Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's at Stake

Tim Burke on what is at stake:

The first job for the next President is not Iraq and not the economy. I
don’t really hear any of the candidates talking to the key priority as forthrightly as I might like, . . . Look around at the mounting evidence of relentless and reckless misuse of executive power in the last eight years. . . . Not went wrong in Iraq, or with subprime mortgages, or anything else, though those failures are a good demonstration . . .

This is the crisis that is still unfolding, to which I see no easy
resolution. Everything that works about institutional life rests on the habitus of professionals, bureaucrats, experts, on whether they are stewards or parasites, whether they recognize the fragile possibility of a better world or are just looting the till, whether they are humble in the face of wider and more distributed experience and knowledge or whether they are contemptuous of
anything besides their own immediate power. We all know it: this is Arendt’s banality of evil. We do not need to fear the person at the top, but instead the mass force of institutional action. The libertarian answer, to sweep away all institutions (save those of private capital: a blind spot that I still find baffling), is no answer at all, any more than jumping off a cliff is a way to prevent being in an automobile accident.

Once the world all knew that this was the danger we faced, after 1945 (and have had it demonstrated repeatedly since), there has been no way to trust that some day the state or other institutions could be continually perfected until the danger would pass for all time. It will never pass, it can never pass. For the last eight years in the United States, we’ve gotten a reminder of just how close and ominously it lurks.

Institutional failure is also the theme of this article from Wired, TED 2008: How Good People Turn Evil, From Stanford to Abu Ghraib Zimbardo emphasizes the role of heroes, in a way that resonates with Tim Burke, above, but, curiously (to me), does not address the responsibilities of leadership. It would seem an obvious point, to hold those responsible, . . . responsible.

Tanta, reporting on Calculated Risk, on how Fannie Mae may soom re-write the ruleson how appraisals are done, exposes in a very interesting (to me) way, how corporate conglomeration tended to undermine professional responsibility in the complex business of real estate transactions. (Again, curiously missing is any awareness that some elite managers and executives walked away with millions, for making this mess, and those perverse incentives, and not just the perverse incentives of the small fry trapped in the system, might have something to do with the outcome.)

Jay Rosen tackled the disservice done by political journalism in Tomgram: Jay Rosen, Mindlessness in the Media, Campaign 2008 It is a brilliant essay, incorporating a sophisticated understanding of institutional role-playing and routines, but, once again, no awareness that the Cossacks Work for the Czar. The hullabaloo over the McCain/Iseman article in the N.Y. Times drew attention to the cluelessness of the N.Y. Times editors, Bill Keller and Jill Abramson, but I don't see their role anticipated in his analysis. Jay Rosen does not ask if just possibly, say, the reflects the politics, not just of its nominally non-political hackish principals, but of its wealthy publisher, Robert Allbritton.

The political storm has failed to come. Not with Iraq. Not with Abu Ghraib. Not with the U.S. Attorneys firings. Not with contempt of Congress. Not with Katrina, although that was close. Huge shifts in income and wealth have not done it. The insolvency of the banks hasn't done it.

The punditocrisy of Maureen Dowds and Tim Russerts continue to dominate the public discourse with their ignorance and their complacent self-satisfaction, and the great majority of the public remain "low-information" voters, swayed by bumper stickers.

Now, it is all invested in the election, in the person of Barack Obama -- a messiah to redeem us.

I've seen this movie. It did not end well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yes, they can

Dan Froomkin: "Can White House officials coast all the way to Jan. 20 without being exposed in such a way that the press and the public take full notice of what they've done?"

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why there is no Storm

You want to know why there is no Storm, no outrage over Republican corruption and incompetence?

Look no further than this week's New York Times story on John McCain's cozy relationship with lobbyists.

Todd Gitlin summarizes the mess, which appeared on the front page of the NY Times:
what was it about? (1) Intimations of an Iseman affair, or the "appearance" of an affair, that his aides tried to scotch? (2) McCain's entanglements with lobbyists who cared a good deal about what he did as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee? Uncertain which way to turn, having not much of a story about (1) and (on the strength of the evidence they published) no smoking gun about (2), they squared the potato and ran with the hodgepodge.

Matthew Yglesias summarizes the story the country needs to have told, the Real Story:
Basically, in exchange for money and freebies, McCain sought to intervene in a federal regulatory process in favor of a company that had provided him with tens of thousands of dollars in cash and services. He could try to plead naiveté, but in light of the hot water he got into with the Keating Five affair, which had the exactly same structure, he clearly knew what he was doing and knew that it was wrong. Now whether or not some guy gets to buy some TV station in Pittsburgh or not isn't a big deal as such, but it's an example of how dubious McCain's "straight talk" persona is. What's more, I think we can all agree that the subversion of the basic functioning of the federal government (see, e.g., US Attorneys scandal, FEMA, etc.) has been a major problem during the Bush years and we see here that McCain takes a Bush-like attitude to the integrity of these processes.

