Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Truth, Circa 4th Century

The truth, maties:

"What keeps you from giving now? Isn't the poor person there? Aren't your own warehouses full? Isn't the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now-and you want to wait until tomorrow? "I'm not doing any harm," you say. "I just want to keep what I own, that's all." You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone's use is your own. . . . If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich and poor. After all, didn't you come into life naked, and won't you return naked to the earth?

"The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help."

4th Century

Thanks to Adventus.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sometimes, the people on TV don't know what they're talking about.

In my experience, most of the time most of the people on TV have no idea what they're talking about.

I especially like the laughing, smirking dismissal of the Fox business analysts when Peter Schiff correctly predicts that the real estate and stock markets will not in fact go up no matter what.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

BHO - Not a Liberal?

The great Glenn Greenwald writes that those who are disappointed by BHO's non-"progressive" appointments have been deceiving themselves.

So many progressives were misled about what Obama is and what he believes. But it wasn't Obama who misled them. It was their own desires, their eagerness to see what they wanted to see rather than what reality offered.

I think BHO plays a more subtle game than this right-left, progressive-conservative sport we've been stuck with for so long. Until quite recently, many thought of universal health care coverage as a strictly lefty, progressive thing. Same with opposition to the Iraq war.

The American people, it seems to me, moved away from the right towards a more progressive, more practical "center," and BHO rode this movement as much as led it. Cokie Roberts still thinks pro-choice is "left," even though a substantial majority favors it (and has for some time).

I don't read BHO as "progressive" or "liberal" or "centrtist" or frankly anywhere along the ideological spectrum that we've used as short-hand for so long that we seem to have forgotten what it ever stood for. Well, that plus the fact that an extreme faction arose in our nation which tried to yank the country to the most extreme views through intimidation and deception.

It's certainly wise to look at BHO's actions so far in the context of his campaign rhetoric: he promised pragmatic solutions, focus on the things we all agree on, de-emphasis of things where we seem unable to agree, a hatred of ignorance, stupidity, and the veneration of things that work. For the life of me, I can't characterize that as left or right, really. (I read it as left since I think of progressives as pragmatics; others, maybe most, disagree.)

I'm looking forward to holding BHO accountable to the nation's wishes, but I'm starting to hear a strain of discontent that he is not 100% lined up with some agenda. Well, no one is. But I still expect to see compelling results, just as we did in the two successful campaigns (and so far, successful transition effort) he's already run.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hey! I Know How to Fix the Economy and Finally Realize the Dream of Democracy!

Change, via Atrios:

CHICAGO -- Armed with millions of e-mail addresses and a political operation that harnessed the Internet like no campaign before it, Barack Obama will enter the White House with the opportunity to create the first truly "wired" presidency.

Obama aides and allies are preparing a major expansion of the White House communications operation, enabling them to reach out directly to the supporters they have collected over 21 months without having to go through the mainstream media.

I think this misses it -- wide. The opportunity here is much bigger than an excellent e-mail list. It's a chance to engage Americans with its own government using a series of tubes on a new and more meaningful level.

BHO is a techno-geek. He "gets" it. I think one of his initiatives will be a re-technologicalization of the federal government. Sort of like Al Gore and the internet, but married with his "re-inventing" government work.

The federal government had made many software companies and tech consultants rich with an unending series of technological drives. (This isn't too different than what most companies have been doing, either. I'll come back to this.) But there hasn't been a, ahem, transformative exploitation of technology into the fabric of government itself. I think (hope) someone with a higher pay grade than mine (mine being "lowly citizen") will see that this is a multiple-goal serving opportunity. It is aimed squarely at making the government more competent, making it more cost-effective, creating jobs and spurring socially worthwhile R&D.

Here's an example. Why can't I go on-line and browse all my tax records, with ease. BHO has talked about a tax system in which the government basically prepares your return for your review and approval. Why not go with that idea in spades? Here's another: if McDonald's can spy on its workers via webcams, why doesn't the US do the same to monitor working conditions (and if not cams, then whatever remote, automated sensor makes sense)?

This could spark a trend in businesses to do similar things. Con Ed might actually allow me to do simple and easy transactions with them. I might be able to look at the Gap website and see the actual in-store availability of the jeans I want. Or have my cel phone easily configurable and transparent to my computer?

When cars and telephones first came on the scene, there was a rush of great fortunes made in those industries. But after a little while, those technologies transformed not only the economy but society itself. We are at the start of this second, more transformational, wave, and the historical trend could well prove to be a key to turning our economic fortunes around.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We Win!

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."

- Gerald Ford, 38th President of the United States, on the occasion of his swearing in as President following the resignation of Richard M. Nixon, 37th President of the United States and godfather of the modern Republican movement's success.

In 1968, RFK said, "There's no question that in the next 30 or 40 years a Negro can also achieve the same position that my brother has as PResident of the United States." Prescient.

Today begins the next era of American history. The previous period, beginning in 1964 or 1968, was defined by a rising reactionary movement determined to wipe out the legacy of the New Dealers, and unafraid to resort to the most extreme political tactics to do it. As Krugman notes this morning, it was an era that culminated in Monsters --

Monsters like Tom DeLay, who suggested that the shootings at Columbine happened because schools teach students the theory of evolution. Monsters like Karl Rove, who declared that liberals wanted to offer “therapy and understanding” to terrorists. Monsters like Dick Cheney, who saw 9/11 as an opportunity to start torturing people.

Today we begin the ascent to a new and better world, one that presents some of the greatest challenges we have faced in many years, but also one that holds the promise of a world where progress is no longer the enemy ("hopelessly liberal"), but is the cherished and desired goal.

Friday, October 31, 2008

One Landslide, Please

This image pretty much sums up the "ground game" for McCain.

This is from the must-read Go read the whole post. The lack of actual enthusiasm on the ground is killing these guys.

This is us in Alaska:

The enthusiasm gap is going to pay significant dividends.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wow. Just, wow.

From The Hartford Courant, via Dkos:

A little more than a month earlier, teacher Joyce Ben-KiKi had Aron and his classmates each send letters to a famous person as part of a language arts lesson. Ben-KiKi wrapped the exercise around well-known children's book character "Flat Stanley," so along with the letters, the children each tucked a Flat Stanley figure they had made into each envelope.

"I told them not to expect a letter back," Ben-KiKi said. "I told them these people are very busy and most likely will not write back."

The list of recipients was impressive: Yankee third basemen Alex Rodriguez; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Olympic gold medalist Mark Spitz; Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Obama was the only one to write back. Two other boys, Avshalom Drescher and Zachary Goldberg, both 8, also wrote to him, but Aron was the first to get a reply.

Obama's three-page letter to Aron described Flat Stanley's visit with him and his staff in Washington, D.C. It chronicled their busy day together, which included coffee with constituents, a Senate committee meeting and a trip to the gym. It also had historical facts about the U.S. Capitol, details of Obama's job and a confession from Obama.

"Sometimes I get a little nervous before talking in front of a crowd, but Flat Stanley helped me practice the speech," Obama wrote. "He made me recite it in front of him and then even gave me some advice so the speech would go smoothly. Flat Stanley is really a great coach."

To any parent who has dealt with a Flat Stanley project, this is impressive. Obama so gets it.

A Happy GOP Halloween

A hilarious Top 10 List from comedy-writing legend Frank Santopadre, moored for now at VF.

Happy Halloween --

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

So, How're We Doing, Election-wise?

We are in as good as a position as a party could hope for. The other side is on the ropes, and the trends all seem to favor our side. I think in the national polling numbers there will be some tightening as we get into the final couple of days. But I think that's more than offset by the gains in key states. Not too long ago, Pennsylvania was thought to be a swing state. No more. Florida was out of Obama's reach - the media thought old Jews couldn't get past their racism. Then Ohio was a firewall for McCain. All of these states will, I believe, come over to our side on Tuesday. And who would have thought that Virginia -- Virginia!! -- home of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and hordes of bible freaks -- would be on our side. I think there's even reason to be hopeful about Indiana and North Carolina.

If Obama does as well as I think he will, the Republicans will suffer an unmistakable rebuke. I have long thought that there would be a sudden collapse of the Republican movement, a sort of "emperor-has-no-clothes" moment, and I think it's here. A perfect storm of events have come together to throw those drowning bums anvils. First is the large generational shift in party identification that seems to occur about every 35 years or so. Then, the election of a moron who screws up everything he touches, and manages to bankrupt the government, sink us into not one but two endless wars, destroy an iconic American city, and on his way out drop a nuclear weapon into the gears of our economy. Throw into the mix the arrival on the scene of a once-in-a-generation leader like Obama, add in the empowering effect of new technologies, and top it all off with a Republican field the least-bad of which was John McCain, a man of whom someone said, "even his friends don't like him."

