Friday, May 30, 2008
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
"Asking what should have been done in 1996 or 2000 is a tough enough question because the imbalances were all smaller, but today by comparison we have serious problems. Politically and economically, there is no painless solution to the imbalances in the US. For US policymakers, it seems that even short-term pain is intolerable. Nobody in Washington wants to bite the bullet and explain the full dimension of the required change to the US electorate, so we muddle. Going back to the early 1990s, US politicians have bought support from the voters by keeping consumption on an ever rising trajectory. For at least 12 years, we've had debt induced increases in consumption and the political class optimized their behavior to maintaining that illusion of rising consumption even as the economic fundamentals worsened."
"The US population is not ready to hear that their real levels of income, assets prices and other indicia of national well being may be falling or relatively stagnant for the foreseeable future. This is just politically not acceptable. So our politicians will attempt to maintain the appearance of growth, but not address the underlying causes. Devaluing the dollar alone is not going to correct the issue. World financial markets would destabilize if they perceived that the dollar was about to depreciation enough to restore the US to external balance. They still believe that it will never happen."
There's something annoying about the whole arrogant ego-wanking of posing as a truth-teller and criticizing politicians as cowardly for not knowing what to do, when the problem is that no one knows what to do. When the economists cannot outline a good solution, politicians muddle through, because muddling through is generally best when you don't know what to do. Alford admits he would consider what to do in 2000, before Bush made the whole set of problems an order of magnitude worse, a difficult problem. So, if you separate out the arrogant, self-indulgent crap, you are left with a stark assessment of how bad a fix past policy has gotten us into.
Now there is political cowardice, and then there is political cowardice, and Alford, no doubt, knows who butters his own bread, and is not going to focus, say, on massively raising taxes of very wealthy people, although that is clearly called for, in the circumstances. But, that's not my point, really.
Bad policy brings bad results, and that is the basis for expecting a political storm when a President and a Congress embark on particularly bad policy. Now, we are working through the bad results, and the United States is a bad place, with few really good options.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Barry Nolan, veteran TV journalist: "I got fired from my job on a news and information network for reporting demonstrably true things in a room full of news people."
What did he do? Who did he work for? In his own words,
So, I’m that TV guy who got fired by [Boston] Comcast [channel CN8] over Bill O’Reilly. I protested the fact that O’Reilly was chosen to receive the Governors Award at this year’s Emmy Awards ceremony. That’s the highest honor that they hand out. The important word here is: honor.
Now granted – you won’t find a lot of Albert Schweitzers or Mother Teresas working in television, but at least the people who had been honored in the past had pretty much followed the part of the Hippocratic oath that says, “First, do no harm.”
O’Reilly was an appalling choice, not because of his political views, but because he simply gets the facts wrong, abuses his guests and the powerless in general, is delusional, and, well, you might want to Google: Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Plus there was that whole sexual harassment thing – the lawsuit he settled for an estimated $10 million. Not the kind of guy you normally think of when it comes time to pass out honors.
I found that most of my colleagues felt the same way. So, on May 10th at the [local Boston] Emmy Awards dinner, I quietly passed out a document that contained – not my opinion – but O’Reilly’s own words and quotes from his sexual harassment lawsuit. And that is what got me fired. I got fired from my job on a news and information network for reporting demonstrably true things in a room full of news people.
Next time, you're wonder why CNN keeps low-ratings borderline-looney embarrassment Glen Beck on the air, remember what happens to people in the news business, who speak up for some kind of decent standard.
It is a monolith, people, and it should be destroyed.
Media delenda est.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
He just seems bound and determined to alienate everyone and compel his own election defeat. It is not enough that he is campaigning to succeed the most unpopular President in over 50 years, amidst economic decline and defeat in war. Mark Kleiman elevates a commenter's analysis of a A Day in the Life of John McCain Candidate. It is gruesome.
"A very bad day for Gramps"
Saturday, May 24, 2008
I too like Bill Bradley, and expect to vote for him in the primary. A friend of mine who's a theater director recently told me that I should tell another friend of mine who's a speechwriter for Bradley that he, the director, would like to help coach the candidate in big-audience performing skills. Which I think would be a good idea. And which I also think is a very rich premise for a comedy sketch.
