Saturday, January 30, 2010

America, an Example to the World

Academics fight rise of creationism at universities | World news | The Guardian:
"'There is an insidious and growing problem,' said Professor Jones, of University College London. 'It's a step back from rationality. They (the creationists) don't have a problem with science, they have a problem with argument. And irrationality is a very infectious disease as we see from the United States.' . . .

"Most of the next generation of medical and science students could well be creationists, according to a biology teacher at a leading London sixth-form college. 'The vast majority of my students now believe in creationism,' she said, 'and these are thinking young people who are able and articulate and not at the dim end at all. They have extensive booklets on creationism which they put in my pigeon-hole ... it's a bit like the southern states of America.'"

Bush’s Third Term

Tad DeHaven | Cato @ Liberty: "Bush’s Third Term"


(hattip to Bruce Bartlett, for this link)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Life Cycles

A great financial crisis can be regarded as a technical problem in the management of a monetary system, but it can also be seen as marking a crisis of the established order.

The U.S., in the 1920s, was excited by the possibilities of the new economy of telephones, electricity, automobiles, movies, radio and television. But, the old economy of agriculture and steam was played out, and fully half the population was stuck on the farm and sinking rapidly into deeper and deeper poverty and despair. The financial crisis, brought on by a hysteria expressed in runaway speculation in fraudulent schemes, marked the beginning of 20 years of crisis, as the world came apart and a new architecture was developed, to rebuild it.

The U.S. today has played out the economic and political architecture of the New Deal and WWII. Those structures, concepts, opportunities, imperatives, habits -- they are all dead and broken and played out, exhausted.

It isn't just our political system, but the whole basis of our economic and national life.

The country is like an old man, the powers and ideals of youth faded away, consumed, at the end, by the final triumph of bad habits and weaknesses of character. The smoking that was a daring rebellion at 20 is cancer at 60; the generosity and confidence of the prosperous 30-something is poverty and anxiety at 70.

Building out new suburbs, buying a second car and a television, going to the new shopping mall, bearing any burden in a fight against godless communism -- these hopeful, idealistic and highly productive ideas have become caricatures and monstrosities: McMansions, SUVs, the Global War on Terrorism, 500 channels and nothing to watch. Kennedy's taxcut and Johnson's Great Society, that triggered the prosperity of the 1960s, reducing poverty, and encouraging the country to cast off the conventionalism imposed with WWII discipline, have become Bush's taxcuts for the rich, creeping authoritarianism in law and custom, and a dumb acceptance of the inexorable rise of poverty.

The indecision and irresponsibility of our politics is just a symptom of a political economy at the end of its natural life -- an analogue to the senility and incapacity of a diseased old age.

Even if the political system, in its near-terminal corruption and paralysis, continues to refuse to answer, reality presses on, and necessity increases its demands.

The sense that the country is progressing toward becoming a banana republic of authoritarian politics, with a vicious corporate elite oppressing and exploiting a passive population is palpable. And, the evidence of the institutional decay to bring about this result is plentiful, as one after another institution of the New Deal has been destroyed or corrupted, and every ideal of liberal internationalism has been made into a bad joke, in a farcical parody called, "American Empire". (America Triumphant is spending record defense budgets to tramp around the absolute poorest places on earth, blowing holes in the sand and knocking one rock off another, while using the Constitution as toilet paper in a camp for some pathetic group of alleged scary terrorists, many of whom aren't scary or terrorists!)

"Change we can believe in" -- We still desperately want the change, but no one believes we are going to get it.

Everything -- every fundamental thing about how this country and the world is organized, economically and politically, has to change to adapt to the new reality of peak oil and global warming and globalized communication.

The most frustrating thing to me, about the way Krugman abstracts, say, the case for fiscal stimulus spending on a vast scale, is that he never connects it to any reality, but the mere fact of unemployment. No other context, which might point us toward what to spend money on. It is true that the Keynesian "technical insight" is that it doesn't really matter what you spend the money on. But, it matters to the political moment.

It isn't coincidental, that we have this financial crisis, and massive unemployment in the old economy of building suburbs and cars to drive to them, at this moment. We don't just need "JOBS" -- though surely we do need them -- we need a completely different system for powering the economy. By 2050, power generation and transportation in the U.S. has to produce no net greenhouse gas emissions. That's very ambitious. It requires rebuilding everything. We need a new rail net, for example. We will have to abandon suburban sprawl for something else -- some combo of denser cities and locally dense ex-urban places.

