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March 2008 Archives

March 2, 2008

Obamania takes a quantum leap?

Very scary. The Fasc-O-Meter twitches into the red zone:

The incantatory repetition of the Great Leader's name. The waggling, pointing Uncle- Sam- Wants- You fingers. And all those nice-looking young people with appealing cheekbones, intense but not un-cool -- that's the worst. That's the authentic Riefenstahl touch.

Maybe Hillary's not so bad after all. At least, nobody would ever call her cool -- and even better, nobody really believes in her. I'm starting to get a bad feeling that people really do believe in Obama, which is just about the direst of dire news.

March 4, 2008

Daughter of darkness and old Night

Obviously, an inconclusive result in today's Texas-Ohio two-ring grapple will be a victory for my beloved evil beauty Eris.

Extra treat for Owen -- any continuation of the Dembos' identity-pol clusterfuck bodes well for my boy Hanoi Johnny and his TR special: the red white and blue Kulturkampf rough-rider GWOT express.

Circus Maximus

A chap on one my my mailing lists, who shall remain anonymous here but has in the past enjoyed a certain reputation in the left-wing blogosphere, writes as follows:
... the choice IS between BHO and HRC, so comparisons are in order. I have said that on paper there is not a ton of difference. From the standpoint of behavior, however, with WJC/HRC we have a rich record of betrayal. BHO at least deserves a chance to betray us.
Surely he's being humorous, you say? Alas, I fear not. This post is the latest in a long series arguing that 'Bama vs. Mama matters.

March 5, 2008

Making Hay

My choice for Secretary of State in the next and last Oyster Bay Roosevelt administration.

Eat your heart out, Mistah Hay.

No more nights of the iguana

May I belatedly note the passing of a harmless long-tongued reptile of the Right?

Bye bye, Billy boy, your latency-era langor will be missed.

Even as I type this, Bill's probably down there on Inferno circle N, happy at last in the manly embrace of T S Eliot.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a... butterfly

A correspondent writes, about Obamania:
... why do people get so preposterously excited about him?
This one, I think, we can answer:

1) He's not a Boomer. Young people in particular are thoroughly sick of my generation -- Hillary being a very good example of why -- and Barack escaped by a year or two that dismal demographic ghetto.

2) He's a much better entertainer than the competition. That is, he has the knack of appearing natural, comfortable, and spontaneous under the bright lights. Hillary, by contrast, can't help looking as covertly frantic as a scorpion surprised in the act of creeping into your shoe.

3) He's new. We haven't seen him, and seen him, and seen him until we're sick of the sight of him.

4) Most important: He has been able to situate himself as a "floating signifier" -- a sign that can mean whatever you want it to mean, a clean, pristine vessel that you can fill with whatever significance you choose.

Quite literally: What's not to like? This is, alas, a question very easy to answer in the case of Hillary.

La vida loca

Hugo vs Uribe is getting more serious.

As we watch the post-texas two-step identity-pol cluster-fluster, maybe uncle's pawn is preparing a crisis.

Uribe's official death squadristi crossed the Ecuadorian border this past Saturday after FARC, and lo and behold, 'discovered':

"computer documents recovered in Saturday's cross-border raid [which] revealed that Chavez had given more than $300 million to the FARC, the Marxist insurgency that has battled the Colombian government for more than 40 years.... Uribe announced that he will ask the International Criminal Court to bring genocide charges against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, whom he has accused of sympathizing with the rebel group."

Raul Reyes, FARC commandante, is now dead. The raid seems to have been a doublecross as well as a border-cross. Washpost graph:

"The FARC released a statement Tuesday saying that Reyes was killed while trying to arrange -- through Chavez -- a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss the possible release of Betancourt, who is said to be ill. Correa contended during his televised address that Colombia's attack disrupted late-stage discussions to release 12 hostages."

March 6, 2008

The un-un-Cola

Now that Ma Scorpion has gotten a new lease on life from Ohio and Texas, maybe it's behind the curve to keep talking about Obamania. Still, the phenomenon interests me, on a purely intellectual level.

I've had a few conversations with Obama supporters. These folks are not, admittedly, the perfervid young True Believers depicted in will.i.am's You-Tube videos -- more like grizzled old liberals still hoping, hoping, for a break in the weather, a break that hasn't come since the '40s and certainly doesn't appear to be imminent.

What these folks always end up saying is something like this: Well, he's better than Hillary, isn't he?

Of course they're right. It would be hard to be worse. But note that we now have a recursion of lesser-evillism. We vote for the Democrats because they're "not as bad" as the Republicans -- and among Democrats, we support Obama because he's "not as bad" as Hillary. The Democrats are the un-Republicans, and Barak is the un-Hillary -- a double-Un!

There's a nightmarish Achilles-and-the-tortoise quality to this reasoning -- the sort of vertiginous slide down through orders of magnitude that you get in fever dreams. How small could these distinctions get before quantum effects would begin to be felt? When Obama's necktie knot or cufflinks would seriously be cited as reasons for preferring him?

And at what point would people bail out? How far down the scale will they follow these successive splittings and re-splittings of the difference? How long can this game be kept going?

There's no obvious limit to it. People just don't see the absurdity in arguing for the lesser evil of the lesser evil -- what's the algebra for that? Is it (lesser)2 evil, or (lesser evil)2, and is the latter a polynomial of some kind?

Why not go on to the third or fourth or Nth power in this series? Once the second step has been taken, isn't it just a proof by mathematical induction that you're no longer allowed to get off the train?

Meanwhile of course the ascent in powers can easily be made compatible with a steady diminution in the actual, absolute range of difference. 1.252 is more than 1.00254. So our keepers can keep us busy and occupied with parsing and re-parsing more and more these increasingly tiny differences, until the cows come home -- or the chickens come home to roost.

Chickens! Chickens! Where the hell are those damn chickens? They haven't come home to roost in years.

March 7, 2008

Exit the glamor ghoul

A faithful correspondent passed this along:
Looks like Powers, like Pete Stark a few months ago, committed the unforgivable sin: an unveiled reference to reality.
LONDON - A Barack Obama adviser resigned Friday after calling rival Hillary Rodham Clinton "a monster."

Samantha Power, an unpaid foreign policy adviser and Harvard professor, announced her resignation in a statement provided by the Obama campaign in which she expressed "deep regret."

"Last Monday, I made inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor, and purpose of the Obama campaign," she said. "And I extend my deepest apologies to Senator Clinton, Senator Obama and the remarkable team I have worked with over these long 14 months."

Somehow, though, I doubt that we've seen the last of her.

I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam -- so far

Glory be to Hanoi Johnny -- okay, so up there on the old porthole the other night, ass-kissing his base, he looked more like Poopdeck Pappy than TR -- time, a tan, and maybe a Brazilian tuneup, could do wonders.

Vintage Krug

Paul Krugman has been on this for months now.

Like Horton, Paul hears a Who -- a who of a difference, that is, between the identity twins, and it's right there on his beat: economic policy.

Paul thinks Ma Scorpion "has a clear plan for the country's problems," and Obie don't have but sweet swamp gas.

And who on the lunch-pail front has the real feel? Not Obama: according to Paul, his "attempt to win over workers by portraying himself as a fierce critic of Nafta looked, and was, deeply insincere."

Paul sees the Michigan/Florida revote as the solution to any sour-loser fallout. To me, it's simple: if Obama gets iced -- in the political, not the literal sense, of course -- some of his folks might actually bolt; while Hill's millions will, after a quick mind-douche, slither, every man- and woman-jack of 'em, right back under the tent.

