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March 2009 Archives

March 2, 2009

Opportunistic Feeders

There's nothing paranoid about observing and detailing the relationships in the incestuous, overlapping, interlocking, patronage-laden pseudo-grassroots organizations set up and funded by oligarchs. That's what right wing oligarchs do. It's how they work. It's a highly successful business model. They coach, groom and recruit the model's next generation of managers and middle managers at the universities. Ask any of the believers, nicely, and they'll tell you life is war. Then they'll try to recruit you. They are collectivists in the narrowest, worst sense of the word and feel most comfortable when they're surrounded by people who are "on message". They run a celebrity jackpot for people at the bottom of the organizational food chain and groom the winners. It's perversely meritocratic, cf Joe the Plumber and Rick Santelli, and they get a nasty kick out of horrifying the respectable liberals by shoving the "lucky" contestants in their faces. Pretty standard épater les bourgeois stuff, disgusting too, but it works as well as the magician's patter.

There's no need for them to do anything but start dozens of greater and lesser freak shows. One of them will get momentum and then the pile on begins. If they get impatient, they wind up a jacquerie; usually a keyboard jacquerie. Anything else is at arm's length, with plenty of deniability.

What's appalling is how much bang the oligarchs get for their buck. Talk about force multipliers! That bang relies on a level of accommodation in their opposition that must surely strain the credulity of anyone supporting that opposition. And that strain does in fact show on a regular basis. It's hard to beat liberals for the energy that goes into an accurate audit trail of how the machinery of capitalism works its violent, vicious scams and thefts. They're stakhanovite in their pursuit of it. They have a deep driving need to know how their world works. But that, alas, is as far as it goes, with the laudable exception of an occasional Ralph Nader. They're crippled by the same ghastly sense of propriety that keeps the "small gubmint" punters coming back to the Republican table. The liberals head to the Democratic table, allegedly the table with better odds. What gets to me, on a personal level, is being told it's the only game in town. Of course it is! That's the first problem. The second is that it's also rigged in favor of the house. The third is the defensive ridicule of people who insist that playing is a virtue.

Hey, the system is not broken. It's working. Isn't that a problem?

Victors' justice

Our blog-Father's close personal comrade de plume -- Alex the red-nosed green ranger -- the Doctor Who of transatlantic drawing-room pinko roughhousers -- has an interesting speculation in a recent Counterpunch piece. Here's the marvelous unswallowed lead:

"Is it even remotely possible that senior officials in the Bush administration -- maybe even at least one of the top two -- will be the target of public war crime hearings and even criminal prosecutions, here in the United States? From dismissal only a few months ago by leading Democrats in Washington as unthinkable, the glorious possibility can at least be glimpsed in the middle distance, like the mountain lion I saw here a decade ago in the twilight, loping off into the brush."
A glimpse of a glorious avenging cougar -- impeachment goes into sudden death overtime? This is odd, in light of Don Cockburn's record of good sense, as detailed a bit further on:
"The posture of your CounterPunch editors: impeachment... consumed far too much energy, not to mention expectation."
Exactly! So, dear sir, when you-all got it right the first time, why be seduced now?

If that weren't bemusing enough, Alex ends -- after a swaybacked dabble in amateur prosecution -- with this hobgoblin of a line:

"If Pelosi feels it politically meet to open the door a crack, we should welcome the opportunity."
"Meet"! Pelosi as Caiaphas? Well, if the ephod fits....

Here's the Paine sense of it all: show trials of any dimension always trump real justice if you happen to be into a self serving vamp. I submit that's a proposition the last century bore out in spades and on both class flanks.

But back in the here and now, going after a few big washed-up elephant heads -- well, what with market earth crumbling faster then our sacred infrastructure, maybe it is in fact politically "meet" for the shrewder among the corporate trolls to betray a few of their classmates in order to save their class. Better one die than the whole people perish, as Caiaphas himself observed.

It's great to be top of the heap but sometimes you gotta do nasty stuff to stay there.

March 3, 2009

The violent bear it away

If that moth-tongued gossiping auntie, the Washpost, is to be trusted, then the class struggle inside the present White House is over.

Larry "The Sow" Summers and the "progressive" side of Wall Street won, and Jared Burpstein and the union piecard side of the DC loop lost.

"Meeting in January on the eighth floor of the transition team's office in downtown Washington, Geithner pressed the incoming president to commit to cutting the deficit to 3 percent of the economy over the next five years, which would keep the nation's debt roughly in line with normal economic growth. Summers quickly backed him.

"Some, including economist Jared Bernstein, resisted, saying that such a strict limit would make it more difficult to confront the many challenges ahead and that the size of the government's emergency response to the economy and financial markets would make the cap tough to maintain.

In February, the entire economic team convened in the windowless Roosevelt Room in the White House. Obama abruptly ended the debate. Geithner and Summers would have their way."

A Perlo of great price

Hey gang -- wanna read about the bank struggle, as viewed from a high limb of our grand old Red party? Here's an article co-authored by "People Before Profits" columnists John Case and Art Perlo. A few highlights to get you to click on in:

"The problem right now is not primarily that banks are not making loans. It is that in previous years, they made too many loans, beyond the ability of consumers or businesses to repay.... Nationalization is a step toward socialism to the extent that democracy, and working class empowerment, is expanding. However in the absence of expanding democracy — that is, in the hands of corrupt, compromised and unaccountable forces — nationalization can mean a harmful centralization of power....

The challenge before the United States now cannot succeed without greater democratic guidance.... At least if it is government-owned, there is the possibility that we can exercise some level of control through the democratic process, however flawed....

Most of the necessary functions can be run perfectly well by civil servants.... Don't even try to fix the whole banking system as it exists."

"Corrupt, compromised and unaccountable forces." Got that? No? Go read it all again.

Done? Are you enlightened now?

No? Oh, you're hopeless. Go sing 'Old Man River' until you get it.

* * * * *

NB -- Art Perlo is from the famed Perlo family. Here's the pater familias, Vic, dressed up for HUAC:

March 4, 2009


My peerless leader, Snuffington J Smiff, finds uncle in the land loan biz a perfect horror. Well, consider the following, one and all, including you, squire Allsmiffy:

Okay, so Mr and. Mrs Sprawl need a place to store their household savings.

Well there's precious metal, and there's land, the classic stores of wealth.

We'll skip metal and go straight for land -- specifically, land in the form of a house lot, as that's overwhemingly the chosen path of plebian folks like the Sprawls, particularly here in the land of amber fields and parking structures.

As a store of wealth house lots are a pip, so long as a householder sticks to the Polonian way and remains free and clear of debt, or at least strives to become polonian by paying the mortgage off.

The free and clears come in at about one-third of our 75-million strong fleet of house lots these days.

Now comes a big down market, and these small taters are still free and clear -- even if in real terms they've taken a hit to their stored wealth (gold would have survived).

But the other two thirds face a bigger risk if their lot's market value falls far enough -- since their mortgage's outstanding principal, of course, doesn't adjust to drops in asset market values. Cometh the great panic -- and they're suddenly operating out of a sunken house, wealth-wise -- a tethered submarine, financially speaking: no longer a store of wealth but a mere hideous little debt sump.

What now?

The tale obviously starts and ends with its genie:

Uncle is said genie, a one-wish wonder: the magic market trick called Capitalized Ground Rent, CGR for short -- is CGR a particle or a wave, rent or interest? Both -- capitalized ground rent or amortized lot value, six of one, half-dozen of the other. Ground rent is the market value of a certain number of square feet of ground space in a certain location for a certain period of time. It's ultimately linked to its use value, of course, which itself partakes of the intricacies better left to Clio.

The rent or its interest payment equivalent is a social product, optimally captured by society and not left to households, anymore than it oughta be left to the Duke of Westminster.

Conjecture: the episodic undulations of ground rent are best ridden by the whole people together, with individual variations of guile and fortune playing a minimalized role. So how do we construct a raft for all of us -- how can we float as one, together above the inevitable unforeseeable complexity of 75 million lots all being hit always with these highly variable local value waves?

Answer: Uncle should make each of us an offer we can't refuse -- a mortgage on our lot value with a super-submarket interest rate, no principal payments until sold, fully transferable, etc.

Upshot: Uncle eventually caputures all the lots in America as if he'd nationalized 'em, and and he becomes our landlord.

A few yeoman holdouts? So what? I bet even of the 25 million free-and-clears we'd seduce most.

The point is: once Uncle holds the paper on all the lots, Uncle can control their value. In fact, over time, the Sprawls will only think about what they borrowed on the house itself (as opposed to the lot) as a mortgage. The lot value will look like a land tax -- yup, George time in America, folks!

