Maureen Dowd is her usual witty, penetrating self in today’s offering. Here, for instance:
When the Rogue State of Bill began demonizing Monica Lewinsky as a troubled stalker, you knew you could count on the complicity of feminists and Democratic women in Congress. Bill’s female cabinet members and feminist supporters had no choice but to accept the unappetizing quid pro quo: The Clintons would give women progressive public policies as long as the women didn’t assail Bill for his regressive private behavior with women.This stalker stuff comes up with tiresome regularity. It shouldn’t be necessary to say, but stalkers of both sexes do in fact exist, and Monica Lewinsky defines the term. She aimed herself at President Clinton from the first day she set foot in the White House, no doubt having gathered from news reports that he was enthusiastically heterosexual. She was not an innocent child. She was free, white and 22. She was already involved in a five-year affair with her married high school drama teacher. She had in no sense been pressured or seduced by a powerful boss. The only one stalked in that whole squalid business was Clinton.
…it’s worse. Read the whole Reuters investigation from which this comes:
A Reuters examination of nine years of cases shows that 66 of the 17,000 lawyers who petitioned the Supreme Court succeeded at getting their clients’ appeals heard at a remarkable rate. Their appeals were at least six times more likely to be accepted by the court than were all others filed by private lawyers during that period.
The lawyers are the most influential members of one of the most powerful specialties in America: the business of practicing before the Supreme Court. None of these lawyers is a household name. But many are familiar to the nine justices. That’s because about half worked for justices past or present, and some socialize with them.
They are the elite of the elite: Although they account for far less than 1 percent of lawyers who filed appeals to the Supreme Court, these attorneys were involved in 43 percent of the cases the high court chose to decide from 2004 through 2012.
The Reuters examination of the Supreme Court’s docket, the most comprehensive ever, suggests that the justices essentially have added a new criterion to whether the court takes an appeal — one that goes beyond the merits of a case and extends to the merits of the lawyer who is bringing it.
The results: a decided advantage for corporate America, and a growing insularity at the court. Some legal experts contend that the reliance on a small cluster of specialists, most working on behalf of businesses, has turned the Supreme Court into an echo chamber — a place where an elite group of jurists embraces an elite group of lawyers who reinforce narrow views of how the law should be construed…
In contradistinction to silly blabbermouths like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, Jack F. Matlock, Jr. actually knows a thing or two (or millions) about Russia, Crimea, and the Ukraine. Seeing as how he was Reagan’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, you’d think he’d be all over Fox News these days. Here’s why he isn’t:
Well, I think that what we have seen is a reaction, in many respects, to a long history of what the Russian government, the Russian president and many of the Russian people — most of them — feel has been a pattern of American activity that has been hostile to Russia and has simply disregarded their national interests. They feel that having thrown off communism, having dispensed with the Soviet Empire, that the U.S. systematically, from the time it started expanding NATO to the east, without them, and then using NATO to carry out what they consider offensive actions about an — against another country — in this case, Serbia — a country which had not attacked any NATO member, and then detached territory from it — this is very relevant now to what we’re seeing happening in Crimea — and then continued to place bases in these countries, to move closer and closer to borders, and then to talk of taking Ukraine, most of whose people didn’t want to be a member of NATO, into NATO, and Georgia.
Now, this began an intrusion into an area which the Russians are very sensitive. Now, how would Americans feel if some Russian or Chinese or even West European started putting bases in Mexico or in the Caribbean, or trying to form governments that were hostile to us? You know, we saw how we virtually went ballistic over Cuba. And I think that we have not been very attentive to what it takes to have a harmonious relationship with Russia…
You see, in the Orange Revolution in Kiev, foreigners, including Americans, were very active in organizing people and inspiring them. Now, you know, I have to ask Americans: How would Occupy Wall Street have looked if you had foreigners out there leading them? Do you think that would have helped them get their point across? I don’t think so. And I think we have to understand that when we start directly interfering, particularly our government officials, in the internal makeup of other governments, we’re really asking for trouble…
Now, what have we been telling the Ukrainians, the Georgians — at least some of us, officials? “Just hold on. You can join NATO, and that will solve your problems for you.” You know, and yet, it is that very prospect, that the United States and its European allies were trying to surround Russia with hostile bases, that has raised the emotional temperature of all these things. And that was a huge mistake. As George Kennan wrote back in the ’90s when this question came up, the decision to expand NATO the way it was done was one of the most fateful and bad decisions of the late 20th century.
Rubber Hose spells out what should be obvious to anybody who doesn’t mainline Fox News. Apparently it isn’t, though, to judge by the polls. You’d think that nobody on God’s little green footstool ever had an insurance policy cancelled until Obama came along.
One annoying thing about the ACA is anything bad related to health insurance is deemed to be an Obamacare problem even if it is a problem that long predated the health reform law.
For as long as I have been aware of this stuff, companies have cut employee hours to avoid giving them benefits. Just after I graduated high school, a friend of mine worked 29 hours per week at a book store. Why such an odd number? The company gave benefits to “full time employees” and defined people as full time if they worked 30 hours or more. This was in 1988. But when it happens today, it is all Obamacare’s fault. Labor stats don’t back up the notion that the ACA is causing any cutback in hours. But any company that cuts its hours has an incentive to say that it is doing the cuts because of Obamacare because then the law, and not the company, becomes the bad guy.
Likewise, business have been reducing the number of employees who get health insurance for decades. That phenomenon is what people were calling the “health care crisis” back in the early 1990s and the reason that Obama campaigned on health care reform as an issue which led to the ACA’s passage. But whenever any employer drops health insurance after the ACA’s passage, it must be Obamacare’s fault. And private insurance carriers have long been restricting the doctors and medical facilities you can visit (in-network vs. out-of-network), changes in policies, etc. This stuff was not invented by the 2010 law.
From Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes:
The ambassador [Henry Cabot Lodge] resented the agency’s exalted status in Saigon. “CIA has more money; bigger houses than diplomats; bigger salaries; more weapons; more modern equipment.” He was jealous of the powers held by [CIA station chief] John Richardson, and he scoffed at the caution the station chief displayed about Conein’s central role in the coup plotting. Lodge decided he wanted a new station chief.
