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May 3, 2009

Not even the end of the beginning

Here's a think piece on whither Pox Americana, and it roars off straight from the starting blocks:

"President Barack Obama’s first appearances outside North America – in London, Strasbourg, Prague, and Istanbul – galvanised world attention. But what that trip singularly failed to do was paper over a startling fact: the “Washington Consensus” about how the global economy should be run is now a thing of the past. The question now is what is likely to replace it."
Indeed. This gent's answer:
"The Beijing consensus".
Say whaaaat?
"The Obama administration is clearly moving towards the kind of government intervention that China has been promoting over the past two decades.

In this model, the government, while continuing to benefit from the international market, retains power over the economy’s “commanding heights” through strict control over the financial sector, restrictive government procurement policies, guidance for research and development in the energy sector, and selective curbs on imports of goods and services."

Note carefully, this is not Clement Atlee dismantling the Raj here, shrinking the fleet and pulling back from east of Suez.

A pause in the offensive? A time to consolidate? Maybe even appear prepared -- some day -- to "share the spoils of empire" a little more evenly with our junior partners in the OECD?

Maybe it's the necessary remedy to neoliberal overreach, but I wouldn't recommend declaring its "come home America time" here at Laputa Magna. Turns from overt expansion, like, say, the FDR first term, always have contextual explanations.

They are eddy-like phenomena -- the prevailing trade currents will all too soon reassert themselves.

The venal center

Stop the presses! Senate dembos play naughty "spoiler" role once again!

Here's a droopy pwog account:

"Yesterday in the U.S. Senate, the banks won the key vote on S. 896, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, which has already passed the House as H.R. 1106. The vote was on Senator Durbin’s amendment that would allow judges to modify residential mortgages in bankruptcy....

Even though the Durbin amendment was supported by President Obama, it failed 45 to 51 with 11 “centrist” Democrats voting against....

Without this bankruptcy provision, President Obama’s plan to address the housing foreclosure crisis will essentially be limited to federal subsidies — which can’t do a lot of good....

There is a moral to this story. No matter what progressive measure President Obama proposes, and no matter what slightly-compromised but still strong legislation is passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, it won’t become law without the support of the so-called “moderate” Democrats in the Senate."

Do tell! And so -- even the filibuster bypass option won't stop these fiends.

Lesson? Ummmh... elect more Democrats?

Yeah! That's the ticket! Once we have, you know, 70 or 75 dembots in the Senate, we might squeeze out a few simple majority votes expressing the popular will!

Here they are -- all -- errr, 12?

  • Max Baucus (MT)
  • Michael Bennet (CO)
  • Robert Byrd (WV)
  • Tom Carper (DE)
  • Byron Dorgan (ND)
  • Tim Johnson (SD)
  • Mary Landrieu (LA)
  • Blanche Lincoln (AR)
  • Ben Nelson (NE)
  • Mark Pryor (AR)
  • Arlen Specter (PA)
  • Jon Tester (MT)
-- Stalwart members all of the Orthrian Center Aisle society, including Dem newbie Benedict Arlen.

Blank check

I note with delight that Mr Obama's administration has decided to drop charges of espionage brought against two Israel lobby functionaries by the Bush administration.

So far, the pattern still holds -- Democrats have historically been even more supine and servile to the Israel lobby than Republicans, and though the Republicans of late have narrowed the gap, the donks still enjoy a comfortable lead.

Anything connected with the spook works, of course, tends to get the hypothesis engine revved up pretty high, without much traction in known or knowable fact, entailing the risk of some damage to the machinery. Caution and modesty are called for. Nobody can see through a brick wall.

Gotta say, though, it seems rather striking that this move follows so soon after the revelation of Jane Harman's involvement with this Israel-lobby spy ring. Coincidences do occur, of course. But it's impossible to repress speculation entirely.

If the the case had been pursued, might other notables besides Jane have been pulled into it?

Did Jane know where a body or two was buried?

* * * * *

I seem to be saying a good many nice things lately about professors, not my usual style. It gets worse: there's a very entertaining piece at... the Huffington Post (grr) by a professor (double grr) at Yale (skull explodes), nicely deconstructing the very peculiar New York Times report on this development. The Huffpost piece is a minor masterpiece of close reading, and though every instinct in my body rebels, I gotta recommend it as an object lesson in how newspaper items should be received.

Pinker than thou

We have a pretty functional horror show on our hands, here at the planetary epicenter of boundless corporate exploitations -- what with our public choice restricted to either the corporate cheerleader party or the party of corporate co-dependence, here in the land of the free and white and bold.

Coverage of the popular will's spectrum gets nicely reduced to a compact binary forking device: every two years or so we can choose either more corporate rampancy or a moment of corporate recovery and that's it -- that's all She-who-must-be-obeyed, Madame la Grande bourgeoisie, is gonna 'llow 'round here or ever plans to 'llow 'round here, so help her Clio.

So comes a time like now, a time of cataractic tumbling a time when our great fleet of corporations are wallowing amid the whitecaps, mastless hulks all -- and what do we hear coming out of the the left side windows of our great hall of the people's representatives?

Purple-faced shouts of "No mas! Off with their heads!"?

Not quite. What we hear is more like "they must mend their ways -- they must be good boys from now on -- they must they must they must...."

Times like these, the tower trolls resign themselves to the dragooning of the Nurse Ratcheds of the big D party. It's a 12-step morning here in America -- 12 steps to recovery.

As the codependent party plunges forth to help bind the wounds these profit freaks inflicted, even they themselves undoubtedly see through this scam, this bluff, this corporate self deception.

In their guts they know these very same abusive bastards today croaking "mea culpa" will soon enough be back up on their hind legs and at it again. But even so -- they soldier on toward squalid compromise, halfway-house socialism and detox capitalism -- ahh well, we must live together with each other somehow, right?

Why flip out at this? As the party of the second part, this is their mission, isn't it? Even as they strain at their own internal bonds, even as their rank and file grow restless, even as their big tent -- their ultimate mission-impossible triumph -- their gruesome mirage-infested prisonhouse of the exploited gets so riven with contradictions it yanks at its stake posts -- even with all this, and maybe even the possiblity of an explosive sundering of their blessed party in pieces -- the party of Marse Tom and Andy and Bill and Franklin itself -- in other words, even if it means the end of 'em -- they are preparing to lead us in a wave of forgiveness and forgetness sessions to reconcile with our limited liability tormentors.

And don't some of our most ardent radical Ricks rage like Jerry Lewis playing King Lear, at the sight of this coming our way?

Not much point in all this raging and fuming and fussing -- unless as Father Smiff recomends, it's out there in corporate traffic yer fussin' -- out there making realtime bad shit happpen right inside one of our corporate profiteering carnivals. So whence this outrage at the very thought of healing "reforms" that preserve the system?

It's simple enough really. Father Smiff's hero Doug Henwood gets it. Some radicals have reform phobia -- fear of any reforms that will preserve the existing system. If all this moment of crisis produces are reforms that lead back to corporate rampages, then we're fools to push for 'em. And horror of horrors, these half-assed thoroughly compromised spongospinal reforms might be just enough to keep "our system" in operation through another few dozen laps around the sun.

The radical Ricks present a bold choice: go for system-changing reform, and condemn anything less. Maximum plan or nothing! In-between is pure delusion.

Quite naturally, as courageous hardened ready-for-combat social souls, prepared personally to storm the local Winter Palace at the first sign of hesitation by the royal guards, they hardly quake at fierce struggle but -- the masses! The poor benighted kulak masses! The hyperpinks fear them too -- fear their easy natures, their policy ADHD, their gullibility, etc. etc.

What's a hardened cadre to do but try, by cargo-culting and rain-dancing and Tinker Bell wishing, somehow to bring on the radical conditions for change in the hearts and minds of the wage smurfs. And if that's not working too swiftly, maybe we could whip up a decent majority out of minority helots of all flavors and conscience-stricken plebs and meritoids.

Now since our missions always get mediated by our various character types, Radical Rickery too often, in my experience, gets expressed through rage-a-holic temper fits, banging of little fists and stamping of flat feet -- tantruming for revolution, so to speak.

The rage is often directed against some group of oafs, cowards, nitwits and Sybarites who in their cynical selfserving lassitutde and willful cretinism are prepared to settle for a few twigs broken off the doggy-dog tree of corporate golden apples.

In times of change like today -- these great forerunners of a better world "demand" we citizens of the world not take a corporate agent's compromised handout, but rip up as many roots of the tree of corporate life as possible. Call it revolution, one root at a time.

Mates! Brothers and sisters! Don't "settle" for a little branch removing here and there! Hell, that's pruning! Why, by taking that crumb pile and returning to quarters, you're actually giving this parasitic organism that soaks up the sweat and blood of the toilers of the earth another lease on life! You're helping horror thrive -- in spite of itself!

Now hyperpinks are harmless enough, of course, in themselves. The record shows 'twas ever thus. But there's an interesting assumption often behind calls for radical reform, that needs exposure here because it exists inside many minds out there beyond the set of hyperpinks.

Take a recent example: the call for single payer health care.

Obviously we will get there someday. Its superiority is obvious to all but its corporate opponents -- and in fact it's probably obvious even to them.

But agitprop along the lines of "we need to stab the HMO's in the heart, sweep 'em away all at once, or else" simply confuses reform with revolution.

This is a reform process, right? No one thinks hacking away the HMO's will bring the New Jerusalem. Single payer is far from a threat to the "entire corporate system". Put a stake in the HMO Dracula's heart, and fine, he's gone -- till some one else pulls the stake out in the sequel.

Surely the friggery going on around Social Security for the last 26 years proves that nothing stops the bastards. We can win a sweeping reform, but if the corporate system wants by its "spontaneous nature" to reject that reform -- it will try and try and try. And somehow, someday, it will get its agents to remove any Glass-Steagals in the way.

Such calls for sweeping reform grossly misplace the center of the revolutionary process, which does not exist inside maximum reformism, comrades. Reforms are a theater of struggle we take one by one. They are not an integrated whole. They are by definition second-bests -- all of 'em. So you push as hard as you can, but learn to move on when you hit a structural wall.

And one always arrives eventually at a structural wall.

Structural walls only fall under their own weight, and most often only just before revolutionsary situations arrive. Structural walls are interconnected, by definition, eh?

Reform movements only rearrange partitions. Reform movements you take one by one. You unite opportunistically where you can, and move forward as far as you can.