We are in the midst of one of history's turning points, like the onset of the Great Depression or the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And while it seems like what we are seeing is the end of an era (which we are), we are also witnessing the very earliest stages of the next. Our future is likely to be marked with widespread economic hardship, a frustrating inability to improve our lots, and no real end in sight. But it will also be marked by a renewed spirit of unity, a re-focusing on the good things that make America one of the "good guys," and finally an economy poised for sustained growth while not also killing the planet simultaneously.

The greatest challenge for us all is how to create jobs that pay a living wage, and I'd very much like to solve at least enough of that puzzle to employ some folks and earn enough for myself. But for now it's like trying to peer through think fog -- the outlines of something are there, but I can't quite tell what. I do know that my current situation if not altered will lead me through an existence which will bring me nothing but regret.

More Perfect Union and a Better Ashely

This spoke to me when I heard it, and want to recall it now -- it's from the final part of Barack Obama's More Perfect Union speech on race, March 18, 2008, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Friday, October 24, 2008

This Ain't No "Credit Crunch." This is Total Economic Meltdown

This Ain't no "Credit Crunch." This is Total Economic Meltdown

When the economy is growing, it's because there are a series of cycles that overlap and are re-inforcing an upward spiral. Wages go up and spending goes up. Spending goes up and wages go up. But just as this spiral can continue despite significant obstacles, it can also go down. Which is what's happening now.

Wages stagnate, spending (after borrowing every last available cent) drops. Spending drops, companies lay-off, and there's less income, and less spending. And so on and so forth. Chinese steel orders are cut because the manufacturers perceive that demand for their products is down, so steel tanks (as do stocks as traders think the Chinese manufacturers' point-of-view is an insider's (i.e., accurate and not already in the markets' prices).

Corporate earnings are declining, and that feeds the downward spiral. The question on everyone's mind is, "when do we hit bottom?" My view is that we've still got the worst ahead of us, and that it will take a decade to dig out.

Far too many companies have spent the last 25 years not innovating. Car companies are everyone' favorite whipping boys these days, but the same can be said for many others. From technology to food production, from health care to energy, we have failed as a society to invent the future, instead simply mining the past for current profits.

Almost all our economic sectors have their assets badly misallocated. Many people talk about the need to re-invent energy as a renewable resource not just to replace imported oil but as a sort of jobs program. But the same is true for almost every sector.

I live in NYC so I see a growing retail space vacancy problem. Owners of stores are holding them empty because they cannot find credit-worthy tenants. There are of course lots of people who need jobs and could make a go if it in a storefront, but they lack the credit. So we end up with idle assets: empty stores, which over time will lose their value as the street becomes less vibrant and a poorer retail environment, and the under-utilized people, who will not contribute to society at a level of which they are capable. I give this example as a short-hand way of illustrating what I take to be the central problem in our economy.

We have so mismanaged our assets that we have severely damaged the ability to produce jobs and income. Our leaders have frittered away our opportunities for many, many years. The phrase that seems to come to mind over and over is "eating the seed corn." (See? I did too grow up on a farm!) I have not clearly understood for a decade what, exactly, many companies did. Dell computers makes computers, and for a while will have crazy growth as everyone needs one. It can even extend that growth as they introduce ever-faster machines. But a day arrives when the need for a new computer just isn't there, and Dell is in trouble.

We're not entering a period when there are no jobs, and no business has success. But it will be a period when there are many fewer jobs, many more unemployed, and many businesses will fail. Government has been starved of resources for so long it will not be able to help much. In fact, all of our "safety net" mechanisms have been starved for resources and overburdened with demand, it's hard to see how we don't end up with Depression-like work camps and the like before we're done.

In fact, perhaps just to provoke a bit, I wonder where it's written that the Depressions is some kind of floor of economic misery. Who says it can't get worse than that? Surely not I.

This is going to be an ugly ride, rife with tragedy, suffering and despair. Of course there's a chance that I'm wrong, and of course I hope I am. But when I look at most companies in the US, I don't see a lot of reason to hope.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Conservatives for Change

I found this video quite moving. As someone from a Republican upbringing who still counts many conservatives as friends and family members, this spoke to me. It's a testament to the faith that the Obama campaign is based on that Americans will rise to the occasion and -- perhaps only after trying every other alternative -- Do the Right Thing.

People on the other side are not all venal, are not all ignorant, are not all selfish. Some have been misled; some allowed themselves to be misled, and still others allowed their selfishness a too-prominent place in their thinking. Northerners had to make common cause with the slave-holders in the South in order to break away from England. In doing so, both parties recognized their common interests as Americans.

How fiitting, then, that an African-American is leading us to the common ground once again -- in what may prove one of our darkest hours...

Monday, October 20, 2008

They Asked Nicely

The nice people at asked me to post this for all to see. I'm famously responsive to polite requests. Pass the ketchup?


1. The polls may be wrong. This is an unprecedented election. No one knows how racism may affect what voters tell pollsters—or what they do in the voting booth. And the polls are narrowing anyway. In the last few days, John McCain has gained ground in most national polls, as his campaign has gone even more negative.

2. Dirty tricks. Republicans are already illegally purging voters from the rolls in some states. They're whipping up hysteria over ACORN to justify more challenges to new voters. Misleading flyers about the voting process have started appearing in black neighborhoods. And of course, many counties still use unsecure voting machines.

3. October surprise. In politics, 15 days is a long time. The next McCain smear could dominate the news for a week. There could be a crisis with Iran, or Bin Laden could release another tape, or worse.

4. Those who forget history... In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote after trailing by seven points in the final days of the race. In 1980, Reagan was eight points down in the polls in late October and came back to win. Races can shift—fast!

5. Landslide. Even with Barack Obama in the White House, passing universal health care and a new clean-energy policy is going to be hard. Insurance, drug and oil companies will fight us every step of the way. We need the kind of landslide that will give Barack a huge mandate.

If you agree that we shouldn't rest easy, please sign up to volunteer at your local Obama office by clicking here:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Things We All Know(tm): Republican Ideas Are Wrong; McCain Terrible Candidate

The voters for some reason are waking up to something that they already knew: the policies that define the Republican party are wrong. Trickle-down? Wrong. Unregulated businesses and markets? Wrong. Small government? Wrong. And let's not get started with making rape victims take their rapists' babies to term, or the idea that what ails our education system is a lack of competition -- competition which we all know has been disastrous for the health care system.

I heard Brian Lehrer on WNYC this morning discussing the debate. He said, almost as a self-evident fact, that when the discussion turned to the economy it was bad for McCain. He later said that McCain had had limited success moving off of the recession, which was good for him because he can't really talk about the recession. It's not his strong suit.

This elides the truth which Brian knows perfectly well: he disguises the truth -- the Thing We All Know(tm) -- in an effort to appear even-handed. Brian says McCain "can't really talk about' the recession, but what he really means is that Republican ideas about the economy are now widely discredited by huge margins of both public opinion as well as expert opinion.

John McCain is of course a terrible candidate. He is probably the nominee because he was perceived as the least bad alternative in a field rich with disastrous choices. Barack Obama is of course a wonderful candidate, and barely won the nomination in a field with two superstars and several second tier candidates who were strong -- one became his running mate. These are thoughts one will never hear in the mass media, even though We All Know(tm) they are true.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Blogosphere Saves Civilization

The Rise of the Liberal Blogosphere has a valid claim to helping save civilization.

Everyone knows the famous episode in Peanuts in which Charlie Brown prepares to kick a football with Lucy as the ball holder. Charlie Brown runs up to kick, and Lucy snatches the ball away, with Charlie landing flat on his back. And then Lucy promises that this time – this time – she’ll be a good ball holder and that Charlie Brown should try again. And this time – this time – she once again snatches the ball away. This was a running gag over some considerable period of time, with the same result every time: Lucy offers assurances, Charlie Brown is skeptical but finally agrees to trust her one more time, and Lucy invariably betrays that trust.

For a lot of Democratic voters, the party can seem an awful lot like Charlie Brown, with a succession of Lucys: first, of course, Tricky Dick himself, but certainly his progeny like Mike Deaver, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. So as Democratic voters approach every election, there’s a strong skepticism that this time will be any different. Will the Democrats’ earnest appeal of positions on relevant issues finally be taken to heart by the voters, or will we once again have substance snatched away only to have a campaign revolve around patently silly issues like flag-burning, “law and order,” the Panama Canal, a spouse’s psychiatric treatment, a young man’s experiment with marijuana?