So he burned Richardson — “exposed him and gave his name publicly to the newspapers,” as Bobby Kennedy said in a classified oral history eight months later — by feeding a coldly calculated leak to a journeyman reporter passing through Saigon. The story was a hot scoop. Identifying Richardson by name — an unprecedented breach of security — it said he had “frustrated a plan of action Mr. Lodge had brought with him from Washington, because the agency disagreed with it…one high official here, a man who has devoted most of his life in the service of democracy, likened the CIA’s growth to a malignancy, and added he was not sure that even the White House could control it.” The New York Times and the Washington Post picked up the story. Richardson, his career ruined, left Saigon four days later; after a decent interval, Ambassador Lodge moved into his house.
Forty years ago I planted a black walnut sapling, which is now a huge, massive tree producing bushels of nuts every year for the squirrels. Not for us, as you would appreciate if you ever tried to shell a black walnut.
Producing also, from its roots and fallen leaves, a substance called juglone which poisons practically every edible plant in its vicinity known to man — except the pawpaw tree. The pawpaw is a native American fruit in the custard apple family, reputed to be delicious. Neither you nor I have ever tasted a pawpaw, because it doesn’t keep well enough to reach the market.
What could I do then but plant pawpaws in the shade of the walnut? Nothing, and now, four years later, I have two pawpaws big enough to bear flowers and thus, theoretically, fruit. The thing is, though, that pawpaws are not self-pollinating. In the wild they are pollinated by carrion-eating flies, which they attract by having flowers the color of rotting liver. Since this is an iffy proposition, the hopeful pawpaw grower is advised to hang spoiled meat from the branches. Fortune smiled on me. Out hunting snakes just at blossom time, I came across a rotting deer carcass.
Just to be sure, though, I backed up the deer bones with hand pollination. The deal is this. First you take an artist’s brush and then just go to it:
Pollen is ripe for gathering when the ball of anthers is brownish in color, loose and friable. Pollen grains should appear as small beige-colored particles on the brush hairs. The stigma is receptive when the tips of the pistils are green, glossy and sticky, and the anther ball is firm and greenish to light yellow in color.
See? Nothing to it. A few weeks later and Shazam!, you’ve got yourself not just one but two baby pawpaws. Only about an inch long so far, but wait till October.
Watching MSNBC last night it struck me again how ignorant politicians and pundits are about bureaucracies. The subject this time was the IRS vs. the Tea Party, but it could have been Benghazi or most of the other “scandals” that flame up and burn out on our TV screens.
Few talking heads or politicians have served much time in large bureaucracies. I have, starting at the absolute bottom as a private in the U.S. Army. The experience taught me how to look on military officers, which is generally down. Obama and Clinton would have profited greatly from a similar immersion in reality, as would most of our soldier-sniffing and cop-loving patriots. Bringing back the draft would put a stop to a lot of this idiot babble about the greatest fighting men in the history of the known universe and all universes henceforth to be discovered.
All right, back to the point.
Next I became a sort of sub-boss in a much smaller bureaucracy — assistant city editor of the Washington Post. Then I was deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency’s two-man outpost in Casablanca. From Morocco I went to Laos as press attaché for the secret war (go figure). My next job was near the very top of the largest bureaucracy of them all, the federal government. From the White House I went to the Federal Aviation Administration as chief of public affairs. My only promotion in any of these bureaucracies, I’m proud to say, was the automatic one from private to private first class. My ambition seems to have been low to none, but then ambition is well known to be blind. Thus there was nothing wrong with my eyes (speaking metaphorically. In fact, my eyes suck.)
And so I am massively unastonished to learn that the top leadership of the IRS was unable to impose its will on a bunch of GS-11s in the Cincinnati office. I once spent a great deal of time and the taxpayers’ money on developing and implementing a program to modernize graphics throughout the FAA. Thirty-five years later, the Depression-era logo I thought we had killed off still shows up regularly on the evening news. The new, improved model seems to have survived only at the Department of Transportation.
Norman Mailer was once asked if he thought if an atomic war would kill all mankind. Hell no, he said. We’ll smother ourselves in our own shit first. More and more, Mailer appears to have been right.
Looking on the bright side, though, small sparks of beauty may survive here and there. So take a look at this video sent along by Asher Pavel, and hope for the birds.
Terrorism is a crime against the mind. What happened in Boston, horrific as it is, is theater to make you scared. That’s the point. The message of terrorist attacks is you’re not safe, and the government can’t protect you — that the existing power structure can’t protect you.
I tell people if it’s in the news, don’t worry about it. By definition, news is something that almost never happens. The brain fools you into thinking the news is what’s important. Our brains overreact to this stuff. Terrorism just pegs the fear button.
This one followed the comments on New York magazine’s account of how Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster was cut tragically short by a full bladder.
“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.”
…the Captains and the Kings depart. But famed Connecticut artist Mark Wilson remains, to capture the scene as the Inaugural’s cheap seats empty out.
If there is life in the universe more intelligent than ours, I can imagine its scientists examining Earth and concluding that it is under attack by two-legged cancer cells, multiplying wildly and on the point of killing their host. Already the malignancy has metastasized. Metamedically speaking, this is the significance of the Mars rover…
The expansion of European settlement in Australia triggered a massive coral collapse at the Great Barrier Reef more than 50 years ago, according to a new study.
The study, published Nov. 6 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that runoff from farms clouded the pristine waters off the Queensland coast and killed the natural branching coral species, leaving a stunted, weedy type of coral in its place. The findings suggest that decades before climate change and reef tourism, humans were disrupting the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef.
The late Al Weisel, blogging as Jon Swift, used to run a best blog posts of the year feature, selected by the bloggers themselves. Below is mine for 2007, as I am reminded by Vagabond Scholar. I had completely forgotten the post but it seems to me to hold up, and so I reprint it in an excess of immodesty. And as a demonstration of Plus ça change… And to prove I am smarter than Muammar Qaddafi, who would be alive today if he had listened to me:
In the current Newsweek Evan Thomas has an unusually vapid review of a book by Andrew Roberts which may or may not be equally vapid, depending on how accurately Thomas has described it. The review is in a section called “Ideas,” and here is Thomas’s: People who speak English are really, really special, and the rest of you owe us a really, really lot.
This idea is hardly worth engaging, and so let’s pass on to one which is worth engaging — although only because it has invaded the national brain like some ghastly tumor threatening the very values that Thomas supposes us to possess:
The English-speaking peoples have been seriously threatened by force four times: twice by German aggression, once by Soviet totalitarianism, and most recently by Islamic fanaticism. The forces of freedom and democracy reeled after the first blows—at Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor in World War II and at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. “The English-speaking peoples rarely win the first battle,” writes Roberts, “but they equally rarely lose the subsequent war.”
