist the Treasury Department in throwing money away, this agency will be responsible for identifying those financial companies that are the most arrogant and badly run and therefore most in need of federal financial assistance. Airline and car companies will also be considered.

The Department of Retribution

Despite its permanent-sounding name, this enterprise is really an ad hoc operation whose only purpose is to make Dick Cheney’s already miserable life even more so. So many qualified people have applied for the job of running this department that the nomination has been set back indefinitely. So far more than a million candidates have submitted their résumés.

The Abu Ghraib Commemorative Commission

Carried over from the Bush Administration, this body was assembled to find a fitting tribute to the heroes of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq who successfully demonstrated that human decency has no place in the war on terror. The commission is expected to continue its dithering and hand-wringing well into the future.

The Department of All Things

This could turn out to be the granddaddy of all federal government departments. If it ever gets its very large ace off the ground, this baby will show the world what a real bureaucracy is all about. Once the bugs are worked out, you’ll be able to call All Things and arrange to have your boss forced out in your favor, or a hated neighbor’s house bombed, or your children’s teachers disciplined. Doctor kept you waiting? Have the sucker’s license revoked. Covet that big house on the corner? Have the owner dispossessed. Can’t sleep the way you used to? Want new friends? Fed up with the way of the world? Call the Department of All Things and make it right. Your government is here to serve you.

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Posted by Paul Duffy at 03:49 AM
February 25, 2009
There’s Nothing New Under the Sun…

…when it comes to political jiu-jitsu. From medieval Saudi Arabia:

It would be bizarre in any country to find that its lingerie shops are staffed entirely by men. But in Saudi Arabia — an ultra-conservative nation where unmarried men and women cannot even be alone in a room together if they are not related — it is strange in the extreme…

“The way that underwear is being sold in Saudi Arabia is simply not acceptable to any population living anywhere in the modern world,” says Reem Asaad, a finance lecturer at Dar al-Hikma Women’s College in Jeddah, who is leading a campaign to get women working in lingerie shops rather than men…

Rana Jad is a 20-year-old student at Dar al-Hikma Women’s College, and one of Reem Asaad’s pupils and campaign supporters.

“Girls don’t feel very comfortable when males are selling them lingerie, telling them what size they need, and saying ‘I think this is small on you, I think this is large on you’,” she says. “He’s totally checking the girls out! It’s just not appropriate, especially here in our culture.”

Campaigners are calling for a boycott of all lingerie stores that are staffed by men.… “The concept is flawless,” says Ms Asaad. “The concept of women selling women’s underwear to other women is so natural that any other option is just invalid.”

And from medieval Louisiana, as reported by A.J. Liebling in The Earl of Louisiana, his 1961 biography of Governor Earl Long:

“Earl is like Huey on Negroes,” Tom said, “When the new Charity Hospital was built here, some Negro politicians came to Huey and said it was a shame there were no Negro nurses, when more than half the patients were colored. Huey said he’d fix it for them, but they wouldn’t like his method.

He went around to visit the hospital and pretended to be surprised when he found white nurses waiting on colored men. He blew high as a buzzard can fly, saying it wasn’t fit for white women to be so humiliated. It was the most racist talk you ever heard, but the result was he got the white nurses out and the colored nurses in, and they’ve had the jobs ever since.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:09 PM
February 12, 2009
The Dogmatism of the Center

This, by Rick Hertzberg a while back, is looking better by the day:

…Centrism sometimes makes sense as a tactic or a strategy — in other words, when it’s a synonym for compromise. But it has no merits as a tool for policy analysis. I suppose you could argue that good ideas occur on a sort of left-right bell curve and that, therefore, an idea is statistically more likely to be located at the top of the curve, i.e., in the middle. But evaluating the merits of an idea on that basis would be like evaluating the literary merits of a novel based on how close its number of pages is to the average for all works of fiction.

Dogmatic centrism not only puts you at the gravitational mercy of whichever side is prepared to move furthest toward its own extreme, it also obliges you to reject certain ideas automatically, without any analysis except spectrum analyses. That’s brainless, and the point holds whether or not you agree with Matt [Yglesias] on this particular issue…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:43 AM
February 08, 2009
The Revenge of Purplish Pimp Hair

When friends shake their heads in disbelief at the goings-on among the new New Democrats, I commiserate. Fortunately, I got everything I expected from my vote the day after election day.

For almost two decades now, the Democrats have blazed up every joint in sight, only to freeze at the crucial moment of inhalation. Clinton kicked off two excruciating terms of Solomon-esque waffling by splitting gays in the military right down the middle and ended by only half-admitting to being swallowed whole by an intern named Monica Lewinsky. Then came history’s first three-base balk in Florida (with James Baker waving Bush around to score), followed by a senseless war in Iraq that Democrats thought to oppose only once it became inexpedient to support.

All this bullshit, we hoped, might end with Barack Obama. But then came Blagojevich, a sleazeball whose massively publicized success in scheming a way to drop turd in the new president’s inaugural punch bowl is a gate-crashing leap above station on the order of Paris Hilton screwing her way into a speaking role in Gandhi or Amadeus. It’s a political disaster that happened only after Democrats once again froze in the headlights at the crucial moment, trying to flee in two different directions at once while a third-rate bookie in a tracksuit seized control of the U.S. Senate.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:24 AM
January 21, 2009
Among Bush’s Parting Gifts

We owe George W. Bush a huge debt for making possible the election of our first African-American president — and, of somewhat lesser importance — for giving Jimmy Carter’s once-derided presidency a welcome and well-deserved boost.

The first excerpt comes from The Rude Pundit, embedded yesterday deep within the huge crowd shown in my last post. Read the rest of his description, too. Those familiar with his œuvre will see a new side of the man revealed.

The second passage is from The Atlantic’s Jim Fallows, like myself a former Carter speechwriter.

R.P. — Everyone released purgative, cathartic boos at George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The television coverage may have muted it, but it was there. A young woman half-heartedly said, “Oh, c’mon, ya’ll, that’s mean,” but she cracked up when the Rude Pundit said, “Sometimes a man deserves to be booed by a couple of million people.” The most touchingly surprising crowd reaction was the cheer that went up for Jimmy Carter.

J.F. — In keeping with earlier testimony to the basic good will of the crowd — as I witnessed it as one of the 2 million or so (my crowd here) — the “boos” when George Bush or Dick Cheney appeared on the screen seemed almost perfunctory. People felt they had to do it, but their hearts weren’t in it. To me, the most spontaneous-sounding and surprising cheers were for (a) Colin Powell, and (b) Jimmy Carter, and the most spontaneous surplus-hostility boos were for ... Joe Lieberman. Just reporting on my part of the crowd.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:32 PM
January 19, 2009
George W. Bush’s Real Legacy

The following piece ran May 17, 2006 under the heading, “Mission Almost Accomplished.” Now that Bush’s awful mission is completely accomplished, I put it up again. No updating seems necessary.

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It’s been nearly four years since I first posted my analysis of the nasty psychopathology that has forced George W. Bush to fail all his life, and is causing him to fail so spectacularly now. Consider this from the Washington Post (emphasis added):

Bush’s job approval rating now stands at 33 percent, down five percentage points in barely a month and a new low for him in Post-ABC polls. His current standing with the public is identical to President George H.W. Bush’s worst showing in the Post-ABC poll before he lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton in 1992.
The younger Bush’s career can only be understood as a lifelong obsession with disappointing the father he so plainly hates.

He follows his father’s footsteps in school, as a pilot, as a businessman, and finally as a politician. Unable to fill those footprints, he makes each one seem unimportant by pretending contempt for it. He gets C’s where his father got A’s; he ducks the combat flying that made his father a hero; he burns through the seed money his father’s friends gave him, failing in the oil business which had made his father rich.

Then at last he was taken in hand by a sleazy political op who realized that the father’s name and money would be enough to elect the wayward son governor of Texas. (Polls at the time showed that a significant portion of the voters thought that W. actually was his father.)

Then Rove set out to hand-carry his meal ticket into the White House itself.

Take that, you old fart, junior must have thought as he took the oath of office. Any asshole can get to be president. But even that wasn’t enough. Deep inside, where the Oedipal snakes writhed in his subconscious, there was still work to do.

What better to way to humiliate his father than to degrade the supreme office the old man had spent his life to reach? What sweeter revenge than to slime, like a slug, the presidency itself? And so he enlisted Rumsfeld and Cheney, his father’s ancient enemies, to help in the work of patricide.

Outdoing his father as president, the junior Bush must have known in his heart, was beyond his limited capacities. But his whole life offered proof of his ability to fail, and so he took the only path remaining. He would become, God help the rest of us, the worst president in history.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:16 PM
January 17, 2009
The Kiss of Death

And speaking of Howard Dean, as I was last night, here’s a clue to why he was frozen out (as if the identity of the incoming White House chief of staff wasn’t enough). It’s by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, writing in the London Review of Books:

Key organisations in the Lobby make it their business to ensure that critics of Israel do not get important foreign policy jobs. Jimmy Carter wanted to make George Ball his first secretary of state, but knew that Ball was seen as critical of Israel and that the Lobby would oppose the appointment. In this way any aspiring policymaker is encouraged to become an overt supporter of Israel, which is why public critics of Israeli policy have become an endangered species in the foreign policy establishment.

When Howard Dean called for the United States to take a more ‘even-handed role’ in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Senator Joseph Lieberman accused him of selling Israel down the river and said his statement was ‘irresponsible’. Virtually all the top Democrats in the House signed a letter criticising Dean’s remarks, and the Chicago Jewish Star reported that ‘anonymous attackers … are clogging the email inboxes of Jewish leaders around the country, warning — without much evidence — that Dean would somehow be bad for Israel.’

This worry was absurd; Dean is in fact quite hawkish on Israel: his campaign co-chair was a former AIPAC president, and Dean said his own views on the Middle East more closely reflected those of AIPAC than those of the more moderate Americans for Peace Now. He had merely suggested that to ‘bring the sides together’, Washington should act as an honest broker. This is hardly a radical idea, but the Lobby doesn’t tolerate even-handedness.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:18 PM
January 12, 2009
You Ungrateful Curs!

This is by Ross Mackenzie, retired editor of the editorial page at the Richmond Times Dispatch. I know you will feel, as I did after reading it through, deeply ashamed:

The left and the media and the ever-expanding blogosphere, and of course the Democrats, never permitted George Bush to recover from the circumstances of his 2000 election.

They deemed him unacceptable, accidental, illegitimate, likely a conniver in the national outcome — and so took to lobbing their hateful commentaries one after another without end.

On issue after issue they rejected his appeals for bipartisanship, especially in his second term. In his 2004 victory speech, Bush said: “Today, I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. ... We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America.”

Yet from Social Security and judges to the surge and terror and continuation of the tax cuts, malign leftists dug in and sought to foil him on every front — to deny him any victory, any success, anywhere.

“Malign” is too harsh? Consider: Television, blogospheric, and newspaper commentaries slammed President Bush 24/7. Nicholson Baker wrote Checkpoint, whose protagonists weigh whether to assassinate him. Twelve thousand San Franciscans signed a petition to rename an Oceanside sewage plant for him—


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Hollywood went apoplectic, with Oliver Stone — director of the detestable October-released flick “W” — declaring: “We are a poorer and less secure nation for having elected (Bush) as our president. ... America finds itself fighting unnecessary and costly wars and engaging in dangerous and counterproductive efforts to fight extremism. Even more significant and troubling, I believe, is his legacy of immorality.”

Despite this vicious stream, George Bush persevered and prevailed. The events of 9/11 changed him. Mistakes abounded, but no subsequent domestic jihadist strike ensued. As he noted at the Army War College last month, this staggering security success was “not a matter of luck.” Against islamo-fascism pre-emption (described by the all-knowing as naive, idealistic and wrong) was — as it remains — the right policy for spreading liberty and democracy, particularly in a Middle East that boasts so little of either.

The enterprise in Iraq, following the surge, now approaches victory — the great Osama bin Laden himself having declared Iraq “the central front” in his war against the United States.

Barack Obama repeatedly pronounced Iraq a distraction and - from beginning to end — a mistake. Yet a resolute Bush was true to his values, to his nation, and to mankind’s ultimate cause. Last month he told The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel that liberty can be extended beyond Iraq as long as America continues to believe “in the universality of freedom.”

His early tax cuts helped the country out of the recession Bill Clinton left him. The budget exploded, as did deficits — largely a result of expanded defense spending for the war on terror. (Said Bush in the Strassel interview: “I refused to compromise on the military” — for which thank heaven, given that the first obligation of every administration is the people’s protection.)

Bush was correct about Social Security, despite a spineless, risk-averse Congress unwilling to get its game together. While vastly more nominations would have been better, he managed against obstructionist Senate Democrats to gain approval of 61 federal appellate judges (compare Clinton’s 65), now constituting majorities on 10 of the 13 appellate courts. And he gave us the estimable Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

Yes, spending blew out of control — albeit with congressional concurrence.

Problems plagued the war’s conduct in Iraq. Post-Katrina New Orleans was mishandled. Still, Bush can boast hefty tax cuts, major assistance for HIV-infected areas of Africa, significant gains in health care and in education accountability, a multi-ethnic Cabinet (including the first two black secretaries of state), and massive improvements from surveillance to strategic policy.

We invest our presidents with greatly too many expectations. It happened with George Bush and his predecessors, as it is happening with Barack Obama — the latest secular savior. Few mortals can deliver on more than a small percentage of their promises and hopes.

Yet Bush carried two added burdens: (1) difficulty in articulating his goals and (2) relentless hammering by leftists hostile to his values and his success. Then, perceiving him harmful to the Republican brand, many conservatives abandoned him as well. Still and all, his favorable ratings never descended to the ratings for Congress — particularly the Congress led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

George Bush a perfect president? Hardly. The worst president of the past half-century, as too many with ideological axes to grind would have us believe? Compare, oh, Carter and Clinton. A more prudent categorization: The most consequential president since Reagan.

To those cognoscenti who argue such an appraisal is preposterous, remind them of this: The most recent conventional wisdom — the consensus of the best minds and analysts — was (remember?) that because the fundamentals were so sound the stock market could not crash, the economy could not possibly collapse.

Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson — a man of laconic, perceptive humor — noted that “those who travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic.”

George Bush concludes his presidency with abundant accomplishments, not least a safer nation — and still, despite a tsunami of hateful coverage, commendably humble. When the tumult and the shouting die, an appreciative people would escort him down to robust and lingering applause.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:49 AM
January 07, 2009
Out With the Rahm…

In the virtual public houses I frequent, there’s a significant buzz about Tom Geoghehan, who’s running for the House seat being vacated by Rahm Emanuel.

Certified FOBA (Friend Of Bad Attitudes) Mr. Fallows of The Atlantic pointed out this opportunity.

The remarkable thing is that in Geoghegan’s case writing has been a sideline. Day by day for several decades he has been a lawyer in a small Chicago law firm representing steel workers, truckers, nurses, and others employees whose travails are the reality covered by abstractions like “the polarization of America” and “the disappearing middle class.” Geoghegan’s skill as a writer and an intellectual are assets but in themselves might not recommend him for a Congressional job. His consistent and canny record of organizing, representing, and defending people who are the natural Democratic (and American) base is the relevant point.

The people of Chicago would have to look elsewhere for Blago-style ethics entertainment. Tom Geoghegan is honest and almost ascetic. Because it’s an important part of his makeup, I mention too that he is a serious, Jesuit-trained Catholic.

Mr. Frank, late of the Wall Street Journal but known as well for the hilarious One Market, Under God and the right-on What’s the Matter With Kansas?, has weighed in as well.

…Mr. Geoghegan thinks big while Democrats in Washington tend to think small, proposing a stimulus package here and better oversight there. The government’s goal, as he explained it to me a few days ago, should not merely be “to pump up demand again.” It should be to enact sweeping, structural change, “to get in a position where we’re not bleeding jobs out of the country.”

For the view that working people have no business with retirement and health care in the lean, mean, inevitable future, Mr. Geoghegan has a certain contempt. He wants to increase Social Security payments to make up for the destruction of private pension plans and expand Medicare with the goal of arriving, eventually, at single-payer health care. The $700 billion bank bailout, he says, proves that such expenses can be borne. What’s more, they’re necessary.

“Economic security is not only compatible with being competitive globally,” he tells me; “it’s crucial to it.”

It’s a little difficult to imagine a sane person lasting through a session of Congress. But it would be an interesting gambit.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:08 AM
January 04, 2009
Chill Out, People

In re: Caroline Kennedy and Roland Burris, Dracomicron has said it for me at MyDD. So go over there and read it. Brief excerpt:

What I’m saying is, we need to stop being such outrage addicts. This election season was the most dramatic in modern memory, and there was a lot of stuff that we got outraged over, both legitimate and specious... I get that it will take some time for us to chill the hell out, but we need to do it. Barack Obama needs a functional legislative branch that can work on tackling the huge challenges he faces right away, and whether an appointee can effectively and honestly work at implementing his agenda is a bigger concern to me than if an appointee was selected in the dying throes of a corrupt governor’s career.
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:32 AM
January 03, 2009
Barrel-Scraping at the RNC

I guess this is what happens when you cheat and lie so consistently that even the Traditional Media have to admit they know what’s going on.

Of course, the Republicans walk right into the trap, “only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air”. They’ve got a bumper crop of candidates vying to become the Howard Dean of the racist, homophobic, xenophobic creationist party. (If only we could add “the war party.”)

Leading the pack in a certain sense is Chip Saltsman, formerly Mike Huckabee’s campaign manager, who famously distributed a music CD to party members that included comedian Rush Limbaugh’s parody song “Barack the Magic Negro”.


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Some Republicans considered this in bad taste; a larger percentage considered it bad PR. Mike Duncan, the current RNC chairman who hails from the enlightened state of Kentucky and is running for re-election, said:

The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate, as it clearly does not move us in the right direction…

Ken Blackwell is another candidate for RNC chair. You’ll probably remember him best, or worst, as the Ohio Secretary of State who rigged Bush into the White House in 2004. Lately he’s been in the news as an African-American asked to comment on Saltsman’s CD. Predictably, Blackwell, who’s reached the semifinals of the Ward Connerly Imitators Championship while simultaneously racing for the RNC chair, blamed the media for the to-do over the CD.

Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-elect Obama being the first African American elected president…

Absolutely. There were no racial issues, no hypersensitivity, before the country made the mistake of electing Obama. Now we’ve gotta deal with this extra layer of stuff. If only we’d elected Strom Thurmond back in ’48, none of this would have happend, eh?

Presumably the complete lack of African-American faces among the Republicans in Congress is balanced by the big-tent inclusion of two black contenders for RNC chair. Along with Blackwell, whose loyalties have been proven under fire, there’s Michael Steele, former lieutenant governor of Maryland, who you kinda figure doesn’t have a real chance. Consider, for example, his statement on the Saltsman CD.

…we must be mindful that self-inflicted wounds not only distract us from regaining our strength as a Party, but further diminish our credibility with an increasingly diverse community of voters. As RNC Chairman, I want us to be a lot smarter about such things and more appreciative that our actions always speak louder than our words.

Smarter? You’re running on making the Republican party smarter?? And reality-based??? Okay, well, good luck with that endeavor. It seems a little out of step to me, but what do I know about Republicans?

But all this is the kind of stuff the TM has traditonally lapped up, the horse-race aspect. No need to insert any information or analyze a statement’s truth or falsehood; just report speculation passed in a cab or a bar and call it a day. What’s really encouraging, for a normal citizen at least, though some Republicans will be unhappy, is to see the media reporting critical information, putting copies of contested ballots on the web in a standard format in case claims of impropriety arise.

No longer do we assume that our fellow citizens are as committed to democracy as we are. This is an advance, because it brings our internal models closer to reality. In The Temple and the Lodge, Baigent and Leigh remark:

One has attained a measure of wisdom when, instead of exclaiming “Et tu, Brute!”, one nods ruefully and says, “Yes, it figures.”
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 09:58 PM
December 31, 2008
So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Ya

Yep, it’s time for ole Dubya to mosey on down the trail, droppin’ his “g’s” as he goes. Be headin’ back to the Lone Star State where it all began, where the legend was born. After all he’s done, that boy needs a good long rest. Kickin’ back in boots and jeans, him ’n Laura, kids comin’ by now and then, all helpin’ put books on the shelves of the Dubya Liberry. Catchin’ them Rangers on the TV and shootin’ some birds when the mood takes him. Nothin’ like killin’ things to make you know you’re livin’.

Cheney liked to shoot birds, too, until he found out it was even more fun to shoot people. “What’s all the fuss about?” he kept saying. “Only shot him in the face.” Admit it now, is Dick Cheney some kind of hoot, or what? There’s another boy knows how to have a good time.

Dubya’s hopin’ for visits from Donny and Condi and the Rover once things settle down, though Condi’s been actin’ a little funny lately. Actin’ like she wouldn’t mind seein’ the back of Li’l Georgie once and for all so’s she can concentrate on rehabilitatin’ her sorry ace. Which is not in the best of shape after years of consortin’ with a war-makin,’ law-breakin’ moron…

So maybe Condi won’t be stoppin’ by, after all. And you know Colin Powell won’t be comin’ by, not after he came out for the skinny guy from Chicago with that long-winded speech on the TV. God Amighty! Didja think maybe he’d never get to the point? Mr. Holier Than Thou. Doesn’t like waterboardin’. Doesn’t like this. Doesn’t like that. Man has no sense of humor, that’s the problem.

Seems like Donny’s a little frosty these days, too. ’Course, Donny’s never forgiven Dubya for bein’ president when everybody knew Donny was smarter and tougher and meaner and had a better plan. Now he’s busy rehabilitatin’ hisself, too, though most people think his raggedy ace is beyond savin’. Should have got it out of town a long time before he did.

Li’l Donny wrote a article not long ago in the New York Times of all places. Covered most of a page and seemed to be about the Surge and how we have won the war in I-Rack but just don’t know it. Donny’s still a little haired off at Dubya for makin’ him take the fall for all the money’s been wasted and all the people’s got killed.

But, hell, Donny’s always been haired off at somebody. Been that way since he was a rasslin’ champ down at Tiger Town. Look funny at him, he’ll take you to the mat with a triple half-nelson and a double headlock. Break your legs, arms. Break your neck. Then he’ll stick your head under water ’til you cry “uncle.”

Dubya could get lonely down there in Big D, with all these people not showin’ up like they said they would. They was like a nuke-you-lar family, you know. Thick as thieves. Peas in a pod. Bugs in a rug. Tight as ticks. Gonna be tough goin’ it alone with just Laura. You can see from her pictures she’s nice but no fun.

’Course, if there’s one thing Dubya knows how to do it’s have fun. Not like Donny and Condi. They’re too busy tryin’ to get they aces out of the fryin’ pan of history. Worried about they legacy or somethin’.

Not Cheney, though. Not him. You can take your legacy and put it… well, you know where. That’s what he seems to be sayin’. You don’t like it, sue me. Indict me. Get too close, I’ll have a heart attack. Cheney’s tough. They’ll never lay a glove on him.

Or Dubya either, come to think of it. Not that anybody’d want to. He did his best and you can’t ask more’n that from a man. People say, Yeah, but his best wasn’t good enough. In fact, they say, his best was the worst we’ve ever seen. People say he lied to us and listened to our phone calls and opened our mail and screwed around with the Constitution and got us into a crazy war and screwed up the economy and generally behaved like a despot — if only a junior varsity kind of despot.