Many of us are finally seeing a different outcome, at long last. Finally, this time – this time – the ball is not being moved. Finally, this time – this time – the ball is steady and the kick looks to be good. Our man Obama seems finally to have broken some kind of spell that Republican magicians have had over voters for 40 years.

Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime candidate. He is our Ronald Reagan – a personable champion of our cause who has an uncanny ability to communicate our agenda in ways that appeals to a broad swath of voters on both sides of the political divide. Unlike Reagan, he is also a smart and savvy campaigner, having run a virtually flawless campaign that is not only succeeding on its own terms (i.e., putting Obama in the White House), but is also re-defining political campaigns for all time.

But Obama’s personal qualities – his charisma, his competence, his communications skills, his visions – don’t tell the whole story. Many Democrats believe that Obama alone is the difference – that he is what Kerry, Gore 2000, Dukakis, Mondale, McGovern, maybe even Clinton, were not. While those candidates certainly had negatives that contributed to their losses (or in Clinton’s case, to his inability to enact much of the progressive agenda), there was another powerful force that worked against their success. That worked, in fact, hand-in-glove with the Nixons, the Roves, the Atwaters.

The media was and in many cases still is an eager abettor of right-wing smear campaigns. The right figured out that many reporters simply would not stand up to basic bullying – assertiveness, yelling, name-calling, calls to supervisors, etc. The right was fortunate that the media was becoming corporate-ized, which meant hiring actors to portray journalists rather than journalists. The corporate media was selling likeability, and had no need of credibility. As long as viewers and readers showed up, the only goal was to spend as little as possible on the people producing the content.

But there’s a new kid on the block. With roots tracing back to the right’s vendetta against Clinton, a new generation of writers and thinkers collided with a new generation of publishing tools that gave direct access to viewers. No longer were large capital investments necessary to publish professional-quality work. Even television could be produced with little or no cost. And underlying this happy marriage was the rise of on-line advertising, which allowed the most successful writers and producers to earn their living. And while these bloggers didn’t supplant the actor-journalists, they attracted an audience of key readers and viewers. Political insiders, media, academics, intellectuals, government personnel and opinion leaders of all sorts were attracted to the credibility that these bloggers offered. And that has made a key difference.

Newspaper journalists are less likely to gullibly swallow the right’s smears. Cable “news” readers have discovered that it’s good for ratings to be skeptical. People who work in mass media have discovered that high quality analysis and reporting are now easily available, and that if they spurn it they will be made to feel foolish. Political operatives now understand that things said on video will circulate widely enough that they cannot be ignored. And citizens have discovered that they can participate in an political dialogue that makes sense to them, and more, have discovered that they organize, canvass, donate and agitate for the values that are important to them.

The left has already established the first great stars of the blogosphere. Kos, of course, but also Josh Marshall (now emperor of TPM Media), the writers of group blogs like Americablog, Think Progress and First Draft, and single stars like Digby, Atrios, John Cole, Glenn Greenwald, Juan Cole, Steve Benen, Matt Yglesias, and Kevin Drum. These people have contributed to the triumph not only of the left, but of reason and democracy. (The right’s early stars, Glenn Reynolds, Jonah Goldberg, Katherine Lozez, Atlas Shrugged, NRO, Redstate, etc., have either already crashed and burned, or are about to get swallowed up. The real starts of the right have not, in my view, really emerged yet. Sullivan is sort of an exception, and the “new right” (Douhat, Larison, etc.) may yet emerge. But the serious writers of the right – those that will define a conservatism that is actually helpful to society, rather than to the rich and powerful – have not yet appeared.)

So, like the Irish monks of the late Dark Ages who can reasonably be said to have saved Western civilization, the lefty blogosphere has a claim to civilization-saving. These are golden days – salad days – that will be long remembered as a time when the forces of good finally rose up and vanquished (for a time) the forces of evil. It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s something to be savored when it does. The next three weeks are about as good as it gets.

Talk to Your Parents...About John McCain

A great send-up of those anti-drug ads. Not to be missed.

Don't Vote!

Here's another video that we'll want to look back on during the long, cold winters ahead under President Obama.

The Great Schlep

I know this is old news, but I want to have this's a little raw, language-wise. But it might just be moving Florida into the Democratic column.

It also establishes "douchenozzle" as a part of the English language once and for all.

The many contributions of one Sara. Silverman!.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The End of Nothing

The inestimable John Cole at Balloon Juice things this is the end of McCain campaign's honor. Maybe. He suggests that he is now playing princiaplly to a core group of dead-enders.

This won’t be the end of these Republicans (a la the Whigs), nor some kind of retreat to the woods to re-group a la 1964. These wing-nuts are not going to be marginalized. Nor are they going to change their minds. They are fifty million strong. Look at an electoral map and see how much of the US is under their sway.

Everyone is myopically fixated on the election, for understandable reasons. But for the extremists of the right, elections are just bumps in the road. We won’t get to December 1 without the right and the media ganging up on Barack and his "numerous and growing scandals and missteps." If you think that Bill Clinton was hunted, that was Elmer Fudd time. These guys have an army dedicated to the preservation of ignorance, fear and poverty.

We win nothing on November 5. Wait—we win the right to be derailed and abused for four or eight years.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Putting the Knife in - And Twisting. Slowly.

I forget the exact point, but at one point Obama decided to hit back on McCain's charge of "green behind the ears" and "doesn't understand." In a rhetorical one could not teach someone how to do, Obama pivoted toward the camera and said (paraphrasing), "John, you're right. I don't understand. I don't understand ..." And McCain jumped in, in his best boys-on-the-bus how-about-a-dirty-joke manner, and said (paraphrasing), " least we agree on something." And it came off as inappropriate. And Obama gave him a look that said it all. It said, "You is my bitch." (Only in a much nicer, completely unracist way.) Which to me was "sticking the knife in."

And then he began to twist it. Slowly.

Obama resumed his thought the way a parent does when an insolent and ill-mannered child interrupts for the 18th time for no reason at all -- none -- and says (paraphrasing), "I don't understand how someone can look at a deadly serious issue like Iran and joke, "bomb bomb bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. I don't understand how someone can support attacking a country that posed no threat to us..." And so on.

Of course, McCain was dead on arrival. Barring an increasingly unlikely unexpected deus ex machina, we just saw the beginning moments of the Obama administration. Obama took the evening as yet another of the many conversations he has with groups of people about his ideas for moving forward. And his opponent was some kind of automaton "Hall of Almost Presidents" robot-cadaver. Plus, he is... well, him.

I'm starting to be able to write the words "Obama administration" because I am no longer scared that Americans are gonna fall for the GOP crap yet again. We're not out of the woods, but things are looking as "good" as can be expected.

James Wolcott's Wet Dream -- And Mine!

I don't want the Republican Party simply defeated in November, I want to see it smashed beyond all recognition, in such wriggling, writhing, anguished disarray that it can barely reconstitute itself, so desperate for answers that it looks to Newt Gingrich for visionary guidance, his wisdom and insight providing the perfect cup of hemlock to finish off the conservative movement for good so that it can rot in the salted earth of memory unmissed and unmourned in toxic obscurity.

I really don't think that's too much to ask, even in these frugal times.

Reminds me of my own description of the depths to which I'd like these people sunk:

Senator in Hearing Room to Witness: Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Republican Party?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Now What?

Obama has staked the last few years of his life, and his entire political future, on the next 29 days. He has spoken of his campaign as essentially a bet – a bet that enough Americans are ready to vote for their own interests rather than be distracted by irrelevancies like personal smears.

It is a bet that Democrats have made repeatedly, and have lost repeatedly.

If you look back over 2000 and 2004, you can find lots of articles and columns about “Why This Time It’s Different.” Generally, the theme is that –finally! – Americans have had enough, and will ignore the smears and elect the candidate who is truly interested in helping them. The parallels to Lucy and Charlie Brown, and his never-ending belief that this time – this time – Lucy will not yank the football away from his foot at the last second, as she has done the last 27 times in a row – are unavoidable. Are the American people getting ready to yank away from Democrat’s feet the football of electoral victory?

Sure, the polling now looks strong. And Americans famously react only to crises, which the media seem to have agreed is what we’re having now. Oh, and the Democrat this time out is not the same unlikable loser who lectures the electorate on why his policies are clearly the better choice. This time, our guy is likable and able to articulate Democratic ideas in non-condescending and quite understandable manner. And their guy is more or less Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

So one might think that this time – this time! – it’ll be different. In my heart of hearts, I think so too. (That un-killable optimism is likely part of why I incline leftward.) But I am scared that the smear-storm that’s being unleashed in key states will have enough effect to turn what should be a romp into a nail-biter – which gives the GOP the chance to cage enough votes and lose enough precinct tallies to pull off yet another victory.