All right, everybody. Let’s relax for a minute here.
The English-speaking peoples are not seriously threatened by force from Islamic fanaticism. The only major war subsequent to 9/11 was one we sought in Iraq, and it lasted only a few weeks. Everything after that was a badly botched occupation.
The 9/11 attacks and World War II are no more parallel than longitude and latitude are parallel, no matter how badly George W. Bush wants to be Winston Churchill. (I might mention here that I myself would very much like to be Dame Judi Dench, although the odds are against it.)
The only human force that can seriously threaten the existence of the United States, let alone the English-speaking peoples, would be a full-scale military attack from a combination of opponents. A coalition of Russia, Japan and China might pull it off.
But in the real world this will not happen, because the United States, Russia and China all have atomic weapons and Japan could have them by next Tuesday.
This is why North Korea and Iran are in such a scramble to get nuclear weapons: not to attack us, but to make sure we don’t attack them. The strategy works very well, as may be seen in the case of North Korea. Next thing we know, Bush will visit Pyongyang, nation-building.
Returning to the real world, the war on terror is not a war. Osama attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with stolen airliners and kamikaze pilots because, lacking an air force, he was incapable of war. One engages in terrorism not because one is powerful, but precisely because one is weak.
Terrorism is almost always about real estate, as in Ireland, Chechnya, Spain, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, and elsewhere around the globe. If the United States had remained neutral in the land dispute between the Israel and its Arab neighbors, there would have been no 9/11.
And if we were now to become neutral in that dispute, there would be no more 9/11s. That is the only way to end Islamic terrorism in this country. Every informed American with a double-digit I.Q. knows that; the only meaningful question left is whether our continued blind support of Israel is somehow worth whatever it costs in future terror attacks.
We have been misled to believe that we are mired in an apocalyptic clash between the forces of Islamic darkness and the forces of English-speaking light. But it only seems that way because Bush responded to an act of terror with an act of war against an evil but in this case innocent bystander.
Nor are the Iraqis reacting to Bush’s occupation with some fiendish and unfair new form of combat called “asymmetrical warfare” in which they cunningly “adapt to the enemy” in new and hitherto unimaginable ways. No, the Iraqis are reacting to occupation by a more powerful enemy in the same way that resistance fighters reacted to Hitler’s storm troopers. They are improvising against an occupying army the best they can.
Nor should we be surprised if the neighbors lend a hand. They do so for the same reasons that the Soviets supported Tito and British agents aided guerrillas all over Europe. The neighbors don’t want to be the next ones occupied.
Fortunately even if Bush turns Iran into his very own Cambodia, we will eventually be forced to withdraw from the Middle East just as Nixon did from Southeast Asia.
In both misbegotten struggles, our opponents were clear in what they wanted — our absence — and we were unclear about what we wanted. Our presence? Did we really want to stay? For how long? Forever? Why?
Was such a dubious prize worth the life of even one George Walker Bush or Richard Bruce Cheney? Like millions of other Americans neither of them thought so. But that, of course, was then.
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.
Something I've done that I’ll bet Mitt Romney has never done is... fill out a job application.
Guys like Romney don’t fill out job applications, y’see. According to Mitt’s Wikipedia page — and here Wikipedia's notorious subjectivity works in our favor — his employment history begins thusly:
Romney was recruited by several firms and chose to remain in Massachusetts to work for Boston Consulting Group (BCG), reasoning that working as a management consultant to a variety of companies would better prepare him for a future position as a chief executive.
In contrast, my employment history began with a clean shirt, my own pen, and an index card on which I had jotted down three personal references. I went to the mall just north of town and went from store to store, asking at each one if they were accepting applications. If they were, I reasoned it would make a better impression if I had my own pen than if I asked to borrow one. There’s something else I bet Mitt Romney has never done: give an iota of thought to the impression he would make by asking to borrow a pen.
Eventually, my efforts yielded the sort of job one would expect from a shopping mall in the late 70s — a minimum wage gig that turned out to be seasonal. I was told when I was hired in September that this particular store did not hire seasonally, which led me to expect that I could work there for as long as I did a good job. However, when there were massive layoffs the following January — myself among them — I realized that I had been lied to about that. I would bet that, too, is an experience Mitt Romney has never had. Rather, my guess would be that Mitt has always been the one lying to employees. (Although one could argue that currently he is lying to his prospective employers, which to varying degrees we have all done.)
Since then, I have filled out many job applications for all sorts of jobs. One is worth mentioning. When I fled Ohio for San Francisco (to launch my illustrious stand-up career) I had to choose between necessities and luxuries. One of the things that came under the heading of luxury was... a telephone. Ya know why? Because I had no credit history, the phone company required a prohibitively large (for me) deposit. And because I had no phone, a prospective employer refused to take my application. Apparently, what I considered a minor inconvenience he considered an insurmountable barrier. I will bet Mitt has never had to worry that he would not be seriously considered for any position in which he was interested. And I don't have to bet on this one — I will guarantee you Willard M. Romney has never had to do without a phone, for any reason.
I am happy to report that it has been a long time since I’ve had to fill out a job application. I have graduated to the ranks of people who get hired by circulating resumes, and from there to the exalted ranks of those who have their resumes dismissed out of hand. I am quite sure the being in that latter category is another experience that Mr. Romney and I will never have in common.
Romney recently suggested adding a Constitutional qualification that “the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.’” I might go along with that — if those three years began with filling out a job application. Unlike Mr. Romney, I think that would educate any would-be president in the way this country reallyworks.
The municipal bond business has always been a cesspool. Nixon’s corrupt attorney general, John Mitchell, crawled out of it and on to greater things, so to speak: Watergate and the plumbers.
But I’ve never seen the bond racket more clearly exposed or better explained than by Matt Taibbi in this month’s Rolling Stone. Read it, and weep for the Republic. He starts out with this:
Someday, it will go down in history as the first trial of the modern American mafia. Of course, you won’t hear the recent financial corruption case, United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm, called anything like that. If you heard about it at all, you’re probably either in the municipal bond business or married to an antitrust lawyer. Even then, all you probably heard was that a threesome of bit players on Wall Street got convicted of obscure antitrust violations in one of the most inscrutable, jargon-packed legal snoozefests since the government’s massive case against Microsoft in the Nineties — not exactly the thrilling courtroom drama offered by the famed trials of old-school mobsters like Al Capone or Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo.
