How we fucked up the world

David Michael Green calls out the "Me Generation"

His properly incensed essay can be read here.

Bush junta wants to poison workers

Dubya always doing what's best for the country

According to the New York Times:

The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

The rule, which has strong support from business groups, says that in assessing the risk from a particular substance, federal agencies should gather and analyze "industry-by-industry evidence" of employees' exposure to it during their working lives. The proposal would, in many cases, add a step to the lengthy process of developing standards to protect workers' health.

Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses.

Once again the GOP proves it wants to make American industry competitive by cutting the costs of doing business for some firms and by culling some of the superfluous members of the working class! It is clear that Bush and his people care much more about the "real" America than the Socialist-Marxist-Muslim-Terrorist Barack Obama.


Crumbs for the center-left

Let us see if Obama has the guts of a cat burglar…

We will know if Obama has what it takes, Paul Krugman and Greg Sargent suggest, if the President-elect appoints progressive economists and labor representatives to advisory board positions of no great influence!

I recall hearing something about the uselessness of putting lipstick on a pig….


Some recent Obama appointments

Obama builds the third Clinton administration

Economic appointments

President-elect Obama named Paul Volcker as the head of his economic advisory committee (see this, this and this). The Wall Street Journal reports that

The board's tasks will be broad: to help design and implement short-term programs to jump-start the economy, raise wages and living standards and confront the housing crisis. It will also address the delicate task of bolstering Washington's oversight of the financial markets in the wake of a Wall Street collapse that has taken down many of its most venerable institutions.

Economist Christina Romer will chair Obama's Council of Economic Advisors (see this).

Peter Orszag will head Obama's Office of Management and the Budget (see this and this).

National Security-Surveillance appointments

James L. Jones will become the next National Security Advisor, according to reports (see this and this).

Robert Gates will remain the Secretary of Defense pending Senate approval, according to reports (see this, this and this).

* * * *

When asked about his Beltway insider recycling program, the President-elect reportedly indicated

…that the American people would be "deeply troubled" if he didn't hire people with governing experience at a moment of such crisis, said they were merely tasked with implementing his vision, and placed the responsibility for creating that vision squarely on his own shoulders.

"That's my job," Obama said, adding that it "is to provide a vision where we are going and to make sure that my team is implementing it."

Obama added that his administration would "combine experience with fresh thinking."

It's unclear to me whether Obama's "American people" — Everyone? — would feel "deeply troubled" if they knew the candidate committed to change means to rely upon crusty relics and their acolytes when navigating the postmodern wasteland? Would they care that, say, Summers and Geithner, Clinton and Rubin have left their fingerprints all over the current economic crisis, as even the New York Times, the Washington Post and Steve Pearlstein admit (and as Glen Greenwald points out with respect to the Times and Pearlstein)? For the left in general, the Obama administration, as it has taken shape so far, leaves only troubling questions in its wake. For instance: If Barak Obama is so deeply committed to the Clintons and their gang, as he appears to be, why did he run for President against Hillary Clinton? Would not a Clinton make a better Clinton than an Obama? Besides, if the Clinton administration was that great that we just must have another dose of it, why did most Americans opt for Obama over Clinton? Did they err? Will Barack Obama make a better Clinton than would have? More importantly, was the Clinton administration at all successful? No! — unless, of course, you were a member of the special (corporate and military) interests Bill Clinton serviced while in office. Given the many failures of the Clinton administration and the number of Clintonistas set to serve President Obama, I believe it is worth asking whether the new President believes performance in office counts for anything when he selects his appointees? Can Obama find no one who shares his "vision," who lacks damning baggage and who is also willing to serve under him? Or, does his preference for these center-right hacks indicate that he too is, to put it bluntly, a center-right hack?

Where, one might add, may Americans find the change they can believe in amongst these center-right hacks?

Michael Hudson remains doubtful about Obama's commitment to change with respect to reforming the economy and addressing the empire:

Barack Obama was elected with overwhelming approval to inaugurate an era of change. And at his November 25 press conference, he said that his decisive victory gave him a mandate to change the direction in which America is moving. But his recent economic and foreign policy appointments make it clear that when he chose "change" as his campaign slogan, he was NOT referring to the financial, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sectors, nor to foreign policy. These are where the vested interests concentrate their wealth and power. And change already has been accelerating here. Unfortunately, its direction has been for the top 1% of America's population to raise their share of in the returns to wealth from 37% ten years ago to 57% five years ago and an estimated nearly 70% today.

The change that Mr. Obama is talking about is largely marginal to this wealth, not touching its economic substance — or its direction. No doubt he will bring about a welcome change in race relations, environmental regulations, and a more civil rule of law. And he probably will give wage earners an income-tax break (thereby enabling them to keep on paying their bank debts, incidentally). As for the rich, they prefer not to earn income in the first place. Taxes need to be paid on income, so they take their returns in the form of capital gains. And simply avoiding losses is the order of the day in the present meltdown.

Where losses cannot be avoided, the government will bail out the rich on their financial investments, but not wage earners on their debts.

"Maybe Ralph Nader was right," Nader-critic Robert Scheer now muses, while Robert Dreyfuss announces that he had told us this would happen. Nader looks right, according to Scheer, "in predicting that the same Wall Street hustlers would have a lock on our government no matter which major party won the election." And, in fact, Nader had gotten this matter right. For Americans and those affected by the country, the pressing question is not, "What reforms does America need to implement if it is to survive if not progress?" but, "Is meaningful reform possible in the United States?"