Hence popular fronts (rather than class fronts) are a reform strategy. Hyperpinks too often act as if pushing their quixotic demands for radical reform is making revolution, and as a consequence they never grasp the role of either reform or revolution in the history of class struggle.

They read Lenin and say, come the next reform struggle, "out with the cadets!"

Like the woeful knight, they see revolutionary opponents in windmills, and revolutionary allies in windbags.

Radical reform is not a tabletop way to social revolution. A revolutionary context arrives after the old regime has effectively gone into convulsions of potentially terminal disfunctionality.

If the regime can reform itself, it will, and obviously, it will then survive to exploit another day -- alas, another Biblical day, another horror-rich interval of indefinite period.

The final conflict is not about this radical reform or that radical reform. It's about taking the rare Clio-given opportunity to build the system itself anew.

If someone's so pink as to feel a thirst for radical change so powerful that the paultry harvest of reform movements just enrages 'em -- well, maybe they'd best get themselves as near as they dare to an actual revolutionary situation, and pronto.

Why waste your energy on rallying the walking dead of Broadway? There are always points of struggle on this globe where fundemental social change is aborning.

Get thee to a deeper sharper class struggle, dear hyperpinks. Leave this ulcer-building act, here in the belly of the beast, to more supple, less self-aggrandizing combatants.

May 4, 2009

No child left alone -- no teacher, either

(michael hureaux perez, responding to an earlier post here, sent the following fine piece, which I'm delighted to reproduce in full. -- MJS)

* * * * *

I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razy.

The recent gyrations of Obama's basketball buddy Arne Duncan, current whipmaster in chief of American “education”, and his house slaves in the NEA and the AFT bureaucracy, represent no change at all from the previous regime. The agenda remains unchanged. Its purpose is to shift the blame for the hash the owners of our society have made of public education.

That disaster, in turn, is rooted in the the endless effort of public education “reformers” to revitalize the production-freak indoctrination model of education that has been a bloody washout for better than a century.

It's a terrible model. In fact, any people who profess to believe in self-government must create a massively funded, flexible but rigorous education effort that addresses both the concrete needs and the personal passions of every individual from womb to tomb. And that would be a complex effort, full of loud, honest mistakes, costly, but worth it.

Teacher certification and professional development in this country remains mostly locked into bland, lifeless crap. Yes, there are a few programs here and there that are driven by educators and their allies, but most remain a plaything for the corporate padrones of the day.

For a sterling example of the sort of nonsense I’m talking about, google the term Praxis Exam and look at what many of the states use to determine teacher “competency”. Such tests are passable, of course. Anybody with a hair of academic skill, a little drive, and a high tolerance for ideological bias can get through them.

The dogma in the Washington state social studies test, for example, is shameless in its drilling of the burger party line. But if you’re versed in the party theory, you can pass such an exam. Just make yourself forget the qualifying phrases “according to-“ and “in theory”. Because if you remember such caveats while taking a state exam- if you have a sense of nuance, which, according to Whitehead, is one of the principal aims of a comprehensive public education - it can jam you up. Just spit out the party line and you’ll be fine. Certification is a cinch if you know how to pass tests.

But, like the high stakes exams forced upon kids all over this country, such teacher education and professional development exams have very little to with the craft of teaching, as the kids' have little to do with life.

Tests are very often a relatively shallow form of assessment, and the fetish around test scores in both students and their prospective teachers is the big bitch among junkyard dogs, a tired old canine that is both constipated and rabid. The speculators who brought you the international financial crisis and an unending imperial slaughter believe they are best qualified to determine who should or shouldn’t be teaching young people, and that’s just the way it goes.

To be fair, many teacher certification programs in recent years have worked away from exams, tried to find a little “swing” and have used actual video documentation and actual observation of educator performance as part of the criteria for certification and licensing.

The use of technology to document good teaching is a fine idea up to a point, but given the hup-ho dodo-ism which continues to oversee certification in most regions, there’s still not much room for what I call the "mad leap" process of teaching. Most teachers in front of a camera will fall into the trap of trying to look seamless, so that they can get their stuff past both the state reviewers and colleagues who haven’t figured out that it’s okay for teachers to not know everything.

When I use the words “mad leap”, I’m not talking about entertaining the students.

I’m talking about teachers learning to create a classroom environment in which the teacher is also a learner, able to fall on their ass in front of their students from time to time. It’s a long, hard road, but such a maneuver allows room for a freewheeling exchange of roles, the teacher as student and vice versa.

Continue reading "No child left alone -- no teacher, either" »

May 5, 2009

A man of most excellent fancy

Here's the devilish Mr Blum on our dear uncle, Samuel T. Torture, and our latest human-rights prez -- but aren't they all?

Ahh, the anguish Obie must feel! Here's the Blumer:

We're now told that Obama and his advisers had recently been fiercely debating the question of what to do about the Bush war criminals, with Obama going one way and then another and then back again, both in private and in his public stands. One might say that he was "tortured".
Nice turn, eh?

It's a human-rights violation to make anyone president of the United States who has a living soul.

Better a pickled, salted, dried-out silver-spoon zombie decider. At least in that case there's no further spiritual damage to be done, that Mom and Pop haven't already done for him.

May 6, 2009

Annals of trafficstopping

Here's the way to go! Viva the Baucus Eight!

As narrated in an email from the Ralph N machine, somewhat redacted here from Ralph's staccato style:

Yesterday morning, eight doctors, lawyers and other activists stood up to Senator Max Baucus, the private health insurance industry, and the corporate liberals in Congress.

The eight activists demanded that single payer-everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital-be put on the table. As a result they were arrested, and charged with a so-called "disruption of Congress."

.... Baucus crafted a hearing to kick off the health care debate in the Senate yesterday where 15 witnesses would be at the table to discuss health care reform [inlcuding representatives of] the insurance industry, the Business Roundtable, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Heritage Foundation and corporate liberals like Andy Stern, Ron Pollack, and AARP.....

But not one person who stood for what the majority of Americans, doctors, nurses, and health economists want-single payer-was at the table.

When I heard about this corporate line-up last week, I called the office of Senator Baucus, and politely asked that, as a matter of fairness, a single payer doctor be allowed to testify. I was told-no way, Ralph. The deal is done....

Remember what Senator Richard Durbin said last week? Durbin said that the banks "own" the Congress. To which we might add-the health insurance industry and the drug industry own the Senate.

Faxing, writing, and e-mailing is not getting it done. Enough is enough. Time for action.

"Disruption of Congress"? Doesn't that sound like a good idea?


May 7, 2009

No purges, please

I love a grudge match. I love gaudy rhetoric and unscrupulous personal abuse. It reminds me of Smectymnus, and Martin Marprelate, and old Johnny Milton in his unbuttoned polemical mode.

We're seeing a bit of this now, here at dear old SMBIVA, and I couldn't be more pleased.

But I don't love a purge.

This is just a blog. It's not a vanguard party. It's not the sword or shield of anything. It's a place where people can exchange their thoughts, valuable or not as the case may be.

I've never tried to stop anybody participating here, and please God I won't ever have to. And I take a very dim view of suggestions that so-and-so ought to be banished into outer darkness. Old faithful stalwart comrades, in particular, enjoy a halo of immunity.

I've heard suggestions lately that this person or that person ought to go. X is making a pest of himself; Y is turning off potential readers.

There are sites that operate this way. Daily Kos, for example. Ugh.

Let's not go there, as Oprah says. I can't tell you how repellent I find this line of thinking.

Do me a favor, folks: criticize as much as you like, but please, please! Don't tell me to get rid of somebody who rubs you the wrong way.

May 9, 2009

Surprise, surprise

From the Washpost:

Top Pelosi Aide Learned Of Waterboarding in 2003

A top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attended a CIA briefing in early 2003 in which it was made clear that waterboarding and other harsh techniques were being used in the interrogation of an alleged al-Qaeda operative, according to documents the CIA released to Congress on Thursday.

Pelosi has insisted that she was not directly briefed by Bush administration officials that the practice was being actively employed. But Michael Sheehy, a top Pelosi aide, was present for a classified briefing that included Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), then the ranking minority member of the House intelligence committee, at which agency officials discussed the use of waterboarding on terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida.

A Democratic source acknowledged yesterday that it is almost certain that Pelosi would have learned about the use of waterboarding from Sheehy. Pelosi herself acknowledged in a December 2007 statement that she was aware that Harman had learned of the waterboarding and had objected in a letter to the CIA's top counsel.

Fellow witnesses of the primal crime -- no wonder Jane and Nan loathe each other so much.

May 10, 2009

Words to live by

Owen provocatively passed along an interesting link recently, from one of those "progressive" outfits that likes to drape itself in the flag (their logo is shown above). Old SMBIVA hands will know that this is like catnip to me.

Owen's teasing lead takes us to the Campaign For America's Future, and in particular to the blog of one Bernie Horn.

Bernie reports ecstatically that a secret poll, taken by the infamous Dr Frank Luntz on behalf of the convalescent Republican Party, has now become public. Bernie seems to feel that this is like stealing the other team's game plan. Now we've got 'em, by God!

In fact Luntz's report -- all 28 pages of it -- contains few surprises. It's rather gratifying to read, even so. Lantz finds that people aren't interested in economic theory, for example. Notions like "competition" and "the market" leave them cold. What scares them is the idea that a "government bureaucrat" might interfere with their health care. Based on my own experience with government bureaucrats, this seems like a well-founded worry.

It's an interesting example of the complementarity and (perhaps unconscious) collusiveness of liberalism and so-called conservatism. Nobody, or almost nobody, trusts a high-minded liberal soul-engineer. And with good reason. Anybody who's ever had a long-faced meeting with his kids' teachers, or had a "social worker" visit his house, is likely to feel inclined to join the NRA and perhaps provision a bunker somewhere in Idaho. The so-called "conservatives" -- actually, of course, corporate millennarians -- can then come along and pick up these chips of justified resentment.

The Gummint Bureaucrat, Luntz concludes, is the only bogeyman available. Nobody wants that sinister clown in his life.

It's worked before, and it might work again. If it does, liberalism has only itself to blame.

* * * * *

Interestingly, the progressive Bernie Horn cedes some ground that the reactionary Dr Luntz didn't claim. Bernie cites a market-researcher named Celinda Lake, shown below:

Celinda has impeccable "progressive" credentials, which is to say that she only works for Democrats. Bernie attributes to her this insight:

Lake has made it clear that Americans strongly support progressive legislation to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all, as long as they can choose their doctor, their healthcare package, and their insurance provider.
One would like to see some of Lake's work-product on this topic, but her web site, obligingly referenced in Bernie's post, appears to be purely devoted to marketing her services, and fails to inform us on any topic besides the firm's own brilliance.