If the U.S. is not to become a banana republic, then we have to find a new basis for middle class incomes, a new medium for a sensible political discourse, other than 24/7 corporate-advertising-supported cable news.

Everything has to change.

My personal hypothesis is that the sense of that, the necessity of that is well-known out here, among ordinary people. Not just people, who blog. Tea Partiers are responding, in their way, to the felt sense of massive change coming.

It is the elite -- comfortable and self-interested and vested in how things have "always been" -- which doesn't want change, and is resisting it with all of its power -- and the elite has all of the power, after all.

The middle class has lost is HomeATM, but the corporate and banking and political elite is still drawing down on its credit lines. The banks can up their credit card fees. The high-flyers of Wall Street can resume selling their CDSs or exploiting the Bernanke Carry Trade. The political class thanks the Supreme Court for opening the floodgates of corporate money. Apple orders some new iPads from China for gadget-hungry America, and H-P is a horrible place to work, but, hey, it's a job.

The elite, upon whom we depend for our daily dose of propaganda and to run our corporations and our politics -- that elite, vested in how things have long been, and which has been increasing its skim off the top by small increments, year after year, really doesn't want anything to change. And, they're in charge.

The only good news is the impending bad news: the bad news is that the system doesn't work, and the good news, sort of, is that the system doesn't work, and so, won't survive.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Tides of History

Walter Isaacson reviews - 'Crisis and Command,' by John Yoo; and 'Bomb Power,' by Garry Wills - in the (goddamn) New York Times: "the course of American history has followed Yoo’s interpretation. . . . That is why Wills’s book, though more elegantly argued than Yoo’s, seems to be railing against the tides of ­history."

As digby notes, Isaacson never notes or acknowledges Yoo's advocacy of torture.

We have here a real milestone in our progress of degradation. This is how the building of the Fascist State is confirmed.

Garry Wills is a conservative. John Yoo is a fascist. There are differences. By obscuring or overlooking the differences, Issacson, from his perch at the New York Times, is ratifying the descent of the United States from Republic to Fascist State.

It is a sad and pathetic end for our ideals.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The corporate news media is one of the most dysfunctional elements of American political economy, and one, which the Perfect Storm of reaction would, or should assault. The casualties, so far?

"It is with the greatest regret, on behalf of our Board, that we must announce that Air America Media is ceasing its live programming operations as of this afternoon, and that the Company will file soon under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code to carry out an orderly winding-down of the business.

The very difficult economic environment has had a significant impact on Air America's business. This past year has seen a 'perfect storm' in the media industry generally. National and local advertising revenues have fallen drastically, causing many media companies nationwide to fold or seek bankruptcy protection. From large to small, recent bankruptcies like Citadel Broadcasting and closures like that of the industry's long-time trade publication Radio and Records have signaled that these are very difficult and rapidly changing times."

This is not looking good.

The Corporate Plutocracy Wins a Big One

Justices Overturn Key Campaign Limits - "Sweeping aside a century-old understanding and overruling two important precedents, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections."

Reality? Who cares?

Daily Kos: State of the Nation: "Andrew Sullivan writes:

Here's why it's hard to see anything positive coming out of this debacle. Stephen Bainbridge, an intelligent man and one of the few conservatives who also found Bush and Cheney appalling, can write this:

Obama and the Congressional Democrats (especially in the House) governed for the last year as though the median voter is a Daily Kos fan.

This must come as some surprise to most Daily Kos fans. But if one had traveled to Mars and back this past year and read this statement, what would you assume had happened? I would assume that the banks had been nationalized, the stimulus was twice as large, that single-payer healthcare had been pushed through on narrow majority votes, that card-check had passed, that an immigration amnesty had been legislated, that prosecutions of Bush and Cheney for war crimes would be underway, that withdrawal from Afghanistan would be commencing, that no troops would be left in Iraq, that Larry Tribe was on the Supreme Court, that DADT and DOMA would be repealed, and so on.

But when even a sane and honest person like Bainbridge has lapsed into believing the [Foxaganda] mantra, you realize that ideology has simply altered our understanding of reality. I note that Peter Berkowitz, another sane conservative, notes 'extreme partisanship' on health insurance reform - but sees it as entirely a Democratic failure!"