In a better America, we wouldn’t need to spend so much of our social energy fighting off those whose only goal is domination and plunder of their countrymen. In a better America, we could count on each other not to give in to fear and panic, but to stand up for one another and give each other a hand when we really need it. In a better America, the GOP would nominate candidates who are happy to compete on the basis of their ideas, not on the basis of how awful they can make the other guy seem.

Tick-tock. Lucy is getting the ball ready, and in just 29 days the Democrats will take a run up to her toe expecting to kick the ball to the moon and back. Will fear prevail? Time will tell.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Is There Anything Better Than This?

I can't imagine a more encouraging or more beautiful image. The future will NOT suck. If this doesn't make you proud of your nation, nothing will.

How Quickly We'll Forget

What Debate?

As predicted, the great Veep Debate is concluded and swiftly receding into the forgotten swirls of dim memory – where it undoubtedly belongs. The job of VP is to be ready to jump in if the need arises – both candidates appeared to be in good health, so they met the threshold standard.

I thought the debate was surprisingly on issues, which is a credit to all three participants. I would have guessed that Governor Palin would have spent most of her time on the Smear BandWagon, which is the only logical strategy for the McCain campaign. I’m surprised that she didn’t go on and on about Tony Reszko and Rev. Wright for 90 minutes. (Such an approach has the added benefit of lessening or even eliminating the need for any policy knowledge or even knowledge of the parties’ positions.) Whether it was Governor Palin, Senator McCain or other facts, the fact that the Republican nominee didn’t just wallow in the mud was a surprise.

Joe Biden turned in an indisputably “A+” performance. (The “+” is for the emotional choking up, which I swear to God I believe was authentic.) His opening speech was pedantic, wonky, overlong and dry – which I think set a mood in which the mud-slinging would have seemed jarringly out-of-place (though I doubt it changed Governor Palin’s tactics in any way.) Biden landed any number of solid blows in the form of calmly explaining why Republican ideas were nutty. Fair-minded viewers would have a hard time ignoring the essential logic and truth of his pronouncements, nor could they easily ignore his steady and calm demeanor, contrasted with her chirpy, nervous and screamingly-unready manner. On any number of occasions, she retreated to “local anchor” syntax. I almost expected her to throw it to Joe for the latest on the weather.

Expectations had been lowered by the Couric interviews, so that her rising to the level of, say, the interviews with Hugh Hewitt or Sean Hannity was hailed as victory. But her embrace of non-standard English, her spurning of the norms of conversational logic, her glaring nervousness, her evident lack of both education and intelligence – cannot have served her or her cause well.

Palin’s performance may have been enough to stanch the bleeding of support on her side, though I suspect her principal will soon give voters new reasons to distrust him. And in a contest in which her side is losing, she did nothing to move toward victory, which in the Real World is the relevant standard.

One last thought: how can a majority of Alaskans watch this and think they have a great Governor? My guess is Palin will have her hands full finishing out her term and winning any election again. Getting a show on Fox News, though – well, I think Todd will just love the fishing in Chesepeake Bay when the Palins move to DC.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Easily Forgotten

Sarah Palin and the $700 billion rescue package are both likely to end up in the dustbin of our collective consciousness, and sooner than the current media storm would suggest would be the case.

Palin will undoubtedly acquit herself acceptably tomorrow night. The expectations for her have been pushed –largely by her own campaign – to the level where if she doesn’t blubber or throw-up she wins. And Biden will say something – almost anything will do – that the media will latch on to to provide balance to the story they want to write: “Both Candidates Make Missteps.”

The NY Times has twin leads today, “Experience, Often Tripped Up” and “Past Debates Show a Confident Palin, at Times Fluent but Often Vague” (which replaces an earlier headline about “Two Personas,” which was pretty close to gibberish. (In fact, the entire Palin piece seems to lack any critical analysis.) So the narrative is already set that will determine the outcome.

And come Monday morning, events will have by-passed the Veep Debate and it will begin its journey to forgotten-hood. Most people will conclude that neither Biden or Palin is their first choice, and will return to focusing on the actual candidates, both of whom can be counted on to make some news fairly quickly after the debate – and in the case of McCain, if it goes really quite badly, probably even during the debate so that the story will be forgotten all the quicker.

But can the same be said of the Big Bail-Out? Surely, it seems, the Bail-Out is The Most Significant Event of Our Time. But my guess is that the same phenomenon will swallow it up before too long. Major economic events are still to come, perhaps even in the next few days if not weeks. The coming months will bring news of the effects of the so-called credit crisis as businesses begin failing in non-financial sectors. (Little discussed because of the Big Bail-out is the Small Bail-out ($25 billion) for the auto industry. I can remember when a much less impactful loan guarantee for Chrysler was thought to be the End of Capitalism As We Know It.) And the stories are coming will make us soon forget the days when we thought all we had to do was give a guy named “Hank” three-quarters of a trillion dollars and all would be well.

The “credit crisis” (which has been ongoing for some time now), and the “Wall St. Meltdown” are simply symptoms of a deeper and more serious problem. The truth is – and this is Something We All Know ™ -- we are experiencing a jobs crisis. The reason mortgage-backed securities (and other “asset-backed” securities like those backed by car loans and credit-card receivables) are losing value is because consumers aren’t making their payments. And the reason is that they do not have the funds to do so. (Of course, the market for these securities is crashing in part due to the fact that everyone is trying to unload them all at once – and the only takers are true bottom-feeders.) It’s not abusive lending tactics, nor pushing too hard to get more people into home ownership, or any of the other proposed “root” causes.

Too many Americans (and others elsewhere in Developed World) have not been earning enough for quite some time. In fact the explosion of consumer debt reflects the fact that consumers have not had other sources of funds, and have turned to borrowing to maintain lifestyles. Surely some have done so improvidently, borrowing for lavish homes, vacations, expensive vacations and schools, etc. But an awful lot of the debt that consumers have taken on has been to cover something fairly close to the basics – food, shelter, clothing, etc.

I believe we are nearing the end of a long cycle of rich and powerful people taking more and more from everyone else. I can recall a time when most companies provided pensions on which one could comfortably live. I can recall a time when most employees earned enough to cover a home, a car or two, a decent lifestyle – all on top of a non-working spouse. I can recall when employers needed to pay their employees enough so afford their products. (Yes, I am nearing “Old Codger” status.)

The consequences of this long decline will be far more wrenching than the $2500 that the government says we need to spend to “bail-out” “Wall St.” (The plan is, of course, not a bail-out at all but rather an expensive recapitalization, and the interests being bailed out aren’t the Wall St. financiers but the equity holders of the financial institutions that will benefit.) We are nearing a time far more like the Great Depression than most Americans now think, with challenges that will absolutely dwarf the current “Wall St. Crisis.”


Really? Is this the guy that some 50+ million Americans think should be our next President? It's bad enough that a majority of Arizonans have supported this guy.

John McCain is not different now than he was. All that has changed is that more people are paying more attention to him and discovering the truth: this is someone deeply unsuited to the Presidency.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Whither Armageddon (Quick Hits)

Armageddon was originally slated for last Friday. Then Monday. Now Thursday.
Maybe those predicting Armageddon are wrong. I’m just sayin’.

I’m all for some kind of rescue plan. Is it too much to ask that the nature of the problem be explained to the voters so that the proposed solutions can be evaluated? If the $700 billion dollar checkbook for Hank P. is so unpopular but also so necessary, why isn’t the corrective educating the public? Might also work on some of the nay-sayers in Congress…

Debates are unlikely to have much impact. They’re the potato chips of political seasons – craved, savored, gone quickly and without much in the way of nutritional value. My guess is that Palin in fact does fine, Biden probably manages a gaffe or two so that the newspapers can have a “on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand” tone, and come next Monday we’ll have forgotten all about it.

I keep seeing real progress in the polls, but worry that McCain will mount a comeback on the next Obama gaffe. (Sen. Obama is only almost perfect.) Plus, as I’ve said numeous times, there’s no inbalance that I would find acceptable except 299,999,999 to 1. (You see, I want Cindy Lou to vote for out guy.) Perhaps I’ll start to feel more confident once Obama is north of 60%.

Commercial real estate is the next great crisis. In addition to the new slums of abandoned and half-built exurbs, we will soon face block after city block of empty retail as the explosion of retail bank branches becomes an implosion and the current lack of other credit-worthy tenants worsens. And then we will have yet another new class of asset owners – people who own buildings with retail spaces – desparate for help. Having spent years essentially hoarding valuable assets, these guys are next in line to learn the lesson that assets lose their value if not put to productive use.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How's Our Side Faring Now?