It's noteworthy that Luntz's report mentions "providers" only once (and "packages" not at all). Luntz's reference to "providers" occurs in a negative context. He's telling his clients what NOT to say. Don't say this, Luntz advises:

[Health care reform] will put private healthcare providers out of business so that everybody will eventually be in a lower quality gov’t program.
Luntz notes that about 16% of the people he surveyed seemed to be concerned about this so-called "problem", which the progressive Ms Lake takes so seriously -- according to our man Bernie, anyway, who has no doubt read the golden tablets Ms Lake's outfit produces for its paying customers.

It would be fun, in a modest way, to have Lake's and Luntz's wise and pricey lucubrations displayed in parallel columns. Perhaps somebody will leak (if not drain completely) the Lake, so the hapless public can see in the round what advice its adscripti-patres are getting from their respective resident gnomes.

May 11, 2009


From AFP:

"President Barack Obama is Monday to outline plans to cut US healthcare costs by two trillion dollars over the next 10 years, part of a bid to slash spending while making treatment more affordable.

Obama is expected to detail what he will describe as an "unprecedented commitment" by six major healthcare lobby groups to limit spending increases over the next decade, senior administration officials said on Sunday.

The White House hopes the voluntary plan -- drawn up by groups representing insurance firms, hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical makers and a labor union -- could eventually save US families as much as 2,500 dollars a year."

This is the HMO agitprop in counteroffensive mode, and if I read it right, Ob's playing the dutiful corporate liberal shill-in-chief role.

List of sponsors:

"America's Health Insurance Plans, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Service Employees International Union and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America."
Note that SEIU, the multi-sectoral Stern plantation, is a big health sector "organizer" -- the UFT of health. Andy, among other roles, wants to be the Albert Shanker of health, 'twould seem.

For connoisseurs of intellectual comedy, here are the Schumer provisos:

  • The public plan must be self-sustaining. It should pay claims with money raised from premiums and co-payments. It should not receive tax revenue or appropriations from the government.
  • The public plan should pay doctors and hospitals more than what Medicare pays. Medicare rates, set by law and regulation, are often lower than what private insurers pay.
  • The government should not compel doctors and hospitals to participate in a public plan just because they participate in Medicare.
  • To prevent the government from serving as both “player and umpire,” the officials who manage a public plan should be different from those who regulate the insurance market.
The Times adds:
"In addition, Mr. Schumer said, the public plan should be required to establish a reserve fund, just as private insurers must maintain reserves for the payment of anticipated claims, [and] the public plan should be required to provide the same minimum benefits as private insurers."

* * * * *

Addendum, from MJS:

Doug Henwood passed along a press release he got from SEIU about this come-to-Jesus movement by some obviously frightened sinners:

SEIU Announces Unprecedented Coalition to Save $2 Trillion in Healthcare Costs, Pass Obama Healthcare Plan

‘Game-Changing’ Moment Marks Success of Union’s Long-Term Investment and Leadership in Healthcare Reform Efforts

WASHINGTON, DC— "Today, four years of unrelenting efforts by SEIU members to create a new American healthcare system that lowers cost, improves quality and is affordable for every American took a giant step forward.... From the start, SEIU has worked with the belief that this is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem – it’s an American problem....” said SEIU President Andy Stern.

Service Employees International Union, AdvaMed, American Hospital Association, PhRMA, America’s Health Insurance Plans and the American Medical Association have met with President Obama and committed to the President’s vision of meaningful healthcare reform that guarantees every American access to affordable, high quality healthcare. In a moment being charactetrized as a “game changer” by the Administration, the organizations pledged to take aggressive steps to cut healthcare costs that could save the country $2 trillion over ten years and save each American family roughly $2,500 a year.

“If we are going to get our economy back on track, we must tackle the growing healthcare crisis. Everyone – physicians, hospitals, healthcare workers, payers, suppliers, manufacturers – shares responsibility in making sure healthcare reform happens this year,” said SEIU Healthcare Chairman Dennis Rivera. “We all understand that guaranteeing meaningful reform is too important to be left to politics. It’s a moral imperative, an economic imperative, and essential to the well being of every family in our country.”

From the Divided We Fail, Better Health Care Together and Partnership for Quality Care coalitions, which include disparate groups like NFIB, Business Roundtable, Wal-Mart and AT&T, to the progressive coalition Health Care for America Now, SEIU has worked to bring key healthcare stakeholders to the table to ensure reform could happen. As the nation’s largest union of healthcare workers – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and others – our workers understand that reducing costs is critical to promoting health and preventing illness.

“It’s a sign of how committed industry leaders are to reforming our healthcare system that these groups were able to come together and offer proactive proposals on cutting healthcare costs. Cutting healthcare costs means improving the quality of care patients receive, putting money back into families’ pockets and keeping businesses open on Main Street. We may not always agree, and haven’t in the past, but we know that this is the moment and now is the time to fundamentally change the way we take care of American families and workers,” added Rivera.

“SEIU is firmly committed to bringing about real change to our healthcare system that includes a public health insurance option that provides people with a choice of a public health insurance plan, gives them greater control over their healthcare and creates much needed competition,” said Andy Stern. “As providers and consumers, SEIU has played a leading role in the efforts to reform our national healthcare system for years because we know our members, their families and their communities cannot wait any longer for change that works.”

- ### -


Background on SEIU’s efforts to reform the national healthcare system, which include:

  • Challenging Fortune 500 companies to contact us about the nation’s failing healthcare system to discuss possible solutions; convening coalitions of business, provider, academic and labor representatives to create a climate and impetus to make healthcare reform a top priority;
  • Co-hosting the first presidential forum focused on healthcare reform; and
  • demanding that every candidate running for president produce a comprehensive healthcare plan in order to be eligible for our endorsement;
... can be found at www.seiu.org.
Quite apart from the grotesquely misplaced triumphalist rhetoric, it's interesting to note that the diction and topoi-koinoi invoked here all appear to be taken from the playbook of the reactionary Dr Luntz, mentioned here before.

SEIU would no doubt respond that this is a case of stealing the enemy's clothes. But if the point of this clothes-theft is to act like the enemy, then why should the rest of us prefer the robbers over the robbed?

May 13, 2009

They never learn

Durable pwog Norm "Bates" Solomon lets out a yahoo about the latest pwog run at my beloved Janey Harman. Once again, it seems likely that almost-equally gorgeous pwog studio politician Marcy Winograd, shown below, will take on the serpent-eyed she-champ of Cal congo district 36:

Here's Norm:

"What may be most significant about Winograd’s race to unseat Harman in 2010 is that it reflects -- and is likely to help nurture -- a growing maturity among progressives around the country who are tired of merely complaining about centrist Democrats in Congress.

Many progressives are getting a clear take-home message: Let’s stop griping about lousy members of Congress and start defeating them."

I kid you not, them's his words, brothers and sisters -- and odd words indeed, since Marcy here already did precisely this already in '06. She ran my immortal death's-head godess in the '06 dembot primary -- and took a savage beating too (62.5% to 37.5%).

The 36th is not that blue a district. Repugs garner votes here -- even won the seat five cycles back, when my Janey reached for higher fruits.

If you want to have a prayer of getting rid of Waterboard Jane, then a primary bypass and a straight run for the seat in November -- as SMBIVA always advocates -- is the only way. You could do it as, say, an "independent democrat" (size of "d" to be determined later).

That would at least show probable intent on dame Marcy's part to actually knock the Madame H machine off the hill.

But alas -- the pwog pond dare not flout the Big Tent party's rule book: thou shalt not challenge the party from its left unless you win the primary in a fair fight. Leave rogue general-election maneuvering to center-aisle club guys like Bridgeport's own right honorable meat muppet, Boltin' Joe Lieberfrau

Farmers walk among us...

... or at least they ought to, anyway. So sez this Counterpunch piece:

"Their intimate, human-scale knowledge of the land is what will allow agriculture to adapt to climate change. And as the cheap energy that industrial agriculture depends on disappears, it is farmers, with their small-scale innovation and sheer manual labor, who will feed us. Why do we care about having more farmers? Because deep down we know they are essential to a functioning food system."
The author, Lisa Hamilton's "new definition" of a farmer:
"... someone who grows crops in sufficient quantity to be a true commercial entity, yet is still close enough to the ground to bring human scale and values to the process."
Who's out of the running? "Backyard chicken enthusiast[s and] the corporation behind the feedlot." A farm is all about "the individual human on the land, growing our food" -- i.e. folks like my pal super Al Shoooster,

.... shown here in his endive patch near Canine Crossing, Vermont.

But Al, the news ain't good. According to properly adjusted gubmint stats these "real farmers" like you (and my aleatory sister Tess Paine) are going the way of the dodo bird.

"To stop this hemorrhaging," Ms Hamilton suggests "investing in a system that values farmers and propagates them... We must inspire nonfarmers to enter the profession.... A program that puts interns on farms [to] learn the skills of farming and experience the lifestyle; hosts would receive valuable labor to bolster their businesses."
Are ya ready Al?

Hamilton reaches for a complication:

"Such a program would face an obvious objection: AmeriCorps offers volunteers to public service organizations, but most farms are private businesses. Why should the rest of us help support them?"
Feelgood resolution:
"What if... we began to see farmers as the public servants they are, and enabled them to be the public servants we need: stewards of our soil and water, pillars of our rural communities, and guardians of our food."
Where's the single-grower movement in all this patched-pants policy?


How to catch the conscience of the king -- King Kong Inc's Joh Fredersen, that is?

In my never ending pursuit of our great American corporations' limited liability spore trail, may I present to you this delightfully sugared-up turdpile from Harvard's Kennedy school of soft knocks?

They call it CSR for short -- corporate social responsibility -- and it's a topic to ponder, if you happen to work for one of corporate America's castrated brethren, i.e. a nonprofit outfit like a social-change foundation, or, at the other pole, a vulgar... B-school.

"Much of what has been written on this question has been both confused and confusing. Advocates, as well as academics, have entangled what ought to be four distinct questions about corporate social responsibility: may they, can they, should they, and do they."
Sorta like the three evil monkeys, plus one -- and now watch as the four knots are shrewdly untied:

1) "May firms sacrifice profits in the social interest-given their fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders?"