The Oh shit! moment

I'm hardly the first to note this, but New York Fed chair Timothy Geithner -- a geeter with a hand directly on the heater, so to speak -- just shit his pants in public.

Telltale smelly excerpt:

"The U.S. economic and financial system is undergoing a very challenging period of adjustment and we are likely to be living with a high degree of uncertainty for some period of time about the ultimate magnitude and duration of the slowdown underway"
A very challenging period of adjustment -- that's as close as a central banker gets to "fire in the hole!"

March 9, 2008

Demonstrating with the stars

Oh, hot damn' diggety; here's the usual suspects, back again to waste our time:


-- Code Pink, Democratic Party front group, starring Medea "Media" Benjamin, the Britney Spears of the anti-war "movement" (oops, she did it again);

-- IVAW, starring Adam Kokesh and his sprayed-on t-shirt, and George Clooney of the anti-war "movement" (sigh, swoon, palpitate);

-- Hip-Hop Caucus, starring Lennox "Whip Me, Beat Me, Cripple Me" Yearwood, achievers of absolutely nothing that I can recall;

-- ANSWER, who coulda' been a contendahh (cue the Volga Boatman);

... and, of course, the inimitable After Downing Street (jeezus, give it up, the "election" is less than a year away, already, thank Dog);

-- PLUS a cast of dozens! Be still, my heart.

Oh, how I can hardly wait for this retitled, repackaged, same old shit in a different bag -- yet another round of trudging up to Crapitol Hill to beseech a bunch of bloody oligarchs to act against their own best interests, and one...more...time, be threatened with arrest, roughed up and bum's-rushed out of the goddamn' place. Check out their lame-assed "Mission Statement" (god, how I hate "Mission Statements") at www.stop-losscongress.org:

We believe that the time has passed to ask or petition or beg Congress to act under the will of the people. We believe that Congress works for US, and that the time has come to TELL them what they must do. It is time to stop the corrupt and murderous business as usual in the Senate and House of Representatives.

We will participate in non violent direct actions that will deliver our official orders to Congress, and confront them peacefully if they refuse to comply. When we model this behavior to the citizens of the USA, and the world, we hope to inspire them to take similar actions, and take back control of Congress and the Government that is ours...

Lemme get this straight: They say the time has passed to ask, petition or beg Congress, so what are they going to do next week? Why, they're going to ask, petition and beg.

Remember that old joke about how nobody's life and liberty are safe while Congress is in session? Well, it's not a goddamn' joke anymore. If you ask me, you should just let the motherfuckers leave town so that we can enjoy whatever shreds of liberty and dignity we have left until they come back.

Shocked, shocked

Unlike the New York Times, Reuters is seldom a source of unintended humor. Still, it happens:
Clintons push a Hillary/Obama ticket

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary and Bill Clinton are again teaming up on Barack Obama -- this time saying the first-term U.S. lawmaker, whom they have derided as inexperienced, would be a strong running mate on a Democratic presidential ticket headed by the former first lady....

"The Clintons are in a difficult position," said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Iowa....

"If she wins the Democratic presidential nomination, she would need Obama's supporters. But she needs to be careful. If this talk of him on the ticket is seen as a cynical maneuver, it could backfire and hurt her," Goldford said.

Hillary? Cynical? Who knew?

It's surely safe to say that anybody who might still be willing to vote for Hillary, under any circumstances whatsoever, must have a fairly strong stomach for cynicism.

March 10, 2008

Spitzer, spritzer

What infinite delight -- one of my least-favorite New York Democrats, former prosecutor and merit-class megalomaniac Gov. Eliot Spitzer, appears to have been caught with his hand in the, erm, cookie jar, making a date with a hooker for a hotel assignation in DC -- drolly enough, on the eve of St Valentine's Day.

There is so much to like in this story it's hard to know where to start. For one thing, it's yet another data point for one of Smith's (many) Laws Of Life, to wit, scratch a prosecutor, find a perv. People don't become prosecutors unless they're overcompensating for something that makes them feel dirty and ashamed, in a way that they just can't live with.

Spitzer's fairly unremarkable dalliances with top-drawer professional sack artists wouldn't seem so very dirty to a normal person, of course, if it weren't for the hysterical hand-washing hyper-cleanliness that the guy has always projected. His toilet training must have been something right out of Bergen-Belsen.

Then of course nobody would have investigated him or gotten the goods on him or revealed them if they had, were it not for his having made so many people really mad at him with that holy-Joe act of his. Chalk this one up to Joe Bruno and the Washington strings he knows how to pull.

But the best part, really, is his Act of Contrition. Usually these boil down to a two-part proposition: 1) I'm a bad, dirty person; 2) But please don't stop loving me!

Now there's a lot to be said for taking this double stance from time to time. Confession, they say -- and they say rightly -- is good for the soul. Dirt is the tie that binds. Acknowledge it. Join the rest of the dirty human race.

And it's good to ask for continued love, recognizing right out that it's undeserved -- good to stop expecting it, or demanding it as of right. It's good to acknowledge that love is more even than a gift; it's an act of grace.

Eliot, however, just couldn't make a good A of C. He doesn't have it in him, either the realism and resilience to understand that he's just a dirty guy, like the rest of us, or the childlike hopeful capacity to imagine that love undeserved might yet be granted.

Here's his preachy, truculent, stiff-necked version, an Act of Uncontrition contrived to show just how good, how un-dirty, how deserving, he really is:

I have acted in a way that violated the obligations to my family and that violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong. I apologize first, and most importantly, to my family. I apologize to the public, to whom I promised better.... I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard that I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family. I will not be taking questions.... I will report back to you in short order.
Man! The guy just can't help telling us what to think and feel, even when he's supposed to be wearing the hairshirt and beating his breast. Consider that parenthetical "any". Here's a fella who just got caught paying for a BJ, laying down the law about what "any" sense of right and wrong ought to contain. So those of you who think it's perfectly OK to pay for a BJ -- consider yourselves knuckle-rapped by Sister Eliot. Maculate she may be, but her ruler is still poised like a comet.

Then he importantly informs us that he has "failed to live up to the standards I expected of myself" -- as if anybody gave a hoot in hell what he expected of himself. Whatever it was, we collectively expected a lot less -- and probably would have been happier with a less close approximation than what we got.

And of course he's going to "regain the trust of his family." What a fool. He may well retain the love of his family; he may even obtain their forgiveness, God knows how; but he will never "regain" their trust. And why should he? Is he not a miserable unreliable untrustworthy frail human sinner, like the rest of us?

But the best part: he'll "report back." Breathtaking. I don't know about you, but I do not want to see his "report". Paid BJs: down 99%. Uncompensated BJs, marital: up 10%. Uncompensated BJs, non-marital: No change.

Do we care about his improvement? Who does he think we are, the editors of the Harvard Law Review? Does he think he can change his opinion of us? He can't. We'll always think of him as that poor schlub purchasing the over-emphatic moans of a top-drawer sex worker -- a person, in fact, who is to the BJ what Eliot is to the LSAT.

Personally, I'll take the BJ virtuoso over the LSAT virtuoso, any day of the week.

March 11, 2008

The vulture circles

Few would have dared forsee this three months ago, and even now most seem not to want to let it register. But no matter what, there's gonna be a mighty bad collision between the Dembo's two identity pol dolls -- and Hanoi Johnny will be the sole beneficiary.

