Best line of the day

And William Greider wrote it:

The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer can be thought of as the Potemkin village of American democracy. Every evening, it presents a prettified version of political debate — ever so civil and high-minded — that thoroughly blots out the substance of dissenting critics or the untamed opinions of mere citizens.

The latest News Hour snow job? The humanization of the Fed by way of "Gentle Ben" Bernanke! It's valium for the frightened! Lest we forget for what and whom the Fed stands, Greider helps us by recalling the Olympians who saved the world during the last great crisis:


Keepin the guberment out of Medicare

Joshua Holland suspects that:

Many observing these [healthcare] debates from abroad have probably concluded that we, as a nation, have finally gone completely mad. And it's hard to argue otherwise.

How sane could be a polity that sits by with relative complacence when its leaders launch devastating and groundless invasions of foreign lands but approach a full-on rebellion when those leaders make some modest moves to deliver decent health care at a price people can afford?

And how could these people be so divorced from the dynamics of their own health care that they don't appear to understand that the Medicare they value so highly is very much a government-run health care program?

I would bet that observers of the United States suspected Uncle Sam of political madness since the moment when Republican conservatives generated another Constitutional crisis — that is, when they sought to impeach Bill Clinton for his boorish sexual practices. And, if that sorry episode failed to convince them, surely the 2000 election debacle finished the job.

It is always unwise to underestimate the effectiveness envy and vindictiveness, vanity and greed, hatred and paranoia have in human affairs.


The official and real unemployment rates (8.2009)

On the Bernanke reappointment

Dean Baker opines:

It would be an insult to the tens of millions of people who have lost their jobs, their homes, and/or their life savings to see Bernanke reappointed. Failure should have consequences, even for central bank chairmen.



The New York Times reports that:

President Obama on Tuesday will nominate Ben S. Bernanke to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, administration officials said.

Knee-jerk neo-liberalism

Ronald Reagan refuses to die

Paul Krugman's latest deliberates on the remarkable irrationality to be found in the healthcare debate:
The debate over the "public option" in health care has been dismaying in many ways. Perhaps the most depressing aspect for progressives, however, has been the extent to which opponents of greater choice in health care have gained traction — in Congress, if not with the broader public — simply by repeating, over and over again, that the public option would be, horrors, a government program.
And, Barack Obama = Hitler…

Krugman offers this explanation:
Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.
Call me naïve, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming.
But the fiend lives still. "So why won't these zombie ideas die?", Krugman asks.
Part of the answer is that there's a lot of money behind them. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something," said Upton Sinclair, "when his salary" — or, I would add, his campaign contributions — "depend upon his not understanding it." In particular, vast amounts of insurance industry money have been flowing to obstructionist Democrats like Mr. Nelson and Senator Max Baucus, whose Gang of Six negotiations have been a crucial roadblock to legislation.
But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn't used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism. That's ironic, in a way, since a large part of what made Reagan so effective, for better or for worse, was the fact that he sought to change America's thinking as well as its tax code.
How will this all work out? I don't know. But it's hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we're at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn.


It takes two…

President Obama may abandon any effort to create a bipartisan consensus on healthcare reform, according to Bloomberg. Perhaps the President will make transparent the reasons he held on for so long to a goal that was always quixotic.


More incredible people protest a good thing

Astroturf nation responds to another threat

The New York Times reports that:

Hard on the heels of the health care protests, another citizen movement seems to have sprung up, this one to oppose Washington's attempts to tackle climate change. But behind the scenes, an industry with much at stake — Big Oil — is pulling the strings.

Hundreds of people packed a downtown theater here on Tuesday for a lunchtime rally that was as much a celebration of oil's traditional role in the Texas way of life as it was a political protest against Washington's energy policies, which many here fear will raise energy prices.

"Something we hold dear is in danger, and that's our future," said Bill Bailey, a rodeo announcer and local celebrity, who was the master of ceremonies at the hourlong rally.