A good friend asks: Seriously, how do you think our side is faring now?

In the Presidential level, we’re faring really quite well, especially in light of the fact that about half of all Americans are dumb or ignorant or both and – dammit! – proud of it!

Barack Obama is the real deal. I don’t mean he is some messianic, once-in-a-lifetime fount of charisma and wisdom (although he surely has his moments.) When I say he’s the real deal I mean that the intelligence and wisdom, the compassion and empathy, the pragmatism and effectiveness, the competence and confidence that we see are not fake. Unlike say, Mr. “Reformer With Results” Bush or Mr. “Deregulator? Me? No Way” McCain, who don public personas that have very little to do with their actual personas.

Obama is running a close to flawless campaign for President. If he does not succeed and become President, there’s very little to look back on and wish for a do-over. (Though one does wish the Hillary Clinton supporters would have understood how primary elections work and that the idea of her running to the very last moment did not serve the party well.)

I first saw Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when he made a speech that simply took my breath away. At the end of it, I could only say, “That man’s gonna be President one day – one day soon, if we’re lucky.” I have not wavered in my conviction since – to this day.

Barack is slowly reassuring undecided voters (and likely some who had thought of themselves as McCain supporters) that he is someone who can be trusted. Undecideds and likely McCain voters believe that McCain is someone who has been vetted by 25+ years of service of on the national stage. This belief supports many of their ideas about McCain – he’s “experienced,” he’s “a known quantity,” he’s “steady and reliable.” Simply by dint of his love of appearing on Meet the Press (he is one of the, if not the most, frequent guests in the venerable history of that program), and the cooperation of a majority of Arizona voters, he has become someone most Americans can imagine in the Presidency. Barack Obama is working hard to earn the same level of comfort, and has accomplished much, in a much shorter time period. And unlike McCain who has had an uniquely valuable activist base in the form of national political reporters and pundits, Obama has achieved much over this same base’s strong objections.

If the Republicans were running in a united fashion behind a traditional Republican – someone like Mitt Romney or Bob Dole, Barack Obama would have a fairly steep hill to climb, and if successful would like squeak by. But the Republicans are doing no such thing. Instead, they have chosen an outsider who has made a career of publicly bashing Republicans to burnish her image as a “maverick.” Of course, when it comes time to vote he votes the party line – his 2008 voting record (the shortest of any Senator), is 100% consistent with the Bush administration. This would include his vote IN FAVOR OF torture – a vote most reporters seem either unaware of or unable to understand.

John McCain is a deeply unserious person. I first heard him speak during his many appearances on the old Don Imus show on WFAN in New York. John would call in, the boys would fall all over themselves beating up on various liberal targets, John would tell a story about his glory days making Viet Nam safe from Communists, and finally the talk would turn to current events. McCain was (and is) an expert Senator. He is able to talk about current events in a way that makes it seem that he supports all reasonable sides, understands everyone’s legitimate concerns, and knows that we have to get the right outcome. Which is every case was the Republican Party position. His Senate record shows him to be what he in fact is: a deeply conservative Senator from what has been a fairly conservative state, pretending to be something else because it gets him invited on Meet the Press.

Sadly, I believe McCain has entered a new phase in his life. I think there are undeniable signs that he is struggling with either ordinary old-age dementia, early Alzheimers, or some other condition. He is never without a handler. He goes on The Tonight Show with his wife. He cancels on Dave Letterman and promises to return with Sarah Palin. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham take turns being attached to his side. (Even yesterday morning when McCain arrived at the Capitol for his, um, whatever it was he did (is it too strong to call it “killing the deal that would have staved off The Second Great Depression? Probably…), there was Joe Lieberman waiting at the curb to meet McCain’s limo and escort him up the stairs.

So we have a contest between youth and old age, vigor and decline, intelligence and ignorance, grass-roots enthusiasm and top-down party discipline, dedication and power-grabbing. The financial sector meltdown is clearly a wildcard in this process, and certainly has the potential to change to game in either direction. McCain could yet somehow yank victory from what looks by all indications to be defeat.

But in his long career, McCain has not shown the shrewdness or intelligence to do so, while his opponent has repeatedly shown that hard-work and talent can be used with discipline to accomplish great things. So I remain quite bullish on our chances, and can even imagine that this will yet become the landslide that has seemed pre-ordained for two years.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Exsqueeze Me?

Evidently, World War III has broken out.

I wonder what McCain will suspend next?

The Largest Tax Break In History

We have been conditioned to think of “tax breaks” as something other than “welfare checks.” When the government wants rich people to do something, rather than simply require them to do it (which would be too presumptuous), it gives them the money to do it and asks them nicely to get on it. Which they generally never do.

Giving the richest Americans tax breaks for the past 8 years has been defended as necessary to ensure adequate job creation. Well, we taxpayers upheld our end of the bargain – we gave them the money. But then the rich people didn’t use it to create jobs. Businesses weren’t invested in, factories weren’t built, workers weren’t hired. Instead, the money sat around in various “safe” investment vehicles, accumulating. Until eventually, like any under-utilized asset, the money began to lose its value. Net result: rich people took our money and frittered it away. And like Ronald Reagan’s beloved and largely mythical welfare queens, they did in fact spend it on lavish lifestyles and not much else.

One might think that having watched this strategy fail again and again that at some point enough people would yell “stop” and bring this nonsense to a halt. But one would think wrong. The current “bail-out” could just as well be called a “tax-cut” for Wall St. And just like the previous trillions in tax-cuts, the money is to be handed over with no strings attached. Create jobs or don’t. Invest in businesses or don’t. Lend or don’t.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the money will not be used for any socially useful purpose. Not for creating jobs, not for investing in businesses and not for lending. And the reason is more than just that this has never worked yet and is therefore unlikely to work this time. There’s a deeper root cause that is one of the Things We All Know™ but don’t speak about.

VC’s, investment bankers, traditional banks, mortgage lenders and other hoarders of capital (even rich uncles, the so-called “angel investors”) are not investing and lending and have not been for some time. The reason is not because they don’t have the money. Money they’ve got (and will shortly have in some quantity). What they lack is credit-worthy borrowers.

The current crisis was originally billed as a “sub-prime lending” crisis. Then a “mortgage crisis,” and now a “credit crisis.” (Actually, the credit crisis was already well underway concurrently with the so-called mortgage crisis.) But these names all mask something I think deep down We All Know™: that the nation’s borrowers do not earn enough to pay any more loans back. In fact, they are already saddled with more debt than they can service.

The real crisis is a jobs crisis. We have arranged our society’s resources in a way that benefits too few people at the expense of too many. We need to re-direct resources toward activities that will create jobs. My man Obama wants to do this immediately I the energy sector, which is of course a good idea. But I think he’ll find when he gets his head around this that what he wants to do in energy we’ll need to do in sector after sector. From food to cars to education to healthcare to consumer goods to services. All of it needs to be re-structured so that Henry Ford’s old idea – that his workers need to make enough money to be his customers – in once again true. And once we’ve done that here, we need to export that reform across the world.

That ought to keep us busy for the next half-century.

There is no shortage of work that needs doing. There is no shortage of raw materials. There is no shortage of labor. What’s been lacking is the leadership to ensure that these inputs are organized and managed in a renewable and productive way for the benefit of the maximum number of people.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why Is This So Hard for John O’Brien To Grasp

I attack John O’Brien, I do. And I do baselessly, without any real justification other than he seems to be in charge of spouting nonsense on CNN in the mornings. So I attack – kid, really. And I kid with nothin’ but love, baby.

All news and public discourse has been cancelled and replaced with the words “$700 Billion Bail-Out.” Oh sure, sometimes one hears, “Wall St. CEOs” or “Wall Street to Main Street,” but the basic message is the same: Crisis! Panic! Need Trillions Now!

There seems a quite unexpected backlash forming and ready to strike back in the form of truly arch speeches, commentary and letters to the editor. (And if you think one Adolph Q. Hitler would have been able to stand up to invective like that, you’ve got another thing coming, buster.

Atrios is promoting a speech from a Congresswoman who clearly explains in terms most kindergartners could understand why the Bail-Out That Ate Cable TV News is a hoax. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D, OH (Toledo) was on the floor of the US House of Represenatives making sense. (It may be that a permit is required for this. I don’t really know.) Watch it:

This current crisis just the first of several. While it may the largest in terms of money, the others will consume overall the vast majority of our tax dollars. Requests for additional bail-outs are coming from the auto industry, the airline/travel industry, and likely the Land of Farming before long.