But this just-completed trial in downtown New York against three faceless financial executives really was historic. Over 10 years in the making, the case allowed federal prosecutors to make public for the first time the astonishing inner workings of the reigning American crime syndicate, which now operates not out of Little Italy and Las Vegas, but out of Wall Street…
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.
After all, who can say they have never used the bus? Maybe not on a regular basis, maybe only for an emergency. I myself have done both. When I lived in San Francisco I could not afford a car (something else Mitt Romney has never experienced.) But I didn’t actually need one. I could get just about anywhere in 30 minutes or so. All sorts of people took the bus. People in business suits, people in waitress uniforms — some of those were even women — people in jeans and t-shirts. It was all very democratic. (And I got some decent exercise and a lot of reading done.)
In Los Angeles, the buses aren’t quite as useful. Oh, they go just about everywhere, but LA is so goddam big that relying on them is something of a desperation move. (Mind you, I don’t denigrate the people who depend on them - rather, they have my sympathy.) So I use the buses every now and then, usually when my car is in the shop. I make a conscious decision to do without a rental, and take a bus home. My wife will invariably ask why I didn’t call someone to pick me up. But the fact is I like to take the bus every so often. I feel it’s an experience to which I should maintain a connection.
Sometimes it’s quite an experience. The last time I took an LA bus there was a guy sitting in the back having a very spirited conversation with his own reflection in the window. At one point he said to his reflection, “I don’t care — I’ve got a bullet for everyone on this goddam bus!” To which I mentally replied: “And it’s neatly mounted on a nifty plaque, right? With a commemorative T-shirt?” I was quite relieved when he got off at the next stop.
So that’s something else I’ll be Mitt Romney has never done — having to wonder, really wonder, what someone five feet away from you is contemplating. Even in San Francisco where the “right” people also took the bus, I was engaged in conversation by a guy who kept his entire right arm suspiciously concealed in his coat. Turned out he was a Moonie, turned out he’d hurt his hand and it was in a cast, but it took a good ten minutes to find that out. And then there were all those guys who wandered past the bus stops shouting at the air. (This was in the 80s, when he had not yet started electing people who shout at the air to state legislatures and Congress.)
So there are several experiences that are not uncommon that I’ll just bet Mitt Romney has never had. I’d also be willing to bet that were he to have them, he would not learn the same things from him that I did. If Mitt Romney is elected, there will most likely be fewer buses, and they will wind up costing more. Those who have to wait will find themselves waiting longer — for a lot of things.
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.)
On We Are Respectable Negroes, Chauncey DeVega considers whether a military coup could occur here, and finds the question to be not at all hypothetical:
I have mentioned this essay from Harper's a few times here on WARN. I assign it in my introductory American Politics courses as a way of getting students to think about our country's cultural, social, and political institutions. Could there be a military coup in the United States? What would it take to be successful? Would the officer class go along with it? What of the average rank-and-file soldiers?
My answer has always been as follows: why does the military need to have a coup when they effectively run the show anyway? Moreover, the United States is a thoroughly militarized society from the bottom up (and has only seen the walls between the military and civilian life become thinner and thinner with the post-Cold War up-gunning of local police departments, and Patriot Act national security era).
Every time I think wouldn’t it be nice if more young people voted, something like this comes along. (Thanks to young person Jason Shure for the link…)
Last week my daughter told me about her boyfriend’s aunt, uncle and cousin. They are moving to Los Angeles from Texas. Uncle has been out of work for some time. Aunt was recently laid off, and has lost her health care. She is a cancer survivor, so it is a safe bet that she won’t be getting coverage to replace that anytime soon. Cousin has recently graduated from college. She can’t find a job. She can’t afford her rent.
So, Joad-like they are all moving to California. Why, you may ask, do they think it will be better here? I asked that very question of my daughter. Can you guess the answer? I bet you can. I’ll give you a minute....
“They’re going to move in with Tom’s grandfather,” was my daughter’s reply.
I pointed out to my daughter that there is something terribly, horribly wrong with this country when two people in their 40s have absolutely no options but to move in with a parent. And the fact that we were talking about two generations being forced to take refuge like this is that much more appalling.
Turns out I didn’t have to point that out to her. She had already figured it out.
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…
From last night’s State of the Union address:
For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change. (Applause.)
Highest corporate taxes in the world? I hollered at the TV that this was Chamber of Commerce crap. Not being Rushbo, however, I checked before shooting off my mouth in public.
Turns out the answer is, it depends. Tax rates, as the President pointed out, can have little or no relationship to taxes actually paid. Every nation has its own complicated system of taxation, and direct comparisons are very difficult to make. But one method produced this result:
Other methods show our corporate taxes higher than some developed nations, lower than others. No pattern, at least that I could see, links corporate taxation convincingly either to economic success or failure.
I have no real problem with what the President may have been driving at in this section of his speech. To the extent that his vague and careful remarks meant anything at all, it seemed to be that the big corporations slime out of their taxes and leave Mom and Pop stores to make up the difference. Probably this is so. Certainly neither party will do much about it. This is America.
I’m sorry, however, that Mr. Obama went for a cheap applause line which reinforced the GOP’s ancient Big Lie: that Americans, poor babies, stagger through life under one of the world’s heaviest tax burdens.
But take a look at Business Pundit’s ranking of tax rates in 12 developed nations. Belgium taxes the most heavily, followed by Finland, Germany, Denmark, Italy and France; the United States is among the lowest — below Switzerland, but slightly above Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
High taxes or low, only one country on the list can’t afford universal health care for its citizens. Again, this is America.
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…
It’s just like Boehner and all his cuddly buddies keep telling us: there’s plenty of jobs out there for anybody who really wants to work. For further information on the one below, go here. Free cabin bunk is included. Another big plus: Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul will be your senators.
The technician will assist in radio tracking Black Kingsnakes, checking drift fences and processing captured reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals, conducting vegetation transects, and data entry. Additionally, technician will assist in the deployment and collection of copper models throughout each study site. Technician should be in great physical condition and be able to hike about 8 - 15 miles a day in various weather conditions with about 10 - 20 pounds of gear.