The Times did not provide Bailey's opinion on what the future would hold for the world if a mega-polluter like the United States were to fail to significantly reduce its green house gas emissions.


Socialism — paint it black

Tim Wise makes this point about the reactionary right:

Throughout the first six months of his administration, President Obama — perhaps one of the most politically cautious leaders in contemporary history — has been routinely portrayed as a radical by his opponents on the far-right. In particular, persons who have apparently never actually studied Marxism (or if they did, managed to somehow find therein support for such things as bailing out banks and elite corporations) contend that Obama is indeed a socialist. Reducing all government action other than war-making to part of a larger socialist conspiracy, the right contends that health care reform is socialist, capping greenhouse gas emissions is socialist, even providing incentives for driving fuel efficient cars is socialist. That the right insists upon Obama's radical-left credentials, even as they push an Obama=Hitler meme (something they apparently think is fair, since, after all the Nazis were National Socialists, albeit the kind who routinely murdered the genuine article) only speaks to the special brand of crazy currently in vogue among the nation's reactionary forces.

As real socialists laugh at these clumsily made broadsides, and as scholars of actual socialist theory try and explain the absurdity of the analogies being drawn by conservative commentators, a key point seems to have been missed, and it is this point that best explains what the red-baiting is actually about.

It is not, and please make note of it, about socialism. Or capitalism. Or economics at all, per se.

What, then, motivates the right's rancorous broadsides if it is not their fear of a creeping socialism?

…[W]hat differentiates Obama from any of the other big spenders who have previously occupied the White House is principally one thing — his color. And it is his color that makes the bandying about of the "socialist" label especially effective and dangerous as a linguistic trope. Indeed, I would suggest that at the present moment, socialism is little more than racist code for the longstanding white fear that black folks will steal from them, and covet everything they have. The fact that the fear may now be of a black president, and not just some random black burglar hardly changes the fact that it is fear nonetheless: a deep, abiding suspicion that African American folk can't wait to take whitey's stuff, as payback, as reparations, as a way to balance the historic scales of injustice that have so long tilted in our favor. In short, the current round of red-baiting is based on implicit (and perhaps even explicit) appeals to white racial resentment. It is Mau-Mauing in the truest sense of the term, and especially since Obama's father was from the former colonial Kenya! Unless this is understood, left-progressive responses to the tactic will likely fall flat. After all, pointing out the absurdity of calling Obama a socialist, given his real policy agenda, will mean little if the people issuing the charge were never using the term in the literal sense, but rather, as a symbol for something else entirely.

"Racism — the socialism of fools," to use an updated version August Bebel's celebrated aperçu.

Racists against healthcare reform


The Nader moment revisited

I once defined the Nader Moment as:

….something besides the personal electoral prospects of this particular candidate. The term does not refer to Nader's campaign per se. He may or may not win this fall. In fact, he will likely lose the election. Yet the moment reflects his political style in any case. It reflects the need for a reform program that serves just ends.

As I use it, the term has two features: On the one hand, the Nader Moment refers to a specific point in time, namely, to the situation Americans now confront; on the other, it refers to something which is becoming a chronic problem for the country, a problem which marks our present situation while pointing to a disturbing future. The future looks disturbing because it promises to be a time of global war and dictatorship, economic crisis and environmental catastrophe. This problem in general: The United States is pulling the world into this abyss. The problem stated specifically: The political culture which crystallized around the image of Ronald Reagan and the election of 1980 has been exposed as irrelevant, at best, by the crisis the country now faces. 'Crisis' is the relevant word to use here since America now appears to be confronting a historical turning point. It must choose between recycling old thinking and past practices and refusing the past by inventing a politics adequate to the moment. It must reject Reaganism, for the Reagan Revolution generates instability, tyranny and a lesser quality of life for much of the world. It leads to these things because it reflects the thinking and practices of neoliberalism and neoconservatism or, to put the matter less charitably, of 'market fundamentalism' and 'militarism.' Reagan's oft-stated goals were to get government off 'our' backs and to 'stand tall' within the world and against the Communists. A resurgent America would replace the timid colossus left in the wake of the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Stagflation crisis of the 1970s. But the Reagan administration set in motion processes which strongly implicate it in the crisis Americans now confront. The governments of Reagan's America have proven to be more intrusive, less transparent and more destructive than not. America neither stands tall nor resolutely for any principle but imperial self-aggrandizement. It is for this reason that market fundamentalism and militarism have little which is constructive to say about the current situation. Blind to the complexity of the world, deaf to the suffering of nearly every person on the planet, they provide no insight or practical guidance to those Americans who wish to live as good neighbors with the rest of humanity.