Well, maybe. But let’s not be churlish. We were always told we lived in a country where anybody could become president. And anybody did.

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Posted by Paul Duffy at 02:16 PM
November 28, 2008
Trickle-down Politics

Here’s a brief excerpt from a speech the admirable and usually correct Noam Chomsky gave in Boston last week. In it he explains the difference between a democracy and whatever it is we have.

Certainly not a democracy, if by that you mean a government responsive to the people. Every poll shows beyond question that a huge chasm exists between what we want and what our unitary form of government allows us. Unitary meaning that we only have, effectively, one party.

The goal of advertising is to create uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices. Those of you who suffered through an economics course know that markets are supposed to be based on informed consumers making rational choices. But industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to undermine markets and to ensure, you know, to get uninformed consumers making irrational choices.

And when they turn to selling a candidate they do the same thing. They want uninformed consumers, you know, uninformed voters to make irrational choices based on the success of illusion, slander, and effective body language or whatever else is supposed to be significant. So you undermine democracy pretty much the same way you undermine markets. Well, that’s the nature of an election when it’s run by the business world, and you’d expect it to be like that. There should be no surprise there.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:12 AM
October 30, 2008
Intellectual Rigor

This clip, courtesy of Outta the Cornfield, was made at a GOP rally in Denver.




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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:51 AM
October 11, 2008
How Much Is It Worth?

How much is it worth to wake ourselves from this Republican nightmare? Well, the $700 billion we’ve already ponied up seems to be a good down payment, because a lot of people are pissed.

In Kentucky, where I grew up, people tend to feel economic pressure more deeply, because many of them struggle even in normal times to keep their families at subsistence levels of income. They may be strongly culturally conservative, but they also strongly resent the rich East Coast elites who have controlled much of Kentucky for much of its history.

This has made Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s balancing act a tricky one at times, because McConnell leads his colleagues in being in the pocket of exactly those interests. These are not Kentucky interests, though some may keep their horses on Kentucky farms. They’re the super-rich who don’t want to be taxed, the corporations who don’t want to be regulated, those who think we should consider money as speech and corporations as people.


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Unfortunately for Uncle Mitch, this is a sub-prime moment to make that case. Kentuckians may not be ready to vote for a black President, but they’re damn well ready to express displeasure at continuing economic distress. They may even manage to replace the worst member of the Senate with Bruce Lunsford, who’s bound to be a least a little better, will caucus with the Democrats, and has been running the kind of ad the Democrats would win big with.

Lunsford’s ad, his first of the race that homes in on the economy, cites McConnell’s vote in 1999 for legislation that rolled back government regulation of Wall Street banking and investment firms. It also highlights the amount of campaign contributions McConnell has received from the financial sector, as tallied by the Center for Responsive Politics.

“McConnell took more than $4 million from the Wall Street financial industry, got rid of the government regulations they didn’t like and let the billionaires and CEOs stuff their pockets with cash,” the ad’s announcer says. “Now Wall Street is in trouble and taxpayers are getting the bill.”

Another ad from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that’s airing in Louisville reinforces those same points using an old-time Wild West theme. At one point, the announcer says “McConnell opened the gate and Wall Street went wild.”

Need to hear more of that.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:02 AM
October 10, 2008
Terrorist Hockey Moms for Obama

A dispatch from Michigan, the state McCain forgot but my sister Pat Shure didn’t. She is an honest-to-God hockey mom who knew Bill Ayers slightly back in the 60s when he ran the Children’s Community PreSchool in Ann Arbor.

Lots of things can happen when you’re registering voters in the blue collar suburbs of southeastern Michigan.

Going from one little house to the next past the occasional American flag or tattered Red Wings banner or UAW emblem or “For Sale” sign, most people were friendly. Maybe they just weren’t afraid to open their door to a grandmotherly-looking person in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

When I asked if anybody in the house needed to register, most said “Nope, we already are,” and as always a few answered, “Nah, they’re all crooks.” (Actually, a bit hard to dispute.) Obama supporters said so right away and seemed to know instinctively that I was one of them, maybe because I was THERE.

I was a little hesitant as I knocked on a door with a Police Officers Association decal:

“Sir, are you registered to vote?”

“Un, hah, but I’m not gonna, never do.”

“Have you ever voted?”

“Sure, I voted for Nixon.”

“How’d that go”?

He chuckled. “Not so good.”

An angry dog barking at the window of another house and the sign on the door persuaded me to move on. The sign read, “My shitty opinion is none of your *!#! ing business.”

Sometimes you get to end the day with something really sweet. I was standing outside a Dollar Store in downriver Detroit late one rainy evening, smiling and holding a clipboard that read REGISTER WITH ME, LAST CHANCE. I approached a woman and asked if she was registered to vote yet. Standing ramrod straight she replied, “Chile, I voted for Truman!”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:47 PM
October 09, 2008
Palin for Senate

Sarah Palin’s M.O. during her brief political life has been to cozy up to some unsuspecting mentor, then knife him in the back and step over him. Now she’s at it again. Colin McEnroe spells it out:

Palin is pretty clearly running a double campaign these days — one for Nov. 4 and the other for her future position as a leading Republican voice during the Obama era.

It was most noticeable when she openly questioned McCain’s decision to pull out of Michigan. What kind of language do you think McCain used when he heard about that one? This is not a guy who reacts well to being crossed or second-guessed, especially by a woman he yanked out of obscurity five weeks ago.

Since then Palin has announced a bare-knuckles strategy of denouncing Obama as a strange guy with terrorist pals and Stokely Carmichael attitudes. She has again questioned McCain’s tactics — this time his reluctance to brawl and spill blood and bring up Rev. Wright — and openly announced that she will advise him to follow her lead.

Do you not see a little needle directed at her boss in the way Palin worded this? Particularly the phrase “I guess”:

“I don’t know why that association isn’t discussed more,” Palin said, “because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character.”

“I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up,” Palin added.

You guess? That, my friends, is classic passive-ag[g]ressive criticism…

So that’s at least twice that Wilderness Woman has told her boss to man up. First she called him on the cut-and-run from Michigan. Then she told him to knock off the soft stuff. My guess is that McCain is steaming. He’d send her home if he could. No wonder he renewed his vows to Joe [Lieberman] last night.

Meanwhile, Palin’s no dummy. She can read polls, and she knows that a loss is more likely than a win. She has become a favorite Republican of Republicans…

If they lose this election, the GOP will probably want to get her out of Alaska and into a Senate seat where she can be closer to the limelight and more able to speak out for the loyal opposition. She knows this, and that’s why she’s running two races. McCain may go down, and, if so, she’s not going down with him.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:33 PM
October 08, 2008
Just Plain (and Phony) Folks

Noam Chomsky may well be right about the former president’s conspicuous and repeated mispronounciments:

The focus is on personalities, on Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, Sarah Palin’s pregnant daughter, or whatever it may be. In that terrain, the Republicans have a big advantage. They also have a formidable slander and vilification machine which has yet to go into full operation. They can appeal to latent racism, as they are already doing. They can construct a class issue. Obama is the elite Harvard liberal; McCain is the down to earth ordinary American, and it so happens that he is one of the richest people in the Senate.

Same thing they pulled for Bush. You have to vote for Bush because he is the kind of guy you would like to meet in a bar and have a beer with; he wants to go back to his ranch in Texas and cut brush. In reality he was a spoiled fraternity boy who went to an elite university and joined a secret society where the future rulers of the world are trained, and was able to succeed in politics because his family had wealthy friends.

I am convinced, personally, that Bush was trained to mispronounce words to say things like “mis-underestimate” or “nu-cu-ler”, so liberal intellectuals would make jokes about it; then the Republican propaganda machine could say see these elitist liberals who run the world are making fun of us ordinary guys who did not go to Harvard (but he did go to Yale, but forget it).

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:25 AM
September 04, 2008
…to See Ourselves As Others See Us

One thing about the Brits, they know their snark. A self-described “liberal European elitist journalist” — Oliver Burkeman of The Guardianlive-blogs last night’s performances in St. Paul:

8.18pm: [Quoting Romney] “I know what makes jobs come, and I know what makes them go.” What made jobs come and go often enough in the past, as Ezra Klein points out, has been the noted private equity firm chief executive Mitt Romney.

8.32pm: Mike Huckabee actually just said this: “My Dad lifted heavy things”. And this: “I was in college before I found out it wasn’t supposed to hurt to take a shower.” It’s something to do with having to clean himself with stones, because he grew up so poor. But this is an almost entirely crazy speech, I’m afraid to say. That’s an unbiased opinion.

8.50pm: Themes of the evening so far: xenophobia, “anti-elitist” rabble-rousing, media-bashing, smalltown boosterism versus liberal city people. Pretty unpleasant, all told.

9.05pm: Wait, wait, wait, WHAT? John McCain was a prisoner of war. He has proved his commitment with his blood. On the other hand, Obama worked as a “community organizer”. “What?” says Giuliani, pretending not to understand. He laughs unpleasantly. The crowd laughs. “Then he ran for the state legislature — where nearly 130 times he was unable to make a decision yes or no. It was too tough. He voted ‘present.’ I didn’t know about this ‘vote present’ when I was mayor of New York City. Sarah Palin didn’t get to vote present when she was mayor or governor.”

“Barack Obama has never led anything. Nothing. Nada. Nada. Nothing.” This is real, jeering anti-Obama stuff, the nastiest we’ve heard, and the delegates are loving it — yelping and whooping.

9.18pm: If you say the war in Iraq is lost, you are saying that Osama bin Laden has won, and that makes you a terrorist. Or something like that.

There’s something rather troubling about the way in which Giuliani enjoys the roiling up the audience. He claps softly to himself, and chuckles.

10.12pm And in a parallel to Obama’s surprise arrival at the end of Joe Biden’s speech, here’s John McCain. “Tremendous, tremendous, fantastic, tremendous,” he says, vaguely hugging the Palins. “Don’t you think we made the right choice for the next vice-president of the United States? And what a beautiful family!” Militaristic music. McCain and Palin are both doing an awful Republican version of Hillary Clinton’s already sufficiently awful pointing-and-smiling thing.

Shortly, these psyched-up delegates will hold a roll-call vote officially to nominate McCain. First, three country singers including John Rich are reading out random bits of famous American speeches and documents, in between lines of the national anthem. Extremely strange.

Brilliant, now Rich is singing his criminally stupid song Raising McCain.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:37 AM
August 31, 2008
Nader on the DNC

If you’re like many rank and file Democrats, you actually loathe the DLC. In this Real News Network interview, Ralph Nader talks about theDemocratic Party as represented by the DLC. I’m actually watching television again - but only on the net. I check the Real News Network every day for a rundown on current issues in video format. Since their funding model is strictly from viewers and no one else, I made a small donation, I hope you will too. I'm not a fan of some of the things Nader’s groups have been involved in in the past, but I do have respect for Nader and he makes some valid points in this video interview.


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Posted by Buck Batard at 11:53 AM
August 30, 2008
Remember Lee Atwater

It is a little ironic.

The attack dogs will eagerly embrace formerly hated targets. All last week Republicans lauded the achievements and brilliance of Hillary Clinton, seeking to exploit divisions in the Democratic Party. It has rounded up former Clinton supporters who now back McCain and paraded them like captured prisoners of war. “[McCain] really does admire and respect her and honours the campaign that she ran,” said Carly Fiorina, a top McCain adviser. Those are astonishing words from a senior figure in a party which spent two decades demonising Clinton as a left-wing uber-feminist. But that is the key to the success of the Republican attack machine: the past does not exist. What matters is what works now. Democrats know more of the same is coming. “This is going to be the most vicious campaign we have ever faced,” said Terry McAuliffe, Clinton’s former campaign chairman.

How vicious?

There is an industry devoted to publishing anti-Obama screeds. The most popular has been The Obama Nation, by conservative polemicist Jerome Corsi. The book paints a radical picture of Obama as having a secret Islamic past — but critics say the book can be proven to be wrong. Corsi has also called for Obama to take a drugs test and warned that he might create a “department of hate crimes” if elected. The Obama Nation has been a bestseller, relentlessly promoted by sympathetic media figures such as Fox News’s conservative host Sean Hannity. On his show, Hannity allowed Corsi to claim Obama wanted to allow women to have “abortions” even after their child was born. Instead of refuting the ridiculous claim, Hannity merely expressed shock. The incident forced a liberal media watchdog to issue an analysis showing Obama had never actually supported the murder of newborn children.
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:59 PM
August 27, 2008
More Than Twenty, I Think

Though some speakers at the Democratic convention have had their speeches edited by the Obama campaign to the point that the original was scrapped, Kucinich’s speech lost only one sentence: “They’re asking for another four years — in a just world, they’d get 10 to 20.”

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:52 PM
August 10, 2008
The Constitution is Still in Crisis

A Smirking Chimp commenter by the handle of genboomxer hits us where it hurts.

There is a hypocritical duality in our American culture. We want a saint for president; we want someone with confidence and experience. We want the “Daddy” ideal. On the other hand we want someone who’s not afraid to play dirty to give us what we want. We are the children who idolize “Daddy” as long as we don’t know he’s cheating.

Politically we are one of the most immature countries. We run our domestic and foreign policies like an amoral adolescent with a car, a shotgun and a case of beer on a Saturday night who goes on a rampage, who then shows up for church on Sunday to repent our sins to show everyone that deep-down we’re really good.

A more concise statement of the American character is hard to find. When we’re disappointed in our leadership we blame it on them, as if we had no part in making it happen.

So I guess you wouldn’t be surprised to find the same person pointing to an old Bill Moyers show called “The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis”. It’s just as true now, and just as relevant, as when it was made. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Moyers remains unsurpassed. You kinda get the feeling he’s still trying to make up for the whole LBJ thing, though it’s hard to imagine that he had the power to fix it. Probably LBJ was just smart enough to make him the front man, because Moyers is so clearly a moral person in the best sense of the term.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:01 AM
July 02, 2008
It Seemed So Implausible

Froomkin titles today’s post “Bush’s Eternal Sunshine”.

Bush’s approval ratings are in the toilet and there are ample signs that the nation is hungering for a new direction. Yet Bush’s aides say they believe the public’s attitude has improved — apparently because he sees less hostility on his increasingly furtive trips outside the White House — and in a meeting yesterday with a group of sycophantic journalists, Bush insisted that he’s in a great mood.

Emerging from the meeting, National Review’s Larry Kudlow captured the central personality.

Mr. Bush reiterated what he has said in a number of these meetings, that in the office of the president, character matters a lot. He said you have to have clear principles and strong beliefs to execute all the responsibilities that are part of the job.

…I would say as someone who has been privileged to attend these gatherings in the past, not only did the president show the inner strength he always has, but when he does reflect on the tumultuous events of his tenure, he is completely at peace with himself and his decisions.

As if that were praiseworthy.

For Bush supporters, of course, it is: as Colbert said, with Bush you know he believes the same things on Wednesday that he did on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Bush has managed to continue to believe strongly in something that’s blatantly false, and there’s nothing more admirable to people like those I grew up around. They’re disdainful of the personal impurity that accompanies information, which, after all, is of this world, and therefore matters not. It’s such fine folks who’ve been known to decide that all the real books written before a mythical event should be burned, thus creating their own darkness. In which, truth be told, they were probably happy as pigs in their normal environment.

It’s not cleanliness, in other words, but ignorance that’s next to Godliness, according to this view. All you need to know is right there in the handbook He gave us; patience and exegesis will extract whatever meaning you need. If He didn’t find dinosaurs worthy of mention, they must not have been relevant to the plan. After all, you know, it’s possible that dinosaur bones were put here to test our faith, as someone argued to Bill Hicks. Then we find ourselves in the same spot Bush is in: we need to believe in something we know is untrue.



Such a feat of believing requires compartmentalization on a grand scale. If there’s any significant amount of knowledge floating around, keeping those compartments separate becomes prohibitively difficult (as Bob Altemeyer’s studies have shown). Thus the bubble surrounding Bush is intended to accomplish the same goal that heads the list of most everyone still living in my old hometown: the avoidance, or more precisely intentionally maintained ignorance, of facts about the world, in particular facts that don’t fit with existing beliefs.

I blame this all on a guy named Paul. Who can honestly argue that belief matters more than action? Wouldn’t that imply that human beings probably numbering in the billions were created without a chance to believe, thus doomed to torment with no path to redemption?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:49 AM
June 19, 2008
NEWS FLASH: Democrats Cave

The New York Times reports that the White House and the Democrats have agreed on a rewrite of the wiretapping rules. It’s not entirely clear why anyone cares to take the trouble. Everyone knows the administration has been ignoring the existing rules; why would a rewrite make a difference?

Perhaps the most important concession that Democratic leaders claimed in the proposal was a reaffirmation that the intelligence protocols are the “exclusive” means for the executive branch to conduct wiretapping operations in terrorism and espionage cases. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had insisted on that element, and Democratic staff members asserted that the language would prevent Mr. Bush, or any future president, from circumventing the law. The proposal asserts that “that the law is the exclusive authority and not the whim of the president of the United States,“ Ms. Pelosi said.

In general, rewriting the law to emphasize to those who knowingly violated it in the past that the law must be obeyed is an ineffective means of making the point.

The Democrats are letting the telecoms off the hook for activities the companies knew were illegal; the precedents were clear. In exchange for this immunity the Democratic, I hesitate to say leadership in this context, can depart grasping the idea that this reaffirmation will constrain a President when the first affirmation did not. It seems to be a textbook case of doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Or alternatively, perhaps the Democrats have no problem with warrantless wiretapping and torture and illegal wars as long as it’s the Democrats in power at the time. All power corrupts, said John Emerich Edward Dahlberg, and he was right.

If you worked long hard hours and years to reach the upper atmosphere of Congressional leadership for your party, it’d be hard to think in terms of the American empire ending. It’d be hard to realize that there is an American empire to begin with; as Chomsky says, you can’t reach a position of power in the US government without believing that the country is unique in history in acting purely from altruistic motives.


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That’s abroad, of course; domestically, it’s devil take the hindmost. In the current case, as so often in recent years, the hindmost is the American public. This is somehow more grating now that we have Democrats controlling Congress. In 2006 we took the reins from the Republicans, too corrupt, incompetent, and downright evil to live with any more, and handed them to the Democrats, who promised, as all parties do in such circumstances, to restore dignity and truth to the institution and to assert the rule of law.

Hah! In fact, they’ve repeatedly capitulated. As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the only real accomplishment the Democrats had to show for taking control of Congress was refusing to cave on telecom immunity. Now they’re caving on that too.

I just bought a couple Cindy Sheehan for Congress buttons.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:38 PM
June 17, 2008
No, No, Not Alex. The Horror, the Horror!

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is Not Alex. It’s the antiMcCain, antiwar ad from MoveOn.org which is being called tasteless by the conservative punditry. Being called tasteless by it/them is of course like being called ugly by a frog.

Personally I thought the ad was (1) tasteful, (2) fair, (3) well-produced, and (4) effective. What’s more, (1) the baby was cute, and (2) I fell in love with the young mother.

So, as Thomas L. Friedman might say, and did, Suck on this, okay?




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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:10 PM
June 12, 2008
Slime Slung Low

The Obama campaign has put up a web page to rebut the smears, calumnies, false rumors and innuendos, anonymous charges, viral emails, libels, defamation, slurs, sleaze and slander that are standard in GOP presidential campaigns.

In fact the Swift Boat operation is already humming along nicely in high gear. Slime-lovers will find prime specimens at Obama’s new site, Fight the Smears.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:48 PM
MBA Basketball

In which I thread some beads of the corruption nibbling at the American dream, nay, inhabiting it with a vengeance. In fact, it’s looking more and more like the approach of Nemesis, who you’ll recall is the goddess who brings havoc to you and your plans in payment for your hubris.

Chess is bigger than the universe

Among chessplayers you often hear that chess is life. In many ways this analogy holds up. In fact it’s really closer than an analogy: chess isn’t like life, it is life.

Life involves making decisions about what to do and what not to do, in situations where you can’t possibly gather all the information. In chess there are estimated to be around 1050 legal positions, with a game-tree size of 10123 (game-tree size is the total number of legal games, counting different move orders arriving at the same position as different games).

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For comparison, estimates for the number of atoms in the universe are around 1080.

So you can’t possibly gather all the relevant information; yet you have to make a choice, there’s a clock ticking, and you’ll be stuck with that choice for the rest of the game. You need principles, plus the technique to execute them against resistance.

The decision-making process in chess is so similar to life that it’s a bit scary to consider the implications of machines beating the crap out of the best humanity has produced. But at least it’s a game of rules. Without ignoring the occasional accusations of cheating (by, for example, Kasparov against the Deep Blue team, or by Topalov against Kramnik in the famous World Championship Bathroom Controversy), we expect the outcome of the game to be determined by who played better.

The battlefield is not a chessboard

battlefield-stretcher.jpgIf only life were like chess, and the winners were those who made the best decisions! If we chose our leaders on that basis, our quality of life would be much improved. We’d rid ourselves of servants of the dark side such as Cheney and Greenspan and Kissinger and Albright, and replace them with others like Feingold and Conyers and Kucinich and Waxman, people who find representation of the type envisioned in the Constitution more honorable than playing for Team America in the game of geostrategy.

But no. Corruption and war are profitable; and the war-maker rarely fails to draw greater praise. As Gibbon says:

…as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters.

Perhaps this is another gift George Bush will leave us with: the realization that war has become a business, and not just any business but one central to our way of life; that the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about has taken control of our government by holding the economy hostage.

Buddha_sunset_crop.jpgPerhaps we’ll decide, like the folks in Iain Banks’s Culture novels, that money’s just holding us up. When scarcity is the main problem, money provides a huge leg up. When you could feed everyone if you chose, but it’s not profitable enough so you don’t, you’re in essence killing people for money. And even from the purely economic point of view, if every individual were fed, clothed, housed, educated, and provided with transportation and medical care, how much more productive would we be as a group?

What keeps us from doing this? It’s not exactly corruption; bribes aren’t being paid, either explicitly or implicitly, to those who enforce the status quo. Unless you count the money spent on police, and the more numerous private security folks. Not to mention the various methods of enforcing that unusual system of economic class that Americans have evolved. It’s universal and not at all subtle, yet we often manage to ignore it.

To take a single example: I teach in six elementary schools in four districts each week of the school year. The educational opportunities presented to children differ significantly based on the cost of the house their families live in. That’s rational in our world, but I submit that nearly everyone would be much better off if we educated everyone to the highest standard we can manage. Rather than bombing some Asian village, for example. As Eisenhower said, every bomber we build is a school we don’t build. And bombers were dirt cheap back then.

I claim our socio-economic situation waxes and wanes as our ideas veer now toward and now away from a course parallel to reality. The corollary is that our current troubles are precipitated by a hole in our world-watching filters.

Americans are famous, or perhaps infamous, for their go-it-alone every-man-for-himself attitude. As Lisa said, how rebellious, in a conformist sort of way.

Handicapping vs. rigging: is it still corruption?

In reality everyone knows Americans love a winner. People who’ve never been to Los Angeles root for the Lakers because they think the Lakers will win (as if). Many people here in northern California root for the Patriots (once the 49ers have safely folded) despite not owning a single garment capable of withstanding the weather on a nice day at a Patriots game.