Out with the old, in with the old

Hillary Clinton — Secretary of State

The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton will become Barack Obama's first Secretary of State.

Timothy Geithner — Secretary of the Treasury

Bloomberg reports that Geithner will become the next Secretary of the Treasury. He currently heads the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Wall Street noticed, and approved.

Announcements will be made after Thanksgiving.


Some crisis links (11.20.2008)

The election of Barack Obama: How did this improbable event come about? M. Shahid Alam addresses the question and rightly argues:

The answer is sobering. We can thank the financial meltdown and, in some measure, the threat of an Armageddon — likely to follow Palin's succession to a geriatric McCain — for Obama's victory. There was no shifting of tectonic [racial] plates on this continent.

If anything, America's unquestioning identification of Obama as a 'black' candidate is deeply problematic. It demonstrates that the United States remains firmly rooted in ideas of race that go back to the era of slavery and Jim Crow Laws.

Indeed, first of all, Obama clearly was the best of the duopoly candidates. Moreover, he revealed his comparatively greater worth when he ran a strong and disciplined campaign to get the Democratic nomination and to win the Presidential election. Despite the quality of Obama's campaign, McCain and Palin, two dim bulbs burdened with much baggage, were making a go of it until America's "Black September" provided the electorate with the motive it needed to avoid making another ghastly and costly mistake. More significant still is the fact that Barack Obama's candidacy posed no threat at all to America's elite, despite the specious claims made by the McCain campaign and its fellow travelers. Obama, with his charisma, popular support and his intrinsic conservatism, may have been the best choice for the elite given the mess the Bush regime will leave for the next administration to manage.

Nonetheless and contrary to Alam's final judgment, it remains the case that a racially divided country, one with race-based slavery and genocide in its history, did elect an "other" instead of the candidate with the "politically correct" skin color. It also chose the well-educated and sophisticated man over his cartoonish, faux populist opponents. This, I believe, can and ought to be considered a victory for good sense, albeit a much smaller triumph than first appearances tend to suggest. I believe there is no harm in recognizing it as such.

Jobless claims rose to a 16-year high last month, according to the New York Times and Department of Labor reports (see this and this). And the recession is likely just beginning.


Some crisis links (11.19.2008)

The Dow plunged once again today, resting finally at 7,990. The culprits this time: A fear of deflation and a fear of an America lacking an auto industry.

Automakers across the world feel Detroit's pain — literally! Imported cars with nowhere to go now swamp the great port of Long Beach, California, according to the New York Times (via Naked Capitalism). It is clear that the Big Three are not the only companies with a problem.

TPM reports that the President-elect will soon finalize his Clinton error.

Politico wonders whether the next President will be able to undo the poison pills the outgoing President leaves behind. What are these poison pills? They refer to Bush's last gasp regulatory 'reforms.' The problem these 'reforms' pose, according to Politico:

"The problem with what the Bush administration is doing is that these rules are extremely cumbersome to adopt, and they are every bit as cumbersome to undo," said David Vladeck, an administrative law professor at Georgetown University. "It condemns the next administration to spend years fighting on the old administration's agenda."

The ‘Empire & War Party’ retains control of the Presidency

Henry Kissinger blesses the transition with his Hillary Clinton endorsement

So far, the Obama transition program seems dedicated to securing the President-elect's base of support among the militaristic and elitist factions of the two parties. I believe this point gains credence from Obama's recent defense of Joe Lieberman in the Senate, his selection of Rahm Emanuel to run his White House, his probable selection of Hillary Clinton to be his first Secretary of State and the conspicuous peace he made with Senator John McCain, the Republican whose campaign branded Obama a socialist, terrorist sympathizer, etc. So, the candidate who once staked his claim to the executive office on his opposition to the Iraq invasion and occupation now reveals through his actions that he is in no way opposed to empire and imperial aggression. This outcome may not be a reversal for Barack Obama but his embrace of the right surely undermines Obama's leftwing supporters.

What might Obama's imperial ways mean to sensible folk? To take but one example from the many already available: Publicly floating Hillary Clinton — America's Iron Lady — as his preferred pick to become his first Secretary of State sends another hearty "fuck you" to the Palestinians, as Bill and Kathleen Christison suggest. Clinton, of course, is a longtime supporter of Israel's Apartheid Wall and has been a sturdy supporter of the Bush regime's militarism except for her hypocritical campaign rhetoric. I would suggest that newest Obama-Clinton situation reveals Obama's intrinsic conservatism and his uncoerced affirmation of Washington's status quo. Slum dwellers around the world — globalization's most conspicuous victims — should note well the President-elect's intentions with respect to the Israel-Palestine conflict. They should not expect compassion from Obama's America. Rather, they should expect Washington to implement a more rational approach to imperial governance than that practiced by the departing administration.

If Obama's active hands have so far failed to convince those skeptical of any left critique of the President-elect, then Henry Kissinger's recent endorsement of a Clinton turn at the State Department should suffice. This endorsement, carrying as it does the full weight of Kissinger's crimes, can only enhance Obama's standing among America's power politicians, neocons and militarists.