But my problem with politics these days...is that politics don't and really can't matter all that much in this country right now. There are rough, large consensuses on all the big issues—economics, social welfare, civil rights, women's rights, war and peace, even abortion. And they will continue as long as the economy chugs along like this and we stay out of wars any longer than a mini-series. Sure, there's a biggish, scary lunatic right—the Gary Bauerite creationist anti-gay regiments—but they're not going to be running the country or amending the Constitution any time soon. In fact, Pat Buchanan is right about the virtual indistinguishability of the Democrats and Republicans. I sympathize with both Buchanan and Warren Beatty viscerally, if not ideologically. I really think national politics kind of needs to be blown up and rebuilt. For the couple of weeks seven years ago before he revealed himself to be a horrible, crazy gnome, Ross Perot seemed to me like a great idea. And if next November the candidates are George Bush, Al Gore, and Jesse Ventura, it isn't inconceivable that I would pull the lever for Ventura. And I certainly wouldn't be very upset if Bush won, even if he can't name a single book he's ever read.
Somerby lets Jonathan Chait roll "his eyes at this cluelessness", quoting a contemporary Chait assessment:
“This small piece of political anthropology embodies many of the stylistic and intellectual tics that are shaping coverage of the presidential race. There is little in the way of substantive philosophy other than the social prejudices of the yuppie class, which holds the simultaneous beliefs that the current arrangement is producing highly satisfactory results and, at the same time, is somehow terribly wrong.”
digby, having quoted Somerby quoting Andersen, as I did, synthesizes some fine quality insults:
This is a ridiculous person and so un-self aware that he's actually proud of it.
I'm hoping that the current Obama swoon will help Democrats win in November. But let's not forget that people like Anderson are just a little bit untrustworthy as advocates, so I wouldn't take anything they say too seriously. He is a preening, puerile airhead, who may be useful in the short term, but presents a very clear danger to our system and our politics in the long run. These silly fellows tend to be just a bit fickle, if you know what I mean. Just read that excerpt again if you don't believe me.
I'm a pragmatic sort and I am more than willing to take advantages where they come. But the fact that journalists like Anderson are all swooning over Obama is a very mixed bag. Right now it will be helpful in that the press corps also swoons over McCain so perhaps we'll get a little balance. But boys like him tend to get very nasty when their idols turn out to be mortal. . . .It is flattering to have all these fops of the village press corps drooling all over a big Democrat. But they have issues. Big ones. They have the attention spans of a six week old ferret and the fidelity of a cat in heat. It's extremely foolish to trust these abusers with our future. Caveat Emptor.
Media delenda est.
Charlie Rose swoons over Kurt Andersen, having had him on his interview program at least 14 times since 1995. I had no idea, who Kurt Andersen was, until I saw digby's post. Kurt Andersen summarizes his own journalism career:
I WENT TO WORK for Time in 1981 and wrote about politics, criminal justice, and culture, including 15 cover stories. In 1985 I became the magazine’s architecture and design critic – and although I left the magazine in 1986 to co-found Spy, I stayed in the architecture-and-design slot as a contributor through 1992. And in 1993 I returned to Time for one year to write a column called “Spectator.” . . .
During the late 1990s I was a staff writer for The New Yorker , where I contributed a regular column called “The Culture Industry” as well as longer pieces.
On my radio show, Studio 360, I used to deliver three- or four-minute commentaries, which are better heard than read.
And I now write a monthly column for New York called "The Imperial City."
In addition, I’ve written for Architectural Record, The Atlantic Monthly, Metropolis, Rolling Stone, Slate and Vanity Fair, among other publications.
That's quite a career. This is an elite journalist and writer, prolific, presumably articulate in a pleasing way, well-connected and well-regarded.
I listened to the interview on Charlie Rose. Andersen, self-involved and careless, focused on relating his own subjective experience of politics, mostly as an entertainment or a stimulus. He and Charlie joked about how politics was like reality TV, and Charlie noted that celebrity magazines were focusing on political celebrities. Politics, Anderson allowed without elaboration, had seemed to become more consequential over the last 7 years.
What is going on, here?
Well, one thing that is going on, is that a certain kind of political journalism requires that its practitioners be non-partisan "independents" -- people, who are interested in politics as a cultural phenomena, but, whose worldviews do not compel them to affiliate and identify with one Party or the other. There are quite a few Pundits, who are closely identified as Democrats or Republicans -- often with careers as political operatives or staff -- but political journalists, like Andersen, come out a tradition of "objective" reporting where partisan identification would be frowned upon, would be a handicap, in fact.