Whoa up, there, Owen, you're saying -- what about the store of wealth bit?

I lied about that. It was just a teaser to draw in you Scotsmen and monkish acolytes of the abstaining wet-blanket cult.

Forget it! Forget saving! Like hair shirts, it's for suckers. Given my ultraloose Uncle-backed credit systems, Owen kills savings like Macbeth killed sleep.

The worse, the better

I've noticed an interesting phenomenon of late. Some of my liberal friends have begun to send out triumphant emails every time Obie does something that's not positively awful. Look! they say, between the lines. There is a difference! M'lud, the defense rests!

I got one of these yesterday, from a chap I'll call Bruno:

Obama , getting money to the working class, pronto

3/3/09 Notice of Certain Benefits Unemployed Workers May Be 
Eligible For Under the Economic Stimulus Package.

1)Extra $25 per week in unemployment benefits
2)Period for Collecting Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extended
3)Partial  (first $2,400)Suspension of Federal Income Tax On Unemployment Benefits for Tax Year 2009

Obama , Obama , Obama !
Now all these steps are OK things to do, as far as they go. But they're quite tiny. In fact, they qualify as crumbs under the table. Bruno thinks they matter because he thinks -- and who knows, perhaps he's right -- that Bush or McCain wouldn't have done even this much.

What interests me here is the recalibration of expectations. Bruno, when he's not cheerleading for Obama, fills up my inbox with Talmudic exegeses of obscure passages in the Grundrisse. He presents as a case-hardened heaven-storming Marxist, and keeps a sheaf of the Old Man's proof-texts at his fingertips for every occasion. He has, ex officio, a world to win, and fully expects to win it.

And yet he gets giddy with delight at a niggardly partial "suspension" of income tax on unemployment benefits. The world can wait to be won. In the meantime, Bruno is grateful for crumbs -- or rather, not just grateful; downright triumphant. I told you so! Obie is not Bush! We'd have had no crumbs from Bush! Or not as many! Or they'd have been even smaller!

One of the interesting consequences of this mode of thought is that the more the A-Team reactionaries overreach, the better it is for the B-team lesser-evillists.

The more grotesque and cartoonish the Bushes and Cheneys and Coulters and Limbaughs become, the better our guys look -- as long as they stay a pace or two behind the lead monsters in the sprint to the abyss. Really, all our guys have to do is speak in complete sentences and avoid going red in the face, and they look like the Second Coming. The fact that they're a pace or two behind is what's important; the fact that they're also heading for the abyss doesn't matter, and you're a prick for bringing it up.

Perhaps this is why liberals love to pay so much attention to ineffably boring figures like Bill O'Reilly, and George Will, and whatsisname from Louisiana -- it takes people this dismal and abandoned to make them feel comparatively virtuous.

March 5, 2009

Antonines and Claudians

Would these men get us out of Iraq?

We've seen good emperors before, haven't we? And if they're cut short -- if Clio scripts a Lincoln exit for 'em -- they can carry the hope/hype through to -- "ahhh, what might have been."

Nor him neither, I suspect -- wearin' the purple changes a feller.

If not them, Owen, you cynical red divil you then by Jayzzzus, wouldn't she get us out?

No? Oh, the terrible blight of it all, mates!

March 7, 2009

Lower your expectations

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had an embarrassing moment when she presented a gift to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov that was intended to display the Russian word for "reset" -- a reference to Vice President Joe Biden's statement that the U.S. wants to reset relations with Russia.

The gift read "peregruzka."

Mrs. Clinton said, "We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?"

The Russian diplomat answered nyet. Peregruzka means "overcharged," he explained.

"Reset" is "perezagruzka." U.S. officials said they would fix the gift.

Wall Street Journal

In other light-hearted gaffes, it turns out Tom Geithner is too much of a delusional, oligarch-coddling hack for James Baker. I'm beginning to wonder what, outside some grim technocratic effort to horrify the bourgeoisie, inspired Geithner's appointment. Baker, one of the better fixers in the Republican stable, is fairly delicate about it. He's accustomed to speaking in ways that soothe the temper tantrums and fears of arrogant, hyperactive merit babies. But his admonition to take at least a measure of reality into account is unmistakable.

I think Obama is headed for a one term wonder presidency. That may even come as a relief to the more priggish pwogs. They can get back to feeling ill-used by the "Vichy" Democrats, continue their feckless ridicule of right wing celebrities and congratulate each other on achieving new milestones in continence.

The ethnomethodological interventions of the Trollblog

These are good people, with a good program for fighting the good fight. They've taken on the heavy burden of helping decent folks overcome the self-serving, self-satisfied efficacy fetishism of the neoliberals.

I can't contain my warm regard for the Trollblog. It's useless to even try. They're afflicting the comfortable and they've chosen, as their victims, the least sympathetic hacks in the world.

Ralph Nader on the "Bottomless Bailout"

That's a red tail hawk in flight, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Bottomless Bailout, by Ralph Nader, who is arguably the last principled liberal in the United States.

March 9, 2009

Reach-y kisses

My friend Bruno (mentioned here before), the ultra-revolutionary by night and Obama cheerleader by day, recently wrote:

It's hard not to start going into a "rah-rah" list again, but I'm sort of impressed by in only 40 days passing the pay equity law, proposing a budget that has the Wall Street crowd really pissed off, coming out strong for the EFCA,  and a few other things. I don't like the bank bailouts, super ugh.   I guess I have my fingers crossed that he's trying to let it go so far that he's forced into something better....

  What he's done so far could be read as signalling  a willingness to go a further left if he gets support "from the bottom up". Today there's a headline that he wants to talk to the Taliban....

Here's the story about Obie and the Taliban:
Obama Ponders Outreach to Elements of Taliban

WASHINGTON — President Obama declared in an interview that the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Mr. Obama pointed to the success in peeling Iraqi insurgents away from more hard-core elements of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a strategy that many credit as much as the increase of American forces with turning the war around in the last two years. “There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region,” he said....

[Obama] signaled that reconciliation could emerge as an important initiative, mirroring the strategy used by Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq.

“If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us...."

Here's how I read this: Obama acknowledges that Bush's recent strategy in Iraq has been a "success" -- in a sense we need to explore and will return to -- and he's thinking maybe he should also try the Bush strategy in Afghanistan. (Of course I don't need to point out here that "moderate elements" is the standard Orwellian imperial code for "locals who can be bought.")

But for Bruno, this validation and embrace of the Bush approach constitutes a very hopeful sign. It would be interesting to see the world through Bruno's eyes for a little while, as long as one could be sure that the derangement was temporary.

There's more. Obie acknowledges that the Bush/Petraeus approach of buying up the local militias has been a "success." Now the success or failure of an undertaking can only be assessed by reference to its goals. Doesn't the acknowledgement of "success" imply agreement about the goals?

Is this what all those pwoggies had in mind when they were going all weak in the knees with Obiemania? Was their animus against Bush based only on the idea that he was doing a bad job? Did they agree with his goals, and reprehend him only for not attaining them?

Obie has pulled off a rather breathtaking bait-and-switch here. He has very smoothly repositioned the discourse about Iraq and Afghanistan into a discussion of means -- means to an end which is never explicitly stated but is implicitly agreed upon by all: namely, conquest.

Striving to be less reliable than ever

[Obama] said he did not find blogs to be reliable, citing the economy as one example. “Part of the reason we don’t spend a lot of time looking at blogs,” he said, “is because if you haven’t looked at it very carefully, then you may be under the impression that somehow there’s a clean answer one way or another — well, you just nationalize all the banks, or you just leave them alone and they’ll be fine.”

Via Joe Weisenthal

If he's looking for ways to reinforce those false dichotomies, I'd think turning to the court intellectual wannabes is his best bet. He's made their job difficult, but it's not impossible. There are bound to be a few that are "reliable". I also think he protests too much. Narcissism and solipsism know no satiety. A million cheerleading blogs wouldn't be enough. Fortunately, there's a clean answer: resign. He should hand this off to Joe Biden (bear with me). In three months, his supporters would be begging him to come back.

Constructive criticism

March 10, 2009

Down the mousehole

Show us you're a man, not a mouse, Uncle! Walk away, Sam -- walk away from Wall Street's secret sewers.

Want to defend your country? Well, for once, defend it by defending her people from something in lower Manhattan besides collapsing towers. Walk away from the masked privateers' danse-macabre. Get back to the real deal -- more jobs now!

Okay, I've howled my futility away. But really, folks -- we here at SMBIVA like to talk about lots and lots of us small nuggets walking away from the mortgage snares, etc. But it's Uncle that needs to really take a hike here,. and let the privateers use this colossal mound of shitpaper to wipe their own asses.