To put the matter in the bluntest of terms, as Justin Raimondo of AntiWar.com will always do:

In his victory speech, Barack Obama told us: "I will listen to you, especially when we disagree." And, you know what? I believe him. He will listen. That's the one important difference, I think, between the outgoing and incoming administrations: George W. Bush would no sooner listen to ordinary Americans when it comes to the conduct of foreign affairs than he'd consult with Congress — i.e., not at all — whereas Obama… well, at least it's possible, and that is one real big change.

Okay, then, listen up, Mr. President-elect, because I've got a few bones to pick with you.

A Republican in charge of the Pentagon, a pro-torture anti-civil liberties CIA chief, and now Hillary Clinton as secretary of state — is there any principle you've forgotten to sell out?


Senate Democrats keeps Lieberman in the Caucus

Jumping Joe remains a Democrat

Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will continue to chair the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, according to the New York Times. Lieberman's support for Senator John McCain's presidential bid was not wholly costless, though. Senate Democrats threw Lieberman out of the Environment and Public Works Committee. "So," according to Greg Sargent at TPM, "Senate Dems will be allowing Lieberman to keep his plum spot despite the fact that he has been deeply awful in that role, and despite the fact that he endorsed efforts by the GOP to imply that Obama is in league with terrorists, suggested that Obama endangered our troops, and said Obama hasn't always put the country first."


Some crisis links (11.17.2008)

It appears that the Pentagon, our Messiah and an institution which occupies a place beyond criticism and responsibility, wants to bankrupt America. How else are we to interpret this passage by Bernard Finel in the DefenseNews (via Talking Points Memo)?

The uniformed services are trying to lock in the next administration by creating a political cost for holding the line on defense spending. Conservative groups are hoping to ramp up defense spending as a tool to limit options for a Democratic Congress and president to pass new, and potentially costly, social programs, including health care reform.

They also like the idea of creating an unrealistically high baseline of expectations for defense spending that will allow them to claim President Obama has cut defense spending.

To be sure, President Obama does not intend to cut defense spending. The author then rightly points out that:

Promoting overspending on defense in order to forestall popular social spending is undemocratic — it creates a false tension between national security and other public policy goals.

The informal alliance between the services and conservative think tanks threatens to further politicize the military. The abuse of national security arguments to win political arguments is both morally suspect and threatens the security of the nation by delinking strategic assessment from public policy.

Ultimately, the most dangerous aspect of this development is the threat posed to civil-military relations.

One quibble: Finel also could have included the mortal threat an autonomous and irresponsible military apparatus poses to America's liberal-democratic institutions and, obviously, to its way of life.

The New York Times reports on the fiscal catastrophes most states are now confronting. Revenue shortfalls and tight credit share in the blame for these problems. Yet, the obvious solution is not on the table: "In most states, budget directors and legislators have said that tax increases are not likely." The Times previously doubted the ability of the federal and state governments to provide for the downwardly mobile and the impoverished (the link via Naked Capitalism).


Some crisis links (11.15.2008)

America's high-technology sector has finally given way to the economic crisis, according to the New York Times. Declines in both retail sales and capital investment were blamed for these tech troubles, which the article compared to the Dot.com bust of 2001.

The G-20 nations met this weekend and pledged to work together to resolve the economic crisis (see this, this, this). They also submissively complied with President Bush's demand that they convey their heartfelt belief that economic "…reforms will only be successful if grounded in a commitment to free market principles, including the rule of law, respect for private property, open trade and investment, competitive markets, and efficient, effectively regulated financial systems." They met Bush's demand even though he is now an especially weak lame-duck President. In any case, the G-20 countries plan to meet next on April 30, 2009, soon after Barack Obama takes office.

Mike Whitney accuses Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson of attempting to reinvigorate the securitization strategy Wall Street deployed since the late-90s deregulation efforts, a strategy which now stands ahead of every other contender as the decisive cause of the economic crisis. After labeling Paulson's latest gambit a "swindle," Whitney goes on to conclude:

There's more pain to come, but the suffering can be mitigated by sound decision-making and Keynesian policies. That means public work programs, bankruptcy reform, and extensions on unemployment. Paul Krugman recommends a stimulus package of $600 billion. That's a good start, but it will take much more than that. And foreign investors will have to be confident in our choices or the sale of Treasurys will slip and the US will face a funding crisis. The Fed's lending facilities have already loaned $2 trillion while the Treasury's bailout is $700 billion. By the end of 2010, fiscal deficits will be nearly $2 trillion and the total cost to the US taxpayer will be at least $5 trillion. That means rising interest rates, flagging growth and hard times ahead.

The present financial crisis is a self-inflicted wound. It started at the Federal Reserve with their cynical neoliberal monetary policies. Any solution, that does not involve the dismantling of the Fed, is unacceptable.

William Wharton also looks at New York Governor Patterson's slash and burn method of balancing New York's budget. After referring to the shocking website Reduce New York Spending, where New Yorkers can communicate with the state about the cuts they prefer, Wharton goes on to point out that:

Missing from the Reduce NY Spending website is any mention of a meeting that took place in early 2008 between Governor Paterson and Columbia University Economist Joseph Stiglitz. At the meeting Stiglitz recommended a wealth tax as the most efficient means of closing NY State's rising budget deficit. A tax of 6% on all income above $5 million would cover an estimated $6 billion of the deficit. Stiglitz favors tax increases because he claims that state and local government spending provides a greater positive economic impact than budget cuts. The implementation of a progressive tax structure, a larger capital gains tax and a small tax on financial transactions conducted in the state would more than cover the rest. Of course, this would mean allowing New Yorkers to adjust the "revenue" side of the Budget Balancing Calculator!