As Obama has said of our foreign policy thinking, it is well-past time for us to end the mindset that makes these bail-outs possible. If a private sector actor is in need of financial aid, why don’t we look at it as an investment. We should be willing to lend money, or guarantee money, or as here just give it away, only when the benefits are clearly defined in a hard, quantitative manner, with clear lines of responsibility for ensuring a meaningful degree of accountability for the promised results.

That doesn’t seem so hard, now does it? If the nice people at our nation’s banks (meaning of course any bank or sort-of bank with employees here, even if its shareholders are an ocean away) want some taxpayer money, what are they willing to offer? Can they promise a certain number of new jobs? Guarantees of maintaining existing levels of jobs? Increasing wages? Lower prices (and how much lower)?

I am obviously no expert in this area, but the older I get the more I am learning to trust my own judgment and common sense. And for the life of me I cannot understand why our leading politicians and other leaders (and Tom Brokaw, I’m looking at you) cannot summon the courage to call “BS” on a proposal as half-baked as this.

If an educational official showed up and day and said, “Quick, I need a half-trillion by next Tuesday, or else all of your children are gonna wind up dumber than rocks,” they’d be laughed right out of town. The request for an infusion of money into the financial sector may well have an element of actual need, perhaps even an element of urgency. But if either of these things are true, we’re gonna need more than President Paulson’s word on it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

George Carlin Was Right

Watch this, maybe more than once. I think it is 100% correct.

1.8 Trillion Dollars Is A Lot of Dollars

Most people don’t know what the government does with their money. A lot think that the money is used for pork (something like 3% of the annual deficit – we’re talking tens of billions, folks). Or for that matter, what a new bomber costs ($2 billion).

Here’s some detail from the always-interesting Chris in Paris at

For the US budget, here are a few examples from Bush's budget in 2007:

* Veterans' benefits at $73 billion

* Education was $90 billion

* Interest on US debt was $244 billion

* Medicare $395 billion

* Defense was $548 billion

* Social Security was $586

So all of a sudden, we can come up with $700 billion – no wait, that’s $1.8 trillion. If we don’t hurry up and give them what they want, it’ll probably be $2.6 trillion soon. (Go ahead, think I’m kidding.)

What does Obama’s health care plan cost? $50-60 billion a year for the first 10 years, which Republicans are certain is far too expensive.

On top of just the insane price tag, there’s the question of whether this will fix anything…(And this leaves aside the distrurbing parallels to the Iraq War run-up, where asking questions and tying the Executive's hands was thought to be Dangerous and Unpatriotic).

I keep coming back to the idea that we keep failing to speak about what is really important (i.e. Things We All Know ™). WHY aren’t banks lending to each other or to business or individual customers? Well, a huge infusion of cash would suggest that the reason is that the banks lack the funds to lend.

Wouldn’t that mean there was a lot of pent-up demand for loans that wasn’t being met?

I doubt many believe that the problems in our economy is not enough debt.

I’m keeping my eye on the ball. I believe that we have deeper and more serious economic problems than big financial institutions lacking adequate funds to lend. (I suspect they lack adequate funds to operate, for what it’s worth, and that the Big Scary Crisis is fueled by images of people having to take sacks of gold coins to the Pathmark. Likely as true of Mr. Hussein’s WMD’s and 45-minutes’ away drones.)

I think banks aren’t lending not because they lack funds but because they lack credit-worthy customers, both business and individual. I suspect that many companies will soon find that they too lack customers, as too many people simply have inadequate incomes.

We are on a decelerating downward spiral, the end point of which is surely not Goldman Sachs getting a trillion or two bucks. The end of this spiral comes when companies can’t meet their payrolls, workers drain all their funds and assets, and we end up at something very like a standstill.

And getting the great organ-grinder grinding again is 1000 (a trillion?) times more difficult than it would be to keep it going.

“Keeping it going” meaning that we should take that $700 billion (or $2.5 trillion) and use it for direct job creation: public works, loan guarantees to businesses using the money to create jobs, etc. We will also want some of that money available to pay for public relief – food stamps, short-term housing, rent assistance, etc.

Right now, only those who do not need credit can get it. There’s no use in making it even easier for them when there are tens of millions of Americans who need something even more pressing than a better rate on their car loans: jobs, groceries, gasoline, etc.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Things We All Know(tm) About the Liberal Media

For many years now it has seemed to me that there are unspoken premises underlying much of our political (and general for that matter) discourse. When it comes to the media, studies routinely show higher levels of Democratic Party registration, for example. Of course, this doesn’t translate to liberal coverage, and in fact may be part of the reason why the mainstream media bends over backwards to accommodate Republicans. But the presence of liberal bias amongst members of the media is well-documented.

Of course there are other groups who suffer from the same “liberal bias.” College faculties, for example. Or people with advanced degrees. The frame of “liberal bias” is of course a creation of the Right, foisted on our society by their, um, “assertiveness” (as recently confessed by cerebrally-challenged cable talker Joe Scarborough).

But there is an alternative frame which reveals a Thing We All Know™. Why do journalists, college professors, PhDs, etc., all appear to favor liberal policies? Are they craven? Corrupt? Unfair? The Right tells us it’s because they were indoctrinated by their liberal kindergarten teachers. (Yet another group with the dreaded “liberal bias.”)

Maybe the reason why all these elites prefer liberal policies has nothing whatsoever to do with these groups and a great deal to do with the policies. Why is there such a strong correlation between intelligence, education and liberalism, on the one hand, and ignorance, illiteracy and “conservative values” on the other?

Might not the answer be that modern Republican ideas are inferior? That they are – for want of a more polite term – stupid? In fact, for some decades now, they have been engineered specifically to delude the easily-deludable.

Modern Republicans committed a long time ago to a program of embracing hair-brained schemes if they could be used to manipulate enough dumb voters to come their way. Here’s a revealing list:

1. Trickle-down economics
2. The “Laffer Curve” (i.e., cutting taxes raises revenues)
3 Imminent Soviet/Communist take-over of the US/World
4. Sovereignty of the Panama Canal (US sovereignty)
5. School Prayer
6. Anti-Flag Burning
7. Bussing
8. Anti-Abortion
9. Anti-Gay marriage
10.Immigrant bashing
11.Anti-Stem cell research
12.Anti Heart-transplant surgery.
14.Protecting “Under God” in Pledge of Allegiance
15.Terry Schiavo
16. Defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment

I could go on, and I invite you, dear readers, to do so in the comments. But you get the point. These are dumb things. Let’s be plain. And the fact that many smart people reject them is not evidence that the smart people are being unfair, or are corrupt, or victims of previous “liberal” brainwashings.

The ultimate Thing We All Know™ here is the old saw that “reality has a liberal bias.” And in truth We All Know This. The culture warriors of the right know perfectly well that they are peddling, at best, a mild corrective to excesses of a mainstream consensus.

And right now, one Thing We All Know™ is that McCain is horribly unprepared to be President, as is his VP pick. And I think if we’re being really honest, We All Know that Barack Obama is the man we need and will make the nation proud.

At least those of us with enough on the ball to resist the silly games of the Right.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Welcome to the Soup, Rich Folks!

A Much Bigger Picture

The news of course is 100% dominated by “coverage” of the “Wall St. Crisis.” I’ve just given you as much useful information as you’d get from watching 100 hours of MSNBC and CNN simultaneously.

Our man Barack (he’ll always be “Barry” to me) seems to have Old Grumple-puss well in hand. I understand Sen. McCain dribbled some creamed corn down his chin while talking to NBC’s Anne Curry, which of course is very good news indeed for one Rudolph Giuliani. So let’s take a look at the economic “meltdown” that Brian Williams is suddenly a big expert on.

The economic mess seemed to me well reflected in a Margaret Warner piece last night on the Lehrer News Hour. The first thing that hit me was just what a thoughtful and articulate journalist Margaret Warner is. She’s the real deal. She hosted a segment with a bright and articulate economist from a Chicago investment firm as well as Jane Bryant Quinn, clueless commentator, columnist and all-around purveyor of Convention Wisdom. What these three very bright and well-paid women discussed for 10 or so minutes was how the Wall St. Crisis affects “you,” by which they meant, of course, themselves and each other.

Should I move money out of my 401(k)? Are my brokerage accounts at Merrill safe? Just how diversified should my portfolio be? And what about gold (goddammit)?

What struck me was that these rich people are scared. Scared because this Wall St. business may well affect them – rich people! Can you imagine! There is an outside chance that when the chips fall, EVEN PEOPLE WITH LARGE SUMS OF MONEY may get roughed up. For these guardians of the conventional wisdom, this was Serious Business Indeed.