Tim Burke, a very thoughtful history professor at Swarthmore wrote about his own "independent" political views in a blogpost, he titledThe Loneliness of the Long-Distance Independent. It is very good stuff, but with an remarkable lack of self-awareness for a naval-gazing post, he writes, of himself:
"The independent fantasizes that his ideal candidate will stand proud even if that means not winning, at least if the stakes are high enough and the principle important enough."
Of course, to a partisan like myself this seems inexplicable. For Partisans, politics is a team sport, and when the going gets tough, the team gets going. If the stakes are high enough, the principle important enough, the correct response is to rally to your team. The stakes are, only incidentally, a principle, and, more usually, material benefits, and not winning is losing, and losing is bad.
Now, politics is a team sport, where non-team-members are allowed to swarm onto the field and play, willy-nilly, with no penalty or time-out. The "independent" plays, and her vote is often decisive. When the "independent" is a political journalist or pundit or even just an influential person, her voice, and not just her vote, matters. The "independent" brings not just a set of preferences, but a worldview to both political discourse and the voting booth. And, it is a worldview, which is radically at odds with the worldviews of partisans, who play for keeps; it is a worldview and an associated set of preferences embedded into that worldview, which seem, in fact, deranged, detached and bizarre to well-informed partisans.
It is not a worldview limited only to a particular demographic. All humans share it. But, if you are a partisan, if you have taken sides, and made a committment to the Party identity and association, you have taken on some ballast, that keeps your ship from bouncing around wildly and whimsically. You can take on an awareness of policy and self-interest, to keep yourself oriented and upright and focused; the ballast that comes with partisan committment is the awareness that politics does matter, for something you care about.
The "independent", who becomes a political journalist does not care about policy substance, about material benefits, and will never write sensibly about most policy issues. What she cares about is the drama, about character and motivation and bathos. And, like movie critics, who must see way too many movies, she will tend to get bored and to focus on unimportant details. To maintain her detachment and "objectivity", she must avoid taking on the ballast of partisan committment, and without that ballast, tends to forget that politics does matter.
The canny politician knows that he must appeal to the "independent" mindset, but not with the promises of material benefits appropriate to an interest group, but with a narrative drama about character, ordeal, courage and the triumph of principle -- in other words with drama. This is the stuff of biography. It doesn't even have to be one's own biography: think of Jack Kennedy authoring Profiles in Courage.
The partisans will always claim they want to talk about "the issues", which are the particular material or symbolic policy questions, which partisans think politics can affect. Worldviews vary systematically concerning what politics can affect, or should affect, of course. And, part of assembling a political coaltion is assembling a set of issues that are compatible with your coalition. "Issues" are real and important, especially for the teams, for the partisans. But, even the partisans care about character and drama. Even the partisans want to love their guy, and hate the other guy.
Friday, May 23, 2008
". . . if the Bush administration thought withdrawal from Iraq was a political loser, they'd be happy to make an honest case for staying.
But they think, correctly, that an honest case for staying would be a huge political loser. Now just because the honest case would be a losing one, doesn't mean the GOP will lose with their dishonest one. But it does mean that the key to winning the debate is to expose the dishonest argument for what it is, which means putting forth a clear alternative and expressing in no uncertain terms how outrageous it is that Bush and McCain want more and more Americans to fight and die on a lie."
If . . .
A political storm is a drama, enacted for the purpose of telling a story about what has happened. It is a political society talking to itself, and drawing a moral lesson from its own past storytelling and conduct.
That George W. Bush was a moron, "leading" a basically malign coalition in the pursuit of a conglomeration of bad policies -- political, economic and military -- has been obvious since before he was first put into office as President. But, the institutions the country has for telling itself stories -- aka the Media -- had grown seriously dysfunctional, and lots of People did not get the Memo on what an incompetent Moron George W. Bush is, and what a disreputable political coalition he was leading.
The Country has had to teach itself some moral lessons, that no civilized nation should have to teach itself after it becomes civilized: torture is bad, national bankruptcy is bad, aggressive war is bad, political and business corruption is bad. That a political faction or Party should be able to maintain itself for any length of time in Power, while advocating and implementing such clearly evil policies is evidence of serious degeneracy.
Stirling Newberry writes on the nearly ineffable Really Big Picture in an article, titled, The Progressive Century. He identifies both the Big Choices, we are faced with as a nation and as a civilization (and, maybe, as a Species), and the source of the degeneracy in how we are approaching and framing those Big Choices.