In other words, Governor Patterson and his advisors want most New Yorkers to wage class war on their own interests! He also wants them to express their civic virtue by consulting with the state about the implementation of New York's very own Structural Adjustment Program! Democracy this ain't!

The New York Times reports that personal bankruptcies jumped 8% last month. Unsurprisingly, the Times is also bullish on Spam!


Some crisis links (11.14.2008)

The New York Times reports that, for the proposed lame duck session next month, the Congressional Republicans will fail to produce support sufficient to pass an automobile industry bailout bill. The stimulus package proposed by the President-elect and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also appears on shaky ground, once again due to a lack of Republican support.

Paul Krugman, on the other hand, believes the economic crisis is dangerous enough that it warrants a $600B stimulus program as a remedy.

In what must be considered additional and compelling evidence that Barack Obama's victory over John McCain was just another triumph of the Democratic Leadership Council over the progressive wing of the Party, Andrea Mitchell, Keith Olbermann and the Associated Press reported yesterday that the Obama transition group is considering Senator Hillary Clinton for the Secretary of State post.

Sharing my grim judgment is Glen Greenwald's latest piece, where he writes:

It is worth remembering that the Democrats who are going to exert dominant political control are the same ones who have provoked so much scorn — rightfully so — over the last several years, and particularly since 2006. This is the same Democratic Party leadership which funded the Iraq War without conditions (and voted to authorize it in the first place); massively expanded the President's warrantless eavesdropping powers; immunized lawbreaking telecoms; enacted the Patriot Act and then renewed it with virtually no changes; didn't even bother to mount a filibuster to stop the Military Commissions Act; refrained from pursuing any meaningful investigations of Bush lawbreaking; confirmed every last extremist Bush nominee, from Michael McConnell to Michael Mukasey; acquiesced to even the worst and most lawless Bush policies when they were briefed on them; and on and on and on. None of that has changed. That is still who they are.

The occasion for Greenwald's reflections: The effort to rehabilitate the vile Senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, a pariah among Democrats in his own state!

This [bizarre effort to keep Lieberman a Democrat] reveals much about the Beltway mentality. Politicians are not only permitted, but actually encouraged, even required, to scorn the Left. There's even an adoring term for that ("Sister Soljauh") which is almost unanimously considered a truly shrewd and honorable thing to do. By stark contrast, merely replacing someone in the position of a deeply influential Chairmanship who has strayed way too far to the Right and turned himself into a leading advocate for the most wretched policies is considered horribly divisive.

If one wishes to consider another option, one which does not end in the back pocket of the Democratic Party, click here.


Some crisis links (11.12.2008)

The Washington Post reports that Barack Obama intends to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention (torture) center — the Orwellian Camp Justice! — after he takes office. Practical concerns remain to be solved, however, since the Obama administration will not renounce President Bush's global or local terror wars. Nor will it release prisoners en masse. In other words, the Obama administration will also accumulate, interrogate, prosecute and warehouse terror suspects; consequently, it will need to implement a program designed to accomplish these ends without also retaining in any way the crudest and illegal aspects of the Bush program.

While critiquing it from the right, William Buiter savages Barack Obama's Transition Economic Advisory Board (the link comes via Naked Capitalism). The problems in a nutshell, according to Buiter:

the members of Obama's Transition Economic Advisory Board are too old, too uninspiring and too much part of the problem to deliver the change America needs and to keep alive the hope that Obama may have inspired through his election. A wasted opportunity.

Regrettably, Buiter ruined whatever confidence his analysis inspired by praising shock-master Paul Volcker — "a truly great man with more character, intelligence and vision than the rest of the Board put together"!

Treasury Secretary Paulson, perhaps responding to the strong signal the electorate recently sent to the country's elite, indicated that his "…$700 billion government rescue program would not be used to purchase troubled assets as originally planned." Part of it will be used to support additional financial concerns and even the troubled mortgage market. Counterintuitive as it may seem, and it is odd because the country endures a debt-driven recession, Paulson wants the revised bailout program to reinvigorate consumer borrowing. How might lenders, thus equipped with this new liquidity, identify those individuals worth a loan in an uncertain labor market? How might the borrowers repay their debts during a recession or depression? Why would they borrow to purchase luxury goods or even necessary goods when they may be unable to repay their loans?

Today, New York Governor David Patterson proposed to cut his state's budgets by at least $5.2B over the next 16 months, according to the New York Times (see also this and this). The cuts are likely to fall mostly on education and Medicaid, two areas which are most in need of funding and two areas in which those harmed the most by these cuts will lack the means needed to retaliate. The Governor also expects labor to make concessions.

Do cuts like these matter? Is state and local spending that important? Yes, it is. Their "…share is gigantic," the New York Times warned last June.

At $1.8 trillion annually in a $14 trillion economy, the states and municipalities spend almost twice as much as the federal government, including the cost of the Iraq war. When librarians, lifeguards, teachers, transit workers, road repair crews and health care workers disappear, or airport and school construction is halted, the economy trembles. None of that, or very little, has happened so far, not even in California, despite a significant decline in tax revenue.