Try as they may, not even the sharpest beltway cynics and opportunists, working 24/7 from now to the convention in august, will find some advanced yoga position to put these two into and convince both their bases it's a win.

Black man, white woman, one must fail -- this has legs, and arms and mouths, mouths that will cry foul till November, when their champion is "dumped" by the party's Mr Insider types. Dumped, did I say? No, robbed! Stabbed in the back!

So its beginning to look mighty good for the Poopdeck Pappy express, that is, unless... unless... at the last moment, an aged, bloated, improbable-looking toreador enters the arena, and with lumbering gait offers himself to the weebles -- oh no, not him -- not the party's Uncle Fester -- not... Al Gore!


Noting the obvious -- amazing how seldom people bother to do that:

At left is Andy Stern, prez of the Service Employees International Union, and he's a menace to America's entire underpaid wage force.

Despite his multimillion-dollar self-promotion campaign, everyone inside the labor movement knows Mr Purple Wave -- even on his best day of the month -- is an egomaniac and slippery power freak.

And summed up as a wage-class leader -- well, ask Sal Rosselli, president of United Healthcare Workers West, a 65-000-member, California-dreamin' chunk of Stern's outfit:

"If SEIU goes in the direction that Stern is currently leading it, it will become a business union movement, a service-type organization, as opposed to where were coming from. We want to build a real movement of workers, a real social movement union, for workers, by workers, where workers are encouraged and trained to be decision-making leaders."
More: http://labornotes.org/node/1547

So is Sal fightin' back? You bet. First he resigned from Andy's national "executive committee," and now "meetings of rank-and-file leaders... are starting to happen." At the union's national convention this May, Rosselli plans on "checking the authority of the president with member democracy."

March 12, 2008


Mr Y -- my man at the bottom of Foggy Bottom's great-game pile -- now sends me e-mails from time to time. His half-drunk late-night phone calls seem to be a thing of the past. Perhaps he has a girlfriend. Here's his latest:





Very funny, Y. I clicked over to China Matters:


... a great site for sideliners like me interested in great-game antics -- kung fu division. They give us the gist:


Apparently what got Y excited was a think piece by one Tian Wenlin of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. Comrade Tian, it seems, wants to be the admiral Mahan of Han chauvinism:

"Looking at the four conflicts [First Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq War], the bigger the discrepancy between US and opposing forces, the easier it is to provoke an American desire to attack -- Saddam Hussein voluntarily destroyed his weapons of mass destruction, thereby allowing America to attack without worry. In the opposite example, North Korea -- "
China Matters remarks:
"China's rising paranoiacs will find a goodly amount to chew on in Tian's conclusion that military strength -- specifically, naval strength and aircraft carriers, lots of them! -- are necessary to secure China's economic progress."
There's a nice by-the-way quote from Iran's prez Ahmadinejad:
"If this question [nuke building] is resolved, the United States would bring up human rights. If human rights were resolved, they'd bring up animal rights."

Here's the beef

If Obie wants to scotch all this talk about him for Ma Scorpion's veep, then he oughta name his own running mate right now. My idea of the perfect candidate for him: "Out Now" t-shirt commando Adam Kokesh, the self-christened "revolutionary patriot".

All those slightly long-in-the-tooth white gals who form Hillary's core cadre will drop her in a heartbeat, once this Chippendale's on the ticket.


March 13, 2008

The smart money

This is the face of the credit crisis in action: David M. Rubenstein co-founder of The Carlyle Group, private equity personified and prolly still making it at both ends.


Well, read here how he's dumping his stale leverage play on mortgaged-backed securities. The downward cascade proceeds apace. Basics of all these fandangos:

"The fund was set up in August 2006 with roughly $670 million in cash from Carlyle's owners and other investors, and about $300 million in additional capital raised from a public stock sale. The capital allowed the fund to go to banks and borrow far more, leveraging its cash investment some 20 times into the portfolio."
I.e., they bought $20 billion in securities, with only one bil of their own money in the pot. Now comes the drop and the margin call:
"As the market value of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities has dropped, Carlyle Capital's lenders asked it to increase its cash equity from what was 1 percent to as much as 5 percent"
Their answer:
"In a statement, Carlyle Capital said that it had been unable to meet margin calls in excess of $400 million over the past week and that it expected its lenders to take control of its remaining assets."
Now for the dump, aka "let's all join the cascade":
"The lenders, headed by Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan Chase, began selling the securities last night..."

Control freak

Quote for the day:


It's from that long-sighted Crane Brinton disciple, Sara Robinson:

"Progressives will not be able to implement our vision of the future until we're able to supplant the conservative worldview with our own. We won't win until we take control of the discourse, offer Americans new ways to make meaning and evaluate and prioritize events, and get them to abandon conservative assumptions about how reality works."
Nice, huh? Sara wants to "control the discourse" -- which, of course, for her, implies controlling reality. Awfully logocentric, these pwogs.

And remarkably candid about this intent to "control", come to think of it.

Habt acht vor dem nächtlichen Heer!

I was delighted by the site Owen recently sent us to:


... namely, Sara Robinson's ruminations on how pwoggies ought to emulate what she calls "conservatives":

... more and more of us are becoming aware of the ways that conservatives have quietly moved in to take over almost every public and private institution in America. From churches to university faculties to public broadcasting to the Boy Scouts, the vast network of institutions that once taught people how to live in a liberal democracy and reinforced those values across society has been shredded to the point where it no longer functions. In its place is a new network of institutions -- some of them operating within the co-opted shells of the old ones, others brand new -- that reinforce the conservative worldview at every turn.
What caught my eye about this was its wistful picture of benign "institutions" -- one imagines thick stone walls, heavy oaken gates, and of course sleepless high-minded liberal gatekeepers to tend them.

Within the walls is light and comfort. The peasants sing their simple lullabyes, enjoying the fruits of "liberal democracy" without ever having heard the phrase or knowing what it means, and certainly without acknowledging or understanding their debt to the gatekeepers.

But it's too good to last. Do the gatekeepers get tired? Or are they just too few, or their burden too great? By ones and twos, and then by scores and centuries, dark loathesome orc-like figures -- conservatives! -- creep in the shadows over the battlements and ultimately "take over" the institutions that Sara admires so much.

The core image here is one of dispossession. We pwoggies used to control the institutions, but then somehow those crafty conservatives stole a march on us, scaled the institutional wall, and "took over". How exactly did that happen? They must be fiendishly smart!

The element that's missing in this picture is what Anthony Trollope would have called the "Castle influence". Up there in the Castle, what is Lord Gormenghast doing? Does he play no role in this little drama?

Is it not possible that he wants the conservatives to take over? Perhaps... he has even paid them to scale the walls! Provided them with the ladders! And slipped the liberals a Mickey, on the crucial night, in the dark of the moon.

Forty years or so ago -- back in the reign of old Lord Gormenghast, who sleeps now in the halls of his fathers -- the peasants got a little restless. They stopped singing their lullabyes and went out into the streets and stopped traffic. Old Lord Gormenghast was alarmed. His counselors at the time, a crafty and subtle crew, spoke with one voice: "Summon the liberals! Let them devise... programs! Let them reform our institutions -- from churches to the Boy Scouts!"

It worked. It smelt like progress, and the peasants went back to their lullabyes. Then when the Castle decided the crisis had passed, and it was time to restore the status quo, the peasants looked at the liberals who were now managing the retrenchment -- and they blamed the liberals. And Lord Gormenghast, who never liked the liberals all that much anyway, was well pleased, and gave a well-received speech from the Castle battlements, admonishing the liberals for their failures.