I guess my real point -- since the shouting is so futile -- why is this so hard to fathom? Why are the pwog elites so under the evil charm? Why the hypnotic stare? Why "we must rebuilt it restore it reanimate it reform it redeem it" blah blah blah?

Take my usual whipping boy, the full o' heart Kellogg's kid, the tireless terrier von Nassau auf Trenton, Paul Francis Xavier Kooooggleman.

After some great gabble about the puny Federal recovery plan: "3.5 million jobs almost two years from now isn’t enough in the face of an economy that has already lost 4.4 million jobs, and is losing 600,000 more each month." ... don't he throw this horror in just for the sake of -- well -- no damn good sake, that's fer sure:

"A real fix for the troubles of the banking system might help make up for the inadequate size of the stimulus plan"
Jesus, Professor K, and Doc Shiller, and Privatdozent Reich and Rector Stiglitz and all you other deans and deacons of Keynes University -- forget your 'if I were Czar' act for a just a minute, and admit the state of our great private banks at this point is at best a diversion from the real issues at hand, and in fact the detox bail is itself toxic to any jobs-recovery effort itself.

Again, Mr Kelloggman knows this well enough:

"an overwhelming majority [of the public] believes that the government is spending too much to help large financial institutions. This suggests that the administration’s money-for-nothing financial policy will eventually deplete its political capital."
What more need one to know here? cut out the insanity about nationalization utilitization infantilization, the Swedish steam bath treatment. Uncle's IV drip, his toying with good-bank / bad-bank pattycakes is killing the recovery by sapping its broad support.

Walk the walk, uncle. Keep talkin whatever talk you want, but just walk.

March 11, 2009

I spoke too soon

Coupla weeks ago I very grudgingly allowed as how Israel critic Chas Freeman's appointment as chair of the National Intelligence Council was "Obie's first interesting appointment". Oh, what that cost me! I hate to be proved wrong.

I needn't have agonized so much -- all I had to do was wait. Vicistis, Galileae! The Israel lobby made Obie cave, and now Freeman's brief return to government is over.

Story here:


Freeman's own account, full of characteristic drolleries:


March 12, 2009

By indirection find direction out

The point of all my silly Gedanken-reform exercises is to figure out transitions to prog structures that involve minimal change.

After all, the un-recovery recovery may well last for a decade; but there is a time after doldrums to consider, isn't there?

Here's one, for those hungry to tax wealth itself, big fat slow-growing manta-like wealth:

Tax wealth through a lifetime income averaging program. This was one of Bill Vickrey's favorite ideas, and one this old gub of ours once utilized. They did it in a half-hearted toy fashion, but it's legal, therefore, unlike a flatfooted annual wealth tax.

Of course this requires a brand-new set of steep upper-income tax brackets to be real fun -- a nice two-birds bit here, if I do say so myself -- but such a tax might permit a one-time-only option to go to a lifetime income-averaging personal tax regime, one that avoids high-flux income years, leading to higher taxes.

Why penalize these poor souls just because of the distribution of their income realization?

Rule one: all gifts are income -- obviously. No need for an estate tax.

How does lifetime income averaging (LTIA) work?

Each year your cumulative life's income is inflation-adjusted and divided by your age.

Imagine a rentier baby from birth who never earned an honest -- or dishonest -- dollar in her life. She inherits a vast trust fund at the age of two from her uncle, who dies suddenly in bed with three hookers for company. Like Nelson Rockefeller, but better.

Rocky III's niece would show a slowly declining average income, and thus declining annual tax rate. But of course the tax when she was two would be enormous -- possibly even more than her inheritance was worth!

Hee hee hee. Uncle might loan the poor dear the tax money, against her illiquid collateral. And charge... interest!

Many long three-martini years later, our girl goes to join Uncle -- her uncle, that is -- in that great yacht club in the sky. At which point she owes, maybe, more than she's worth.

Uncle -- our uncle, that is -- smiles ruefully, eats his purely notional losses with good grace, and sweeps all the real chips off the table.

The fire last time, this time, next time...

Of course, no historical parallel works very well. But I like the one between the US and Japan between 1930 and 1941, on the one hand, and what may evolve between the US and People's China now, on the other.

The Sino-American collision may evolve more slowly perhaps and more obviously, but -- the odd lack of popular interest in this relationship, both back then when it unfolded, and now, leaves its lessons unnoticed.

The Washington/Tokyo contretemps during that period is better known, of course, and it sure exceeds the Euro sturm-und-drang gaffery by yards in its instructive value.

The humanitarian crusade in Europe, and the inter-imperial tangle in east Asia need to be seen as quite distinct and nearly opposite qualitative actions, from the Yankee boy-hegemon perspective.

It's really too bad Pearl Harbor gives our inevitable war of Asian aggression such a romantic cover story.

Better than the war against African slavery? Well, no. Better than the war against Nazi horror camps? Well, no.

Better then the GWOT's twin-tower curtain-raiser?

Well... yes.

March 13, 2009

Yesterday's palladium, today's pestilence

From the next world, old champions mobilize to view the contest ahead: Mr Republican, Bob Taft, and Daddy Wagner himself.

Today the Employee Free Choice Act was introduced once again in the House.

After a swan ride through that body, it occurs to me there might be a mighty comical Senatorial grapple over this too-long-dangling measure.

We might just get treated to the finest of all great American football games. Just imagine -- 100 senators present in the flesh, feeling very imposed-upon about having to show up, een the pheesical sense, in that august chamber.

Here's a recent shot fired from the roof of one of our hallowed halls of personal liberty, the famed Heritage Foundation:

"Unions now want the government to take away workers' right to vote -- after only a card-check campaign. The Employee Free Choice Act would do this and more."
Translation of subtext:

"Hey bub, are not privacy and choice the very Mutt and Jeff of our nation's liberty? We must guaad with our blood and our treasure the sacred individual personal private right to choose. The choice to unite or not to unite is a choice each solitary soul's secret unrevealed conscience must make. The ballot box is a confessional, without the disadvantage of a sacerdote; a registration of faith and hope in individual stand-alone judgement. I the atom of society must choose, alone, unafraid, unaffected, uninfluenced, individually, privately, secretly -- so we the people can be free."

Nonsense -- right?

Well, actually, when we get down to it, this act turns ugly complex prickled and spiteful on us.

I wonder if the corporate mouthpieces can summon the old Mittelstand pandemonium here, to make the scrap look especially noble?

I mean a defense of our individual freedoms led by that Great Satan -- personal privacy. If that happens -- and why wouldn't it -- watch us all drown in that corporate whore lady Liberty's scat.

Imagine a quagmire like the following: Senator Blowhard from Dixie Incorporated intones:

"My fellow senators, I ask you: what exactly is the foundation of this towering paragon of freedom that is our blessed America? Ah say it is nothing less than... the secret ballot!

"Only this can fairly and squarely transcend the bonds of individual contract. If we are to violate the right of any one honest independent soul to assign his labor for a certain period of time and for a certain portion of pay by an act of hiw own free unencumbered will -- then we must be sure it's violated to a higher authority and a higher right.

"Such independent consent can be transcended through one process only: each involved soul must cast one informed carefully considered vote, and these must be cast in secret, until the process establishes a clear and stable majority of those concerned.

"In the last analysis, the crux of the crux is an absolutely positively REQUIRED commitment to that most beloved of our republican institutions, here writ small, perhaps, but indispensable nonetheless....

"We must have the secret ballot or no unions at all!

As John Locke, fairy godfather of us all, once said: 'If we are to be free men there can be no compromising our individual liberty.'"

That's where the bastards will make their Little Big Horn stand: on the toilet stall for depositing personal preference, the utterly sacrosanct, but unsacerdoted, completely private, coyly curtained confessional, the voting booth.

Now add in to this reckless scramble some pwog piecard fancy-boy, hurling the left's hammer of Thor:

"Senator, you are a fool, and a hog slopped at the corporate trough. You wouldn't know democracy from an ice cream soda. The ground for a free and open competition for support between union and company cannot exist under the present conditions inside our job sites.

"Freedom, liberty, the very civil rights of humanity, American style, end completely and absolutely at the entrance to any one of our unorganized places of business.

"O I hear it now -- the song of the equilibrist:

'Given enough time, any open honest free-wheeling campaign to organize, under any possible set of rules and refs will lead to fair and balanced results.'

"But under the realities of job time today, if it culminates in a secret balloting process, after the company wall guards have had the time to lower the boom...."

"'One law' for the lion and the lamb is tyranny!"

Nothing will come about here in one great leap.

