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December 2009 Archives

December 1, 2009

Welcome back to the fold

This crossed my laptop today, from one of my lefty mailing lists:

I voted -- and asked people -- to vote for Obama.  I made my case on the grounds of what would better advance the class struggle.  I still think that, with the information then known, it was the best decision.  I didn't think I had high hopes or expectations about him as an individual.  I did think though that, under the right conditions, his personal background made it possible for him to become a decisive reformer, even if not an FDR.  But I think I was entirely wrong on that.  He is not one of us.  Period.  I don't entirely understand his motivations, but that matters little now.  I am convinced that this decision [about Afghanistan] offsets anything historically progressive that Obama may accomplish -- if at all.
Churlishly enough, I was tempted to respond that Obie told us all along what he was really about. Nothing he's done in office has added a jot or tittle to "the information then known."

But then early training took over, and I remembered what the man said:

Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

Just walk away...

... as the Lord Humungus, shown above, once memorably advised.

Dean Baker, alas, though he's a fine fellow, is no Humungus. In a recent Counterpunch piece, El Dino has caught the smell of welfare-queen bankster handout number 13 in the recent POTUS mortgage relief plan. Dean sets it up nicely:

"Homeowners are effectively throwing money away every time they make a mortgage payment... the Center for Economic and Policy Research calculated that a family who purchased a small home in Los Angeles near the peak of the bubble could save $1,640 a month by renting rather than owning. This comes to almost $20,000 a year. In Phoenix, a family who purchased a home near the peak of the bubble could save $420 a month or $5,000 a year. In Miami, the savings would be $1,940 a month, more than $23,000 a year... These homeowners also have no reasonable prospect of ever getting equity in their homes. In many cases they are 20 or 30 percent underwater, possibly owing over $100,000 more than the current value of their home."
Okay, so walk away, right?

Nope. Dean wants the geefs and geefettes to be able to rent back their present "owned" digs for ten years at today's lower rental ratess.

Hmmm. Not gonna happen. The POTUS has a different remedy: why not have Uncle pay down a chunk of the mortgage? Reduce the nut, make it easier to carry. Hold the phone, our man sez:

"If the government pays for a mortgage modification where the homeowner is still paying more for the mortgage than they would for rent, then the bank gets a big gift from the government, but the homeowner is still coming out behind."
Steel-trap mind on that guy, no?

But we want walkaway to accelerate, so we unlike Dean, want all underwater households to bug out son-of-sam style today, all at once, and then go out and rent each others' houses at market rates from the banksters. Now there's a fearful symmetry for you. Why is our magic president talking a big bundle of buy-down money anyway? Maybe it's a twofer: one, it hands money to the banks they'll never collect otherwise; and two, it might slow the walkaway movement with a fusillade of false hopes -- which are, after all, something of an Obama house special.

Dream come true

From the Daily Telegraph -- of all places -- a long-standing fantasy of mine, realized:

US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive

Dozens of US cities may have entire neighbourhoods bulldozed as part of drastic "shrink to survive" proposals being considered by the Obama administration to tackle economic decline.

The government looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.

The radical experiment is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint....

Mr Kildee, who has lived [in Flint] nearly all his life, said he had first to overcome a deeply ingrained American cultural mindset that "big is good" and that cities should sprawl – Flint covers 34 square miles....

The local authority has restored the city's attractive but formerly deserted centre but has pulled down 1,100 abandoned homes in outlying areas....

Already, some streets peter out into woods or meadows, no trace remaining of the homes that once stood there....

"Much of the land will be given back to nature. People will enjoy living near a forest or meadow," [Kildee] said.

What this project really means, of course, is not bulldozing cities, but bulldozing suburbs. A very different matter from the "planned-shrinkage" policy of the 70s, embraced notably by liberal Democrat Ed Koch. That scheme really did mean bulldozing cities: big chunks of New York got a very purposeful Ground Zero treatment, while ticky-tacky sheetrock exurbs spread like eczema over Rockland and Putnam and Suffolk counties.

I love the idea of those sheetrock streets going all bumpy and unmaintained under your wheels, as you drive your car ride your bike out of the tiny village center. If you forge incautiously ahead, you begin to see weeds growing up through increasingly treacherous cracks in the pavement.

Soon you have to leave your car bike and continue on foot. Finally the mulberry bushes and the brambles have blocked the asphalt completely. You can still discern the line of Airport Road, a notch in the woods where the trees are not quite so high, yet, as the trees on either side, in what used to be the yards of American Dream houselots.

Unless you've brought a machete, you can't follow the road any farther.

Oh, there will be deer tracks, and if you're willing to go on all fours, you can creep through the little low tunnels that the wild boar have made in what was once the Airport Road Mall. That's if you're not too worried about encountering a wild boar -- and my advice is, you should be.

Not to mention the wolves.

Next: New Jersey. And then... Westchester!

December 3, 2009

Maybe they'll shoot each other

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- “I just wrote my first reference for a gun permit,” said a friend, who told me of swearing to the good character of a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker who applied to the local police for a permit to buy a pistol. The banker had told this friend of mine that senior Goldman people have loaded up on firearms and are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank.

I called Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas van Praag to ask whether it’s true that Goldman partners feel they need handguns to protect themselves from the angry proletariat. He didn’t call me back. The New York Police Department has told me that “as a preliminary matter” it believes some of the bankers I inquired about do have pistol permits. The NYPD also said it will be a while before it can name names.