So when fans learn that their team’s best player is a rapist, or that their team taped competitors’ signals, reactions tend to fall into two groups. Some fans feel they’ve been let down by their stars or teams. Others prefer to ignore the revelations and blame the whole emotional mess on the media, or the InterTubes, or whatever: it’s all lies. This second group, one assumes, votes disproportionately for Bush.

Fortunately, there aren’t enough such people to elect him. Unfortunately, that doesn’t control who wins the elections. And corruption at the highest level of civic life sets a standard. Each new world chess champion initiates a fad for certain openings; each new administration has ripple effects throughout society.

So anyone who’s spent much time watching NBA games cannot be surprised to learn that former referee Tim Donaghy has accused the league of rigging games. Donaghy’s already been convicted of manipulating outcomes and is facing sentencing. In the plea letter his lawyer writes:

“Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew Referees A and F to be ‘company men,’ always acting in the interest of the N.B.A., and that night, it was in the N.B.A.’s interest to add another game to the series.”

The game was refereed by three tenured veterans: Dick Bavetta, Ted Bernhardt and Bob Delaney. Bernhardt has retired from the league. Under N.B.A. rules, Bavetta and Delaney are not permitted to speak to the news media. However, Delaney, a former New Jersey state trooper, cast doubt on Donaghy’s claims in an interview with ESPN.

“This is not the first time a known or convicted criminal has lied about me before the judicial system,” Delaney said Wednesday. “I have an extensive law enforcement background, and still train police officers. I have dealt with criminals and informants, and I know full well they are capable of doing and saying anything.”

I’m assuming Delany means this to be reassuring, but somehow I don’t find it so. Are we to consider that NBA referees are no more corrupt than your hometown police force would be if it dealt constantly with the amount of money that circulates in professional sports?

Back in 2001 Milwaukee was playing Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference finals. George Karl, coach of the Bucks, later expressed the view that the league had decided Alan Iverson and his Philly teammates would be a better draw for the finals than the Bucks, so they arranged the calls to make that happen. He was fined $85,000, if memory serves, and got calls from several prominent players stating their agreement. (One of them was Kevin Garnett, as of this writing the best player in the NBA finals.)

The FBI has made inquiries about Bavetta, according to a former N.B.A. referee who was interviewed by federal agents last year.

Hue Hollins, who retired in 2003 and has been outspoken about the N.B.A.’s treatment of referees, said he met for about an hour with two agents from New York before last season.

In addition to asking questions about Donaghy, Hollins said the agents inquired extensively about Bavetta. They asked if he ever noticed that Bavetta “was making sure that the home team would win, and I told them I had no idea because I didn’t work with him a lot.”

Well, try watching a game. Bavetta is not the only one, but he’s one.

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The most hilarious comment comes from perennial favorite Mark Cuban, who must know something about basketball; after all, he bought a team.

Mark Cuban, the outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner, who has been a leading critic of the N.B.A.’s officiating program, cast doubt on Donaghy’s claim that league officials had orchestrated anything.

“There’s no way on God’s green Earth that David Stern has ever done anything to influence the outcome of a game,“ Cuban told ESPN.com.

Spoken like a man still hoping to be admitted to the country club, and thus continuing to speak well of it even after being rejected. Nixon would have appreciated the number of outs left in that sentence. Suppose this particular earth isn’t God’s, for example? And besides, did anyone accuse Stern of rigging the games? No, it was the referees who did that; Stern orchestrated it. It’s like Bush and Cheney didn’t actually do the torture themselves, they had other people do it, but they ordered it. They’re not complicit, they’re responsible. Same with Stern, though there was no torture or killing involved (as far as I know).

This, to me, is what makes college basketball preferable, though in principle it shouldn’t be. There are few more amazing athletes in the world than NBA players, and the game they play involves much more useful civic virtues than, say, American football. College teams can reach the NCAA tournament with one or two players who’ll definitely make the NBA; three, and you’re an odds-on favorite for the whole thing. But look at the last four NBA teams standing: Los Angeles, San Antonio, Boston, and Detroit: three great teams and one great media market. The league admitted that the decisive call in the fourth game of the Western Conference final was wrong, but they figured that a Lakers-Celtics series would draw a much larger audience than Spurs-Celtics.

It’s the American way.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:49 AM
June 07, 2008
Thoughts After Hillary’s Speech

Just finished listening to Hillary’s speech, which struck me as graceful and useful. And from as much of the subsequent pundibabble as I could endure, this seemed to be the consensus.

So I’ll only bother to add two things that are unlikely to come up in everybody else’s instant analysis.

First, both Hillary and Chelsea clapped back at the audience. New rule, as Bill Maher says: Keep your hands to yourself. Otherwise you look as stupid as every show biz jackass who bounds into camera range clapping for — well, for whom?

If for your own wonderful self, it amounts to an unattractive act of public masturbation. If for the audience, it is the gesture of a desperate suck-up.

The second thing was Hillary’s juxtaposition of two words that I doubt have been uttered in sequence by any major presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, for 30 years. They are “promoting” and “unionization,” presented as a desirable goal.

Not “recognizing the importance of” unionization. ” Not “backing” or “championing” or “defending” it. Promoting it. Maybe the word was carelessly chosen or insincerely spoken. But if not — if the active promoting of unionization by government has become mentionable once more in mainstream Democratic rhetoric — this could turn out to be huge.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:50 PM
June 05, 2008
Buddy Flick

Having written for a president who was terrific at town meetings and terrible at prepared speeches, this Gail Collins op-ed made me feel a tiny — barely perceptible actually — twinge of sympathy for McCain’s speechwriters. McCain, you’ll remember, wants to do a sort of buddy road flick with Obama, the two of them spending the summer together doing weekly town hall appearances:

But for all the talk about McCain wanting a “higher level of discourse,” the bottom line is that he is begging to be rescued from the big problem his campaign has encountered: which is that the only thing their candidate is good at is town-hall meetings.

This was driven home Tuesday night when the Republicans decided to try to insert a McCain speech into the Democrats’ final primary night. They were hoping to steal thunder from the moment when Obama clinched the nomination. The actual effect was to offer viewers a chance to compare the skills of the greatest orator in modern American politics with a guy who has never really learned how to read a teleprompter…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:20 AM
June 04, 2008
A Woman’s Perspective

Pixie writes:

I think women who believe a woman in the White House would mean someone who would keep us out of military confrontations, someone nurturing and sensitive who would respond to the people, someone who is less testosterone-driven are crazy. When I see women say that, I think, “Honey, any woman who gets to the White House isn’t going to be like you — isn’t going to be a soft-spoken, nurturing type. That’s not the personality that wants to be President. The gender is irrelevant. That’s why Hillary got so far.”

So what happens now? Is Obama totally screwed? Would he ever choose Hagel as a running mate? Or would that actually drive most Republicans away from the ticket?

And I add:

Indira Gandhi, Gold Meir, Maggie Thatcher…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:12 PM
May 28, 2008
Ah, Memories, Memories…

Here’s a picture of Inflatable George I took during the demonstrations at the 2004 GOP convention in New York City. The little fellow is seen wearing his make-believe flight suit.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:42 AM
May 16, 2008
Polycephaly

Want to remove all slime from the election this fall and limit debate strictly to the issues? Rick Hertzberg knows how:

The solution is obvious. Obama should ask McCain to be his running mate. McCain should ask Obama to be his. And both should say yes.

A campaign pitting an Obama-McCain ticket against a McCain-Obama ticket would absolutely guarantee a general-election campaign that would be about The Issues and nothing but The Issues…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:13 AM
May 07, 2008
Dr. Cost’s Magic Elixir

Confused by all the blabber last night from Tim and Keith and Chris and Pat? Want to find out what actually happened in Indiana and North Carolina? Go here for your reality pill from Jay Cost, Doctor of Politics. Excerpt:

As you can see, North Carolina performed roughly as we might expect, falling in between Virginia and Tennessee. Nevertheless, it is surprising that the results were closer to the Virginia end (i.e. Obama +29) than the Tennessee end (i.e. Clinton +13). What might explain the difference?

Unlike Indiana, it doesn’t come from Clinton’s core voting group. She did extremely well among white voters in North Carolina. Obviously, she didn’t do as well with them as she did in Tennessee. However, she still trounced Obama among white men and white women, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Clinton’s problem was with the African American vote, which came in at about 33%. Her trouble in North Carolina, as well as the South in general, is that white voters are more likely to be Republican than in decades past. This has given Obama a demographic edge in the region — one that has actually grown in the past few months. Note that African Americans in North Carolina went for Obama more strongly than they did in either Tennessee or Virginia. In fact, we can see a general trend in the African American vote toward Obama — not just in these states, but nationwide. It has not been much commented upon — most likely because African Americans have been supporting Obama more strongly than any other group. Nevertheless, as time has gone on, the African American vote has clustered around Obama much more tightly.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:43 AM
March 05, 2008
Empty Lapels

This piece of mine ran several days ago in Salon. com. To see it in its original home, go here. One of the commenters, Blueturtle, made a point that hadn’t occurred to me, but seems aesthetically solid:


Beyond the Left's often correct belief that wearing the flag is facile posturing, there is a larger, deeper problem with the lapel pin.

Isn't it the great unspoken truth that the American flag is simply ugly? Bold, primary colors parceled out in too small stripes and indeterminant stars. It has always paled in comparison to the understated tricolor of France, the composite crosses of the Union Jack, or the beautiful exoticism of any number of developing nations' standards.

The stars and bars speaks for a nation that never could really figure out what it stood for. In response, states' rights and muddled federalism left us with a compromise guidon of cobbled together symbols.

Obama knows that will clash with any outfit that is not made for preschoolers in their bold jumpers.


Flag Pins are for Losers — Literally


Is a man fit to be commander-in-chief if he won't even fly the flag from his buttonhole?

Does that man, Barack Obama, think he's "too good — too patriotic! — to wear a flag pin on his chest?" Because that's what William Kristol believes.

Grow up, the Chicago Sun-Times advises: "Oh for Pete's sake, Senator Obama, pin the darnn American flag to your chest. Otherwise, the poor dope will "catch a world of hurt for ... polarizing comments [that] make him sound like a hardened leftist."

Has Obama's failure to wear a flag pin really done "more damage to his White House hopes than a bomb bursting in air?" The New York Daily News thinks so.

Or is it just possible that Barack Obama knows more about getting to be president than all of these pundits laid end to end, as they probably should be? Is it possible that an empty buttonhole might actually help a candidate of either party, now that the nation's number one flag-wearer is circling the bowl with the lowest presidential approval ratings ever recorded?

Let's go beyond the Beltway and take a look. Out there on the campaign trail, who's actually been wearing lapel flags in this race and who hasn't -- and how's that been working out for you guys anyway?

On April 26 of last year in Orangeburg, South Carolina, the Democrats held the first debate in the campaign that never ends. First thing that morning the candidates were all in a hurry to throw on their clothes, grabbing any old thing that came to hand. Yeah, right.

It was the most important day of their political lives to date, and they agonized over each tiny sartorial decision. Windsor knot or four-in-hand? Blue or red?

Here's where everybody came out on lapel flags. The photo coverage of the debate shows that only Joe Biden decided to wear one. The other seven -- Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Chris Dodd — went without.

Of course you'd expect that from a bunch of surrender monkeys, wouldn't you? So let's turn to the Republicans, tough-talking patriots to a man. Their first debate came a week later in Simi Valley, California. And sure enough, Tommy Thompson, Tom Tancredo and Rudy Giuliani, nonveterans all, were careful to pin on their flags.

Wait a minute, though. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, Duncan Hunter, and Mike Huckabee all left their little flags back home on the bureau. And so did John McCain. Hmm.

By May 15, at the Columbia, South Carolina Republican debate, Tancredo had stopped wearing his flag. By June, Democratic candidate Joe Biden had deflagged as well.

The only candidate of either party who chose to add a flag in the course of the campaign was Bill Richardson, who flagged up toward the end of the summer. With Biden's flag gone by then, Richardson had become the only Democratic candidate to wear a flag in the debates.

On the Republican side Tommy Thompson continued to wear his flag till the bitter end, which came in August when he placed sixth in the Iowa straw polls. The empty Thompson slot was filled the following month by Fred. The lobbyist/actor picked up Tommy's banner, so to speak, and was still wearing it in January when he, too, dropped out.

Rudy Giuliani, who probably wears a flag to bed, dropped out a week later after racking up a pathetic 15 percent of the vote in the Florida Republican primary.

Do we see a subtle pattern emerging here? Every presidential candidate of both parties who ever wore a lapel flag during the debates, even as briefly as Biden, bought himself a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

And every major party candidate who remains viable today — John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — has seldom if ever been spotted with a flag in his or her lapel.

Don't think the press hasn't been noticing, either. To this day there has been a steady drumbeat of silence in the media over the flagless-ness of Huckabee's, Clinton's and McCain's lapels.

Nor would Obama's disrespect have made news if only he had thought to point the finger at everyone else still in the race when a TV reporter posed his trivia question back in October. But instead he gave an honest if incomplete answer.

Obama said he had worn a pin after 9/11 but stopped once he began to notice, and here I paraphrase wildly but no doubt accurately, that most of the people still wearing lapel flags were assholes.

On the evidence of the campaign so far, Obama wasn't the only one who noticed.

Clinton, Huckabee and McCain, we may say with confidence, would wear anything or even nothing at all if they thought it would help them win the nomination. Then why, when it came to miniature flags, did the three join Obama in opting for nothing?

Dosed with Pentothal, each would most likely come up with a variant of the answer Obama had hinted at: that lapel flags no longer signify simple patriotism, but something that you don't want sticking to your fingers these days..

For these past six years and more, men with those bright little flags apparently riveted to their lapels have fed the voters a daily diet of fear, secrecy, lies, and a cruel war with neither point nor end.

No sensible politician would want to march under this tiny, metallic banner. Just look at all the fallen stars who did.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:41 PM
February 11, 2008
The Mind of the Invisible Hand

Waiting for Dorothy offers us a glimpse into the mind of the Invisible Hand. (Sorry no pictures this time, you’ll have to go take a look for yourself.)

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Posted by Buck Batard at 11:18 AM
February 01, 2008
The New Axis of Evil: South Carolina?

One of the enjoyable aspects of the current election campaign is watching the antics of the wingnuts as they’re forced to choose between John McCain and a firing squad.

Over the past month a new Axis of Evil has emerged — not one based in Damascus, Tehran or Pyongyang — but instead in Cedar Rapids, Charleston, South Carolina, Derry, New Hampshire and Boca Raton, Florida. It is the liberal and “independent” voters in these 4 states that have nearly completed a deed that makes Kim Jong Il envious — the near crippling of the American Electoral System.

These four states have combined their native liberal populism with an imported liberal electorate and have forced the GOP to accept a nominee so distasteful that in more than one poll — the numbers of voters choosing not to vote and those choosing to vote third party actually exceed those who will hold their nose and vote for Maverick, War Hero, Amnesty Supporter, John McCain.

I admit, I’ve always known that South Carolina and Florida were secret hotbeds of liberalism. But I was hoping no one would notice.

I’m not interested in sending any more traffic to the wackos at Human Events Online, but if you really must read the article Steve Thomma, who’s been filing some excellent stuff for McClatchy, links to it.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:17 AM
January 23, 2008
The Prince of Darkness Speaks

You don’t have to love Robert Novak to respect his political smarts. Here he is on the fall election and on the South Carolina Democratic debate Monday night:

While both the Republican and Democratic presidential races are undecided going into the massive array of February 5 primaries (which amounts to nearly a national primary), a Hillary Clinton vs. John McCain contest in November looms as the most likely prospect.

That is the match-up that offers the highest likelihood of Republican success despite the continued sniping at McCain by certain right-wing activists…

Clinton and Obama both took good digs at one another, but the heightened negativity is in itself a boon to Clinton. By going negative, Hillary does not hurt her image, but Obama hurts his.

Clinton is already the knife-fighting candidate, and that is part of her appeal. Obama is supposed to represent a new era, hope, and a change in tone. However well-placed his jabs at Clinton, they tarnish his chief virtue. Also, voters still react negatively to attacks on a woman.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:37 PM
January 18, 2008
Two Varieties of Discord

This evening, through another in a series of “no duh!” moments, I realized that the Democratic Presidential candidates are arguing over two separate types of discord.

The first began subtly but unmistakably creeping toward center stage after the Iowa caucuses, when Clinton supporters found themselves in a real race and began to say things to the press that caused them to be reassigned to duties out of the public eye. I do not imply that the Clinton machine is the only flinger of mud; but I do assert that, with regard to mud and the flinging of it, the Clintons’ assembly far outguns the combined strength of its Democratic opponents. They have the organization, the campaign experience, the government-related connections, and some knowledge of what it’s like to be in the public eye constantly. Plus memories of just how low politics can really go.

Many Americans find this disgusting. The Democrats haven’t yet begun accusing each other of experimenting on unborn kids. No sirree; Democratic barbs are less direct, more substantial, credible across a larger range of educational backgrounds. You know, things like aggravating racial divides with inept remarks about the sainted Dr. King. Or occasionally slipping in inadvertent drug references:

“To me, as an African American, I am frankly insulted the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues — when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood; I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in his book — when they have been involved,” he said.

Leaving aside the structural deficiencies of that sentence — what, in fact, is the Obama campaign supposed to have implied about the Clintons? — this seems to me a coach-class insult hurled by an operative of moderate skills and fiery temperament. The motivation such people bring to the table only partially compensates for the disarray their manic activity can generate.

In this case, the incident is unlikely to have lasting significance. Mr. BET, Bob Johnson — the only black American billionaire other than Oprah — has apologized for his remark, and the Obama campaign has accepted the apology. But there’ve been a number of these not-too-subtle low blows since Iowa; and my guess is that if Obama wins South Carolina, especially if he wins handily, he can expect a fuller taste of Rovian tactics from the crowd around his main competitor.

I further guess that absent something both real and serious — unlikely but not beyond imagining — throwing dirt at Obama will only make him stronger. This is precisely the kind of politics Obama is making his name in opposition to. Taking mudballs and holding his position, fuzzy though it be, he appears to stand tall, a man who can rise above the fray, climb the mountain, and bring back the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason.

Many Obama voters no doubt agree with his policies. Many more agree with what they believe his policies are, basing their beliefs on how they feel about him personally. And it’s undeniable that he’s a tremendously charismatic figure, the best set-piece speaker I’ve ever heard, and the sort of person we wish the American system tended to produce, though in fact he’s more of a fortunate anomaly.

Mike Huckabee benefits similarly by coming across as a likable person. Anyone who can hold his own with Colbert twice has proved himself quick-witted and comfortable in his own skin; he gives you the feeling that he’d be a good decision-maker in the sense that he’d make decisions based on what he really thought, felt, and believed was going on. Of course he’s totally bonkers in several areas with respect to what actually is going on, but that’s a separate issue.

But many Obamaniacs, it appears to me, support him because they think he’ll make politics friendlier, less critical and demanding and more harmonious. More like television and less like in-laws. It’s a beautiful dream and a worthwhile goal, though a reader of history might be forgiven for considering it something of a long-term prospect.

I’m all for aiming the society at the flag of coöperation. But at this point in the evolution and training of human consciousness; at this stage in the development of the nation-state; at this historical tipping point between a modern feudalism and a renewed commitment to the path of democracy, with all its surprises, Americans are neither psychologically prepared nor sufficiently informed to participate in creating global harmony. As Bertrand Russell put it, our ethic compels competition, but our situation requires coöperation. We’d better get our minds right or we’ll be spending more than one night in The Box.

To do that, we have to work on making society more just; and to do that we have to confront the powers in our own country. We cannot expect to achive measurable success toward our goals by compromising with those who are gorging themselves at the public trough. Unfortunately the very act of exploitation creates a zero-sum game, where Player One loses to the exact extent Player Two gains.

The corporations that are the current bane of democracy in America, particularly the weapons, insurance, and drug companies, can logically expect a reduction in profits as a result of increasing public control over public things. If the US stopped bombing other countries, spent half the money we send to Iraq on nationwide infrastructure and Japanese-level trains and the other half on developing new energy sources and saving the environment, and developed some sort of universal health-care plan like all the other so-called industrialized countries, we could free ourselves from the necessity to invade other countries for profit or resources. We could once again bid to lead the world in technologies of the future (and the future-tech niche tends to have unusually high profit margins). We could regain some of our international moral stature.

But this would damage the corporate profit sheets beyond the power of spin, reducing the value of stock options held by literally hundreds of board members across the country. They are likely to oppose any such plan, and to have significant resources available to invest in agreeable candidates and initiatives.

The battle to decide whether the early 21st-century United States will be a corporate or a popular state is underway. To the extent that popular sovereignty succeeds (or a populist monomaniac arises), powerful interests will suffer a decline in superlativeness. They will resist the individual depredations with every available tactic. It’s worth spending a hundred million in advertising and campaign contributions to preserve thirty billion a year in profits, eh what?

Like the vast majority of Americans, I would like to see the vicious, low-down, lying, dirty politics of the last few decades evolve into a mutual realization of mutual dependency. But that’s not on the horizon. Rove, and the Republican oppo research tanks now recycling classic baby-vivisection stories, will soon be aimed at the Democratic nominee, and no victory in November, no matter how convincing, will silence them. If the next President wants to return some control over the government to the people, that project will meet resistance, not only from the Republicans now hypocritically filibustering everything, but also from the Republican wing of the Democratic party, the DLC. Such a project is bound to fail without the exhibition of significant public interest. Therein, of course, lies the danger.

But I’m afraid there’s no escaping it: this is a fight we either take on or cower from. We cannot rise above it. We can succeed, but if we run, hide, or ignore it, we lose.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:14 AM
January 17, 2008
Bad News for Clinton?

Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics has an interesting take on the generally overlooked Democratic portion of the Michigan primary:

As for the Democratic side — the big story is Hillary Clinton losing the African American vote to “uncommitted.” The exit poll pegged African Americans going against Clinton, 68% to 30%. It appears that opposition by African Americans induced a split in Wayne County (where Detroit is), 50% to Hillary, 45% to uncommitted. People in the media are going to connect these results to the racial kerfuffle of the last few days — and they are partially right to do so. But I think there is more to it than this.

Since his Iowa victory, Obama’s numbers among African American voters have been trending upward. Tonight’s results are another indication that African Americans are breaking his way. The Clinton campaign should be worried about this. It appears as if Obama might be able to take an important part of the traditional Democratic coalition. He is thus moving beyond the relatively narrow appeal of previous “insurgent” Democratic candidates like Bill Bradley and Gary Hart. This is bad news for Clinton.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:19 AM
January 13, 2008
Politics, Economics, Society: All Problems Solved!

Why has politics in America become so trivial, so superficial and lacking in real substance? And why do we persist in such a harmful habit when the world’s problems so desperately require our attention?

Naturally such complex phenomena have multiple causes. Americans have been conditioned by ads and television to have the attention spans and memories of children. Kids are so much easier to sell stuff to than adults, who remember what happened last time they bought something from that corporation. All in all, nobody’s been as heavily propagandized as Americans. As far as I know there isn’t much data about how such propaganda affects society over time; but it’s hard to imagine any positives, while situations where the negative effects are obvious happen all the time.

Whose Bed is This We’re Lying In?

In this downward spiral of public discussion in the good ole USA, I want to nominate two inter-related items as contributing causes. First there’s the psychologically uncomfortable point that many, perhaps most, of our difficulties are direct results of our own decisions, often made long ago and never questioned, and policies, many followed well past their natural lifespans.