Talking Points Memo publishes the thoughts of a Senate Democratic staffer:
"Things have gotten so bad that in roaming the halls today it feels exactly as if we lost the Majority last night.

The worst is that I can't help but feel like the main emotion people in the caucus are feeling is relief at this turn of events. Now they have a ready excuse for not getting anything done. While I always thought we had the better ideas but the weaker messaging, it feels like somewhere along the line Members internalized a belief that we actually have weaker ideas. They're afraid to actually implement them and face the judgement of the voters. That's the scariest dynamic and what makes me think this will all come crashing down around us in November."

I believe President Clinton provided some crucial insight when he said, "people would rather be with someone who is strong and wrong than weak and right." It's not that people are uninterested in who's right or wrong, it's that people will only follow leaders who seem to actually believe in what they are doing. Democrats have missed this essential fact.

The stimulus bill in the spring showed us what was coming. In the face of a historic economic crisis, Democrats negotiated against themselves at the outset and subsequently yielded to absurd demands from self-described "moderates" to trim the package to a clearly inadequate level. No one made any rational argument about why a lower level was better. It would have been trivial to write "claw-back" provisions if the stimulus turned out to be too much or we could have done a rescission this year to give these moderates their victory, but none of this was on the table. We essentially looked like we didn't know what the right answer was so we just kinda went for what we could get. This formula was repeated in spades in both the Climate and Health Care debacles.

This is my life and I simply can't answer the fundamental question: "what do Democrats stand for?" Voters don't know, and we can't make the case, so they're reacting exactly as you'd expect (just as they did in 1994, 2000, and 2004). We either find the voice to answer that question and exercise the strongest majority and voter mandate we've had since Watergate, or we suffer a bloodbath in November. History shows we're likely to choose the latter.

Talk about your zeitgeist moment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Edward Harrison:
"The Democratic defeat in yesterday’s Massachusetts Senate race puts a punctuation mark on the grinding erosion of support for the Obama Administration and its economic policy in a tough first year. Clearly voters were sending the Administration a message that America is on the wrong course with Obama’s poll numbers slipping below 50% by December and Democratic defeats in both of the major state elections in which Obama campaigned in November (Gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey).

But, I don’t think the President gets it. He is holed up in the echo chamber called the White House. If the catastrophic loss in Massachusetts’ Senate race and the likely defeat of his health care reform bill doesn’t wake Obama up to the realities that he is not in Roosevelt’s position but in Hoover’s, he will end as a failed one-term President."

Harrison goes on to say some very, very smart things about the nature of the Obama Administration, and also about the economic situation, and the Obama Administration's misapprehension of it. First, on Obama's political positioning:

"Obama is yet another centrist, triangulating New Democrat in the Bill Clinton mold. Don’t be bamboozled by Republican propagandists telling you Obama is running left or that he is a ‘socialist.’ This is nonsense – kabuki theater, if you will. They are merely using Obama’s weakness to gain control of the historical political narrative. In reality, Leftists are absolutely outraged at his legislative agenda.

Obama is a corporatist like other New Democrats of the neo-liberal mold. The schtick – as also used by Schroeder in Germany, Koizumi in Japan and Tony Blair in the UK – is to say the things that progressives want to hear, but do the things that big business wants to be done. You have to give a sop to the base here and there like exempting unions from the healthcare bill’s Cadillac policy tax. But, the goal is to curry favor with big business, which is the paymaster of both established parties in the U.S."

The perfect political storm that carried away Bush's Republican Party, and made Obama, President, failed to carry the day. It failed to take down the corporate news Media, which has been propagandizing America into political impotency, and it failed to put the progressives in charge of the Democratic majority. And, the result has been a cold peace, preserving a status quo that no longer works.

Harrison quotes Marshall Auerback:
"While the Administration continues to take credit for averting a financial catastrophe, it is far more accurate to suggest that they have merely forestalled that eventuality."

A renewal, or even just a continuation of the economic depression, will result in a political catastrophe, as voters turn to demagogues. Who can say they are wrong to do so. There's no reason to trust the integrity or judgment of the neo-liberals.


"they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" Hosea 8:7

Yesterday, the Democrats lost Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to a handsome, rich, privileged, empty-headed, empty-souled trans-gender Sarah Palin.