Technician should also be tolerant of ticks, spiders, and insects. Technician should have previous radio telemetry experience. Technician should be able to navigate using a compass and topographic map, operate a GPS device, ability to identify and handle reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals (on job training will be expected, but prior knowledge would be beneficial). Venomous snakes will be encountered during this job; however, the technician will be trained in properly handling and processing venomous snakes.
More good sense from Daniel Larison. Worth reading in its entirety:
As much as we can appreciate and honor the support our NATO allies have provided, we shouldn’t drag them into conflicts that have never really been their concern. “Out-of-area” missions will just keep happening again and again as the alliance looks for new conflicts to enter to provide a rationale for its existence. European nations are clearly tired of it, and at present they can’t afford it, either. The need for fiscal retrenchment has been forcing European governments, even the new coalition government in Britain, to make deep cuts in their military budgets.
Making NATO into a political club of democracies in good standing is also no solution to the Alliance’s obsolescence. As we saw in the war in Georgia two years ago, proposed expansion of NATO has been more of a threat to European peace and security than dissolving it. Once again, this is something that most European governments understood at the time, and which Washington refused to see. Without the belief that Georgia was eligible for membership and would eventually be allowed to join, it is unlikely that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would have escalated a conflict over its separatist regions and plunged his country into war with Russia. That conflict was a good sign that the Alliance had outlived its usefulness. If it isn’t disbanded, it may start to become a menace to the very things it was supposed to keep safe.
America doesn’t need and shouldn’t want to perpetuate an outdated alliance. The creation of NATO was an imaginative solution designed to respond to the security conditions of the immediate aftermath of World War II, and it was an enormous success. But it is time for Americans to begin thinking anew about the world. A first step in doing that is letting go of an alliance neither America nor Europe needs…
This, excerpted from a longer piece in Naked Capitalism, sounds right to me. But then what do I know about money-lending and economic theory. How does it strike you?
Wolf then comes perilously close to making a fundamentally important observation, but pulls back (emphasis ours):We cannot assess the costs of regulation without recognising a few facts: first, both the economy and the financial system have just survived a near death experience; second, the costs of the crisis include millions of unemployed and tens of trillions of dollars in lost output, as the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane has argued; third, governments rescued the financial system by socialising its risks; finally, the financial industry is the only one with limitless access to the public purse and is, as a result, by far the most subsidised in the world.
Read the italicized part again. Big finance has an unlimited credit line with governments around the globe. “Most subsidized industry in the world” is inadequate to describe this relationship. Banks are now in the permanent role of looters, as described in the classic Akerlof/Romer paper. They run highly leveraged operations, extract compensation based on questionable accounting and officially-subsidized risk-taking, and dump their losses on the public at large.
But the subsidies go beyond that. To list only a few examples: we have near zero interest rates, which allow bank to earn risk free profits simply by borrowing short and buying longer-dated Treasuries. We have the IRS refusing to look into violations of REMIC rules, which govern mortgage securitizations. We have massive intervention to prop up real estate prices, with the main objective to shore up banks; any impact on consumers is an afterthought.
The usual narrative, “privatized gains and socialized losses” is insufficient to describe the dynamic at work. The banking industry falsely depicts markets, and by extension, its incumbents as a bastion of capitalism. The blatant manipulations of the equity markets shows that financial activity, which used to be recognized as valuable because it supported commercial activity, is whenever possible being subverted to industry rent-seeking. And worse, these activities are state supported…
So, the reality is that banks can no longer meaningfully be called private enterprises, yet no one in the media will challenge this fiction. And pointing out in a more direct manner that banks should not be considered capitalist ventures would also penetrate the dubious defenses of their need for lavish pay. Why should government-backed businesses run hedge funds or engage in high risk trading, or for that matter, be permitted to offer lucrative products that are valuable because they allow customers to engage in questionable activities, like regulatory arbitrage? The sort of markets that serve a public purpose should be reasonably efficient and transparent, which implies low margins for intermediaries.
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?
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.
Elise Foley reports in the Washington Independent:
One of the major complaints against immigration — both legal and illegal — is that non-Americans take jobs that could be occupied by citizens during a time of high unemployment. But immigrants actually boost incomes and productivity over time, according to a paper released Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The study’s author found immigration has no “significant” effect on the number of jobs available to U.S.-born workers.
The main reason, economist Giovanni Peri argues, is that U.S. and immigrant workers tend to take different jobs, particularly because immigrants often face language barriers that make them less likely to take higher paying jobs requiring strong communication skills. This allows U.S.-born workers to shift toward these jobs, Peri writes…
— Marie Prentice
Every person burdened with both honesty and intelligence already knows what follows, but seldom have I seen it expressed so clearly and unanswerably. Excerpted from an essay by Robert Higgs in The Beacon (h/t to Xymphora):
The announced goal is to identify terrorists and eliminate them or prevent them from carrying out their nefarious acts. This is simultaneously a small task and an impossible one. It is small because the number of persons seeking to carry out a terrorist act of substantial consequence against the United States and in a position to do so cannot be more than a handful. If the number were greater, we would have seen many more attacks or attempted attacks during the past decade — after all, the number of possible targets is virtually unlimited, and the attackers might cause some form of damage in countless ways.
The most plausible reason why so few attacks or attempted attacks have occurred is that very few persons have been trying to carry them out. (I refer to genuine attempts, not to the phony-baloney schemes planted in the minds of simpletons by government undercover agents and then trumpeted to the heavens when the FBI “captures” the unfortunate victims of the government’s entrapment.)
So, the true dimension of the terrorism problem that forms the excuse for these hundreds of programs of official predation against the taxpayers is small — not even in the same class with, say, reducing automobile-accident or household-accident deaths by 20 percent. Yet, at the same time, the antiterrorism task is impossible because terrorism is a simple act available in some form to practically any determined adult with access to Americans and their property at home or abroad.
It is simply not possible to stop all acts of terrorism if potential terrorists have been given a sufficient grievance to motivate their wreaking some form of havoc against Americans. However, it is silly to make the prevention of all terrorist acts the goal. What can’t be done won’t be done, regardless of how many people and how much money one devotes to doing it. We can, though, endure some losses from terrorism in the same way that we routinely endure some losses from accidents, diseases, and ordinary crime.