Briefly put, the Nader Moment points to a deeply rooted crisis — a crisis of America's institutions and political culture — and to the need to resolve the crisis in a way which provides just and long-term benefits to most Americans. It refers to a situation that demands an innovative, democratic and populist politics.

The term thus refers to the kind of politics Nader embodied as well as to the dire situation most Americans confront today. Although 2008 may have been Nader's moment, history recorded an Obama victory last November. To be sure, Barack Obama was the clear choice when compared to the McCain-Palin ticket. But comparing Obama to McCain should be unsatisfying to those individuals and groups who recognize the compelling need for a feasible and radical reformist politics in the United States. I feel comfortable making this claim because candidate Obama ran a campaign that promised hope and change to a massive collection of citizens that pined for both. Nevertheless, President Obama has delivered so far just more of the same malarkey. I suppose some may derive comfort from the fact that President Obama has made good on the common belief that he would be the lesser evil of the two major party candidates! Yet, even they must surely suspect that a world-befouling politics remains the order of the day in Obama's Washington. Chris Hedges addresses this very issue in a recent essay. He wrote:

The American empire has not altered under Barack Obama. It kills as brutally and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as it did under George W. Bush. It steals from the U.S. treasury to enrich the corporate elite as rapaciously. It will not give us universal health care, abolish the Bush secrecy laws, end torture or "extraordinary rendition," restore habeas corpus or halt the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of citizens. It will not push through significant environmental reform, regulate Wall Street or end our relationship with private contractors that provide mercenary armies to fight our imperial wars and produce useless and costly weapons systems.

The sad reality is that all the well-meaning groups and individuals who challenge our permanent war economy and the doctrine of pre-emptive war, who care about sustainable energy, fight for civil liberties and want corporate malfeasance to end, were once again suckered by the Democratic Party. They were had. It is not a new story. The Democrats have been doing this to us since Bill Clinton. It is the same old merry-go-round, only with Obama branding. And if we have not learned by now that the system is broken, that as citizens we do not matter to our political elite, that we live in a corporate state where our welfare and our interests are irrelevant, we are in serious trouble. Our last hope is to step outside of the two-party system and build movements that defy the Democrats and the Republicans. If we fail to do this we will continue to undergo a corporate coup d'etat in slow motion that will end in feudalism.

I cannot disagree with Hedges' judgment of Obama's performance so far. Obama has been a great disappointment even to someone like me who did not believe he would accomplish much as President. I do, however, differ with Hedges on one point: The Democratic Party has provided a slaughter bench for radical reform in America since the election of 1896! Even though this point may seem to be nitpicking on my part and surely when I make it within the current context, it is always useful to recall that the Democratic Party includes politicians above and beyond Franklin Roosevelt! The Party, along with its leaders and cadre, must also manage the constraints placed upon it by its place in the political system. The United States is an empire, the sole military superpower in the world today and a global economic hegemon. These facts are hardly trivial. Consequently, party-politicians are not free to do as they please when they hold office. Moreover, it can also be said that a Democrat need not be a Bourbon, a Dixiecrat, an urban machine politician or, for that matter, a Blue Dog to kill off a reform movement. He or she needs only to harbor great ambitions for him- or her-self and for the Party as a whole. The ambitious sort must also be inclined to take advantage of the opportunities which appear before them. They must pursue success. Yet, this peculiar end — success — imposes on the ambitious person a willingness to serve the goals of the system as they happen to find it. I believe this because conforming to the system as it exists provides the ambitious person with the only path he or she can take that can end with the prize they desire — personal success. The ambitious politician embodies, I would add, not hope, but more of the same. He or she thus stands before the electorate as a betrayal waiting to happen, no more so than the ambitious politician who promise reforms to any degree.