This act, when and if it finally reaches senate floor consideration, is headed at best for a crucial set of amendments.

Union piecards: listen to me now, believe me later. Your watchword oughta be "speed" Whatever you squeeze out, make it all happen fast

Secret ballot must stand? Okay. But then a vote must follow the filing in less than a work week, and the contract must follow the vote in less than a month.

On a broader note:

If job force America needs to conduct a self-liberation movement -- and it sure as shootin' does -- what actually is the clincher here among the proposed reforms in this act? Do any amount to anything?

I think so; but then I'm a semi-syndicalist deviant.

At any rate: what minimum collection of reforms would amount to progress toward the goal of employee liberation? What reforms will aid, and what subvert, the collective will of the job-site majority?

The nub here, the line where class divides will surface fast and furious, will be over this poser:

Does group influence need legislative nullification?

March 15, 2009

In unity there is fatuity

Where is the American left while all this hell is breaking loose?

Why, they're helping lay astroturf for Barack Obama! Read on to find out more about the massive Kool-Aid party being organized to boost the Obama Agenda -- and presumably, the Obama approval rating, which has apparently sunk to something more appropriate to normal objective reality:

A broad coalition of left-leaning groups is quietly closing ranks into a new coalition, "Unity '09," aimed at helping President Barack Obama push his agenda through Congress.

Conceived at a New York meeting before the November election, two Democrats familiar with the planning said, Unity '09 will draw together money and grassroots organizations to pressure lawmakers in their home states to back White House legislation and other progressive causes.

The online-based MoveOn.org is a central player in the nascent organization, but other groups involved in planning Unity '09 span a broad spectrum of interests, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Council of La Raza to Planned Parenthood, as well as labor unions and environmental groups.

The group is still in its early stages, and its organizers have adopted a secretive posture: Several of the people involved did not respond to emails over the last two days, even though one of them, former MoveOn executive director Eli Pariser, has programmed his MoveOn email account to assure correspondents that he is using the account for messages "including Unity '09 work."

March 16, 2009

No bad deed goes unrewarded

AIG's roll of top payouts reads like a places-to-hit list for a peoples' vigilante outfit fixin' to make some serious mass arrests.

"Financial companies that received multibillion-dollar payments owed by A.I.G. include Goldman Sachs ($12.9 billion), Merrill Lynch ($6.8 billion), Bank of America ($5.2 billion), Citigroup ($2.3 billion) and Wachovia ($1.5 billion).

Big foreign banks also received large sums from the rescue, including Société Générale of France and Deutsche Bank of Germany, which each received nearly $12 billion; Barclays of Britain ($8.5 billion); and UBS of Switzerland ($5 billion)."

Tar and feathers, anyone?

I wonder -- will that, and the near-simultaneous revelation of maybe a billion in bonuses sliding out to various crack AIG team leaders, cause an actual congressional convulsion, not just the usual damp-squib sputter, dutifully amped-up by our fair and balanced media?

Of course, there's a bit of a problem lurking beyond the amusement-park aspect:

The Obama recovery plan will need another huge injection soon -- prolly another trillion or so. Yet polls indicate the asshole innocent wage-earning votin' weeblery have grown exceedingly restless.

So maybe any more is way way too much. I can easily imagine a sudden conservative congo majority rising up, moving from both sides to the center aisle and shouting down Pennsylvania Avenue --

"No mas, Obie, no mas! We must end this insanity! After trillions down the Wall Street rathole... No mas!"

March 17, 2009

Pwogs nix winning stwategy

Brother Flugennock's earlier post about Unity '09 reminded me of something I saw a week or two ago, and meant to write about:

Bloggers Create PAC to Recruit Liberal Candidates

WASHINGTON — A group of liberal bloggers say they are teaming up with organized labor and MoveOn.org to form a political action committee that will seek to push the Democratic Party further to the left.... [T]hey are planning to recruit candidates to challenge the more centrist Democrats now in Congress, known as “blue dogs.”

...The new organization is in many ways the liberal equivalent of the Club for Growth, a conservative group that has financed primary challenges against Republicans it deems insufficiently dedicated to tax cuts and small government.

Organizers of the new group, called Accountability Now, bristle at the comparison, saying they will not provide an issues-based litmus test for candidates. They say they will mainly support primary challenges when there is clear evidence that a lawmaker is out of step with his constituents....

[T]hey spoke in terms of enabling Mr. Obama to pursue liberal policies without fear of losing support from more conservative Democrats in Congress.

The Other Gray Lady provides some characteristic Markos Moulitsas tough-guy talk:
For instance, said Moulitsas, the coalition will not punish Mark Begich, the new Alaska senator, for backing expanded oil drilling, since it realizes that his is a popular position in the state. And, Moulitsas added, it will not target Democrats for opposing gay marriage, since it recognizes that public support for gay marriage is not yet at critical mass. Instead, it will do polling -- overseen by whiz-kid Nate Silver -- to find issues where Democrats have truly strayed away from their own constituents.

[Moulitsas says] "Everything is going to be poll-tested -- we're not going to try to do push them to do what's unpopular."

That Moulitsas, what an ice-cold technocrat -- the Dr Rotwang of dispassionate electoral science.

The interesting angle to this story is precisely the indignant rejection, by this Ladies' Home Improvement Society, of the proven winning strategy exemplified by the Club For Growth -- and by extension, the whole armies-of-the-night post-Goldwater movement that certainly did succeed (whatever you may think of the result) in becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Republican Party. These folks were being mocked, back in my early days, as "little old ladies in tennis shoes", but they soon made the mockers laugh out the other side of their mouths.

Moulitsas and Hamsher and (I'm sorry to say) Glen Greenwald are made, it seems, of less stern stuff.

In the first place, they're too loyal to the instutional party. The Little Old Ladies In Tennis Shoes (LOLITS) didn't mind destroying the Republican Party if they couldn't take it over. But Moulitsas and Co. are moving vewy, vewy cawefully.

Relatedly, the Accountability Now folks -- and by the way, how wimpy is that name? -- don't really have an ideological axe to grind the way the LOLITS did. Right-wing propaganda that paints the Hamshers and Moulitsades as ideological zealots in fact gives them far too much credit.

The LOLITS were at any rate True Believers. By contrast, Moulitsas et al. seem so tepid and mild that one wonders why they bother at all.

March 19, 2009

From the sublime to the ranunculus

God, are we lefty types ever the long-winded bagpipers.

Take this slow skirling sigh -- it's by a true veteran:

"To understand the current situation we need to go beyond what goes on in the labor process and production to the complex of relationships around the state and finance. We need to understand how the national debt and credit system have from the beginning been major vehicles for primitive accumulation, or what I now call accumulation by dispossession."
Christ, dry rot at least crackles and powders away, but this limitless Left gas, on and on it carries.

"Aye mate -- ya know -- I'm a wee piper for Marx."

And to think he's only one of ever so many such red Zeppelins out there, sliding independently through Clio's night skies.

When Comrade Harvey descends from the world-historical stratosphere where he grapples with concepts like "primitive accumulation," methinks we see a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae:

Questions are being asked about Obama’s choice of economic advisers – for example Larry Summers who was Secretary of the Treasury at the key moment when a lot of things started to go really wrong, at the end of the Clinton administration.
Questions? What questions can be asked about Obama's staff picks, to which the answers are not obvious to the meanest intellect? And things "started" to go wrong -- at the "end" of the Clinton administration? When was the last time "things" went right, Comrade?
A new state financial architecture is required. I don’t think that all existing institutions like the Bank of International Settlements and even the IMF should be abolished; I think we will need them but they have to be revolutionarily transformed. The big question is who will control them and what their architecture will be. We will need people, experts with some sort of understanding of how those institutions do work and can work.
Is Comrade Harvey perhaps a cell-mate of Pere Smiff's friend Bruno?

The Dissociated Press...

... erm, that is Associated Press, has inadvertently given us a little glimpse of how the the news is produced ("een the pheesical sense"), via Yahoo.com.

I innocently followed a link in somebody's email and got this story:

Obama seeks patience, warns of expecting too much
By Associated Press Writer Charles Babington -- 31 minutes ago

LOS ANGELES – Facing largely adoring crowds far from Washington, President Barack Obama on Thursday asked Americans to back his far-reaching economic and health policies, but warned them not to expect too much from him or the federal government.

Well, sez I to myself, this calls for a blog post. I even have a subject heading for it already: Lower Your Expectations.

So of course I gotta give a link. Now I like to give links to the print version -- easier to read, and helps balk the advertisers.