Shrinking state and local government spending programs will thus depress the national economy, suppressing growth and promoting unemployment. The multiplier becomes an issue as a stagnating economy generates the conditions for future stagnation. Patterson's announcement may be identified as one of the early efforts in what will soon become a budget cutting frenzy and another indicator of the crisis as it deepens and expands.


Poverty and the economic crisis

Images of food and housing insecurity in the United States

Some crisis links (11.10.2008)

Paul Craig Roberts, after considering Barack Obama's advisers and early appointees, fears the War Party and Banksters will remain in power once Obama becomes President.

Using Oren Kerr as his foil, Glen Greenwald rightly accuses America's intellectual elite of betrayal during the Bush crime wave regime (see this, this and this). When considered as a whole, they were polite if not silent during that time. Neither may be appropriate responses to the events and actions of the moment. Greenwald writes:

The question isn't whether invective as opposed to reasoned argument is appropriate. Even with regard to the most morally urgent debates — perhaps especially there — conclusions are only worthwhile if steeped in premises that are well-supported, analysis that is well-informed, and reasoning that is sound. Nobody disputes that. The issue is that huge numbers of elites and other experts (such as Kerr) who came forth to opine on what the Bush administration was doing failed to inform the public, failed to sound the alarm, about just how radical and lawless these assertions were — what a profound departure from our constitutional traditions they represented.

Instead, many of our leading opinion-makers and elites often defended those policies and thus legitimized them. Even when there was opposition, it was typically tepid, mild, respectful, ambivalent, constrained, dispassionate — creating the appearance to a citizenry that relies upon experts and elites to sound the alarm when things have gone fundamentally off track that there was nothing unusual or noteworthy about the powers this administration was claiming and the conduct in which it was engaging.

Paul Krugman advocates that President-elect Obama opt for a stronger and consistent version of FDR's New Deal reforms. In this Krugman sounds a bit like a left Keynesian!

So also Rahm Emanuel, who informed the world that:

US President-elect Barack Obama intends to push a comprehensive programme of social and economic reform beyond an immediate emergency stimulus package….

Mr. Emanuel brushed aside concerns that an Obama administration would risk taking on too much when it takes office in January. He said Mr. Obama saw the financial meltdown as an historic opportunity to deliver the large-scale investments that Democrats had promised for years.

The economic crisis continues to cull the weak. The vultures thus continue to eye a rapidly fading General Motors, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Obama administration wants to save the American auto industry but might not arrive quickly enough to save this relic from America's industrial past.

These days, thanks to Treasury Secretary Paulson's enormous generosity with money belonging to others, survival concerns do not trouble AIG, who will receive another $40B from America's taxpayers, according to the New York Times. Peter Morici suggests implementing an alternative to extending the AIG bailout:

If AIG can't make it on the money the taxpayers have already apparently squandered, then the Treasury should simply exercise its warrants, take control of AIG, and sell off AIG's solid insurance businesses for what they are worth. The Treasury can buy back the CDOs for common shares in the company and reorganize the new AIG with more responsible management.


Some crisis links (11.9.2008)

Writing for the Washington Post (via Naked Capitalism), Joseph Stiglitz warns the President-elect to expect a long, deep and career-defining recession. "The first task facing President-elect Obama, after eight years of misguided economic policies, will be to begin the recovery — or at least forestall a further decline. It won't be easy," Stiglitz counsels. Stiglitz's reforms are radical given the ideological tenor and institutional decay of the past 40 years. Together they amount to a new economic model. This

…model will require changes in the ways and places where we live and work. There will be some losers (including the oil industry, which has done jarringly well in recent years), but there will be even more winners.

In so many ways, the United States has reached a low point. Picking ourselves up off the ground is itself no mean achievement. But I hope that our new president will do even more for us than that.

What is a crisis? It is a moment of dusk and dawn, of death and birth.

China, in response to its slowing growth rate, announced a $586B stimulus plan, according to the New York Times.

Congressional Democrats have also caught the spirit of reform. They want to divert a part of Paulson's gift to Wall Street by giving it to America's faltering auto industry (see this and this). Following the President-elect's lead, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wants Congress to pass a stimulus package before January, according to the Journal.


Some crisis links (11.8.2008)

Writing in the Nation, Robert Polin states the obvious:

The recession is certainly here, so the question now is how to diminish its length and severity. A large-scale federal government stimulus program is the only action that can possibly do the job.

His plan:

Recessions create widespread human suffering. Minimizing the suffering has to be the top priority in fighting the recession. This means expanding unemployment benefits and food stamps to counteract the income losses of unemployed workers and the poor. By stabilizing the pocketbooks of distressed households, these measures also help people pay their mortgages and pump money into consumer markets.

Beyond this, the stimulus program should be designed to meet three additional criteria. First, we have to generate the largest possible employment boost for a given level of new government spending. Second, the spending targets should be in areas that strengthen the economy in the long run, not just through a short-term money injection. And finally, despite the recession, we do not have the luxury of delaying the fight against global warming.

To further all these goals we need a green public-investment stimulus. It would defend state-level health and education projects against budget cuts; finance long-delayed upgrades for our roads, bridges, railroads and water management systems; and underwrite investments in energy efficiency — including building retrofits and public transportation—as well as new wind, solar, geothermal and biomass technologies.