But, of course, it is the sexual innuendo, mostly unfounded (in the story as reported at least), which got the story on the front page of the New York Times.

Only after McCain had secured the Republican nomination, of course. Reportedly, the story was largely finished in December, but had to wait . . . for no particular reason.

And, the take-away from the Editor of Newsweek?

Jon Meacham: "Let us be honest: without the allegations about sex, there was no Times story. (McCain's FCC efforts and links to the communications company had been previously reported.) No suggestion of sex, no front page; no suggestion of sex, no right-wing rally to McCain's side against the Times. It is, as Margaret Thatcher used to say, a funny old world."

Funny old world, indeed. By, all means let's be honest. McCain as a corrupt liar -- well, that's all been reported, even it was only on Page 37. Boring. McCain has a penis -- that's news!

McCain's whole career is founded on the decision to leave his wife, the mother of his children, for a much younger, more beautiful woman, who just happened to be heir to a substantial fortune. But, that's old news, too.

The sex angle has opened the door to questions about McCain's ethics, character and participation in a corrupt system. But, look at how bizarre are the standards of Bill Keller, N.Y. Times editor, or Jon Meacham, Newsweek editor, and weep.

It should be noted, in passing, that this story was not a Democratic attack on McCain. Left blogosphere comment has centered on just how bad the N.Y. Times is. If anything, this story from the Grey Lady progenitor of Whitewater and WMD in Iraq, is further evidence that the Republican Right and the Complacent Muddled Middle really do not want to elect a Republican President in this round.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Free Ride

The great political storm has been held off by a news Media no longer able to cover the corruption and malfeasance of the Right.

The Republicans are going to run, as a Presidential candidate, a corrupt old fool. But, the Media love McCain, and appear reluctant to criticize him, just as they failed to criticize the callous, inexperienced dry drunk the Republicans nominated in 2000.

Newsweek has run a piece on the Media's cozy relationship with McCain and how that relationship has made McCain's casual corruption easy to hide. Atrios at Eschaton exclaims: "It's so rare that criticism of the press from the left in any way actually makes it into the mainstream media." Yes, it is rare. Of course, the article is a "Web-Exclusive" that won't make it into the magazine, where McCain voters might read it.

Just as the New York Times held its article exposing McCain's corruption until after McCain had secured the nomination, and then larded it with salacious gossip, which made it easy to dismiss, and Sixty Minutes will expose the Bush Administration's political prosecution of an Alabama governor during the Oscar telecast, when no one will watch, the Media continue to hide the news, even when they don't actually bury it.

Daily Kos: If it can happen to a Governor...

What is the cost of the Political Storm that never came?

There's no better (or worse) example than the politicization of the Justice Department by Bush and his cronies. Bush used criminal prosecutions to further his political agenda. And, the Media Pundits could not even figure out what was going on.

The case of Don Siegelman, former Democratic Governor of Alabama, will be the subject of a 60 Minutes segments on CBS on Sunday. Opposite the Oscars, so it can be ignored, I guess.

Kagro X on Daily Kos sums up the implications: "If they can railroad the actual governor of a state into prison and have pretty much nobody really sit up and take notice, what does that say about the extent of the damage to the country? Not just the DOJ (which is a goner), but about the supposed watchdogs of the media, who've been in large part either cowed into silence, or distracted by an endless stream of shiny objects?
Seriously, this means they can do this to anybody.
But worse than that, it means that anybody who finds themselves under scrutiny by the federal government now has license to charge that they're being politically targeted. Because if this can happen as Horton describes it happening, all bets are off. It has all the ingredients of the complete and total undoing of all federal law enforcement capability for the foreseeable future."

There's a kind of strategy in play, here, for the permanent establishment of an authoritarian government. Law is made arbitrary, and the political consequences are neutralized by the "everybody does it" meme merged with conventions of journalism, which enforce partisan neutrality.

The Next President

One of the great costs of failing to generate a political storm, of failing to marshal outrage at the incompetence and corruption of the Bush Administration is that the next President will have to cope with cleaning up the mess, and will be blamed for a lousy economy and a lost war, by too many people, who never work up to the drama being enacted over the last 6 years.
Paul Krugman: ". . . the next president will suffer the fate of Jimmy Carter, who began his administration with words of uplift — “Let us create together a new national spirit of unity and trust” — and ended up delivering America into the hands of the hard right."

Defining Victory Downward

This blog is premised on the idea that, while policy is not a morality play, politics must make use of morality plays to coordinate the evolution of common beliefs about goals and acceptance of means.

The Bush Administration has made the last six years a sad period of decline and decay for the American Experiment, as we have witnessed appalling policy, but waited in vain for the political storm to sweep away the malefactors.