Well rich folks, welcome to the soup! For the last 30 or 40 years, our society’s leaders have dithered while powerful interests (is “Lobbyists for the Rich” too crude?) have run rough-shod over the rest of us. Ordinary Joes (and Janes – and why can’t “Joe” be a universal signifier any way?) have had to take it on the chin as employers walked away from any obligations to them. First it was job security. Then pensions. Then physical facilities. (You know anyone with an office with, you know, “walls” and a “door”? Those things used to have “windows!” Amazing!) Then more and more “productivity” gains – more work, same pay. Then just less pay. Can 2000 people do what 3000 people were doing yesterday? Harvard MBAs assure us that they answer is a resounding “Y-E-S!”

In fact, the entire history of business in the United States over the last several decades has been a tale of shifting wealth away from workers, then customers, to senior managers and shareholders. Enormous pay is needed to motivate people to be CEOs. (It’s hard work!) (Can two CEOs do what three CEOs did yesterday? Harvard MBAs assure us, “Don’t be silly. Pass the caviar.”)

Republicans, and then most Democrats, came to believe that people respond to taxes because it hit their pocket book. (Never mind that most people don’t really know what percentage of their total revenue is paid in taxes, or how much that percentage has gone up and down over the years.) So if we want wind-power, just give people a tax break and soon windmills will be spouting up all over. (I had to swerve this morning to avoid one that had gone up overnight in the middle of the LIE. (I kid.))

But what is the one thing that the government has relentless taxed the most? Labor. The vast majority of tax revenue comes from taxes on labor, a k a “income taxes.” Capital musnt’t be taxed – that would be B-A-D! So we tax labor and as a completely foreseeable result, jobs are scarce and getting scarcer.

So capital accumulates. And accumulates. But, Harvard MBAs assure us, this is very good, since all that capital is available to be invested in things that create – wait for it – jobs! That’s right, give rich people enough money to satisfy their most craven wants, and then give them some more, and presto: jobs! Fantastic, no?

Fantastic, yes, I’m afraid. All that capital has done little to create jobs. It has just stood around and like any underused asset, it is wasting away. Banks are literally being handed checks for billions and billions of dollars in the hope that they will lend it. But they aren’t making loans, mostly because they can’t find borrowers they think will be able to repay.

And that, my friends-s-s-s, is the rub. The pot we’re in (and for those just joining in, “Welcome Rich People! Come on in!”) is a much more dangerous pot than all the Anne Currys and Brians Williams’s can ever hope to grasp.

We have more or less killed our ability to create jobs. We need to massively re-distribute resources so that more of us can earn a decent living, sadly, however, at the expense of hedge fund managers being able to hire Eric Clapton for their kid’s Bar Mitzvah. And we have spent the last 30 years convincing ourselves that the one mechanism that could actually accomplish this feat – the federal government – is not only horribly inept but actually downright evil. (That’s a fact, says Fox News.)

Business leaders will not suddenly wake up and say, “Hey, I know! Let’s violate our legal obligations to our shareholders and start maximizing value not for the shareholders but for the benefit of the most people, employees, customers, and so on. Yeah!”

It is the provenance of the government to lay down the law, even to businesses. (I know some of you are thinking, “No! Un-possible! How could that be? Doesn’t government work for business?” And I can see why you might think that.)

But the truth is the government is the only mechanism we have, and we have spent the last 10 years using it to saw tin cans in half so that it is now terribly useless as an instrument for reforming society.

We are in the midst of a perfect storm. The issue is not banks holding bad loans, or a mortgage crisis. Americans are not going to find getting a car loan or a mortgage “harder.” There’s a reason for the foreclosures. People aren’t earning enough money. Why don’t people just buy health insurance when their companies don’t provide it? Because like the companies themselves they can’t afford it! A spending spree fianced by easy credit is ending, and the results are as painful as they were predictiable.

But that’s not the half of it. American businesses have not embraced innovation, opting instead for lay-offs, outsourcing and all manner of cost-cutting. There is a price coming due on that front. We have massively under-invested in education, a foolishness for which we will be paying the price for decades to come. We have, more or less, been eating our seed corn, and now it’s gone.

It is one of the unspoken premises (which I like to call “Things We All Know™”) that things are so bad that we must look all the way back to the Depression for comparisons. And many Harvard MBAs are quite certain that this is nothing like that. Well, on this I agree with them. But their small-mindedness leads them to conclude that 1929 and the Great Depression is some kind of floor, below which it is not possible to fall.

Who says? Why should 1929 be the floor? Aren’t there the elements present for something much worse? I am sad to say that I believe they are. And even electing a great man like Barack Obama will not be enough to save us, any more than FDR was able to save our grandparents from the Great Depression.

Hang onto your hats, kids! We’re in for a wild ride!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


New experiment. I'm going to try to post something everyday, reflecting my views as of that moment.

And as of this moment, I have to say, "Whew!" The polling is back to where it was before the conventions, with Obama slightly ahead and moving into an electoral college lead. Which is of course very good news indeed.

Overnight, McCain seems to have messed up an interview with a Spanish radio or TV outlet. Evidently, after being asked seriatim about various Latin American leaders, he was asked about the Spanish president (not a PM?), and persisted in speaking as though he were a left-wing Latin American thug (i.e., in the "Chavez-Castro Club"). Even when the reporter tried to steer him back, he seemed not to get it, and continued on his platitudinous way. (As they do.)

Oh, and the global financial markets are melting down and will soon be naught but rubble where once great wealth had been. The ranks of the unemployed and poor will welcome the many ex "investment bankers" and even the occasional "former big law partner."

Which of course is good news for Rudy Giuliani.

The last few days seem like they have been rough on poor old John McCain, who seems increasingly out of it, as though he had yet to learn his new talking points.

I've also noticed that he seems to never be without a handler, and I don't mean in a political sense. I mean in the sense of a handler for someone who really can't be left by himself in public. While I wish the man no ill and nothing but love, baby, I'm concerned that there is an accumulating body of evidence that indicates that Senator McCain's mental acuity may be declining to the point where even the Republicans -- the Republicans who foisted an Alzheimers-struck Ronald Reagan on us and kept it a secret for more than a decade -- cannot cover up his unfitness for high office. (Of course, he could be bed-ridden, unable to feed, clothe or clean himself, and convinced that his nurses are all working for that damn Ho Chi Mihn, and still be in the middle of the Senatorial pack, mental acuity-wise).

All of this -- the way the markets seem to indict the Republicans' laissez-faire-ism, the increasing "losing it-ness" of the Republican candidate, the collapse of the media's short-lived love affair with Governor Palin, the continued exudence of competence by Obama, the developing main-stream-media narrative that McCain is lying -- should be reflected in the polls in the next few days. Barring the unexpected (and wouldn't that be a neat trick), I'm hoping to see Barack open up a decent lead and ride it all the way to what one can only pray will be a right-good thumping of Arizona's hard-core, dishonorable senior (and yes folks, I mean senior) Senator.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Apples to Apples, Part II

A Worrisome Turn Toward the Dark Side

It seems like the Republicans have been breaking through one moral boundary after another, from the preposterous witch-hunts of McCarthy to the outrageous use of government apparatus for political gains by Nixon, from Willie Horton to smearing Max Cleland. So a claim that the Republicans have made a platonic shift to evil has to be viewed with some skepticism. Nevertheless, I worry that such a claim may be valid.

Watching the Republican Hate Fest ’08 this week, I heard a line that really resonated: when did unplanned unwed teenage pregnancy become a good thing? Thinking about it, it occurred to me that nearly all of the Republican talking points were as divorced from reality as their claim that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was a joyous event. In fact, viewed through this prism, the entire Republican enterprise seems to be nothing more than political marketing run amok.

Even their biggest ideas are self-evidently false. Lowering taxes creates jobs. Life begins at conception. Liberals love to tax people. Democrats want high taxes and big government. Obama doesn’t know enough to keep us safe. Sarah Palin is terrific. People just want the government to get out of the way. Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.

The issue is campaigning and governing by slogan. And not slogans that neatly summarize a complex thoughts into something memorable. In fact, it’s the opposite: slogans as a way to disguise something unpalatable as something palatable. We see it all the time. The “PATRIOT” Act. “Compassionate Conservative.” “The Ownership Society.” “Support the Troops.” In every case, the actual meaning is almost perfectly contradicted by the reality.

So far, it’s more or less business as usual, though far more so for the Republicans, whose actual beliefs are way outside the mainstream and who must therefore work harder to disguise those beliefs to try to get elected.

But there was something about watching Republican after Republican get in front of a camera and describe Palin as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Had Obama picked a comparable light-weight, there’s no doubt the choice would be greeted as prima facie evidence of his dangerously bad judgment. And I believe that on some level Republicans know perfectly well that McCain’s choice is wrong-headed, but are so committed to their cause that they are fine with denying what they know to be true.