I know, I know. Parables, when they go on too long, become tedious. So let's say it explicitly, if a little abstractly, and less picturesquely:

Sara's picture is one of institutions that are, you might say, ontologically prior to politics. The walls and gates have, as it were, existed from of old -- the work of Weland or nameless ettins from the dark backward and abysm of time. Somehow these perdurable "institutions" got "taken over" -- and so Sara's job is to take 'em back, naturally.

Sara has got it backwards. Politics are ontologically prior to institutions -- though Sara, with her liberal institution-worship, will almost certainly never be able to understand that fact, and indeed will resist the insight, I bet, to her dying day.

Sara's wistful hope is to do what the orcs did: scale the walls, slip over the battlements, re-take the "institutions". But she has, alas, forgotten about the Castle, or never understood it -- perhaps never wanted to understand it.

So when she gets at length to the top of her ladder, we can depend upon it that there will be an Orc to meet her, with an ax to chop off her aspiring head.

Not a minute too soon. I'm with the Orc on this one.

Attackin' the Church

One has to feel a certain sympathy for Barack Obama. He fights clear of his supposed Muslim antecedents -- and then guess what, his Christianity turns out to be a problem:


The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor for the last 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's south side, has a long history of what even Obama's campaign aides concede is "inflammatory rhetoric," including the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own "terrorism."

[In a sermon Pastor Wright says] "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," he said in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

In addition to damning America, he told his congregation on the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001 that the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism.

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.

If I were still living in Chicago, I think I might start going to Pastor Wright's church.

What do you wanna bet that Obama stops going there?

March 17, 2008

Clash of civilizations

The always-witty Doug Henwood passed along this item, under the title "Hillary locks up the senior vote":
March 17, 2008

Contact: Press Office, 703-875-1271

UPDATED: Sir Elton John To Perform at Clinton Fundraiser on April 9th

Legendary artist Sir Elton John will perform at a solo concert on behalf of Hillary Clinton's campaign on April 9, 2008 at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The event, called "Elton and Hillary: One Night Only," is Elton John's first public solo concert in New York City without his band since his solo concert at Madison Square Garden in October 2000.

Baby got back

I've fumed here before about the persistent Pwoggie tic about "taking back" America -- as if we ever had it. But as all the world knows, this notion, chimerical as it is, is the core concept of an eponymous annual "Take Back America" pwoggie conference, and in fact the 2008 installment is currently ongoing.

Among the delights that paid-up attendees will be getting is a personal presentation on the sexy subject of "A Responsible Plan To End The War In Iraq." Gotta love the "responsible" part -- as if Luther had flinched at the last minute, while nailing his theses to the church door, and smashed his thumb instead of the nailhead.

This "responsible" plan emerges over the names of several Congressional aspirants -- people who would dearly like to become responsible for the war in Iraq -- bolstered by those obligatory legitimators of the electoral pwog, a general or two.

The Plan makes mighty dull reading, but here is what I take to be the crux of it. We need to

...Create the capacity for nation-building and the use of diplomatic power by both the United States and the international community...

President Bush ran for election in 2000 saying, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation building.” But by late 2005, the Pentagon had issued a directive declaring nation-building to be a “core U.S. military mission.” And although the Pentagon had asked the State Department to provide expertise and people, the State Department has indicated they don’t have the capacity or the staffing to do so.

“I’d rather have more members of the State Department on the field than soldiers on the field.” --General John Abizaid (ret.)
Former Commander, United States Central Command
October 2007
The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) currently operating in Iraq are a good start, but are too small in scope and structure to create the transformation that is required. We propose the expanded use of non-military personnel working at the grassroots level to strengthen the capacity of towns and villages to resist the insurgency on their own, as well as an internationalization of the effort. The end goal should be the creation of a network of local PRTs reaching the entirety of the Iraqi population, thus addressing the medical, agricultural, educational, and commercial needs of the population served.
In other words, run the Empire with social workers instead of machine guns.

Do they really think that this is possible? I bet they do. I bet they go into office next winter fervently believing that the circle can be squared in some such fashion. I bet it takes them a good six months or so to acknowledge, sadder but much, much wiser, that the natives have proven unworthy of their trust, and it turns out the machine guns are necessary after all. But these are Pwogs, and Democrats, so you can be sure the weaponry will be deployed in a more measured, judicious, smart way -- a la Kosovo. Or Vietnam.

The mugged-by-reality pwogs will look back on their younger, idealistic, out-of-office days with an indulgent, retrospective glow; and at the same time, their earlier good intentions will strangely radiate forward and shed a gentle forgiving luster on the ensanguinated jowls and dripping fangs of once-well-intentioned managers of empire, junior division.

March 19, 2008


We've all heard or watched or read candidate 'Bama draw the race line in the sand for "all of us Americans".

His speech in Philly yesterday was a clear enough statement of the obvious to be a rarity among polspeak productions, and so commendable, if not remarkable.

Barack has a talent for plain smooth decent conveyance, and I think he has shown a quality of mercy and understanding worth admiring. And yet -- to me his performance, straight ahead as it was, never escapes for long the quality of an awards speech.

If a majority of America's middle Americans come to accept what this man serves up to them as white house fare then it will obviously and precisely reflect the palatable taste of his words.

He is -- to put it simply -- no kinda Jeremiah at all, not even the battered-about, traduced facsimile of the great Hebrew prophet who preached an angry demotic truth his way, a few Sundays past, and married him to his wif

Public servitude

Maybe Harvard Law is feeling a little chastened by the disgrace of their prize alum, Eliot Spitzer. Or perhaps the bottom is starting to drop out of the lawyer biz, the way it did out of the doctor biz a few years ago. Not a minute too soon, if so. At any rate, the Johns have a new marketing strategy:
Harvard Law, Hoping Students Will Consider Public Service, Offers Tuition Break

Concerned by the low numbers of law students choosing careers in public service, Harvard Law School plans to waive tuition for third-year students who pledge to spend five years working either for nonprofit organizations or the government.

The program, to be announced Tuesday, would save students more than $40,000 in tuition...

For years, prosecutors, public defenders and lawyers in traditionally low-paying areas of the law have argued that financial pressures were pushing graduates toward corporate law and away from the kind of careers that they would pursue in the absence of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.

“The debt loads that people are coming out of law schools with are now in six figures,” said Joshua Marquis, the... vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. “When the debt load is that great, I have had a lot of applicants who’ve said, ‘I’d like to take the job, but I really can’t afford it.’ ”

Perhaps worse, Mr. Marquis said, some indebted young lawyers who choose to try to survive on a low salary as a junior prosecutor may decide to leave to earn more just as they gain enough experience to handle more important cases.

So let me get this straight -- Harvard is going to pay its bright young sparks to spend five years putting yet more people in jail. This in a country whose incarceration rates currently lead the world, if I recall correctly.

I wonder -- is it possible that this is just some high-minded muffled pretext for a Filene's Basement discount price on a Harvard Law education? Has this priceless sheepskin started to lose its luster?

O how I hope so. Here's my advice to all you young people out there: avoid the Harvard anointment as you would avoid buying a house, and for the same reason -- the bubble may just have burst. You don't want to end up with negative equity, and the sliding price says Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

And whatever you do, stay out of "public service". You don't need the public, and man, they don't need you.

March 20, 2008

Backwash of the unwashed

The ever playful Bat Delacourte got me to tingling with his lithesome caption in search of a picture: "a hyperactive egghead making up rules in smirking bad faith."