In no case is this sadness greater than in the case of the Iraq War, a strategic failure well-earned by incompetence of leadership and policy at the highest level. And, yet, the narrative of that failure remains in the hands of its advocates.

Michael Kinsley: "It is now widely considered beyond dispute that Bush has won his gamble. The surge was a terrific success. Choose your metric: attacks on American soldiers, car bombs, civilian deaths, potholes. They're all down, down, down. Lattes sold by street vendors are up. Performances of Shakespeare by local repertory companies have tripled.
Skepticism seems like sour grapes. If you opposed the surge, you have two choices. One is to admit that you were wrong, wrong wrong. The other is to sound as if you resent all the good news and remain eager for disaster. Too many opponents of the war have chosen option two."

It is true. An opponent of the war is trapped, unable to express the simple truth, unable to advocate withdrawal effectively.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

ARG: Bush Job Approval - 19%

the American Research Group: Bush job approval
Approve Disapprove Undecided
Feb 2008 19% 77% 4%
Jan 2008 34% 59% 7%

This may well be an outlier. Just as Fox and Gallup tend to report relatively high Bush approval numbers, so ARG tends to report relatively low numbers, and when Bush's approval ratings are sliding fast, ARG tends to get ahead of the pack. But, still, if Bush's numbers take a tumble now, they are tumbling after more than a year, under 40%. An apparent basement number of 30% may have sprung a leak.

Update: ARG prefaced the Presidential job approval question, with a series of questions, which drew attention to the economic downturn. Reminding people about just what a terrible President, Bush has been, seems to encourage them to disapprove of him. Surprise!

Seriously, though, this insight is a useful reminder to those political news junkies like me that most people, most voters are not aware of much, don't carry around a lot of history or critical appreciation of politics. Democratic Presidential candidates, in particular, should consider extended narratives recounting the recent political and policy past -- narratives that connect Bush policy with present disaster.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This Election

Clinton or Obama?: ". . . this election is less about which candidate can usher in 'change,' or who has the most 'experience,' than it is about the very survival of our nation. While George W. Bush clamors about the need to spread democracy abroad, his deficit-ridden government is being propped up by Communist China, a major underwriter of American debt.
"The exodus abroad of first manufacturing and now service-sector jobs is gutting this nation's economy. And Bush's military adventurism and saber rattling have turned world opinion against us.
"It was with all this in mind that I did what every American is duty-bound to do in these troubled times: I voted my choice for the next president of the United States."

The worst is just beginning

Calculated Risk:

Henry Paulson responding to questions at a televised news conference:

Q: Is the worst over?
A: The worst is just beginning.

It was not quite that crisply and soberly delivered, but there was a good deal of impatience with the stupidity of the question, which cannot be conveyed on a page of type.

Absolutely Nothing

Glenn Greenwald on the Political Storm that conspicuously did not follow from revelations of Bush Administration lawless spying: "What was the outcome of all of that sturm und drang? What were the consequences for the President for having broken the law so deliberately and transparently? Absolutely nothing."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Postmodern recessions - Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog

Paul Krugman has a useful note on Postmodern recessions, which goes directly to a comment I made earlier about the how long the pain of the present recession will affect politics.

Krugman's argument is that this recession is not the result of the Fed jacking up interest rates to induce a recession to fight inflation. Rather, it is, in his view, a side-effect of a housing boom settling out. Recovery, in employment terms, will be slow, because housing won't just come back on its own, the way the economy comes back on its own, when the Fed stops jacking interest rates.

One could quibble a bit. The yield curve did flatten out, and had the predictable effect. That effect was magnified, because the big banks had been engaged in a number of questionable practices, resulting in a lot of bad loans.

If the Fed simply caused a recession, to contain inflation, not much in the way of restructuing is called for. That's not the present case. Short recession, or long, the U.S. is in need of economic restructuring.

Elite Failure

Atrios explains why we wait for the political storm to come: "The story of this decade is the complete and utter failure by elites in government and media to do their jobs properly. What's so depressing about all of this is that there has been little accountability anywhere (see Kristol, Bill, New York Times for example) for the catastrophe they unleashed on the people of Iraq. For a group of people enamored with their own self-importance, they seem to have little concern for the consequences of what they do."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


The economy has gone into recession, and now the data is arriving to prove it.

The Great Political Storm, apparently, is to center on the November 2008 Presidential and Congressional elections.

A recession that starts in January should be, technically, over by August or September, but it is unlikely that there will be a recovery in employment or income by then. In other words, it will not feel like the recession is over. And, since people already feel that the country has been on the wrong track, economically, we can count on 10 months of gloomy talk about America's economic decline leading up to the elections.

Let's project ahead to a record heat wave in Summer, a devastating hurricane or two, further eruptions of violence in Iraq and Afganistan . . .

The Republican Party will be the ashes of burnt toast.