Behold —Barack Obama, President of the United States.


Richard Nixon resigned as President on this day in 1974

Reeling from the disgrace of Watergate, Nixon felt compelled to resign once it became clear he would eventually confront Congress during an impeachment procedure, a process which might have concluded with his removal from the Presidency by the Senate.

Unwanted exposure

The better-sort have shown their true face, according to David Sirota. He believes this to be a good thing:

I know I should be mortified by the lobbyist-organized mobs of angry Brooks Brothers mannequins who are now making headlines by shutting down congressional town hall meetings. I know I should be despondent during this, the Khaki Pants Offensive in the Great American Health Care and Tax War. And yet, I'm euphorically repeating one word over and over again with a big grin on my face.


Finally, there's no pretense. Finally, the Me-First, Forget-Everyone-Else Crowd's ugliest traits are there for all to behold.

He concludes by firing this salvo:

With 22,000 of their fellow countrymen dying annually for lack of health insurance and with Warren Buffett paying a lower effective tax rate than his secretary, the Me-First, Forget-Everyone-Else Crowd is merely using the argot of fairness, empiricism and morality to hide its real motive: selfish greed.

No argument, however rational, is going to cure these narcissists of that grotesque disease.

Wingnuts threaten violence

The Huffington Post reports:

Union officials continued to receive a barrage of threats on Friday evening and into Saturday punctuated by warnings that if organizers were sent to counter-demonstrate at health care town halls they would be met with violence.

An official with the AFL-CIO, a federation of labor organizations, passed on what he described as a "pretty direct threat" to those union hands who were showing up to balance out anti-Obama demonstrations being waged at local Democratic forums.

"I will be going to a local town hall this weekend, all you union members BEWARE!" an emailer wrote at 9:40 Saturday morning. "We will be waiting for you. better make sure you have arrangements with your local ER. today is the day when the goon meets the gun. see you there."

Well, duh!

The New York Times reports:

The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.

The report continues:

But a growing number of policy makers say that the world's rising temperatures, surging seas and melting glaciers are a direct threat to the national interest.

If the United States does not lead the world in reducing fossil-fuel consumption and thus emissions of global warming gases, proponents of this view say, a series of global environmental, social, political and possibly military crises loom that the nation will urgently have to address.

If one needed more evidence that the United States has given itself away to militarism…

The silver lining in this: If the surveillance and security believes the United States ought to address the global warming 'problem,' then Congress might actually take measures meant to address the issue.


Today is the fortieth anniversary of T.W. Adorno’s death

The philosopher, social theorist and critic T.W. Adorno died forty years ago today in Switzerland. A polymath who initially trained to be a philosopher and a composer, Adorno issued important work in philosophy, sociology, social psychology, criticism (both literary and musical) along with the cultural criticism for which he would become famous. Adorno, along with Max Horkheimer, wrote the celebrated Dialectic of Enlightenment, a book that was scandalous and disturbing because it expressed a judgment about a then current and obvious condition of the world, and one which continues to disturb the world to this day. It begins with this thought:

In the most general sense of progressive thought, the enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant (Adorno and Horkheimer, p. 3).