Now, here's the picture:

It's Harvard's own Greg Mankiw, of course.

I love this guy. He's pure imp, all the way down to his corn-yellow toenails.

If his much-overrun blog site could but issue him a single blowback blast -- hit him with all the furry den-like contexts hunched over his latest posting out there on the other sides -- the countless far sides of his screen linkers -- I bet the clever twit would lose that smug grin. He'd reek of ten thousand stale armpits and... and... and suffer a vicious spattering of dried snot flecks.

But alas we are left to only imagine the random tics and off-gassings of his crossmarching orc-nerd army, as it feasts its zillion slimy eyes on his presto-chango venality.

Lighting out for the Territory

We run three long-term detention systems here in America.

The prison system, openly so called, as we all know is booming. But one of the other two is not cooking up much except its own books.

Seems our Dewey or don't-we school system is actually running much higher escape rates than previously acknowleged. Somewhere around 30% to 40% of inmates drop out of each cohort prior to serving their full 12 year stretch.

Bravo. Let's shoot for half free by 16.

And the third detention system? 'Ceptin vampires of course, it seems to be holding its own -- R.I.P. brothers and sisters.

Closure = foreclosure

Just got this bit of handwringing in the email:

Date: Thu, 20 Mar 2008 03:00:37 -0400
From: Stop Foreclosures and Evictions 
Reply-To: stopforeclosures@safewebmail.com
Subject: Nat'l Protest on Foreclosures
To: flugennock 

The Ad Hoc National Network to Stop Foreclosures & ,Evictions

Bailout people before banks! 
You'd think these people would've read that LA Times article about how the banks are crapping themselves because the social stigma's disappearing from foreclosures. More and more people have gone into it, and decided it's actually in their best interest to go into foreclosure because you basically get to live in the house free for a year and save up some cash while the proceedings grind on... and, because it stiffs the banks, deliberately letting your house go into foreclosure might actually be a new and innovative form of civil disobedience...

...not to mention the fact that I'm having a really hard time summoning up any sympathy for all these people who signed onto the ARMs so they could have the cushy McMansion with the cathedral ceiling in the living room and the granite countertops in the kitchen.

The other day, when I accidentally saw ten minutes of CNN, they were running a profile of a two-earner couple who are now living at a public campsite after losing their big cushy house, featuring the wife wistfully talking about the granite countertops, and whining about how the bank hustled her and her husband into signing onto the ARM and how they were "lied to" by the bank.

Seems like the only time CNN and the like try to show any sympathy for "homeowners", it's these lily-white couples who went for the bamboozle because they somehow thought they were entitled to the big cushy pad. There's little concern for the millions of people who'll never be able to afford the illusion of owning their own home...uh, that is, what we call "homeownership." These folk are lucky to even be able to afford rent on a decent apartment anywhere in this goddamn' country anymore.

The Hardboiled Crackpot

Look, I understand the knocks against Hillary Clinton, truly I do. There are no flaming arrows fired her way that I haven't seen traverse the air before, no bill of indictment drawn up containing charges with which I'm unfamiliar. Reciting her sins and liabilities has become a familiar refrain, but if it's the Gregorian chant you live by, if you find Hillary Clinton such an insupportable choice for the Democratic nomination that you prefer to suckle your pride and idealism rather than soil your conscience should she be at the top of the ticket, fine, have fun with that. But, please, I beg of thee, could you at least spare the rest of us your longwinded, preeny, pious dirges?


In fairness, the longwinded, preeny, pious dirge is exactly that. It's a miracle of pointless anguish and sanctimony. No one need dedicate thousands of words to a resolution to avoid ptomaine poisoning. It's almost, but not quite, relieved by a single, wistful, hopeful note:

If we cannot as Democrats learn to compete with one another without seeking to destroy our primary opponents for our own temporary advantage, we are no better than the Republicans whose leadership we seek to replace. And we may find that an increasing number of the American people will begin to agree with Ralph Nader that there is not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties.

I feel the pain of all involved, I really do.

Needless to say, these are refrains I too have heard before. Yea, even unto the flaming arrows traversing the Gregorians chanting out their bills of indictment. The Kos diarist's cri de couer is the usual empty, almost pitiable dithering. Going by the track record of such things, it's one last banal protest before knuckling under. There's little harm in it by itself. The fatuous oneupsmanship and inane, posturing pragmatism vented in herding him back into the fold him are another story. It's the way liberals bully each other into supporting hand-wringing, excuse-making, treacherous politicians. One liberal gets doubtful and loud about it. Along comes a vigilante snarker to discipline him. The only beneficiaries of this kick-the-dog exercise are careerist hacks who demonstrably have every intention of offering exactly one dime's worth of difference, no more, with the definition of the difference and the sum off which it's shaved left as a collegial courtesy for the Republicans. This reflexive, communal infantilization is the process liberals have used to badger each other into support of the deregulatory zeal of Jimmy Carter, straight through to the mercenary accommodationism of the Clinton claque and the Pelosi vichy, with no end in sight. When they're not eagerly letting their Republican enemies define them, they're using the same style of argument those enemies use, the same bullying sanctimony dressed up as pragmatism and they're doing it to each other. Any expression of conscience from one, however hedged and tepid, is sophomorically ridiculed by a parlor Nietzschean; derided as an effort to "suckle your pride and idealism". Lord have mercy! All the angry right wing nut faction of the elite has to do to hold power is avoid excessive public cannibalism.

The Bushists have packaged and handed the liberals the greatest electoral gift possible. The worst president ever has set fire to everything in sight and passed his mantle on to a loon. They should be able to run a cardboard cut-out, and still win.

Well, maybe not. They have a chance throw this one too, as well as what's left of the welfare state. They'll be crackpot realists to the bitter end, suckling the moral vanity of comic book pragmatism as they try to shoehorn something loathsome and anti-liberal into office.

March 22, 2008

Well hello, Dalai!

Mike Flugennock passed this along:


Pelosi Meets with Dalai Llama, Offers Support

US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi made one of the highest-ranking U.S. official visits ever to Dharamsala, India, the exile home of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Llama, today.

While standing next to the Dalai Llama, she denounced "China's oppression of people in Tibet." [....] This visit by 10 members of Congress... was planned long before the current protests in Tibet began.

But Pelosi said, "Little did we know, we would be coming at such a sad time. Perhaps it was our karma...."

Much to enjoy here. There's the ecumenical Pelosi talking to a Buddhist about "karma" -- all these little brown people and their strange religions, much of a muchness, y'know -- and then there's ABC news apparently believing that His Holiness is a South American camelid. There's the slight melodious ping! as Pelosi, like a pebble flung from little David's slingshot, bounces off the steel hull plates of the Chinese dreadnought.

I feel sorry for the Dalai Lama. Fourteen incarnations and he's come down to photo-ops with the likes of Pelosi. Next time around he may really be a llama, which would probably be an improvement.

Don't tase me, Ma

Is it just too late or can Ma Scorpion still destroy the Democratic Party we've known and cherished these last 28 years?

Bill Richardson, duke of the Chicano people seems to think not. Let's hope he's wrong.

I suspect her best chance is still what it was before Jeremiah -- keep up the 24/7 race ragging, and poll his ass off till the numbers start to show he's just plain 'unelectable'. Then step back, shake the old albino coconut, and blame his fall from grace on the bone-deep 'race hate' of Mr and Mrs Threewide. Hey, what can ya say -- the people have spoken.