A populist uprising against the bank? I have no idea what kind of uprising they fear, or why they believe it's likely, but if this disgusting, grandiose paranoia leads to them shooting each other, then I'm all for it. The odds of that are pretty good. Bonus rage and psychotic spite are their defining characteristics. So give them all the pistols they want. Make it mandatory.

December 4, 2009

Jane Hamsher: off the rez?

Politico carried an item recently that made Jane Hamsher sound like Robespierre. (Jane is shown above, on Bill's right; that's her firedoglake colleague Christy Hardin Smith holding down the left flank.)

Here's Politico's breathless account:

Hamsher leads left away from White House

While President Barack Obama has struggled to keep the center together, he's had one unquestioned political success: Keeping the left at bay. A battle-tested Democratic infrastructure fell into line behind the White House....

That alliance, which endured in spite of sometimes emotional differences on the shape of health care legislation, is now under increasing strain....

MoveOn is one of the handful of groups breaking from the White House’s hold on big liberals to raise money, activate volunteers and threaten for the first time, Obama’s left flank. And so is a pixie-ish 50 year old former Hollywood producer who named her blog after her dog, and is taking what she calls “the next step in our evolution."

The campaign launched by Jane Hamsher, whose blog Firedoglake first came to national attention for obsessive coverage of the Valerie Plame investigation, is called, "One Voice for Choice," and uses the nifty online phone banking tools that helped power Obama's campaign to put a scare into House Democrats who voted to attach the anti-abortion Stupak Amendment to health care legislation.

Not surprisingly, there's a lot less to this insurrection than Politico suggests. What Jane is doing is encouraging people to call -- that's right, call -- folks like Harry Reid and tell him how unhappy they are. Oh and she is apparently supporting one primary challenger -- the perennial Jonathan Tasini, who is Kirsten Gillebrand's lesser lesser evil this year, as he was for Hillary Clinton a couple of years back.

This non-story somehow succeeded in exciting one of my lefty mailing-list comrades -- let's call him Min the Merciless. He's a comparatively well-known chap whose blog Owen used to read. Here's Min:

Jane mobilizes people, including their dollars, to pressure Members of Congress to vote for progressive positions. She actually gets involved at the specific vote level, fulfilling a function akin to the floor whips. The whips herd the cats to vote when they are supposed to. Or try to. Jane does that from outside using the Internet. She also organizes demos and was heavily involved in the effort to dump Lieberman.

At the moment she is mobilizing people to vote against health care reform unless it includes a public option -- a position I happen to disagree with, but pretty edgy as conventional politics goes.

Along with MoveOn, which has come out against the Afghanistan venture, it's the only game in town right now. Diddling on listservs really doesn't compare.

This effusion evoked some sniping, and Min testily responded:
Hmmm oh my yes, Jane should forsake her whirlwind of activism and join this mailing list. Then she would really be on the road to revolution.
Actually, though, I agree with Min: Jane should forsake her whirlwind of Democratic party activism and spend her time discussing fine points of Marxist theory on mailing lists. At least in that case she would be accomplishing nothing. But as long as she keeps encouraging people to expend their spirits in the Democratic Patrty's waste of shame, she's doing something actively harmful.

December 9, 2009

Strange bedfellows

I'm reading the latest issue of Revolution, and lo and behold I get this creepy feeling: Could our Father Smith...

... have a secret bloc with chairman Bob?

I note the immortal Avakian's "pyramid theory". Here's the telling cut-outs:

In 2000 the conventional wisdom coming from the TV commentators and pundits and so on was uniformly, or at least overwhelmingly, that given the fact that this election was so contested.... Bush would have to "rule by consensus" and move "toward the center" in how he governed.

Noooo. Exactly the opposite was the case. Bush took a very hard line, mobilized a hard core force of his followers in the ruling class and appealed, when he felt that he needed to, to a hard core right-wing... social base to back him up...

Now let's contrast that with the present situation.... Obama has a clear majority with him from his party in the Senate and in the House of Representatives... And yet, over and over again, it's insisted that Obama will have to seek consensus, "reach across the aisle," not become isolated from those who didn't support him, not alienate the Republican Party, and so on and so forth — and Obama acts in accordance with that...

In fact, whenever Obama carries out the actions that his role as chief executive of U.S. imperialism and commander-in-chief of the imperialist armed forces of the U.S. requires him to carry out, the rationalization that's frequently if not always given, particularly to those who voted for him but are disappointed by these actions, is that Obama, after all, has to compromise, he has to "reach across the aisle," he has to rule by consensus, et cetera, et cetera.

I won't bother to lay out the pyramid behind the theory -- Bob does that well enough. But reading the above, don't it seem like whatever the pyramid theory might be, it operates frighteningly like... Father Smiff's ratchet theory

We gotta ask ourselves why. Here's the original Oakland A again:

"Why is it that, if you look at these two very sharply contrasting examples, logic would seem to indicate that Obama should be able to rule with a clear hand and come out fighting and not have to compromise with the opposition forces within the ruling structures but, in fact, he does constantly compromise with them, and it is repeatedly insisted that he must; whereas Bush, according to "conventional wisdom," should have been compromising and "seeking consensus" yet refused to do so..
." So the Repubs whip up their side of the social pyramid -- the right side -- all the way down to their lumpen base, to fascist-like frenzy, but the Dembot side remains paralyized all the way down: Like the brain half controlling the left side of the American polity had a massive stroke back in '46 and another in '80.