Certainly global warming is a problem that demands immediate focus around the globe. Ideology often being a cover for self-interest, there are some who remain unconvinced; but finding a skeptic with no financial interest in fossil fuels is difficult. Could there be a clearer demonstration of Bertrand Russell’s maxim that our ethic values competition, but our situation requires coöperation?

The war in Iraq is even more obviously of our own creation. In this light, Clinton’s vote for the war was clearly based on politics. But Obama’s careful avoidance of any criticism of the party nominees over the issue, which Bill Clinton seems to be bending a bit, was also political. The way I heard the story, Bob Shrum was telling potential Democratic Presidential candidates at the time of the vote (e.g., Kerry, Edwards, Clinton) that the White House would not be occupied by someone who voted against the war. (Why they listened, given his record in Presidential elections, remains a bit of a mystery.)

If Obama had been in the Senate at the time, he would have received the same advice from Shrum. Like the other Senators, he would have been subjected to a huge and dishonest administration campaign, replete with intelligence-community briefers, announcing a real threat. Many Senators who were skeptical encountered what they considered dispositive evidence. Given Obama’s party loyalty, and his actual voting record in the Senate on matters foreign and domestic, I’m not convinced that with his kindergarten ambition in sight he would have ignored Shrum’s advice. He believes in the system, which is why he doesn’t scare white folks.

My point, though, is not about individual candidates. We get the candidates our system tends to produce. That doesn’t mean we deserve them; it means we haven’t done what’s needed to upgrade our system to one that produces better discussions, candidates, and outcomes. But we find it hard to confront sacred cows, to get past dearly held illusions about the world and our place in it, and thus we’re reluctant to confront the present evidence of past neglect.

Mortgage Crisis, Sure, But How ’Bout Them Giants?

One of the problems we Americans try to not to look at is the vast increase in economic inequality. This is not confined to the Bush/Cheney years, of course, but they certainly goosed things along, and the gaps have reached historic proportions. In the past, such conditions have usually been followed by serious economic and political upheaval. What Chomsky called the attempt to roll back the twentieth century is in full swing, with Democrats joining Republicans against the unions, the unemployed, and others who need help and wish they had the old bleeding-heart liberals back.

These days it’s cool to stand up for the civil rights of minorities if the minority individuals in question are Americans who have not yet been accused of any terrorism-related acts, contributions, or secret thoughts. But standing up for social policies that might give them a fair shot in life by providing them with reasonable economic opportunities indicates the onset of the degenerative delusion of class warfare. Nonsense! We’re all in this together, war profiteers, oilmen, drug and insurance execs, reporters, NASCAR dads, and soccer moms. (Won’t somebody please think of the children?)

We’re designing the near future along the lines of our hallowed one-person, one-car tradition, in defiance of the widespread belief that we must act soon on climate change, or prepare to leave the planet. We can’t wean ourselves off the black stuff because the oil companies manipulate us so effectively, raising prices when we’re driving a lot and reducing them just before elections, crying for tax breaks and posting record profits. Private enterprise, the jewel of Western civilization!

We can’t even consider a plan to regain our national edge in technological innovation: collectivism, ugh! We’ve already lost most of our manufacturing base, and are now engaged in an attempt to disprove Paul Kennedy’s thesis (in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers) that military might depends on industrial might. We offer sacrifices to the Gods of the Market, but as yet they’re unappeased.

Such strategies we’ve long expected from the every-rich-man-for-himself Republicans. But time was when Democrats would do more than speechify on the opposite side of the question, they would act to change reality. They would create government programs, many of which would fail utterly, but not all; they would modify existing laws and methods, and at least attempt to address the problems at hand. The resistance Bush found to privatizing Social Security indicates a general realization that some government programs have worked, and belong among the tools we use to mitigate the worst effects of capitalism.

Government, in a nutshell, is certainly not the answer, but it’s not the main problem either. In theory we own it, and could get off our asses and go fix it once this show’s over and we’ve finished our beers.

What we don’t even potentially control has vastly greater implications for each of our lives. Insurance corporations have a death grip on our health-care debate; oil companies drive our foreign policy; the biggest chunk of our economy is based on war; the second biggest is finance, much of it dealing in companies and commodities with no connection to the US other than the money made and spent by the American financiers.

We’re no longer the industrial powerhouse whose entry into the conflict ended the Second World War. And indications are plentiful that our financial house of power is morphing into a house of cards.

The Chinese Are Coming, the Chinese Are Coming!

Observers of world politics and economics are fascinated with China for good reason. Probably not fortuitously, we’re lucky to have James Fallows blogging in situ, providing us with pictures of the air (and the cats) in Beijing to go with — I don’t say “match” — the official descriptions. (And some nostalgia-inducing small-plane shots as well.)

Fallows is in my top category of writers, because he attacks important, difficult, and complex subjects, explains them clearly, and leaves you with frameworks that help you understand information that arrives later. Even on those occasions when I don’t happen to agree with his stance on an issue, my viewpoint is widened and clarified by what he’s written, and I feel more capable of addressing the issue rationally, and of understanding what I feel about it. He helps me think better.

I particularly recommend his latest article, abnormally available free from The Atlantic, in which his concerns intersect with another of my favorites, William Greider. Those interested in the effects China Rising might be expected to exert, plus any confused xenophobes reading BA who want to know what’s coming in the US economy, might find it enlightening.

Through the quarter-century in which China has been opening to world trade, Chinese leaders have deliberately held down living standards for their own people and propped them up in the United States. This is the real meaning of the vast trade surplus — $1.4 trillion and counting, going up by about $1 billion per day — that the Chinese government has mostly parked in U.S. Treasury notes. In effect, every person in the (rich) United States has over the past 10 years or so borrowed about $4,000 from someone in the (poor) People’s Republic of China. Like so many imbalances in economics, this one can’ t go on indefinitely, and therefore won’t. But the way it ends — suddenly versus gradually, for predictable reasons versus during a panic — will make an enormous difference to the U.S. and Chinese economies over the next few years, to say nothing of bystanders in Europe and elsewhere.

Any economist will say that Americans have been living better than they should — which is by definition the case when a nation’s total consumption is greater than its total production, as America’s now is. Economists will also point out that, despite the glitter of China’s big cities and the rise of its billionaire class, China’s people have been living far worse than they could. That’s what it means when a nation consumes only half of what it produces, as China does.

In six paragraphs he follows your dollar from CVS, where you purchased an Oral-B toothbrush, through the banks and governments of the US and China, and back into the US economy.

This is the bargain China has made — rather, the one its leaders have imposed on its people. They’ll keep creating new factory jobs, and thus reduce China’s own social tensions and create opportunities for its rural poor. The Chinese will live better year by year, though not as well as they could. And they’ll be protected from the risk of potentially catastrophic hyperinflation, which might undo what the nation’s decades of growth have built. In exchange, the government will hold much of the nation’s wealth in paper assets in the United States, thereby preventing a run on the dollar, shoring up relations between China and America, and sluicing enough cash back into Americans’ hands to let the spending go on.
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:28 PM
January 12, 2008
Lest We Forget…

…what the Clinton administration was really like, here’s David Morris of Alternet to remind us of such Leaden Oldies as welfare “reform,” NAFTA. the gutting of New Deal controls on Wall Street greed, a green light for telecommunications monopolies, deregulation that permitted Enron’s thefts, and the ruinous (to us, not the power companies) deregulation of Big Electric.

For eight years, Bill Clinton was a Profile in Cowardice.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:06 PM
January 08, 2008
The Gender Transcenders

Read Gloria Steinem’s op-ed in today’s New York Times, excerpted below.

That’s why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter).

I’ve known all that forever, of course. But it only hit me just now that black men born into slavery had been voting for 50 years before my mother was allowed to. Which makes me just another sublimely unconscious sexist pig, no doubt. Maybe that’s why I find this next bit from Ms. Steinem spectacularly wrong — not the whole excerpt, just the highlighted part.

I’m supporting Senator Clinton because like Senator Obama she has community organizing experience, but she also has more years in the Senate, an unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training in the White House, no masculinity to prove, the potential to tap a huge reservoir of this country’s talent by her example, and now even the courage to break the no-tears rule.

I have no more idea than Gloria Steinem what may be inside Senator Clinton’s head and heart, but only two things can explain her stubborn support of Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Either she supported Bush’s idiocy because she agreed with him and still does, or she pretended to support him because of a fatal miscalculation that to do otherwise would keep her out of the White House.

The first would make her a fool, which she plainly is not. The second can only have grown out of a desperately felt need to, yes, prove her masculinity. If she loses the nomination, it will be to the man who has most successfully proven his femininity.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:24 PM
December 30, 2007
Typhoid George

I haven’t bothered to track down this Bush quote on the White House site, but I trust the Doonesbury site, from which it came:

“It’s what I do during my presidency. I go around spreading good will and talking about the importance of spreading freedom and peace.”

If Nixon had said something like this, we could be vaguely comforted by the knowledge that at least he knew what a load of crap he was handing out, and was sniggering in the darkness of his soul at the suckers who were dumb enough to believe it.

But this White House is an irony free zone, and Bush, God help us, is one of those suckers.


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Taken at the mass peace demonstration in Washington on March 20, 2003, four days before the idiot attacked Baghdad.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:36 PM
November 07, 2007
Why We Hate Them

Is there any government in the world more despicable than that of Cuba? I mean, what kind of scumbag government would provide everyone with medical care and guarantee them food? You can’t really sink much below that.

Jean Ziegler, who has been the United Nations’ independent investigator on “the right to food” since 2000, spent 11 days in Cuba on a fact-finding mission, meeting with top officials and chatting up farmers, state managers and ordinary Cubans waiting in line for food allotted by ration cards.

“We haven’t seen even one malnourished person” — a rare feat in much of poverty-stricken Latin America, Ziegler said Tuesday. “The right to being fed is the priority, without a doubt.”

Cuba is one of 32 countries that include the “right to food” in their constitutions, and fewer still — including Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy — meet pledges to provide food to all their citizens, he said.

If only the US were as rich as Brazil and Cuba, we wouldn’t have hungry people…

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:08 AM
November 03, 2007
The Attack on Halloween

You really can’t make this stuff up. The wingnuts, normally the soul of insulation from reality, have awakened and are becoming conscious of just how completely screwed they are. Hopefully one day they’ll realize how many innocent deaths they’ve caused and do the honorable thing. (I’m not holding my breath. If they want to, I encourage that undertaking.)

Meanwhile, they’re impossible to satirize, even for The Onion. Sean Hannity apparently believes that Halloween is a liberal holiday not because of the pagan origins, about which he’s doubtless ignorant anyway, or because of the associations with The Dark Side, to which he long ago sold out, but because of the symbolism of the handout, an obvious pinko attempt to convince kids to expect help from a young age. How scummy can you get?

But really, they’re desperate at this point to salvage some scrap of power, the only truth they appreciate. I met a guy at a bar in Belmont tonight who seriously maintained that we’re better off fighting them in Iraq than in Belmont. Naturally it turns out he believes in torture, just on GP, plus it might actually produce actionable intelligence. He also claimed that the Iraqis won’t be angry at us for killing a million of their former fellow citizens because they understand that we’re good, and acting from good motives. Flattening Fallujah was just something we had to do, and they get it. Those who lived, at least.

What is about American life that produces this level of fear and hate? Is it television, or Christianity, or football, or beer? Maybe it’s the educational system being starved so we can build more prisons? Or just having to argue with, and share a bar with, people who believe they can get information from Fox? Probably there’s just not enough sex happening, with which I can identify.

Thankfully it seems that those American citizens who want to torture as long as they know they won’t suffer any consequences are hitting their high notes because they realize they’re on the way out. They’ve been discovered, the world understands how childish and foolish they are, and has moved on.

Still, we see those kids showing up at the door and wonder, will they be able to fight off the terrorists, and torture anyone who looks different, if we give them candy now? A student in one of my chess classes this week wore a t-shirt saying "No questions, just put the candy in the bag". The only country to go from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization along the way…

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:38 AM
October 28, 2007
Why Do We Embarrass Ourselves Like This?

Why is it that San Francisco, by any measure among the most progressive constituencies in the country, continues to elect do-nothings like Pelosi, right-wingers like Feinstein, and embarrassments like Lantos?

Dutch lawmakers who visited the Guantanamo Bay military prison this week said they were offended by a testy exchange in Washington with a senior congressional Democrat.

The lawmakers said that Tom Lantos, chairman of the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, told them that “Europe was not as outraged by Auschwitz as by Guantanamo Bay.”

[…]

“You have to help us, because if it was not for us you would now be a province of Nazi Germany,” Lantos said, according to the Dutch lawmakers.

“The comments killed the debate,” said Harry van Bommel, a member of the Socialist Party. “It was insulting and counterproductive.”

Not to mention typical.

Is there any thread that ties these atypical San Franciscans? Anything they can agree on, other than a rejection of San Francisco values?


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:53 PM
Younge is The Man

Hopefully we’re talking darkness before the dawn, rather than darkness before the fall.

For decades, progressive activists have been hocking their agenda as though at a fire sale. The Bush years have been so disastrous they have forgotten that many of the things they are campaigning against now — Nafta, the gay marriage amendment, greater economic inequality, the ban on photographing soldiers’ coffins coming home — were introduced under Bill Clinton. Their fears that things could get worse overrides any confidence that they could improve. So they settle for candidates who will make things get worse at a slower pace and on a less dramatic scale. Sometimes, as in 2004, these low expectations make sense. But as an overriding strategy it is a recipe for perennial disappointment and disaffection.

Realistically, Democrats who think they’ll end the war by voting for Clinton are in the same position as evangelicals who thought Bush cared about abortion and school prayer.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 09:38 PM
October 21, 2007
The Wisdom of Kang

John McKay, the former US attorney for western Washington who was fired along with eight colleagues, thinks the upcoming report from the Department of Justice’s Inspector General will recommend criminal prosecution of Alberto Gonzalez. Apparently Gonzalez does too: he’s hired a high-profile defense attorney and is refusing to answer questions from the Inspector General.

Speaking to a Federal Bar Association meeting, McKay said:

“There was a conspiracy to politicize the Justice Department, and they did not get away with it.”

We can hope. But it’s not yet clear that they failed to get away with it. Even if the IG report recommends criminal prosecution, what’s the chance it’ll happen? The Republicans will call it a political witch hunt and claim racism if their stooge is prosecuted (perhaps I should omit “will”). There was no underlying crime — no one was fired for unjust cause — or at least you can’t prove there was one, absent honest testimony from the former Attorney General; therefore his lying under oath in a Congressional hearing about his performance of his legal duties isn’t a problem. Hey, it’s not like he had sex, OMG!

The problem the leisure class has with the present administration is that its corruption is so overt that it’s roused the population. People are learning that they can act in groups, and that if they do so it sometimes makes a difference.

Immediately after his firing, McKay said he thought about “going quietly,” but then he began comparing notes with the seven other U.S. attorneys dumped at the same time in a historically unprecedented move by the White House.

“They led each one of us to believe we were the only one told to resign,” he said. “None of us particularly sought the spotlight.”

This is obviously not the kind of lesson the American oligarchy wants taught. It’s much happier with the message of American Idol: voting is meaningless fun, something that makes us feel involved but without responsibility, or lets us feel superior to those who aren’t hip to the news. From this viewpoint, Bush/Cheney has been a disaster.

In need of a new Soporifier in Chief, the leisure class is turning to Clinton. For example, she’s getting large contributions from the two industries that are at the base of our problems.

The US arms industry is backing Hillary Clinton for President and has all but abandoned its traditional allies in the Republican party. Mrs Clinton has also emerged as Wall Street’s favourite. Investment bankers have opened their wallets in unprecedented numbers for the New York senator over the past three months and, in the process, dumped their earlier favourite, Barack Obama.

Mrs Clinton’s wooing of the defence industry is all the more remarkable given the frosty relations between Bill Clinton and the military during his presidency. An analysis of campaign contributions shows senior defence industry employees are pouring money into her war chest in the belief that their generosity will be repaid many times over with future defence contracts.

Isn’t it clear that if we elect Clinton we can look forward to more war? I’d be willing to place a decent-sized wager against her having the troops out of Iraq by the end of her first term. That’s what she’s been saying she’ll do, but she’s also given about a dozen reasons that she might be forced to change plan. Her lifelong Republican bent, a political need to prove toughness, and financial ties to arms manufacturers and mercenaries all bode ill.

In Building Red America Tom Edsall shows how the demographics of the Democratic party have changed over the last few decades. Much of the middle class, which used to be largely Democratic, switched parties to vote for the Great Teleprompter Reader, and remained enthralled by the television-level PR, sets, and camera angles of Michael Deaver and his ilk.

But now they’re turning away from the Republican war, looking for another round of political comfort food. Weren’t the Clinton times good? Yes, if you like economic bubbles, but Clinton had nothing to do with that other than staying out of the way. Wouldn’t we have another round of Clintonism with Hillary, without having to worry about sex with interns? Yes, and if you love your country you’ll do what’s in your power to prevent that. If the DLC folks once again force the Democratic party to do what harms it, they will have succeeded in destroying the party that once represented working people. And these days, that means nearly everyone.

Clinton and Giuliani? Like kryptonite to Superman, or sex to a Republican.

Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They’re nothing but hideous space reptiles. [unmasks them]

[audience gasps in terror]

Kodos: It’s true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It’s a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us.

[murmurs]

Man1: He’s right, this is a two-party system.

Man2: Well, I believe I’ll vote for a third-party candidate.

Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away.

[Kang and Kodos laugh out loud]
[Ross Perot smashes his “Perot 96” hat]

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:28 PM
October 15, 2007
A Million and a Half is Genocide, a Million is Collateral Damage

Is the Speaker of the House really serious about genocide, or is she simply involved in a standard Washington power play?

Suppose we assume that a million and a half Armenians died between 1915 and 1923 in a systematic and deliberate campaign; personally I know of no reason to doubt that, but I’m not a historian of the Ottoman Empire.

Now suppose the House of Representatives, 92 years later, decides to label that systematic and deliberate campaign “genocide”.

What, exactly, is the difference between a systematic and deliberate campaign by Ottomans that killed a million and a half Armenians, and a systematic and deliberate campaign by Americans that killed a million-plus Iraqis?

Is it that last half-million deaths? Or the religion of the killers? Can the wingnuts come up with some defense based on intent, or will they, as usual, escape the dilemma by denying the facts?

And what’s the difference between wingnuts denying facts, and House Speakers choosing to spend time on century-old genocides to distract attention from an equal number of deaths the Speaker’s party funded? I mean, they’re different, but do they differ in levels of culpability?

[ Update: I don’t really understand what evidence TeddySanFran considers in thinking that Pelosi is trying to stop the war in Iraq with a semantic resolution about Armenians. The argument seems a bit far-fetched. I wish it were true, but I see no reason to think so. ]

[ Update 2: It has been pointed to me that a semantic non-wingnut argument holds up against my original statement. If we define genocide as the attacker trying to exterminate a group of people, then intent, and ratio of killed to spared, are critical. By those measures, American involvement in Iraq has not been genocidal.

My original point, poorly stated, was this: what is the moral difference between killing a million and a half people in an attempt to eliminate Armenians, and killing a million-plus people in an attempt to run off with the resources they live on top of? Is it less moral if one intends to kill a million people than if one does so unintentionally? In other words, what is the moral difference between the Ottoman actions the House condemns and the war in Iraq it funds? ]

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:28 AM
October 11, 2007
In My Fantasy

Strange and evil days, beloveds. People one admired seem to be wimping out on impeachment, illegal surveillance, funding an imperial war, and handing everything available to the corporations, then promising more.

Michigan Rep. John Conyers was one bright spot during the Dark Ages from 2000 to 2006; now he’s ragging on us for opposing the RESTORE bill.

To those who say that the bill is too weak on civil liberties, I say that if you trust an independent court and have faith in congressional oversight, those liberties will not be jeopardized. That is the premise our democracy was founded on, and that is exactly what this bill does.

I agree, our republic was founded on that premise. But how does that apply to our situation today?

The Cheney administration has packed the courts with relatively young right-wing authoritarians; they’re anything but independent. Congressional oversight hit its lowest point in our history during the first six years of the current administration; unfortunately it has improved only a little since then. Congress’s actions don’t seem to be such as would deserve my faith.

It is possible, I suppose, that this is a gambit by the Democratic leadership. Here’s what I’d like to think.

Suppose the White House were to relate the Adventures of the Telecoms in Surveillance Land, which I believe is what the Democrats demanded in return for a two-year extension of the hateful and unconstitutional law that’s expiring. If that information came out, it would probably show that most of our phone calls and emails have been surveilled since (at least) 9/11. People like Charlie Savage, Dana Priest, Warren Strobel, and Jonathan Landay would quickly find links to other disquieting data, and demands for actual Congressional oversight would surge. Thus, I argue that the chance of the administration telling Congress the story of the telecoms approaches zero.

The original bill was a Constitutional abomination, which the Democrats passed — let’s not forget it was the Democrats who decided to make that bill the law of the land — as they huddled in fear of the Imperial President and his 30% approval ratings. The right thing to do is clearly and unambiguously to let it lapse and spend the money and effort on something useful.

If there are any Democrats who feel that way, but are unsure about the public reaction if they say it overtly, they might find it convenient to support a bill they know the White House will find unacceptable. In such a case the bill would probably die in the Senate, where McConnell’s crew would make sure the President wasn’t forced to veto it. The Democrats would be able to say they’d offered the President what he wanted and he turned it down.

The strategy might work. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the Democrats’ actual strategy, because it would take some courage and some foresight, the ability to withstand a rhetorical onslaught from a bunch of incompetent warmongers.

And the only thing the Democrats complain about is the incompetent part.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:54 AM
October 07, 2007
A New New Deal

The race for the Democratic Presidential nomination is a pretty depressing sight right now. It appears that Senator Clinton has it in the bag; but history cautions against early wagers, even in normal circumstances, which these are not.

Twenty-First Century CREEP

I see Rove attacking Clinton on his way out the door, and Bush anointing her the nominee and quietly advising her to leave some wiggle room on Iraq. And I think, they really seem to want to run against Hillary.

Yeah, it’s true that they’re incompetent, ideological, moronic, thieving war criminals. But how’d they get where they are today? I’m neither talking about nor omitting the blatant cheating in the 2000 and 2004 elections. How did they get with Diebold range to begin with? The only great skill the Bush administration exhibited was in politics, in particular the divisive Rovian sort.

Of course Rove was disastrously wrong in his predictions about the 2006 election, but his official position required him to make sunny statements. It’s impossible, for me at least, to tell whether he was really wrong, or just saying what he knew he had to say. I tend to suspect he was wrong, but I don’t think that’s been proven.

At this point in the previous cycle, Rove was attacking Kerry. As Matthew Dowd, a political strategist formerly in the Bush camp, said:

Whomever we attacked was going to be emboldened in Democratic primary voters’ minds. So we started attacking John Kerry a lot in the end of January because we were very worried about John Edwards.
Progressiphobia

I don’t think Rove was afraid of Edwards because he thought the trial lawyers could beat the insurance companies and oil companies on a level playing field (much less an actual election). I agree with the purists who claim we should support Kucinich because his proposals are the most progressive of the available candidates. I except Gravel here; I’m proud to call him a fellow citizen, and I’m happy he’s at the debates to call bullshit on the spectacle; we need more of that. He reminds us of our civic duties. But Kucinich has clearer and more detailed proposals, and indeed a more detailed understanding, than Gravel. In Rome the proper office for Gravel would have been Censor, a former Consul essentially in emeritus status, still called upon to resolve thorny civic disputes, and beyond veto, or at least some vetos, if I remember correctly.