This is the beginning of a very dark chapter.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What digby says

What digby says: "Yes, the Democrats are corrupt and inept. But the other side is batshit insane."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Other Plot to Wreck America

Frank Rich - NY Times:
". . . in the 16 months since that other calamity in downtown New York — the crash precipitated by the 9/15 failure of Lehman Brothers — most of us are still ignorant about what Warren Buffett called the “financial weapons of mass destruction” that wrecked our economy. Fluent as we are in Al Qaeda and body scanners, when it comes to synthetic C.D.O.’s and credit-default swaps, not so much.

What we don’t know will hurt us, and quite possibly on a more devastating scale than any Qaeda attack. Americans must be told the full story of how Wall Street gamed and inflated the housing bubble, made out like bandits, and then left millions of households in ruin. Without that reckoning, there will be no public clamor for serious reform of a financial system that was as cunningly breached as airline security at the Amsterdam airport. And without reform, another massive attack on our economic security is guaranteed. Now that it can count on government bailouts, Wall Street has more incentive than ever to pump up its risks — secure that it can keep the bonanzas while we get stuck with the losses."

The political ability to do effective reform may turn out to be greater than is commonly supposed, and the stability of the unreformed system may be greater. But, I think conventional wisdom, at this moment, is quite the opposite. Political will, to do reform, appears absent, but the stability of the plutocracy's financial system is highly questionable.

The people most harshly affected by the Great Recession are apparently unaware that their suffering is a political choice -- a policy choice. Or, if they are aware, individually, they lack any ability to organize or promote an elite advocate for themselves.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Your Liberal Media at Work

Pete Peterson, scourge of Social Security, has established the "Fiscal Times", which, in turn, will be writing the news for the Washington Post.

Andrew Alexander - A controversial Post partnership with the Fiscal Times -
"The Fiscal Times is one of the nontraditional news organizations being created to provide specialized reporting. The Post and other media outlets have begun partnering with them to bolster coverage diminished by staff reductions.

The groups have been underwritten by wealthy benefactors or foundations. Governance structures have been established to ensure autonomy. All are staffed by quality journalists, including some of the nation's best reporters and editors.

In a letter to me Thursday, [Pete] Peterson said he is funding the Fiscal Times 'with no strings attached.' He hadn't known of the Dec. 31 story in advance, he said, adding, 'I do not intend to review any articles prior to publication, and will not influence nor in any way be involved in decisions about editorial content.' He said the same goes for his son, Michael, who helped create Fiscal Times. In a separate e-mail, Michael Peterson said he 'played no role whatsoever' in the story and was 'not aware' of it until it appeared."

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Where Are The Pitchforks?

digby at Hullabaloo asks: "Where Are The Pitchforks?" and finds David Corn, with an answer provided by pollsters:

Politicians Don't Care. "People don't know what to do with the anger they do have," says Marttila, because they feel blocked by "senators, representatives, and [Treasury Secretary] Timothy Geithner, who speaks gobbledygook." Wall Street, in other words, is protected by the people's representatives. "There is a layer between Americans and the villains of Wall Street, and that's Congress," Marttila contends. With Obama adopting mostly mainstream positions on economic issues, no national figure has stepped in to rally the resentment. Nobody has put popular anger to good use, because nobody really wants to.

Fear, Not Loathing. As a leading Democratic opponent of the banking bailouts, Rep. Brad Sherman of California has thought a fair amount about public sentiment and the economic crisis. "The public is very angry at Wall Street," he says. "But they are constantly told by all the respected voices that if we don't protect and preserve the institutions on Wall Street, we'll be fighting for rat meat on the streets." And this fearmongering works. Fear, Sherman says, is generally stronger than anger. The resentment that does exist is diffuse; it is not channeled toward specific solutions. The fear, however, is specific: What will happen to me and my family? With authorities in government and the media incessantly bleating that what's good for Wall Street is good for the country, Sherman adds, "we're angry at those people and we're too fearful to do anything about it."

It's Complicated. There's no doubt Americans are upset about paying for the failures of banks and corporations, says Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. But the financial issues involved appear "incredibly arcane and difficult to penetrate. How do you regulate derivatives when 99 percent of the public don't understand it?" Marttila agrees: "The public policy implications are beyond the reach, vocabulary, and discussion of many. So the bad guys escape."