And presto, the party goes to pieces.

March 23, 2008

SUCH a puzzle

Apropos coils of empire, this comes up in a fairly tepid, balanced civil-society perspective, by one Laura Carlsen, on recent developments in the noble FARC's grapple with uncle's death squad-nuanced "plan Colombia." Recalling the aftermath of the cross border double cross, Carlsen notes:
Inexplicably ignoring international law, neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton condemned the Colombian government's attack in a neighboring country. Clinton went so far as to scold Ecuador and Venezuela for "criticizing Colombia's actions in combating terrorist groups in the border region" and called for more pressure on Venezuela "to change course."
"Inexplicably"? Is this irony?

Ahhh, jackass Orthrians unite -- we have a global hegemon to figleaf -- but only till we get the White House back! Then watch us really feel the south world's pain.

The grizzled smiler in the middle of this scrum was the jefe smart-bombed by Uncle's proxied X double X.

Hark hark, the dogs do bark

Wanna hear the sound of two heads conflicting? Well, you better go elsewhere than the beltway kennel of our reliable Orthri.

"But Owen!" you cry, "Check out this right here in the New York Record (American)":

Split Is Forming Over Regulation of Wall Street

WASHINGTON — As Congress and the Bush administration struggle to contain the housing and credit crises — and prevent more Wall Street firms from collapsing as Bear Stearns did — a split is forming over how to strengthen oversight of financial institutions after decades of deregulation.

The two heads on one body are faced with a major decider type node: whither hi-fi private capital next? After the latest series of pratfalls, pancakings and looter hike-takings, what's the best of all possible paths ahead -- keeping in mind, of course, the Street's timeless quest -- a pilgrim's progress if you will -- toward the ever-retreating shining optimality in the sky, that always seems but one shrewd incentive, just, just one balance sheet entry away in the iron pot of alchemic golden perpetuity.

Orthrus' two heads -- it would appear -- "strongly disagree about whether, after decades of a freewheeling encouragement of exotic new services and new players like hedge funds, the pendulum should swing back to tighter control."

A real combat?

No no no -- a thousand times no.

The lords of Wall Street fully realize they need to produce another ritual mouthwashing and hot-tub scrub show, to quench ignorant but red-hot helot wrath.

This domestic partners' spat between the two heads is merely to make it look like the new universal reg harnessing about to be fashioned and applied will be forced upon the mightily resisting stubborn know-nothing bad ole boys of lower Manhattan, because it's so full of sharp bits and tight cinches that once on and under firm weeble rep guidance -- why, the cuffs'll never ever again traduce aunt rentier.

To get a notion of what's in store for us, I suggest we all reread some prog hip version of the life and fast times of Nelson Aldrich Carter Glass and the origin of the Fed.

March 25, 2008

None So Blind

It is astonishing how certain parts of the Left Blogosphere have simply taken their eye off the ball here. Preventing a McCain victory is literally a matter of life or death, if not for you and me then for a lot of innocent Iranians and probably for hundreds to thousands of American soldiers and marines.

I don't like Hillary's relative hawkishness, I am less than fond of Obama's weak stances on Social Security and Universal Coverage, but really life isn't just about me. Because please oh please can we avoid the trap the Left ALWAYS falls into, letting the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good, and demonstrating that by splintering the Party?

Yes substantial parts of the Democratic Party are too subservient to Corporatism, which doesn't validate Naderism, there is no doubt that a Bush 1 re-election would have had drastically worse outcomes than the half-loaf we got from Clinton, and 100% guarantee that eight years of President Gore would look better than what we got from Bush.


In the real world, there's no need to concede any part of that fantasy. Gore the senator out-hawked Bush I and Gore the vice president wanted more than the Iraq starvation program of Clinton I. His relative dovishness came after his defeat in 2000. His solution to global warming, the recognition of which is his most salient achievement, is spoiled by its already demonstrated, real world failures. Neither Clinton II nor Obama are willing to stop agitating against Iran and neither opposes funding the occupation of Iraq. Both are solidly in the trainwreck-to-bailout capitalism camp.

But for the sake of argument, and assuming keeping our eyes on the ball means electing Democrats, what has been accomplished by trying to do so?

The Reid Senate and the Pelosi House are dramatically more pro-Bush than any of their constituents, including the Republicans who crossed over to punish the administration for its misdeeds. John Kerry, running on a platform of better Bushism, managed to windsurf his way to defeat. The "safe state" and Nader-baiting strategies didn't help him. In 2002, the Democrats lost the Senate, and re-lost the House, with no Nader to blame. The muddled fatuity of a promising a better War on Terror won them no electoral love. The Gore/Lieberman ticket, representing the foreign policy hawk and aggressively neoliberal wing of the party, drove more votes to Bush in Florida than were won by Nader. Suckling the Progressive dolchstosslegende of that defeat might help Obama or Clinton this year, but the poor thing has not withstood the test of time. If one were inclined to learn from experience, the last four elections, each more important the preceding, have demonstrated the inefficacy of running to the right, bemoaning the silliness of the left as a goad and hoping that the Republicans will be too insane in comparison to be electable.

How often has any party succeeded by admitting to being a hopelessly unrealistic, feckless, disorganized version of their opponents? "We're worse than useless, sure, but look! Those guys are at least as bad and they have promised to eat their own children!" No wonder so many people don't vote. Right wing mediocrity is the enemy of the perfect, the good, the not so good and everything else.

March 26, 2008

More pwogggies succumb

Tom "gives opportunism a bad name"(*) Hayden, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher Jr and Danny Glover have issued a manifesto over at The Nation:
Progressives for Obama

All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama.... We believe that the movement today supporting Barack Obama continues [the] great tradition of grassroots participation.... We believe that Barack Obama's very biography reflects the positive potential of the globalization process.... We should instead be globalizing the values of equality, a living wage and environmental sustainability in the new world order.... By its very existence, the Obama campaign will stimulate a vision of globalization from below....

During past progressive peaks in our political history--the late thirties, the early sixties--social movements have provided the relentless pressure and innovative ideas that allowed centrist leaders to embrace visionary solutions. We find ourselves in just such a situation today.

... Even though it is candidate-centered, there is no doubt that the campaign is a social movement, one greater than the candidate himself ever imagined.

As argument, this ranges, of course, from the incoherent to the delusional. It's an admittedly "candidate-centered" campaign, but even so a "social movement". No evidence is offered for this latter claim -- probably because there isn't any. Globalization is a bad thing but could be a good thing if it were driven by different "values", which of course would happen if Obama were President. We "find ourselves today" in a situation like the Thirties or the Sixties. Huh? What have the Gang of Four been smoking? Where exactly are all these "grassroots social movements" ready to transmute Obama under tectonic heat and pressure into FDR? Have I been looking in the wrong places on YouTube?

The whole thing from start to finish is like this -- a wild oneiric slalom over vast moguls of baseless and contradictory assumption and gaping bottomless chasms of logic. It all comes to a sharp focus in this masterly formulation:

...The fact that Barack Obama openly defines himself as a centrist invites the formation of this progressive force within his coalition. Anything less could allow his eventual drift towards the right as the general election approaches.
Surrender is victory! Let's clip-clop into the slaughterhouse and management will let us take it over! By throwing in the towel and lining up behind the admitted "centrist" Obama, the pwogs will somehow -- it's a great transcendent mystery, like the Trinity -- somehow have more influence rather than less.