The problem I have with Kucinich is that I don’t think he can sell the US on his policies in the 2008 election. I love him, I think he did great things as mayor of Cleveland, I re-registered as a Democrat to vote for him in the primaries last time around. I was very disappointed with what seemed to me to be his capitulation to being a nobody at the convention; but in exchange he does seem to have been granted a seat at the table, the ability occasionally to be asked a question in the debates, and to sit beside Al Sharpton as a commentator after the convention. It’s not nothing, and I give him full marks for determination, principle, and ability to accomplish something over the long term when most people would have given up. I would happily vote for him if I didn’t think anyone with a realistic chance was acceptable. Which in most years would be my position, but not this year. (Notice I made it all the way through the paragraph on Kucinich without mentioning his wife.)

So far, Edwards is taking enough of my positions that I can vote for someone who’s got a ghost of a chance of selling the country on progressive ideas. He’s good but not perfect on Iraq. His health care proposal won’t pass as is, but I love the touch of having the insurance companies compete with single payer in the marketplace, and let the most efficient approach win. A lot of people have a visceral distaste for him I only partly understand but encounter often enough to know it’s real. And he’s raised lots of money, but that’s lots less than Hillary and Barack. All of which makes him an outside shot in the race for the nomination. And even that probably depends on making a good showing in Iowa.

But he’s been a driving force in the conversation that takes place at the beginning of the process, which determines in large part what the themes of the full campaign will be. He was, for instance, the first major candidate to come out with a health plan, and to my mind his is still the best; it’s the only truly universal one. In fact most of what I like (that I know of) about the plans of Clinton and Obama seems to have been lifted from Edwards’s. Edwards has said that in the negotiations over how to set up universal health care, the insurance and drug companies should not have a seat at the table. And that statement got lots of media coverage — in some alternate universe where the mega-corporations don’t control our news.

“Who Do They Want to Run Against?”

Personally I have two worries about Clinton. First, I don’t really trust her, given her Republican past and the Republican policies of her husband. She’s peeling away a progressive here and there, in a sort of Rovian style, probably folks who have calculated that she’ll win and they may as well get on her good side early. But she’s still a Goldwater Girl at heart.

Second, I think the Democrats can only fail to win the White House if they nominate Clinton. I’m not saying she can’t win, only that she could lose when Edwards or Obama wouldn’t. Rove et.al. seem to be salivating over a campaign against her, so they’ll be well prepared. And my guess is that they wouldn’t have to make as much stuff up as they did against McCain. Take Norman Hsu, for example: not just pushing the envelope of the fund-raising laws, but psychologically unstable. Or Mark Penn, whose firm’s connection to Blackwater the Clinton campaign is busy spinning, but whose union-busting past is unspinnable. The Clinton campaign’s people seem about as likely to deliver to progressives as Bush’s were to evangelicals.

Sure, she kicked ass in her Senate campaign in a relatively wealthy, relatively liberal state, spending something like $35 million against token opposition. Some Democrats apparently complain that some of that money could have been passed to candidates in close races, but there it is. All along her best strategy has been to seem inevitable. Which might be effective in the primary. Come next fall, the Clinton haters are not likely to be intimidated; for one thing, what Altemeyer calls the high RWAs, right-wing authoritarian personalities, are less reality-based, and don’t calculate inevitability the same way as the rest of us. Many of them are quite used to believing three impossible things before breakfast.

Then there’s the polarizing effect of the name Clinton.

If Giuliani convinces Republicans that only he can defeat Clinton, the right wing may overlook his less-than-conservative views on such issues as abortion and gun control, experts say.

“The specter of Hillary Clinton is enough to have Republicans overlook things,” said [Marist College pollster Lee] Miringoff. “That buys him some leeway in their estimates.”

President George W. Bush added fuel to the fire recently when he predicted Clinton would win her party’s presidential nomination but lose the November 2008 election.

“She’s got a national presence, and this is becoming a national primary,” Bush said.

Then there’s the possibility of the Clinton backlash hurting down-ticket Democrats. And the non-trivial possibility that Rove has some valuable oppo on her, or her husband, that will remind people of the sleaze factor the rose-colored glasses of hindsight have endowed us with.

And the fact that if she wins the nomination the Democratic wing of the Democratic party will have lost, or caved, causing some to vote with their feet.

The war machine grinds on. This primary is, so far, an object lesson in how it operates at the mundane level; but we can still change the outcome…

I don’t think Rove is afraid of Edwards because he fears a groundswell of opinion like mine. Not in this universe, at least. I think it’s because he sees Edwards as the potential opponent who’s most capable of selling the progressive policies that Rove’s people fear more than anything, a sort of New New Deal. They failed to keep FDR out, and once he got in he became an American demi-god. Hopefully we’ll never have another one. But the progressive movement has seen peaks and valleys before; it seems to me a good time for a resurgence.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:00 PM
October 05, 2007
A Gift From the Republicans? No Way!

The current primary season stars the Republican party as the gift that keeps on giving. Center stage right now, of course, is Larry Craig announcing that, yes, he promised to resign, but hey, he lied. He had to, to preserve his honor and fight the scurrilous charges leveled at him, if I might so put it.

I particularly enjoyed this bit from Paul Kane’s Washington Post article:

“The defendant chose to not appear [in court] and to enter his plea by mail just so he could avoid any such [publicity], of record, inquiry into his conduct,” Porter wrote, underlining the last portion of his sentence for emphasis. “He kept many of the facts out of the record in so doing. He cannot now complain that he should not have been allowed to take advantage of an approved method to enter a misdemeanor plea.”

Is the judge implying that the many facts kept out of the record would be embarrassing to the Senator, that he’s doing Craig a favor by not letting him re-open the case? Most likely it’s simply the obvious legal argument that you can’t turn down an option on purpose to keep facts out of the record, then complain later that you didn’t get the option.

In a lot of ways you have to feel sorry for Larry Craig. He’s obviously repressed parts so deeply he can’t even admit to himself that they’re there. He prefers to prolong the public humiliation rather than look inside himself.

If you’ve been reading John Dean’s articles about the sociological studies of authoritarian personalities, you might recall that the main studier is Bob Altemeyer. Turns out he and a recently deceased friend did a study of atheists, apparently the first of its kind, and produced a book called, appropriately, Atheists. I’ve got it out of the library and will probably be blogging about it more soon. There’s a lot of interesting material, and the writing is lively and fun.

You know how when you’re reading a book about how people think or act, you notice certain behaviors that normally fade into the background? What I’m learning from this book, and from the background he’s giving about his work with right-wing authoritarian personalities, is like that. These folks have developed survey methods to measure attitudes: dogmatism, religious ethnocentrism, zealotry, and so on, and compared their samples along many different axes. They have data on whether subjects were raised in a religion, at what age atheists began to question their faith if they grew up in one, and so on.

The reason I bring this up now is that Larry Craig has several attitudes and contradictions that remind me of the people who scored high on the fundamentalism scale. They tend to have more inner doubts about their beliefs. If you offer them a chance to learn something disturbing about themselves, they often run. (Atheists tend to respond with something like, “Show me the evidence.”) They tend to believe in majority rights when they find themselves in the majority, and they’re all about protecting minority rights when they’re in that group. They favor education about Christianity in public schools; but if they were in an Islamic country they would object to Islam being taught in the schools. It’s not really inconsistent if you start from the premise of knowing the ultimate truth.

So Senator Craig will continue to work both sides of the law, remaining in the Senate because the Republicans have no legal way to get rid of him other than the ethics investigation, and the Democrats are overjoyed each time they see him in the chamber.

The White House loves it because it gets the SCHIP debacle off the front page, which itself was preferable to the Iraq debacle.

Clinton loves it because it gives her a chance to pretend she’s a liberal. Obama’s in his element, declaiming in his beautiful voice and offering the bold idea of tolerance. Which has worked great so far. As far as I can tell, Edwards hasn’t been forced to take any sort of stance, wide or narrow, with respect to the Craig phenomenon.

Unfortunately the main benefactors of the Republican sit-com are the spineless, calculating Democrats, who can’t pick up a chance to demonstrate true patriotism when it’s dropped in front of them. They seem to think that the do-nothing strategy of 2006 will stand them in good stead in 2008. (Maybe we need a progressive version of the threat by the evangelicals to vote third-party if the Republicans nominate Giuliani.)

All this self-regard and self-promotion, this focus on profit and efficiency as values rather than tools, cannot but lead where it has led in the past, to decline and fall.

Meanwhile, the Republicans continue to entertain. Ron Paul raised nearly as much John McCain, which indicates that some Republicans, or at least some people with access to the net, are not Bob Altemeyer’s authoritarian personalities. Democrats continue to rank Clinton as the most liberal of the big three and Edwards as the most conservative, in other words to have it exactly backwards. Some people think Clinton benefits most from this, others believe it’s Edwards. Romney doesn’t care that Giuliani raised $11 million to his $10 million; he just lobs $8 million of his own into the pot.

What a group!

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:49 AM
September 21, 2007
Don’t Let Ahmadinejad Speak! He’ll Break the Spell

In a recent post, Josh Marshall mentions discussions with his readers about reactions to the President of Iran’s request to visit Ground Zero.

Apparently most readers felt that we shouldn’t allow him the propaganda victory. Josh asks if he’s alone in supporting the idea that we should ignore him, that we’re bigger than that. “Why should we care what he says?” is Josh’s view, and I think there’s a lot to that.

In fact, I’d go beyond that to say that we should escort him there, and give him access to the press. Make sure he gets a good view of our gaping national wound.

If we were strong and proud and sure of ourselves, that’s what we’d do. In fact, we’re a nation scared stiff, not unlike our Congressional representatives, strutting and puffing ourselves up but secretly afraid that we’re about to lose it all. We’ve got an incurious faith-based windshield cowboy at our head, our general’s an ass-kissing little chickenshit, and most of the rest of us watch the soap opera on TV, seemingly unaffected except that our economy is ruined as our liberties disappear and our representatives cower.

Ironically, here’s where the argument against letting Ahmadinejad make a propaganda point holds up best. If we allow him to see our national wound, for which some of us seem to bear him ill will, what’s to keep him from pointing to one of Iran’s most grievous wounds, the destruction of the elected government of Mossadeq and its replacement with the brutal Shah and his secret police? And where did Savak learn its “interrogation” techniques?

A case can be made that the United States has wounded Iran more than Iran has wounded us. And we don’t want to think about that. That’s the propaganda victory that would hurt, because it would break the spell of American exceptionalism, which we’ve tried so hard to re-weave after the revelations of Abu Ghraib.

We used to be brave because we were sure we were good. Lots of times we weren’t, but we were sure we were anyway. Now we know we’re not, and we’re frightened.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:29 PM
September 19, 2007
Greenspan on Clinton I

As Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan was perhaps despicable but certainly not stupid: “I think Bill Clinton was the best Republican president we’ve had in a while”.

He retired only a year ago, but is already trying to revise the history. To explain away blunders that are now a financial crisis facing his successor. To rearrange the facts in exculpatory ways. To deny his right-wing ideological bias and his raw partisanship in behalf of the Bush Republicans.

The man is shrewd. He can see the conservative era he celebrated and helped to impose upon the American economy is in utter ruin. He is trying to get some distance from it before the blood splashes all over his reputation.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:42 PM
September 14, 2007
I’m Disillusioned and I Vote; Or, How to Change the System in Five Years

Old arguments are perhaps not as attractive as old wine, but they don’t have an “Enjoy by” date either; and unlike a new bottle for the wine, a new context may do no violence to the idea. Sometimes, indeed, ideas can enter the foundation of a theoretical structure and cause ripples of change.

So indulge me if you please as I re-remake my argument.

Sure, It’s Science Fiction, But…

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose a society like ours in every particular but one: they’re so disillusioned they want to change things, and they begin voting for the candidates, laws, and propositions they think are the best on the ballot.

Take a moment before you say, That’s what I always do.

Many of us, myself included, employ voting strategies. We pick the main opponent of the person we detest the most, or the most likely to win of those we can stomach. This is precisely the thought experiment: suppose we dumped those strategies, and voted for what we really want, given the limited choices on the ballot, for three straight elections. For convenience, I designate those elections with numbers: 2008, 2010, and 2012.

First let me define my terms. Suppose you completely agree with Mike Gravel’s analysis of the Democratic establishment; fine, vote for him. Pick the choice that’s closest to yours. If you think John McCain has the soberest plan for victory, vote for him. If you detest triangulation, don’t vote for anyone who does it. If you respect anyone who’d spend $400 on a haircut, vote for them; if you think that’s equivalent to warmongering, vote against them.

In this hypothetical society, no one votes based on a calculation about winning or losing. We’re not talking about Nebraskans rooting for the Lakers because the Lakers are likely to win. We’re talking about doing what our innermost selves tell us is right. The only legitimate criticism of a vote would be insincerity.

The First Election

Imagine the possible results.

Maybe there’s a movement, with a website where people pledge to vote their conscience, organized like those for people pledging not to do so. Froomkin raises the issue, Broder disses it, the Times ignores it, Olbermann approves, O’Reilly’s frantic.

In other words, there’s no effect. The talking heads do so, and the deciders do so. Moderate Democrats win the election we’ve designated “2008”, and by “2009” the US still hasn’t figured out how to get out of Iraq.

In the America we know, that’s the end of it; the experiment has failed, politics is a one-armed bandit. We go back to football or beer or Xanax.

But in our hypothetical society, they want change. In fact they want Jefferson’s generational revolution, but they’ve decided to try the non-violent path before deciding whether they’re miserable enough to erect barricades in the streets of Paris, Kentucky.

When the vote tallies come in, the head-scratching starts. An unprecented level of protest votes! Eight percent of Paris, Kentucky, votes Green? Peace and Freedom beats the Democrats in San Francisco for second place? Five percent of the country voting for what TV ridicules? What’s this?

Fox Noise makes a living on the meaninglessness of the vote. MSNBC combines the honesty of Microsoft with the environmentalism of General Electric and gives both sides: the vote was meaningless, but the voters in question made a costly mistake.

A section of the blogosphere trumpets the size of the vote as a measure of discontent, but the Times reminds us how unreliable bloggers are. Why, look at what this one said…

The Second Election

By the run-up to the election we’re calling “2010”, candidates on the political fringe are courting the Disillusioned, and Time is using initial uppercase for the word. Despite some warnings from the punditry, no real playa takes them seriously.

In the election, those who voted their true beliefs the first time do so again, and are joined by a number of others: some driven over the edge by the unresponsive system; some first-time voters who get the vision of their vote actually pissing someone off; some who decide that this is really a viable strategy for change. Perhaps the total increases by half, or maybe goes as high as twice the “2008” election, say eight to ten percent.

In the weeks immediately following the election, a number of media executives decide to spend more time with their families. Politicians try not to look like they’re scrambling to retool their messages and organizations. Congress finds that Iraq can really do just fine without our presence. Tax cuts for the rich aren’t even proposed; education and health care are front and center.

Proposals for proportional representation and better voting methods like Condorcet are tabled countrywide, and pass in all college towns and a few heartland places.

The Third Election

Like the year we’re living through, “2011” would see a lot of Presidential politicking. But in the hypothetical society, Presidential candidates have changed. Unable to assume the majority will be silent, they’re confronting a new job: trying to reconcile the conflicting interests in our society, rather than representing the satisfied against the disillusioned.

Democrats bring up FDR a lot; Republicans mention Kennedy, and talk about their empathy for LBJ. Two Democratic candidates for President promise to name Dennis Kucinich the first Secretary of the Peace Department. Union leaders play important roles in planning domestic policy. Average hourly wages begin to keep pace with the increase in productivity of American workers, nearly matching the increase in profit margins of the companies they work for.

When, in the “2012” election, the Disillusioned persist, whoever’s elected will face enormous pressure to find accommodations with them. With fifteen percent of the votes, they’ll have non-symbolic presences in real campaigns and government offices.

Sounds delusional, eh what? I admit that asking Americans with their famously short attention spans to consider a five-year plan is an unlikely proposition. Probably, too, we’d have to choose a period that didn’t have the Communist overtones. But would it work?

Denouement

Of course it would, and of course it wouldn’t.

World hunger would not be a thing of the past. Wars would still break out. Given the havoc our corporations and our intelligence agencies — increasingly difficult to distinguish — have wrought around the world, blowback might once again bring violence to our shores.

But if the world saw us choosing democracy over empire, we’d regain some of the esteem our military adventurism over the past half-century has lost us. We’d have real friends and allies again.

At home, we probably wouldn’t break the two-party monopoly, but we’d sure become the object of its toadying, the use of which could allieviate many social ills.

As an experienced government bureaucrat is said to have instructed a new one, you can’t use tact with a Congressman. A Congressman is a hog. You must take a stick and hit him over the snout.

Anyone for pick-up-sticks? How about a bumper sticker, “I’m Disillusioned and I Vote!”?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:18 AM
September 11, 2007
A Machiavellian Congress?

Iraq is certainly not Vietnam.

Gen. Petraeus is nowhere near as crazy as Gen. Westmoreland was, for example. Nor is Ambassador Crocker a Henry Cabot Lodge.

Men always, but not always with good reason, praise bygone days and criticize the present, and so partial are they to the past that they not only admire past ages the knowledge of which has come down to them in written records, but also, when they grow old, what they remember having seen in their youth. And, when this view is wrong, as it usually is, there are, I am convinced, various causes to which the mistake may be due.

The first of them is, I think, this. The whole truth about olden times is not grasped, since what redounds to their discredit is often passed over in silence, whereas what is likely to make them appear glorious is pompously recounted in all its details. For so obsequious are most writers to the fortune of conquerors that, in order to make their victories seem glorious, they not only exaggerate their own valorous deeds, but also magnify the exploits of the enemy, so that anyone born afterwards either in the conquering or in the conquered province may find cause to marvel at such men and such times, and is bound, in short, to admire them and to feel affection for them.

Before God made Stephen Colbert, she made Niccolo Machiavelli. Old Nick knew his shtick.

In the present, as Josh Marshall said today, "Opposition to the Iraq War is a profoundly mainstream position." Which it certainly was not for the vast majority of the war in Vietnam. That war went on for a long time, with lots of proclamations of progress and hopeful signs and light at the end of the tunnel. And it was very much an act of leaving the comfort of the culture and moving in counter-cultural directions to admit to being against the war. Kind of a gateway drug in itself.

For many years it was nearly an admission of mental incompetence to join an actual protest. Academics like Chomsky were among the few adults who could afford to be involved. It’s not that people were afraid to be against the war, or that they could ignore it like we can today. They were used to believing that the country was involved in an existential struggle with the Dark Lord in Moscow. They were enjoying the benefits of being the only industrial power left standing after the Second World War, owed money by everyone, with the homeland nearly untouched and far fewer casualties than the other major participants. And they worked for companies that were doing well because the economy was humming along because there was a war because it seemed necessary. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) Plus there was that matter of Communist plants in the government, convincing folks they should be careful. It’s good that so many TV shows from that time exist in the original black-and-white so we can see what it was like to live that way.

Pressure for change in the Vietnam policy built very slowly. Pressure to change the Bush policy against Iraq existed before he began to execute it. But in both cases, the American establishment closed ranks around the policy and held off all attempts to stop the war. A good deal of this is certainly political calculation, and some is spinelessness.

There’s also a role for Chomksy’s formulation: you can’t reach a position of power in the government unless you believe that the United States is unique in history in acting purely from altruistic motives. As with many Chomsky statements, it’s a challenge, often initially difficult to credit. But it’s stated very precisely by someone who knows something about language, and he means what he says. I’ve gone through lists of political leaders in my head, trying to find exceptions to Chomsky’s rule. There are very few, and I have doubts about them.

We’re good, so we can’t be acting from bad motives. We wouldn’t be planning, building, and occupying permanent bases in Iraq, because that would mean we invaded to steal the oil. Certainly we plan to turn those immense bases over to the Iraqis, just as soon as we can get them ready to accept the transfer. Right now, though, wouldn’t be prudent. Plus, they don’t have any aircraft that require 14,000-foot runways.

This kind of thinking is a natural defense system in many cases. A decent person cannot but feel sympathy when disaster befalls others. When that disaster results from a human source, we’re angry with whoever caused the distress. If that turns out to be us, we’ve got a problem. So we look away if we can. If not, we invent a reason to decide that it’s all for the best in this best of all possible worlds. We rationalize, somehow. Even if it leaves us believing something as patently silly as O’Reilly’s stuff, it allows our brains to get past that uncomfortable feeling of being undecided.

It’s not really that we’re pro-empire. We just consistently make pro-imperial decisions at critical junctures. It’s an honest mistake in a certain sense: that most of the people who contribute to those decisions really believe in American exceptionalism. Even looking back, they can only figure that mistakes are continually being made in the implementation of foreign policy decisions. It couldn’t really be the pattern it appears to be, that foreign policy decisions are consistently imperial. Better stop looking now.

All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

If, like me, you don’t carry one of those little pocket versions of the Constitution, that is the entire first paragraph of Article I, Section 7. After the one-sentence Preamble (“We the People…”), the first six sections of the first article define Congress and tell how it’s constituted, how they’re elected, when and where they meet, and how they decide who’s seated and who’s expelled.

Thus the very first statement in the Constitution assigning any responsibility of any sort to any person or group is the quoted sentence. This appears to indicate that the Democrats in the House could end the war if they chose. The reasons they choose for not taking this path vary, but underlying them all is an unspoken belief in American empire. Ideology is, indeed, often a cover for self-interest.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:25 PM
September 10, 2007
Calling Bullshit on the Democratic Leadership

The Democratic party leadership, so called, seems to me to be selling us two false premises, and we need to call them on both.

First, they keep saying that there’s nothing they can do to stop the war because of the thin margin in the Senate. Assuming that they’ve read the Constitution, or at least been advised by lawyers who have, they know this isn’t true. The House could end funding for anything but withdrawal, and within a couple months the administration would be forced to respond to the lack of money. But the Democrats, as usual, react fearfully, aware, as Paul Krugman recently said, that the Republicans will attack their patriotism no matter they do, and taking precisly the wrong lesson from that.

Second, they continue to claim that there are no good choices in the current situation, for example as George Packer presents it. This, it seems to me, is also false. In fact, the plan detailed by George McGovern and William Roe Polk last year in Harper’s was quite viable. Naturally a year-old plan might need a bit of updating, but the thrust was the important thing. The reason it didn’t get more of a hearing was that it didn’t validate the military-industrial model. Instead, it considered that the war was a mistake (except for the part about dumping a dictator), and that we should attempt to compensate Iraq for the damage. It envisioned the Iraqis doing the reconstruction, paid for largely with American dollars, with a total cost estimated at $17.5 billion, about what we spend on two months’ worth of occupation. Corruption, waste, danger, would all sap the buying power of our contribution, sure; but money would enter the Iraqi enconomy in a lot of ways, they could set up their country as they choose, and they’d learn from the experience of community involvement, which Saddam always prohibited.

What these two falsehoods share at base, I think, is either debilitating fear or complicity in imperial design. We’ve generally assumed the former, but as time passes it becomes harder to maintain that position. It’s harder to believe that we’ve made a long string of mistakes than that we’ve done what we intended but haven’t been honest about stating that.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:07 AM
September 08, 2007
Liberal Interventionists and Closet Imperialists

George Packer has another thoughtful and well-written article about Iraq. His discussion of the remaining options draws this comment from Josh Marshall:

If our options before ranged from bad to worse, they now range from worse to horrible.