Legally, the protecting gimmick for the executive suite, if it's stricken by the greater-good disease, is an enchanted cloak worthy of a Hellenic diety: "business judgement": Okay, says the wily tower troll, the press likes me 'cause I play it up green. Well, it's secretly 'cause i got business judgement. You see, my bottom line -- err, the corporation's bottom line -- in the long run of course -- will be bigger than if we stay brown.

Obviously this isn't really a conflict, since profits, far from being "sacrificed", are in fact being increased.

2) "Can firms sacrifice profits in the social interest on a sustainable basis, or will the forces of a competitive market render such efforts transient at best?"

Seems if you can pass the sacrifice through to your customers, the answer is yes. If not -- errrr, ummm, no.

3) "Even if firms may carry out such profit-sacrificing activities, and can do so, should they -- from society’s perspective? "

That question morphs quite nicely into this question: "Under what conditions are firms’ CSR activities likely to be welfare-enhancing?"

Guess what the Kennedy school answer to that one is:

"CSR activities are more likely to be welfare-enhancing if firms pursuing CSR strategies are doing so because it is good business -- that is, profitable."
I kid you not, privateering fans. The wisdom of Adam S rediscovered.

But 230 years have taught us something more than that old Scotsman knew. Feature this add-on caveat:

"In the case of companies that behave strategically with CSR to anticipate and shape future regulations, welfare may be reduced if the result is less stringent regulatory standards."
In other words, if my 'how green is my company' corporate campaign is really to pre-empt optimal regulatory actions -- and it succeeeds -- well, even the Kennedy crew will cry "foul".

4) "Do firms behave this way?"

In a word -- no. As Captain Kirk said in episode 27, 'Return of the Gorn' -- "Bones, the smartest way to gamble is to load the dice."

May 14, 2009

Beak in the door

Braying jackass of the week award -- in a rich week I must add -- to house majority leader Steny Hoyer, for lumping "reform" of the Social Security retirement system with health insurance.

Here's Chris Bowers on the topic, in paraphrase: "Hey, why not? Let's open the tax books here. Maybe we oughta pop the tax cap on SSI!"

Why is raising payroll taxes the hee-haw answer to everything?

At least this raise is on the better-off jobsters, the merit and hustle crowd. But what if, once the cougar's out of the bag, our beloved corporate-congo morph magic steps in, and on our way to the thousand years of solvency we get something more like this --

"Administration officials said that if Congress were to act immediately, the impending gap could be filled three ways: by raising workers' Social Security payroll taxes by 2 percentage points, from 12.4 percent to 14.4 percent; by reducing benefits by 13 percent; or a combination of the two approaches. The officials briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity on the technical aspects of the trustees' findings."
More fun for pointy-heads. "Do the virtuous sacrificing bit, you wage hogs. An uncap on your betters and craftiers -- don't make us laugh. Its your gray years' dole plan, anyway, right? So you oughta foot the bill -- right?"

May 15, 2009

Unlikely Pangloss

I'm a great fan of Dani Rodrik, shown above. He's for government 'industrial intervention' in the global south states; for regulating cross border private credit flows; for balanced trade; and for an open throttle for job seekers across the north/south borders.

You can hardly ask for more out of an elitist merit class social scientist. But there are some nuts it's pretty hard to crack. Here's Dani on the plight of the developing world in the coming days:

Growth in the developing world tends to come in three distinct variants. First comes growth driven by foreign borrowing. Second is growth as a by-product of commodity booms. Third is growth led by economic restructuring and diversification into new products.

Today the first two models are at greater risk than the third. But we should not lose sleep over them, because they are flawed and ultimately unsustainable. What should be of greater concern is the potential plight of countries in the last group. These countries will need to undertake major changes in their policies to adjust to the new realities.

No quarrel with any of that, Now Dani gets into the devilish details:
"By capturing a growing share of world markets for manufactures and other non-primary products, these countries increased their domestic employment opportunities in high-productivity activities. Their governments pursued not just good "fundamentals" (e.g., macroeconomic stability and an outward orientation), but also what might be called "productivist" policies: undervalued currencies, industrial policies, and financial controls.
Enter the south room's class star:
"China exemplified this approach. Its growth was fueled by an extraordinarily rapid structural transformation toward an increasingly sophisticated set of industrial goods... China also got hooked on a large trade surplus vis-a-vis the U.S. ― the counterpart of its undervalued currency."
But there's a complication:
"Global macroeconomic stability requires that we avoid such large current-account imbalances in the future. But a return to high growth in developing countries requires that they resume their push into tradable goods and services.... In the past, this push [into world markets] was accommodated by the willingness of the U.S. and a few other developed nations to run large trade deficits. This is no longer a feasible strategy for large or middle-income developing countries."
So scrap the China model?
"Are the requirements of global macroeconomic stability and of growth for developing countries at odds with each other? Will developing countries' need to generate large increases in the supply of industrial products inevitably clash with the world's intolerance of trade imbalances?"
This question leads to Bleak House -- or does it? The sun mayhaps also rises over a new dawn, accordin' to Dani:
"There is in fact no inherent conflict, once we understand that what matters for growth in developing countries is not the size of their trade surpluses, nor even the volume of their exports. What matters is their output of modern industrial goods (and services), which can expand without limit as long as domestic demand expands simultaneously. "
Yikes, Doc Pangloss has arrived, and he prescribes
"encouraging industrial production directly... it is possible to have the upside without the downside."
Really, doc? Really really?
"There are many ways that this can be done, including reducing the cost of domestic inputs and services through targeted investments in infrastructure."
Standard social market advice, so I wonder why it might not be happening all over down south. But Dani moves on:
"Explicit industrial policies can be an even more potent instrument."
Indeed. Shades of gosplan 2.0. I'd like to have him dilate here, but instead he sells the turn away from undervaluation strategies:
"The key point is that developing countries that are concerned about the competitiveness of their modern sectors can afford to allow their currencies to appreciate (in real terms) as long as they have access to alternative policies that promote industrial activities more directly."
Whoops. Recall the old joke about economists: "Assume a can opener". What if world markets close to southies that have industrial policy systems? Dani slips in another huge conditional improbability in his sum-up:
"... developing countries will have to substitute real industrial policies for those that operate through the exchange rate.... External policy actors (for example, the World Trade Organization) will have to be more tolerant of these policies as long as the effects on trade balances are neutralized through appropriate adjustments in the real exchange rate. Greater use of industrial policies is the price to be paid for a reduction of macroeconomic imbalances."
But Dani, you're talkin' about global institutions that are totally dominated by the trans-nat tower trolls -- limited-liability wire-pullin' hegemons -- viciously jealous ravenous hegemons. They "contain" competitors, they don't "tolerate" 'em.

Dani, I love you, my man -- but are you shittin' me?

The distrest poets society

Imagine a city of many millions of people who support themselves and their families solely by arranging words, images and sounds, or in the industries that make this work available to others.... what they do influences most everything, shapes politics and governance, provides a conception of our time, forges the culture such as it is, and stamps the imprint of the present for history to judge.
Thus, purply, the renowned fictioneer, satirist, Zionist and copyright ogre Mark Helprin, shown below about to be crushed, it appears, by a falling bookshelf -- talk about poetic justice.

Note well, in Mark's exordium, the slipped-in phrase "or in the industries that make this work available to others." We will have occasion to return to this idea.

Comes the meta-economics:

"Their work is peculiarly vulnerable in that it is easy to appropriate. If they were farmers, industrialists or surgeons, their problems would be different. It is not possible to copy instantaneously and in virtually unlimited quantities either potatoes, aluminum or gall bladder surgeries, as one might a song or a scanned book.

Were this vulnerability unaddressed, the producers of intellectual property would be put out of business unless they were independently wealthy or worked either as amateurs or drew salaries at the pleasure of, and beholden to, boards, committees and overseers of every type.Always at risk, the independent voice....

Marvelous, eh -- beyond satire. Being "beholden" to a board is a worse fate than abiding the whimsy of a corporate publisher? And "independent voices" -- there certainly are plenty of those around, including your humble servants here at SMBIVA, whose work, let the record show, appears under the Creative Commons License. Mark has a few choice words for the Creative Commons folks, who might as well be amply-funded Somali pirates, to hear him tell it:
So-called public interest groups serve the new information super powers, the Standard Oils of our age, whose interests would be advanced if they did not have to bother with permissions and payments for what they call "content." The Creative Commons organization, for example, is richly financed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Mozilla, Sun, the Hewlett Foundation, and others of the type."

"Copyright is no more a ... monopoly any more than you have a monopoly on the sale of a watermelon you might grow in your garden, or the monopoly a seamstress exercises over her work."

Mark is very wrong on the facts here. Copyright is -- or rather, used to be -- precisely a monopoly, so understood and so called, a monopoly on reproduction, granted by the state for public policy reasons, good or bad as the case may be. The notion of "intellectual property" (rather than mere temporary sanctioned monopoly) as applied to copyright and patent is a recent innovation, ginned up to justify the enormous expansion in these monopoly rights granted in recent years.
"The opponents of copyright disingenuously maintain that it locks up ideas, comment and debate. Title 17 of the United States Code resoundingly says otherwise, that "in no case does copyright protection... extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described."
Right, Mark. It's patent law, not copyright law, that does that. You can now patent "business processes" and algorithms. Patent law is one arm of the world-bestriding and still-growing Leviathan of "intellectual property", and copyright law is the other.

More Burkean painted history:

"In previous eras, advances in the ease of replication were met by the consistent strengthening of copyright... This did not discourage the production of works, which advanced by orders of magnitude. In Thomas Macaulay's England of 1825, 600 books were published.... 206,000 books [were] published in England in 2005. "One might attempt to argue the counterfactual, that even more books would have been published without copyright, but one would first have to establish that the incentive of being paid for one's work is a disincentive to producing it."
Got that? Copyright is payment for original producing of -- copy?

Recall that earlier line: "or in the industries that make this work available to others".

Hmmm. Other shapes crowd into the frame now, alongside the hustling creatives of Mark's Symbol City -- oddly sterile grasping shapes -- corporate shapes. Could they have sponsored this clown?

Here's the final clarion blast:

"What have you done to protect your life's blood and to guarantee the continued independence of your voice? As distressed as you may be now or not long from now, should copyright go the way of all flesh, some of you may soon be unable even to recognize your own profession, if indeed it continues to exist.
Symbol string creation -- for pay -- may vanish from this browning planet! Aiiee!