Briefly put, Polin believes that the best possible stimulus program will, if effective, conserve the lives and well being of those individuals most harmed by the crisis, reindustrialize an American economy gutted by finance capital and the Pentagon, refurbish the decaying American landscape and, most importantly, begin to transform the American economy from a system based on resource waste, wealth and income polarity and imperial exploitation to as system that is more ecologically and socially sound.

Ironically, Polin defends his plan, in part, by comparing it to the Reagan stimulus of 1983-4, which was modestly successful in resolving the early 1980s recession. But Polin's plan will intentionally avoid Reagan's Military-Keynesian and trickle down components. It is right to avoid the Reagan strategy since the long and consistent use of the Reagan strategy has produced the current economic crisis.

"This is no time to be timid," as Polin rightly asserts. He hit the mark because Americans will not have too many political opportunities to retool the economy and put the country on a sounder economic base.

Despite the economic crisis, business leaders are looking with suspicion at the pending Obama presidency, according to Business Week. And yet they also find themselves indulging in the personality cult forming around the President-elect:

One notable irony about CEOs and Obama: When the bosses talk of the President-elect, they often invoke Roosevelt. "We need a very, very strong leader, almost like FDR," says Garo H. Armen, CEO of New York-based Antigenics (AGEN), a biotech startup. "He needs to put in place an FDR effect," says Dow Chemical (DOW) Chief Executive Andrew N. Liveris. FDR often antagonized business, but he electrified the nation with his decisiveness. Business executives, like many other Americans, are waiting anxiously to see what FDR effect Barack Obama can produce.

In any case, the President-elect recently pledged to implement a stimulus program as soon as possible (see this, this, this and this).


The President elect sends a sharp message to the Palestinians

So much for the 'Barack is a closet Muslim terrorist' trope

John Whitbeck characterized his signal in the following:

In the first major appointment of his administration, President-elect Barack Obama has named as his chief of staff Congressman Rahm Emanuel, an Israeli citizen and Israeli army veteran whose father, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was a member of Menachem Begin's Irgun forces during the Nakba and named his son after "a Lehi combatant who was killed" — i.e., a member of Yitzhak Shamir's terrorist Stern Gang, responsible for, in addition to other atrocities against Palestinians, the more famous bombing of the King David Hotel and assassination of the UN peace envoy Count Folke Bernadotte.

Whitbeck argues that Emanuel's appointment, when considered along with Obama's AIPAC speech and Netanyahu's probable return to power, ought to scuttle any expectation that President Obama will push for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some crisis links (11.7.2008)

They're depressing….

Jobs became scarcer in October, according to reports (see this, this, this and this). Unfortunately the employment news is grimmer than the latest official report lets on. The unofficial but likely more accurate unemployment rate is about double the official rate, according to Shadow Government Statistics:

Chart of U.S. Unemployment

Ford Motor Company continues to hemorrhage cash, according to official and unofficial reports (see this, this, this and this). General Motors and Chrysler are also treading water and should mimic Ford's troubled story when they release their latest earnings reports.

The world stands before another food crisis, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (here) and the Financial Times (via Naked Capitalism). The global financial crisis will be the proximate cause of the food crisis, according to the FAO report.

And, as one would expect in an economic environment characterized by institutional decay and a global crisis, retail sales have again plummeted (see this).

Some encouraging news: Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Jeffry Shapiro whines:

It seems that no matter what Mr. Bush does, he is blamed for everything. He remains despised by the left while continuously disappointing the right.

But this good news is not the best news possible. The best possible news: Congress impeaches Bush and Cheney; the two are then sent to be tried for the War Crimes they committed by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.


Some pertinent observations (11.6.2008)

Binoy Kampmark asserts that "Obama's victory, if nothing else, allows Americans to claim that their state is more democratic than it is, and more tolerant than it might be."

Frank Menetrez warns his readers about the dangers inherent in an Obama personality cult:

Obama will undoubtedly be better than Bush was and better than McCain would have been, and the differences matter. But a realistic assessment of the scope of those differences is imperative. Without it, people who really care about changing this country's direction will end up counting on one man, Obama, instead of on themselves to bring about the change we need. Those people will inevitably be disappointed.

Tom Engelhardt assesses the nearly completed election spectacle thusly:

Sometimes, reality simply outruns the words meant to describe it. Historically, when a new Chinese dynasty came to power, the emperor performed a ceremony called "the rectification of names" — on the theory that the previous dynasty had fallen, in part, because reality and the names for it had gone so out of whack, because words no longer described the world they were meant for.

After the Bush years, we desperately need such a rectification. And perhaps we need a new word — maybe a whole new vocabulary — as well for the "election season" that never ends, that seems now something like a grim, eternal American Idol contest.

He continues:

I can't help but think, despite the quality of the man who somehow ended up atop our world, that this was indeed an imperial election, far too supersized for any real democracy. Yes, Americans crudely expressed the displeasure of a people who had had enough, and thank heavens for that, but… our will? The People's Will. I doubt greatly that the People's Will is going to make it to Washington with Barack Obama.

It is unfortunate but altogether true that elections in the United States are meant to neutralize the "people's will," divided and inarticulate as it mostly is. They accomplish this by reconciling the decision-making power invested in the electoral mechanism and those who use this mechanism with the demands and powers of those who run America's empire. Elitism is an inherent feature of a modern society. Elections work to legitimate this system and those who sit at its apex.