But -- oho! Here's the print version:

Obama asks patience, guarantees better days ahead
By Associated Press Writer Charles Babington -- 2 minutes ago

LOS ANGELES – Buoyed by adoring crowds far from Washington's political wars, President Barack Obama guaranteed Americans on Thursday that the nation's economy will recover, though he asked them for patience....

"We will come out on the other side stronger and a more prosperous nation," he said, acknowledging the nation's economic crisis. "That I can guarantee you. I can't tell you how long it will take, what obstacles we'll face along the way, but I promise you this: There will be brighter days ahead."

The comments brought [a] roar of approval....

For people who enjoy the whodunnitude of text criticism, both versions are available, at least until AP's lawyers get in touch with me.

March 20, 2009

Slithering towards exculpation

The Economist, previously and charitably described as "eternally gaseous", is attempting to get real with its readership on the jobs crisis. They believe that the asset immolation was caused by excessive borrowing and the solution, in the long run, is increased labor flexibility. Labor, not content with its golden lunch pail, created this mess and will eventually have to make up for it by accepting less security. Once they all calm down. The editorial is actually less coherent than that, but I want to jump ahead to the main point: it is obvious that none of the writers have every held a job or run a business in a sector that could not count on cradle to grave state support.

Labor "flexibility" does not make job creation easier. It eliminates labor's bargaining power, which keeps the cost of labor down, for a little while. Eventually it destroys demand and then there's no need for labor at all. Once you are no longer providing a service or offering a product, you don't need a labor force. This simple lesson was accessible to a vicious, narrow minded, serial failure named Henry Ford who, after repeated destruction of his own endeavors, realized one day that workers who couldn't buy a product, wouldn't.

Inflated collateral to facilitate borrowing delays the need to pay wages, but inevitably the process reaches a breaking point. Which is where we are now. The strongest businesses in sectors that can demand a bail out are doing so. Those that can't are folding. This reduces demand, which reduces the need for a labor force that can produce the product or offer the service that once had a market. Through a mysterious transformation, understood by only 90% of humanity, the loss of livelihood affects people's ability to make payments on what was once collateral, but is now the financial equivalent of toxic waste.

It would be helpful if the slackers at The Economist could get their sticky little fingers out and try to find a job in the real world. Then, perhaps, they would understand. Work is hard, but it would help them feel better about themselves. The good feeling they could get from it is the first step on the road to shrugging off a crippling sense of entitlement and exiting the culture of dependency.

The Ideal Congressman

What you need: a Lamartine-quoting party-line-Communist ex-convict yellow journalist who habitually punched people out for no apparent reason.

You’re asking yourself: “Does Emerson really believe that a Communist or a thuggish populist demagogue would better serve the American people than the Congressman I actually do have?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m willing to bet 10-to-1 that your Congressman is effectively worthless.

Neither Bernard nor Shoemaker would put up with any of the Obama / Blue Dog / Republican bullshit. Either of them would have the good sense to scream bloody murder about what they saw happening. But your own Congressman will almost certainly do nothing much at all about all this.


Springtime for Mr Potter?

Maybe March will prove the cruelest month -- this year at least.

It started simply enough -- the stock market perked up on rumours of higher earnings at the zombie banks. Then Gentle Ben sees light at the end of his 12 month-long tunnel vision; and don't my ex-boss, the skirtchaser from Omaha shown below, agree --

... Yup, the banks are back!

We must be cheered, eh? Notice, pinko onlookers one and all, the sly implied syllogism here: the private banking system is "reviving"; private banks are the heart of our credit system; therefore, the credit system has turned the corner.

Comes now the sorites: the credit system is the heart of our real economy -- the one our phoney-ass jobs hang from -- so therefore, we're about to get back on track -- give or take a few quarters of growing joblessness, while the markets work through their inevitable "transmission lags".

All bullshit of course; but here's a nice fact:

Nearly half of the credit flow before the great crumble was securities based, and those markets, the ones for securitized debt, whether over the counter or under, are not even visited these days by our reanimated giant zombies.

So they're like a vast dance hall full of bloated corpses. Play all the polkas you want; these bastards ain't gonna get up and into it.

Gentle Ben suggests we need to revive these securities markets too, before we can declare it's hammer time again in America. But that's not all, folks.

Even if the credit system could be restored to its condition as it was, say, one day after 9/11 -- you still won't see a revival this time round 'cause you can't lend what no one will borrow.

Even if this is a false spring, a real springtime for banking is coming, and maybe fairly soon, but here's the point:

That was the story from say mid-1933 on. The banks were spiffed up, re-opened, ready to lend. But the credit didn't really start to flow till Hitler absorbed the Danzig corridor. For six long years the corporate sector remained on Polonian(*) strike. That's right, six years; and FDR had to employ millions on lightweight gummint projects, just to keep the place from exploding.

For six years the corporate Scrooges horded their cash, borrowed near nothing, and sat out the twilight of the New Deal in a grump.

Okay, Paine, you say -- don't think I don't hear you muttering out there -- what about us credit-constrained waifs and waifettes? What about you and your pard and the pizza parlor down the street?

Well, we ain't got collateral, now do we? Mr Potter is not interested in taking a chance on love.


(*) OP is presumably thinking of Hamlet I:3, not of the much-invaded Eastern European kingdom.

March 22, 2009

Get Under The Bus, Tim

Obama said in an interview with CBS television network's "60 Minutes" program that if Geithner tried to quit, he would tell him, "Sorry buddy, you've still got the job."


Fantasy meets bromide, falls in love... The passive aggressive misdirection of that little morality play is very cute. But it's utter bullshit. Any bets on when he goes under the bus? Someone has to take the fall for putting the Great Looting into overdrive. Geithner is perfect. He's a socially retarded little yuppie, deeply unlikable, with a dork's delight hairdo and a face made for graceless victimhood. In hindsight, he was a perfect pick for Treasury. He's got a bus quotient of 9 on a scale of 10. The psychodrama of his departure appeases the Brand Democrat team leaders, takes the focus off Summers and gives Obama breathing room.

March 23, 2009

The auto-con

Back in vaudeville days there used to be a con vs. gull gag that involved making change -- an elaborate shuffle that started as a simple swap of a tenner for a pair of fives, and led over a hill-and-dale series of swaps and half reversals to the con trading up his starter ten for 18 bucks of the mark's dough.

Uncle Honeybucket is about to play one of these fast change bits -- on himself. Here's how the harlot-bard of Times Square tells it:

"The government plans to offer subsidies, in the form of low-interest loans, to coax private funds to form partnerships with the government to buy troubled assets from banks."
Okay -- a ten for two fives -- but comes to this in the end:
"The government hopes that the subsidies it provides to investors are so rich that they will be willing to risk overpaying somewhat for the assets."
Tuba-like White House chief economist Chrissy Romer:

"What we’re talking about now are private firms that are kind of doing us a favor, right, coming into this market to help us buy these toxic assets off banks’ balance sheets."
Uncle "partners up" with the hedgies to buy big Z zombie bank garbage -- at something well this side of full discount prices.

Every man an investor

Old monster Luce's flagship has a beaut of a piece:

Jobs Are The New Assets

"Remember when jobs weren't worth your small talk? Think back a year or two.... You talked about your house. A new deck! You talked about your portfolio. Gotta go small cap. Did you mention how much pleasure you derived from bringing home a steady paycheck? Probably not.... Land was valuable, and capital was valuable, and labor — who cared?"

My shitty job stinks, but my house is worth a fortune. Them's premium Reagan-era lyrics, eh?

Now here at the dawn of die Obamazeit with our cratered 401K/IRA "portfolio" and our house treading the waterline, our shitass jobs are all we got -- again. Its like 1946 all over -- err, only different; we ain't got no CIO.

Let's take the Wayback to the beginning, the time before Reagan time, to the cold war, the one Harry stared and Nixon won by going to visit his co-victor Chairman Mao.

The kulacking of America's blue-ribbon wage earners began with the great migration out of the urban apartment and onto the family house lot in Sprawlville. Okay, so you're still William Bendix, Brookyn wage smurf, but now you got a front lawn and a back yard of your own.

Beats hell out of stickball, rooftop picnics, and the iceman shtupping the wife, eh?

Here's the gimmick turned miracle: by 2006 those house lots -- now owned by Homer Simpson, not Chester A. Riley, are worth megabucks -- or thereabouts. Like a magic tree growing over the years in the back yard, suddenly the fucker's yielding golden apples. The credit line running off that lot's appreciation in value by '06 is getting Homer a 9% "lifestyle raise". Life is sweet!

...That is, until yesterday when the great lot pop exploded. Oh well, I still got my 401K -- except it's now more like a 201K.

Looks like it's back to being just that good old peculiar commodity again. Welcome back, 1946!