Horkheimer and Adorno left us a work that can be best characterized a "world-disclosing critique" of modernity, as Axel Honneth has named it (pp. 49-62). With this term Honneth refers to a type of social diagnosis and the presentation of such meant to evoke in the reader of the work in question his or her intuitive sense of a world in which something has gone wrong, a world that is thoroughly inclusive but intrinsically false (Adorno, p. 50). A critique of this sort thus intends to place the known world, the taken-for-granted world of everyday life, within a horizon that highlights those dangerous features of the given world which were heretofore unthought but, perhaps, known in some manner, although known only indistinctly and weakly. Their work could be identified as a diagnosis of the uncanny in a modern everyday life. Honneth goes on to assert that:

…the truth claim made in the Dialectic of Enlightenment will depend on whether the members of the society it describes will one day agree to accept its new descriptions, and thus change their social life practices (p. 61).

When considered in this way, one might say that Horkheimer and Adorno produced something akin to a secular prophecy, albeit a foretelling that also expresses an insight which can be rendered false once humanity learns how to live and institute a humane form of life.


Watering the stock market

Keeping the weeds green and tall has been Ben Bernanke's project according to Mike Whitney and Andy Kessler. In recent Wall Street Journal article Kessler wrote:

At the end of the day, only one thing has worked — flooding the market with dollars. By buying U.S. Treasuries and mortgages to increase the monetary base by $1 trillion, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke didn't put money directly into the stock market but he didn't have to. With nowhere else to go, except maybe commodities, inflows into the stock market have been on a tear. Stock and bond funds saw net inflows of close to $150 billion since January. The dollars he cranked out didn't go into the hard economy, but instead into tradable assets. In other words, Ben Bernanke has been the market.

So, it appears Bernanke's program was successful? It did jump-start the stock market. Well, no, it was not at all successful, Kessler asserts:

Like it or not, the stock market is bigger than the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury. The stock market anticipates only future profits and prosperity, not government-funded starter fluid. You can only fool it for so long. Unless there are real corporate profits from sustainable economic growth, the stock market is not going to play along. It's the ultimate Enforcer.

In other words, bubbles explode, and they often damage the society that had lived off the bubble. Mike Whitney's appreciation for Bernanke's intrigue prompted him to draw this conclusion:

It means the revered professor Bernanke figured out a way to circumvent Congress and dump more than a trillion dollars into the stock market by laundering the money through the big banks and other failing financial institutions. As Kessler suggests, Bernanke knew the liquidity would pop up in the equities market, thus, building the equity position of the banks so they wouldn't have to grovel to Congress for another TARP-like bailout. Bernanke's actions demonstrate his contempt for the democratic process. The Fed sees itself as a government-unto-itself.

Alas, the Chinese may no longer want to purchase Treasury bonds. If so, that is, if China abandons the United States, what then? How will Uncle Sam finance its empire? Whitney suspects that American banks will buy up America's new debt, thus establishing a circuit between them and the government that had bailed them out of trouble! Whitney concludes:

So, the bottom line is that the dollar is increasingly balanced on the rotting scaffolding of Bernanke's buyback programs (Quantitative Easing) and the circular purchases from collaborating banks that are concealing their backroom dealings with the Fed.

To keep this game going, Bernanke will have to keep juicing the market while the banks use the $850 billion in reserves (which the Fed has provided in the last year) to keep purchasing US sovereign debt.

Is anyone in Congress watching or is this shell game going to go on forever?

Well, this truism still holds: Things that can't last forever don't last forever. The game must end someday.

The color of welfare?

One might gather that the racists within the Republican Party believe welfare to be black, and this confluence of a collective identity and a political institution includes health care measures like Medicare and surely a single-payer health care system. This, in any case, is Leslie Savan's point:

With every passing day it gets harder to think of this sudden dialing-up of whiny hate speech as sheer coincidence. Instead, it's beginning to look inevitable — so much so that maybe the real question is, What is it about health care that brings out the latent racism in the GOP?