Timothy Garton Ash wrote:

Mark carefully, however, what the Obama model is. It deploys civic nationalism to transcend ethnic diversity. Many of Tuesday's revellers were waving the stars and stripes, or sporting it on some part of their dress. No right-wing Republican could insist more than Obama does on American uniqueness, exceptionalism, manifest destiny. His proclaimed purpose is "to make this century the next American century". If George W Bush said that, we from the rest of the world might regard it as rank nationalist arrogance. Because it's Obama, we somehow accept it.

I suspect many outsiders (non-American observers of the world) accept Obama's nationalism because they believe — wrongly, perhaps — that the President elect will refuse to transform his sentiment into an aggressive militarism as President Bush had after 9.11. Their hope may issue from a wish that the United States will return to being a just empire — an enlightened despot! — just like the global superpower they believed had existed in the past. Yet, the American empire was never benign. America has often supported dictators when doing so suited its purposes and has cruelly opposed the peasants, working and middle classes whenever members of these categories dared to hold their heads high by meddling in affairs that concerned Uncle Sam. George Bush did not invent America the genocidal killer; he inherited the force needed to commit this kind of crime and the will to carry it out the criminal deed. Obama's greatest challenge will be to reject the intentions embedded in this sorry history. Making this refusal will be Obama's greatest challenge because it is America's greatest challenge.


Change we don’t need

The President elect begins by making a few false steps

It appears that President elect Obama's transition team will be loaded with Clintonistas, according to New York Times and Washington Post reports (see this and this). Both also report that Obama has offered his Chief of Staff position to his friend Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the former Clinton staff member. The Wall Street Journal has developed an early list of potential Obama Cabinet members. The names on the list will not inspire Obama's leftwing supporters unless, of course, they prefer a rehash of the past betrayals.

One may wonder what President Obama intends to change if he relies on these party regulars?

Obama defeats McCain

The Independent deemed Obama's victory a "landslide."

Political leaders across the world sighed with relief, according to the Financial Times and the Berliner Zeitung (here and here). Obama's victory has been identified as a signal that the United States is indeed changing and that this change will be for the better, according to Le Monde.

The EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso wants President Obama to work with the EU to produce a second New Deal, according to the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung.

The Berliner Zeitung reports that the German economic elite expect a better showing from President Obama than they would have gotten from President McCain and have gotten from President Bush.

The New York Times assessed Obama's victory thusly:

The election of Mr. Obama amounted to a national catharsis — a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama's call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country [emphasis added].

The Washington Post concurs, writing:

The historic Election Day brought millions of new and sometimes tearful voters, long lines at polling places nationwide, and celebrations on street corners and in front of the White House. It ushered in a new era of Democratic dominance in Congress, even though the party's quest for the 60 votes needed for a veto-proof majority in the Senate remained in doubt early today. In the House, Democrats made major gains, adding to their already sizable advantage and returning them to a position of power that predates the 1994 Republican revolution.


A video stream of Democracy Now’s election coverage

James Ridgeway on President Obama

Ridgeway's judgment nearly sounds right to my ears:

If the United States today elects an African American man to the presidency, that event will mark a turning point in US history and culture. It will genuinely represent a triumph of hope over fear — all the more so because Barack Obama for the most part ran a dignified and inclusive campaign, in the face of the hateful and divisive rhetoric of John McCain. It's significance cannot be overstated. Yet, as Ken Silverstein of Harpers observes, an Obama victory is "not about politics but about the man." Ironically, Obama may transform the face and spirit of a nation, without dramatically changing the substance of its policies.

I would only add that an Obama victory would belong not just to Barack Obama, the man, but also to America's citizens as a whole. I would include the latter since, in order have this specific man as their President, these citizens will have had to have rejected centuries of race hatred by electing the best duopoly candidate for the job without caring a damn about his race. This will be a victory — a small victory, but a victory nonetheless — for the country.

The last poll

538.com's latest:


Which candidate will get my vote?

Ralph Nader, of course (see this and this).

I had briefly considered voting for Obama-Biden in order to affirm the antiracism that will be an intrinsic feature of an Obama victory on the fourth. The McCain campaign's sleazy tactics and the appeal they had for the racist element in the country made this otherwise ordinary Democratic duo acceptable to me. And, to be sure, Barack Obama is the lesser evil of the duopoly candidates. I would say that Americans, after enduring the Bush crime wave, surely could stand to have less evil in their lives. It is thus due to Obama's plain superiority over the Republican that I'll cheer loudly when McCain-Palin concedes. Yet, it is because Barack Obama intends to support America's faltering empire, its Wall Street plutocrats, the insurance industry and much else that is defective and corrupt that I cannot judge him as anything but an avoidable political evil for the country. Hope, the keyword of the Obama campaign, would be better served if the country were to take another path. That path begins with Ralph Nader and his agenda.

Defend the vote

Via Mark Crispin Miller at News from the Underground: Take a video camera to the polls on election Tuesday and use the sun's light to defend the franchise from Republican attacks. "How to" Instructions can be found here.

Water > Oil?