Packer, of course, was originally a war supporter, and as far as I know has never repudiated that position. Thus he seems to me to be continually engaged in explaining his reasoning, to put it euphemistically.

To his credit he does not shy away from the responsibility of the US for the disaster we’ve created.

The inability of Iraq’s communities to reconcile doesn’t absolve the United States of responsibility. Instead, it raises a new set of moral and strategic questions that are, in their way, more painful than at any other phase of the war. Facing these questions requires American leaders to do what they have not yet done — to look beyond the next three or six months, to the next two or three years. When America prepares, inevitably, to leave, what can we do to limit the damage that will follow our departure, not just for Iraq’s sake but for our own?

In this article, in fact, he attempts to turn that responsibility in favor of his argument, which I take to be that a continued presence will be necessary for at least five years. But he doesn’t explicitly state that or any other position as his own, so I may be projecting.

He’s naturally quite willing to allocate blame to the Bush administration’s faith-based foreign policy, quoting one former official as saying “What happens if, at the eleventh hour, we’re witnessing one of the most remarkable feats in American history on the part of a general? … If that’s the case, why do you want to give up now?” Suppose some magical situation came along, then assume it’s currently true and act on that.

But Packer seems to me to be in the thrall of illusions that are just as destructive in the long term. His views are vastly more sophisticated, and they attempt to shoulder the obvious responsibility of the US to help the country we destroyed. Though it’s impossible to know for sure he thinks from the article, it’s telling that in his discussion of the proposal of Senators Reed and Levin (begin withdrawing troops within four months, leaving only a “limited presence”) he notes the agreement of Senators Clinton, Obama, Biden, and Warner, but the only person he quotes is Lamar Alexander: “You have the President being inflexible and the Democrats playing politics”. Certainly that’s a fair statement of an argument made by the moderate Republicans and the wimpy liberals, but why is that the only position worthy of a quote from a Senator?

The point I most agree with in the article is that Americans need to start thinking ahead, considering the results of our policies and actions. Fat chance, but an excellent recommendation. Our television-and-fast-food society is all about immediate gratification, an infantile approach but one we’re hooked on. We don’t want to think about the effects on others of our own actions, or indeed the effects on ourselves in the future. Packer’s article, above all, attempts to take on this task and contribute to this discussion. We need more people doing that, especially those like him who write well and think deeply.

Discussing our options is an unpleasant business, because they’re all bad. As far as I know, no one anywhere on the spectrum denies this. To me it seems that one’s view of what we should do arises in large part from what one thinks about the role of the United States in the world.

For example, Packer quotes Colin Kahl, a professor of security studies at Georgetown: “If Bush keeps the pedal on the surge until the end of his Presidency, we will rocket off the cliff, and it guarantees that the next President will get elected on a pledge to get us out of Iraq now.” The context seems to indicate that Packer and Kahl agree this would be a bad move.

One way in which Iraq and Vietnam — two wars doomed to be endlessly compared — are not the same is in the implications of America’s departure. Contrary to Bush’s recent claim, the American exit from Vietnam didn’t lead to the Cambodian genocide (U.S. actions during the war did), and, for all the bloodiness of the aftermath in Vietnam, it was not a strategic disaster. America’s prestige was damaged, but the dominoes did not fall, and the civil wars in Southeast Asia did not affect the larger history of the Cold War. But Iraq, sitting in the geographical heart of the Middle East, on top of all that oil and radicalism, is unlikely to become marginal. In 1966, Senator George Aiken gave Lyndon Johnson some memorable advice about what to do in Vietnam: Declare victory and get out. In contemplating a change in American policy on Iraq, one former Bush Administration official turned the advice around: “Declare defeat and stay in.”

In a nutshell, I take that to be Packer’s position. He talks about the necessity of engaging the rest of the world in the stabilization of Iraq, postulates that the world would be willing to help if we acknowleded our failure while remaining engaged, and reiterates the argument that a bloody civil war will be the result of a rapid American withdrawal.

The spectacle, televised around the world, would deepen the feeling that America is indifferent to human, especially Muslim, life. It would brand the U.S. as untrustworthy to potential allies and feckless to potential enemies. And it would destroy what’s left of American prestige. Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at Queen Mary College of the University of London, who also served on the strategic-assessment team, told me, “What has defeated America in Iraq, apart from the failure of the state and its own incompetence, are a bunch of radicals with nothing more sophisticated than reëngineered artillery shells and rocket-propelled grenades. That is a loss of cataclysmic proportions.”

My view is that the historical record strongly supports these contentions:

  1. The US is indifferent to human life unless it happens to be American, white, and middle-class or above.
  2. The US is untrustworthy as a potential ally.
  3. Another defeat of the American military by technologically unsophisticated radicals will merely reinforce the accurate perception that nationalist insurgencies nearly always win.

Packer does a great service by attempting to focus our attention on the implications of our actions.

David Kilcullen, an Australian counter-insurgency adviser who served on Petraeus’s staff in the first half of the year, said, “The real question is not withdrawal dates or troop numbers. The real question is: What do we want Iraq to look like once we don’t have a hundred and sixty thousand troops there? And is what we want achievable?”

My question is, why is it up to us to decide what Iraq should look like — isn’t that what got us into this situation to begin with?

I would argue that, once we follow Packer’s lead, transcend our short-term thinking, and assume our adult responsibilities, the central question is our role in the world. The assumption underlying the various positions that converge on maintaining an American military presence in Iraq for five to ten years is, I think, that it’s our responsibility to decide what the world should look like, to offer everyone a chance to be like us. A empire of soft power, backed up by the largest military in history.

In short, a kinder, gentler empire. The liberal interventionists seem to me to be as entranced by American military might as the neo-cons, and to entertain illusions that are less blithe but equally incorrect.

At the other of the question are those who maintain that the US cannot and should not attempt to determine the shape of the world, that we should stop trying to dominate and start leading by example. That means no bombing anywhere, unless we’re attacked first and we can prove who did it. That means no invasions. That means not selling arms to the worst actors in the world, indeed not basing our economy on arms sales; not supporting countries that engage in ethnic separation of populations, by arms or by fence; not refusing to talk to anyone who wants a dialog; not threatening people with force. We can change the world for the better by helping people around the world, by offering assistance rather than requiring coöperation. As long as we act through our military, while China negotiates contracts in Africa and Asia, and Cuba sends doctors to the poorest, we will appear to be what we are: a military empire, in it for ourselves, unable to provide even for our own because we’re so busy making money on war.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:50 AM
August 21, 2007
God Bless the Child…

Well, as Billie said, God bless the child that’s got his own.

It’s not news that

  • The total income Americans list on tax returns failed to grow from year to year only once in the post-World War II period. Until 2001, when it declined four years straight. In 2005, the latest year for which data was published, the total went up slightly but was still lower than in 2001; the average actually declined because there were more taxpayers.
  • Less than a quarter of one percent of taxpayers — those reporting a million dollars or more — got almost 47% of the total income gains in 2005 compared to 2001.
  • The same folks got 62% of the benefits of the Bush tax cuts on capital gains and dividends.
  • Of the 134 million taxpayers, 11,433, reporting $10 million or more each, got tax breaks of nearly $1.9 million each, for a total of $21.7 billion. The 90% reporting under $100,000 in income averaged $318 in tax savings on their investments.

So who does the White House blame it on? Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

That’s right, Clinton:

The White House said the fact that average incomes were smaller five years after the Internet bubble burst “should not surprise anyone.”

And 9/11:

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, attributed the drop in average incomes to “the significant wrenching hits that our economy took in 2001 and 2002, so no one should be surprised that what a bubble economy created in the late 1990s and 2000, where economic data were skewed, would take some time to recover.”

Mr. Fratto said the fact that nearly all of the growth in incomes was among those in the upper reaches of the income ladder and that the majority of investment tax breaks went to those making more than $1 million “is not a very interesting story.”

[…]

He said the more significant issue was the reduction in taxes for middle-class Americans that Mr. Bush won from Congress.

You gotta admire their consistency if nothing else.

Happily, the Times injected a small note of sanity in the midst of all this.

The fact that average incomes remained lower in 2005 than five years earlier helps explain why so many Americans report feeling economic stress despite overall growth in the economy. Many Americans are also paying a larger share of their health care costs and have had their retirement benefits reduced, adding to their out-of-pocket costs.

I’m tempted to make a snide comment but I think I’ll refrain.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:56 AM
July 25, 2007
Which Insiders Are the Problem? (Or Is It Us?)

You no doubt heard the reports, mostly but not entirely snarky, about Cindy Sheehan’s arrest in the office of John Conyers. I admire her commitment, but it seems to me that her view of the problem is the reverse of reality.

I certainly believe that the current situation calls for, indeed requires, that both the President and the Vice President be impeached. No one can honestly question whether they have committed impeachable offenses. The question is what to do about it, and in this regard the leading Democrats in Congress are proving to be as spineless a majority as they were a minority.

But Conyers is not the problem. It seems clear that he favors impeachment, but to overcome opposition from the Speaker, he needs an overwhelming number of colleagues to back him. Which, in my view, makes Nancy Pelosi the problem. Her office would be a better place to get arrested to make a political point.

As Nader says, what we need is not a third party, but a second one. The Democrats, following the Clinton pattern, talk progressive but act DLC. They need the progressive votes (usually, though in 2008 not so much), but they’re mostly corporatist. The wide-spread recognition of that fact might explain some of the high fives that Edwards got for his two best lines in the recent debate:

Do you believe that compromise, triangulation will bring about big change? I don’t. I think the people who are powerful in Washington — big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies — they are not going to negotiate. They are not going to give away their power! The only way that they are going to give away their power is if we take it away from them!

and

We can’t trade our insiders for their insiders.

Which of course is why the media hates him: they’re insiders whose employers are owned by the big corporations that currently exercise the real power. It’ll be interesting to see if any changes come from the video his campaign released, showing clips of important stuff happening in the world while playing the song “Hair”. Will they get it? (Will they be allowed to?)

In the end, I think Ruth Conniff is on the money with her observations at The Progressive. She mentions Russ Feingold’s proposal to censure Bush and Cheney, the classic wimpy-liberal response to the difference between reality and what the wingnuts demand. This is why the right wing is powerful and the left wing gormless: the right fights and the left compromises.

Conniff talked with John Nichols of The Nation about Feingold’s comment at Kos: “The history books will show we were vocal in condemning the President’s abuses of power.” (That won’t keep the next President from doing the same things, though; do we care?)

While Democrats give voice to public discontent with the Bush administration, the leadership is still operating on the theory that as Bush and the Republicans head off the cliff, the best course of action is to get out of the way. Politically, Nichols concedes, they might be right: “They should just stand up and say if we abdicate our constitutional responsibilities and don’t do our job, we’ll reap the benefits. It will allow us to do good things. They might be right. Standing by and letting a crash occur might benefit you. That’s a credible case.”

Immoral, but credible. That’s the real problem the Democratic leadership faces: they know their strategy is immoral, so they can no more afford to state it than Bush can be honest about imperialism and oil.

Witness the recent Democratic meme that impeachment would keep them from getting useful work done.

“The idea that taking up impeachment will keep us from acting on health care, gay rights, etc., is ahistoric,” Nichols says. “The fact of the matter is that during the impeachment of Nixon back in the 70s, the reason Congress was so effective and got so much done was that Nixon was scared and, in a calculated move, started cooperating with Congress to avoid impeachment. So the right thing to do is move immediately — see what you can get out of Bush.”

For that theory to win the day, the pressure on Congress from voters has to continue to grow.

That means us. Have you contacted your Representative?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:26 PM
July 12, 2007
Impeach ’Em Both, God Will Know His Own

California has well over 35 million people. And who’s more connected than we are?

I just went to Senator Diane Feinstein’s web site and entered a comment from a constitutent. The site says “The total number of e-mails sent to Senator Feinstein through this web page”, before the one I sent, was 114,864.

Where the hell is everybody? Californians: Senator Feinstein is on the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Patrick “Go Fuck Yourself” Leahy, currently attempting to extract information from Sara Taylor, Harriet Meirs, and the White House over the US attorney firings. Got anything to say to her?

Here’s what I said.


I believe the Senate should hold Ms. Sara Taylor, Ms. Harriet Meirs, and the President in contempt of Congress absent full testimony in the matter of the firing of the US attorneys.

My understanding is that Ms. Taylor and Ms. Meirs no longer work for the White House, and are therefore not under its direction. If the President is claiming that his executive privilege allows him to prevent former aides from testifying about possible illegal actions, I don’t believe such a claim would hold up even in today’s Supreme Court.

If the Congress does not act to restrain this President, he will cause even more harm to the country.

But the greatest harm, an irreparable one, would occur if the Congress fails to enact legal punishment for this administration’s illegal actions.

This President and, most especially, this Vice President have acted as if they are above the law. Congress must show them that they are not, most vigorously, or future Presidents will be completely unaccountable, and the Republic will fade away, like Rome’s did.

It’s not enough to pass resolutions that call President Bush a bad guy. He’s a war criminal; he should be in the dock in The Hague along with his Vice President. In addition, he’s a domestic criminal: he’s violated our civil rights with abandon, and he’s made us less secure, breaking all kinds of laws in the process, and ignoring many more through signing statements.

There are so many reasons to impeach both the President and the Vice President that it appears to me to be the Constitutional responsibility of this Congress to proceed along that path.

Sincerely,
Chuck Dupree

Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:04 AM
July 09, 2007
Oil! …and Israel

There’s a lot of buzz about the editorial in the New York Times today calling for what loyal Bushies would term precipitate withdrawal.

Look Who’s Talking

Indeed, there are some striking statements from this organ of pre-war lies.

At first, we believed that after destroying Iraq’s government, army, police and economic structures, the United States was obliged to try to accomplish some of the goals Mr. Bush claimed to be pursuing, chiefly building a stable, unified Iraq. When it became clear that the president had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow.

While Mr. Bush scorns deadlines, he kept promising breakthroughs — after elections, after a constitution, after sending in thousands more troops. But those milestones came and went without any progress toward a stable, democratic Iraq or a path for withdrawal. It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost.

The editorial lists some of the harms the US has suffered as a result of what it calls “this unnecessary invasion and the incompetent management of this war”, and accuses the President and Vice President of using demagoguery and fear as weapons against American public opinion. It ends with a call to action.

This country faces a choice. We can go on allowing Mr. Bush to drag out this war without end or purpose. Or we can insist that American troops are withdrawn as quickly and safely as we can manage — with as much effort as possible to stop the chaos from spreading.

Executive summary: we thought it would be a cakewalk securing Iraq’s oil, but it wasn’t. So our advice is to cut bait; just don’t let it hurt Israel.

Oil! and Israel

But the Times is ready to give up on the occupation, not the oil.

The bottom line: the Pentagon needs enough force to stage effective raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq, but not enough to resume large-scale combat.

This seems to me patently silly, totally PR, and the colors aren’t even particularly happenin’.

How can one tell whether a given number of ground troops and a fleet of bombers, fighters, and support craft constitute a force whose size is sufficient for effective raiding but not for large-scale combat? Is there a UN agency that does such surveys, or is it an NGO? Sounds like rhetorical cover is being sought.

Plus, there’s an argument to be made that the force we now have in Iraq is not a large-scale combat force; we didn’t expect to see large-scale combat except for a brief period during the invasion. If that argument held up, the Times would presumably be happy simply to remove US troops to bases in Kuwait and the budding Kurdistan. Bringing them home, and getting the hell out of Iraq, does not seem to be the primary goal.

Most importantly, why does our military need to “stage … raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq” if we’re no longer bogged down there militarily? Are we claiming that we have vital interests in Iraq?

Cards on the Table

Which is really the point. Whether true believer (Bush, Wolfowitz) or shameless profiteer (Cheney, Perle) or lying propagandist (most of the MSM, including the Times), it’s clear that for establishment types in the US, the war in Iraq is subtitled “Oil! And Israel”. The question is not whether the interests are vital, but how best to secure them.

To me, on the other hand, it seems that there are two points to securing the oil in Iraq. One is imperial: to have, as Chomsky says, our hand on the spigot that dispenses an ever more precious resource. The other is corporate: the profits being made in the oil business are nothing short of criminal, and should be treated as such.

We could use the billions we’d collect in fines to fund research into alternative energy and transportation.

Our relationship with Israel has a strong imperial tint as well; as Kissinger said, Israel is our lieutenant in the Middle East. And, given our actions in that area over the past few decades, damn near our only friend. Sure, our military might reinforces some monarchies that wouldn’t last a year without our support; but that’s a different sort of friendship.

A Bad Plan Is Better Than No Plan At All

Clearly we need a new plan for our forces in Iraq. But we can only make an intelligent one if we state our premises and assumptions. The problem is that my premises and those of the New York Times editorial board don’t match.

Seems to me there are three kinds of problems in Iraq.

  • Resistance to foreign occupation
  • Sectarian conflict
  • Jockeying for government power and oil money

The last two overlap, of course, but it doesn’t matter, because we can’t solve either of them. All we’ve tried to do is buy the Iraqi government some time to get its act together and begin running the country.

Problem is, we know this isn’t going to happen. The Iraqi government did not win an election like those we (used to?) have in the US. Let’s not forget that candidates were often afraid to place their names on the ballot lest they be abducted, tortured, and killed. Campaigning was so dangerous that there was little of it, leaving people to vote for parties rather than individuals or clear positions on issues. As a result, the final tallies closely followed confessional lines.

Not to mention that the Saddam years provided a suboptimal training ground for up-and-coming Iraqi leaders.

In any case the Iraqi government has little real power to wield. It doesn’t control, in the classic sense, any territory at all in its own country. The US has the Green Zone, but even that receives mortar fire (which I don’t think is supposed to happen in an area you control).

The government cannot dispense those oil billions we were told to expect because of sabotage, part of the resistance to the occupation as well as the Sunni-Shia conflict.

It can’t even provide water and electricity — we’ve made sure of that by bombing the crap out of the infrastructure. And by creating a situation that killed or displaced many of the professionals needed to start anew.

How Can We Help?

Thus it seems that Cheney has succeeded in his plan: the establishment believes that to leave now would be to abandon our friends and give up on all that oil.

In the end, don’t you admire a man who persists in his plan in the teeth of resistance?

“He takes a range of medications that he and his doctors decline to detail. The extent of his atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries, which, if it extends beyond the heart to the brain, can cause hard-to-recognize changes in cognition) is unknown. Bypass surgery itself has long been associated with subtle changes in neurological function.

”At age 65, Cheney is easily 30 or more pounds overweight, seems to have slacked off on what was once a more rigorous diet, and appears to suffer from recurrent bouts of gout. At a roundtable lunch with reporters a couple of years ago, two who were present say, he cut his buffalo steak in bite-size pieces the moment it arrived, then proceeded to salt each side of each piece.“

If four heart attacks (that we know of) aren’t gonna teach him to avoid salt, it’s unlikely that he’s capable of learning anything.

Is it Cheney’s hope to tie us down in Iraq for many years to come, giving no-bid contracts to Halliburton, consuming lives in a perpetual war, and allowing enterprising young men to have other priorities than serving in it?

News reports have for some time shown the Iraqi resistance growing in size and in public acceptance. It’s increasingly clear that the US presence is aggravating the resistance problem to the point that it’s dominating the stage.

Without the US military, Iraq may well descend into a nightmare of bloodshed. Power struggles often go that way, especially among populations whose previous regimes have left them ill-prepared for self-government. But we can’t stop that.

Some of those who supported the war are now cloaking their imperial aims in humanitarian rhetoric. Others use similar rhetoric to cloak their interest in what they think is best for Israel.

We won’t make effective plans until we state our goals honestly. And we can’t do that because we don’t agree on whether the US should be an empire with a lieutenant in the Middle East.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:35 AM
July 07, 2007
Dumb but Friendly, and Did I Say Six-Five?

How bad do your prospects have to look before you can get excited about Ted Nugent’s friend Fred Thompson?

Chants of “Fred” and “Run, Fred, Run,” greeted the actor and former GOP senator from Tennessee from many among the 350 people at the Young Republicans National Convention. The crowd interrupted his nine-minute speech with wild applause and mobbed him when he left.

[…]

Kevin Fickert, a 22-year-old college student in Los Angeles who originally is from Massachusetts, said he liked Romney’s leadership as governor but thinks Thompson has more appeal. “Thompson has this star power about him that I really like,” Fickert said.

Hey, I’ve seen that guy on TV! Oh yeah, he’s, like, an actor, or President. Or something.

Why is it that only crappy actors make it in politics? Or perhaps I’m drawing an unwarranted line from Reagan through Schwarzenegger to Thompson. What kind of childhood generates this immense need for the overwhelming father figure? I thought it was about competition.

Thompson’s pro-abortion lobbying effort, directed at Bush I, appears to have caused barely a ripple among his supporters.

“Whatever choice do we have? Mitt Romney has been on both sides of the issue,” said Paul Boyd, 26, of Memphis, Tenn. “Rudy Giuliani is 100 percent pro-choice. John McCain, at least for the first four years of the Bush term, was against whatever the president was for. Everybody has their flaws.”

Good point (but who says, “Whatever choice…?”). Aim low, keep your expectations within reason, or failing that at least the realm of possibility. And you can see what he means when you read that

[Romney] said he would like to use the country’s leading marketing minds to help sell the idea of American values in the Middle East.

“People will give up half a day’s salary to get a Coca-Cola in some parts of the world. We market Coke well. We market McDonald’s well. We market our rap music, our movies, our jeans,” Romney said. “We market everything America sells brilliantly, but when it comes to marketing ourselves and what we stand for, we don’t do a very good job of it.”

Damn, marketing, of course! Why didn’t I think of that? That’s what we haven’t been doing enough of! If people will give up half a day’s salary for a bottle of sugar water, we can surely get away with torturing them and stealing their oil. We just have to market it appropriately, with a certain amount of local sensitivity and some happenin’ colors.

So you can see why Republicans are turning to the man Nixon called “dumb as hell“. (“But he’s friendly,” Nixon allowed.)

Thompson had his supporters. His mentor, for example, Howard Baker, defended him in no uncertain terms: “He’s tough. He’s six feet five inches, a big mean fella”. What he thought that would buy Thompson as re: his career remains uncertain at this point. A starring role, perhaps.

What does appear certain from the established record is that Thompson was keeping the Nixon White House informed of certain key events.

Publicly, Baker and Thompson presented themselves as dedicated to uncovering the truth. But Baker had secret meetings and conversations with Nixon and his top aides, while Thompson worked cooperatively with the White House and accepted coaching from Nixon’s lawyer, J. Fred Buzhardt, the tapes and transcripts show.

Thompson made his place in history on Monday, July 16, 1973, by asking former White House aide Alexander Butterfield, “…are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?” Butterfield said, yes, as a matter of fact I am, setting in motion the final act of the Nixon drama, as the tapes proved to be his downfall. Thus, no doubt, Cheney’s passion for secrecy.

But though this was news to the public, it was not to the committee. Thompson was allowed to ask the critical question because he was the lead counsel for the Republicans, whose leader was Baker, and the information had been obtained by a Republican interrogator (which probably didn’t mean the same thing in those days that it would now).