I especially agree with him about one particular point: a good outcome depends on the productiveness of the Progressive Imagination. We have to be able to imagine a better society, a better politics and a better economy, and a path to get there. There's a role, certainly, for some Utopian Idealism in imagining a destination, but even more critical is the Whiggish ability to digest ideals into reforms, which at least some of those vested with elite privilege, can support.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008
Michael O'Hare -- Reality-Based Community worries that the Democrats will be flabby and overconfident from too easy a win, or something:
Democrats need respectable, responsible resistance from conservatives to be good Democrats, just as tennis and poker players are no good facing potzers and fish. . . . Obama needs to beat a contender, not a pushover, to be a good president. If you thought the last eight years were a nightmare, you should expect a completely unrestrained period of Democratic governance to be almost as awful. . . .
The blame for this state of affairs lies entirely with Bush and the Republican enterprise of the last few years (maybe a little with Democrats for not being able to beat him decisively at the polls). They're reaping the just and fair whirlwind of a cynical, unprincipled, unconservative substitution of winning elections at any cost to institutions, and plain old money greed, for a theory or method of governance. Their incompetence and venality has now driven decent and credible people out of their nomination process, so they wind up stuck with what appears to be a hopeless candidate at the top, and vacant seats to win down the ticket. I despise them for all of it, but most of all because they have set themselves on a path to a collapse so complete, into candidacies and incumbencies so pathetic, that we will have an election, and then a government, without the kind of resistance, testing, and pushback that is essential to any policy-making process and administration.
The answer to this is simple enough. These are not your father's Democrats. The composition of the Democratic Party will shift, it will become (internally) more conservative, even as political power returns to the hands of Democratic Progressives.
The Republican Party have not offered a "respectable, responsible resistance" since 1994; nor did Democrats. That's why the Perfect Political Storm did not arrive to sweep Bush out of Office.
The Republicans are on course to monumental defeat, because they are useless. But, it is a mistake to imagine that the Democrats, who replace them are anywhere near as monolithic ideologically as the Republicans. This is a Big Tent Democracy, which is replacing Karl Rove "50.00% + 1 is a Mandate" style of governance. There will be "respectable, responsible resistance" within the Democratic Party. The moderate/conservative wing of the Democratic Party is being reinvigorated more by this election than the Progressives.
The real and vital question will be whether the Progressives are ready to lead moderate, but militant Democrats in accomplishing great things. We won't find that out in this election campaign, nor should we expect to. The Democrats are united by what they are against, and what they are against is the Republican agenda of torture, national bankruptcy, business and political corruption, and perpetual, pointless war. That they are divided over what they are for, is irrelevant to the present contest. When they have the power to govern, they will have to compromise among themselves, and then they will succeed or fail in governing the country. For the moment, it is enough to lead the country away from its present course.
“American conservatives had one defeat, in 2006, but it wasn’t a big one. The big defeat is probably coming, and then the thinking will happen. I have not yet seen the major think tanks reorient themselves, and I don’t know if they can. You go to Capitol Hill—Republican senators know they’re fucked. They have that sense. But they don’t know what to do.”
The next words out of David Brooks' mouth were, “There’s a hunger for new policy ideas.”
Well, yeah. Now that the policy ideas that Movement Conservatism has pursued for 65 years have proven to be exactly what any sensible person could have predicted would be complete disaster, there's a "hunger".