I kinda like the left-side stroke theory. But for father S, it's not a real stroke, it's a simulation, a stroke-like semi-sub-intentional paralysis. You might call it motor hysterics. There was never any stroke: the left hemisphere simply was doing Orthrian duty. If you want the body politic to stagger to the right for a while, then the left side needs to go weak and feckless.

But hey, maybe, despite early evidence to the contrary, the integrated summit of the burger brain behind both hemi's wants a stagger to the left here -- for a while, anyway. What if... what if?

Introducing the final total Republican-simulated right-side prefrontal lobotomy, sexy Sarah from the Klondike:

December 10, 2009

Aleatory poetry

Longtime readers here may recall that I sometimes like to indulge in a little lexicostatistical analysis of texts -- how often such and such a word appears, for example.

Among the many things that struck me about Obie's speech in Oslo was how often he mentioned "America" or "Americans." It's as if the flagwaving conventions of the stump speech have sunk into his very bones, and he can't open his mouth without filling the air with America.

So I started using my little Linux bag of tricks on a transcript of the speech. Here's the output of one such:

mjs@mjs-laptop:~$ fold -s -w 60 obama-nobel.txt | grep -i america
America and citizens of the world:
winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not 
deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a 
Woodrow Wilson received this prize -- America led the world 
threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil 
America, the world's sole military superpower.
this: The United States of America has helped underwrite 
The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, 
Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the 
America's commitment to global security will never waiver. 
missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is 
no rules, I believe that the United States of America must 
And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to 
working with President [Dmitry] Medvedev to reduce America 
development. And within America, there has long been a 
Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has 
America's interests -- nor the world's -- are served by the 
different countries, America will always be a voice for 
Is it just me, or does this really make a loopy kind of sense -- as if his real meaning might spontaneously emerge from the Cuisinart treatment of 'fold' and 'grep'?

"Military" yields some fun too:

deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the 
America, the world's sole military superpower.
military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense 
action -- it is military leaders in my country and others 
  • Total words: 4054
  • America and variants: 18
  • "United States": 3
  • Peace: 28
  • War: 44

It's also very dull, pedestrian, cliche-ridden ("moral compass", "disconnect" used as a noun) and mawkish:

Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.
Something about being President -- tins the ear, dumbs the brain.

December 12, 2009

Katrina non Hurricana

Katrina van den Heuvel, editrix of The Nation, seems to have quantum-jumped into some parallel world on Wednesday, where she heard an alternative Obie give a different Nobel speech, a speech nothing like what the pathetic banal Obie in our poor world gave. Here's Katrina, on NPR (where else?):

President Obama is an ethical realist. It was a speech grounded in realism with elements of idealism.... building on the quartet of major speeches he's given in this past year beginning to layout [an] Obama doctrine.... So, it was an important speech and directly you could see why the Nobel Committee awarded him this prize....

[It]was a complex speech. It was a, kind of a speech that could be taught in a college course on just war and America's role in the world.

Wow! It "could be taught in a college course"! Say no more! The man is one of us.

Being President may make you stupid; but liking the President gives you a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. Katrina is probably not a born fool, but deep commitment and hard work have made her a virtuoso of fatuous gaga.

I looked again at Obie's speech -- wondering, perhaps, if it had transmuted into the text Katrina heard while I wasn't looking. It hadn't. But I did notice that among its many bellicose gestures, there were quite specific threats to Iran, the Congo, North Korea, Sudan, and Burma, all mentioned by name (except Sudan, which is unmentionable; its partition is already complete on the lexical plane, and something called Darfur looks like the new Kosovo).

Concerned Crackpots

I can't keep track of how many books Cass Sunstein has written. Fortunately, they all follow the same format: trendy poindexter sociology, partial understanding of real social phenomena, lots of concern trolling and a solipsistic elision of the role his class plays in the creation of perverse incentives, double binds, pyrrhic antipathy, etc.

There's no mystery to the tin foil hat hysterics of the wingnuts. They live in a society in which the Sunsteins have limitless opportunity to indulge their passive aggression and misanthropic control freaking. The wingnuts' opportunities to vent are highly circumscribed, by their own vicious collectivism, and by a society arranged for the comfort of banksters and double-domed, extravagantly credentialed concern trolls. Things like the teabagging and birth certificate tantrums are all they've got.

If the big shot pwogs were really worried, they could try addressing some of the material concerns and insecurities that drive and attract people to the cretinous outbursts. The hard core is probably implacable but the impact of their behavior would fade into a minor freak show in a country less dedicated to violent managerialism, stupid authoritarian mind games and kleptocracy. There'd be fewer Sunstein books, too, but I'm sure we'd find a way to go about our daily tasks.

December 13, 2009

Recreational Sociobiology

A phenotype is any observable characteristic or trait of an organism: such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, or behavior. Phenotypes result from the expression of an organism's genes as well as the influence of environmental factors and possible interactions between the two.

Tim Fernholz and Matt Yglesias.


Courtesy of Monsieur IOZ, who has some helpful admonitions for the young gentlemen.

Zombie Persistence

Look, there’s a faint echo of all this on the left — people who are outraged at the idea that we’re going to make saving the planet basically a business decision, aligning private incentives with environmental goals so that doing the right thing becomes a profit opportunity rather than a moral duty. That, I think, is what’s behind the furor over cap and trade.