The sheer idiocy of paying legions of twenty-something grads of Harvard and Yale — youngsters who cannot speak Arabic, Farsi, Pashtun, or any of the other languages of the areas they purport to be analyzing and know practically nothing of the history, customs, folkways, and traditions of these places — indicates that no one seriously expects the promised payoff in intelligence to emerge from the effort.
The whole business is akin to sending a blind person to find a needle inside a maze buried somewhere in a hillside. That the massive effort is utterly uncoordinated and scarcely able to communicate one part’s “findings” to another only strengthens the conclusion that the goal is not stopping terrorism, but getting the taxpayers’ money and putting it into privileged pockets. Even if the expected damage from acts of terrorism against the United States were $10 billion per year, which seems much too high a guess, it makes no sense to spend more than $75 billion every year to prevent it — and it certainly makes no sense to spend any money only pretending to prevent it.
As an antidote to the contemptible drivel in my last posting, here’s Joe Bageant (shown below) on the same subject:
…We are all brothers and as such are our brother's keeper. Besides, when I look around me, I do not see a nation of leeches. I see damned few folks getting something for nothing. I see the top dogs, who actually are getting something for nothing, using the bullhorn of media to convince us that one of our brothers and neighbors is getting everything. They would have us believe that the most miserable among us — the poorly educated and those whose souls have been brutalized from birth by the system’s failure to provide the basic security necessary for the development of whole people — are indeed getting something for nothing. And further believe that the most wretched deprived among us are a causal factor in the upcoming and rightful collapse of the overall meanest economic system ever devised. I see an empire of theft and coercion — both of our own people and others around the world in our name — which names the victim as the perp.
And I see a people who no longer feel the bonds of coursing humanity and their species, the sustaining earth under their feet, and beneath whose carpet their eternity waits. Rather I see a people conditioned to believe in the state and obey the state’s designated bosses. And I see the moving hand of the corporate state active in all things from birth to death — opening the eyes of the newly born and closing those of the newly dead. There’s a profit to be made in both, and every human activity in between.
Even those among us who can see, who can observe the hardening condition induced by the enemies of human liberty and well being, feel powerless in the face of this darkening and omniscient order. Despite the quadrennial claims of our political parties during national election years, no savior has arrived and none is coming. No Obama, no miracle of “green science,” no national genius will emerge to lead us. We have only the simple, direct, undeceived intelligence of ordinary men and women to rely upon. We must regain respect for the seemingly meager and often lonely powers an individual does have, and choose work and a way of living upon which we can all rely…
A reader who calls himself Colonelgirdle mentioned in a recent comment that he had lost his small business and his livelihood when refused credit by a bank which used its bailout money to buy another bank. I asked him if he could expand on his brief comment, and he has kindly done so:
For three years I owned and operated a mini-market/gas station in a Cincinnati, Ohio suburb. I bought an already existing store using all the assets I had, including my 401K funds, after being down-sized from my middle-management career of 22 years (in one of the many industries which the U.S. can no longer keep onshore).
Things went along fairly well and the business grew as I acquired a large clientele of regular customers from the local construction companies, other business owners, and the Ford plant. My girlfriend and I worked 90+ hour workweeks and, along with help from a few part-time employees, we operated 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In other words, I was a real practitioner of the kind of free-enterprise capitalism that our windbag politicians and business leaders praise to the heavens while making sure it doesn’t apply to them.
In the spring of 2008, I went to the county “economic development board” asking for advice about expanding my business. And because his office is in the same shopping center as my store, I walked over to Representative John Boehner’s (remember him? the Republican House Majority, now Minority, Leader?) office to ask for help. I asked the bureaucrats whether grants or tax breaks were available to help me hire employees, buy equipment, etc. No, no such thing available. Their only advice was to go to the Small Business Administration.
So I called the SBA. I won’t go into details other than that they sent out someone to take a look at my store and see if he had any words of wisdom. He was the former head of Ford’s truck and ambulance division and knew nothing I could discern about small businesses in general nor especially the retail store business.
So back I went to the county development board. After a few lengthy consultations, I was steered to a Vice President of Lending at a local branch of one of our nation’s larger banks (I won’t tell you which one, but their initials are PNC). In cooperation with that very nice VP, my girlfriend and I hashed-out a business plan and jumped through a multitude of hoops necessary to secure a relatively paltry SBA loan of $75,000.
Meanwhile, I realize now that throughout the spring & summer business had started to go sour. We were close enough to our customers that many of them confided their troubles: they were losing their jobs, they were losing their homes, their own small businesses were taking on water like Katrina. We finished up our paperwork with the bank and awaited an answer.The V.P. anticipated no problem as I had A-1 credit, very little debt, and a good plan for growing the business.
Then the financial tsunami hit…
Suddenly, Americans were informed the banks were bust and Wall Street toppled! Fed chief Ben Bernanke and his bankster buddies told us it was our money or our lives: we could either pony up nearly a trillion dollars or our economy would eat lead.
My business flow slowed to a trickle; people who are terrified don’t go out shopping. In the midst of all this it was announced that the bank I had asked for money was using its government bailout to buy the bank where I had my business accounts (National City). I didn’t think badly about that arrangement, until during that same time my business loan was turned down. The nice V.P. confided that “we just aren’t loaning to anyone right now. Come back in the spring and you can probably get it then.”
We hung on for five months after that. The store died a slow death. People without jobs to go to don’t buy near as much gasoline and candy. I let the employees go after the New Year holiday. In late February, I contacted the bank V.P. but was turned-down again. I heard on the news that the credit markets were still frozen.
A few weeks later, I put up the sign that said “Out of Business.” I didn’t get much out of the used equipment because so many businesses have gone belly-up that there’s a glut on the market (part of that real free-enterprise again).
I’m not embarrassed about my story because now most everyone is either financially ruined or close to it. And our so-called “leaders” don’t really seem to know or care about fixing it because the Dow Jones Average is going up again. I’m unemployed, broke, and waiting, praying/working for the revolution that seems inevitable.
(Editor’s note: Earlier today the colonel commented on Chuck Dupree’s posting, Thirty Million More Criminals. Since it follows naturally on the preceding account, I reprint it below.)
As one of America’s many financially-ruined citizens I have first-hand frustrating experience with applying to the government for assistance. To cite two examples: 1) so that my working, divorced daughter could go to college, she needed financial help with my granddaughter’s daycare. That took seven weeks of almost daily calling the social workers and, finally, in desperation a call to our state governor’s office hotline to get results. 2) I applied for heating energy assistance for this winter, which involves getting up about 3 am in order to stand in line in the freezing cold outside the application office to get one of 25 entrance tickets at about 8 am.