This post was a Paine/Smith co-production. Neither author is responsible for anything in it.

Careful, careful

The arm-waving Princeton pedagogue(*) shown above, clearly full of passionate intensity and bottomless self-regard, is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, pilloried here before for her pretentious double-barreled name, her carefully-paraded Ivy League credentials, and her drooling prose.

I'm sorry to say that we weren't able to shame her into cutting her throat, on that previous occasion, so she's baaack, in the congenial pages of The Nation, searching her deep, sensitive, conscientious -- and highly responsible -- soul about those infamous torture photos that Mr Hope And Change now wants to keep from us:

Photographs of horror are powerful. That power should make us sober and careful in deciding how to use the images.
Gotta hand it to Melissa Tiger-Tattoo. She can pack a truckload of presuppositions into a nice short crisp Freshman Comp-approved E B White sentence.

Power should make "us" sober, Melissa? Who is this "us"? Who gets to decide? And what is this power that "we" have?

You must know, Melissa, ensconced though you are behind the almost-ancient-looking honey-colored brickwork of Old Nassau, that the great unwashed public out there would love to see these pictures. So if you were in the driver's seat -- as you are not, Great Achiever though you are -- what would your justification be for denying the public what it wants?

Our sons and daughters are still overseas. We have not fulfilled the promise to bring them home. Until we do so we have to protect them as best we can from our places of relative privilege here in the United States. I strongly believe that no good is served if even one of our soldiers is abused in retribution for our failings or as a result of our moral self-righteousness.
Melissa, are the Deciders, old and new, inviting you to their meetings? I doubt it. But you are there in imagination, weighing in your conscientious heart what the rest of us should and should not see.

They also serve who only stand and pontificate.


(*) Greek for "boy-herder", as I love to point out.

May 16, 2009

You think they're bad, you should see their constituents

The antidemocratic, anti-Constitutional, forces that tried torturing captives into confessing Sadaam ordered them to carry out the September 11 attacks (see Senate Armed Services Committee Report) are now trying to torture the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States into confessing she shares their guilt. This is consistent with the purposes of torture; coercion and blackmail.


That's cheap sophistry. Disingenuous from the start. What the Republicans are doing, now, is consistent with vengeful, minatory stool pigeon behavior. They are making it clear that they'll drag her down with them if there's so much as a hint of a real investigation. What they did, previously, was make sure she was too dirty to raise objections. The latter seems like excessive precaution to me, given her mindless enthusiasm, but it's consistent with their criminal mentality.

Moreover, Pelosi's position is nothing like that of a torture victim's. She can bring the wingnuts up short whenever she feels like it. The very worst that will happen to her is she'll lose office and become a hideously wealthy lobbyist. She is certainly not going to be tied hand and foot, smeared with feces, beaten and left to lie on a chilled floor until she goes mad. It's not in the cards. Not remotely. She's not going to be put in full body restraints and force fed. Nor does she face water boarding. She's not going to be tortured. It's grandiose hysterics to even make the comparison. She could put a stop to their media antics, herself, at any time by demanding a full, independent investigation.

Even in the most generous interpretation of her actions, Pelosi is the worst kind of politician. She lacked the street smarts to cope with experts in plausible deniability. She leapt into the role of useful idiot. She lacked the sense of self-preservation, never mind integrity, to sound an alarm once it was clear she'd been set up as a patsy. She was stupidly eager to collude with vicious thugs, and now she's paying the smallest possible price for it. She's an accessory to crimes against humanity, she walked into the role with her eyes wide open, and she shows no signs of remorse. Worse, I'll bet she gets reelected easily. She's perfectly representative of her defenders.

May 17, 2009

Happy Merit Campers

Photo credit to Agitprop

When I was a pre-pubescent schoolboy, I thought it would be so cool to be Mr. Spock. He stalked gracefully through the neurotic meltdowns of life on the Enterprise and gave people crippling nerve spasms in their necks. This was important to me. I attended a school where the headmaster wore a codpiece, a strap-on on his forehead and nothing else. The faculty encouraged studious behavior through forced cannibalism. Every semester around midterms, the headmaster would scream "cull the herd, cull the herd!" over the PA system. Then he'd run through the halls, whinnying, goosing people with the strap-on, as we students cast nervous glances at the caldrons tended by our home room teachers and lined up to sharpen our #2 pencils. It would have been nice to get through this with Spock's splendid indifference. It would have been even better to give the headmaster a crippling nerve spasm. This might have spared my earliest friends the ghastly fate that attends poor test performance and spared the contingently meritorious the sad task of eating them. I had to settle for disgrace and expulsion.

When time permits, I worry about the people who did make it through, I really do. As far as I know, the majority of them became "cultural creatives". That is, they became marketers, marketing consultants, people who sell patented marketing techniques to consultants and people who leverage marketing into consultancies. The trauma of their schooling has scarred them so badly that they force themselves to forget it. Regrettably, they also recreate the same dynamic in their workplaces. For comfort, they seek refuge in a dream, as I did, of salvation through Spockhood. Hence their enthusiasm for Obama.

Can they be helped? In a word, no. Corporate infantilization has destroyed all hope for change. Owen has argued in favor of rustication as a means of unlearning the corporate "virtues", but there are no salubrious rural areas left. They've been flooded by yuppie NeoAgrarians in search of public servant farmers. The landscapes are dotted with their fair trade yurts and enormous banks of recycling porta-potties block the few remaining migratory paths of the dwindling wildlife. It's time for them to stop sharpening their #2 pencils and come to terms with their fate. The caldrons are ready and their wingnut classmates are hungry.

The Big Bench

Where to begin? David Souter announced his resignation from the Supreme Court. Sounds good to have a republican appointee retiring during a democratic administration, but all is not what it seems.

"I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded, and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.

As I make this decision, I intend to consult with members of both parties across the political spectrum."

Well, f_ _ k me. I'm sorry to have dropped the old F bomb twice in one day, but I have had enough. When we speak out against the democratic party we are always told to remember the power of judicial appointments. It is terribly important for a democratic president to be able to put his stamp on the judiciary.

OK, if that is the only great thing about a democratic president, why should I be happy that he is planning to consult republicans about his choice? Obama has a 68% approval rating and the republican party has a paltry 21% approval rating. If he can't fight for a liberal on the court what the hell can he fight for?

Limits on the judicial role? What does that mean? It sounds very right wing to me, but then again so does Obama.

Freedom Rider

One of the names I keep coming across is Cass Sunstein, the celebrity professor and tireless promoter of "libertarian paternalism". We'd be better off if Souter stayed.

May 18, 2009

Ostensive definition

More at sinkers.org.

May 21, 2009

About time

"Hundreds of union workers packed a lunchroom at the Hart Schaffner & Marx manufacturing plant here May 11 and voted unanimously to stage a sit-in at their factory if a new owner tries to shut it down. The company, also known as Hartmarx Corp., employs 600 people here and is one of the last and largest remaining suit makers in the U.S."

"Workers at Hartmarx are borrowing a page from the playbook of workers at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors factory. In that situation, Bank of America cut off credit to the company, leading to its closure last December. The workers and their union fought back, staging a six-day occupation at the plant, which gained national and international attention including support from the Obama administration. The workers eventually won a settlement with the bank, securing sick leave and vacation pay they were owed, and health benefits. Today, new owners have reopened the plant and all 260 former Republic workers are in the process of being re-hired, represented by their union."



Or... Well...

SMBIVA's own super Al passed along a link to an essay by Thomas Pynchon -- a close impersonal idol of mine, or was, 'till I caught that often incurable thought virus, the Trier flu, in the summer of 1974.

Tommy's piece introduces a new edition of 1984. Here's Tommy:

"... one of the great achievements of this novel, one which has entered the everyday language of political discourse [is] the identification and analysis of doublethink."

"... doublethink is a form of mental discipline whose goal, desirable and necessary to all party members, is to be able to believe two contradictory truths at the same time. This is nothing new, of course. We all do it. In social psychology it has long been known as “cognitive dissonance.” Others like to call it “compartmentalization.” ... the idea seems to have presented Orwell with his own dilemma, a kind of meta-doublethink — repelling him with its limitless potential for harm, while at the same time fascinating him with its promise of a way to transcend opposites..."

And lo and behold, it has escaped the confines of Eric's dystopic tale and spread throughout are very own real deal of a brave new world.
"We believe and doubt at the same time — it seems a condition of political thought in a modern superstate to be permanently of at least two minds on most issues. Needless to say, this is of inestimable use to those in power who wish to remain there, preferably forever....

[Orwell] in 1948 understood that despite the Axis defeat, the will to fascism had not gone away, that far from having seen its day it had perhaps not yet even come into its own—the corruption of spirit, the irresistible human addiction to power were already long in place, all well-known aspects of the Third Reich and Stalin’s USSR, even the British Labour party—like first drafts of a terrible future.

What could prevent the same thing from happening to Britain and the United States? Moral superiority? Good intentions? Clean living?"

Pretty standard stuff, eh? But then this comes along, and gets past the usual 1984 blither:
"The question remains, why end a novel as passionate, violent and dark as this one with what appears to be a scholarly appendix?

The answer may lie in simple grammar. From its first sentence, “The Principles of Newspeak” is written consistently in the past tense, as if to suggest some later piece of history, post-1984, in which Newspeak has become literally a thing of the past — as if in some way the anonymous author of this piece is by now free to discuss, critically and objectively, the political system of which Newspeak was, in its time, the essence.

Moreover, it is our own pre-Newspeak English language that is being used to write the essay. Newspeak was supposed to have become general by 2050, and yet it appears that it did not last that long, let alone triumph, that the ancient humanistic ways of thinking inherent in standard English have persisted, survived, and ultimately prevailed, and that perhaps the social and moral order it speaks for has even, somehow, been restored."

In a 1946 article in The Managerial Revolution, an analysis of the world crisis by the American ex-Trotskyist James Burnham, Orwell wrote, “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”

In its hints of restoration and redemption, perhaps “The Principles of Newspeak” serves as a way to brighten an otherwise bleakly pessimistic ending—sending us back out into the streets of our own dystopia whistling a slightly happier tune than the end of the story by itself would have warranted."

Clever, eh? My beloved "standard English" survives under all this -- in the proles' argot, one imagines -- and gets resurrected, come the rising of the mud elfs.

But didn't "standard English" get memory-holed? What if it's precisely Doublethink that saves the proles from Newspeak -- or better, forces Newspeak to split against itself?

Heeere's ... Hegel!