This reminds me of the "debates" over the placement of the Star Wars missiles. They're completely worthless as a defensive weapon. Even in tests rigged to let them perform well, they're useless. They are good, however, for shooting down passenger jets and satellites and this makes their installation a constant, mindlessly bellicose provocation. But the mind reading conservatives who support Star Wars know the causes of the objections to them far better than their critics. They have broken the codes and read the minds of the critics. They understand that it's irrational hatred for security driving the criticism.

And so with the efforts to introduce a market solution to GHG emissions. The experience with it to date is consistent bad faith, relentless efforts at gaming the system, lack of political will to police it and an actual increase in emissions. It doesn't work. There are conceivable circumstances in which it could work, but there's next to no support at all for the political changes that would be necessary.

Mind-reading, code-breaking liberals know better than their critics, alas, and this knowledge persists in spite of the broad support for carbon taxes and rebates, public funding for transitions to cleaner energy and advocacy for systems of production that don't lurch from one exploitive catastrophe to another. Maybe we can hope for some buyer's remorse from them down the line. After their fatuous, servile and useless response to global warming has managed to elect another Republican president.

December 14, 2009

Ils ne passeront pas

So now we got a House bill that purports to take a crack at saddling Wall Street and the rest of the limited liability Laputanians. Okay, rangers, I know it's a fleabitten piece of class pornography, and yet it glimmers in my yearning eyes like... well... the Wilmot Proviso.

But damn the sky gods, here cometh -- for time 13 zillion -- the jounalistic caveat: "but it must pass the Senate." And of course from the collective mouths of that General Nivelle of legislative bodies, one can only hear the lapidary sociopathic reply "It shall not pass".

Yup, like health care, like glass-walling the Fed, like decent cap and trade -- it's the Senate's diehard willful muscle-flexing minority that stand athwart reform's passage to a better place There they stand, holding the narrows like so many easy-chair Spartans.

Fellow disloyal American skunk apes, can we not unanimously agree an institution that is precisely designed for nasty loon muppets like Joe Lieberman has begged for Clio's dust bin for generations since our constitutional patriarchs drafted her up?

Wasn't resort to a full-blown blood monsoon of a civil war simply to "contain" slavery impudence enough? Wasn't 100 years of unashamed protection of Jim Crow worthy of constitutional incineration? Not to mention more mundane outcomes, like the utter paralysis of the New Deal?

But the corporate center aisle party requires just such an institution, with its qualified majority ready and able at the drop of a stitch to disqualify any semblance -- yes semblance -- of anti-corporate progress.

But hey, times are a changin'. The left has seen the light... maybe. So I suggest we start a movement to repeal the Senate once and for all, or at least render it harmless, like the modern House of Lords.

Ahh, but lads and lasses, where's our Lloyd George to lead us? Where's our "small Welsh bruiser " willing to make a laughing stock out of this lethal gas works?

Just say no

In the soap opera of petty commercial matters, if the Wall Street Journal covers it, then something has long since become so widespread it can't be ignored any longer. Note this headline:

American Dream 2: Default, Then Rent

"Analysts at Deutsche Bank Securities expect 21 million U.S. households to end up owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth by the end of 2010. If one in five of those households defaults, the losses to banks and investors could exceed $400 billion. As a proportion of the economy, that's roughly equivalent to the losses suffered in the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The flip side of those losses, though, is massive debt relief that can help offset the pain of rising unemployment and put cash in consumers' pockets.

For the 4.8 million U.S. households that data provider LPS Applied Analytics estimates haven't paid their mortgages in at least three months, the added cash flow could amount to about $5 billion a month...."

Lovely, eh? And how 'bout this brilliant touch for a stinger:
"... an injection that in the long term could be worth more than the tax breaks in the Obama administration's economic-stimulus package."

DeLong -- march!

I haven't kicked Bubbles Delong around recently. It's time. Here's the Prof:

"I am -- in normal times -- a deficit hawk. I think the right target for the deficit in normal times is zero, with the added provision that when there are foreseeable future increases in spending shares of GDP we should run a surplus to pay for those foreseeable increases in an actuarially-sound manner. "
That is easily as grotesque a piece of inter-class cannibalism as a neolib might advocate in his wildest moment. It's precisely lines like that, rendered with just that momma's darling baby boy fluent glee, that was liable to get you lovingly sodomized by Bull Goose dem-lords like the late Pat Moynihan.

(There's some variant on Leda and the swan that we might elaborate here -- but let's not.)

More Bradford:

"I think this because I know that there will come abnormal times when spending increases are appropriate. And I think that the combination of (a) actuarially-sound provision for future increases in spending shares and (b) nominal balance for the operating budget in normal times will create the headroom for (c) deficit spending in emergencies when it is advisable while (d) maintaining a non-explosive path for the debt as a whole."
"Abnormal times... headroom... a non-explosive path" -- If that isn't a yearning hungry id crying to be buggered I'll eat my spinach. To say "he knows better" is to say infinitely less than nothing. The man's a flabby low-rent rent boy, a Wall Street bond fiend's meme page, and for his sins he ought to be the sole source of ten thousand Conglolese skin grafts.

Oh, I know. I mutter, I mime, I sputter, I spit. But the weight of this tinkling brass self-displaying claptrap in a time of mass misery weighs on my broken housecat of a chest like the oaken catafalque of a frost giant.

December 15, 2009

Brain Damaged Wingnut

MJS has observed that success in foisting a Democratic president on the country is bad for liberals' moral character. They become cretins; indistinguishable from Republicans. It's now clear that successful foisting is also bad for their health.