It gets me to ruminating. Back then, America's white wage smurfs took a path away from the CIO class model toward the BYOB model -- that is -- the Build Your Own Business model, though the phrase has to be understood in a perverse sense. It means build some other offsite bunch of ass holes' business, by cultivating your inner professional, that guy or gal you make yourself over into, by acquiring skills and, better yet, credentials. That's your business, and it don't matter if you're counter help or a wily commission sales harpooneer.

Your business is best done inside a bigger limited-liability outfit -- BYOB don't mean Be Your Own Boss. Just upgrade yerself, pard.

My grad school idol, Gary "The Pecker" Becker, shown above, turned this caper, this investing in ourselves, this building a deck onto ourselves rather than our house, into a career, and gave it a name -- "building our human capital." In fact he got a Swedish dunce-cap award for his "modeling" of it.

So there you are, all you have-hopers: what'll you be? A commodity or a capital? A "professional" or an honorary wetback?

It's America. You're free to choose, hombre.

March 24, 2009

Goo-goo clusters

Just read a piece over at Counterpunch on the state of the non-profit social-change subsector of our American class struggle.

Point of attack? Bad-spirited nonprofit orgs -- the spotlight-hogging, power-grabbing, unscrupulous grant-hound outfits.

The Counterpunch writer, Chris Irwin, calls them "someprofits" and he develops a nice Jeremiah-like head of steam describing their iniquities:

They are the ones always 5 years late on the true populist grassroots campaigns. Someprofits become so oriented in following the campaigns that are being funded they miss the ones that will be and always come to campaigns late in the game to start a non stop campaign to seize control of what they do not understand.

Someprofits come into campaigns late in the game and then drift towards centralizing control. They call them “steering committess” where they form “coalitions” that always seems to boil down to fewer people making decisions.

Someprofits think that since they are getting paid to organize—that they must be professionals and really good at it. This expert head cripples in that the very nature of conflict is that no two are the same. It also makes them arrogant and gives them a sense of entitlement when they seize, and then drive right deep into the dirt—the campaigns.

Wow -- some bad dudes, eh?

After all this, the enraged Irwin suggests how a real progressive non-profit outfit oughta be missioning itself: not "to fund themselves -- but to provide resources and tools for the betterment of our world." Now you can't find much in that to quibble over.

Irwin kinda stumbles at the finish line, unfortunately. Those that know need to name names -- which Irwin doesn't do. (I bet he's got the Sierra Club in mind, though.) The dark side orgs need to be outed and vilified by name. There's no room for love-thine-enemy cure-the-patient shit in this scrap. And his peroration is downright social-workerish:

If a someprofit was an adult you would confront them with their behavior and offer clear consequences if they do not modify their antisocial behavior.... we as a community need to confront these someprofits with their behavior because how many of them are acting is damaging, inappropriate and just plain bad manners.
"Damaging"? "Inappropriate"? That hardly gets it done -- and to sling at 'em their "bad manners" kinda frames the misbegotten googoo aspect of the diatribe.


Posts along these lines are comparatively rare in the larger left indy media, so I salute it despite the fizzle factor.

True to form

Somehow I missed it back in January when Obie apparently accused Hugo Chavez of "exporting terrorism". At any rate it's always very gratifying to hear Hugo telling it like it is. He seems to have revisited the subject recently:

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama was at best an "ignoramus" for saying the socialist leader exported terrorism and obstructed progress in Latin America.

"He goes and accuses me of exporting terrorism: the least I can say is that he's a poor ignoramus; he should read and study a little to understand reality," said Chavez, who heads a group of left-wing Latin American leaders opposed to the U.S. influence in the region.

Chavez said Obama's comments had made him change his mind about sending a new ambassador to Washington, after he withdrew the previous envoy in a dispute last year with the Bush administration in which he also expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela.

"When I saw Obama saying what he said, I put the decision back in the drawer; let's wait and see," Chavez said on his weekly television show, adding he had wanted to send a new ambassador to improve relations with the United States after the departure of George W. Bush as president.

In a January interview with Spanish-language U.S. network Univision, Obama said Chavez had hindered progress in Latin America, accusing him of exporting terrorist activities and supporting Colombian guerrillas.

"My, what ignorance; the real obstacle to development in Latin America has been the empire that you today preside over," said Chavez....

The bourgeois virtues

Here's the incipit of a little sermonette from one of The Nation's stable of secular parsons:

Our Budget, Our Selves
posted by Melissa Harris-Lacewell on 03/24/2009 @ 08:13am

Few processes are more revealing of our commitments, our priorities, and our core beliefs than budgeting.

I can't help noticing that all these Holy Joes and Josephines down at the Nation have ponderous double-barreled names that would burden a minor Hapsburg royal. How do they stand erect under the weight of these jawbreaking monikers, I wonder? And what about their children? When little Hera Harris-Lacewell marries little Zeus Graham-Felsen, what Pelion upon Ossa of a surname will their hopeful young Hephaestus have to shoulder in his luckless turn?

But I digress.

Melissa is off to a strong start here. The central sacrament of our lives, our Lares and Penates, the "process" in which we are most ourselves, is... budgeting. Not love, not prayer, not song, but sharpening the old pencil and sending every penny home with deadly aim to its optimal target.

The Rev. Ms. Melissa goes on:

I have a good friend who has decided to get rid of their family's second car. Though she and her husband work 30 minutes in opposite directions they are finding a way to make this crazy commute work. Why? Because they live a town with seriously underperforming public schools and they are absolutely committed to providing their daughter with a first class education. For them, this means private school tuition. So everyone is bracing for obscenely early mornings and far more inconvenient work schedules. They never thought twice about this priority.
What a feelgood story this is. The friend's little Hephaestus has to be put through the refiner's fire of private school at all costs. And note Melissa's vocabulary: "underperforming." "First class education."

Best of all is that Melissa's friend -- just such another as she, I dare say -- "never thought twice." Indeed, and doesn't that say it all.

It comes as no surprise, as we read farther, to discover that

I work at an elite, private university, but even we are feeling the crush of the economic downturn. This week I watched with pride as my president, Shirley Tilghman, explained that Princeton remains absolutely committed to providing some of the most generous financial aid packages in the country.
You knew it had to be Princeton, didn't you? And you knew she'd manage to drop the name somehow, too? Come on, 'fess up. You saw it coming.

There's more:

Tonight President Obama presents his budget to the American people. The budget is more than a balance sheet. President Obama will ask us to evaluate our priorities in the face of economic crisis. He will question our resolve to improve education, offer equal opportunities, and provide for our neighbors despite the the terrifying deficits. He will ask us what we really believe.

Each of the stories I have told here could be eased with a collective national effort. All families should have quality public schools for their children. College should be more affordable for high achieving students.

How do you "ease" a "story"? Do I want to know? Sounds like it might involve a laxative.

And why, I wonder, are deficits "terrifying"? They don't scare me a bit.

And as for the "low achieving" students -- well, fuck 'em, I guess.

Really, if this is what passes for left discourse in this country, it's no wonder people are reactionaries. Given a choice between the dreary ponderous relentlessly educative Melissa Saxe-Coburg-Artaxerxes-Amenhotep, and Rush Limbaugh -- hell, at least you can remember Rush's name.


From the New York Times:

The Doctor's World
A Quandary in Sweden: Criminals in Med School

A year ago, Sweden’s most prestigious medical school found itself in an international uproar after it unknowingly admitted a student who was a Nazi sympathizer and a convicted murderer, then scrambled to find a way to expel him.

Expel him? I don't get it. Guy's a Nazi and a murderer -- hell, he's halfway to being a doctor, already.

March 25, 2009

So many wars, so little time

This just in, from Reuters:

U.S. to blame for much of Mexico violence - Clinton

MEXICO CITY, March 25 (Reuters)

... Mexico's drug war [is] high on President Barack Obama's agenda, after years of Mexico feeling that Washington was neglecting a joint problem.

"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the death of police officers, soldiers and civilians," Clinton told reporters during her flight to Mexico City.

Note the order in which the casualties are listed.

I have to wonder: just how many wars do these people need? The answer seems to be, as Samuel Gompers once said in a different context, "More." So the flak-jacket boys in Mexico are now getting the warm fuzzies from Obie et al., after feeling a bit cold-shouldered by the previous War President:

Clinton said the Obama administration strongly backed Mexico in its fight with the drug cartels and vowed the United States would try to speed up the transfer of drug-fighting equipment promised under a 2007 agreement....

Washington plans to ramp up border security with a $184 million program to add 360 security agents to border posts and step up searches for smuggled drugs, guns and cash.