Profounder insight into the antinomial, or more truly, into the dialectical nature of reason, demonstrates any notion whatever to be a unity of opposed moments
. What remains, must remain, even in Newspeak City is the eternal becoming. No superstructural totalization lasts.

And with that insight, 1984 collapses in on itself -- or for short, becomes 1989.

Ne detur digniori

In this time of supremely self-made meritorious leaderhood in the White House, I'm reminded -- often -- that it wasn't always worse for our president to be born on third base like boy emperor Bush. One need simply recall the gentlemanly child rentier from Hyde Park, shown above, with a Mom who looks to be as formidable a battleaxe as Georgie's own.

My sense of FDR the "reformer" starts and ends with his risk-taking -- his willingness to advocate a heterodox move -- and his shameless moving-on after a blooper.

In times of severe novelty and crisis, like now, a restless, easily bored, annoyingly overconfident risk-taking spirit is just what the powers that be need at the helm, if they want to keep the smurfs on board -- even if, as with FDR, his fearlessness is the result of a lifetime of consequence-free frolicking.

I've been reading a soft book on the tweener years by some bold ex-broker, and it nicely illuminates Roosevelt the political economist manqué.

The man could be positively spoony on matters economic -- a completely wild and wooly overconfident undereducated amateur who was very often as dead wrong as he was dead certain.


One of his administration's great early achievements, deposit insurance -- he personally fought it to the last House vote. Yes, reader, he was wrong on deposit insurance! Deposit insurance! And in general, he could be, at best, "lightly conflicted" on the depths of deficit spending

One sees the zigzags as his head plays off his hidebound and blatantly silly schoolmarmish analogies to household finance, against his tireless driving need to "do more till we fully recover".

Besides his shaky grip on massive deficit budgeteering -- the key to the recovery -- he was also way wrong on -- well, the list is endless. But here's what's important: his apparent working rule was, "keep punching".

And he sure did that. He followed his instincts till they blew up in his face and he took chances like he was "on the booze", as Keynes remarked. And in a pinch, where his personal idiosyncratic notions failed to guide him, he'd follow someone else's sexy-sounding hunch.

And if that flopped too, if he suffered a knockdown, he jumped to his feet and threw the opposite punch. Punch punch punch! Keep punching! In rapid crisscrossing combinations.

Take gold pricing and the hallowed gold standard: FDR was no Cleveland democrat. He was a de facto "debaser and repudiator" by deepest inclination. And he had no sense of the sacred cow when it came to the price of gold or its alleged "spinal necessity" at the center of any "sound" monetary system.

Nope. One of his first acts in office amounted to taking us off the "procrustean gold standard". In a move worthy of Nixon at his best, Roosevelt "suspended" gold exports. And in a followup move well beyond Nixon's best, a month later before the much anticipated "world economic conference", he allowed the old free-silverist remnants in the House to slip in an amendment authorizing the president to devalue the dollar against gold by up to 50%, and issue a slew of "unbacked dollars."

Man, did this bit of policy send central bankers worldwide into a frenzy, scrambling for advantage while solemnly proclaiming the need for "currency stabilization".

Franklin went on to torpedo the conference itself that summer, with pre-emptive strikes that scotched any chance at a return to gold. Such bankster-type sober moves he waved off, like some louche Moses, as "a specious fallacy".

Brilliant, brilliant moves -- moves he could no more defend "theoretically" than he could have written the Phenomenology Of Spirit.

Actually, that's not quite right. FDR did have a Merlin. Consider my favorite move against the "good as gold dollar".

After he sank the banksters' worl confab, during the next few months King Frank spent the better part of each morning personally buying gold on Uncle's behalf.

Why? For the same reason he did everything else that first year -- so he could raise the price of cotton, timber, coal, steel and corn.

Enter here his guru. Ever the gregarious frat-boy, Frank always had a confederate in these escapades, and in this case it was an agricultural economist from a what Franklin surely considered a second-tier university -- namely, Cornell. The chap's name was George Warren -- bless him.

After an exhaustive study of 213 years of commodity price moves, George claimed to have unearthed the secret origins of the trajectory of commodity prices in nothing less than the rate of increase in the supply of -- gold.

Now as the great Pauli might say, this theory isn't even important enough to be usefully wrong. But homely as it was, this notion and his confidence in himself ultimately led to yet another official indignity aimed at the sacred cow.

Backstory: as everyone recalls, commodity prices had taken a jagged course down and down since 1930, and by '33 were in the deepest smelliest of dumpsters -- all of 'em, across the board, and of course farm mortgages and other such productive borrowings hadn't adjusted their principal values or payments commensurately, so producers were getting pretty badly squeezed.

Now enter the Warren theory of absolute commodity prices and -- you end up with Uncle's prez buying up the magic shiny glowing shit with freshly produced greenbacks.

Was this wrong headed? Well no, it was harmless enough. But did it work? Why yes it did, in one way. It raised the price of gold, causing international currency markets to continue to roil like cheap foil, and yes, it made the respectable financial community in this country and beyond furious -- in my book that oughta count as a home run or two right there -- but no, it prolly had next to zero effect on long-run farm relief, let alone industrial relief.

But as a sample of FDR's contempt for well-heeled authority and for contemporary academic orthodoxy, this adventure was part of a process of bold experimentation in a time of failed theory.

So at the end of the day, yes yes yes.

His aim was correct: to reduce our small producer debt burden we needed -- and got -- producer price inflation.

Keynes would shortly (1936) come up with a theory that led to a straighter more powerful way to accomplish this than a gold price tinker, or for that matter FDR's bigger Gyro Gearloose effort, the NRA.

Roosevelt was a bit like Squire Western in Tom Jones: off in his methods, but he kept groping for his target and punching away, and of course, most importantly, he hardly ever had a problem changing his views swiftly, without the least sense of shame.

Why not keep a bold posture amidst a world of smoking failures?

"He was just a well-intended amateur" -- like this nation's founding planters. This rentier gentleman policy dabbler, with the political kinetics of an alley cat, had a bred-in-the-bone advantage over his merit class "peers":

You couldn't shame him -- even, or especially, when he had a mind to betray his class. And least of all by citing "a recent Harvard study".

Alas, merit rex Obama, on the other hand....


Got your attention, eh? Yours and every spammer in the universe. God help me.

On one of my lefty mailing lists, a participant -- let's call him Skanderbeg -- recently used this potent word. Here's the context; he's talking about the Taliban:

Sorry i dont want to live in a country where women will be hit for just going out of there house without a man.Sorry i dont want to live in a country where music is banned.Sorry i dont want to live in a country where im not allowed to shave.These are just samples of monstrous laws the taliban made.If any1 supports these Cunts than they need to really understand what there agenda is.
Skanderbeg -- by the way -- is not a native speaker of English, if this fact needs pointing out.

Now you may think, as I did, that berating the Taliban is not particularly original or particularly Left or particularly interesting. Read the post, said ho-hum, went on to other things.

An hour later, an email check opened up a firestorm of abuse from the comrades. Not about Skanderbeg's rather routine New York Times assessment of the Taliban, but about his use of the word "cunt".


  • Well if you want to be an opponent of sexism you should probably eliminate the sexist 'c-word' from your list of insults. Its insulting to see that word used on a marxism list.
  • Why is a reference to a woman's genitals the most offensive thing you think you can say to a man? .... That word has no place on a Marxist list, has no place anywhere. It is a word derived from the subjugation and degradation of women. No matter how you think you are using it, your use of it alone provides explicit approval of that treatment of women.
  • Tell you what you do comrade ask women what they think of being called that term. No more a simply anatomical term than calling you an asshole would be simply anatomical.
  • I hope [Skanderbeg] has learned exactly how English speaking Americans hear that word, and therefore why it would never be used by politically conscious people.
It was all downhill from there. Skanderbeg and his "cunt" had a few defenders (me among them, of course) and we came in for even more abuse than Skanderbeg himself. We were First Worlders and Anglophones after all, and nobody was going to cut us any slack. The final verdict was delivered in suitably lugubrious and world-historical terms by, what else, a German comrade -- let's call him Evangelus:
You are still flesh of the flesh of the imperialist nation you happen to live in, using the same parcellizing view as your imperialist master and the same disregard of them for the oppressed nations of this world.
Wow! When a learned German wants to cast you into the outer darkness, he's got the vocab for it -- and the self-seriousness.

All this nonsense got me to thinking. What is it about Pwogs -- I was about to say "American pwogs", but then remembered Herr Evangelus -- that creates this Pharisaical hysteria about the words people use?

Partly it's the campus context. Much of what passes of the "left" dwells in the hothouse atmosphere of the credentialling sector, where discourse is the world. Control the words, and you can move the earth. Abolish "oppressive" language, and you've abolished oppression, as near as dammit.

Then there's several decades of identity politics. Every oppressed group claims its turf partly by defining permissible vocabulary. There are so many oppressed groups -- how do you stand out from the crowd? Beat somebody over the head if they use the wrong word. They'll remember that.

But alas, it seems likely that the deepest determinant of diction-policing is simply middle-class morality, brushed up and provided with a post-hoc political rationale. We are hearing the voice of Nanny here.

There are nice words and naughty words. The naughty words are usually Anglo-Saxon (or, in the case of "cunt", Anglo-Norman). They frequently have four letters, and they often refer to naughty bits of one's body -- the bits one hides in public.

The nice words come from Latin and Greek. They include items like "vagina", "vulva", "clitoris", "penis", and so on. (Nanny doesn't realize -- not having had a classical education -- that some of these were just as naughty in Latin or Greek as "cunt" is in English. But Nanny is a great believer, as the man said, in the "decent obscurity of a learned language.")

A few years back, PC diction-policing was a great gift to right-wing humorists. We kinda handed it to them on a platter: here, we said -- this is just how weedy, and nattering, and priggish, and fatuous, we are. If you say "cunt" in our presence, we'll either froth at the mouth, or faint.

I thought we'd learned from the experience. Alas -- some of us, it appears, will never learn.

These poor folks must have had the Nannies From Hell.

May 22, 2009

None dare call it usury

Here's the Frisco Fed:

"U.S. household leverage, as measured by the ratio of debt to personal disposable income, increased modestly from 55% in 1960 to 65% by the mid-1980s. Then, over the next two decades, leverage proceeded to more than double, reaching an all-time high of 133% in 2007."
This is not productive investment -- this is usury, aside from some dubious nuggets of "human capital investment". But that's another story.
"In the long-run [household expenditures] cannot grow faster than income because there is an upper limit to how much debt households can service, based on their incomes."
Interesting point, especially considering where we are today. For say 15-20 million of our 115 million households, the system passed the "servicing" point when Bush stole Florida. And yet more was still to come, thanks to a little trick called ultra-low borrowing costs.