* * * * *

A close friend of mine recently asked me why, exactly, I think I'm so much smarter than all the millions of people who do vote and do care who wins. It's a good question and applies to anybody who takes a contrarian or minority position on any topic at all. This Nation essay re-poses the question.

Ehrenreich is quite smart, and and her three co-authors are undoubtedly at least as smart as I am. The problem is not their intellectual capacity. The problem is that for some reason they check their brains at the door. Why does this happen? How can four smart people produce such a farrago of laughable nonsense as this Nation statement?

I can only assume that they're acting under the pressure of feelings so deeply-rooted and so strong that facts and logic cannot prevail against them. There's no disgrace in this, of course -- we all do it all the time, in our personal lives at any rate.

It's always presumptuous and often risky to speculate about what drives other people's behavior. But the Gang of Four are all successful, well-known, well-connected and well-socialized people. It can't be easy for folks who have made their way successfully into the institutions of American civic and cultural life to turn around and say that those institutions, under present conditions, are simply not capable of producing the kind of outcome for people in general that these well-intentioned Pwogs would like to see.

Intellectually they know that Barack and Hillary are both seeking a job whose description can be summarized as Immiserator-In-Chief and General Manager of Empire. Yet they can't help feeling that there simply must be some way to reclaim the machinery of empire and exploitation for good ends. A willingness to operate the existing social machinery without dropping a shoe into it is a precondition of the success that these four have all, in various degrees, enjoyed. So... surely... it can't be all bad? Surely, with a more humane hand at the controls, it can turn from its wickedness and start producing "globalization from below"?

Enter the Magic Negro, that supernal figure who can square the circle, reconcile the irreconcilable, make the lion lie down with the lamb; the irresistible force that can move the immovable object. When magic comes to town, facts and logic don't matter any more; that's the nature of magic.

* * * * *

There's another element. The gang of four observe about Barack's admittedy wonderful "race" speech:

.... as great a speech as ever given by a presidential candidate, revealing a philosophical depth, personal authenticity, and political intelligence that should convince any but the hardest of ideologues that he carries unmatched leadership potentials.
Apart from the curious plural on "potential", I can endorse every one of these claims, as far as they go. What they boil down to, however, is the fact that Barack is recognizable to the Gang as a person like themselves, characterized by "depth, authenticity, and intelligence" -- unlike Hillary, who we all know has the depth of one of those deadly needle-apexed isosceles triangles in Flatland; the authenticity of Judas Iscariot; and the malign intelligence of a pirate captain.

In other words, for the Gang, Barack is what individuals of a certain type are apt to call P.L.U. -- People Like Us. And thus it follows that he must somehow be able to take the helm of the American deathstar and turn it into, what, an intergalactic day-care center cum community college. The Gang believe -- correctly enough, no doubt -- in their own good intentions. And as we noted above, they don't believe that the machinery of empire, and the dynamos that drive it, are intrinsically miserific. So put a PLU in charge -- and hey presto, ice-bound Narnia will bloom again.


(*) A characterization we owe to national treasure Gore Vidal.

March 27, 2008


I'm still brooding over the Barbara Ehrenreich paradox, discussed here yesterday: Why do smart people fall into the same dumb lesser-evil trap, year after election year?

With some helpful references supplied by readers who commented on the earlier post, I did a little prowling. Back in '04, Barbara had a guest stint on the New York Times op-ed page, replacing the egregious Thomas Friedman, who was off writing one of his pestilent books.

Perhaps the New York Times has a stultifying effect, not just on readers, but on writers as well. That is, perhaps the Times is dull and banal not only because it hires dull and banal writers, but also because it exercises some Upas-tree effect on formerly smart and lively writers.

Or perhaps it's a function of ascent. When you move from the steerage class of American journalism, as represented by The Nation, right up onto the bridge of the mighty vessel, you must feel a certain impulse to comport yourself like the rest of the gold-braid boys -- to arrange your once-frisky features into a stern responsible expression, to scan the horizon with exaggerated vigilance for icebergs, to believe that weighty matters lie in your hands and the fate of millions, perhaps, may hang upon your words.

Here's Barbara, during her tour in officers' country, giving advice to candidate Kerry:

I'd like to present a brand-new approach to terrorism, one that turns out to be a lot more consistent with traditional Democratic values... one glaring moral flaw in this [Islamist] insurgency, quite apart from its methods, is that it aims to push one-half of those masses down to a status only slightly above that of domestic animals....

So here in one word is my new counterterrorism strategy for Kerry: feminism. Or, if that's too incendiary, try the phrase ''human rights for women.'' ... Announce plans to pour dollars into girls' education in places like Pakistan, where the high-end estimate for female literacy is 26 percent, and scholarships for women seeking higher education in nations that typically discourage it. (Secular education for the boys wouldn't hurt either.)

We keep coming back to this, with the Pwogs, don't we? This sense of the mission civilatrice, alongside the notion that it can be achieved by "education" or social work rather than by aerial bombardment. The Hobbits dream that they can take -- or counsel a Kerry or Obama how to take -- the Ring of Power, and use it (of course!) in a good, moral, enlightened way, and for good ends.

Perhaps the core of the problem is that these academic and journalistic Pwogs, having achieved some success and renown in their fields, just can't realize or admit that when push comes to shove, they are as thoroughly sidelined and irrelevant as the mute inglorious rest of us. Hell, they're on the bridge, aren't they? Their names are known? Their books are published, bought in modest but often profitable numbers, and sometimes read? Surely those levers of power, so tantalizingly near, might be graspable. Would the Pwogs not be terribly remiss to spurn the opportunity?

Perhaps we should revise an old adage, and say that nothing fails like success.

Smart people, bad choices

More -- maybe more than anybody wanted to read -- on what you might call the Ehrenreich Paradox: Why do smart people, whose hearts are in the right place, nevertheless fall time after time for the lesser-evil argument?

The problem just gets worse and worse. It's one thing when a Barbara Ehrenreich does it. Much as I like and admire Ehrenreich, she's nevertheless just another scribbler -- a very good one, to be sure, but still a persona of the moment; at the end of the day, a mayfly like the rest of us.

It's another matter when Noam Chomsky does it. Chomsky is a different breed of cat altogether. Chomsky is probably the only person I've actually met whose name will be familiar three or four hundred years from now -- a guy whose effigy will adorn some pantheon of the minds that have made a difference, up there rubbing uneasy subway-like shoulders with Marx and Rousseau and Descartes.

Yet Chomsky, back in '04, signed a statement that ran as follows:

We, the undersigned, were selected by Ralph Nader to be members of his 113-person national "Nader 2000 Citizens Committee." This year, we urge support for Kerry/Edwards in all "swing states," even while we strongly disagree with Kerry's policies on Iraq and other issues. For people seeking progressive social change in the United States, removing George W. Bush from office should be the top priority in the 2004 presidential election. Progressive votes for John Kerry in swing states may prove decisive in attaining this vital goal.
Well, shee-it, as they say where I come from. If Chomsky be for him, who am I to be against him -- to be against this whole line of reasoning? Chomsky is, after all, the Smartest Living Human, as I have been telling everybody who will listen for the last forty years or so.

It gets worse. Chomsky, I feel sure, is utterly immune to the successful Pwoggie's false sense of consequence. And he doesn't think the Empire can be turned into a Good Thing, and he doesn't believe that its instrumentalities can be used for good ends.