There’s long been an argument out there that if you equipped people with “smart meters” that report their energy use in detail, they’d be surprised by what they learn and do a lot to conservative. Instead, Matthew Wald reports for the New York Times that the new meters, where installed, are leading to a lot of public anger and “Some consumers argue that the meters are logging far more kilowatt hours than they believe they are using.”

This is framed in the piece as undermining the hopes of the smart meter crowd, but I think it largely underscores the point. People can only respond rationally to the incentives that exist to conserve energy if they know how much energy they’re actually using and where and when. And it’s clear the reaction to smart meters that people actually have no idea what’s going on. Making them aware leaves an impressive.

Matt Yglesias

Via la Rana, who notes that Yglesias appears to have had a minor stroke. Aphasia can of course be caused by other things. Severe drinking problems, concussions and drug abuse will do it. Up to a point, past which there's too much damage, the drunkard and the druggie can recover a great deal of cognitive function. Good health care can help with that, as well with the cognitive dysfunctions of stroke victims and the multiply concussed. One hopes that Yglesias has such care available to him. It would be dreadful to go through life as a brain damaged wingnut. We may disagree with him on most, if not all issues, and be appalled by the way in which he's chosen to destroy his health and moral character. But that does not extend to gloating over his misfortune.

I assume the senior managers at his think tank will look after him in his attempt at recovery. Those of who wish him well may experience dismay at the thought. They are far from ideal, but there's a possibility that they can experience humane impulses towards someone they consider a real person.

Graph of the week

From Krugman's blog.

Put "liquidity trap" under it as a caption, and you'd have a great New Yorker cartoon... for any Reagan era issue prior to last year. Before that, no one -- since the darkest days of the great depression -- could have seen such a projection as anything but the vicious fantasy of a wild-eyed loon.

December 16, 2009

Hero of the hour

After this weekend's Lewis Carrollesque romp, pal Joey must be beloved of all those his colleagues spared by his brave sacrificial act. He's taken upon himself all the fury of an enraged nation -- hell, he's got to be up there with Madoff and GWB after this performance.

Well, somebody needed to fall on the people's hand grenade here, right? "Hineni," Spotlight Joe musta said to himself, without a blink, I bet. Always the bride, never the maid, this guy.

Here's an utterly apropos passage by a Sir Ken Macdonald, Brit labor hack -- in temporary remission, apparently -- cited in a recent Counterpunch column by a distant cousin of Pretty Boy Floyd. Macdonald is talking about Bush bat-boy Tony Blair, but the principle has wider application:

"Loyalty and service to power can sometimes count for more to insiders than any tricky questions of wider reputation. It’s the regard you are held in by your peers that really counts, so that steadfastness in the face of attack and threatened exposure brings its own rich hierarchy of honour and reward."

December 17, 2009


Der Volcker is back in action, and he's spraying everyone he can with a very trog-like magic bean repellent!

The useful ogre of the Carter-Reagan counter-revolution -- the man who put the figure-four submission hold on the credit system -- the author of the Volckerdaemmerung, with real interest rates even the devil himself might not accept -- is now attacking con brio the Wall Street high-fliers. l

Here's a concise sum-up by former IMF Merlin and present-day MIT mandarin Simon Johnson -- seems His Eminence is at a hi-fi banquet a while back and finds himself

"... sitting next to one of the inventors of financial engineering. I didn't know him, but I knew who he was and that he had won a Nobel Prize, and I nudged him and asked what all the financial engineering does for the economy and what it does for productivity.

Much to my surprise, he leaned over and whispered in my ear that it does nothing—and this was from a leader in the world of financial engineering. I asked him what it did do, and he said that it moves around the rents in the financial system—and besides, it's a lot of intellectual fun."

"Moves around the rents"! I can just imagine the old saturnine titan chortling over that... as he added seasoning to the Hell roast he's preparing for these new-fangling "financial engineers".


Okay, take it, Paul:

"I have no doubts that it moves around the rents in the financial system, but not only this, as it seems to have vastly increased them.

How do I respond to a congressman who asks if the financial sector in the United States is so important that it generates 40% of all the profits in the country, 40%, after all of the bonuses and pay? Is it really a true reflection of the financial sector that it rose from 2½% of value added according to GNP numbers to 6½% in the last decade all of a sudden? Is that a reflection of all your financial innovation, or is it just a reflection of how much you pay? What about the effect of incentives on all our best young talent, particularly of a numerical kind, in the United States?"

... and he's confident he'll roast 'em too:
"I am probably going to win in the end."
Caveat: like other atomic freaks of the Eisenhower revival, this lovely avenger is not exactly what the job class ordered. Yes, he'd crush the golden pips off a few Wall Street slicksters -- but danger, fellow small fry! Danger! As much as that might warm our hearts, give this Abbadon a free hand and he'll delight in the jobless morass too -- the out-of-work, the foreclosed, and the formerly spendthrift among us could expect nothing from tall Paul. We'd simply go on scratching out a subsistence in the pine barrens till we've learned the hard way all the blessings of hard work, deferral of gratification, and chipmunk-like acorn storage.

Take another glance at the photo above. See the look he's casting on the Hopester? What does that suggest to you?