The payment has two terms: principal and interest. You can keep raisin' the principal if you keep lowering the interest. Voila! Much much more carrying capacity emerges, till, well, you know.

So now given all those households' likely income prospects, what lies ahead for 'em looks like one huge shitload of "deleveraging", as the business community terms it.

How do they -- we -- get back to a workable ratio of household income to debt service? There's a fork here -- a choice. Either the poor bastards spend less or they default more.

Big benchmark of deleveraging:

"From 1929 to 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, nominal debt held by U.S. households declined by one-third."
Today, that feat translates into a reduction of around 90% from today's 133%. That nut reduction looks like $4 trillion. Say our current payoff rate is $400 billion -- both stylized reality, of course.

But we're lookin' at a few years of continued tight-belting ahead of us -- well, some of us -- that is, unless more of us just pull the hillbilly barefoot settlin'-up method and walk away from our underwater burnt-grass house lots, and learn -- like me -- to live beneath the plastic money floor created by our chthonic credit gods.

Frisco Fed's sum-up:

"Going forward, it seems probable that many U.S. households will reduce their debt. If accomplished through increased saving, the deleveraging process could result in a substantial and prolonged slowdown in consumer spending relative to pre-recession growth rates."
But soft -- enter the dragon:
"Alternatively, if accomplished through some form of default on existing debt, such as real estate short sales, foreclosures, or bankruptcy... deleveraging could involve significant costs for consumers, including tax liabilities on forgiven debt, legal fees, and lower credit scores."
Suddenly, sober empirical description by these Frisco sages morphs into frantic bank-flacker scare tactics.

Horse feathers! I say -- and they admit as much, once they catch their breath:

"Moreover, this form of deleveraging would simply shift the problem onto banks that hold these loans as assets on their balance sheets."
Presto! Eat it, Scrooge! Eat it all, you bloodsucking billygoat, and tell me you like it!

Ahh, that felt good. But we must all come together in the end, so here's the Frisco kids' parting words:

"Either way, the process of household deleveraging will not be painless."
Stop the presses!

May 23, 2009

Change, yes. Hope, no.

It's remarkable, isn't it, how Obie has managed to abolish due process of law -- and nobody who has noticed has said anything about it.

Here's the New York Times:

Obama Would Move Some Detainees to U.S.

In a speech at the National Archives here, Mr. Obama gave a full-throated defense of his antiterrorism policies and his commitment to closing the Guantánamo prison....

“We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security,” Mr. Obama declared.

In other words, Mr Humanitarian is going to close Guantanamo, and bring the inmates there to the US, and immure them in one of those horrific "supermax" prisons, and throw away the key -- without ever having brought them to trial and proven their guilt.

Obie has, in other words, ratified the Bush doctrine that the Prez can issue lettres de cachet for anybody he deems a threat to national security.

But Obie has also improved on Bush. Bush at least retained the fig leaf: you couldn't do this kind of thing on American soil. You had to preserve the decencies by doing it offshore.

Obie, by contrast, has eliminated the due-process clause without any quibbles; without even a stroke of the pen. We're going to lock people up indefinitely, without trial, whenever we want to. Get used to it.

And the good gray Times, and all my neighbors who got drawn into the maelstrom by falling in love with Obie -- they're focused on instrumental issues. Is supermax good enough? Is it fair to the good people of Canon City, Colorado?

May 24, 2009


These lefty mailing lists are a mixed bag. The same list that embroiled itself recently in a purplefaced cunno-machia brought me yesterday this nice bit of news:

'1 in 4 Israelis would consider leaving country if Iran gets nukes'
By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Correspondent

Some 23 percent of Israelis would consider leaving the country if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, according to a poll conducted on behalf of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University.

One of the comrades promptly came back with the only possible response:
Here's to Iran obtaining FOUR nukes!
Well, I wish I'd said that. All that's left for me is a bit of pedantic niggling.

It's well known that Marxists are overoptimistic, and mostly no good at arithmetic -- even the Old Man labored over his long division. These things combine multiplicatively, not additively.

So scaring away three-quarters of the Israeli population would require about 5.3 Iranian nukes ((1 - 0.23)5.3 ≈ 0.25). Getting the population scared down to 10% of its present size would require almost 9 Iranian nukes -- a hair over 8.8.

Still, we're on the right track. Contributions to the Iranian nuclear program can be sent directly to me. I'll see that they get into the right hands.

May 25, 2009

More political suicides, please

Robert Ransdell writes:

Wow, you mean somewhere in the world politicians still have a sense of shame? Considering what it's like here that's amazing!

If he were a U.S. politician he would deny having done anything wrong till the bitter end, no matter how damning the evidence was. Then if things got really bad he would appear before the media and announce with fake remorse that he merely made a "mistake".

The PR firm that handles him would advise him to check into an booze rehab facility even if he didn't have a drinking problem (The devil drink made me do it!).

Then he'd write a book for six figures and go on "The View" and the "Oprah Winfrey Show" show to promote it and sell the idea of that he had reformed himself.

He'd wind up marrying a beautiful woman (a former lobbyist) and go to work for a big investment bank on Wall Street. (Or he'd reenter politics and they'd put him on an anti-corruption task force.)

Bob is onto something. We can learn a thing or two from the Koreans. Let's not emulate their amped-up work ethic, of course -- otium cum dignitate, that's the word, comrades -- but politicians obligingly escorting themselves off the scene is a mighty praiseworthy custom.

Jumping off a cliff is a little melodramatic of course, but who wants to go out with a whimper? Still, if Nancy Pelosi would prefer some gentler quietus, like an overdose of barbiturates, that's fine with me.

May 26, 2009

Cap'n Trade to the rescue

Cap-and-trade is a nice model for price mechanisms driven by social policy.

Unlike a tax, which slaps on a price increase, a cap and trade arrives at the price increase -- but that's ahhh theory -- then there's the details.

Here's Matt Yglesias, snub-gun journalist, on carbon emission markets:

"Capping the amount of allowable carbon dioxide emissions creates a new source of wealth in the economy — permission to emit carbon dioxide.

This, in turn, raises a question about how to allocate that resource. One suggestion, popular with industry and its tame dogs in congress, is to allocate it to industry. Give the permits away, and let companies either use them themselves or sell them to others.

Another suggestion, more popular with environmentalists and economists, is to auction the permits and then use the funds thereby raised to accomplish something useful....

They have the same macroeconomic impact, and presumably the same ecological impact. But the cap-and-rebate proposal results in gains for the bottom 40 percent of households, a tiny loss for the median quintile, and small losses for the top 40 percent.

The cap-and-giveaway proposal results in large losses for the bottom 80 percent of the population and a large gain for the top 20 percent.

Matt clangs the little-guy bell. Note that such a broad spectrum of tit-twist distributions are also lurking in the upcoming grand drafting of our public-option health insurance program.

Pinkos better get up to speed on this region of applied public economics, and start calling the balls and strikes accurately. Just unleashing the dogmas of class war to bark, bay, and howl benightedly at the rising of the congressional harvest moon is no good. Much more comes from understanding this shit from the inside out than screaming for the ultimo option that isn't an option.

Yes, in theory there is a Pigou tax that can do anything cap and trade can do -- like the carbon tax advocated by Father Smiff's pal Charles Komanoff.

And yes, single payer is a final solution devoutly to be sought.

But but but -- and the irony here gives me a tingle -- all you decentralizin' Eric Blair types get a wedgy over -- THE STATE.

To Josephine Average Wage Schmuckette, nothing, nothing more accurately operates as the lightning bolt of the state than a tax slap or a mandate. On this green stuff, and health stuff both, a few shrewd market mechanism designs (as in cap and trade on carbon emissions, and a fightin' pub op in the health sector) is a path to decentralization and lower-archy.

Interested? If so, here's a nice Ivy League site for your reading pleasure.

Rodan attacks!

Rodan attacks!!!

Or maybe it should be "Larval Mothra Attacks" -- that's him over on the right, I believe.

Comrade Owen has recently been taking, if I understand him, a devil's advocate position: first about public-option health care (as opposed to single-payer), and most recently about cap-and-trade for CO2 emissions.

Owen allows as how these approaches are not be as desirable as single-payer and (maybe) a carbon tax respectively, but maybe there's something to be said for 'em. Here he is on the subject of single-payer vs. public-option:

One big slice, straight through the neck -- Conyers' uncle payer plan (HR 676); or the slow bleed to death -- Stark's free-to-choose Medicare bill?

.... Is there a serious difference here? I doubt there is, in the long run -- given a choice, a la Stark, the citizenry will gradually opt for uncle's medicare system, obviously.

So why, besides the art of the impossibly superior, prefer Conyers' plan?

Here's the analogous argument for Cap'n Trade:
Yes, in theory there is a Pigou tax that can do anything cap and trade can do -- like the carbon tax advocated by Father Smiff's pal Charles Komanoff.

And yes, single payer is a final solution devoutly to be sought.

But [o]n this green stuff, and health stuff both, a few shrewd market mechanism designs (as in cap and trade on carbon emissions, and a fightin' pub op in the health sector) is a path to decentralization and lower-archy.

Now I have a problem with this line of argument.

Owen knows a good deal more than I do about this sort of thing, and even if I thought he was wrong, I'd be hard-pressed to argue the point. But the problem doesn't arise: as a technical matter I don't doubt that he is right. A "fighting" public-option -- and a "shrewd" cap and trade program -- would no doubt be better than what we have now, at the very least, and might lead to systemic change further on (though the certainty of that seems less clear).

The qualifications -- "fighting" and "shrewd" -- are quite important, however.

It's pretty clear that single-payer isn't on the table; and if a carbon tax hasn't been ruled out, it's only because nobody who matters has ever considered it. And why? Because -- of course -- corporate America doesn't want either of these things, and corporate America -- unlike the enviro wonkery and the academic wonkery -- deploys the big battalions.

But what reason is there to believe, then, that they would stand for a "fighting" public option, or a "shrewd" cap and trade, either? What reason is there to think that we won't get Hillary Rediviva, with no-fight Romneycare sauce, by way of health care reform; and by way of emissions reduction, yet another flood of new kinds of securities to trade -- with shrewdness to be seen only in the parasites and cormorants who will make their living swapping these grubby bits of paper, made into valuable property by Uncle's fiat?