Conservatives, of a pragmatic stripe, will attempt to take over leadership of the Republican Party from the Reacionary wingnuts. That's predicatable enough. And, they will promise compassionate conservatism, and a humble foreign policy and all sorts of empty nonsense. Their hunger is for something empty, that will satisfy the masses for the moment, the moment will pass, and they will go back to stealing and stupidity.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
"One problem is that most ordinary citizens pay only modest attention to politics and public affairs; as a result, they are often too uninformed to translate their broad political values into specific policy preferences. The 2001 Bush tax cut is a dramatic case in point. In opinion surveys conducted in 2002 and 2004, about 40% of the public said they hadn't thought about whether they favored or opposed this multi-trillion dollar policy innovation. Among those who did express a view one way or the other, opinions were most strongly shaped by what I refer to as 'unenlightened self-interest.' People who thought their own taxes were too high were very likely to support the tax cut, regardless of what they thought about the tax burdens of rich people, who were overwhelmingly the main beneficiaries from the tax cut. How much people wanted to spend on a wide variety of government programs, their views about the efficiency or wastefulness of government, and other plausibly relevant considerations had no effects, or seemingly illogical effects, on support for the tax cut. Democrats and strong egalitarians were most likely to oppose the tax cut, but only if they were unusually well-informed. Indeed, much of the sizable plurality of public opinion in support of the tax cut came from uninformed egalitarians, liberals, and Democrats"
Media delenda est.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
"George W. Bush has now gone 40 months without majority approval from the country he's supposed to represent and govern. That's longer than Truman, Nixon, or any other president since the advent of polling. He has cracked 70% disapproval, another first, and is now more unpopular than Nixon was directly before he resigned from office. He is shockingly unpopular, and this is a reality that neither the Congress nor the media has quite figured out how to address. It's something of a crisis for our political system that the president has now spent over three years hated and mistrusted by the majority of the country, and yet has never felt the need to take steps to restore his legitimacy. Something is wrong."
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the corporate Media is actively blocking the expression of the country's discontent in our national political discourse. The pattern of scandal and corruption is never given the catalysis of a voice, articulating the full perception of a pattern, along with the outrage it justifies. Effective and credible voices, speaking from a moral center, with a considered and informed view, are largely excluded from the national political discourse, or drowned out by the political clowns, the professionally complacent, the glibertarians and the right-wing shills.
The most troubling, to me, are those Media figures, who adopt an above-the-fray non-partisan complacency, while posing as referees. I am thinking especially of people, like Charlie Rose or Tim Russert, who exercise the power of gatekeepers. Even worse, are the clowns, like Chris Matthews and the professional incompetents like Mark Halperin.
Think about the N.Y. Times op-ed page. Then, imagine the contrast of Maureen Dowd with, say, digby of Hullabaloo.
The blogosphere is large, and reaches an increasing audience, but a vast part of America sees only the political news drivel of the corporate Media. They are not completely ignorant, but they see things through a Media filter, that keeps them from connecting their daily experience, a few bits of news, and the political reality of Republican policy and process, with their own participation in the political process.
The Media's incompetence, focus on the trivial, lack of institutional memory, and complacent neutrality contribute to the maintaince of a large part of the country in completely separate, virtual realities. Conservatives simply do not have to face the collapse of the economy or the catastrophe of the Iraq War as an objective, shared reality, and so, they can not be compelled to cooperate with the center or left, in the kind of course correction that followed Nixon and Watergate.
It is simply not possible for the country's discontent to catalyze into a political upheaval in any way, outside of the political campaign -- and even that outlet is threatened by the determination of the Media to trivialize and slander Democrats, while mechanically lauding McCain.
It is more than a scandal, it is a pattern of scandal, a habit of scandal.
The Associated Press: Ex-State officials allege corruption cover up: "The Bush administration repeatedly ignored corruption at the highest levels within the Iraqi government"
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Matthew Yglesias (May 04, 2008) - Fair and Balanced (Foreign Policy): "
"Sweet Iraq panel from the New York Times. It's got Richard Perle and Danielle Pletka and Frederick Kagan and Paul Bremer. That's four out of the nine slots! Plus you've got Ken Pollack, and what Spencer Ackerman describes as 'non-liberal members of the reality-based community like Paul Eaton and Anthony Cordesman and Nate Fick.' Representing American liberalism in even the liberal New York Times is Anne-Marie Slaughter all by her lonesome -- can't let too many hippies congregate on one op-ed page."
A short while ago, Charlie Rose hosted a series of interviews on the anniversary of the Iraq War invasion. In Charlie Rose's own words:
"On the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, I did a series of conversations to find out how both critics and supporters of the war effort see the current situation. Some of the critical voices I listened to are Les Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, the New Yorker's George Packer and two young Iraqis living in the United States. . . . To get the other side's perspective, I talked to Richard Perle and Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute."
Conspicuously absent were any Americans, who thought the war a bad idea from the beginning. Charlie, of course, argued with the very sensible Iraqis, who were suitably blunt in blaming the U.S., as they should, for destroying so much of their country. But, American voices opposed to the imperialist project were excluded. So, Charlie heard from the victims; from reluctant supporters critical of the war, and from enthusiastic supporters less critical of the war. And, that's where the spectrum of opinion stopped.
Media delenda est.