Big Business vs. Big Government. For many decades, Americans have held negative attitudes toward the titans of industry. "It's a constant," says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll. "You never go wrong vilifying big business." But Americans also don't fancy the counterbalance to corporate power: government. Since 1965, Gallup has asked survey respondents to choose the biggest future threat to the country: big business, big labor, or big government. Big government always wins—by a lot. In December 2006, 61 percent said they fretted about the government, compared with 25 percent who feared corporate power. Last spring, when Wall Street was in deep disrepute, the numbers changed only slightly: 55 percent still fingered big government as the greatest threat. "People always have concern about the government doing too much," says Newport, "even when [it's] regulating financial institutions they don't like." In fact, as recently as September, Gallup found that 45 percent of Americans believed there was too much government regulation of business. Only 24 percent said there was too little. "The lucky thing for business is that its foil is government," concludes Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

[Just to be clear, I'm quoting digby quoting David Corn]

This is the complement to how far Obama fell short of the most hopeful, most wishful expectations for him.

Micah L. Sifry writing The Obama Disconnect at techPresident: "this is the big story of 2009, if you ask me, the meta-story of what did, and didn't happen, in the first year of Obama's administration. The people who voted for him weren't organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests--banks, energy companies, health interests, car-makers, the military-industrial complex--sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting."

More from Sifry:
"The truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied. . . . In terms of the early money that was raised by his campaign in 2007--and this is the most influential money in politics--more than one-third (36%) of his total came from the financial sector (compared to 28% for Hillary Clinton), reported campaign finance expert Thomas Ferguson. Between January and August 2007, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, 60% of Obama's donations were in amounts of $1000 or more--a smaller proportion than Clinton, but still a majority of his crucial early funding. In terms of Obama's overall funding, nearly half of his donations came from people giving $1000 or more. Should we really surprised that someone with so much early support from Wall Street and wealthy elites overall might not be inclined to throw the money-changers out of the temple?"

It is the story of how a perfect storm came and went, without cleaning out the mess.

There's a very real sense in which the outcome is overdetermined. There's no politician that cares, but also no politician, who sees a feasible path to realize political ambitions by caring.

Obama "seemed" to care, because it augmented his coalition and electoral support, but the main event in that support was the traditional big money donations and inoffensiveness to the powers-that-be.

But, it is a story about how superficial and difficult to reach, the mass of people are, in the 15-second TV spot world. It is not like many ordinary people have considered views -- most just have a bunch of attitudes, acquired and expressed for emotional satisfaction, most often in imitation of someone on teevee or the radio.

The politicians see what it takes to get elected, and that doesn't seem to include doing much in the way of rational public policy or service to the larger community. A few may get burned by being too close to the kleptocrats -- Chris Dodd of Connecticut comes to mind, since he just announced his retirement -- but they won't be the worst of their kind, just the most visible.

George W. Bush was an obvious incompetent, but what made him deeply unpopular wasn't torture or unnecessary wars, it was the rising price of gas. Rising gas prices got people's attention.

I don't happen to think political participation is universally all that desirable. People -- most people -- shouldn't have to pay much attention to politics, anymore than they pay attention to dentistry or electrical engineering. But, you get what you pay for, and this is the democracy we pay for.

It is a deplorable situation attributable, in large part, to the deterioration of the mass Media. Politicians don't care, because they know how their actions will characterized by the pundits, pundits chosen and promoted for their superficiality and ignorance of policy. But, also chosen for their popularity.

Populist anger does not have a focus, or a channel, in part because 1.) most people are not willing or able to think about the problems; 2.) no one with mass Media access is able to articulate what's wrong and what can be done. 2 feeds back on 1, because of specialization of labor. We depend on journalists to be honest Tribunes of the People. But, they're not. Instead, they're David Broder. And, that is, if they're not Bill O'Reilly or Glen Beck.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Estate Tax policy as an indicator

The blogger, "Thorstein Veblen" [a pseudonym] points to Greg Mankiw, Harvard economist advocating repeal of the estate tax, and linking to other conservative economists arguing the same policy.

There's absolutely no good argument against confiscatory rates of taxation on large estates (say, over $5 million for an individual). None.

That conservative economists are not deeply ashamed of prostituting themselves in public, with patently absurd arguments, tells one pretty much all one needs to know about the values and integrity of these folks. It really is that telling, and should be noted down by anyone in the habit of reading their analysis and commentary on other issues.