The answer is simple: For two or three generations, Republicans have defeated progressive reform of the health care system by hinting that it would mean redistributing wealth from whites to blacks. As Beck himself said, practically redefining "welfare queen" as "healthcare queen": "Everything that is getting pushed through Congress, including this health care bill, are transforming America, and they're all driven by President Obama's thinking on one idea: reparations."

To be sure, this race-based backlash has driven the Republican Party since the election of 1968. During its gestation racism clearly damaged Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, Richard Nixon's Family Assistance plan and reached its bi-partisan nadir when Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1966. Yet it is ironic that America's exceptional condition, namely, that as a modern industrial economy the United States also lacks an adequate social safety net, will fall heavily on the white middle class — Nixon's infamous "silent majority" — during the current depression. The irony derives from the reversal effected by this racist politics: The downwardly mobile white middle class needs or will soon need the kind of programs it wanted to destroy when they were seemingly targeted towards a minority.

The optimistic Savan believes the new situation includes a political opportunity:

But watching the Republican Party morph into the National Association for the Advancement of White People should give us all hope, not despair: Anything that brings 'em out of the closet and gets 'em running naked through the streets shouting, "I'm the victim here, dammit!" will only ensure their minority status over the long run.

It is unfortunate, though, that the Democratic Party is not worth a damn…. After all, the Democratic Party spells "pragmatic" as "crude opportunism."


ColorOfChange organizes a Glenn Beck campaign

You can let Beck's advertisers know that you disapprove his antics by clicking here.


Gore Vidal on the Gates arrest

Vidal characteristically believes the arrest to be significant. He wrote:

For those of us who had hoped that the Obama administration would present us with a rebirth of the old republic that was so rudely erased a few years ago by that team of judicial wreckers, Bush and Gonzales, which led, in turn, to a recent incident in Cambridge, Mass. that inspired a degree of alarm in many Americans. But what was most alarming was the plain fact that neither the president nor a "stupid" local policeman seemed to understand the rules of behavior in a new America, where we find ourselves marooned as well as guarded (is that the verb?) by armed police who have been instructed that they are indeed, once armed, the law and may not be criticized verbally or in any other way and are certainly not subject to any restrictions as to whom they arrest or otherwise torment.

This is rather worse than anyone might have predicted, even though the signs have been clear for some years that ours is now a proto-fascist nation and there appears to be no turning back; nor, indeed, much awareness on the part of our ever-alert media.

I have one nit to pick: Vidal's "ever-alert media" may well be aware of the authoritarian turn that has undermined the republic; but it is also likely the media as a whole supports the direction the country has taken. I say this because the only crimes the media refuses to cover in depth — read: sensationalize and turn into a spectacle — are those transgressions against civilization, the rule of law and good sense committed by Washington's insiders. The blame falls not just on Fox News, the New York Post, The Washington Times, etc. The fact that the media has this conformist attitude — this professional ethos which compels it to serve the American system as it exists — along with the related fact that the media's affliction is chronic, provides one explanation for the following:

Let us accept the facts staring us in the face — that demonstrably we are no longer a republic. We are no longer governed by laws, only by armed men and force. This is just like the days of Billy the Kid. You have an armed man going down a dusty street and that is authority. And it has come to this for us.

Knowing about this corruption, the depth of its roots and the effect it has had on America's political culture, a reasonable person would not then find it surprising at all that NORTHCOM has developed a plan to provide aid to the nation in the near-term if the United States were to suffer a swine flu pandemic, a program that would be consistent with the now common violations of the Posse Comitatus Act. Why would this hypothetical person find NORTHCOM's plans surprising when the mere fact that NORTHCOM exists is an affront to the rule of law? Surely NORTHCOM is not meant to protect the homeland from an external threat?

Anyway, I suppose it is extravagant to want the nation's public health institutions to implement a response to the latest pandemic…. After all, America's public health institutions lack the firepower, the boots on the ground and the prison facilities such a mission would require if it is to succeed….