December 18, 2009

Military social democracy

Roots that grow down from corporate imperialism right in and among the working class -- here's old Lenin, taking aim (among others) at the venerable sage shown above:

"[Multinational] monopoly yields superprofits, i.e., a surplus of profits over and above the capitalist profits that are normal and customary all over the world. The capitalists can devote a part (and not a small one, at that!) of these superprofits to bribe their own workers, to create something like an alliance..."
Obviously hyperbolic red agitation, eh? True only in the Biblical sense, so to speak.

But on the other hand, comrade, sometimes the literalness becomes rather sharp: note this conjuncture (reported in, of all places the best possible, the Weekly Workers Planet:

"The unemployment benefits extension the House plans to pass right away...Health-care subsidies for the jobless and food-stamp programs would also be extended. The extensions...will be combined with a $630 billion military spending bill which President Obama wants to sign into law by next week."

December 20, 2009

Some Pig

The boar was spotted roaming a residential neighborhood about 8 a.m. and was finally corralled and sedated by animal control officers, who summoned state Department of Fish and Game officials.

"People don't understand how strong animals are. This one was amazing" said Mike McBride, an assistant chief in the department.

McBride said his agency was told by local authorities that the boar had chased people. The animal, described as dark with a long snout, also charged into a wrought-iron fence and damaged it, he said.

"This thing was a handful," he said. "You would not want to be in the direction of this charging pig."


December 24, 2009

Principled Opposition In Motion

Just kidding around. Senator Ben Nelson, that mean-spirited tar baby obstructionist, authoritarian misanthrope, diehard opponent of human rights and staunch defender of the capitalist faith etc. etc., got himself and better still his constituents one hell of a deal for his ObamaCare vote.

It wasn't clear whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had the support needed to move ahead with his chamber's health care bill until Sen. Ben Nelson, the last Democratic holdout, had a change of heart this weekend.

He agreed to support the bill in return for compromise language on federal funding for abortion and more money for his home state of Nebraska.

As a part of the deal, the federal government will pay 100 percent of Nebraska's tab indefinitely for expanding Medicaid for low-income Americans.

It's not socialized health care and there are plenty of problems with Medicaid, but the horrible old thug stumbled into doing something that in this context comes within spitting distance of a decent regard for humankind.

Corporate Meritocracy

My take on Barack Obama's apparent rhetorical lapse is that it's a product of his environment. Corporate high achievers have to master the dark arts of advanced infantilization, passive aggression, preemptive CYA, post facto CYA, stonewalling, empty banality, sanctimony, back stabbing and rationalizing the crimes other people commit in anticipation of committing them when your turn comes around.

In that world, the disasters resulting from Bush's economic policies are terrible things that could happen to anyone taking on the burden of senior management positions. The policies themselves are not to blame. After all, they worked very nicely for many years. Bush himself had the bad luck to be the Decider when the wretched slackers destroyed the bankers' party. It goes without saying that now the slackers have to pay to fix it and they need to be encouraged to do so. Fortuitously, the best way to do that is with Bush's economic policies. There's no point in management grinding away on that, however, as even liberals can run short of the cognitive dissonance they'll need for the next set of elections.

Christmas bomber

Ho ho ho, peace on earth,and all that. It's Christmas Eve, and to celebrate the paciferous Yuletide, the New York Times publishes an Op-Ed by the grinning snaggletoothed academic hyena shown above, one Alan J. Kuperman, who is -- surprise! -- advocating immediate preemptive war on Iran.

I guess it's a little like the Times' version of last year's nicely-timed Gaza invasion. Fortunately the Times doesn't have any actual bombers or tanks at its disposal -- just a bottomless fund of vicious bloodthirsty bluster and armchair strategizing, the overstated tough talk of the white-collar classes.

It's always kinda fun to pull on the odd strand of that tangled yarn-ball known as the Israel Lobby. Kuperman is a former aide to Senator "Up" Chuck Schumer, and has a staff position on something called the "Nuclear Control Institute" (NCI), apparently a kind of shell organization with a mail drop and a Web site devoted to beating the war-drums against Iran. The characteristically coarse illustration below comes from the Web site:

Letting a genie out of a bottle -- get it?

Pulling a bit more at the yarn reveals that NCI was founded by Paul Leventhal, whose obit in the Washpost tells us inter alia that

He spent 10 years as an investigative and political reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the New York Post and Newsday, until deciding that he wanted to "get inside of government and try to make it work."

In 1969, he came to Washington as a press secretary to Sen. Jacob K. Javits.... From 1979 to 1981, he was staff director of the Senate Nuclear Regulation Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.).

This rattle of the Times' inky sabre follows upon last week's comically lopsided vote by the hope-n-change team in the House -- 412-12 -- to impose more sanctions on Iran. Note that this vote was not a response to anything, though the Iranians themselves had a response or two. It was, of course, a provocation.

Remember back in the run-up to the Iraq war, when the joke going the rounds was that everybody wants to go to Baghdad, but real men want to go to Tehran? Apparently the real men still do.

December 25, 2009

So hallowed and so gracious

Some say that ever 'gainst the season comes,
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, or witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
I couldn't leave the image in the previous post at the top of the page for Christmas. So what we have instead, above, is the famous Christmas Truce of 1914, when German and French and British soldiers spontaneously climbed out of their trenches -- the first man to emerge must have been a very brave guy -- and fraternized "all night long", as the poet says, in No Man's Land.

It's a story that makes you think: maybe people aren't, in fact, just no damn good.

Apparently the truce drove the generals and the politicians crazy. They couldn't wait to get the men killing each other again. Perhaps this is why Dick Nixon, and Ehud Olmert, and the New York Times, have all felt it's necessary to keep us braced up and mindful of our homicidal duty at this time of year.