I was 17th in line, because some people camp out there all night. There were about 50 people in line, which means a lot of people turned away each day. My point is that there will be a lot of poor people spending a lot of their time going begging “hat in hand” to the bureaucrats in order to buy insurance.
I was once solidly middle-class and paid taxes for 37 years before being destroyed in the Great Recession. I was surprised at how confusing, uncaring, and inadequate our social safety net is. Pray that you don’t have to find out also.
From today’s New York Times:
…The total return of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index through the end of September was almost 17 percent, and that was after adjusting for inflation. Even if the index does nothing in the final three months of the year, it will have turned in its best year since 2003.…
And from CNN today:
…Inside the Wayne County morgue in midtown Detroit, 67 bodies are piled up, unclaimed, in the freezing temperatures. Neither the families nor the county can afford to bury the corpses. So they stack up inside the freezer.
Albert Samuels, chief investigator for the morgue, said he has never seen anything like it during his 13 years on the job. “Some people don’t come forward even though they know the people are here,” said the former Detroit cop. “They don’t have the money…”
Already our education in the world of monster trucks progresses. Ten Bears comments that the truck in the first picture of the series wasn’t a truck at all, but actually a 1956 Chevy Belair with really big wheels.
Mike answers that the truth is more complicated. Since monster trucks lead a hard and short life, they are topped with disposable plexiglass “bodies” that can look like anything you want.
The picture below gives you the idea. In this case the owner made a shell that looks like a pickup body, and then defaced it with the team sponsor’s logo. When this one gets smashed up they’ll just bolt on another, cast from the same mold.
Here’s what was happening while our “best and brightest” were studying economics at Harvard (a notorious gut major when I was teaching there) so they could be yuppie investment bankers and never grow up.
Last month, my news assistant came in with a new Blackberry. Only it wasn’t a Blackberry. It was a cheap Chinese knockoff of a Blackberry. Of course, the Chinese knockoff wasn’t the same as a real Blackberry. It was better.
He’d had a real Blackberry for six months — bought it on a trip to the US for $400, then had to pay another hundred or so in Vietnam to get it unlocked for local mobile service — and it was inconvenient and flukey. The new one, he found easier to use. The parts, obviously, were exactly the same — they clearly came from the same factories. But he even found the Chinese software more convenient. They were adding features that hadn’t existed on the “real” Blackberry. The knockoff cost $150.
I thought about this after reading this Derek Thompson Atlantic Business post referencing BusinessWeek’s Michael Mandel’s article arguing that the US may be losing its innovative edge. Mandel points out that the US ran a $30 billion trade surplus in advanced tech in 1998. By 2007 it was a $53 billion deficit. Thompson asks: “Where Mandel’s explanation comes up short is: What are these innovators doing wrong?”
The example of the Chinese knockoff Blackberry suggests that maybe US innovators aren’t doing anything wrong. It’s just that they’re now competing against Chinese innovators, where they weren’t 10 years ago. This may have happened for two reasons. The first is that lack of intellectual property protection, combined with the outsourcing of manufacturing for all those high-tech products to China, gradually destroyed the US’s technological edge.
The second is that in 1998, China didn’t have very many top-flight engineers. But they’ve spent the last 10 years doing nothing but graduate engineers, and now, they do. And that changes everything.
Sure, we lefties can fret about this and that as Barack Obama’s presidency begins to take form. But isn’t it wonderful to see signs appearing in the oddest places that the new team is capable of mental access to the real world? Here’s one:
WASHINGTON — The new director of national intelligence told Congress on Thursday that global economic turmoil and the instability it could ignite had outpaced terrorism as the most urgent threat facing the United States.
The assessment underscored concern inside America’s intelligence agencies not only about the fallout from the economic crisis around the globe, but also about long-term harm to America’s reputation. The crisis that began in American markets has already “increased questioning of U.S. stewardship of the global economy,” the intelligence chief, Dennis C. Blair, said in prepared testimony.
Mr. Blair’s comments were particularly striking because they were delivered as part of a threat assessment to Congress that has customarily focused on issues like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Mr. Blair singled out the economic downturn as “the primary near-term security concern” for the country, and he warned that if it continued to spread and deepen, it would contribute to unrest and imperil some governments.
I’m afraid Jim Kunstler is right. Go read it all, and remember that no people ever had a government better than itself. We have indeed met the enemy and sure enough…
The attempted re-start of revolving debt consumerism is an exercise in futility. We’ve reached the limit of being able to create additional debt at any level without causing further damage, additional distortions, and new perversities of economy (and of society, too).
We can’t raise credit card ceilings for people with no ability make monthly payments. We can’t promote more mortgages for people with no income. We can’t crank up a home-building industry with our massive inventory of unsold, and over-priced houses built in the wrong places. We can’t ramp back up the blue light special shopping fiesta.
We can’t return to the heyday of Happy Motoring, no matter how many bridges we fix or how many additional ring highways we build around our already-overblown and over-sprawled metroplexes. Mostly, we can’t return to the now-complete “growth” cycle of “economic expansion.” We’re done with all that. History is done with our doing that, for now.
So far — after two weeks in office — the Obama team seems bent on a campaign to sustain the unsustainable at all costs, to attempt to do all the impossible things listed above. Mr. Obama is not the only one, of course, who is invoking the quest for renewed “growth.”
This is a tragic error in collective thinking. What we really face is a comprehensive contraction in our activities, especially the scale of our activities, and the pressing need to readjust the systems of everyday life to a level of decreased complexity.
For instance, the myth that we can become “energy independent and yet remain car-dependent is absurd. In terms of liquid fuels, we’re simply trapped. We import two-thirds of the oil we use and there is absolutely no chance that drill-drill-drilling (or any other scheme) will change that.
The public and our leaders cannot face the reality of this. The great wish for “alternative” liquid fuels (bio fuels, algae excreta) will never be anything more than a wish at the scales required, and the parallel wish to keep all our cars running by other means — hydrogen fuel cells, electric motors — is equally idle and foolish.
We cannot face the mandate of reality, which is to do everything possible to make our living places walkable, and connect them with public transit. The stimulus bills in congress clearly illustrate our failure to understand the situation.