Chomsky's reasoning, as I understand him, is purely moral: voting is an easy act, a Democrat might be marginally less horrible for the people of the world than a Republican, therefore one ought to vote to the Democrat. It costs essentially nothing, and in particular it doesn't prevent you from being an activist in ways that Chomsky believes (and I agree) make more of a difference.

It's not clear that Chomsky is on completely firm factual ground in thinking that the Democrat is that likely to be less horrible -- their record on starting wars, for example, provides little basis for confidence. But a number of people whom I respect do agree with Chomsky on this point, and certainly the case can be made. So let's grant it for the sake of argument and move on to an aspect of the problem that I think is actually more important.

Chomsky, unlike Ehrenreich and her Obamaphile colleagues, is a severely logical man. For him, trooping down to the polls and pulling a lever once every four years doesn't interfere with his really constructive political work. So I think maybe he doesn't quite understand how duopoly electoral politics, if you get at all intellectually or emotionally invested in it, does operate for most people to block real, meaningful political engagement. In fact it blocks even thinking about politics in a clear-headed, un-obfuscated way. Chomsky himself is not muddled and confused in this particular way, and it's very hard to imagine the condition of a person who doesn't grasp something that's crystal-clear to you.

But few of us are as clear-headed as Noam Chomsky. For most people, the electoral charade provides a kind of relief valve for angers and frustrations that might otherwise seek a more effectual outlet. And while Noam Chomsky may pull a lever as a purely utilitarian act, for most of us it involves a kind of implicit assent to the social machinery that lies behind the lever. For most of us, if we touch pitch, we're defiled.

In other words, I think the semiotic and self-emancipatory value of abstaining exceeds by far any possible utilitarian value that we can reasonably expect from electing a Democrat. And so, with the greatest possible respect for Chomsky, I have to part company with him on this point. I think he's mistaken to tell people that their lesser-evil votes count.

To step into the voting booth for the purpose of electing a Democrat is like putting one hoof over the threshold of the abattoir. Sure, you can always back out. But you're one hoof nearer to the butcher's mallet.

March 28, 2008

What do you vote for, when you vote?

In a comment on an earlier post, the subtle and wily Jonathan Lundell wrote, inter alia:
Should I vote for president in November?

1. My vote for president won't matter....

... this being a reason, If I follow, why JL's indulging himself by pulling a Dem lever is inconsequential and thus a fortiori harmless.

This line of reasoning raises several interesting questions, but the one that seems most interesting to me is the question of what collateral damage one might do by voting for a Democrat.

JL poses the question in terms of "voting for President." But suppose we pose it in terms of "voting for the Democratic Party," or even "contributing to the continued existence, in its present form, of the Democratic Party" -- because that's what, I argue, every vote for a Democrat does.

Thought experiment: If you could push a button and make the Democratic Party disappear -- would you? I would. I think we'd be better off, frankly, in a one-party state with primaries than a two-party duopoly with runoff elections -- which is what we have now. At least there'd be fewer hurdles to jump.

I dunno whether JL would push the button as cheerfully as I would, or whether he would push it at all. But perhaps posing the question helps clarify our thinking. If you wouldn't push the button -- why not? What useful purpose do you think the continued existence of the Democratic Party serves?

And if you would push the button -- then how can you justify pulling the lever?

Hegemony on the smart

I gave up reading Foreign Affairs some years ago, but one of my mailing lists brought in a reference to this gem:
Renewing American Leadership

Barack Obama


At moments of great peril in the last century, American leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy managed both to protect the American people and to expand opportunity for the next generation. What is more, they ensured that America, by deed and example, led and lifted the world...

As Roosevelt built the most formidable military the world had ever seen, his Four Freedoms gave purpose to our struggle against fascism. Truman championed a bold new architecture to respond to the Soviet threat -- one that paired military strength with the Marshall Plan and helped secure the peace and well-being of nations around the world. As colonialism crumbled and the Soviet Union achieved effective nuclear parity, Kennedy modernized our military doctrine, strengthened our conventional forces, and created the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress. They used our strengths to show people everywhere America at its best.

Wild. The Bay of Pigs, Hiroshima, Vietnam -- these were "America at its best"? One would hate to think so.

Intensional objects like this, as dense as a neutron star with unstated assumptions and perverse readings of history, are time-consuming (though fun, in a masochistic way) to unpack. This article alone provides meat for a whole Talmud of analytic commentary. But perhaps the only question that really matters is: what does it tell us about the handsome Mr Lesser Evil and what he might do if we put him in the White House?

... many Americans may be tempted to turn inward and cede our leadership in world affairs. But this is a mistake we must not make. America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, and the world cannot meet them without America.... We must lead the world....

One is tempted to reply, with Tonto, "what you mean 'we', paleface?" But that would be inappropriate.

Our starting point must always be a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel.... we must help the Israelis identify and strengthen those partners who are truly committed to peace, while isolating those who seek conflict and instability....

We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines....

I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened....

We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability....

.... we must develop a strong international coalition to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program.... In confronting these threats, I will not take the military option off the table.

.... we must strengthen our homeland security..... checking all passengers against a comprehensive watch list.

You get the idea. I guess he really is the new Jack Kennedy -- without the louche personal life.

March 30, 2008

The low farce of mush mouth pwogs

[Following are two letters, a supportive query from Phyllis Bennis, a long-time astute source of analysis and information on Iraq and the Middle East, and a detailed reply by Tom Hayden, who also knows the politics of the region well, and is a founder of Progressives for Obama. The exchange shows, most of all, the independence, solidarity and open critical spirit at the core of what we’re trying to build here. --CarlD]

Pwogs for Obama

It is indeed representative of what they're building. There's plenty of gooey talk about pressure. There's some real effort to acknowledge that Obama favors maintaining the occupation of Iraq. There's no talk at all about what form this pressure will take once the audacity and the hope turn out to really and truly mean a continued occupation, just as Obama has promised. The exchange between Bennis and Hayden, veterans of the Kerry capitulation, reads like an informercial script -- for an enhanced personal self-ridicule product. Taking what they've done before into account, I'm tempted to call it conscious, cynical bad faith. There is no mystery and no question that chattering about "pressure" is orgulously fatuous when you make no provisions for dealing with treachery. There has to be a consequence and it needs to be painful enough to catch a politician's attention. Political veterans, who use their status as such to lend weight to their Obamaphilia, have no excuse for that omission.

March 31, 2008

Luke, I am your pappy

How many humans will he kill as president -- I mean -- how many more than either identity twin would?

Nice simple question for a pwog to conjure with -- given pwogs being basically the type that really get into weighing all folks equal and such. So really, I mean really, balance it up, gang. Bucket o' blood against bucket o' blood.

I can hear the heavy stertorous breathing already, as flight-deck Pappy morphs into Darth McCain. "People of earth! Your time is up!" -- then one big sea of floating human body parts sloshing about from ocean shore to ocean shore. Ahhh, the humanity, ahhh the mud the blood and the beer!

That is -- if he lives so long.

The Samson option

The Note observes,

... there's a fair chance [Hillary] will have to destroy the Democratic Party in her quest to save it. At this critical juncture, Clinton is choosing confrontation over conciliation.
I didn't think there was anything that could give me a warm feeling about Hillary, but this notion did the trick. Maybe she'll go out in a blaze of glory and pull the whole sorry structure down around her ears.

Unlike the old Philistines, the Democratic Party Philistines will mostly survive the cataclysm. I delight to imagine them walking dazed into the sunlight, covered with plaster dust and scraps of musty bunting, seeking a new Dagon to venerate.

About March 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in March 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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