And there’s the rub. A movement this large, even if unable to win national office, that is so dedicated, so zealous, so free of honor, is a danger. I am concerned that these people could convince themselves of anything. And I think we saw that this week in St. Paul when the party faithful embraced the idea that off-shore drilling was, virtually overnight, an urgent national priority. Six weeks ago none of them had even heard of it; three weeks ago their own leader was against it, and a week ago none of them cared a jot about it. And now they are ready to lead their party unto death in defense of it.

Very committed zealots who feel they are free from the constraints of reality are a dangerous threat to civilized society. Ask the Germans.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Apples to Apples

Many Americans have been told by the media that John McCain has more experience. The “right” experience, in the words of the recent LAT poll. Well, it’s undeniable that McCain has more experience, but the current framing of this issue is inherently unfair and misleading. The truth is that in a fair comparison, Obama is the far more experienced candidate.

In 1983, McCain was 47 years old – the same age as Obama is today. Through family connections and family wealth, he was able to win a hotly contested primary and then a general election as a member of the US House of Representatives. He had previously worked in PR at his father-in-law’s company, and served 22 years in the US Navy, retiring with the rank of captain. He led a small training squadron (apparently ably), and also acted as the Navy’s liaison to the US Senate. He did not earn a major sea command. He had struggled at Annapolis, and barely managed to graduate. His record as a pilot was checkered.

In 2008, Obama has already leapfrogged McCain at the same point in his life by entering the US Senate two years ago. Obama has routinely garnered academic achievements and honors, including the highly coveted and prestige presidency of the Harvard Law Review. He has taught Constitutional Law at one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools for over a decade, written a best-selling book about forging a new way forward for America, and spent decades as a community organizer helping deserving Americans get the break they needed to get ahead.

The “experience gap” is really nothing more than the “age gap.” I can speculate about what Obama might have accomplished by his 72d birthday – more accolades, more concrete change, more leadership. (No need to speculate about McCain since age 47 – he’s mostly been an extremely conservative doctrinaire Senator from a conservative state with a gift for seeming to be on all sides of every issue.) But without that speculation being added into the mix, comparing Obama at 47 to McCain at 72 becomes nothing more than saying that one of these candidates is 25 years older than the other one.

If Obama’s experience is not “right,” or “enough,” or “adequate,” that’s because he is 47 years old. If the American people think 47 is simply too young to be President, that it certainly their prerogative. As is their right to think that 72 is simply too old. But to dress this age-ism up as “experience gap” is misleading.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

McCain vs Obama: Victim vs. Empath

McCain vs. Obama

I heard Fareed Zakaria talking with Brain Lehrer on WYNC yesterday on the topic of differences between McCain and Obama on foreign policy. Fareed thought that there was a time when he would have said not much separated the two, but that McCain had taken several positions recently which made him think there were meaningful differences. (The main change seemed to be McCain’s recent idea to rid the G-8 of Russia and China, which is of course plainly counter-productive.)

What struck me though, was how little appreciation Fareed had for the enormous differences between the two candidates. His idea about politics seems to rest on an entirely left-brain approach where one simply compares the competing policy proposals and selects the one which is more closely matches one’s own idea of the best policy proposals. For me, it's far more telling as a determinant of the kind of governance we can expect is the emotional and psychological make-up of the candidates.

I often joke with people that if the people making Campbells Soup ads think they are selling soup, they’ll make unsuccessful ads, whereas if they think they are selling love, redemption, acceptance, etc., they’ll end up selling lots of soup. I don’t think McCain’s or Obama’s policy proposals are what will have the biggest impact on our society, any more than Candidate Bush’s passion for a Patient’s Bill of Rights made much difference to our health care system. Instead, the fundamental character of the person is the biggest determinant of the kind of governance we will get.

To me, the fundamental character of a person is best described in emotional and psychological terms. For example, I think the Current Occupant (h/t Garrison Keillor, of course) suffers from the effects of the terrible trauma he suffered as a child when his younger sister suddenly fell ill and passed away. His feelings of powerlessness in the face of random, inexplicable tragedy – feelings which were steadfastly ignored by his parents – are the direct cause of his misguided efforts to “protect” the US – and his inability to stop talking about the paramount importance of doing so. I think that’s what is behind his idea that he himself is personally responsible for the nation’s safety, and he is surely not going to wait around for other nations to act if doing so jeopardizes his protective (preventive) mission (as he had to do with tragic results as a child). In fact, it is this impatience that leads others to perceive that they are spurned and rejected. They are.

I’m still learning about the early experiences of McCain and Obama, but already I can see a fundamental difference in their characters. McCain seems to me to be primarily about being a victim – a quality he had long before he was so horribly victimized by the North Viet Namese. His high school nickname of “McNasty” is some evidence of this – a person who lashes out to protect himself from too-painful feelings. My guess is that John developed a sense that he was never going to be good enough for his ultra-successful dad – a sense that he was being expected to perform to a very unfair standard. John strikes me as someone who is always probing for acceptance – that’s what those back-of-the-bus bull sessions are: a chance for John to get acceptance.

As a leader, my guess is McCain would be quick to see the US as a victim, a nation that is being subjected to unfair standards. (It is of course true that the US is indeed expected to conform to a standard of behavior higher perhaps than any other nation. My own view is that that expectation is entirely fair. I doubt McCain would see it that way.) McCain would be quick to take offense, and quick to take action to challenge those he sees as confronting him (i.e., holding him to an unfair standard). His famous temper is a testament to the extent he feels slighted unfairly – in other words, victimized.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, could not be more different. I read him as being Mr. Empathy. He is quick to understand others. He readily shares similar experiences. But he does not leave things there. He generally pivots to his own ideas of how to help. His policies seem to be based on fully understanding how those impacted by them will perceive them, the result of his starting with understanding as best he can how others see and feel things.

An Obama foreign policy would be based on understanding the viewpoints of other nations – which by itself would instantly bolster American credibility and prestige. His actions would proceed organically from his understanding of how others perceive their own worlds, and therefore would be far more likely to be welcomed and far more likely to be productive. Domestically, Obama has already begun the process of people making more of an effort to understand the needs and feelings of others, something that the Republican revolution of the last 40 years has specifically targeted (“Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago,” Reagan famously asked). His empathetic nature is quite disruptive to the conventional wisdom.

We have a clear choice, not between competing policies but between competing personalities. We can choose a perpetual victim, someone who is constantly striving for acceptance and spurning those perceived as authorities (people with unfair expectations). Or we can choose an empathizer who can synthesize the needs of various individuals into harmonious compromises and solutions that provide a real chance of achieving success.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Coming Craze for Confrontational Journalism

These past 10 years, many on the left have been appalled at the roll-over-and-rub-my-belly style of US journalism as mainstream journalists have vied with each other to see who loves Republicans the most. Not surprisingly, there's been a hailstorm of criticism about this.

Just in time for the return of the Democrats to power, the US mainstream press is about to shake off its journalistic slumber of the past 12-15 years and get back to basics: constantly hectoring the President about his many scandals and missteps, while making sure the opposition gets PLENTY of air time to bring these issues to the attention of the American people.

Wait for it, people. It's coming. And it will be just as ugly this time as it was under Clinton.
I don't usually waste my beautiful mind on the musings of confirmed half-wits like Billy Krystal. As a kid, I had two dogs, Spot and Frisky. ("Naming Things" was evidently not a course that either of my parents excelled in.) Either one of them, both long-gone to doggie heaven of course, had more insight into American public affairs that Billy. Yet neither has a newspaper column. Oh the injustice!

According to reliable sources, Billy is mad that BHO didn't talk more about the military at a recent commencement address. This brought home to me a idea I've been toying with the last few weeks about the nature of Republican-ism.

Republicans are famously derisive of governmental powers and responsibilities. But with one glaring exception -- the military. in fact, in their current mis-adventure in the Middle East, they are endeavoring to accomplish every task -- building schools, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, etc. -- solely with military resources. In many cases, those resources are in fact outside contractors (wouldn't want to leave out those poor shareholders!), but even they are largely militarized servants of the DoD. (And speaking of which, boy oh boy are we well defended! Who knew we faced such threats!).

Not just overseas. The only appropriate manifestations of the US Government to these loonies are military ones. That's why they've accepted such quasi-military icons as police and firemen. (Firemen!). Perhaps we can convince them on skycaps and doormen.

For reasons only their psychoanalysts could fathom, these authority-lovers see the only legitimate branch of government as the military. Imagine their surprise when young President Obama switches things around!

I really can't wait for these unreconstructed Birchites to return to their richly deserved place of ridicule and obscurity.