The Obama administration will spend $725 million to modernize border crossings and provide about $80 million to help Mexico purchase Black Hawk helicopters....

"It's not only guns. It's night vision goggles. It's body armor. These criminals are outgunning the law enforcement officials," [Clinton] said."

Used to be that the Democrats were always more eager for a war than the Republicans. In my lifetime the latter have closed the war-lover gap; but you can still trust a Democrat to find a missile gap, or a body-armor gap, or a goggle gap, that the Republicans have so far overlooked.

March 26, 2009

So many wars, so little money

War is an expensive hobby. This just in, from the New York Times:

White House to Keep Agencies’ Focus on Terrorism

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is moving to solidify one of the most significant shifts of resources put into place under President George W. Bush: the transformation of the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation into agencies where the top priority is counterterrorism rather than conventional law enforcement.

...[T]he shift of agents to counterterrorism and intelligence duties after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has seriously complicated other efforts. Those include demands for resources to combat corporate and financial fraud and a deadly drug war across the border with Mexico.

“The logical consequence of cannibalizing our criminal program to augment our national security efforts is that we have reduced the ability to surge resources within our criminal branch,” Mr. Mueller said.

He added, in response to lawmakers’ questions, that the bureau needed more agents to address financial fraud and crime related to drug trafficking.

When, exactly, has the bureau not needed "more agents"? When did the cops ever want less money spent on cops?
The administration’s position underscores the extent to which Mr. Obama’s legal team has found itself following many of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies, even as Mr. Holder has asserted that the Justice Department will differ markedly by being more respectful of civil liberties and constitutional limits.
"Respect," in this context, means that they'll stop saying they're going to fuck us. They'll still fuck us, of course, but they'll call it love.
Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat... has questioned whether enough money has been allocated to fight the spillover of crime along the Mexican border...
My war! -- No! MY war!

The Booboisie

I've been lounging around the house the last couple of days, laid low by a vile cold. It's been so boring that I've actually sat down, for the first time in I-dunno-how-long, and read through a paper copy of the New York Times. I had forgotten what an entertaining publication it can be. For example:

There’s Safety in Military Contracts

Like so many small businesses in this weak economy, Kaos Worldwide, a sports apparel company just outside Houston, has been struggling. But it has managed to survive while its competitors have folded because it won a five-year, $1.5 million contract last year to supply sports bras to the United States military.

Owen, I'm sure, will want to know just how many of these garments you can buy for one and a half mil, and what is the distribution of cup sizes the US military requires. Are many of them... really... large? How many?

But then, Owen is an economist. The metric fetish comes naturally to him.

I on the other hand am kind of a novelist manque, and the back story interests me:

Mr. Emanuel [the bra man from Kaos] said he was lucky that, through personal connections, a general in Iraq had learned of his product. The general ordered 10,000 bras for his female soldiers by credit card in 2005.
Personal connections? Ten thousand bras on his credit card? Oh man oh man, it's good to be the general.
While it may seem that only large corporations like Halliburton and Lockheed Martin would have a shot at lucrative military contracts, the Defense Department actually awards more than half, or $55 billion, to small businesses. And the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus plan promises to make even more money available.
Now that is what I call a stimulus plan.

March 27, 2009

臥 虎 藏 龍

Behold the canny devils -- first they question the soundness of the imperial dollar, and now they want an actual collegially-determined global reserve currency -- de jure not kath' hegemontos -- the impudent little red knaves! I believe our last emperor, the Crawford Caligula, called these crafty Han our "strategic competitors" -- and with good reason.

A call for the institution of a higher earthly authority than the biggest bully nation-state -- and with actual money-making powers! Why, that is, in the last analysis, a call for a one-world economy, with all the dismal horrors that might entail -- like, well, a broader measure of earthly prosperity, greater inter-regional harmony, even faster material progress -- The mind gags!

Must be pure phoney-baloney Pollyanna mischief-making, right? -- Yup, it is. In fact, it's just the latest shot across the collective bows of the Yankee Diddle armada.

Only sapsucker friends of the wretched, like nobel idiot savant Joe Stiglizinski, could push such an enlightenment-era chimaera on an ignorant and gullible cosmopolitan public.

Nope -- 'tain't a thousand humanisms blooming. The Chinese people's politburo has its sights on one thing and one thing only -- keeping its forex fiddle flying high wide and handsome.

But to look magnificent while being petty, the PRC is positioning itself to play head tribune of the planet's south pole, just as Uncle Sam plays world emperor from his perch at the north pole.

Plenty of room for playin' and foolin' here, on both sides; yet despite the snarls and teeth-bared grins, both of 'em will continue to discover ways to make this strategic rivalry safe, profitable, and comparatively bloodless. It's a waste of time trying to figure how long this gig can last -- how long before China finds herself suddenly willing to butt heads for real with our dear Tio Rico. As they say, 'that, comrades, is over the event horizon.' The US vs. PRC ain't even close to that yet -- despite the arms lobby inspired chatter.

But then again Clio can really hoof it when she has a mind to, morphing ploughshares into strategic air fleets in a flash. So who knows, some reading this may live to see that doleful hour.


"The Administration hewed to the belief that if the U.S. be but willing to exercise its power, it could ultimately always have its way in world affairs."

-- 'The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem,' Pentagon Papers

This bit of sad retrospective wisdom came to mind today as I browsed through forty-odd pages of wankerplate from the Center For American Progress. This scout troop of Smart Warriors seeks to convince Obie that he should count on ten more years of war in Afghanistan. They also think he ought to send even more troops to Afghanistan than he already plans to. Here's their calming pastel-colored toy-soldier graphic (you may have to right-click and "view image" or something to read the print) :

Oh, and CAP wants to suppress poppy-growing there as well. Two wars for the price of one!

Tom Hayden, the subject of one of Gore Vidal's most-quoted mots(*), is to be found on Alternet and the Huffington Post, scratching his puzzled head over this development:

Why Is a Progressive Think Tank Telling Obama to Escalate the War in Afghanistan?
By Tom Hayden

The Center for American Progress has positioned itself as a "progressive" Washington think tank, especially suited to channel new thinking and expertise into the Obama administration. It therefore is deeply disappointing that CAP has issued a call for a ten-year war in Afghanistan, including an immediate military escalation....

Tom clearly would like to think that there's some contradiction between being "progressive" and being a warmonger. Alas, history provides little basis for this notion.

On a more general plane, Tom's fuddlement shows why nobody should ever use the word "progressive" except in a clearly sarcastic context. It's a vague feelgood term that by design avoids all the real questions and plasters over all the real divisions. Calling themselves "progressives" enables these swine at CAP, and anybody who can stand to draw a breath in the same room with them, to believe that they're good, well-meaning people forced to make tough choices. Yes, we may differ about the desirability of certain things -- like invading and occupying other countries -- but in the bigger picture, we all want the same thing, right? And that would be... progress!

Progress. Toward what? We never ask. It's amazing how a word with no concrete content at all can have such a soothing, sedative effect. I suppose this is what people mean when they talk about "floating signifiers."

We should all take a vow never to let these words pass in conversation without pulling the speaker up short. "'Progressive?' What the hell does that mean? Does it mean anti-war? No? Then fuck progress, and the jackass it rode in on."


(*)"Tom Hayden is the kind of politician who gives opportunism a bad name."

March 28, 2009

So naturalists observe...

... a flea,
Has lesser fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller fleas that bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Having recently dipped a toe into the cesspit of intellectual disgrace that is the Center For American Progress (CAP), I found myself wondering about what ever happened to Third Way, another component of the Fromsphere that I once took an interest in for anecdotal reasons (I knew a junior woodchuck who used to work there; he's CIA now).

Since my toe was already beshat, I went and dipped it again, at Third Way's site, and pulled out this plum:

Third Way Statement on the Retirement of Al From, as Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council

Al From’s retirement from the DLC and the transition of the DLC/PPI after twenty years of success means the passing of the torch to the next generation in moderate progressive politics.

Imagine my delight. There are not only "progressives", which is to say reactionaries in all but name; there are also "moderate progressives" -- people who can split a difference too small for ordinary human eyes to see.

The real number line is a wonderful thing. You can get arbitrarily close to zero and still be the lesser evil!

March 29, 2009

The secret life of Michael Smith

mjsoef wrote, in a recent comment:

Senor MJS,

Our social world is emphatically more complicated than good/bad.... Police state bad - but then what?

Perhaps I'm doing mjosef an injustice, but his line of argument here reminds me of an ex-mother-in-law of mine, whose unvarying response to my disparagements of the existing order was, "So what would you do if you were President?"