This was a, perhaps the, turning point in the Watergate investigation. Republicans had rallied around their wartime President, a simple, cloth-coated patriot with a dog, who would never stoop to burglarizing an opponent’s office. In fact Baker’s famous “What did the President know and when did he know it?” was, according to historian Stanley Kutler, originally an attempt to show that the evidence hinged on the word of a single person, John Dean, a disgruntled employee if there ever was one, against that of the President of the United States, Leader of the Free World and Political Ass-Kicker Extraordinaire. (I mean, dude, he was friends with J. Edgar; you don’t fuck with those people.)

Unfortunately for Baker et. al., it turned not to be the case. Butterfield revealed the existence of the tapes, and it reached the point where only a Nobel Prize-winning spinner could deal with today’s headlines alone, leaving aside last week’s. It became necessary to look like you supported basic justice, even for Nixon’s moles inside the Watergate committee.

Thompson called Buzhardt over the weekend [before the Monday question] to tip off the White House that the committee knew about the tapes.

“Legalisms aside, it was inconceivable to me that the White House could withhold the tapes once their existence was made known. I believed it would be in everyone’s interest if the White House realized, before making any public statements, the probable position of both the majority and the minority of the Watergate committee,” Thompson wrote in his book.

Scott Armstrong, a Democratic investigator for the committee who was part of the Butterfield questioning, said he was outraged by Thompson’s tip-off.

“When the prosecutor discovers the smoking gun, he’s going to be shocked to find that the deputy prosecutor called the defendant and said, ‘You’d better get rid of that gun,’” Armstrong said in an interview.

Law and Order, that’s what it’s all about. Or is it image, I can’t remember…

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:20 PM
July 06, 2007
If We Get Universal Health Care, the Terrorists Win

Josh has been following the spread of the meme connecting universal health care with terrorism. Seems to have started on Fox Noise, then moved to MSNBC, and now to the New York Sun.

Are these folks really that stupid, or is this propaganda from a desperate position?

The fact that the Al Qaeda plot to detonate car bombs in London and Glasgow was carried out by doctors working for the National Health Service has shocked the British public far more than the fact that they were Muslims.

The notion that the NHS might have been infiltrated by jihadists from the Middle East is as disturbing as the emergence two years ago of young British Muslim suicide bombers.

In fact, it is more disturbing, not just because doctors are meant to save lives rather than commit mass murder, but because the violation of this inner sanctum of the British way of life threatens the whole idea of integration — which is meant to be the answer to Islamism. The line between integration and infiltration is a thin one.

The NHS is the nearest thing to a religion that the British now have. For half a century the British have convinced themselves that the NHS is the envy of the world. It is — for the third world. And it is the third world’s doctors and nurses who keep alive this socialist cult of security from cradle to grave.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:25 PM
July 01, 2007
The Myth of the Unitary Executive?

Administrations come and, though it sometimes takes forever, they go. Individuals last a bit longer; but arguments outlive us all.

Enough with the English Civil War Already

Consider, for example, the argument between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists that caused the English Civil War in 1642, leading to the execution of King Charles I and the exile of his son, later Charles II. Apparently the historical knowledge required to make useful comparisons was insufficiently widely distributed. (Unfortunately Decline and Fall would not be published for 135 years.) What were they thinking, not killing the kid? Mercy and regicide don’t mix. Not that the alternative always succeeds, mind you; but you gotta start somewhere.

In American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips talks about the connections between the English Civil War and the American one. New England, after all, was favored with lots of Puritans, who were generally sympathetic to Cromwell’s Roundheads. Many New Englanders shipped back to England to fight against Charles I.

Big Men in the Southern states, on the other hand, expected the privileges their patrons back in England had of owning and ordering, and basically living in a Cavalier fashion (how else?). The Province of Carolina, for example, was named after the headless king. It was granted to eight supporters by Charles II when he regained the throne. (One of whom, Lord Shaftesbury, employed a secretary named John Locke.) Most of the Southerners who returned to England to fight in the Civil War were Royalists. They tended to believe in centralization of power, since they were in the center. Unfortunately we’re not able to do a controlled experiment in this regard, but had their quarters been swapped for those of their slaves, they might have thought differently.

The conflict, in other words, was inherent in the soul of the United States from long before it became an independent political entity. Monarchy or Parliamentarianism? You’re either with us or against us.

The Frustrations of History

Which adds a bit of back story to the current conflicts between Congress and the White House over whether, despite Tony Snow’s ruling, Congress has, and will execute, Constitutional oversight responsibilities with respect to the executive branch.

Kanye West might be right, though it seems to me that Shrub cares more about money than skin color; he and Snoop seem to be cool with each other, for example. But I can name one black person George Bush does care about: John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and the only member who was involved in the Congressional fight to get documents from the Nixon White House. Then there’s Henry Waxman, neither the most beautiful Representative nor the most riveting speaker, but something of a progressive Javert. John Dean says Waxman “may be the nation’s most diligent and vigilant member of Congress”. That, beloveds, is truly what the Founding Fathers intended, Federalist Society be damned.

In the Senate, the White House faces Patrick “Go Fuck Yourself” Leahy, who just might harbor a bit of resentment against the Cheney administration’s imperial style. And Leahy, like Waxman, was elected to Congress for the first time in November, 1974, three months after Nixon resigned.

“This is a further shift by the Bush administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances,” said [Leahy]. “Increasingly, the president and vice president feel they are above the law — in America no one is above law.”

The question now is what to do about the obvious facts — namely, that the President and the Vice President, among others, have committed serious crimes, in my view including war crimes and crimes against humanity, and violated their Constitutional responsibilities.

What I Learned About Government by Watching The X-Files

There’s an X-Files episode about Mulder and Scully going to Texas on an investigation, and filing reports afterward. Their reports are quite different, and the episode shows flashbacks from both points of view. It’s one of their silliest; the scene with Mulder explaining that it’s surprisingly difficult to shoot out the tires on an RV making circles in a parking lot is great. It’s filmed in black-and-white, and includes a sheriff who Mulder recalls as a country bumpkin with buck teeth and Scully recalls as a southern gentleman of whom Mulder is jealous.

Turns out the town is infested with the undead. Our heros realize this when, as a result of ordering pizza, they wake up with their shoelaces tied and the pizza uneaten. Aha, says Mulder, vampires.

When they finally get the scoop, they realize the sheriff is also a vampire. The vampires, it seems, have learned to live in relative peace with the surrounding community by keeping their heads down and only feeding in ways that the locals can dismiss as religious visions or alcohol-induced fantasies. The sheriff, realizing he’s got a sympathetic audience in the FBI agents, confesses, and apologizes for the pizza-delivery boy: “He never got the concept of low-profile.”

Which, I assert, is a metaphor for government. Like vampiring, government resembles typography and refereeing; when it’s done well, it’s unnoticeable. In a basketball game, where calls make much more difference than in baseball, football, soccer, or tennis, the best referees are quiet: they call all the blatant stuff and let the dinky stuff go, and they do so in a relatively even manner. This is what people want when they petition for referees to “let the players decide the game”.

Problems arise when one side adopts a consistent strategy of not simply pushing the envelope of the rules but openly flaunting its refusal to obey them. How then can a fair referee “let the players decide the game”? Inadvertent rule violations are one thing; cheating is another, and the nature of things in such cases is that the “activist” referees control the outcome. And we saw how well that worked in 2000.

The question now is, God help us, what the Supreme Court will do if the dispute over subpoenas arrives there. I doubt there’s any pro-Monarchist position that couldn’t attract Scalia and Thomas, and probably Alito. But I think, for now, that the rule of law might hope to get five votes. We’re very likely to get Kennedy, who’s often called The Swing Vote; and we might even get Roberts on the issue of separation of powers, an area in which the Court has historically guarded its prerogatives, and where the Chief Justice’s own power and prestige are affected.

Vampires and the Leisure Class

Thorsten Veblen describes another kind of vampire in his Theory of the Leisure Class. The Wikipedia entry notes, among other things, that Veblen’s critique is more radical than that of Marx, who grants the superiority of capitalism over feudalism. Veblen doesn’t; he considers capitalism to be the modern manifestation of primitive tribal behavior, in which status is the highest value.

In Veblen’s view, the development of human society grew from the prehistoric search for necessities, specifically food. At first, everyone brought back what they found, and everyone ate. Then some people realized that they could intimidate others, or attack them and steal their take, and avoid the hard work of gathering.

Over time, this “leisure class” did less and less real work. They preferred hunting to gathering. Hunting generates food when it’s successful, but it burns a lot of calories with uncertain results. They might occasionally raid neighbor tribes and bring back booty that was useful to everyone, thus provoking Paleolithic blowback. Which in turn creates the requirement for a constant vigil to protect the home land.

The leisure class concentrated on two things:

  • Warfare, manufacture of the associated weapons and propaganda, and rules to restrict the knowledge of weapons
  • The development of various forms of status to differentiate the two classes

There are several natural results of this social structure, such as endemic warfare and lies, and the endless struggle for alpha-dog status. (“Think I’ll buy me a football team.”)

Veblen argues that status quickly dissociated itself from utility, to the point that one can now determine the status of an activity largely by judging its usefulness: the more useful it is, the lower its status. Think farming versus bond trading. Even activities that might seem to have useful side effects, such as the physical fitness required to play football, can be masquerades, according to Veblen, who considers that the “relation of football to physical culture is much the same as that of the bull-fight to agriculture”.

Thus he derives the concept of conspicuous consumption, consuming more than you need: if you can waste, you must have a lot, so waste indicates high status. Once you’re consuming as much as you can, you want people to know it, otherwise you don’t get the status points.

Next there’s conspicuous leisure. If you can sit on the porch and wave as the neighbors leave for work, you’re higher status than they are. Then comes vicarious consumption — your dependents are also wasteful — and vicarious leisure — your servants sit on the porch and wave.

Veblen proceeds to apply this viewpoint to a variety of society’s oddities, often with comic effect. You can tell, he says, that society affords God very high status by looking at the number of people employed for his vicarious leisure. He has a stretch of about two pages on why dogs are higher status than cats that is hilarious. In his view, hunting is an expression of the right of the leisure class to do whatever useless thing strikes its fancy. The fox hunt, for example, is certainly not done for the sake of calories, and that inefficiency is a hallmark of status. The more useless, the higher the status.

He must have been pretty popular at cocktail parties back in 1899 with that kind of line.

What’s This To Teach Us?

So when I catch myself having Nixon flashbacks, I remind myself: yes, this is really a new version of the same battle. Yes, this is a battle that’s apparently endemic to American life. Yes, it even goes back three and half centuries to the English Civil War. And, okay, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it’s what humans have always done. We’ve also always killed each other. Doesn’t mean we can’t stop.

We’re not seeing replays from the Nixon years randomly. This struggle’s been going on for centuries. Should the United States have an all-powerful executive, kinda like a pope or, here’s an idea, a king? Or should we elect, say, a legislature or a parliament to make the rules?

It comes down — surprise! — to the rich and powerful few against the meek and voiceless many. And the rich are way richer now, compared to the rest of us, than they were only a decade or two ago. Maybe, after all, we should just return to a feudal society and admit the rich will always control us. Feudal serfs, after all, were assured food, clothing, and health care, such as it was, by the lord’s need for laborers at the next harvest. We peasants had some value. (Especially after the Black Death, when the number of laborers dropped in Europe dropped by about a third in a year and a half. Good times!)

Alternatively, we could shoulder our burdens as citizens and try to emulate the founders, or rather to realize their highest statements of ideal. We are many, and we have recently found new ways to organize and to make ourselves heard.

There is much to do. War still rages in Iraq, there is still great poverty in the richest nation in history, and many of our citizens are without health care. Past generations of Americans have surmounted obstacles more difficult than these. It is our turn.

It’s possible that we’re on the verge of a new flowering of democracy in America — of all places! — arising from the abuses of the Cheney administration.

But if so, the first step is to confront the abuses and the lawbreaking head-on. I don’t mean that we’re ready to confront our own national nature as couch-potato bullies; that’ll have to be put off. At a minimum, though, we must accept that our government can be hijacked by people whose actions, whatever their statements or even intentions, are destructive to the point of criminality.

And that this affects us all.

The President and the Vice President command, and to some extent control, the entire federal bureaucracy, including what amounts to a private army in the CIA, and a huge and nearly unaccountable intelligence community with an unknown budget. I haven’t read everything written by the founders, but I have yet to encounter anything I could interpret as countenancing a President’s private army or an unaccountable spy network. This, it seems to me, is exactly what they were rebelling against. And exactly how things happened in Rome.

Archy or An-?

In this continuing argument, I’m reminded of the judgement of Lazarus Long:

Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.

I’m basically a libertarian in that I don’t want government to tell me what to do. But I also think we can do things collectively that we can’t do alone: schools, roads, hospitals, moon shots, cures for cancer. What do we call the entity that executes our wishes in this collective fashion? I think the word is government, but I’m not stuck on that.

I’m also a socialist in that I think our collective actions should have the goal of increasing the common wealth. And it seems to me that a big part of our common wealth is our heritage of participatory government.

If we fail to confront the blatant law-breaking by the President and the Vice President in some institutional way, we will take a big step down Rome’s path. Probably we can’t impeach both Bush and Cheney before the 2008 election. But we should try.

And there’s no statute of limitations on war crimes.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:59 AM
June 24, 2007
Spinal Rap

In a long rant at the Smirking Chimp David Michael Green attempts to implant Karl Rove’s spine in Harry Reid. Probably Reid’s immune system will reject the foreign tissue, but Green’s masterful fulminations are still right on the mark, and fun to read. So go do it.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:51 PM
June 13, 2007
Rove Loves Him Some Astroroots

The Author of Authenticity is at it again. He understands where the real netroots lie. He just doesn’t get immigration. Or maybe he hasn’t processed having been exposed in the US Attorney scandal.

Anyway, it’s more fun in some ways to see the Cheney administration fall than was the case with Nixon, mainly because you can see this one coming a mile away; back then I’d given up.

Launching the blog offensive

Aides said it was Rove’s idea to focus on blogs. After vetting by policy experts, responses have been posted on a wide range of blogs under the names of Kerrie Rushton and Nicholas Thompson, both associate directors in the Office of Strategic Initiatives, which falls under Rove’s domain.

“We had to be nimble,” said White House Communications Director Kevin Sullivan, who is coordinating the administration’s public relations strategy. “The idea was to not let inaccurate or misleading statements become part of the conventional wisdom.”

Two problems: they don’t have much experience with distributing accurate information, and the most irate part of the audience isn’t known for its listening skills.

Erick-Woods Erickson, the managing editor of Redstate.com, which is the largest right-of-center community on the Internet, praised the White House for an aggressive effort to get out its points and corrections to opponents’ postings.

“In my four years of active participation in blogs, I have never seen anything like this on any issue, including the president’s reelection,” Erickson said in an e-mail. “Had the White House been as aggressive on the war, Social Security reform, health care reform, etc., it might be winning on those issues. Somehow, though, it chose to pick the one issue least popular with the base to claim as their hill to die on.”

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:55 PM
June 10, 2007
Which Candidate Represents the Little Guy?

I’ve had some fun and enlightening conversations with Russians who’ve moved to the Bay Area. We have a decent contingent of people who speak Russian in San Francisco, enough that certain parts of town have a few billboards with Cyrillic characters. Of course our ballots and our instructions for pumping gas have only English, Chinese, and Spanish. But everyone other than Americans speaks more than one language, right? So they can get by.

They Can’t Print It If It Isn’t True

I always try to ask people who lived in the USSR about this: I’ve read that Americans who visited found the citizens surprisingly well informed about events in the outside world, despite government censorship. Westerners were flattered to learn that our radio broadcasts had helped, at least for some locations. But folks would also say, “You just have to learn how to read Pravda.” Simple example: if some big event is coming up, then they say nothing about it in the press, you know it went badly, and you can figure out why. If they trumpet it, you know it went well, and it’s probably being overblown, so you discount it a bit.

That sort of thing is pretty simple. We do it with the Cheney administration all the time. Now. I mean, you and I did it from before the beginning, but our leaders, and thus our media, are just starting to catch on.

Determined exegesis can sometimes extract useful information even from those whose points of view prevent from seeing the obvious meaning of the events they report. Reporters who don’t get it can still pass along data to their readers; it’s just more effort for the readers to sift it out. The government may classify stuff and lie with abandon, but it doesn’t openly censor.

Our Media Reports Truth and Our Soldiers Are Peaceful

Our media are not controlled like the Soviet media were; ours are controlled by corporations, which control the government. And, as Chomsky says, propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism. Our system is propaganda at home coupled with violence abroad. And realistically, it’s been that way for as long as we’ve had the capability to “project force”. The Monroe Doctrine — back off, Europe and Asia, we own this hemisphere — was imperialistic in nature, but it understood the limits of American power at the time.

We gained on the rest of the world, as Paul Kennedy describes in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, with the First World War, which cost the European powers dearly but didn’t touch our homeland; we lost people, but we didn’t have to rebuild our houses. The Second World War left us in an even better relative position: not merely the strongest militarily, but more importantly, says Kennedy, by far the strongest industrially, which means the strongest financially. That industrial, and therefore financial, strength is necessary to project military might.

If, in fact, that’s what you want to do. That was America’s method as long as its imperialism was, on its face at least, mainly economic. Original conquest was generally done by corporations and advertising rather than armies and bombing. In some ways this method was preferable to Rome’s: fewer people died as a direct result of invasion.

Rome’s heavy hand was felt mostly in taxes. Sure, they took some of the best artwork from your temples back to Rome; but they handled it with care and displayed it honorably, and left you to worship whatever was left in Pax Romana. In the main, they didn’t go around smashing stuff just for fun. Carthage, of course, was an exception, but that wasn’t for fun. Julius Caesar’s army burned the first library of Alexandria, but he claimed it was accidental, and that seems reasonable. Only later, with the merger of Christianity and Imperial government, did anti-intellectual currents reach the point of getting rid of impure knowledge.

If our conquests feel the heavy hand of America, the cost is more often paid these days in resources and in culture. Once we have you in our orbit, our extraction companies sign sweetheart deals — even, somehow, now that there’s a law against bribing foreign officials — after which we garrison in your country only the troops we need to protect our investment. (Chalmers Johnson counts 737 US bases around the world.) Then there’s our banks, our drug companies, our agricultural behemoths, and so on.

The barrage of “information” we project is equally imperialistic: it’s a true culture war. Americans are said to be subjected to a trillion ads per lifetime, and the folks represented by Madison Avenue want access to the new overseas markets as well; otherwise what’s the point of having an empire? We think we’ve grown inured to the ads by now, but they’re designed to prevent that, and to work with the subconscious of an increasingly sophisticated target audience. We get the message without meaning to.

Propaganda is to democracy…

In some ways, having a bunch of soldiers slaughtered on a battlefield, after which you had to pay taxes and your temples lost some artifacts, was a better deal. Your king was probably pretty awful anyway. Oh, and if you didn’t have written laws, or even an alphabet, well, you do now. Hail, Caesar!

Those Factories Were Dirty Anyway, Who Needs ‘Em

If the functional goal is not empire, but concentration of wealth in the hands of your friends, then the projection of military power doesn’t require industrial might, except in the area of weapons. (And, what ho, that’s the only remaining industry in which we excel.) All it requires is that the war end with your friends in control of the major assets. If your country’s industrial might has moved offshore during the process, that will only put your friends farther ahead of the pack. How much of that will they be willing to spend on your library, eh?

At some level all administrations are motivated to concentrate wealth in certain hands as opposed to others. Every candidate receives contributions of money, time, and influence. Once elected, most of their programs have the effect of redistributing wealth in some fashion; government can’t do much without money, and that money comes from somewhere and goes somewhere.

But with the Cheney administration, the motivation couldn’t be more obvious (to the point where it’s beginning to be noticed by reporters and pundits in the remote highlands within the Beltway). For example, what do administration spokesfolks want the Iraqi “government” to do more than anything? Pass the bill that allocates oil revenues among the various sections of Iraqis. And gives the force of law, whatever that turns out to mean, to the sweetheart contracts for American oil companies. They seriously need that baby passed before January 20, 2009.

As long as they end up holding the wealth of Iraq, the common wealth of the United States can go to hell. Or China, or Brazil, or Venezuela even. Just not Cuba.

What’s Good for Wall Street Is Good for the Country

The problem with the current workings of the American political system is that Presidents nearly always represent the rich, or they wouldn’t have been able to raise enough money. (By my definition, you’re not rich if you answer your own door.) As Internet contributions broadened the available base, new possibilities open for candidates to raise money in small chunks from huge numbers of people. At this point, though, we’re still in the era of small numbers of big contributors to many politicians — I think saw a report that three-quarters of Clinton’s contributions come from about 5,000 sources.

There are clearly still politicians who represent industries, or particular corporate interests, or a group of extremely wealthy families, ahead of everything else. Of course any viable candidate has contributors with deep pockets. The question is, who are they and what do they want? We need to keep checking those donor lists…

In American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips talks about industrial flight and the rise of financialism in the context of what previous empires have done. Toynbee says dying civilizations tend to spawn religions near the end; Phillips notes the turn from manufacture to finance that accompanied the last stage of imperial power in Rome, Spain, the Netherlands, and Britain.

Ours appears at this point to be an extreme example of the type. Phillips, if memory serves (my copy’s loaned out), lists manufacturing at about 12% of the current US economy, and finance at about 44%, a startling reversal from a couple of decades back when we led the world in making damn near everything, more and better.

Nowadays, we’re borrowing a couple billion every day from banks in China and Japan and elsewhere to keep ourselves in the style to which we’ve become accustomed. Our savings rate is holding near zero, sometimes slightly below that. We’re working more hours for the same income — real wages are about what they were in 1973 — while corporate profits seem to set new records every year. And these aren’t five or ten percent increases, either. CEOs’ retirement packages alone dwarf the total income a normal family could hope to put together in their collective lifetimes. Come to that, Paris Hilton probably pays her publicist more than I make in five years. (On the other hand, I’m not in jail.)

The Rise and Fall of This Great Power

Overall, we’ve got an economy whose base has narrowed significantly in the past half century. We now specialize in weapons, finance, drugs, and industrial-strength agriculture. We might yet make a prophet of Neal Stephenson; in his near-future Snow Crash, the US leads the world in only three areas: movies, software, and pizza delivery. (The hero, Hiro Protagonist, the Deliverator, works for Uncle Enzo’s Pizza, where if the pizza doesn’t arrive within thirty minutes, Uncle Enzo helicopters in to apologize in person. After which he’ll visit with the local franchise.)

To some extent the damage done to the US economy as we lose our manufacturing base has positive effects in the new host countries. Bill Greider, in One World, Ready or Not, provides his usual combination: lots of relevant detail, extraordinary ability to put it all in perspective, and the skill to explain it clearly and to show why it matters and what it means. Some countries are poor enough that even Nike and Reebok factories are a win.

The market explanation would be that, as soon as the poorest countries catch up with the rest of the world, things will even out and Utopia will bloom. As far as I’m aware, though, they’re unable to come up with any (historically accurate) examples of this type of plan succeeding. The so-called Asian Tiger economies have done quite well employing many forms of government interference in the market. The US refuses on principle to coördinate activities among private ventures (though of course that’s only a principle, we don’t always have to go by it; laws, after all, are only advisory in nature for those whose accountability moments are past). Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry, for example, has no such qualms.