So I wonder why -- apart from professional pride -- Owen is spending his time fighting this corner.

He writes:

Pinkos better get up to speed on this region of applied public economics, and start calling the balls and strikes accurately. Just unleashing the dogmas of class war to bark, bay, and howl benightedly at the rising of the congressional harvest moon is no good.
Nobody can quarrel with that. Understanding the nuts and bolts is a good thing.

But folks like us have very little influence on events. This fact has some implications. Since we don't have to be "responsible" -- responsible, that is for the misery that the responsables in Washington are certainly going to cause -- we also don't have to be realistic. In fact, it would be a ridiculous affectation for us to be realistic. Who, after all, do we think we are? Congressional aides? What on earth is the downside for us to be maximalists, incorrigibles, millennarians? Is anything we do going to forfeit the good in favor of the unattainable best?

Still, I share Owen's pain, or some of it, anyway. Too much Left scenography introduces a tired old cast of pasteboard personifications onto the stage -- the Bourgeoisie, the Working Class, the Sellout Politicians and their pets, the Running Dogs. If Owen's goal is to sketch in some more detail and bring a breath of life to this stale discourse, then one can only applaud.

Cleansing the temple

I'd like Dean Baker more if he had as much paranoia in him as thi picture below seems to promise:

... But alas, he's all too grounded. He does have his moments, though. Take this recent offering reproduced at Counterpunch: "Waterboard the Fed!" he cries, and I say 'damn straight'!

What in hell have them white-cuffed clowns gone and done with our precious 2 trillion dollars they lent out to the banksters anyway? As Dean notes:

"there is no public paper trail for the Fed’s [bailout] loans, even though it has more than three times as much money outstanding as does the Treasury through TARP -- it is not possible to find out how much money Goldman Sachs borrowed, at what interest rate, and which assets it posted as collateral. The Fed has explicitly refused to make information about specific borrowers public. In fact, the inspector general who has the responsibility for overseeing the Fed told Congress that she does not have this information. Apparently the Fed doesn’t even trust its inspector general with information on its lending practices....

It is difficult to understand the rationale for this secrecy.... After all, this money... belongs to us."

Hey, he's not done yet. There's more:
"The Fed has more direct control over the direction of the economy than the President and Congress, yet it carries through its actions... outside of the public’s view....

In a democracy, it is difficult to justify a situation in which the most important economic policymaking body is, by design, more answerable to the banking industry than [to] democratically elected officials."

Yeah! What Dean said, eh?

Enter, stage left, the pwoposed pwogwessive wesponse: The Fedewal Weserve Twanspawency Act, which requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit the Fed’s books and report to Congress.

Yes, the GAO -- that posse of Elmer Fudds with green eyeshades. Just try to imagine what heroic scenes must ensue as these shock troops of accountability fan out among the hushed offices of the Fed, kicking in paneled doors and demanding, "The secwet books! Pwoduce 'em, you sowwy ass pwicks!"

May 27, 2009

Mistah Kurtz, not quite dead

From this --

... to this? --

So says the Marlboro Man manque below, Pecos Paul Romer:

Romer is among other distinctions the father of a particularly kinky model of economic "grohfffff"(*) -- based on Father Smiff's bete noire, "intellectual property" -- that set off a few gongs about 15 years ago.

Now, it seems he wants to play Solon to a Hanseatic League of black African Hong Kongs -- no, really, he does. Honest.

"The idea is to create city-states along the coast of Africa that can become economic hubs for the region and at the same time be insulated from the continent's notorious corruption and political chaos. In a sense, it's what the British did with Hong Kong in the 19th century when China was relatively unstable....

"I am going to put my whole career on the line with this new idea."

Yes you -- AREN'T.

If ever the trans-nat limited-liability crowd had a Don Quixote of Filibuster Incorporated, this guy has got to be him.

"Romer envisions a Nordic country, perhaps, emerging as a champion for his concept. The European host could accelerate economic growth by taking charge of police forces, jails, and courts. Local government would take care of the rest....

Romer said he would not trust the United States to serve as a steward in Africa, and he even doesn't think even the European Union is up for the task.... [He] prefers to focus on the Nordic countries and their history of conflict mediation and peacekeeping operations, working closely with the U.N."

You can't make stuff like this up.


(*) Sample -- this is the setup:

"A traditional explanation for the persistent poverty of many less developed countries is that they lack objects such as natural resources or capital goods. But Taiwan stared with little of either and still grew rapidly. Something else must be involved.

Increasingly, emphasis is shifting to the notion that it is ideas, not objects, that poor countries lack. The knowledge needed to provide citizens of the poorest countries with a vastly improved standard of living already exists in the advanced countries. If a poor nation invests in education and does not destroy the incentives for its citizens to acquire ideas from the rest of the world, it can rapidly take advantage of the publicly available part of the worldwide stock of knowledge."

Now the turn into the home stretch:
"If, in addition, it offers incentives for privately held ideas to be put to use within its borders—for example, by protecting foreign patents, copyrights, and licenses, by permitting direct investment by foreign firms, by protecting property rights, and by avoiding heavy regulation and high marginal tax rates—its citizens can soon work in state-of-the-art productive activities."

May 28, 2009

'Twas ever thus -- not!

Nice suggestive piece from the immortal Ralph:

Once upon a time early in the 19th century, corporations came into existence by state legislatures approving charters, which were granted for a limited period of time and for limited purposes. These corporations - producing textiles and other products in New England - raised capital in part because their investors had limited liability. That meant they could not lose any more than their investment if things went wrong.

Since corporations were artificial legal entities and not human, these lawmakers feared that without some strong leashes, they could be creating Frankensteins.

Over the following two hundred years, these ever larger corporations and their attorneys have been driving relentlessly, dynamically to erect systems of privileges and immunities....

Their first big move was to take the chartering authority from the state legislature and place it inside an executive agency where chartering became automatic, shorn of the conditions the lawmakers once imposed.

Once chartering became automatic, perpetual and open-ended, corporate lawyers moved to have the courts - not the legislatures - turn corporations into "persons" for purposes of constitutional rights.

Their big breakthrough came with the Santa Clara case in 1886 when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed its summary headnotes to declare that the railroad in the case was a "person" for purposes of the 14th amendment.

Nerdy, sure -- but nerdy in a very useful way, don't you think? A bit of history we all ought to know better.

It's always good to be reminded how contingent and contrived are the institutions we take for granted as necessary and ineluctable.

You'd think somebody would long since have written a good book on Ralph's particular topic here -- the creation of the corporation-as-subject. I'm too lazy to research it right now. But does some kind reader have the needful -- and therefore, surely extant -- citation?

May 30, 2009

Nancy Pelosi wants YOU

I may have mentioned before that I regularly get begging emails from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). I got one a couple months ago signed by Al Gore. More recently I've had a few signed by James Carville. Why anybody would think that people would want to send money to James Carville or anything associated with him is hard to fathom, but presumably the DCCC know their target market.

Today's mail jumped the shark, though:

From: Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Subject: Because of You
Date: Sat, 30 May 2009 10:44:50 -0400
X-Mailer: PHPMailer [version 1.71-blue_mailer]

Dear Michael,

You are among a special group of committed Democrats whose sacrifice and dedication made our victories last November possible. For all you've done to support the Democratic Party and to move America in a New Direction you have my deepest gratitude.

I want to offer you and a guest a special invitation for a chance to join me at my table at our dinner with President Obama in Washington, DC on June 18th for the President's Dinner.

Contribute $5, $10, or more and be automatically entered for a chance to win a free trip to Washington, D.C. to join President Obama and me....

Now this raises a couple of obvious questions:
  1. What's second prize -- two dinners with Nancy Pelosi?
  2. If I don't contribute, will Nancy come to my house and waterboard me?

Welcome to the club....

... Though not the inner circle, of course. That's reserved for nations which have actually used nuclear weapons for mass-destruction purposes. So far, it's a circle with one member.

North Korea has tested its second nuclear weapon -- a huge improvement on the first, apparently. Number Two seems to have had about a tenth of the power of the bomb that dear old Harry Truman dropped over the paper houses of Hiroshima. Number One, by contrast, barely registered on the seismographs.

International response has been quite indignant, for the most part, though the esteemed Islamic Republic of Iran dryly commented that it was an "internal matter." Israel didn't agree. Israel felt that the NoKo nuclear test was a threat to Israel's "region" -- which makes one wonder, not for the first time, just how big Israel thinks its "region" is.

Many of my lefty comrades have stated their views on this development. The usual pattern is to begin with an observation about how bad nuclear weapons are. From there, the argument develops along predictable lines:

Of course -- they say -- North Korea had the "right" to develop nukes. National sovereignty, and all that. And of course it's hypocritical for the US or any other nuclear power to give the North Koreans a hard time about it.

But -- and here's the money shot -- it was nevertheless "provocative" and "stupid" for the North Koreans to do this. Sometimes the argument is insultingly reinforced with a reference to Cuba: those cool Caribbean socialist stalwarts never felt that they had to soil their hands with anything as wicked as a nuclear weapon.

Now I personally believe that the only good reason to develop a nuclear weapon is to counter the threat that an opponent with a nuclear weapon could otherwise hold over your head. By this standard, it was bad for the US to develop the first nuclear weapons; bad for India to do the same in its "region"; bad for Israel -- and good for the USSR, and China, and Pakistan, and if Iran gets one or ten or twenty, good for Iran. And would have been good for Cuba -- if they had felt it necessary, or been able to accomplish it.

As for North Korea: they narrowly escaped getting nuked fifty-odd years ago -- the US military noticed, in the nick of time, that the prevailing winds blow from the north in that part of the world.

The same outfit that would have loved to nuke the NoKo's back in the 50's still maintains a considerable presence in South Korea -- and by all accounts, nuclear weapons are very much part of the picture. It would be amazing if they weren't, considering how many of them the US has manufactured between Harry the Incinerator's time and ours. So maybe the NoKo's have reason to feel that there's something to worry about.

The Cubans, too, had their worries back in the day. I'd be willing to bet that they would have loved to get a nuke or two or ten -- but I suspect the Soviets didn't let 'em. This is sheer speculation, of course.

But just think -- how wonderful would that have been? Those Miami emigres -- their heads would have exploded with near-nuclear force, and seismographs around the world would have picked up the tremors.

About May 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in May 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2009 is the previous archive.

June 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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