Do they worry that all this talk of peace of earth -- good will towards men -- the shepherds who heard angels singing -- the wise men from Persia, who came to do the polite thing, and realized very quickly that Herod, with his royal purple and gaudy court, was a bad lot -- do they worry, our masters, that we might start to take this stuff seriously?

I wish they had more to worry about.

But perhaps they know their business better than I do; and if they're worried, perhaps they have reason.

On that hopeful note, I wish us all as merry a Christmas as we can manage, and a New Year better than the last.

December 26, 2009

Pigs 2, people 0

The Senate's Christmas gift to us all was a massive giveaway to the insurance companies, with some nice stocking-stuffers for the pharmaceutical vultures. Surprise, surprise.

I happened, during the festivities of the season, to encounter an old friend of mine, a clever and decent chap whom I like and admire. He has a staff position of some consequence on the Democrats' side of the Senate, and he was was over the moon with joy about having passed this abomination of a bill, though the last time I remember talking to him about it, he was expecting, or at least hoping for, a good deal more from health care "reform".

We didn't really get a chance to get into it, but if I understood him right, he was happy that they had been able to pass something, no matter how awful. This was an achievement, it seems -- even a win. Our Team put some kind of a ball through some kind of a hoop, or between some kind of poles, or over some kind of wall, or something. The Other Team didn't want us to do anything, but we did something. And even though it was kind of an awful something, that means we put a point on the board! We can hit the campaign trail next year and say, hey, we gave you... well, never mind exactly what. We scored, that's what matters.

My friend, of course, is a career Democrat -- though in his private life he is a conscientious and exemplary human being, a doting father, and excellent company over the dinner table. He is an excellent example of how participation in the Democratic Party teaches otherwise intelligent and decent people to lower their expectations so far that what any ordinary uninitiated person would consider defeat smells a lot like victory.

December 27, 2009

A fellow of infinite jest

"Progressive circles [are] 99 per cent inhabited by True Believers in anthropogenic global warming"
That hyperbolic Dr Benway-like spurn comes from this weekend's painted screed of Alex C., and he's at his best, I think. The catamount of Whoville, the panther of mauve paddy-land is always at his best standing straight and tall and throwing bolders down at the rest of us progressives -- albeit, in this case, blindly, like Polyphemus. But he never loses his suave, dare I say Edwardian, panache.

Alex is attacking those crafty corporate submariners, silent-running right past all of us green pwog gulls in what's got to be the biggest hoax since that bright spring Sunday morning in Jerusalem.

I know, I know, why oh why must he take such a crazy out-there position as this madly pwog-defying stance over (my God!) climate change? Of all apple-pie left "issues" -- why that one?

I'll tell you why: it's his scorpion moment, his chance to self-destructively sting, and sting savagely, the great docile green amphibian creature on whose back he regularly rides, that "99%" of us rads.

"The CRU emails graphically undermine the claim of the Warmers – always absurd to those who have studied the debate in any detail – that they commanded the moral high ground. It has been a standard ploy of the Warmers to revile the skeptics as intellectual whores of the energy industry, swaddled in munificent grants and with large personal stakes in discrediting AGW. Actually, the precise opposite is true. Billions in funding and research grants sluice into the big climate modeling enterprises. There’s now a vast archipelago of research departments and “institutes of climate change” across academia, with a huge vested interest in defending the AGW model. It’s where the money is. Scepticism, particularly for a young climatologist or atmospheric physicist, can be a career breaker."
Can you imagine anything more delightfully topsy-turvy? I can't. The guy is a treasure, a pinko Yorick still wearing his lips. For that, let us be thankful.

December 28, 2009

Parasites beware

I can't recall a nicer public spectacle than the Senate just gave us, with health care "reform". A couple more of these -- let's say, one on little guy protections from financial toxic emissions, and another on Energy, Inc's carbon emissions -- oughta open wide the mass pwog cry for ending the 60-vote cloture requirement. Paul Krugman has already plunked for it. What a sad day for the center-aisle party that would be.

Of course I hear Father Smiff muttering darkly that "they'd just have to find ten Joe Liebermans instead of one. They wouldn't have any problem doing that."

I dunno. Call me a giddy optimist, but I'm prepared to expect some real reforms here, like the first term of Wilson or FDR or LBJ. The system does need to function a bit more smoothly here at home. Once the trans-nat titans fully grasp that it's either a better safety net or protectionism, they'll opt for a better safety net.

Ah, you ask, what reason do they have to believe that the choice is ineluctable?

Good point. It wasn't, for years -- hence the splendid de-industrialization process for the last three deacdes, even as the safety net languished.

However, the consequences of the long industrial demolishing from the mid-90's till now has reached the point where signifigant further wage structure disintegration is not possible -- nothing more remains to be destroyed that can be destroyed... safely. Even with the invention of modern usury there is a limit to squeezing, and the social fabric mustn't rip apart at it's class seams either, eh?

Now protectionism is the jobs policy that avoids fiscal deficits. But protectionism ruins the trans-oceanic profit slurry.

What is to be done?

The current stagnation is only a stopgap -- the wide-open trade story always had a side story. Winners must compensate losers; hence the safety net.

But safety net enhancements cost money, big money.

Example: for years the corporations as a whole have wanted out from the defined benefit biz, including of course sponsoring health plans.