So says a report published in the Guardian (via CommonDreams). The upshot:

Looking back at the history of mankind's struggle for enough water, experience suggests the initiative which enabled humans to settle, farm and dominate the planet will provide many solutions. But sometimes we might have to accept defeat. 'On the one hand you can see this amazing technological ingenuity of humans, which throughout prehistory and history continually invented new ways to manage water supply,' says Mithen. 'On the other, the story of the past tells us that sometimes, however brilliant your technological inventions, they are just not good enough, and you get periods of abandonment of landscapes. We have got to be prepared to invest in technology, but also to recognise in some parts of the world there are going to be areas where we're going to have to say "enough's enough".'


Are you registered to vote at your current address?

You can check here, thanks to MoveOn.org and Catalist.

How bad has life become for the GOP?

David Michael Green nicely sums up the situation:

The regressive movement — so deluded that they still like to think of themselves as conservatives — is on death watch now, and yet it doesn't know it, nor does it remotely begin to understand why. But the reasons — both proximate and distant — are plain enough to see. The immediate problem is that they ran a pathetic candidate against a great candidate. More importantly, they ran a slimy, Rovian campaign against a guy who knew how to fight back, and also had the guts to do so, and they presented it all to a national electorate that is frightened enough to no longer be willing to indulge foolery anymore. The proof of this is that John McCain might actually have the best night of any Republican candidate on Tuesday, as Democrats massively increase their majorities in both the House and the Senate, perhaps even gaining a filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate majority, perhaps even giving Senate Minority Leader and major scuzzbucket Mitch McConnnell (from Kentucky no less!) his walking papers. And, as if that weren't proof enough, this comes after a similar blow-out in 2006, when the GOP got a "thumpin'", and lost control of both houses of Congress. And, to top it all off, voters don't even particularly like Democrats, and they sure don't like the current Congress, which is controlled by Democrats. It's rare for an American political party to get stomped two elections in a row, let alone by a generally disliked alternative party. You have to be screwing up really badly to do that, in a collective effort sort of way [emphasis added].

Indeed, the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party in 1980, will benefit greatly from the American party system's democracy deficit. Its democracy deficit: America necessarily lacks an electorally viable party opposed to its party duopoly. This lack must exist because the institutional mechanisms are in place which ensure that it will exist.


A black woman casts her vote for McCain-Palin?

In Diebold we can trust….

Some crisis links (11.1.2008)

Americans — the unworthy

Joseph Stiglitz's latest article (via Truthout) seemingly aims to prepare Americans for painful depression to come. Yet, his really disturbing news has less to do with the depression to come than it does with the individuals who will lead the country during the crisis:

As America attempts to work its way out of the present crisis, the danger is that we will listen to the same people on Wall Street and in the economic establishment who got us into it. For them, our current predicament is another opportunity: if they can shape the government response appropriately, they stand to gain, or at least stand to lose less, and they may be willing to sacrifice the well-being of the economy for their own benefit — just as they did in the past.

It is unfortunate but true nonetheless that neither President McCain nor President Obama looks ready to abandon Wall Street or the architects of the current financial crisis. In fact, they appear eager to salvage tainted members of their favorite elite faction when they take office in January, just as one would expect from two party hacks. So, as things now stand, prudent Americans should expect to confront more of the same when the next President takes office. In the end, the differences between the two candidates and their parties will merely emphasize everything they agree upon.

For American citizens, the crucial problem is, as always, political in nature. Given the nature and severity of the current economic crisis, the candidates certain enjoy a rare opportunity to adopt a new path. Yet, the candidates representing the "party duopoly" have simply ignored this possibility.

The New York Times has published article on deflation in the world economy (see also this, this, this, this, this). According to the Times, stagflation such as we saw during the crisis of the 1970s might not be a feature of our probable future. Rather:

The new worry is that in the worst case, the end of inflation may be the beginning of something malevolent: a long, slow retrenchment in which consumers and businesses worldwide lose the wherewithal to buy, sending prices down for many goods. Though still considered unlikely, that would prompt businesses to slow production and accelerate layoffs, taking more paychecks out of the economy and further weakening demand.

The danger of this is the difficulty of a cure. Policy makers can generally choke off inflation by raising interest rates, dampening economic activity and reducing demand for goods. But as Japan discovered, an economy may remain ensnared by deflation for many years, even when interest rates are dropped to zero: falling prices make companies reluctant to invest even when credit is free.

Actually, for Americans, the cure for deflation is well known and can be adapted to fit current needs: The medicine would begin today with the demilitarization of the federal government and the nation's economic system and would proceed via a country committed to implementing an ecologically sound reindustrialization program. But, soon to be President Obama will defend the empire by preparing the country for war.

A view of the crisis from the right (via Naked Capitalism and the Financial Times):

We should worry less about the bigness of our problems than about the smallness of our character. We are out of practice at handling a world of repossessed cars, hand-me-down clothes and cancelled vacations and graduation parties. For many decades, people were steeled against recession by a knowledge that things could be a lot worse. Britain had memories of postwar rationing. In the US, 8m people were unemployed throughout the 1930s. Even people in their mid-40s may remember Edward Heath's three-day week and Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech.

Most people, though, are too young to remember that stuff. Perhaps that is why we are in the mess we are in. The US has not had a deep nationwide recession since at least 1981-82.

How silly of me to believe that economic problems cannot be explained by relying upon a large dose of crap psychology….