Naturally, since I'm a big daydreamer, I've thought a lot about this, and I have a shelf full of plans against the day when I am unexpectedly catapulted into the Oval Office. But it seems unlikely that anybody would be interested in hearing about those plans until that happy day arrives. Shelves are cheap, and everybody's got one.

A lot of left discourse amounts to comparing plans for what we'd do when we're president, or (for us old Bolshies) when we and our band of hardened cadre have ridden up the Capitol steps in a tank and proclaimed the Soviet Republic Of North America. My private shorthand for this process is "drafting the constitution of Utopia."

It's not an entirely silly exercise. Thinking through what-if's is part of the critique of what is, and imagining alternatives undermines actuality's claim to inevitability.

But we can't take it too seriously -- and we too often do. It's as if there lurked in a back of our minds an image of the public ready to trade in the old social vehicle and buy a new one, if we could only assemble it and advertise it appealingly.

That's not how these things happen. Positive thinking is overrated, and in the social context constructive criticism is worse than useless. What we need is more negative thinking and some thoroughly destructive criticism. The public won't be ready for a new vehicle until they've gotten so angry at the old one that they set it on fire and push it off a cliff.

So my modest mission is not to design alternatives to (e.g.) the police state, or even to persuade people who like the police state that they shouldn't. My mission is to persuade people who (like me) loathe the police state that they shouldn't waste their time on "progressive" politics, which starts with good intentions and a pure heart and ends up in the pigsty of the Democratic Party.

My theory is they don't need me to tell 'em what to do next. They'll figure it out.

Of course, if there's an empty seat in the Politburo, I'll be happy to fill it. And I do have a few ideas....

March 30, 2009

I'm mad as hell, and I'm gonna... talk about it

The New York Times today published some ruminations -- by a professor -- of sociology! -- at Columbia -- on the absence of insurrection in America today. The sense of a sweaty brow relievedly wiped was palpable.

The learned Sudhir Venkatesh offered a number of hypotheses about why people aren't wild in the streets (yet). Maybe it's like the Thirties -- took a while then too. Or maybe it's suburbanization. Or maybe it's that damn Interraweb thang -- everybody's too busy emailing or texting or whatever. Or maybe it's debt -- everybody's just so ashamed.

Venko doesn't appear to prefer one of these answers to another. In fact the whole long 1240-word essay really says next to nothing. It's an amped-up version of the classic NY Times "on the one hand, on the other hand" song, performed by an octopus with eight hands. A learned octopus in a mortarboard.

I can't remember where I read it now, but in some story or other I think I recall the following exchange:

[young punk prof in a soft science]: "Of course, in a science like Sociology..."

[crusty old prof of physics, interrupting]: "There are no sciences like Sociology."

Venko's ruminations put me in mind of this exchange. Geez, what do we pay these guys for, if not to tell us when to fuel up the corporate jet and get out of Dodge? I mean, really -- the physicists can at least build us an H-bomb, fer Chrissake.

Having tried and tried, myself, to get into the Times' bully pulpit, with very intermittent and rare successes, I always wonder what catches the Opedsters' eyes about the twaddle they do publish.

Hmm. Here's Venko's peroration:

Fury, after all, can manifest itself in more productive ways than urban rioting or cable-TV ranting. Fury can inspire real protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, even good old-fashioned, town-hall meetings. That’s how we’ll recover our public life and perhaps help one another through this crisis — storming angrily into the streets and then, once we’re out there, actually talking to one another.
People might get mad. They might even go out into the street! -- It's been known to happen. But with any luck at all, maybe they'll just... talk.

The grovels of Academe

I never cease to be amused by the gaping chasm between Academe's bold image of itself as a haven of fearless unfettered inquiry, and the craven reality. Latest instance:

Banned in Boston

The norm for protests over a William Ayers appearance on campus these days is for conservative critics to say that the University of Illinois at Chicago professor shouldn't be given a forum to speak because of the past violence of the Weather Underground, of which he was once a leader.

At Boston College, the debate has taken a new twist -- with the college calling off a talk by Ayers planned for tonight and citing a police killing that has never been definitively linked to the Weather Underground and that Ayers and others insist his group had nothing to do with. Nonetheless, that 1970 police killing is still associated by many in Boston with the Weather Underground and remains a political flashpoint -- as became clear on Friday.

Michael Graham, a local talk radio host, started calling on Boston College to revoke the invitation to Ayers, and he encouraged alumni, donors and others to call the college to demand that it deny Ayers a forum. Graham repeatedly linked Ayers and the Weather Underground to the 1970 killing of Walter Schroeder, the police officer, who was responding to a bank robbery by a group of radical students....

Boston College issued a statement in which it acknowledged barring Ayers.... "As a university, we pride ourselves on the free expression of ideas and on the prestige that Boston College holds as a destination of choice among prominent speakers. But we are also aware of the obligation we hold to be respectful of our host community. The emotional scars of the murder of Boston Police Sergeant Walter Schroeder, allegedly at the hands of the Weather Underground, which left nine children fatherless in the shadows of this campus, was an issue that we could not ignore."

So the college called off the event, the statement said, "out of respect for the Schroeder family and out of concern for the safety and well being of our students. We believe that, in light of these unique circumstances, the appropriate decision was made in this case."

Would thou were living at this hour

"The Bank is trying to kill me -- but I will kill it." And Old Hickory did just that, unlike someone kooling it up in the White House now.

President Jackson took on the financial octopus of his era, and despite the bank's aura of invincibility, he did kill it, after getting re-elected over the bank's peacock, Henry Clay, by a rampant 18-point margin and running off two money-stooge Treasury secretaries.

He stood against it and its invisible fortune, its circle of bought men, and the London banks behind it; dared it "take your best shot," then after the bank did its damnedest, took steady aim -- bang!

Made of adamantine stuff, that towering bastard.

Hey, he gave 'em fair warning. During his first year in office, king Andy set the bank's president -- the soft-handed fork-tongued slickster Nicholas Biddle, shown left -- straight: "I never trusted banks -- not after I read about the South Sea bubble."

Words to live by.

March 31, 2009

Alas, the poor yuppie

Recently, Mutual of Senegal asked me -- in a btw-type comment -- to mugshot Craig Paul Roberts, the once-renowned Reagan-era voodoo priest, now rabidly anti-wall Street.

I hesitated, so long as his rants were aimed at the gunplay of corporate empire, American style. But suddenly I find he has obliged me with lovely material -- an aria on the dolorous days our upper middle income class now passes through, meaning folks like these:

"a husband and wife who are associates at major law firms, each of whom works 60 hour weeks and has no job security [earning] $125,000 each."
Herr Roberts' beef? Obama has these orphans of the casino storm in his tax crosshairs.
"The upper middle class with $250,000 gross incomes are major losers of the financial collapse. Many of the people in this income class are leveraged to the hilt in order to maintain appearances and can be swept away as easily as the very poor. But those who were frugal and invested for their future have lost 50 per cent of their savings. These wiped out people are the ones who will bear the brunt of Obama’s tax increase."
The O Sole Mio impersonation by Billy Babbit, Jr. here, almost becomes openly self-satirical.
"If the tax rate on a multi-million dollar annual income goes up by 5 percentage points, the cutbacks won’t really affect the lifestyle. But for the $250,000 gross income group, it means no prospect of private schools and Ivy League education for the children, who will be attending state colleges with the rest of the non-rich."
To be strictly fair, Roberts is a "free" labor man to the bone.
"Historically, the definition of a free person is a person who owns his own labor. Serfs were not free, because they owed their feudal lords, the government of that time, a maximum of one-third of their labor. Nineteenth century slaves were not free, because their owners could expropriate 50 per cent of their labor -- Today, no American is a free person. The lowest tax rate, not counting state income, property tax and sales tax, is 15 per cent Social Security tax and 15 per cent federal income tax.

The “free American” starts off with a 30 per cent tax rate, the position of a medieval serf."

Implied conclusion: 50% -- Swedish level -- tax hauls out of "earned income" are the moral equivalent of chattel slavery

* * * * *

I've never cottoned to Alex's bloc of rights, frights, lites, mites, and botchky-ites over there at Counterpunch, and I've often had Mr PCR here uppermost in my mind. A broad "frente" with this jamoke is foolhardy opportunism. Ralph Nader represents the better angle of that much put-upon much asked-of class, our ultra-meritoid hautes-professionalistes.

You ask me, taxing the $250k class sounds perfect. They love their job site hairshirt, so why not a second taxman hair shirt -- layering is often fashionable.

Boo-hooing for our honest meritoidal lunatics is a silly waste of personal salt water.

About March 2009

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

February 2009 is the previous archive.

April 2009 is the next archive.

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