The attempt to restart “consumerism” will be equally disappointing. It was a manifestation of the short peak energy decades of history, and now that we’re past peak energy, it’s over. That seventy percent of the economy is over, especially the part that allowed people to buy stuff with no money…
Cleaning off my desk, I just came across this fascinating and still timely 2004 interview with Seymour Hersh. He’s answering a question about the torture that Bush allowed, encouraged and rewarded in the Abu Ghraib prison:
Is there anything more dangerous than a 20-year-old with a weapon? C’mon! In a war zone, you’ll steal and kill and do pretty much anything.
Of course Hersh knows that there is in fact something far more dangerous — aging capos like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld who give guns to 20-year-olds and turn them into buttonmen. But Hersh wasn’t speaking from a prepared text, and his point is clear.
I bring it up as an antidote to all our endless and uninformed national babble about the American fighting man: the finest, noblest, bravest, truest and most selfless hero with whom God ever graced His good, green earth.
He’s no worse and no better than any other scared and usually ignorant kid anywhere in the world who got forced or tricked into doing somebody else’s dirty work. He’s courageous or cowardly, kind or cruel, stupid or smart, in the same proportions and for the same complicated mix of reasons as any other similarly unlucky kid in the history of the world. No more and no less can be expected of him. (Or of her; we tribal elders, in this tribe anyway, are equal-opportunity brutalizers of our young.)
Nixon was a lot of things but stupid wasn’t one of them. He knew precisely what he was doing when he abolished the draft. He was eliminating one of the few remaining checks on a president’s ability to commit mass murder any time the mood struck him.
As a former draftee I’m surprised to hear myself say so, but it’s time to bring back the draft. A year or two spent contemplating our actual military from the inside instead of our imaginary one from the outside would go a long way towards curing us of our pathetic habit of soldier-sniffing.
If you loved the suspense and thrill-a-minute action of “My Dinner With Andre”, or you’re a Fritjof Capra fan, then you probably already know about the wonderful movie “Mindwalk”. If not, perhaps you’ve heard of the book The Tao of Physics. Capra described his motivation for writing the book this way:
Physicists do not need mysticism, and mystics do not need physics, but humanity needs both.
Ideas this all-encompassing are never bereft of controversy. Capra has been dissed by some physicists, but encouraged by others. He said:
I had several discussions with Heisenberg. I lived in England then [circa 1972], and I visited him several times in Munich and showed him the whole manuscript chapter by chapter. He was very interested and very open, and he told me something that I think is not known publicly because he never published it. He said that he was well aware of these parallels. While he was working on quantum theory he went to India to lecture and was a guest of Tagore. He talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy. Heisenberg told me that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy. He realized there was, in fact, a whole culture that subscribed to very similar ideas. Heisenberg said that this was a great help for him. Niels Bohr had a similar experience when he went to China.
Commenters at YouTube were unable to find “Mindwalk” from Netflix, so they were happy to find the full movie there. It stars Liv Ullman as the physicist, John Heard as the poet, and Sam Waterston as the politician, with music contributed by Philip Glass.
Apparently the rumors that SecDef Gates is angling for a spot in an Obama administration are not without foundation.
“The use of force plays a role, yet military efforts to capture or kill terrorists are likely to be subordinate to measures to promote local participation in government and economic programs to spur development, as well as efforts to understand and address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies,” the [DoD] report says.
“For these reasons, arguably the most important military component of the struggle against violent extremists is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we help prepare our partners to defend and govern themselves,” it says.
This from Bob Gates?
The final report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, issued on August 4, 1993, said that Gates “was close to many figures who played significant roles in the Iran/contra affair and [as the CIA’s Deputy Director of Intelligence] was in a position to have known of their activities. The evidence developed by Independent Counsel did not warrant indictment…”
The issue was whether the Independent Counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gates was deliberately not telling the truth when he later claimed not to have remembered…
In 1984, as deputy director of CIA, Gates advocated that the U.S. initiate a bombing campaign against Nicaragua and that the U.S. do everything in its power short of direct military invasion of the country to remove the Sandinista government…
Gates has been a member of the board of trustees of Fidelity Investments, and on the board of directors of NACCO Industries, Inc., Brinker International, Inc., Parker Drilling Company, Science Applications International Corporation, and VoteHere, a technology company which sought to provide cryptography and computer software security for the electronic election industry.
Recruited by the CIA in college, and hoping to provide cryptography for elections. Somehow that makes me uneasy. Fortunately he’s a past president of the National Eagle Scout Association.
Glimpses into how the world actually works are scarce enough in books; in newspapers they are as rare as total eclipses. And yet in today’s New York Times there are two. One explains the even hand of justice; the other the invisible hand of the market. They are in Ben Stein’s column, from which this excerpt comes:
“…Legal realism” said that the whole common-law system of abiding by past decisions was a fig leaf. What really happened, at the appellate level and probably at the trial level, too, was that judges made up their minds based on their predilections, their biases, which lawyer was their friend, what they had for breakfast that day. (I myself love peach Activia yogurt.)
Then, because a case that reached appeal always had some legal merit on each side, the judges, or their very young clerks, picked whatever precedent they wished to support their bias and pretended that they were bound by that precedent and could not have decided any other way.
The scales fell from my eyes, and I went on to finish law school in fine fettle. It was just all show business and personal bias and what’s in it for the judge. That made law school easy.
Time has passed in a big way. But the lessons of legal realism have always been uppermost in my mind when I think about law or about anything else important: Stated reasons are often not the real reasons.
Because I usually write about finance, I have come to believe in the theory of what I would call “financial realism,” or what might more accurately be called “trader realism.” Under this theory, on which I have an imaginary patent, traders can see masses of data any minute of any day. They can find data to support hitting the “buy” button or the “sell” button. They don’t act on the basis of what seems to them the real economic situation, but on what’s in it for them.
Just as a tiny example, years ago a close friend, now deceased, was a trader in London for a big financial house. As he told it, one day I.B.M. came out with stellar numbers. The boss of the trading floor said, “O.K., the guy who’s getting the prize is the one who can make us money selling I.B.M. short.”
So the traders grabbed for their phones and started to put out any bad thoughts they could dream up about I.B.M. They called journalists, retailers, anyone. They sold huge amounts of I.B.M. short. Soon, they had I.B.M. on the run, made money on their shorts and went to Langan’s to drink champers …