Our biggest industry is finance, which in principle doesn’t care where the jobs are located as long as production costs are minimized and profits maximized. This is what existing financial theory takes to be a basic tenet of capitalism. But, beloveds, I ask you: what kind of basis for a decent and just society is this transfer of wealth from poor to rich, here or there?

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.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:24 PM
June 06, 2007
Rove Will Try to Rig the Democratic Primary
McCain drew loud applause from the partisan debate audience when he turned a question about the war in Iraq into criticism of the leading Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

“When Senator Clinton says this is Mr. Bush’s war, President Bush’s war,” she is wrong, he said. “When President Clinton was in power, I didn’t say Bosnia was President Clinton’s war,” the Arizona senator said.

Which is not to say it wouldn’t have been true. Besides, despite the illegality, immorality, and stupidity of Clinton’s war, you can’t really say he lied to get the country behind him. At least, not nearly as blatantly as Bush. Sure, he had reasons that weren’t related to national security, or even to altruism; but those interests weren’t so baldly money-oriented. Like his predecessor, Clinton needed to prove he was tough, and he needed some public distractions from his problems. This probably made it easier to convince him to bomb the Chinese embassy. For example.

“Presidents don’t lose wars. Political parties don’t lose wars. Nations lose wars,” he added.

One outta three ain’t bad for an old warhorse like the Senator. Presidents and political parties who forge documents and lie about weapons systems and rig intelligence (and out agents for political gain) to convince a skeptical public to buy into a war that then fails, as it was obviously bound to, do indeed lose wars. And this generation of Americans is unlikely to forget that, no matter how much re-branding Boehner does.

What I think will stick with people most of all are the Bushies’ blatant distaste for the truth, the overt corruption that pervades not only the administration but the hierarchy of the Republican party, and the attempt, most visible in the US attorney scandal, to turn the executive branch into an arm of that party. Rebranding, or finding kinder, gentler candidates, is not gonna save the Republicans in 2008.

The problem with that is, of course, that we’ll then be stuck with the Democrats, and we’ve already seen the strength of their commitment to what we voted for in 2006.

I’ve already predicted that Obama will win the Democratic nomination as a compromise between the DLC (Clinton, Biden, the money) and the anti-war wing (Edwards, Dodd, Richardson, Gravel, Kucinich). It’s a battle for the soul of the Democratic party, at a moment in history where the Democratic nominee is extremely likely to cruise into the White House with a comfortable (i.e., unriggable) margin. That gives people who vote in the Democratic primary a lot of voice.

Which means the Rove machine will try to rig the Democratic primaries. The 2008 Republican presidential candidates look like a lost cause; but Karl might try an old Nixon trick, tying the opposition in knots. Nixon, of course, did it when he probably would have won anyway. But Rove et. al. would have a slightly different motive: electing an incompetent. And given that it’ll be a Democrat, this is not an insubstantial threat.

What we need, I love to quote Bob Kerrey saying, is not a little more of the same thing, but a lot more of something completely different. Particularly as regards foreign policy, and most particularly as regards Iraq.

And you might figure that, if anyone is positioned to strike out in such new directions, it would be Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, neither of whom is burdened by much foreign policy history on the national stage.

Now those two candidates have laid out their foreign policy visions in parallel articles, released last week prior to publication in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs. And after you cut through some of their campaign rhetoric, here’s what you find:

(1) The two candidates’ programs are strikingly similar to each other.

(2) Both are strikingly similar to Bush administration policy.

(3) And both, far from retreating to isolationism in the face of Iraq and other challenges, set forth their own wildly ambitious calls for American leadership and the promotion of American values. “Boldness” is an operative word for both of them.

I admit that I don’t know Fred Hiatt of the Post very well; if you do, please comment. His piece seems on the surface to be a straightforward comparison of the two positions. However, I haven’t read the Foreign Affairs piece he references, so for all I know his analysis could be cockeyed, or worse.

Hiatt is by no means claiming that Obama is indistinguishable from Romney. But, he says, as to foreign policy,

…the similarities dwarf the differences. Both want bigger, not smaller, armed forces: Obama calls for an additional 92,000 ground troops, Romney for 100,000.

Obama calls for a doubling of foreign aid; Romney wants a Marshall Plan-like “Partnership for Prosperity and Progress” that would support schools, microcredit, the rule of law, human rights, health care and the free market in Islamic states.

Romney says that “the jihadist threat is the defining challenge of our generation,” as real as the threat that was posed by Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, and he promises an appropriately sized response. Obama, albeit using slightly different terms, agrees: “To defeat al Qaeda, I will build a twenty-first-century military and twenty-first-century partnerships as strong as the anticommunist alliance that won the Cold War to stay on the offense everywhere from Djibouti to Kandahar.”

That’s what we need, a new Cold War. The economy was humming, the people being killed by the war machine were in Asia, and the threat of Communism with a capital C kept our unions strong. Those were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end…

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:21 PM
June 03, 2007
Rich on Rudy McRomney

Frank Rich is at it again.

This relatively unified America can’t be compared with that of the second Nixon term, when the violent cultural and political upheavals of the late 1960s were still fresh. But in at least one way there may be a precise political parallel in the aftermaths of two failed presidencies rent by catastrophic wars: Americans are exhausted by anger itself and are praying for the mood pendulum to swing.

Gerald Ford implicitly captured that sentiment when he described himself as a healer; his elected successor, Jimmy Carter, was (to a fault, as it turned out) a seeming paragon of serenity. We can see this equation at work now in Mitt Romney’s unflappable game-show-host persona, in John McCain’s unconvincing efforts to emulate a Reagan grin and in the unlikely spectacle of Rudy Giuliani trading in his congenital scowl for a sunny disposition. Hillary Clinton’s camp is doing everything it can to deflect new books reminding voters of the vicious Washington warfare during her husband’s presidency. Then again, even Michael Moore is rolling out a kinder, gentler persona in his media blitz for his first film since “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Ah, that’s why Romney seems so familiar! That, plus his wealth and complete inanity.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:47 PM
To Be The Candidate

Scooter’s big day is coming up on Tuesday. For an idea of what might happen, who you gonna call? Turns out you don’t even have to call him.

You’ve no doubt heard that Fred Thompson is heavily into the Free Scooter trip. He’s helping to raise money, he’s traveling, he’s speaking. Or rather bullshitting. Or lying. He alone knows, but there’s no question that he’s propagating blatant untruths.

For which John Dean rips him a new one. And when Dean rips you a new one, you stay ripped. You don’t get to be the President’s lawyer at 32 if you can’t make a case, and make it stick.

Frankly, I am not only stunned that Fred Thompson has taken up the “Free Scooter” campaign, but by the crude and thoughtless tactics he has employed. He has either lied or could not be troubled to inform himself of the facts before he attacked Special Counsel Fitzgerald.

Thompson, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Tennessee, gave an audience his assessment of the prosecution against Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice in a speech on May 12, 2007. He claims that the investigation was a sham from the outset: that there should have been no Special Counsel selected, and there never was any violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Indeed, he claimed “that there was no violation of the law, by anyone, and everybody — the CIA, the Justice Department and the Special Counsel knew it. Ms. Plame was not a ’covered person’ under the statute and it was obvious from the outset.”

This is a remarkable charge — suggesting that the CIA referred the matter to the Justice Department knowing that Plame was not covered by the law; that the Justice Department commenced the investigation even though it had the same knowledge; and that the Special Counsel continued the investigation even though he, too, knew she was not covered. Yet why would Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department have undertaken a baseless investigation? Why would a busy and highly-respected U.S. Attorney from Chicago take the assignment of Special Counsel if the law did not apply? And why would that same highly-respected U.S. Attorney make representations to a federal judge that the law did cover Valerie Plame, if it did not? It seems Fred Thompson has made a remarkably irresponsible charge.

Dean has that quiet, factual way of delivering his attack that allows for a bit of humor to sneak in. He has this to say about the judge.

It is well known that Judge Walton, who arrived on the bench after a successful career in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC, gives out tough sentences. He is the kind of “law and order” judge that conservatives praise, except when one of their own is being sentenced. As I was told by one person who knows him well, Judge Walton is tough as they come, and he has the cojones to send Scooter to get his orange jumpsuit sooner rather than later.

We can hope. Dean combines the legal precedents with Walton’s predilictions to predict about 30 months, and only a few days for Scooter to get his affairs in order.

Then comes the interesting part. Those who, like Thompson, are anxious to take up the mantle of the Cheney administration are working to keep Scooter out of jail, while others, like Giuliani, hire the Swift Boat folks. Matt Taibbi has apparently followed Rudy around for a while, and

…there’s no question that Giuliani has made the continuation of Swift-Boating politics a linchpin of his candidacy. His political hires speak deeply to that tendency. Chris Henick, formerly Karl Rove’s most trusted deputy, is now a key aide at Giuliani Partners, the security firm set up by the mayor to cash in on his 9/11 image. One of his top donors, Richard Collins, is a longtime Bush supporter who was instrumental in setting up “Stop Her Now,” a 527 group modeled on Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that will be used to attack Hillary Clinton. And the money for the smear campaign comes from the same Texas sources behind the Swift Boaters, including oilman T. Boone Pickens and Houston home builder Bob Perry.

To further emulate the Bush-Rove model, Giuliani has recruited some thirty Bush “Pioneers,” the key fund-raisers who served as the president’s $100,000 bagmen. In addition, he hired the woman who spearheaded the Pioneer program to be his chief fund-raiser. “Rudy definitely got some of Bush’s heavier hitters, including all the Swift Boater types,” says Alex Cohen, a senior researcher at Public Citizen, who tracks the president’s top donors.

To be the candidate of the same folks who put Cheney and Bush in office, you apparently have to do quite a lot of lying, cheating, and stealing. And aren’t those things widely considered to be gateway drugs?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:41 PM
May 09, 2007
More on the Democratic Split

There’ve been more comments on my last post on Obama than any previous post received. (Admittedly, nearly a third of the comments are mine, but that’s because people keep bringing up good points in the discussion.)

For example, one comment showed that one of my facts was wrong. My impression was that Obama had voted for the bankruptcy bill. In fact, he voted against it in the end, but he also voted against an amendment that would have capped interest rates at 30 percent. Previously, he had voted for a class-action “reform” bill that the financial firms, Obama’s second biggest donor bloc, wanted very much. As Jerry said, Barack split the difference. In my day they called that triangulation, which I equate, perhaps wrongly, with centrists. (Or perhaps it depends on where you think the endpoints are.)

Another commenter, Saintperle, outlined a scenario in which Democrats, externalizing their own doubts, would end up picking the only white male in the race. I think that scenario makes sense in the context of the general election. That is, if Americans were voting among the current candidates, a lot of them would vote for a white Southern male before a woman or a black man, while denying any race or gender bias.

The context of the Democratic primary is, I think, a bit more limited. As Tom Edsall describes in Building Red America, the current Democratic party doesn’t look much like FDR’s coalition: most of the middle class has moved to the Republican party. Why? Interesting question. Edsall doesn’t buy Thomas Frank’s argument, in What’s the Matter With Kansas?, that the Democrats refuse to argue the economic issues, where they’d win, leaving people to choose on social concerns, where they lose. (I, on the other hand, do buy it.)

Instead, Edsall says (with copious statistical backup), the party now consists of a larger chunk of the top third of the economic ladder than in FDR’s time, a much smaller chunk of the middle third, and the vast majority of the bottom third. Thus one group of Democrats cares about things like jobs and immigration law, while the other is mainly interested in social liberty issues such as abortion and gay rights. The first group is much larger, but much poorer, and doesn’t vote in large percentages. The second is small but well off, and educated for power, so it tends to control the agenda in official party business.

The result is that the Democrats put together a mish-mash of programs aimed at interest groups who get along okay but have little in common. Then they nominate a standard-bearer.

Where’s the real power in the party? Well, which of the groups nominated Clinton, Gore, and Kerry? That group wants Hillary, would settle for Barack, and hates Edwards. That’s why, as Saintperle says, they keep savaging Edwards in the media for things like the haircut. He’s not within spec for a corporate-style candidate.

I think it’ll come down to the DLC versus the Democratic wing. The former has won all recent nomination battles, to the chagrin of the party. At this point, though, they know they’re in trouble; they supported the war, they compromised away everything they had to a bunch of war criminals, they stood for nothing while the Republicans controlled Congress. They saw the face of change in Howard Dean, despite his obvious centrist credentials. They were probably as spooked by the internet fundraising thing as by his anti-war stance, but not spooked enough to take more than one election cycle to get on board. But their control over the party is waning, and they need to reassert the power of the Democratic right flank in 2008 or they’ll begin fading to irrelevance.

Thus I expect a with-your-shield-or-on-it effort from the DLC over the next eighteen months. The only way I can see Edwards winning is if the Democratic wing of the party manages to control the nomination process. It does look to me like the changes in primary dates will help our side, partly by muddying the waters so that the media tricksters have to learn new scams, and partly by listening to states that are larger and more representative of the whole country. States, in other words, with heterogeneous populations, languages, religions, and cultures.

Oh, another way Edwards could win: if Obama and Clinton somehow knock each other out, who would the DLC substitute? I think we can count Gravel and Kucinich out. My guess is they’d prefer Biden, who is probably too hawkish for the moment, or possibly Richardson, to whom they could attach whatever warm-and-fuzzies are left over from the Clinton administration. Plus, he has all those diplomatic trophies on his mantle. They might be able to deal with Dodd, who as much as I like a lot of what he says seems to be in the wooden-speaker mold the DLC treasures. Or maybe I’ve missed his better speeches. The point is, can any of those people outdraw Edwards?

Anyway, I still think the most likely outcome is Obama winning the nomination as a compromise between the DLC-Clinton wing and the Edwards-Dean style. But what I want is for the Democratic wing to rise up and own the party. We need a revolution in party structure on the scale of the one that came with McGovern. The old power structure is not leading where we want to go.

I certainly don’t think Edwards is a messiah. JFK wasn’t a savior either; in practice, he screwed up mightily and often. Still, he embodied a new time and a new spirit, and a particular version of the American dream. If we elected Edwards, he would embody his time, just as Shrub has.

What’s Edwards focused on since the last election? Poverty issues, his two-Americas thing. If as President his predilictions affected policy as much as Bush’s have, the US would be spending its wealth on feeding everyone and making a green revolution. My guess is, that prospect has certain parts of the power structure on high alert.

But if we did it — actually worked to eliminate poverty, like some European and Scandinavian countries have, and applied our famous ingenuity to the problems of living sustainably — we could quickly be a country the world looked up to again.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:01 PM
May 08, 2007
Obama Will Win, But Probably Without My Vote

I continue to predict that our next President will be Barack Obama. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to vote for him.

It’ll Be a Democrat

I start from the premise that the country has moved to the left on many social issues during the Bush presidency, as measured by a recent Pew poll.

And it’s not just the war; Rovian divide-and-rule has pissed off a lot of folks. The wedge-issue strategy has indeed produced a surprising result — for the pundits, at least. Normal people understand that division doesn’t make numbers larger, it makes them smaller. Not long ago, the MSM was in awe of Karl’s plans for a permanent majority. Now they’re surprised, or at least pretending to be so, at the rapid demise of the once dominant. And they still can’t figure out why the blogosphere takes them so lightly…

The strategy of stepping on anyone who questions you is often employed by budding despots with success. This usually requires a society where power is highly concentrated, with a history of such power grabs, and it’s usually accompanied by a bloodbath. In a society where power is more widely distributed, like a republic, the bloodbath is hard to pull off, but not impossible as the Roman proscriptions showed.

Rove, however, is not a warrior, or even an ideologue, but a schemer, a liar, and a dirty-trickster. Instead of dead bodies in his wake, he leaves angry competitors and spurned former colleagues. As his power increased, so did the army of folks he’s wronged on the way up, from cheated opponents to families of dead soldiers.

As the system moves away from Rovian-style politics, the Republicans have to retool to fit the new conditions. That, plus the Iraq war, combines with a remarkably uninspiring field of Republican candidates to pretty much guarantee our next President will be a Democrat.

Why I Think He’ll Win

I predict it’ll be Obama, for several reasons.

First, there’s the race-gender stuff, as America decides whether it’s ready for a President who’s female or black or Hispanic. Certainly such a candidate would merit particular emphasis from the Secret Service; but in addition to immense resistance, Clinton and Obama, at least, also have significant constituencies pushing them forward — Richardson has yet to exhibit it.

Then there’s the question of opposition. Recent polls show all the leading Democrats beating all the leading Republicans, in most cases quite handily. From the current crop, will the Republicans nominate a warmonger, or a racist, or someone who doesn’t believe in evolution, or someone who’s against stem-cell research, or just a generic idiot? Unless the GOP finds a more attractive product (Newt Gingrich?? Please, nominate him!) than they have now, this year’s Democratic nomination process will be the equivalent of the last AFC Championship: whoever wins this round will win the next as well.

If that turns out to be true, then the current struggle for the soul of the Democratic party is even more important. The DLC is the wing most closely associated with the war. Its primary avatar, Clinton, continues to spend a lot of time trying to recover from her refusal to renounce her authorization vote, while Biden’s partitioning solution to the current conflict apparently struck no one as a good idea.

Thus I think we’ll see a left-right struggle inside the Democratic party. The right is typified by Clinton, and the left by Edwards. My sympathies are clearly on the left end; but I haven’t voted for a Democrat for President since Dukakis — I lived in Massachusetts while he was Governor, and he seemed okay; he wasn’t corrupt, at least, which is saying something in that environment. But the Democrats keep picking these Republican wannabes, who spend all their time “triangulating”, which looks to me like capitulating on the most important issues in order to get trivial things said.

So I expect the Democratic party, paying no more attention to my views than it ever has, will end up well to the right of a coalition that would generate massive popular support. This is The People against Big Business, and Big Business knows it. Most of The People don’t.

What people do realize, though, is that we need someone in the White House who’ll tell us the truth about the dangers we face, most of which are economic and social rather than military. I don’t think enough people trust Clinton to do that; she’s on the wrong side in that fight. This fits with the recent poll data, which showed Obama and Edwards beating most Republicans by larger margins than Clinton achieved. So the choice from the Big Business viewpoint looks like Edwards, the trial lawyer and populist, versus Obama, the centrist. Done deal: the DLC will spend unlimited amounts of money to make sure the Democratic wing of the Democratic party is marginalized.

Which is fine with me. That’s why I don’t vote Democratic.

Why I Won’t Vote For Him

When you’re voting for someone Robert Kagan likes, you ought to question your choice.

…last week a surprising new name joined the chorus of praise for the antiwar Obama — that of Robert Kagan, a leading neoconservative and co-founder of the Project for the New American Century in the late 1990s, which called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Kagan is an informal foreign policy adviser to the Republican senator John McCain, who remains the favoured neoconservative choice for the White House because of his backing for the troops in Iraq.

But in an article in the Washington Post, Kagan wrote approvingly that a keynote speech by Obama at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs was “pure John Kennedy”, a neocon hero of the cold war.

In his speech, Obama called for an increase in defence spending and an extra 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines to “stay on the offense” against terrorism and ensure America had “the strongest, best-equipped military in the world”. He talked about building democracies, stopping weapons of mass destruction and the right to take unilateral action to protect US “vital interests” if necessary, as well as the importance of building alliances.

“Personally, I liked it,” Kagan wrote.

Which should tell you something right there.

Apparently Republicans are starting to look for a possible winner, and since they have none in their own party they’re switching parties.

Matthew Dowd, Bush’s chief campaign strategist in 2004, announced last month that he was disillusioned with the war in Iraq and the president’s “my way or the highway” style of leadership — the first member of Bush’s inner circle to denounce the leader’s performance in office.

Although Dowd has yet to endorse a candidate, he said the only one he liked was Obama. “I think we should design campaigns that appeal, not to 51% of the people, but bring the country together as a whole,” Dowd said.

Good enough for dedicated neocons and former Bush staffers? Good enough for me.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:54 AM
May 01, 2007
A Family of Thieves

When people are asked for a one-word description of George W. Bush, they increasingly choose words like incompetent, idiot, and liar rather than good, Christian, or honest (why those last three are considered synonyms is not clear to a fringe resident like me).

But isn’t it just totally dead clear that the right word is thief?

Since President Bush took office, the combination of rising productivity and stagnant wages — workers are producing more, but they aren’t getting paid more — has led to a veritable profit gusher, with corporate profits more than doubling since 2000. Last year, profits as a share of national income were at the highest level ever recorded.

Krugman points out that this profit gusher has not increased investment. Far from it; in fact, if you leave out housing, investment remains well below its late 1990's level, and has declined the past two quarters despite that great economy the White House keeps trumpeting.

And of course wages are stagnant despite consistently rising productivity. So if the money’s not going to the workers, and it’s not being invested, where’s it at?

Krugman gives some credence to the idea that it’s being used to buy back stock, thus increasing the value of the remaining shares. If corporate officers and insiders hold most of those shares, they’re basically pocketing the cash they’re choosing to remove from the market. This doesn’t increase investment or wages or improve the physical plant or finance research and development. It enriches the already very rich. It concentrates wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

The first thing Chomsky taught me was that capitalism and democracy are opposites: to the extent we favor one we disfavor the other. And it’s clear which side the Cheney administration comes down on, to the obvious and flagrantly disregarded discomfort of most of the population.

In fact, a case can be made that the Bush family values loyalty above competence precisely because much of the wealth created when they’re in office arises from illegal acts, from wars to the looting of the S&Ls and the theft of Iraqi oil and cash by American companies. It’s not simply that George W. Bush is a thief; it’s that his family has heen a bunch of thieves for at least three generations.

The difference is that Shrub believes his thievery is the will of God.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:15 AM
April 18, 2007
Spring Chickens and Roosting Time

Ah, the sights and scents and sneezing of spring! Here in the Bay Area, the first wave of flowers has come and gone, and we’re well into the second one. Normally there aren’t many more waves on the way, because there’s no water; but the weather’s gotten weird over the last few years. Wonder why…

Anyway, everyone knows the Bird of Spring is the Chicken, which has come home to roost with a vengeance. Apparently this time it’s personal. Hubris, meet Nemesis.

My New Nickname for the Attorney General

One of the chickens has Alberto Gonzales’s name on it. If he were bright, he’d use the two-day reprieve he got from the Virginia shootings to consider his position, and resign tomorrow. Kyle Sampson’s testimony has directly contradicted his, and John Conyers wants to offer limited immunity to Monica Goodling, the star of Messiah and Regent. On Thursday, assuming no new shootings or terror alerts, Gonzales will be raked over the coals, humiliated, and most likely caught lying or dissembling in a manner clear enough for his remaining Congressional support to collapse. Then he’ll resign.

And become, in the process, another in the series of underlings who’ve gone under the bus for the Bush machine. From a human point of view, you gotta hope their families are somehow compensated for the public embarrassment and historical disdain generated by their most visible member.

I must be the millionth blogger to suggest that, for the few remaining days of his service, we call the Attorney General “AGAG”. It is, of course, the simple-minded acronym for his office and his name, plus it includes a passing reference to his most famous memo justifying, or at least preparing legal defenses for, torture. Finally, it helps us remember what to spoon him with.

Buried Under Roving Charges

Gonzales is another example of two trends: Bush’s obvious skill, no doubt something he’s honed over a lifetime, at diverting some of the responsibility for his own misdeeds; and his willingness to throw loyal supporters into the breach to buy Rove time to escape.

Bush, like his father, is willing to dump anyone he doesn’t depend