Obviously only uncle can set up this transition, and it will require mobilizing resources. Who from?

Well, the corporates aren't about to pay more themselves. So who else has benefited from the trans-nat racket?

We've had a dynamic in our national tax systems for decades that has very effectively shifted most of the cost of uncle/state gub programs to job-class strata through payroll and consumption taxes, plus of course federal borrowing with its attendent carrying costs.

That is, of course the essence of an ideal safety net, from the trans-nat corporate POV: the job class pays for all the trade-induced losses themselves, while the corporates pocket the gains.

This trick isn't working so well any more, since the job class is pretty well tapped out.

So the trans-nats need to go after somebody who's actually made out a bit in the globalization process.

Hmmm. How about a big chunk of the top 10%, that directly and indirectly gained from the de-industrial scam -- the fuckin' self-righteous corporate parasites, both professionals and rentiers?

Yup, now the petty rentiers must be tapped, too, if the safety net is to grow; and just as obviously, if you need to tax merit-class rent-heavy "earned" incomes and portfolio liberals, you need to promote the dems to top dog party status.

Nice, eh? Put 'em in power so they can tax themselves.

A modest proposal

Ground 'em. Let's face it, the terr'rists have won. They've made us so crazy we're looking at electronic strip searches, nothing in your lap on the airplane, frisking babies, probing adults' crotches with a determined groping inquisitive hand. And then of course there's the dire peril of that handy receptacle, the rectum -- what the media have been coyly referring to as "inside the body". Though come to think of it, I guess you could swallow a device too. What's the next step -- emetics and enemas at the security gate? Passengers handcuffed naked to their seats during flight, taken in cohorts to the crapper, and monitored to make sure they actually do some harmless business there? No pee, no fly!

Quem Deus perdere vult, prius dementat -- whom God would destroy he first makes mad. What the Detroit incident shows is that there is no limit to human ingenuity, and that the advantage lies with the offense. It shows that all this mad theater of security -- taking your shoes off, leaving your shampoo at home -- just doesn't work. And so, since we are crazy people, our natural response is to do more of what doesn't work -- which is about as tidy and compact a definition of mental illness as you could devise.

So: if you really want to confound the terr'rists, ground the civil aviation fleet.

Oh, I know. Dream on, dream on. It's probably unreasonable even to ask people to stop flying. But on the other hand, we could easily decide to fly a lot less. Just Say No, as Nancy Reagan advised us -- vow that you'll fly no more than once a year, let's say. If a good number of us signed that pledge, the airlines would be bankrupt in no time -- their margins are already so thin it takes an electron microscope to see 'em.

And of course, when you do go to the airport for your annual visit, stop traffic®. Hold up the line by any means you can. Bring crazy stuff in your carryons. Have a dildo up your ass, and take it out after the pat-down -- "Oh! Sorry! You probably want to inspect this, don't you?" -- or a strapon strapped on, if the dildo is a little too Leninist for you. Take ten minutes untying your shoes. Forget your boarding pass, so you have to go back for it. Make a distracting scene -- moan orgasmically, for example, when you get patted down: "Oh! Secure me! Secure me! Oh! Thank you, thank you, Officer!"

* * * * *

Needless to say, Obie rose -- or rather sank -- to the occasion:
This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland.... We ... will examine all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel. We need to determine just how the suspect was able to bring dangerous explosives aboard an aircraft and what additional [emphasis mine -- MJS] steps we can take to thwart future attacks.

Third, I've directed my national security team to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country.... [T]he United States will more -- do more than simply strengthen our defenses. We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia....

Somalia? Christ, when did Somalia get on the ever-expanding hit list? It was only yesterday the guy was threatening Sudan. Did he just get confused? Did anybody even notice? Towelheads, towelheads, who can tell 'em apart.
Those plotting against us seek not only to undermine our security, but also the open society and the values that we cherish as Americans.... That's who we are as Americans; that's what our brave men and women in uniform are standing up for as they spend the holidays in harm's way.
Open society? If we ever had one, it's long gone. And the "values we cherish as Americans" are apparently the surveillance camera and the strip search.

Oh and the sentimentality about the soldier boys, and particularly that phrase "in harm's way" -- there you have the absolute sure and certain sign of severe brain rot: the cliche machine has taken over this formerly intelligent and well-spoken person's synapses and made them its own.

December 31, 2009

Power and Personal Choice

Succinct and well said:

Deciding how you want to analyze the choice-making situations people find themselves in is something that’s up to each of us who is lucky enough to have access to the questions and information it takes to weigh that question.

Personally speaking, I tend to think it’s a good idea to refrain from blaming the commoners until the commoners have something like freedom of choice and a set of robust alternatives. To my eye, we have nothing like that in the USA. I hate capitalism as much as just about anybody, but find myself going to the store and the mall in order to survive and maintain my social life and sanity. Moving to the woods and living by hunting and gathering is not something I’m prepared to do unless absolutely necessary. I prefer to try to save the good parts of large-scale, technologically-dynamic society by wresting their fundamentals away from our overclass. To fight that fight, I find I need to keep living inside the system.

And, generally speaking, which is worse: To buy heroin, or to deal it? I don’t think it’s much of an issue. So I wonder why so many on the left continue to blame ordinary people for the sins of the pushers, especially when the pushing done by our corporate masters is far more devious and far more intentional than 99 percent of drug dealing…

Lifted from the fine blog of Michael Dawson.

About December 2009

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

November 2009 is the previous archive.

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